Updated: Feb 18
Someone forgot to give out the memo
Remember short, sweet site menu bars containing the Home | Products (or Services) |About | Contact formula and how many-itemed menu bars were scorned as unprofessional? This four-item menu bar was, in theory, designed to help your site look focused, on-point and easy-to-maneuver; or so were made to believe.
The problem was someone forgot to give out that memo to the people searching on Google. People don't search using the word ‘services'. They use the actual term they need, such as ‘buying a house plant’, ‘kitchen design’, ‘organizing a bedroom’ and so on. If your site uses the basic four-item menu bar it is essentially worthless to Google.
Think about your site in simple consumer terms - think about your site as a supermarket.
Remember supermarket aisles?
When you enter a supermarket to buy several items, you don't hunt and peck through aisles upon aisles and shelves upon shelves of products to find the items you need. You would look for the sign(s) hung above every aisle describing the basic categories of products found in each particular aisle. You would then enter the aisle and hopefully (1) find what you want as quickly as possible and (2) glance at all the other associated items in the aisle.
Bottom line: You would never waste your time in a sign-less supermarket and that principle is followed by Google.
Google is unimpressed
And this is where things became even more complicated - when the menu bar contains the single word Services (or Products), there is usually a drop down (sub-menu) displaying the list of the services or, worse yet, a Services page comprised of a list of services with links to the associated pages. The problem here is that Google is unimpressed by this menu shorthand and doesn't recognize words like services or products as we thought they would; Google recognizes the real terms real people use in their searches. This means that a business – all businesses - need to create a menu bar that is people-search friendly.
Sadly, so many business owners have been taught that the four-item menu bar is the only way to go and that somehow, like an old fashioned telegram, you are charged by the word and need to keep your menu bar items and the words used in them, to a strict minimum.
Bottom line: using words like ‘services’ and ‘products’ makes for miserable SEO!
Original Western Union telegram from 1930 By Natalie Maynor from Jackson, Mississippi, USA - Football, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6666204
Why should you care about your menu bar? Because you cannot forget that the entire purpose of your website is to promote your business and that a people-search friendly menu bar helps improve the organic traffic to your site. It's just that simple!
The 'form follows function' solution
Your menu bar should follow the ‘form follows function’ paradigm. A four-item menu bar short-changes your business’s online marketing efforts. The correct solution, from the customer’s point of view, is to plan a menu bar consisting of seven to eight topics, using a smaller, cleaner font to keep all the topics on one line (without resorting to the feared More tab on your menu bar).
Just as an aside, obviously the mobile version of your website is unaffected by the problems of a horizontal menu bar, as the mobile version is designed, by definition, with a vertical menu bar.
Drop downs and mega menus
Unless your service package or product offering is very limited, you will need to include a drop down menu for many of the topics on your menu bar. There still seems to be disagreement over whether Google likes or doesn’t like drop down menus. What cannot be argued is that people like and need drop down menus to help them find EXACTLY what they need and easily maneuver through your site.
And now: the mega menu
The next level of drop down is a mega menu. For businesses with large, unwieldy service packages or product offerings; such as an online clothing store with an extensive women’s clothing menu, mega menus are indispensable. The good news is that mega menus enable you to display a drop down menu, the width of the site page, with an comprehensive range of same-type items. The bad news is that, like their name suggest, it is easy for the visitor to your site to get lost in a long list of vertical and horizontal words and phrases. Mega menus must be designed with easy-to-follow visual cues, such as images and clean division lines to make this menu type more people-search friendly.
There is one important business rule we sometimes forget – it is never wise to be too innovative or too smart for your target markets. At the end of the day your target markets have to find what you offer under their terms and using their language or they will find what they are looking for in your competition's site. So stop menu bar stinginess and help your target markets FIND you!
YE Associates is a marketing agency established to help small business owners make sense of their social media chaos with a wide range of business and marketing services. Need help with your marketing strategy and social media presence. Contact us today.
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