Things To Know Before Implementing Secondary Navigation On Your Website

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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President at Alpha Efficiency

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User experience designers know that easy navigation is one of the keys to a successful website. And the quality of your secondary navigation design can make all the difference. It can guide your visitors to the content they want without overwhelming them and help you enhance your user interface design. And in this article, our Chicago web agency will give you the five best tips for applying UX secondary navigation. You’ll learn all the steps you need to take to determine primary and secondary levels on your website, how to get valuable insights from usability testing, and how to choose between different types of navigation menus. 

And even if you’re unsure what the difference between primary and secondary navigation is, don’t worry. We’ll teach you everything you need to know in order to create a user-friendly navigation structure that powers fantastic digital experiences. So grab your notebook and a pen, and let’s start!

Table of Contents:
An image depicting a secondary navigation menu.

What Is Primary Navigation?

Primary navigation is essentially the menu or list of links that you’ll typically place at the top of your user interface design. It’s usually the first thing website visitors see upon landing on one of your pages. Primary navigation helps them find the main sections or pages of the site they’re interested in.

Think about it like a map or a guidebook that helps you find your way around a new city. Just like how a map might show you the major streets and landmarks, the primary navigation of a website shows visitors the main web pages and sections of the site.

Let’s say you’re creating an eCommerce web design for a clothing store. The primary navigation might include product category pages like “Women’s Clothing,” Men’s Clothing,” “Accessories,” and “Sale.” Clicking on any of these links will take your visitors to the corresponding section of the website.

Having clear and well-organized primary navigation is crucial for website usability and user experience. Your visitors can find information that interests them quickly and easily. This can make a huge difference in whether or not they stick around and explore more of your website.

What Is Secondary Navigation?

Secondary navigation is a term used to describe additional menu options or links that help users find “less important” information on a website. It’s typically located below the primary navigation bar and provides users with more specific options to navigate to different sections or pages.

Let’s go back to our example of an eCommerce store selling clothes. When website visitors click on “Women’s Clothing” in the main navigation bar, they may be presented with additional options in the secondary navigation bar, such as “Dresses,” “Skirts,” “Women T-Shirts,” and more. These options allow users to refine their searches and quickly find what they want. 

But using secondary navigation UX design can also help you guide visitors to supporting web pages such as “FAQ,” “About Us,” and similar. These pages provide value to some users, but they’re still not the main reason people visit your website. So instead of overcrowding your main navigation with less important menu links, you can use 

When to Use Secondary Navigation Design?

Whether or not you should create a secondary navigation design depends on the size and complexity of your site. You probably don’t need it if you have a small site with only a few pages. Your main navigation should be sufficient for users to find what they need.

On the other hand, if your site is larger and more complex, with many different sections and subsections, secondary navigation can be beneficial. For example, if you run an online store with many product categories, you can help users quickly navigate to specific types of products.

Another scenario where secondary navigation can be helpful is if you have a lot of content on your site, like a blog or news site. Adding secondary navigation will make it much easier for website visitors to find articles by category, tag, or date, for example.

Ultimately, the key is to make your site navigation intuitive and easy to use. If you feel secondary navigation will boost user experience, go for it.

5 best practices for implementing secondary navigation on your website.

5 Best Practices For Applying Secondary Navigation

If you decide to add secondary navigation to your website, taking your time with this process is essential. You must carefully plan navigation items, menu style, and navigation structure. Let’s check the five best practices for applying website secondary navigation:

Create a Content Inventory

The first thing you need to do before applying secondary navigation design is to create a content inventory. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s quickly explain what a content inventory is. It’s essentially a comprehensive list of all the content on your website or digital platform. It includes information such as the page URL, page title, page type, and other relevant metadata. A content inventory is vital to proper website content migration but is also essential when crafting secondary navigation UX. But why?

A content inventory will give you a clear idea of the structure and hierarchy of your website’s content. This is essential because applying secondary navigation is all about organizing and presenting your content in a logical and user-friendly way. With a clear understanding of what content you have and how it’s structured, you can avoid creating confusing navigation.

Although creating a content inventory won’t help you understand which pages website visitors most often engage with, it’s a good starting point. It will come in handy during all the stages of applying a secondary navigation design to your website.

Analyze traffic and engagement for each page

When applying secondary navigation, you must determine how important each page is to users. As you might have noticed, some websites have an “About Us” page in their main navigation menu, while others put it in the secondary navigation. Neither approach is wrong. Within some industries, it’s crucial to give website visitors quick access to information about your company. And within other industries, users pay little attention to such information. Conducting market research for website design should help you identify your target audience’s preferences.

When you clearly understand which pages on your website are getting the most traffic and engagement, you can use that information to prioritize those pages in your website’s navigation. Our SEO agency in Chicago recommends looking at metrics such as traffic, bounce rates, click-through rates, and time users send on each page. 

