Making Websites

7 Tips to Win in Web Navigation Design And Improve Your UX

Inka WibowoRobert Brandl

By Inka & Robert

Ux Design webdesign

In web design, user experience (UX) should be your number one priority. According to recent research, 88% of web users will not return to a website with a bad user experience. That’s a lot of business to lose.

Website navigation design is one of the most crucial aspects of UX design. If users can’t find what they want fast, they’re likely to look somewhere else instead. On top of that, UX design needs to account for aesthetics and site performance.

It’s a balancing act between the most attractive designs, usability, and performance. That’s why we’ve collected these tips on the best UX design practices. First, we’d better explain what exactly we mean by navigation design.

What do we Mean by Website Navigation Design?

Website navigation is how you get around a website. Think about the dropdown menus you’ve seen on desktop sites. From a user perspective, this is how you find the section of a site you’re looking for.

From a design perspective, it’s also a map of your site. It’s how all your content is linked. As the designer, you may understand exactly how your site is laid out. But, would a user be able to see that layout just as easily? If not, you might need to focus more on the user experience.

Website navigation design elements include,

  • Navigation menus
  • Text prompts & links
  • Call to action buttons

How Does Website Navigation Affect the User Experience?

There are three main ways that navigation affects the user experience. That’s the time it takes for a user to get to what they’re looking for. The visual appeal of your design. And, the clarity of your navigation options.


This will be affected by both your site performance and the clarity of your copy. Having effective call-to-action prompts will also improve it. These let you lead customers toward what they want, even if they don’t have a specific destination in mind.


Many people form their opinion of your website, and thus your business, from the visual aspects alone. Up to 75% of anyone’s judgment is based on aesthetics. That means that getting your visual design right is a very important factor for a good user experience.


Clarity of language and clarity of layout are both parts of a good user experience. For example, using jargon or slang for sub-sections of your site will appeal to some customers. But, if it makes it difficult for your average visitor to navigate, it’s best to use simpler language.

At the same time, the balance between these three factors is the important part. A beautiful website that is slow to load will still put off customers.

Popular Types of Site Navigation Design Layouts

There are certain standards when it comes to navigation bars, side panels, and site layouts. You’ve probably seen examples of them yourself, every site’s navigation layout will fall into one of the following categories.

Navigation Bars – Horizontal & Collapsible

Horizontal navigation bars are often used on desktop-based ecommerce sites. You’ll see section headings along the top bar of the website. These usually come with collapsible drop-down menus of sub-headings. Here’s an example.

navigation bar

This is an easily recognizable way of laying out your site. It has the advantage that most users will know how it’s supposed to be used without further prompting. The drawback is that horizontal bars don’t work very well for mobile experiences.

Hamburger Buttons

Hamburger buttons? You might not have heard the phrase but you’ve seen these buttons on your mobile. It’s those three little lines (looks kind of like a hamburger).

Mobile apps and browsing experiences have less screen space to work with. This means you’ll usually find menus hidden behind one of these buttons until you press it.

hamburger button

Image Source

These menus are a great option when space is limited. Be aware that when they unfurl, they’ll cover up your lovely web-design work. Make sure the content of these menus is clear and easy to navigate, too.

Vertical Sidebars

When a website wants to focus on presenting visual materials, it’ll often use vertical sidebars. This layout is popular with design websites, restaurants, and content sites with an artistic focus.

vertical sidebar

Image Source

Footer Navigation

Most websites will pair whatever website navigation design option they need with footer links. This is the list of sub-sections you’ll find at the bottom of most websites.

This serves the purpose of giving a full unfurled list of your sections, or your most popular ones. It also keeps this more cluttered list out of the way until a user goes looking for it.

3 Tips For Designing Your Navigation Bars

Your choice of design type will depend on your business. Whatever you go with, there are some key areas you should optimize if you want to ensure a smooth user experience.

Sorting & Organization

It might seem obvious, but the order in which you display your headings and subheadings is important. Top-level pages must be the sections that appear before customers unfurl any other menus.

Don’t Clutter

Don’t give customers too many options up-front on your menus. First, you’ll clutter your site visuals with long dropdown menus, even collapsible ones. Second, visitors will end up skipping top-level pages you might want them to visit.

