How To Create An Effective Web Site Navigation Structure

How To Create An Effective Web Site Navigation Structure

Site navigation plays crucial role in website creation or restructuring an existing domain. Top level navigation provides consistent mechanism to users for moving effortlessly through a site. It also reflects the content system and brand of a site. Site navigation system aims seamless integration with the design and layout of a website.

How To Create An Effective Web Site Navigation Structure - Elements And Layouts Of Site Navigation

Fundamentals of site navigation

Site navigation is basically a method of accessing information from different parts of a website. Most sites have their content cut up into small manageable pieces and spread over different pages. A visitor or user of a site needs to move through these pages of the site for gathering necessary information. Style of site navigation may vary from conventional to experimental depending on the target traffic and nature of the site. Irrespective of the style selected, website navigation primarily aims to ensure that users can find relevant information with least effort.

Elements of site navigation

Navigating a site is a learned behavior that users acquire while browsing through numerous sites. As such, basic elements of navigation should not confuse or distract them while navigating.

Web designing should ensure that all pages of a site contain basic elements of site navigation. Page titles and current page should be indicated properly. Make sure that the hypertext link leads to relevant pages.

How To Create An Effective Web Site Navigation Structure - Elements And Layouts Of Site Navigation

Content should be properly categorized. It is desirable to group navigational elements that are similar from visual perspective. Methodology of grouping and link priority should be indicated. Ensure that there is an HTML sitemap for navigation.

Avoiding common mistakes

There are some common mistakes that adversely affect site navigation. Grouping of irrelevant categories and improper naming can confuse the users. Inconsistent links bury the priority content and lead the users to dead ends. Overall, poor site navigation drives out visitors or users from a site.

Great navigation designing starts from categorizing and labeling content into mutually exclusive sections. There should be standard sections like “About Us”, “Contact”, “Products” and “Community”. Providing familiar names and labels help a visitor in reaching desired section or content quickly.

Web navigation that aims to introduce new elements should be supplemented it with the standard ones. Design and navigational elements of popular websites in similar fields may be studied to get an idea about various categories.

Ensure that there are not too many top level sections while designing a website. Try to limit top level navigation links to seven or eight. Make sure that most detailed content can be reached with maximum four clicks.

Balancing perspective of business and users

Site navigation design should balance between perspective of users and business of site. Prioritization of page layout, well designed information architecture and strong call-to-actions helps in funneling users to the information that you want them to see.

Designing navigation of business centric websites mainly focus on business goals. However, it has been observed that sites that can balance business goals and users’ goals can grow as a successful site. Designing an interactive site that encourages interactions from users helps in such balancing.

How To Create An Effective Web Site Navigation Structure - Elements And Layouts Of Site Navigation

Importance of sitemaps and flowcharts

Sitemaps reveal structure of a site and indicates location of the content. While creating a sitemap, group the content under main sections and organize the page names until optimal depth has been achieved. After building this structure the focus shifts to the flow of traffic that is expected to the site.

Flow charting helps users to move across different sections of a site. Flowcharting is primarily used for guiding users to certain places of a site. Content and call-to-action are leveraged for this purpose. The “marketing” column suggests next action that the user should take. When such guidance trigger elements like clicking on submit buttons, responding to add-to-cart link; it shows that the preset designing matrix is working successfully. It is desirable to have a web analytics package in place for measuring and reviewing success of the navigation system.

Common layouts of site navigation

Display of site navigation is very important aspect of web designing. Usually this is done during designing of page layout or at wire framing stage. While selecting from different types of navigation systems make sure that it can visually anchor the layout. Global navigation should be placed in the same spot on all pages of a site.

Top horizontal text: It is probably most widely used navigation layout. There are seven to eight paired or single sections that fits perfectly on top of a page. Usually HTML text styled with graphics or CSS is used. Adding too many sub sections may trigger horizontal scrolling. Premier websites like IBM, Apple and Starbucks may be referred as example of this type.

How To Create An Effective Web Site Navigation Structure - Elements And Layouts Of Site Navigation

Side vertical text: When a website requires secondary navigation system in addition to top level navigation, vertical or stacked navigation on either side of the layout is very useful. In this type of navigation, a column is dedicated for accommodating links. Newspapers like New York Times, Financial Times use this type of navigation system.

Roll over menus: Sub menus with deeper links are used for guiding users further into a website. While rolling over navigational links small descriptions appear about desired content or location. This helps the users in identifying and accessing desired information quickly.

CSS coding: Recent developments in CSS (cascading style sheets) coding has enabled the designers in designing texts that look more like graphics. Using CSS helps in search engine optimization and managing or editing various sections of a site. Interactive navigation using Flash, jQuery and Javascript can be created for making navigation a fun.

Icon navigation: Many websites use icons for simplifying the process of navigation. Websites that are multilingual, space challenged and aim to promote branding or personality use this navigation system. Icons that are consistent, obvious and conventional can be very useful for site navigation. However, in some cases users beyond certain groups are not able to understand meaning of icons.


While creating a website and planning site navigation, invite your friends, co-workers and seniors to give their opinion. Interesting trends to facilitate site navigation may emerge from their feedback. Try to maintain a simple web design that helps in smooth navigation. Review the links periodically and ensure that there are no broken links or dead ends.

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