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Primary navigation

Primary navigation controls are those which are present on most pages of a site (normally all the "inner" pages), in a regular format. These controls should allow users to get anywhere on the site.


Often these controls are present in a sidebar to the left, right, or top of a page. (On this site, the hierarchical position information, which also contains links, is at the top, and the list of all sections within the current lesson is at the left.) Following this convention can make a Web site easier to use because it is a common standard on the Web.

As with location information, it's very important that these controls are in a standard position on every page of the site, so that users can find them quickly without confusion.

Combining with location

Navigation controls are often combined with location information. If the location information includes the name of the section which a page is in, then clicking on that section will normally take users to the main page of that section.

Again, this is common to many Web sites so it can make the site easier to use.

Navigation to where?

Primary navigation controls should always provide access to upper levels of the site. It should be possible to get to the main page for the current section, or to the main page of the entire site. Users need to do this if they get lost or if they arrived at the site from a search engine or outside link.

Sometimes primary controls also include links to other pages at the same level of the site, for quick access.

In addition to a sidebar, a common technique is to include "Next" or "Back" controls as standard within each page. This is often useful rather than (for example) requiring users to go up to a higher level and then back down, when they simply wish to go through all the pages at one level.

Your own site

Individual exercise

On a piece of paper, list all the primary navigation controls. Don't worry about where they will go on the screen, or other such details; simply list each page that you will be able to directly reach from most pages using the primary controls. An example list like this might be:

(If you use words like "section", make sure you clearly understand what constitutes a "section" in your site.)