A web site's navigation menus usually get placed at:

a) the top area of a web page - filling the header, that is;

b) the top (the header), on demand - by means of a hamburger menu button;

c) top + left-hand column;

d) top + footer (the footer actually acting as mini site map).

Navigation must be immediately visible - so as to let the user know where they are in the whole structure of the web site and it must be easily available when the user would want to go somewhere else. With these two requirements on mind and given that the user's gaze usually starts from the top, it makes sense to place navigation in that area.

BUT: on the other hand, imagine the scenario of sending a link to a friend to recommend them a particular service or product. Your friend receives the link, they are eager to learn more, but they get lost in the header, with its detailed menus, plus distracting hero images and the like...

Especially people with lower cognitive ceilings, elder people and people with shorter attention span, may just close the page, thinking what they were looking for is not there or simply forgetting what they were about to do in that page...

Now imagine how much more effective it would have been if there was a very succinct header, containing the logo, a breadcrumb and a button leading to full and detailed navigation... at the footer.

You immediately see the content you are interested in, no distractions, no half screen real estate taken by navigation and strong visual distractions (hero images, etc), at the same time you do have an idea where you are in the structure of the whole web site, you do have a link to the home page (the logo) and you do have access to all the other menus, on demand.

We have already seen this, as described in option d) above. (Actually, my personal knee-jerk reaction when needing to navigate around a web site is to scroll down to the footer, because that is the only area not overcrowded with visual distractions and with really detailed navigation menus. Simply text in columns and no fancy stuff whatsoever. "How boring and useless!", a graphic designer would say...) The difference between d) and my suggestion is that in d) the header still contains plenty of stuff, distracting you from the page-specific content.

"Don't we achieve the same with option b)?", you may ask. Well, in a dropdown menu you cannot go into the same degree of detail as you could in the footer. Given the unlimited space you have there, you could go as far as putting a full site-map.

Of course, this header approach does have its limitations when it comes to web sites where you have more things to interact with, rather than things to read - e.g. a booking platform. But wait - if interaction is the main thing to do on a web page - why not have all its buttons and menus inside the main content area and till keep the header succinct?

We are used to having the header come with strong visual weight, BUT shouldn't the main content section of a web page come first in the page's visual hierarchy, rather than the header?


Could you point out specific disadvantages to a web page layout of smallish header and detailed navigation (site map) in the footer?

  • I think the Q is based on somewhat preconceived statements and not applicable to all existing websites, in fact very little applicable to online stores to cite an example. –*Navigation must be immediately visible*– Why? In what cases? –*...to let the user know where they are in the whole structure*– To buy a bouquet of flowers nobody needs to know this at all. –...must be easily available when the user would want to go somewhere else – This is what the search engines of each website are for, much easier than browsing the entire site.
    – Danielillo
    Apr 20, 2022 at 20:08
  • –...it makes sense to place navigation in that area– With a magnifying glass icon and a search engine it's not necessary. And so almost the entire introduction. I understand the question from the point of view of the unnecessary list menu, something totally useless at the moment, but in order to give an answer, I would have to reformulate the whole question by adjusting, or rather removing, much of the introduction. As a simple answer, I would say that a detailed navigation of a site is totally useless, for that there's already a direct way: the magnifying glass and the search engine.
    – Danielillo
    Apr 20, 2022 at 20:13
  • Why was the accessibility tag removed? This question states how to make content more accessible in certain situations and is basically asking if that will give any (accessibility) problems. You see, accessibility affects everyone, not just people with disabilities.
    – jazZRo
    Apr 21, 2022 at 7:56
  • @jazZR - I think you are talking about usability here, hence the addition of the usability tag. Accessibility refers strictly to people with disabilities preventing them from using a web site.
    – drabsv
    Apr 21, 2022 at 8:10
  • @ Danielillo - "detailed navigation of a site is totally useless" - horribly wrong presumption, widely shared by designers, alas :( A search box would replace the function of navigation only if people knew exactly what they were looking for and knew the exact term for that thing. When you have a vague idea what you may or may not need and you are not sure how that thingy is called, or worse yet, have utterly no idea or wrong idea, navigation is there to guide you.
    – drabsv
    Jan 30, 2023 at 11:55

1 Answer 1


Going just for the question:

Could you point out specific disadvantages to a web page layout of smallish header and detailed navigation (site map) in the footer?

A small header is indeed usual across many sites. The

      [Logo]  [Search box                                            ]  [Account]

pattern can be found on Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, Stack Exchange, Amazon, and so on. In combination with it, putting the main navigation into a sidebar is most expected these days.

Putting the main navigation into the footer comes with several drawbacks:

  • You'll never be able to do infinite scrolling
  • When a user goes to a page, realizes it's not where they want to be and want to go to another page on your site, they'll have to scroll past all your content
  • Many sites use the footer as a "legally required links" trashbin, so users may not even read any of it.
  • "You'll never be able to do infinite scrolling" - why would I want to do that? This is among the most horrible patterns I have ever stumbled across. In the very few cases when it is useful, wise designers offer the option to go with either pagination or infinite scrolling, without forcing it upon you.
    – drabsv
    Jan 30, 2023 at 11:58
  • "When a user goes to a page...they'll have to scroll past all your content" - how would you prove/ test, that this is a particularly unpleasant experience for users?
    – drabsv
    Jan 30, 2023 at 11:59
  • "....use the footer as a "legally required links" trashbin, ... may not even read any of it." - out of my experience with testing web sites and observing users, I have noticed that users are inclined to pay attention to that area, when the web site is flashy, overcrowded and messy (that is, every second web site with "modern and sleek" design... :) After frantic clicking and scrolling, they would either close the page, or google what they need or resort to that "legally required links" trashbin" for no other reason, than that it being the only place without noise and mess.
    – drabsv
    Jan 30, 2023 at 12:04
  • how to test that a footer navigation can be problematic for users? Have a sufficiently long content (eg the Wikipedia article for Rochester Castle) and have two versions, one where you have a navigation sidebar and another where you have a footer navigation. Then let your users navigate your page and afterwards ask them which was more pleasant. Jan 30, 2023 at 13:52
  • my point was to prove/ disprove that scrolling can be problematic. For instance, if you give me a short page on a mobile device vs a very long page, I'd probably prefer the short one. But scrolling over a long page, isn't a big deal, either. That is, it is a less preferred choice, on the plus side in a scale from -10 to +10. If it was on the minus side, it'd been a true problem. Therefore, your test proposal should take into account unpleasant vs pleasant experiences. Asking which was more pleasant, implies that the experience must have been pleasant in both cases.
    – drabsv
    Jan 30, 2023 at 22:49

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