What is a Navigation Stress Test?

A navigation stress test helps you understand where users might experience difficulty or friction in finding information on your website.

This might surprise you:

Do you know what is one of the biggest impacts on the success of a website?


Sure, a great overall design, content and getting the right traffic to your site is important. But if people can’t find their way around, you are missing out.

Not only could you be losing visitors, but conversions too.

Why is navigation important?

Navigation is key to any successful website. Think about it; it’s the main way that a user navigates your site and moves from page to page.

Studies have shown that people browse websites in an F-shaped pattern. Our eyes move quickly across websites, usually starting in the top left and scanning across… right where your navigation is.

So if you want users to notice key sections, make sure they are here.

When it comes to designing how people will browse your site, there are some navigation best practices to follow, but they can be summarised as:

  • Prioritize consistency
  • Design clear interactions
  • Avoid deep navigation
  • Design for responsive compatibility

But how exactly do you ensure your navigation is consistent and clear?

And how do you learn what you can improve about your navigation?

Because when it comes to websites, most people focus mainly on the homepage, but maybe not so much on the other pages.

So what’s the best way to ensure all the pages are structured effectively?

Enter the navigation stress test

A navigation stress test is a series of questions designed to find out if users can navigate your website easily. Bonus points if they know where on your site they are at all times.

The simplest method is to start a few pages deep into your site, not on your homepage.


Because this will be a more accurate representation of a user experience from a visitor finding your site via search. So how does a navigation stress test work?

A web page in its simplest form has one job:

To present information.

In order for this to happen effectively, put your yourself in the shoes of a user visiting your website. Pick any page on your site and assume you have just landed here. Now ignoring the URL, can you answer the following questions:

  • What is this page about?
  • What do the links represent?
  • What website is this?
  • What are the most important sections of this site?
  • Which section is this page in?
  • What’s in the next level up from this page?
  • How do I get to the top page for this section of the site?
  • How do I get to the site’s home page?
  • How could I get back here from the home page?

If you can answer these questions confidently, your page (and navigation) is doing a good job.

If you can’t answer these questions, neither can your users.

I know, that can feel overwhelming. So lets focus on just three questions to explore further:

  • Where am I?
  • What is this page about?
  • Where can I go?

1. Where am I?

If you don’t know where you are, how do you know where you are going?

Pseudo-philosophy aside, a user needs to know their position on your website. If they don’t, how can they be expected to navigate.

Here’s a good example:

This is a screenshot of small and relatively unknown ecommerce brand called Amazon. I’m not sure it will catch on but it has a good navigation.

The section ‘Sports & Outdoors’ is bolded in the navigation so a user knows exactly where they are. Then the sub pages are listed vertically to the left. It’s clear where you are, what this page is about and where you can go next.

Here’s a bad example:

Although it is fairly obvious that this is a product page for Nike ‘Kyrie’ trainers, a user has no way of knowing whereabouts they are in the website.

With no sub nav, breadcrumbs or highlighted current page in the nav, the only way to decipher what page you are on is to look at the URL. Not ideal.

2. What is this page about?

This sounds fairly obvious.

But it should be obvious what the page is about. The information should be communicated to the user.

Let’s look at Amazon again:

There’s no confusion here: this page is about camping and outdoor equipment.

Relevant headings and an image of a camper ties this page together so there’s no uncertainty as to what this page is about.

3. Where can I go?

You want people to move around your site and interact with it. And in order to improve conversions, you need users to perform specific actions (sign up to a newsletter, buy a product, download content etc).

For this to be most effective, it needs to be as streamlined as possible.

More effort from the user = higher change of them giving up. Bye bye conversions.

Back to Amazon again:

There’s loads of chances for a user to navigate around the site from this top level page:

  • Category specific links in main nav
  • Link in left nav
  • Internal links in the content
  • A banner linking to a deals store to the right

Navigating around Amazon from this page is pretty easy. Presenting what to do next to a user is vital. It encourages them to explore your site, which is great for one thing:


How to improve your navigation & get more conversions

So you’re thinking about doing a navigation stress test but you are wondering:

What kind of of data will I get?

Answer: useful data.

The goal of testing navigation is to see which elements need improving, using insights from real users and not guesswork.

You can do a couple of things:

  • Redesign elements of the nav that users identify as impractical.
  • More user testing to better understand the problem.
  • Do nothing, and monitor performance more closely over a longer date range.

But the best way to use the data is to look for how your navigation is preventing conversions.

Based on the navigation stress test results, you want to look for the items that are essential, unessential or need changing. Let’s dig deeper into these:

  • Essential - these are items that need to be given priority. They need to be accessible as they attract the most clicks.
  • Unessential - these pages need to be there (like about & contact pages) but aren’t super essential to converting users.
  • Needs changing - these are items that need changing so they communicate their intent better and contribute to the overall success of the page. Navigations are a team sport.

One way to optimise is to follow navigation best practices like:

  • Remove what isn’t essential.
  • Rename rarely clicked but important items.
  • Move popular items to the beginning of the nav.

In Summary

Don’t be disheartened if your pages fail the navigation test. No website is perfect.

The point is to test them, get your data and act on it. Your navigation is there to make it as easy as possible for users to find exactly what they are looking for.

Your menu, site search and internal links are a team. Make sure they are working together to win the prize:

More conversions.

Get our case studies emailed to you.

Want to stay on top of best practices? Get our data packed case studies delivered to your inbox.