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The Case For Right Navigation - Yay! Or Nay!

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Posted 02 January 2008 - 09:11 PM

Vertical navigation is almost always placed on the left side of a webpage. It is THE traditional location and visitors are almost trained to look there. However, that upper left corner of a page gets all of the heavy eye heat so if you have a site with content that you really want to promote does it not make more sense to put the content under the eye heat? And, if you impress them with the content don't you think that they will find your navigation links on the right?

What do you think?

Anybody have before and after analytics for a site that received a left to right nav switch?

Edited by EGOL, 02 January 2008 - 09:12 PM.

#2 tam


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Posted 02 January 2008 - 09:12 PM

Do you mean the left? :D




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Posted 02 January 2008 - 09:13 PM

Thanks! yep... fixed it... Had RIGHT on the brain.

#4 tam


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Posted 02 January 2008 - 09:38 PM

In that case, I think navigation should be on the left. Although I'm trainned to look left first once I've established that yep, the navigation is where I expect I will look at the rest of the page and ignore the navigation until I need it. If it's not there I get thrown off balance and I'll be too busy looking for the navigation to be interested if the content you put there anyway :D




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Posted 02 January 2008 - 09:42 PM

That is a good point... if your navigation is on the left and not too bold then it might not interfere with content presentation.

#6 Respree


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Posted 02 January 2008 - 09:50 PM

Don't ask me who first put it on the left or why the rest of the world just seemed to follow. To me, putting it on the right makes more logical sense. Maybe its because 90 percent of the world is right handed, that's where every browser developer chose to put the vertical scroll bar, the close window icon, and other 'high priority' items (which, I think, primary navigation would (or at least, should) qualify as.

However logical sense it may make, I think left navigation has become like a doorknob. People just expect to find it in a certain place. Of course, one could visually see a doorknob placed on the opposite side of the door and, similarly, they'd have no problem finding right navigation. The question would be, "would it feel awkward?" Would it p*** them off? Would they become frustrated when you've broken the "rules?" Who's to say? I think, for me, I'd rather not take those chances.

Inasmuch as I generally think carving one's own path is a good idea, in this particular case, I don't think right navigation is one of them.

Edited by Respree, 02 January 2008 - 09:52 PM.

#7 bwelford


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Posted 02 January 2008 - 09:51 PM

Well I'm in the other school of thought. My blogs always have two column set-up with the navigation on the right. The vast majority of visitors will come via a keyword search and that usually is pointing to a single post. So my content is exactly what they get served up. That's what they were looking for. If they then want to wander round the website a little, then the secondary information on what else is on the website is easily found on the right.




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Posted 02 January 2008 - 10:09 PM

Interesting ideas, Garrick and Barry. I like the doorknob comparision.

Barry, if I have a site that is mainly used for reference and the visitor pops in, gets the info from one page and leaves, your argument for right navigation is perfect.

#9 SEOigloo


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Posted 02 January 2008 - 10:46 PM

Barry -
That was the funny thing about blogs. When I first started running into them, nearly all had the nav on the right, which looked so weird to me, considering the prevalence of left navs on most websites. In fact, one of the first thoughts I had about blogs was, "Okay, so blog navigation goes on the right," as though this was the only choice.

Obviously you can slice it, dice it any way you like, but I still prefer left hand navigation for both blogs and websites simply because it has become a user habit for me. I note that Cre8asite's homepage chose to go with a left nav. How did that decision get reached, taking into account our Usability expert, Kim? Was this thought out heavily or just the natural choice?


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 12:26 AM

I switch back and forth. Personally, I find that as long as the menu is clearly a menu and itself laid out logically, it makes absolutely no difference to me from a usability perspective which side of the screen it happens to be on.

Whether the left or right of the screen is dominant is at least partially a cultural bias --- readers of Western languages certainly tend to start from the left, but that's not a universal preference.

I really doubt that most users are significantly troubled by a left/right bias when it comes to looking for what they need. That's an important distinction, however: I think that users who are actively searching for information and actually planning on navigating your site will not be put off by the location of the navigation in any significant manner.

The automatic response from rapid bounce-type visitors may be significantly different, however --- I'm not really certain.

