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Website Navigation Guide: Basics and Best Practices

Explore the 4 types of website navigation before you apply these best practices to your website design.

If you're looking to improve the user experience of your website, improving website navigation is a must. Navigation is the process of finding your way around a website—from the home page to the sectional pages, for example.

Good website navigation helps users find what they're looking for quickly and easily, keeps them on your site longer, and helps them explore your site fully. In this guide, we'll give you a basic understanding of website navigation, as well as some best practices that will help you improve the user experience on your site.

What is website navigation?

Website navigation is the act of moving from the landing page of a website and clicking through to another webpage. Essentially, it's a user roadmap with signs that communicate where the user can find the information they're looking for. Good website navigation design aids the user in their search for information, a product, or a service that's offered by the website. Additionally, a good website navigation structure lets the user find what they're looking for quickly and without difficulty.

Some website navigation examples include major websites like Amazon and eBay. Both sites have a similar layout with a header and a footer menu, dropdown menus, and major categories laid out in the header. It's worth taking the time to look at how their site navigation works, as it will give you insight into everything from the website color scheme to deciding on a font for your website. These and other major websites frequently change their navigation menus to highlight a new service or product, but they always follow website navigation best practices by retaining the same layout.

Why is website navigation important?

Website navigation is important because it's a core feature of how people use your website. A major part of good website design is keeping pages visually clean while containing a sufficient amount of information to keep the viewer interested and wanting more. When you engage in good site navigation best practices, your visitor stays around longer, seeks out more information, and enjoys their experience because it's easy to find what they're looking for.

User experience

Users find great satisfaction when they navigate a website that's intuitive and easy to use. They get a feeling of connection to the site because all of their needs, whether it be a question or a search for something specific, are met with a few clicks of the mouse. A user is also more likely to trust the information on the site because they get results quickly. In turn, they're not spending extra time trying to navigate through endless pages that don't offer a solution to their problem.


Search engines use robots known as web crawlers to discover the information on a site. The information used in your site navigation contributes to the crawling, indexing and ranking of your site. Ultimately, a clean navigation design makes it easier for the web crawler to do its job and report its findings to the search engine.


The goal of your website is to convert website visitors into a buyer. When you make it easy for your user to find what they're looking for, you can easily guide them throughout the sales funnel and direct them to make a purchase or take an action. Additionally, they're more likely to buy because you've satisfied their search quickly and easily. Essentially, the buyer is rewarding you for your good navigation design and reducing the amount of effort they have to put into finding what they're looking for.

What are the types of website navigation?

When you make a website, it is important to include clear and concise navigation so that users can easily find the information they are looking for. Design your site navigation so that it is easy for visitors to move from section to section without feeling lost or confused. These 4 types of navigation will help direct your visitors.

Horizontal navigation bar

You can choose from several different ways to create an effective horizontal navigation bar, so it is important to find what works best for your website. Some popular methods include using buttons, scrolling list boxes, or tabs. It is also helpful to consider the user's browsing habits and design features such as photo galleries and blog posts. Once you have decided on a layout, test it on a small scale before making any alterations.

When you're happy with your navigation bar, it is time to add some style. This can be done through the use of fonts and colors, as well as graphics or images. Choose high-quality files that will look good across all devices from desktop computer and laptop displays to smartphones and other mobile devices. And finally, link your navigation bar directly to the main content of your website.

Dropdown navigation menu

The dropdown navigation menu is a great way to help visitors navigate your website easily. It can be used for different types of content, such as blog posts, pages, products and solutions, or services. By using the right type of dropdown menu, you can keep your visitors on your site longer and make it easier for them to find what they are looking for.

To create a dropdown menu, you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Begin with a basic HTML file that includes the following elements: , , and (for your navigation bar).
  2. Add the necessary CSS for rendering your menus in style.
  3. Create an incorporated script (jQuery or other) that will allow you to use simple code syntax to easily add and manage dropdowns within your web page.
  4. Load your files into a live environment and test your menus.

