Accessible and Usable Site Navigation

Is there a maximum number of links you should have on a single page? In theory you could have any number but after a certain amount the page will surely become too unwieldy.

I ask because I was recently discussing how to layout the menu of my CMS. Looking at the various tree menu systems’s I soon realised that they were all unusable in a system where any category can be a child of any other, and any ‘depth’ is possible. For example a sub sub sub sub sub category.

Think of a classic node type menu, where you click a node to expand the sub categories. Sure it may look nice to begin with, but after a few sub sub categories appear it will start to look a little ragged. Even if there is no extra indentation, there is still the problem of trying to differentiate between all the different parent categories.

Then the number of possible links a CMS menu might have makes you wonder just how many links should appear on each and every page of your site! Filesize would be increased, navigating the links becomes more difficult, keyboard navigating becomes tedious and boring and probably more! All of which will detract visitors from revisiting your site. Yes broadband access is making things easier, but not everyone has it!

In my CMS I came up with a compromise, 3 sections of links:

  1. Sub Categories of the current category(with an ‘Up a level’ link)
  2. Pages in the current category
  3. Top level categories

But what are the alternatives? and what is the best solution?

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3 Responses to Accessible and Usable Site Navigation

  1. Blair Millen says:

    I’m not familiar with your CMS, so I’m guessing that you have a bunch of links in a side-bar navigation that sits next to the main content? So if the large amount of links (and therefore potentially complex navigation) is going to be a usability concern, would it not be good idea to present all your links on a single, seperate page? (I’m imagining every link displayed in a fully-opened node tree.)

  2. Rich says:

    Hmmm sounds remarkably like a site map 🙂 And that still doesn’t really help with what should be in the menu.

    An almost upto date version can be seen at:
    Pauline Hughes Cermaics site which is a work in progress.

  3. Rich says:

    and my solution sucked. Although it will probably have to used on one site, for the others we have changed the technique utilised, after about 5 or 6 different incarnations.

    Hopefully be the end of the weekend the new system will appear with good effect on

    Though at the end of the day I learnt a lot about usable menus!

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