If your site map is deep and complex, you may need to develop a hierarchical navigation style.

You should only have so many visible navigation items on each page – but if you have more than about 12 main navigation options, even in a vertical navigation system. You can certainly have more than 12 pages, though – for example, I have almost 400 pages in my website. How do you include all of these pages without having incredibly long navigation?

By creating main topical categories and then including more links to other pages as secondary links. This enables you to present navigation links to lots of pages in an organized fashion.

For example, you might break things out like this:
In the “About” category:
About Our Company
About Our People (Bios)
Media Room
Press Releases
News & Events

If you have a lot of subcategories in one main section, then you might consider further grouping some of those together into a tertiary navigation section.

There are a few options for how to design this Secondary navigation:

  • Drop down menus: For reasons discussed in my earlier post on Horizontal Navigation, I don’t recommend traditional drop down menus. They depend on specialized coding that can be difficult to create, maintain, manage and update.
  • Split navigation: This can be a good option, as discussed in this post: Split Navigation
  • Fold-out navigation: This is a very strong option. It offers all the advantages of secondary navigation, with none of the disadvantages of drop down menus or split navigation. In this model, when you click on the primary navigation category, you are taken to a main section page, and on this page, the secondary navigation elements become visible. While this does add an extra page into the mix, and an extra click for your visitors, the benefits are many. It’s easier to update and add to. It’s guaranteed to show up for every visitor – this type of coding is done in regular HTML. And, it’s very straightforward for a visitor to use.
  • I most often recommend fold-out navigation to my clients.