You may not realise, but website navigation plays a huge part in customer experience and consequently, in search engine rankings. It determines the usability and user-friendliness of the site interface. Thus, it has a huge connection with how the user experience of visitors will be.

Zooming further, it has a major hand in deciding visitor session duration and the bounce rate for your site. It also has an indirect effect on how effective your site will be in making visitors convert to your brand or making any kind of purchases from you.

However, bad website navigation can discourage both of these. Think about it. If a visitor is confused and does not know or understand what they have to do next or where they have to go to bring about the result they intend to, they will be frustrated.

They will feel that rather than wasting time figuring your site out, they would rather go to some other site the navigation of which makes far more sense. And just like that, you would be losing out your precious subscribers and customers to your rivals just because they paid more attention to navigation during website design process.

So, What Is Website Navigation?

Website navigation refers to the internal structure of your website composed of the internal links that connect all the pages of your site together. It allows search engine crawlers to find and index your pages so that when a user searches for something that is provided on your site, the search engine is able to provide it to them.

Nonetheless, having the proper type of navigation design helps users browse and find what they need on the site easily, thus providing good user experience.


Now, What Is Navigation Design?

Navigation design is the process of building the internal structure of the website by connecting each page and piece of content to one another using a logical flow. The main aim of navigation design is to enhance the ease with which users can find the content they are looking for and move from one part of the website to another.

Why Website Navigation Design Is So Important?

It is said that 94% of website surfers feel that good website navigation is the most significant feature for any site. For any website, an easy-to-use, smooth, and logical navigation map and model is imperative to allow the visitor to go where they want to. This is especially true when you are looking to have a large, complex site that requires that kind of navigation, like an e-commerce platform, a SaaS software website, an organization site, etc.

These sites usually have a complicated architecture with a number of strata in the hierarchy for its many pages. Moreover, a visitor should not have difficulty reaching even the last nodes of a branch if they need to. The website navigation should be built in a way to ensure just that.

Ideally, it is said that your navigation design should be such that no matter where the visitor wants to go, it should be possible within three clicks. This sounds easy and difficult all at once. It may sound easy if you think that all you have to do is restrict the site architecture to three strata, adding all pages within these layers, and inserting single-click buttons to most on the homepage.

But this is not how it happens.

Not every customer starts from the homepage. Some may go from a landing page to a specific product page and then want to check out a page that is absolutely unrelated to this. In that case, it will take quite a bit more than just three clicks to get there.

Another point to keep in mind is that adding too many items, menus, and buttons on the home page will make it cluttered, defeating the whole purpose of good website navigation before it has even started for the visitor. Sure, the user will get a button to go anywhere from the homepage. But finding the right link or button itself becomes frustrating and enough reason to effect a high bounce rate.

Moreover, you want people to stay on your site and check more pages out. If instead of inspiring that curiosity, you end up annoying them, you will not be able to keep them on your site long enough to make them take the intended action of your CTA. Also, a website that has poor navigation design will not be able to lead a user through the use of logic to the right content that they would be wanting to use.

Say, a user wants to read a blog about how your organization handles a certain issue in your industry. What most of us have become used to doing is to look for the “Blog” or “Resources” link. If your website navigation is bad or deficient in some way, the user will not even understand where to go or which button or link to press to find that particular blog.

Irritated, the user would exit your site and move on to the next. If the next site has better navigation and easily leads the user to the content they are searching for, you will have lost a customer and your rival would have gained one.

Understand The Connection Between ‘Website Navigation And User Experience’

We all know how important both the value of the content on a site and the design or layout of the site is important in ensuring a satisfactory user experience. In fact, search engines use both these parameters in their ranking factors.

So where does website navigation feature among these two?

Website navigation is the delicate thread that holds the content and design of a site together. If you have ever looked at a simple classification or categorization chart, the words written in the boxes form the content while the arrangement of the boxes denotes the design. Website navigation is represented by the lines that connect these boxes and decide which boxes are connected to which directly or indirectly.

In simple words, site navigation is the manifestation of the relationship between different pages and components on a website.


If the right connections are not there between the pages or various parts of the content or if these connections are not obvious to the visitors of the website, they will not know how to reach the part on your site they are looking for. This will spoil their experience. And nowadays, there is no shortage of sites and pages that deal with the same type of content.

Therefore, people will not feel obliged to stick with you if you cannot provide them with a pleasant user experience.

Secondly, user experience connected to website navigation is extremely important in deciding your conversion rate. One of the biggest faults of businesses is to not customize this experience based on the type of site or business they are running.

As a result of crafting a generic website navigation experience for their users, visitors are often unable to organically figure the site out and understand where each part leads to. This can even cause brands to lose business as people struggle to find the product or content they need. As they struggle, their user experience surrounding your site sours, and they become more likely to churn you.

Types Of Website Navigation

On the broadest level, website navigation is of three types. These are further categorized into sub-types.

They have been discussed in brief below.

Structural Website Navigation

As the name suggests, structural website navigation refers to the physical or architectural navigation of the website. It is based on the principle of hierarchical connections where each page is connected to each other based on where they come in relation to another, i.e., before, after, or adjacent to them. It is further divided into three types.

