Website Navigation Design- Best Practices

Website navigation design can influence your online visitor’s experiences and how well you convert traffic into potential clients. The design you use can also determine your ranking on search engines. When it comes to navigation, simplicity is the most crucial element to keep in mind. You do not want to overwhelm the people who visit your site by using complex menus. Your site should offer the information a user is looking for within the shortest time possible. It should only take a few clicks to get to a desired page.

Website Navigation Design- Best Practices

Be Descriptive

A great website navigation design takes advantage of key phrases to make it easy for online users to find what they are looking for. One of the most common mistakes that website owners make is to use the words products and services to indicate what they do. When an online user is looking for something on the internet, they do not type in products or services. Select key phrases that people are likely to use when they search for what you offer.

This is great for search engines because your target audience will be directed to your site. The phrases you choose should communicate instantly when someone accesses your site. You can list some of your main services or products to make it obvious for the user. When you do this, a user will not have to click through every option to find exactly what they are looking for because the navigation is obvious.

Use your website navigation to inform people and the different search engines about your specialty. Consider phrases that come to mind as soon as someone thinks about your niche.

Limit Navigation Items

This is another important consideration to make during website navigation design. You have to limit the top-level items on your design to between 4 and 7. Prioritize and ensure you only include the most important ones. Some sites have several links on their homepage, making it difficult for users to navigate. You are more likely to rank better on search engines if you have fewer links.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that search engines give precedence to your home page when they are ranking sites. A user is more likely to visit your interior pages if there are fewer links to choose from. When you have several links, they have to prioritize and might even miss out on the most important ones. With fewer items, the links you include are more prominent and users are more likely to click on them.

Reduce Dropdown Menu Levels

If you choose to use dropdown menus in your website navigation design, you should limit them to a single level if possible. You do not have to include links to all your pages on the main navigation. This is particularly important for large sites that tend to have several pages. Use submenus for your interior pages and provide links to other pages to keep your navigation simple. You can use visual cues to indicate dropdown menus on your site. This is a creative way of letting users know that there is additional content for them to access.

Navigation Menu Placement

Most sites place their navigation menu at the top. This can be vertically or horizontally down the site’s left hand site. It is advisable to follow this design because this is what online users will expect when they access your site. The idea is to make your site friendly as possible and easy to navigate. The menu has to be clearly visible on each page on the site and included in a similar location to allow users to easily click and find the particular information they are looking for. If a website page lacks a navigation menu, a user has to go back to different pages on the site, forcing them to use the back option on their browser. Most people will give up after a while and will not be interested in accessing your site again.

Create Unobtrusive Header

During website navigation design, you should think of ways to limit header height to make it unobtrusive. When a user visits your site, their attention should be on the content you include below the navigation and not the header. A user should know exactly where your navigation is but it should not distract them from their main objective.

Use Fixed Headers

One of the best ways to make your navigation stand out is by using fixed headers. These headers are also a great choice because they will not take up a lot of space. With fixed headers, it will be easy for users to navigate from one page to another. You can also use your fixed headers to place your calls to action.

Consolidate Navigation Items

During website navigation design, there are some navigation items that you can consolidate such as admin bars and search and login fields. You can hide them initially and only show them when a user hovers or clicks on them.

Clear Menu Structure

Most people tend to read information from the left to the right. For this reason, your website navigation design should follow the same structure. The first link should take a visitor to your homepage and this should be placed at the start of the menu. Include links to the most informative pages on the left. A contact page link should be placed on a site’s farthest right. This structure will make it easy for a user to flow from the most information pages to action links. It is also important to note that people tend to pay more attention to items that are placed first. This makes it necessary to places the most important ones at the beginning. On most websites the navigation menu will feature Home, About Us, Products/Services, and Contact Us in this order.


Website navigation design should focus on simplicity and making it easier for users to access the pages they want. It is also important to test the design to determine if it is effective. A great website navigation design can offer great returns for a business by improving search engine ranking.


Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.