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Our site is pretty old and the navigation is currently a large list of links on the left side of our page. (We use CSS similar to suckerfish to collapse it)

Our site is mainly informational, with topics from news releases to science papers to social media links and multimedia.

How to make effective top navigation? Use a classic top nav with contextual side navigation? How many menu items become too many? How much of the page should be dedicated to navigation? What sort of principles guide the decision as to where something goes in my menus?

EDIT:

This is a .gov site, therefore much of the content is esoteric and not for everybody. However if you need it, you really need it. And in our case, about 50% of our visitors are probably looking to argue with us (meaning they are on the hostile side to begin with)

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4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you gave a link to your site, we could help a whole lot more.

Pros Top navigation gives your content more width. It doesn't tie up valuable width space of the page. Top navigation is easier for a visitor to find and understand If done correctly, Mega Menus provide a great way to cram a lot of information in top menus. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/mega-dropdown-menus.html

Cons You have to limit the amount of menu options or it will too wide or wrap around. It's not as easy to provide contextual submenus with a top menu strategy.

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I would love to link my site, but I am not supposed to reveal where I work for (on account my public persona might be interpreted as being a spokesman.) Silly, I know. –  MrChrister Jul 16 '10 at 20:31
    
We did implement mega menus on our intranet, the feedback so far has been positive. –  MrChrister Jul 20 '10 at 18:26

I highly recommend the book

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web

book title

Which covers a lot of really good UI design topics on web navigation.

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You can always do 2 level deep navigation or one like the one at http:www.godaddy.com but if you have more than 100 pages then I think there is better ways to do it.

When you have a lot of links I think a very strong Search feature is key and a great set of site map pages. I have noticed that almost 50% of the people that use the site I work on search for products rather than using the navigation. The company work for has over 100 product pages and everything get complex pretty quickly.

Also, an alphabetized site map is probably going to work wonders. If you look at companies with a ton of content like Google and the like they end up having pages that are basically site maps with a few images and graphic elements to make it work better.

Also, remember who you are targeting. I would guess that if you are working on a gov site then you probably have a lot of users who are not necessarily net savvy and/or have slower computers. So if you build your nav around ajax or javascript they may have issues. Using simple tools wins out a lot of the time when it comes to good web design.

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How about having a A-Z option on your top nav, this is great for lots of listings of information, have a look at this link

http://www.ihwy.com/labs/demos/current/jquery-listmenu-plugin.aspx

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I like that. We have a classic site map but that is slick. –  MrChrister Jul 16 '10 at 20:48

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