These are explained below:

Global Navigation – Global navigation, also known as main or primary navigation, refers to the navigation structure from the top of the website, i.e., the homepage. It includes the main category pages or, more generally, the highest levels of pages on the site just under the homepage. Most websites with well-thought-out designs will have a menu bar on top with drop-down menus to represent the global navigation of the site.

Some sites also have footer sections with global navigation, mostly to lead to the more technical top-tier pages of the site. Some pages also use sidebars, carousels, or category boxes to show the same, depending on whatever works best for them.

Hierarchical Navigation – Hierarchical navigation refers to the connections of the top-tier pages to the lower ones. This can be implemented using submenus attached to the global navigation menu items or through direct page links on category page lists, an architecture that e-commerce sites frequently use. Hierarchical navigation leads from the topmost pages in the site to all the pages under it, usually branching off from the same node.

These may appear as drop-down vertical menus, horizontal pop-up panels, or another menu bar clustered underneath one menu item of the global navigation. No matter what manner of an element is used, it should be clearly represented so that viewer can definitely understand that it is a subcategory of the main one.

Local Navigation – Local navigation is the term used to denote the horizontal and/or vertical navigation structure between the lower tiers of pages of the website. It is also called page-level navigation or sub-navigation. A great way to define local navigation is as the navigational points that are connected to the global navigation of the site through hierarchical navigational elements.


They are connections between pages of the same hierarchy or at least of nearby tiers. A great example is the “Next” and “Previous” buttons or arrows that lead you to the page directly after and before the current one, respectively.

Similarly, recommendations that appear after you view or read a page are also an example of local navigation as these recommended pages are all of the same levels instead of being above or below it.

Associative Website Navigation

Associative website navigation deals with navigation between pages that are connected to one another by their content across various levels of the website hierarchy. There may not be direct connections across them on the website architecture but they need to be linked due to their relation to one another based on the content they carry.

It too is of three types which are elaborated on below:

Contextual Navigation – You will notice that when you are reading content on a page, some of the text is made into hypertext. These links lead to a page that may elaborate more on the specific topic in the anchor text. These pages may be of the same level in the website hierarchy or a widely different level. Thus, instead of being connected based on their structural link to each other, they are connected by their contextual link.

Contextual links may be embedded links that appear as simple hyperlinks embedded within the plain text or they may include related links which appear at the end, side, or some other part of the content.

For example- On a Wikipedia page, the simple blue hypertext represents the embedded links while the superscript numbers that lead to the source references are related links.

Moreover, there is also a special type of contextual navigation known as ‘adaptive navigation’ where the links change based on which page you are on. Lists of related or similar reads on article sites are a great example.

Quick Links – Quick links are links to pages that are in no way related to the current page or even part of the main website navigation. But they are important and people may need to access these pages anytime while browsing the site. Therefore, they must be provided separately so that visitors do not have to hunt for these pages when they need a quick look at them while browsing the website.

In fact, since these pages are not a part of the main website architecture, they are not suitable for integration into the main navigation and this is the most proper way of adding them to the website.

Footer Navigation – When you open a website and go right at the end, you will often see a footer section with a list of links to certain pages. Some of these are quick links and others lead to important and technical pages.

The most common footer navigation links include “About Us”, “Privacy Policy”, “Contact Info”, “Site Map”, “Resources”, “Help” section, and so on.

There may also be links to just directly to a certain category or important page on the website, especially in fat footers. Footer navigation can be thought of as a catchment area for all supplementary and some important main navigation links that cannot be made a direct part of the main website navigation but need to be made quickly available to visitors.

Utility Website Navigation

Utility navigation consists of website navigation tools that help a person quickly access a page or tool while using the main site. They are not a part of the main navigation but run parallelly and make it easier for users to navigate and use the site without having to constantly exit pages or go forward. You will find them mostly in the extreme corners of a webpage.

For example, a shopping cart button at the top of a site quickly allows users to find out what they added to the cart while they keep browsing products without having to completely move out of the product display page.

Or, a Help link can have a search feature that shows quick recommendations based on what you type so that you can simultaneously see what to do and implement it on the page. Signup or login forms, contact information, notifications, search, language selector, currency selector, all can be made a part of utility website navigation.

Common Navigation Design Patterns In UX Design

Many different elements in many different styles and formats can be used to make website navigation user-friendly and interesting.

These are briefly discussed below:

Menus – Menus are universally used navigation items. They can be of many types like the classic header navigation menu, collapsible menu, split menu, drop-down menu, pop-up menu, sidebar menu, hamburger menu, infinite scrolling vertical menu, float menu, sticky menu, and so on. A great demonstration of innovative menu types is available at WIX’s blog.

Bars – Bars help users quickly move from section to section without going through a complex and long-drawn navigation process. Tab bars are the most common accessibility feature while loading and progress bars show a user how far along they are in a page or process. Affixed navigation bars help keep the bar always accessible to the user no matter where they are on the page.