I do note, interestingly, from looking at my portfolio (public and private) that while I'm fairly evenly split between left/right navbars, (more left than right) there's a significant preponderance of right navbars in blog designs and left navbars in portfolio sites. Obviously, even without particularly _thinking_ about it, I do tend to hold to these perceived norms.

#11 iamlost


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 12:44 AM

Revenue producers go on the L-E-F-T especially within that 'golden triangle'. Actually a page can be designed to extend eye and conversion attention into an elongated 'F' or 'E' covering a larger left side portion of the page than the top triangle.

If there is a need for side nav it goes on the R-I-G-H-T. It is unnatural to overemphasise the exit.

Note: The reverse holds for rtl language sites.

I have been answering this question (the same way) for a decade - even before the eye-tracking studies provided confirmation of theory and A/B (L/R?) conversion tests. The numbers vary by niche but I consistently noted 8-14% better conversion when the nav is NOT taking up prime left sales space.

It is critically important to be consistent within the site, don't vary major page sections, i.e. logo or nav, without an extremely good reason. You might consider adding visual emphasis to overcome an unusual positioning. What is NOT important is to be consistent with your competition.

But don't take my word for it - do your own tests. And don't forget to test various revenue streams as well as placement. There is more to web revenue than AdSense and more to nav-location than that deep rut on the left.

#12 EGOL



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Posted 03 January 2008 - 12:51 AM

RTL language sites... that is an entirely different thing....

iamlost.... maybe we should move nav to the right and put ads on the left? lol

I am all for making money!

Edited by EGOL, 03 January 2008 - 12:51 AM.

#13 yannis


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 01:00 AM

Navigation block to the right has the advantage of presenting the content first to the Search Engines (and screen readers) and then the links. Although you can use CSS to do the trick both for right or left.

Personally I prefer the right and some top navigation buttons.

To be honest, I personally don't like Sidebars. Your content should grab the attention of your reader, let them read it and then present the links. How about below the content and just having some links as callouts in the actual body of the articles?

From a usability point of view you can try Fitt's law.


#14 send2paul


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 03:51 AM

I'm with Barry, Iamlost and Yannis on this one - navigation on the right - for all the reasons they have mentioned, and because, I think it "looks" correct.

If we, (humans and Search Engine Spiders), read from left to right, I want to read content - not navigation.

#15 rynert


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 04:40 AM

I have main navigation on the left and if there is a shopping cart, those elements (cart contents, top sellers, shipping, T&C links etc) on the right.

For me to be happy with main nav on the right all the browsers would have to change the way the horizontal scroll works, so that it defaults to the right to ensure the navigation is visible on low res displays or non-maximised windows.

From my users view point, left just feels natural I guess that is down to the prevaliance of left menus not just in web browsers but e-mail clients as well.

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 05:27 AM

As ...rynert... has pointed out, placing Navigation on the right leaves you at the mercy of visitor resolution, and thus limts your designs instantly, as I believe making people scroll for the navigation would be a horrendous mistake.
This means either a fixed width for the lwoest common denominator, or going for the greatest range (which could result in your nav being hidden from a percentage of visitors).

As for the eye-tracking studies... F,E,P appear to be the main eye movements/focus zones... the question is, if the menu is included (or do they ignore the nav bar when looking). Further, if the Nav bar is included, does it increase the rate of site usage (do those seeing the menu within the focus zone actually spend longer on the site due to seeing links of interest)???
I've never seen a study of the actual page content and what it covered, only the reading pattern.

Are people less likely to focus on the menu on the left, as that tends to be tail-ends and ragged edges, so they may miss links. Additionally, if there are a large number of links, the top most section is hte only one likely to be seen and get any attention whilst hte content is read...???

There are also over considerations, such as split menu's... I've seen sites with top navigation on the main page, and when entering a section, a second menu appears on the left or right. I've seen versions with the parent menu on the left, and hte child menu on the right as well.

#17 Lyle


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 05:38 AM

I'm sure I've written about this before, but on one site I wrote, we did a "splash" page where the user could choose which side they wanted the nav on. Any time they revisited the site, if a selection had already been made (stored in a cookie with a simple right/left content) then it went straight to the site with the preferred nav option.

Users also had the option to swap between them - CSS makes the entire page/nav layout thing pretty easy, after all.

If memory serves (It was at least three years ago now) we found that about 85% of people went for left-hand nav.

