We’re often asked how to go about laying out site navigation. While the trend for the past several years has certainly been horizontal navigation, vertical navigation still has its place.
One of the major disadvantages (or perhaps the only one) for horizontal navigation is that you have limited space for menu items. If you have a full menu bar, it’s difficult to fit in an extra menu item without changing the font size, margins or even the titles of some of the menu items.
The vertical navigation structure allows for more flexibility with menu items. This is why we often use it with our sub-navigation on inside pages.
But the main reason we use horizontal navigation for the primary menu items? Usability.
Consider this: Drop-downs aren’t meant to fly out to the left or right. They’re meant to fly out under the parent navigation item. Further more, several studies have shown that the top sections of pages were more successful in drawing the eyes as opposed to left sidebars.
Additionally, vertical navigation takes up more space, meaning you have less of a content area. This could equate to more scrolling for the user, and in turn, frustration.
A horizontal navigation bar provides for a cleaner, more effective experience. And while vertical navigation certainly has its place, if you have static navigation items (for the most part), horizontal is the way to go. People now understand that you find the most important items to a website at the top, meaning horizontal navigation should lead to more click-throughs and, in essence, more time spent on your site.