According to recent research from the Gartner Group, half of all online sales are lost due to confusing website navigation. That’s 50 percent of potential sales down the toilet because customers can’t find what they’re looking for. And when customers leave your site, chances are they’ll never return.

When people sit down to design their first sales site, they often get caught up in choosing fancy colors, fonts, and graphics. Having a professional-looking site is important, of course … but your site’s most important design element, by far, is its navigation. There’s just no point in having a flashy website if your visitors can’t find their way around it.

Don’t forget that the purpose of your site is to SELL something. Your navigation should be designed to drive your visitors to take action – not drive them away because they can’t figure out where the heck your order form is.

Here are some common mistakes that can confuse your visitors and cause them to flee your site in frustration:

  • Putting the navigation bar ABOVE your logo. If you do this, it may be mistaken for a banner ad … and could be missed entirely. Most Web surfers have grown accustomed to ignoring the area above the logo, so it’s considered “dead” real estate on your page. It’s way better to put your navigation bar either directly underneath your logo or running down the left-hand side of the page.
  • Inconsistent navigation. Whatever you do, don’t change the location and style of your navigation bar from page to page. It should be in the same place, and in the same font and graphic layout, on every page of your site.
  • Duplicating navigation bars. It’s not a good idea to double up by using both a horizontal bar AND a vertical bar that has the same links. You’ll just end up confusing people.

If your site features multiple products for sale, use a horizontal navigation bar along the top of the page. But if your main sales page consists of a long sales letter, it’s better to use a vertical navigation bar down the left-hand side of the page.

  • Leaving out the links that count. Your visitors expect to see certain links that can help them easily learn more about your business and your products. I’m talking about links leading to pages like About Us, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), and Contact Us. Don’t make them work to find this information.
  • Using irrelevant links. Avoid labeling your links by using industry lingo or terms your visitors won’t understand. And don’t include links that are completely irrelevant to the reason your visitor is on your site. For example, if your site sells handmade soapstone sculptures, don’t include a link to your favorite tropical vacation destination or your local “Save the Whales” campaign. Keep your site focused on its main purpose: to sell your products!

[Ed. Note: Derek Gehl, CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, is an internationally known Internet marketing expert. If you’ll be at ETR’s Info Marketing Bootcamp: “Making a Fast Fortune on the Information Revolution”, you’ll meet Derek in person – and learn many of his techniques and strategies for building a successful online business.]