Those pages that get the most attention should have their place in your primary navigation. And pages that people pay less attention to but are still important and helpful should go in your secondary navigation. 

Conduct Interviews and Surveys with Users to Learn How They Interact With Your Site Navigation

When you’re designing secondary navigation, it’s essential to keep in mind how your users actually use your website:

  • What pages are they visiting most frequently?
  • What are they searching for?
  • What tasks are they trying to accomplish?

Interviewing people who use your website can be of great value here. By asking the right user experience survey questions and listening to their responses, you can better understand how users think, what they want, and what frustrates them. It will help you design your navigation structure in a way that makes sense to your users. Remember also to interview assistive technology users, as it’s crucial to craft equally impressive digital experiences for everyone.

Card sorting is an effective method you can use to find the best way to organize your secondary navigation.

Perform card sorting to get an idea of primary and secondary levels on your website

Performing a card sort test is a great way to understand how to structure your website’s primary and secondary navigation levels. It’s a user-centered design method that involves asking participants to sort a series of cards with website categories or pages into groups that make sense to them. Here are the steps that will help you get the most out of your card sort tests:

  • Define your website’s goals and objectives: Before you start with card sorting, you must clearly understand what you want to accomplish with your website. This will help you define the categories and pages you need to test.
  • Choose your card sort method: There are two types of card sort tests – open and closed. In an open card sort, participants create their own categories and group the cards accordingly. In a closed card sort, participants sort the cards into predetermined categories. You need to decide which type of card sort will work best for your needs.
  • Recruit participants: You must recruit participants who represent your target audience. Many fantastic UX research tools can help you recruit participants from a pool of users based on various factors. 
  • Develop your cards: Make sure your cards are concise and easy to understand. Each card should represent a category or page on your website.
  • Conduct the test: Explain the procedure to participants and have them sort the cards into groups that make sense to them. Make sure to record the results.
  • Analyze the results: Once you have collected the data, you can start analyzing the results. Look for patterns in the categories and pages that participants created. Identify any outliers or categories that don’t fit with the rest.
  • Use the results to improve your navigation structure: Use the card sort results to form primary and secondary navigation levels. You might also get fresh ideas that will help you create user-friendly labels for your categories and pages.

Choose Between Combined and Separate Menus

Once you determine navigation levels on your website and understand which pages get the most attention, it’s time to choose how you will implement secondary navigation. There are two options – combined or separate menus for the primary and secondary navigation. As both options have unique pros and cons, here is what experts from our web development agency Chicago suggest:

When to use Combined Menus for Primary and Secondary Navigation?

With a combined menu, your users will access the secondary navigation through the primary navigation. They’ll only see the primary menu navigation bar when your page loads. However, secondary navigation elements will appear when they decide to interact with it, either by hovering over it or by clicking on menu items. 

Using the drop-down menu that opens as you hover over it with the mouse is an excellent solution for a desktop version of your website. However, this type of navigation is not as user-friendly on mobile screens. This might be a huge problem, as research suggests that 67% of mobile visitors will leave your website if they get frustrated by navigation design. That’s why we advise you to make your secondary menus also appear when users touch or click on navigation items.

When primary and secondary menus are combined into one, it creates a more streamlined navigation system that can make it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for. Your website visitors will have an easier time understanding your content hierarchy and how you organize categories and subcategories.

When to use Separate Menus for Primary and Secondary Navigation?

Another option when applying secondary navigation is to separate it from the primary navigation. You can create a static menu for each site navigation level. There are several solutions to implementing separate menus into your navigation interface:

  • Place your primary navigation menu horizontally at the top of the page;
    • Place your secondary navigation on either side of the page.
    • Place your secondary navigation next to the main navigation and choose different typography.
  • Place your primary navigation menu vertically on either side;
    • Place your secondary navigation vertically below the main navigation, making it appear smaller.

Whichever approach you choose, ensure that primary and secondary menus are visually distinct. It’s a bright idea to make primary navigation larger. Once you understand why is typography important in web design, you can achieve visual hierarchy and naturally guide users’ eyes to the main elements on your pages. And screen reader users will have an easier time navigating your website.

And remember, you should keep your navigation elements consistent across your website. This way, you’ll create a streamlined navigational experience and avoid the worst-case scenario – visitors clicking their browser back buttons due to frustration.

Need Help From Design Experts?

Having well-organized secondary navigation might be the key to the user experience boost you’ve been looking for. It can help users quickly find what they’re looking for, making the overall browsing experience more enjoyable. However, it’s essential to strike a balance between having too many links and overwhelming users and having too few links in your navigation menus, which can frustrate visitors. Applying the user research techniques we’ve described will significantly help here.

And if you feel like you could use professional help when creating navigation design, Alpha Efficiency is there for you. Schedule a call and introduce us to your needs and goals, and our experts will develop a detailed action plan. Let’s create superb UX secondary navigation together!


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