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Q: Web site navigation ( Answered,   2 Comments )
Subject: Web site navigation
Category: Computers > Internet
Asked by: kradesign-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 03 Apr 2003 06:42 PST
Expires: 03 May 2003 07:42 PDT
Question ID: 185392
Do internet users prefer a web site's navigation to be located on the
left or right hand side of the screen? Which is easier to use and is
there any research that backs this up? What, if any, are the cultural
differences regarding such statistics.

Request for Question Clarification by bobbie7-ga on 03 Apr 2003 13:19 PST
Hello Kradesign,

I located two studies and a few articles related to the website
navigation bar location. Unfortunately I have not been able to come up
with a study about cultural differences related to the location of the
navigation bar.

Would the information I have assembled be an adequate answer to your


Clarification of Question by kradesign-ga on 04 Apr 2003 00:06 PST
The studies and articles you have found would be an adquate answer to
me question. Thank you.
Subject: Re: Web site navigation
Answered By: j_philipp-ga on 04 Apr 2003 00:17 PST
Hello Kradesign,

Even when there might not be one definite "scientific" answer, a
navigation to the left side is closer to web convention -- and should
therefore be chosen for most types of web sites. While original and
challenging site content might well be of interest, learning to
understand uncommon navigation concepts is not part of a satisfying
browsing experience.

------------- Navigation Positioning

There are several positions a web site navigation can be placed. To
the left, right, middle, top or bottom. Usually, sites use a
combination of these positions; that is, navigation on top, some on
the left, often on the right as well, and additional links on the

------------- Consistency With the Web

Usability cannot be discussed without the context of what people
expect before they arrive on a page, since most of us simply won't
have time or motivation to relearn their navigating behavior for a
single web site. Thus we have to see what is common online:

- At the top, there's often a main navigation, or topics/ categories
-- the "global" navigation
- To the left, we might have a more complete navigation menu. Or, it
can be the main navigation
- At the bottom of the page are additional links (like Copyright
Information, Email Contact/ Feedback, Company Details)
- To the right, there's often additional information along with links
(like sponsors, or related articles)
- In the middle: these embedded links are usually "local" navigation,
or links to other web sites containing related information

Sean Timberlake writes:

Navigation Basics
"You've seen [the navigation bar] before -- on the left side of
countless sites or maybe at the top -- a list of the top-level
categories a site has to offer. It's so widely used as to be cliche,
but guess what: It works. Because it is so overused, every single
person who has spent more than a few minutes on the Web knows how to
use this thing."

Jacob Nielsen states in his Alertbox article of 1999:

When Bad Design Elements Become the Standard (Jakob Nielsen)
"If you are thinking about how to design a certain page element, all
you have to do is to look at the twenty most-visited sites on the
Internet and see how they do it.

- If 90% or more of the big sites do things in a single way, then this
is the de-facto standard and you have to comply. Only deviate from a
design standard if your alternative design has at least 100% higher
measured usability.

- If 60-90% of the big sites do things in a single way, then this is a
strong convention and you should comply unless your alternative design
has at least 50% higher measured usability.

- If less than 60% of the big sites do things in a single way, then
there are no dominant conventions yet and you are free to design in an
alternative way. (...)"

------------- Navigation Examples

Now let's see where navigation is usually placed:

- In Windows, the Menu is on the top. However in many Windows
applications, the key navigation is to the left. The toolbar of
programs is typically on the top and/ or to the right. Status displays
at the bottom, while actual content goes in the middle. Or take
Windows Explorer; folder navigation is to the left. Or the Internet
Explorer History Bar, also on the left side.

- On Web pages, things differ from one site to the other, but we can
still see a common theme among "western" web pages.

I will take some practical online examples and analyze their
navigation placement, and wether there seems to be a general
preference for left vs right, or vice versa:


The "category navigation" is on the top ("Books", "Electronics", "Toys
& Games" and more) in the style of tabbed selectors. Also at the top
is account navigation. To the left, we have the more complete
navigation, sorted by categories. To the right are advertisement
links, as well as additional information interspersed with links. In
the middle we find the main content with inline linking. On the very
bottom of the page we have additional links ("Conditions of Use" and
"Privacy Notice").


