By Gail Seymour
Following established navigation conventions on your Web site can make it easier for your visitor to find what they are looking for, where they expect to find it. There are three main types of navigation included on most professional Web sites. Consider setting your navigation structure to match these conventions to improve your visitor experience.
Top-level navigation is generally included horizontally across the top of the Web site. This may also be termed primary or global navigation and is designed to “support the primary aim a user has when he or she comes to your site," according to www.adaptivepath.com.
Generally, this visual top level navigation will point your visitors towards each category of your Web site at it's broadest classification. Consider each of the types of visitor you may attract, and provide each with a simple link in your top level navigation that enables them to move forward toward their goal. These might include links such as “Shop,” “Resources” and “Why Shop With Us?”
Some people consider secondary navigation as that on the page in Web site content, rather than within the Web site architecture as a global element.
The term is more prevalent however, to describe a more comprehensive list of links included as a second level of global navigation. This could be either in a vertical bar down the left side of the page, or in a second horizontal bar separate from the Top Level navigation. This is where you list your product categories. You also list sub pages of other top level navigation. If you are using a sidebar, navigation levels can be indented to show site structure. If this bar is horizontal, drop down menus for subsidiary levels of navigation may be implemented.
The term utility navigation is used to describe links to tools, like shopping basket links and links to user accounts. Search functionality is also considered utility navigation, though this is most often separated from other navigational elements of the Web site structure. Also included in utility navigation is the navigation found in the footer of the page, with links to terms and conditions and other legal or corporate information. Adaptivepath.com describes this as navigation which “provides access to subsidiary tools that help the user, but it is not the core reason for the Web site.”
In determining your Web Site structure, one method is to first remove all Utility links, placing legal and contact details in the page footer. Next remove user tools, and include them in a Utility area at the top right, along with links to customer support, help or forums. Next, arrange the remaining navigation into categories and subcategories and create secondary navigation. From this it should be clear which links need to appear in the top-level navigation.
You may have some repeated, or redundant links. These are fine, as it's better to have a page appear in each navigation structure where it is expected, than to cause visitor confusion by its absence.
About the Author
Gail Seymour has been a Web site designer for more than 10 years. During that time she has won three Sitesell design awards and has provided the content and copy for dozens of Web sites and over 50,000 Web pages.