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I've seen many sites using both horizontal (top) navigation, vertical (left) navigation, and both across web sites for a long time. My understanding is that they're both conventions, but I would assume there must be some data out there supporting one route over the other.

My question is: are any studies or data for or against horizontal or vertical navigation (as suggested above) with regards to primary navigation (specifically on a smaller site or web app).

I've read some interesting things that are flipping me back and forth between liking horizontal more than vertical and vice versa. For example if you look at Jacob Nielsen's post on Horizontal Attention Leans Left you get the feeling that more important content should be on the left -- but you could take that as it being more important for the navigation (the user's escape routes) to be in that valuable space.

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This is actually a good start: The case against vertical navigation, but I'm looking for a bit more data. – GotDibbs May 11 '12 at 22:02
Related:… – Ben Brocka May 11 '12 at 22:40
Another related good read:… – GotDibbs May 14 '12 at 21:45
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I know two studies that cover this subject:

  1. Kalbach, J. and Bosenick. T. (2003). Web page layout: A comparison between left and right-justified navigation menus. Journal of Digital Information, 4(1).

  2. Kingsburg, J.R. and Andre, A.D. (2004). A comparison of three-level web menus: Navigation structures. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting.

You can find a summary of both studies in the article Navigation: Left is Best, by Dr. Bob Bailey, published in in 2006.

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that just about covers exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for digging those up! – GotDibbs May 14 '12 at 21:45
This was a great answer I just not only learned more but now have solid evidence to support my navigation arrangements. – Deryck Jun 6 '14 at 6:37

There is also this piece from 2004 (by the looks): "Eyetrack III: What News Websites Look Like Through Readers’ Eyes".

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Can you summarize what that article says? If the link dies or changes then this link-only answer becomes useless. Providing summaries of links helps prevent link rot, plus makes answers useful in their own right without requiring people go off to external sites to get the answer. – JonW Jul 2 '14 at 6:09

Context is often critical. So the question itself would have different answers depending on what you were trying to actually do. Maybe horizontal is better in situation A, but then maybe vertical is better in situation B.

Depending on what you actually want to achieve, your best bet might be to find cheap, fast ways to test various prototypes that meet your specific need. There are no shortage of tools out there to help you do this and move toward a data driven decision process (which you sound like you're wanting by asking about research). This approach could answer your question more specifically than relying on research that may or may not be directly relevant to your specific situation.

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In this context, I was simply looking for research to help with informed decisions at a later date as I had not seen any before on the subject -- thanks for your thoughts though! – GotDibbs May 15 '12 at 2:37

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