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How Your Site Navigation Influences the Way Users Search

Some users are search dominant, and prefer to use search over a structured navigation while moving through a website. But for the rest of your users, search is their escape when they are stuck in navigation. When a user can’t find a reasonable place to go next, they often turn to a site’s search function. Why is that? Below we explore some common occurrences with navigation that may send users to the search bar:

Your navigation is too limited

Limited navigations (navigation structures with five links or less) are nice for driving users to your most visited pages, but not all users have the same destination.

They may be helpful for sites that have return users going to the same pages but leave little to explore for new users. This approach could work if you have a very simple business model, like if you only sell a few products or your website is mainly used as a portfolio. But there is always a tradeoff between clean design and not enough information. The less you have in your navigation, the more likely a user may be to search.

Your navigation is too complex

It can be difficult deciding what to include in your navigation when you have so much content to offer. This is especially true for industries like higher education that serve multiple audiences. But overloading your menu with numerous links and additional drop downs that accompany those links may drive your users to the search bar.

Complex menus can demonstrate how much content is available on your website. But they can also be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. When a user is lost in a sea of options and unsure where to go, the search bar is a welcome sight. This is especially important to consider for mobile users – the more they are forced to dig into your website, the sooner they will turn to search. Make sure your website navigation is mobile-friendly and that the search function is easily available to avoid users exiting your site.

The layout of your navigation is different

Most users are accustomed to a horizontal menu bar laid out across the top of a web page. If your navigation is laid out in a different way, that may confuse users and drive them to the search bar.

If your navigation is in the sidebar, spread throughout a landing page, or if it’s hidden under a discrete ‘menu’ button like the example below, don’t be surprised to see an increased number of searches.

Your users prefer to search

Sometimes users taking to search isn’t related to issues with your navigation at all. It may just be user preference! Not all users want to take their time exploring your website. Some users have a specific intent when they land on your site, leading them to go directly to your search box. While these searches are not caused by your website’s navigation or menu, they are equally as important as the searches that are.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to arranging your navigation. Whether your users want to explore the depths of your website, or quickly get to where they need to go, what’s important is having a search function that is optimized and serving them relevant results.

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