One other experiment we did on the same site was dynamic nav, where the sections the users went to most were at the top of the nav. In short, never ever do this - it drives people crazy! We found that actually when users are familiar with the site, they "pre-position" the mouse over the nav option they're going to want - and when that moves, they're completely lost...

Personally, I prefer left-hand nav, but that's also (in agreement with Respree's post) because I'm left-handed, so it's natural to look to the left for that kind of thing.

#18 DianeV


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 07:00 AM

LOL. Lyle, that reminds me of a site that I visited years ago.

As you navigated the site, they removed from the nav the link to the current page — which meant that the nav was constantly changing. Dizzying.

Are some of the arguments for/against in this thread are really based on preference? I don't particularly have a preference for nav location — left, right or top is okay with me, so long as it's obvious where the nav is and it's easy to use. That is, "this is the nav", "this is the content" and "this is some other stuff". I even like "other stuff", so long as it isn't designed in such a way that it's easily confused with the nav (like some blogs).

I remember that, way back when, Jakob Nielsen flatly declared that the nav must be on the left. With, I believe, a yellow background(!). Of course, he was also saying that all links on a page had to be the default colors, with underlines. Then one day he announced that he was actually changing his mind and that the nav background could possibly be a different color.

I suspect that a site's target visitors have a great deal to do with how the site might be designed. To me, usability implies obviousness.

And one of the requisites of site design ought to include not requiring that people study your nav/"other stuff" and the rest of your layout to determine which is which.

Edited by DianeV, 03 January 2008 - 07:06 AM.

#19 shadowbox


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 08:13 AM

In my own testing (purely based on studying web analytic paths and conversions), I've found it makes no difference being left or right, I personally prefer right (maybe because I'm left handed?). What I did find however was that placing navigation links within the main content area made a massive difference. For example on ecommerce sites, if a category page had sub sections, I placed sub navigation at the top of the content (like this), or even a bit further down (after specials and featured products we're shown), and found more people clicked this list than ones on either left or right of the page.

Just test out all possible ways and see if any show a noticable improvement on what matters to you (e.g. sales, sign ups, etc).

#20 fisicx


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Posted 03 January 2008 - 08:48 AM

Gosh, there was a long and very opinionated thread I started a while back that discussed this very issue.

Where do you put your primary navigation

My central argument was that once a visitor has landed on the page they require, the navigation is no longer required. By putting it over on the right you keep the focus on the content. Furthermore, if you have a long article you end up with lots of whitespace below the navigation so by putting it on the right you keep the content neatly down the left.

Much discussion followed once the other members understood what I was talking about!

#21 EGOL



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Posted 03 January 2008 - 10:00 AM

This has been a great discussion.

Lyle: I really enjoyed hearing about the site with the adjustable navigation. Thanks for sharing that!

shadowbox: Thanks for sharing that data.

fisicx: Thanks for reminding me of that thread. It is excellent. I remember reading it when it was new. That was not long after I saw a first site with right navigation. It was like being a little kid and hearing for the first time, someone say a "bad word". lol Now, right navigation is much more common and familiar.

I am glad to see some discussion of visitor behavior determined by analytics. Thanks to all who have shared that.

#22 Seven6


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Posted 04 January 2008 - 02:40 PM

I think that right hand navigation is fine. People used to expect to find it on the left side but as stated earlier many blogs are now using right-hand navigation. I vote: Yay.

#23 cre8pc


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Posted 04 January 2008 - 03:23 PM

How did that decision get reached, taking into account our Usability expert, Kim? Was this thought out heavily or just the natural choice?

The decision was based on task priorities. The majority will bookmark the forums themselves and start there. Newcomers may arrive on the homepage and the left nav shows them in a glance what we cover, with links to get going right away. The secondary task is the middle body content, which is mostly historical data and the right side is for ads and support links.

In blogs, the lead task is "read posts", so it makes sense that the left side holds the content, and the right side contains support and supplemental links for additional common tasks like archives.

It's true that humans are creatures of habit but we adapt. Some cultures read right to left, so left navigation doesn't serve them well. Eye tracking is known to show a top to bottom, left to right habit. We used to tell people that search engines "read" top to bottom, left to right and I believe this is where the habit for left nav began.

Lead tasks and call to action should be placed in hot spots but weighed with the objectives of the site.