Hamburger navigation menu

Having a hamburger navigation menu can help to make your website easier to use and navigate. This type of menu organizes all the relevant information about your burgers in 1 place so that consumers can easily find what they are looking for.

There are many types of hamburger navigation menus, but the most common include: header slides, vertical slider menus, tabbed content panels, and faceted panes. All of these techniques offer unique benefits to consider when designing your site’s navigation menu.

Vertical sidebar navigation menu

There are a few different types of vertical sidebar navigation menus, which can make it hard to choose the right type for you. The most common type is the drop-down menu. This usually appears at the top or bottom of your page. This type of menu requires users to scroll down or up to find what they're looking for.

Another option is the sliding bar menu, which typically contains more options than a drop-down menu and behaves like a standard website navigation toolbar. You can drag and drop items into place on this toolbar, making it easy to add new content or change how items are displayed without having to rebuild your whole site from scratch.

The last type of sidebar navigation menu is called an overlay tab panel. This style was popularized by responsive websites, but it's available as an option on any website that uses CSS3 techniques. It works similarly to a slider bar except that all tabs appear simultaneously instead of after another has been selected with mouse clicks. Tabs can also be opened individually by double-clicking them, just like normal tabs on web browsers.

Website navigation best practices

Website navigation is a very important part of the user experience. It is an essential element that helps visitors to find what they are looking for on your site, and it makes sure that information flows smoothly from one page to another. The following are some best practices for website navigation.

Keep your home page simple

Avoid overloading the home page with different types of links, graphics, and buttons that will confuse your visitors and keep them from going further into the site. So, for example, ensure that the home page has only 1 button–Sign In or something similar. Keep the navigation simple to provide users easy access and navigation through all the pages.

Ensure website navigation is 100% responsive on mobile

Mobile navigation is critical for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that it should work flawlessly on all devices. This implies that users may get data from a wide range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and desktop computers. Moreover, since customers never have to adjust their viewing experience to match the device they are using, this makes browsing your website more user-friendly.

In addition, by preventing your website visitors from inadvertently submitting sensitive data via an unresponsive interface, mobile site responsiveness protects customer data.

Check your current mobile website on various kinds of devices to ensure compatibility and identify areas for improvement, confirm that images load as expected, ensure proper HTML5 Markup Standards (WCAG2 AA), and optimize scripts and CSS files to cut loading time.

Be consistent

Consistency is key for website navigation, and this means that all elements of the site should flow in a way that makes sense. This includes menu items, sub-menu items, headings and paragraphs, and images. Navigation can easily get cluttered if not done correctly, so keep things simple by following some basic guidelines.

A homepage layout that is consistent across all pages will make visitors feel as though they are navigating through your site from start to finish without having to guess which page they are on or scroll around unnecessarily.

A hierarchical navigation menu will help you organize content more effectively while also making it easier for users to find what they're looking for. You can also combine hierarchies with dropdowns or checkboxes so that users have even more control over how information appears on your website.

Wise use of white space helps create an aesthetically pleasing design and is also essential for organizing large amounts of text into a manageable format. Avoid crammed paragraphs and try to keep sentences short and easy to read. This will go a long way in helping users stay immersed in your content.

Add breadcrumbs

Adding breadcrumb website navigation is a simple way to provide users with an overview of your site's main pages. To do so, use tags and relevant keywords. For example, if you are writing about cooking, adding tags will lead users to all the different recipes on your blog. You could also add specific sub-categories within that category or specific posts related to that topic.

Make hypertext obvious

Hypertext is an essential part of web design and should be implemented in an obvious way. This means making sure headings are bolded, emphasized, and placed near the top of the page where they will be most easily seen. Links should also be big and easy to click on. And finally, make sure all your text is easily searchable using keywords or phrases.

Streamline your navigation bar

There are several ways that you can streamline your navigation bar. One way is to organize your bars by category, like lifestyle, health and wellness, and finances and investments. This organization makes it easier for visitors to find the information they’re looking for quickly and efficiently.

Make everything clear and simple for the user

The user should easily be able to understand what you are offering and how to use it.

