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In my case there is pretty much a "tab-ception". There are a few sections that have their own child sections. Surfing from section to section (or child section to child section) is like using tabs. The main "tabs" are on top of the pages and the child "tabs" are currently on the right from the content. You are looking at a similar design right now.

I like my design. But I started to wander if it matters where the tabs are best placed: left, right or top (but never bottom, unless there are already the same tabs placed on the top). I personally think that the main tabs should be always on top, under the title of the page (I would accept other thoughts about this).

So, where and why should I place tabs in a site?

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2 Answers

The way it is worded, this question is likely to attract opinion rather than factually based answers. It is very hard to tell how your users are going to react to your layout and your use of tabs without showing it to them and seeing how they react. I would suggest doing a usability study. The best way to do so is to pay a site like http://www.usertesting.com/ to have their testers perform a task on your site that you define. They will provide you with a video of them performing the task and you can try different arrangements of tabs.

When we have had tabs on our websites, multiple levels of tabs did not test well. They were very confusing to new users (and our site was constantly getting new users). We ended up going with one level of tabs. Then we were testing whether they should be at the top or on the left. New users to the site seemed to prefer them on the left, and experienced users of our site seemed to use the ones at the top. So we ended up putting them in both places. It was completely redundant, but seemed to satisfy our users.

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When you want to allow user to cross-reference information with some other information without forcing them to scroll up and down or browse through several pages to find what they need.

Ever opened a new browser tab on the same site to compare some information side-by-side? Well, why not give the tabs on the site and save the user from the trouble?

Let's say, your user goes to "My Account", he wants to send a query to the "Customer Support". Maybe it's a good idea to provide the user the following structure:

My Account

| Orders | Shipping | Feedback |

Now, if the user was to query shipping information and while writing the support request, they'd need to double check an Order ID, some shipping details and delivery address, without the tabs, many users might either give up sending the feedback or then just leave the specifics out.

Giving the tabs, not only helps the user, but it also helps the support personnel because they will actually get better support requests which has these IDs etc in there.

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