#24 Respree


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Posted 04 January 2008 - 04:09 PM

I'm guessing, but I think left navigation has its origin when monitors were much smaller and screen resolutions, much lower.

If you put navigation on the left, there's no possible way for navigational links (text) to be cut off. If you put it on the right, depending on the resolution used, you took your chances with the dreaded and horribly irritating 'scroll right'.

Nowadays, screens are much larger and there's not nearly so much exposure when compared to ten years ago. However, I don't think its a good idea to design a right navigation site with a 'fixed width' layout, based on the assumption the everyone has a big screen.

If you have a broad-based audience (or your target audience is the 40+ crowd), you may still run the risk of alientating whomever has their resolution set to 800x680 (or lower) when you unintentionally force those people to scroll right.

Some may consider it an acceptable loss. For me, I don't like to lose anyone, to the extent that I can prevent it.

Just some food for thought.

Edited by Respree, 04 January 2008 - 04:09 PM.

#25 DrPete


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Posted 04 January 2008 - 06:16 PM

I think there's a real challenge in usability in separating habit from effectiveness. Traditionally, navigation went on the left (as others have commented, probably due to left anchoring and limitations of early layout/resolution) and many studies have demonstrated left-to-right browsing and the "F-shaped" eye-tracking pattern. So, this seems to be the current habit and is probably better for usability, on average.

Does that make it the "best" approach, though? I'm sympathetic to the argument that right-hand navigation makes more sense for blogs, since the contents themselves (especially for return visitors) should be primary. Of course, if those users are expecting left-hand navigation, that could still cause a problem.

#26 kulpreet_singh


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Posted 04 January 2008 - 07:17 PM

Chicken/Egg Question: Which came first - people tending to focus on the left, or navigation menus tending to be placed on the left? Which was the cause and which the effect?

Edited by kulpreet_singh, 04 January 2008 - 07:18 PM.

#27 Angela Charles

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 04:12 PM

I'm not sure that right vs. left is as confusing to an Internet user as nav bars that are horizontally located mid-way down the page or where there are multiple nav bars, both vertical and horizontal on the page.

Recently, I was researching university sites and was amazed at how difficult so many schools made finding some of their most important information by burying it way into the site structure, giving strange names to nav buttons, or having primary and secondary navigation on the same page in different locations.

My frustration level really rose because I knew as I entered each site exactly which nav buttons I would click, but more often than not spent more time than I'd expected trying to find the right links.

Based on that, I say right or left but keep it simple and clear.

#28 EGOL



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Posted 07 January 2008 - 08:07 PM

Most university websites have dozens of webmasters who do not talk to one another about their work. And, unlike a company they don't have to turn a profit and don't have a boss who will insist that things are done according to company standards.

#29 drummerboy9000


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Posted 08 January 2008 - 08:27 AM

My site originally had both top, left, and right navigation. Then I got rid of the right navigation and I'm considering removing the left navigation on some pages.

I guess the best thing to do would be to run a test on a site for a month with right and then a month with left and see exactly what customers want.

I'm inclined to think that left navigation is better.

A book called Don't Make Me Think has some good information on this.

#30 AbleReach


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Posted 08 January 2008 - 04:15 PM

I'm sympathetic to the argument that right-hand navigation makes more sense for blogs, since the contents themselves (especially for return visitors) should be primary. Of course, if those users are expecting left-hand navigation, that could still cause a problem.

Welcome to Cre8asite, DrPete! :wave:

It's always good to see a new usability person appear in the membership. ;)

#31 DianeV


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Posted 09 January 2008 - 04:31 AM

I'm not convinced that putting a navbar on the right automatically renders it less usable.

Consider that, before the advent of blogs, most sites (at least the ones that I saw) did not have right-hand navbars. Left navbars: yes. Top navbars: yes. But not right-hand navbars. Still, that didn't make blogs less usable or too confusing to use. My guess is that a lot of people had the same reaction I had: Wow. Navbar is on the left. Huh. Okay.

I do think that a navbar ought to declare itself as a navbar -- visually, at the very least. I'm not crazy about sites that bury the navbar in amongst a bunch of other stuff from which it can't easily be distinguished due to design (visuals) or placement; unless it's a one-page site, it really needs to be available when needed.

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