6 Types of Website Navigation & their Characteristics

3 min read • Adam Lamin

Imagine driving somewhere on an unfamiliar road without signs, markings, or a GPS. Would you be able to get to your destination?

In the real world, navigation is how we move around physical spaces. In the digital world, navigation is how users move around websites and apps. In order to navigate effectively and complete their tasks, users must be able to answer the following questions:

Where am I now?

How do I get from here to my target destination? (to accomplish my task)

What if I don’t know where I want to go? How can I discover something interesting and/or useful?

How do I go back?

It's easy to see how a user could get lost or frustrated if they don't know their way around a website. By implementing 6 different types of navigation, websites can help users answer these questions and, in turn, accomplish their goals.

1. Global

Global navigation organizes a website’s top-level pages in a way that helps users go down a specific path while allowing them to easily switch between topics.

2. Local

Local navigation represents content within a selected category or topic and is only presented to users after a global navigation item has been selected.

3. Inline

Inline navigation helps users discover and explore different topics, often seen as hyperlinked text within articles and essays.

4. Contextual

Contextual navigation adapts to users’ location and browsing history, helping them discover relationships between pages. This type of navigation is often seen in the form of recommended pages or “breadcrumbs”.

5. Faceted

Faceted navigation allows users to navigate websites by specific attributes, commonly presented through filtering. By creating personalized categories of content, users can narrow their results based on their selections.

6. Supplemental

Finally, supplemental navigation can be useful for users struggling to find what they want. This is often located in the footer of a website, containing obscure content.

Wrap-Up

Look for these types of navigation the next time you’re exploring a new website. Consider how they guide your behavior through digital spaces to get you to your destination.

Sources & Further Reading

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/mobile-navigation-patterns/

https://uxplanet.org/5-ui-patterns-navigation-that-makes-good-ux-sense-92a65df7485d

https://www.digitalimpulse.com/heartbeat/understanding-the-context-of-contextual-navigation/#:~:text=To%20us%2C%20%E2%80%9Ccontextual%20navigation%E2%80%9D%20refers%20to%20any%20link%2C,topics%20and%20information%20being%20discussed%20on%20that%20page.

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