For example, you might have a heading on your sidebar titled “Resources.” When a user hovers their mouse over this, they get a dropdown or unfurl with the options; “Blog, News, FAQ.” You don’t then need to list the articles on those pages with a separate unfurl.

These are important top-level pages that you want your users to visit. It’s much more appealing for a user to look at your latest articles represented with thumbnails & descriptions, anyway.

Attribution Reports

As you develop your website over time, attribution reports can guide you to your ideal navigation layout. Using tools like Hubspot, you can create reports that will show you everything you need to know about how users interact with your site at different stages of their journey.

Use this data to gain a better understanding of your users’ habits. Then, feedback these results into optimizing your site layout. You have the option to run market testing, like A/B tests, to help you make decisions. There are various web app testing tools open source and free to use.

ux attribution report

Image Source

4 Unmissable Tips for Website Navigation & UX Design

Navigation should be, above all, easy. Seamless transitions and great performance won’t help if a user can’t find the page they want to load. The best general tip we can give for website navigation design is to design for the customer first. For more in-depth advice, read on.

Creating a Site Map

This is something you should be doing for your SEO. Yet, laying out a site map can give you a deeper understanding of your site layout, too. Try creating a flow chart of your site, high-level pages at the top (landing pages), down to the lowest tier (content, checkouts, etc.)

This will give you a good idea of how to prioritize your site layout. Combine this with your attribution data to create the best experience for your users.

Consistent Tone & Branding

This applies to your language and your visual designs. Consistency is important. Depending on your business, you’ll want to stick to one of three types of language for your navigation items.

  • Object-based – This language is best thought of as a table of contents. It should be simple and descriptive of its category. Words like; “Advice”, “Products”, “Services”, and so on.
  • Action-based – This is a popular option for ecommerce sites. The headings encourage actions from the user. A cloud based call center might use words like “Call”, “Chat”, “Take a Tour” etc.
  • Audience-based – This means you will adjust your language based on an audience segment. This option is a little more complicated as you need to know what kind of customer will be viewing what part of your site.

This is more relevant for larger websites that have multiple layers. Although, most businesses will use a mix of language once you move away from your navigation bar. Call to action prompts will always use action-based language, for instance.

Optimize for Every Platform

If you have any kind of ecommerce site, app, or domain, etc. Then, at least half of your customers will view your site on a mobile or tablet. At least, that’s what current usage data suggests.

So, you’ll need to optimize your navigation design for desktop and mobile. This may mean you have to design your navigation bars and menus twice. To give your customers a consistent experience on all platforms, it’s worth the extra time.

Don’t Leave Dead Ends

Don’t leave your audience stranded on a content page or a transaction screen. You’re really giving them no option other than to leave your site if you do. Give users a way to return from every page.

You can do this simply by making sure your navigation options work on every part of your site. If this isn’t possible, make sure you at least link back to your landing page.

Final Thoughts: Better Navigation for a Better UX

A good user experience is one without friction. Small points of frustration like a slow loading page or an unclear menu can add up. If a user experiences too much friction, they’ll “bounce” and leave your site.

Think of it like your business phone system. You designed those menus to get people through to exactly what they need with the least frustration, right? The same applies here. Put the user experience first in your designs.

There are also other things to consider when having a website. You’ll find more tips on how to improve your website and get more visitors and business in this article.


If you have any more questions, feel free to drop us a comment below!

Inka Wibowo

Content Manager

Hi, I'm Inka! I started using website builders and content management systems over 10 years ago, when I managed websites for clients in my first marketing role. Since then, I've worked on hundreds of web and digital projects. Now, at Tooltester, I'm happy to be able to use my experience to help users like you find the right website builder for your needs.

Robert Brandl

Founder and CEO

Hi, my name is Robert Brandl, and I am the founder of Tooltester. I used to work in a digital marketing agency where I managed website and email marketing projects. To optimize my client's campaigns, I always had to find the optimal web tools. Tooltester (founded in 2010) opens this knowledge to you, hopefully saving you endless hours of research. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. You can also find me on LinkedIn.

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