Microsoft uses a dynamic navigation, much like a menu in a Windows
program. On the site, the main categories ("All Products", "Support",
"Search") are on top, and moving the mouse over them expands the
sub-menu. To the left, again we can see a more complete navigation. To
the right we find downloads and news items. The bottom contains
Contact information, Terms of Use, the Privacy Statement, and other


Google is not a typical content-based site and serves a very special,
straight-forward purpose. I include it here because of its popularity.
Briefly put, the main category navigation ("Web", "Images", "Groups",
"Directory", and "News") is on top, while advertisement links can be
found below it and to the right. Only when we go to the Google
information pages, we can find navigation to the left. See:

   Google Web Search Features

4. Dell

The navigation of this site differs from the typical
navigation-on-left scheme. There are categories at the bottom
("Printers", "Handhelds") as well as on the right side. Contact,
About, and Cart links are collected on top of the page. A "Choose A
Country" box pops up a list of available support regions to the
middle/ left. The bottom, as usual, contains Copyright links and more.

I could provide a lot more pages that would establish that indeed
navigation to the left, while not being the only concept in use, is
more common when it comes to navigating a sites' main categories --
whereas the right bar is often used for additional links, like
advertisement, news, downloads, and so on.

------------- Consistency Within One Site

Wherever one decides to put the navigation bar, consistency within the
site is the key. While one might favor left, or right, it's certainly
sub-optimal to switch from one to the other on the same site.

Also see:

Site Types and Architectures [PDF]
"Consistency of Navigation
- You should create a navigation hierarchy and stick to it
 For example primary navigation across top, secondary along left,
text links as back up
- Navigation elements should be consistent both in position as well as

------------- Opinions & Arguments

Following are opinions and arguments from different people discussing
the topic in newsgroups, and from different articles on the web.

Jenny Brien writes:

Re: Main navigation positioning on a web site - winds of change?
(Newsgroup: comp.human-factors)
"A post-facto thought on left vs right. Left navigation shows where
you are in relation to where you've been (Metaphor - Explorer Bar).
Right navigation shows [where] you can go from where you are (Metaphor
Thumb index)."

Web developer Ken Wallace makes following statement, which you might
or might not agree with:

Re: New Site to Check
"[Personally], I never design right side navigation bars, because
western civilizations read left to right, and we tend to comprehend
quicker left to right."

Other (right-handed) people say that to them navigating with a
left-side bar feels like "reaching over the table", since they
typically position their mouse cursor to the right-side of the screen
to navigate the scroll-bar. However I might add that every time they
access the back-button they would "reach over the table" as well, so
maybe this is an artificially constructed obstacle.

Also, this article should be of interest:

Web Navigation - How to make your Web site fast and usable
Navigation: Vertical vs. horizontal navigation bars
"The answer is there is no right answer [to the question whether
navigation bars should be vertical or horizontal, on the left side of
the page or on the right]. Since we said that visitors will not
memorize our navigation scheme, a user will forget the path to the
information she wants from one visit to the next. For the regular,
daily visitor, it's important to build navigation that is consistent
throughout the site and makes sense in a logical way.

But, most users visit infrequently. Just remember that Web users scan,
looking for buzzwords. If those words are in your navigation area or
in your main column of text, a user will find it. Where you place your
navigation bar is secondary.

Aesthetically, if you want your design to stand out from other sites,
don't put a bar on the left side of the page. But most visitors won't
notice. If a user wants to move stock from one mutual fund to another
on the Web site, the success of his or her action is what

Mike Slocombe writes:

Where to put navigation
"Navigation should always be clear, concise and simple, and designed
with the end user in mind.

It may be boring for designers of commercial sites, but the fact is
most people easily understand left-hand and top navigation bars. That
doesn't mean personal/portfolio sites have to be created this way. Use
whatever is appropriate to the content and aims of your site."