Remember the footer

Yes, always consider the footer when you design a website. It provides important structural content and formatting for your site as well as increases readability and improves overall usability. Additionally, attaching a footer to your website will add the same base design elements to all your pages so that users can easily navigate around your site.

Leave the buttons for the calls to action

Use a large font size for easy readability, and clear, concise language. Position buttons near the top of the page where they are most likely to be clicked and make them visually appealing so that people want to click them.

Finally, it's important to keep your website updated and polished. This will help ensure that users have a positive experience when visiting your website. Keep in mind that updating your website is also a good way to improve its SEO rankings.

Website navigation FAQs

How should website navigation items be structured?

The navigation structure lets your visitor move from one page to the other with minimal effort. It also lets them quickly identify the relationship between each page, and helps them determine if they want to continue on a specific website journey or switch to a different one offered by the site. In order to achieve this flow, you begin with your major pages or categories listed in the page header or sidebar, then work down from there.

Part of website navigation best practices is putting the major categories of your website at the top of your page. Each of the major categories becomes the heading of the menu, and dropdown menus under the heading become your website navigation menus. The user has the option to roll their mouse over the main category to see what related pages are nested underneath. This allows the visitor to see what your site offers at-a-glance when they first land on the website, then see what sub-pages are listed under the main pages for the information on your website.

What should be included on a website navigation bar?

A search bar also goes at the top of the page and usually to one side. This is partially for flow and partially for saving space for the website navigation menus. The search bar supports the reader when they can't find a page or the information they're seeking.

What is footer navigation?

Footer navigation consists of links that don't fit in the header and also repeats those that are in the header. The format of a footer is typically that of columns, with the major categories repeated while also listing the links that weren't at the top. It also includes links to pages about the company, customer support pages, partnership information, and social media links. The very bottom of the footer has the company name and logo, the copyright year, and links to disclaimers, privacy policy, and any other administrative information that a visitor may want to read.

Another benefit that the footer menu provides is a convenience for a visitor who's scrolled all the way to the bottom of the page and wants to look at other pages without scrolling back up. They can click on a link to take them to the top of another page and get access to the major categories and dropdown menus with minimal effort.

How many items should be included on a navigation menu?

Technically speaking, you can add as many items to the navigation menu as you like. Realistically, you should have between four and seven items in order to keep the menu from looking cluttered and confusing. Some website designers feel that seven items are too many, but sometimes you need to add that many because they're important to your website navigation or you need them for certain reasons.

The best way to keep your menu items under a certain number is to select the categories that are most important to your website. Over time, you can adjust the categories as you learn more about what users are looking for through your website metrics. You can also use dropdown menus or a hamburger menu to neatly compact the additional pages while making it easy for your visitor to find what they're looking for.

What is the difference between navigation and a sitemap?

Navigation is the front end, or what users see and use to move around your website. A sitemap is a diagram/flow chart that you create for your navigation layout during your web design process. Creating a sitemap is key to figuring out your website navigation structure and what goes where. It's a top-down process where you begin with your main navigation menu pages, then put each subpage underneath. This helps you work out your page placement and rank your pages according to their importance.

A sitemap is easy to create, and you can keep making it until you're satisfied with the layout. Begin by putting your main pages in a row, and place the most important one to the left. Visitors will gravitate to this category first due to the fact people read left to right. From there, place your subpages underneath each main and review for flow and feel. If you're not satisfied with the layout, keep moving your pages around until you create a sitemap that feels right to you.

Create an easy-to-navigate website that converts visitors

Good website design is important, no matter if you're launching a business or you're an established business looking to update your website. You want to make it as easy as possible for your visitors to become a customer through website navigation best practices. That means planning out your website navigation, using menus and clickable links that make it easy for the visitor to find their way around the site, and positioning your important pages in a prominent fashion. We at Mailchimp have answers to your questions along with the tools you need for success.

At Mailchimp, we've got website design tips for small businesses and large, an extensive resource library to help you with everything from marketing to understanding how a hamburger menu works, and tools to help you identify what works best for your website, and what doesn't. Check out what we have to offer today and learn more about how to become a successful business at the virtual and physical levels.

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