Tabs – Tabs are used to display extra content related to a menu or bar item when there is not enough place to show it all the time. Hovering or clicking on the intended item displays the content in the tab and allows you to view or use it. It can be used to add more links or items without making the navigation cluttered.

Buttons – Buttons are used to provide quick access to a page without constant clicking on the Back and Forward buttons. Signup and login links, contact information, CTA button, and Help links are often added as buttons instead of normal text links to highlight them. The logo of the brand is also often put in as a button which, on clicking, leads directly to the homepage.

Search Box – No matter what, always use a search bar on your website. It helps people quickly search and access pages that they may be far from and that the navigation is not allowing them to reach in a few clicks.

Pop-overs – Pop-overs are the small panels that appear when you hover or click the mouse pointer on a certain component or section of the page. Pop-overs may be used to add related links to a page that comes from the anchoring element or section. They are thus a part of secondary navigation and very useful in keeping the website navigation clean and uncluttered.

Breadcrumbs – Breadcrumbs is a design element that shows how far along in the website navigation you are. The easiest way to understand what breadcrumbs are is to think back to a Windows Explorer window. The bar that shows which folder you are in right now staring from the parent drive is known as the breadcrumbs.

In websites, like in Windows Explorer, clicking on any of the pages along a breadcrumb will allow you to go directly to that page without pressing the back button multiple times.

Accordion – Like tabs, accordions also hide extra content related to an element and display it like the bellows of an accordion when the element is clicked or hovered on. Repeating the action causes the extra content to collapse back onto the element. Accordions can also contain other clickable elements and links and help keep the website navigation clean and simple.

Switch/Checkbox/Radio Button – All three of these elements are used to choose a certain option. While they do have other functions, they can be used ingeniously in navigation. You can activate and deactivate or show and hide certain parts of the page based on which option a viewer chooses, keeping the content clean and easily accessible at all times.

Picker – Think of the alarm setter or calendar on your phone or a webpage. You select or pick an option based on which the next action or content is displayed. A picker is functionally not very different from the elements in the above point except there are multiple options to choose from instead of just one or two.

These are only a few and some of the most important website navigation elements that can be used. The list is in no way exhaustive and a look into the navigation elements in any website design can give more information on the same.

Website Navigation: Best Practices And Tips

If you want to ensure that your website navigation provides a pleasant user experience, always ensure that you practice the following principles when designing your website:

  • Go through a thorough and exhaustive planning phase where you pay extra attention to the navigational elements on the site.
  • Take advantage of user testing to make sure your website navigation is actually user-friendly. Making changes afterward is far more costly.
  • Clarity and simplicity should be the top mantra when designing the website navigation. Do not try to be too fancy or clever in a way that confuses people. Use white spaces to keep the design uncluttered.
  • Fall back on established standards and practices as people already relate with them. Do not use never-seen-before images, glyph-icons, or words your demographic is not familiar with in navigational elements.
  • Avoid using redundant elements as this will only make things cluttered. However, that does not mean you go so frugal that no one understands the meaning of each element.
  • Always keep in mind the context and use the right tonality when designing the navigation.
  • Maintain order and add categorization for better correlation between components.
  • Ensure that the navigation has a responsive design just like the rest of the site.
  • Keep checking back on the site activity analytics and keep making changes to improve it based on the habits of your most frequent visitors.


Website navigation is one of the top factors that determine the quality of user experience that the site provides. This, in turn, determines how well your site performs and consequently, how it ranks on the Google search engine page results.

Bad website navigation can be the downfall of your site simply because people will find it too difficult to look around. The most important indicator of good website navigation is that it should encourage people to stay longer on the site, increasing the session duration and decreasing the bounce rate of the page and the site.


Q. What is the navigation structure of a website?

The navigation structure of a website is the virtual structure created by the connections between various pages and parts of the content of the website. Designing a user-friendly website navigation structure requires detailed prior planning and modelling.

Q. What is a website navigation menu?

A website navigation menu refers to the main menu that is visible either throughout the site no matter which page you are on or at least on the homepage. It helps you access various parts of the website and can come in various formats.

Q. When should we use breadcrumb navigation?

Breadcrumb navigation is most useful when the content on your website is highly organized into a logical hierarchy. E-commerce platforms use breadcrumbs to display products under categories. Resource sites also often use breadcrumbs.

Q. How can focus on website navigation improve your WordPress site?

Focusing on the website navigation of your WordPress site can greatly help improve traffic and reduce bounce, and you may need a professional WordPress developer for the same. WordPress sites often suffer from fatal design and navigation flaws as users tend to put more attention on the content. A bit of forethought into navigation design can bring multiplicative benefits to you.

Q. How many links should you have in your main navigation?

Experts believe in the golden number of 7 as the maximum number of links you should have in your main website navigation. Any more can cause visual and cognitive overload. While this number is not a one-size-fits-all solution, it is best to pack in the rest in the secondary navigation.

Q. Is it necessary to learn all things in HTML & CSS for navigation design?

HTML and CSS are vast repositories of code. It is highly unlikely for one person to remember everything. Basic syntax and grammar rules should be learned and you can always use code snippets and themes to work the rest out.