As additional information, here is an argument favoring left-or-right
navigation in general (as opposed to top navigation):

Web Site Navigation - Navigation Bars
"There's no hard rule about how and where to put navigation bars.
Because most computer screens are wider than they are tall, and good
typography for the best readability demands shorter line lengths, it
makes sense to put navigation bars on the left or right side of the

And here are arguments for and against the five different positions:

Site Types and Architectures [PDF]
"Where To Put Navigation

    * In first area of focus
    * Similar to GUI convention
    * May collide with branding
    * May scroll off screen and force back
    * No collision with branding and page labels
    * Probably force scrolling unless fixed page
      size in use
    * Not in primary field of focus
    * Breaks with convention of GUI and most Web

    * Convention
    * Left-to-right reading pattern
    * Minimum mouse travel to primary buttons used
    * May create narrow window
    * Navigation fence keeps focus away from content
      at times
    * Scroll off problem

    * Content immediately
    * Not convention
    * Right varies in distance
    * Maximum mouse travel

   Not enough room for content
   Only good for home pages or other landmark
    type pages"

------------- Technical Feasibility

Also note; for technical reasons, the concept of "right" can be harder
to implement on fixed-width layouts. Web pages using a dynamic layout
can establish this more easily. However, for both dynamic and
fixed-width layouts, "left" is always left on the screen. "Right" may
differ depending on the resolution in use by the visitor.


I hope it helps!

Further resources:

Is Navigation Useful? (by Jakob Nielsen, 2000)
"For almost seven years, my studies have shown the same user behavior:
users look straight at the content and ignore the navigation areas
when they scan a new page."

Search strategy:
Google and Google Groups

Search terms:
"site navigation" "left or right"
site navigation nielsen
site navigation "left or right"
"where to put navigation"
"navigation to the left" "or right"
Subject: Re: Web site navigation
From: read2live-ga on 03 Apr 2003 21:07 PST
I recall a Jakob Nielsen article (somewhere on
<>) which bemoaned the fact that the
tendency was for navigation on the left of the screen.  He argued (and
he could well have had usability studies to prove it) that as the
mouse is often on the right side of the screen, on the scrollbar, it
made more sense to have navigation on the right as well.

But he went on to say that this was one case where the trend was so
entrenched that it was probably too late to do anything about it, that
people might not come back to a site if it is too different to the

A few years on, web page design is very different and scrolling mouses
are commonplace, I wonder if those arguments still hold.

You have raised some interesting questions here!
Subject: Re: Web site navigation
From: bobbie7-ga on 22 Apr 2003 21:31 PDT
I would like to add this information to the excellent answer that
j_philipp-ga gave you.

Do internet users prefer a web site's navigation to be 
located on the left or right hand side of the screen?

According to Michael Bernard in the study “Developing Schemas for the
Location of Common Web Objects”, users expect the internal web page
links to be located on the upper left side of a page.

“The two questions that were addressed in this study were: 1) Where do
users expect common web objects to be located on a typical web page,
and 2) is there a difference between novice and experienced users in
the expected location of web objects?”

“The study examined both novice and experienced participants' schemas
for the typical location of common web objects. Basically, both novice
and experienced participants had similar schemas for location of these

The result is as follows:

- The internal web page links are expected to be located on the upper
left side of a page.”
There is a graph illustrating that both groups generally expected
internal links to be located on the left side of a web page

Software Usability Research Laboratory
Department of Psychology
Wichita State University

A paper based on the above work was presented at the Human Factors and
Ergonomics Society's 45th (2001) Annual Meeting in Minneapolis/St.
Paul, MN.

“This study examined where individuals expect specific web-related
objects to be located on a typical web page. The web objects examined
were: web page title, internal and external grouping of links, a link
to the homepage, internal search engine, and advertisement banner(s).
The results suggest that users do have definable expectations
concerning the location of these web objects.”

