This last week I was in a meeting discussing a client site. It was a typical business meeting that was going into overtime on a Friday afternoon, and then things turned for the worst… someone suggested “optimizing” the site’s navigation by adding in a few drop down menus. I almost willfully hung myself on my headset cord.
Whats wrong with a drop down?
One site I read said that drop downs are a sign that too many people were on a committee designing the site navigation and to save space someone suggested a drop down. I’m inclined to agree.
A good navigation, even if I uses a second tier nav bar are more user friendly then fly outs, drop downs, jump menus, or whatever other name you want to give them.
1. Fly Outs conceal the menu items under them, so if we use the “Don’t Make Me Think” model of design, this is inherently a problem as a user might have to mouse over every object to find what they we’re looking for.
3. If the navigation is built via linked .js files it may not be spidered, which won’t do your SEO team any favors.
And this is dismissing the most annoying part of fly out menus: that you never know where the hidden box is. Sometimes it’s exactly where you expect, and then other times you can never seem to trace the path you need to get to the third tier of fly out menus. I have good motor control and it’s a pain even for me on some poorly done sites, I can only imagine how… unusable… a fly out menu would be if you had arthritis or other similar disabilities.
The alternatives:“Don’t Make People Think”
They don’t like doing it. Make a simple navigation that makes sense to the people using your site. If you have a big site, it’s not killer to have a second navigation bar once you drill into content, or to have to click 4 or 5 times before you get to the exact page you want. In either case it would also be useful to have a search bar and site map, but that goes for every site.
I’m not saying that jump menus don’t have a place, and Im not trying to say that all accordion/fly out menus are bad either, but they have a time and a place. If your gunning for: the best SEO numbers you can get, or are dealing with clients outside of the 13-39 bracket, or have fewer than 3 decision makers designing the navigation, chances are you’re not using drop down, fly out, accordion type menus correctly.
Update: November 21st, 2007
I read an related article today. Thought I would post it here if someone needed further convincing on this matter. Their article is called The Downer of Dropdowns, and contains a bit more information as well as a few citations.
But Id refute his “fact” that you should never use flash for navigation, just be sure that it depreciates into html and use an intelligent deployment script. I use swfobject and have to say that it works great. I have only good things to say about the script except that it takes a while to build the flash version, then the html version – which no one will really see as flash auto updates.
That’s my post for today.