Killing the Global Navigation Bar - A Trend to Avoid

Posted by ImageWorks Creative Team February 10, 2014

Recently, websites have begun removing the classic global navigation bar in favor of drop down menus that reveal various product categories and sometimes even lead to larger submenus.  A new Neilsen Norman Group study examines the impact of these changes on today's websites.  What's the right choice for your site?  Read on for some of the top findings.

Why get rid of the global navigation bar?

There are a few reasons web designers have moved away from easily-accessible global navigation.  Desktop users, for instance, can easily click to access what we term "megamenus" - drop down menus that include a full range of products and services.  These megamenus can be extremely useful for both consumers and designers.  As long as the headings are clear, it doesn't take much effort for people to find exactly what they need.

When it comes to sites that have been designed for mobile phone and tablet users, there often isn't room for a large global navigation bar.  Instead, an icon of three horizontal lines is often used to denote a drop down menu that can then lead users to various subpages.  Since more and more people are using smartphones and tablets to shop and search online, web design firms absolutely must make sure that their sites are mobile-friendly and responsive whenever possible. 

These all seem like great reasons to make the switch to a more modern website navigation, right? 

So what can go wrong when you eliminate the global nav bar?

Some companies have eliminated the traditional bar in favor of one massive drop down menu. is a great example of that - replacing a bar of product categories with one "All Departments" menu.  Although it seems to be working for them, there are quite a few reasons why this isn't automatically a good choice for other websites.

Users may not be familiar with your offerings.  Amazon has built up a serious reputation as an online department store.  Typical visitors are well aware of their products and services and feel comfortable using either the drop down menu or the search feature in order to find what they need.  While we'd love your business to be as successful, unless you have that sort of reputation, you can't count on your site's visitors knowing what they can expect to find there.   

There might not be enough other ways for users to find your content.  One megamenu may work for sites that have other search features, but it may be less successful for large sites with only one main navigation capacity.

You may have too few categories to warrant a drop-down menu.  Drop-down navigation is great for sites like Amazon, with millions of products and dozens of categories.  If your company offers significantly fewer options, maintaining a global navigation bar is the way to go.  That way, users have a clear and direct way to find exactly what they need, when they need it.

Consider where users are entering your site.  Because Google attempts to return the most relevant pages of your site in search results, your customers may find themselves arriving on a subpage of your website instead of the homepage.  A global navigation bar can give them an easy way to see what else you have to offer; without it, they may click away before looking any further.

Ultimately, only careful testing and evaluation can help you decide which option is the best one for your site.  Check out the research, talk with a custom web design expert, and let us take it from there! 


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