Internal Website Links:

“Most participants expected the links to WebPages within a website to
be almost exclusively located on the upper left hand side of a
webpage, which confirms to the current convention of placing internal
webpage links on left side. Only a relatively small number of
participants expected these links to be located in other areas, such
as the right side of a webpage. This suggests that placing internal
website links at the upper left side of a webpage will be easiest to
locate, since this location conforms to current expectations.”

The frequency graph is located on page 3 of this publication.

Bernard, M. L. (2001). Developing schemas for the location of common
web objects. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
45th Annual Meeting.

Which is easier to use and is there any research
that backs this up?

Web Page Layout: A Comparison Between Left- and Right-justified Site
Navigation Menus by James Kalbach, published in the Journal of Digital
information 2002-06-01:


“The usability of two web page layouts was directly compared: one with
the main site navigation menu on the left of the page, and one with
the main site navigation menu on the right. (..) This research
questions the current leading web design thought that the main
navigation menu should be left justified on the page.”

I am including a few short excerpts from this paper but I highly
recommend the reading of the complete paper for the detailed research
and findings included.

“The position of the main navigation on the page can greatly affect
the user's interaction with the site's services and offerings. Indeed,
the location of the site navigation menu is often one of the first
issues a web designer may face.

It is safe to say that popular current practice strongly recommends
placing the main navigation menu on the left-hand side of the page.”


A recent usability analysis of fifty high-traffic websites shows that
at least a third have a left-justified navigation (Neilsen & Tahir,


“Thus, placing key page elements, such as the site logo and main
navigation menu, in the upper and left portion of the page, as the
inverted-L layout does, ensures that all users will be exposed to them
without having to scroll. Users who do not know or wish to scroll will
not miss any critical information about the site.”


“There is an overwhelming agreement from the web design community on
this layout principle. Jakob Nielsen, perhaps the most popular and
influential web usability expert today, explicitly states that the
main site navigation "has to be on the left side of the page"

“Not using a left-hand navigation constitutes bad design, in his
opinion, and compliance to common practice is the most important
design factor regarding web usability.”


“Hofer and Zimmermann (2000) report results of a study conducted on
four different navigation positions on a page: top, right, bottom, and
left. Forty subjects were divided equally into four groups and
assigned one of the four navigation arrangements. Task completion time
was recorded with a stopwatch. Their results show that a left-hand
navigation performed much better than any other position on the page
by a factor of two. The right-hand test condition yielded the longest
times for task completion.”

Usability researchers for the National Cancer Institute (NCI), on the
other hand, offer evidence for a right-hand navigation.
“Their research shows that users click on menu items in the right
margin with much more efficiency than menu items placed on the left
because they are located much closer to the scrollbar. This allows
users to quickly move the pointer between the scrollbar and the
navigation menus. The researchers also point out that these benefits
are particularly strong for laptops. It is assumed they are referring
to the use of a laptop with a mouse pad instead of a regular computer
Source:   Bailey, R.W., Koyani, S. and Nall, J. (2000), Usability
testing of several health information Web sites, National Cancer
Institute Technical Report, September 7-8.

What, if any, are the cultural
differences regarding such statistics.

Janastar Marketing Group addresses The Dilemma of Website Navigation

“Recently, much has been written about web navigation bars, and their
ease-of-use.  Arguments have been made to place a nav bar on the left
side of the web page, while others have argued for right side
placement.  Still others say that without a top (or bottom) bar, the
site is less usable.  So who's right?  They're all right. With
caveats.  Whether it's easier or harder to navigate using these
standards is really up to the end-user.”

Your Language.  

“If you are publishing your website in Hebrew (read right to left), a
right-sided navigation bar may indeed be more acceptable, than if your
site is in English.”

Janastar Recommends:

“For sites developed for a US audience, unless a (doubtful) widespread
change is made to navigation bar placement, Janastar recommends a
continued use of a left-side navigation bar.”

Janastar Marketing Group

Cultural Differences in Understanding Human-Computer Interfaces

“The text and graphical components of an interface should be arranged
on the screen in a way that depicts the logical flow of
information; for example left -to-right or right-to-left orientation
on the screen because of reading/writing background.”

Best wishes

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