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Right side menus: ranking and usability?

 12:59 pm on Sep 14, 2000 (gmt 0)

Brett is using right side menus on SEW, and I like that a lot. This got me wondering if anyone has any evidence about right side menus versus left side menus -- both for ranking and for usability.

Jakob Nielsen says left side menus are the familiar and expected format -- and that any departure will sacrifice traffic. But right side menus feel good to me. Since the scroll bar is on the right it means less mousing around to navigate. It also puts content closer to the top of the HTML for the engines.

I have designed both ways, but I never switched from one to the other so I could get a handle on how site stats and SE rank were affected. For usability, the number I'd want to check out would probably be page views per unique.

Anyone have experience in comparing the two?



 6:09 pm on Sep 14, 2000 (gmt 0)

Did you want me to wait to reply? (if you did : whoops, here goes anyway).

Umm, for se purposes, the right side menu gets the content higher on the page and often under fewer tables. I feel there is evidence that se's like right side menus better than left side ones.

As for user like/dislike. Ya, I think you do take a small hit. I can afford to do it at sew, where people come expecting to read content and not just in the middle of a blind clicking surf daze. Interestingly enough, I've already received more positive feedback on the design switch at sew and other sites, than I have ever had previously.

I'm not aware of any free info published on the net dealing with this -there are some useability studies that have been done, but those are major bucks.


 6:37 pm on Sep 14, 2000 (gmt 0)

I can only comment on my own reactions to R/H links and nav panels... I tend to mentally categorize them as 'subordinates' and of 'lesser interest.' I'd say that I tend to block them from my reading pattern, in a way similar to scanning banner slots. Only when I find that the main content panel is on target with my search requirements or interests do I remember to force myself to review the right-hand side.

No, I think the classic inverted "L" pattern or the "C" is by far the best from a usability standpoint.


 6:53 pm on Sep 14, 2000 (gmt 0)

When I was first designing my layout and knew of course nothing about it whatsoever, I just naturally placed my nav on the right side. Did not know it was even an issue. It just FIT for me there.

When I felt close to being done I meekly submitted it for review at a very-high-end designers forum and asked the folks to take a look [they seemed great about doing that for newbies]. I got crucified. Their responses were so brutal on the R/S L/S issue that the regulars there actually chastised each other for how hard they came at me.

From a SEO standpoint such as tedster pointed out, it made more sense to me to stay right side. Once the forum members were through with me, I deleted the bookmark, never went back and have even forgotten who they were. I am R/S.


 7:42 am on Sep 16, 2000 (gmt 0)

Nice story Pshea.

Tedster inspired me to do some research on the subject. The best authority I could find, was back to Jakob's site yet again. Is Navigation Useful? [useit.com]

After giving 3 days to the 'new design effect', the week after the new design (5-13) went online over at sew, hits were up by 25%. Throwing out the users grabbing more than 20 pages and spiders, the per-user click ratio was up by almost two full clicks over the previous week. I'm sure it was entirely due to the new design and reduced load time. I took the stock template from 13k to less than 2k. The home page has dropped from 38k to under 19k (pre banners).

I also got rid of numerous cgi calls that slowed things down and put the ssi perl counter call at the very bottom. I may miss some people clicking away sooner than the counter gets called, but I'd rather have the server busy pushing the page out the door than waiting a half second for the counter to be called. An eye opener is to put a counter at the top of the page (ssi) and a counter at the very bottom of a page. Many times they are 5% different.


 2:41 am on Sep 19, 2000 (gmt 0)

Just a quick followup. I've continued to get email about the design. Not just one, but several of the sites I've done this too have been getting very favorable feedback. I've gotten more 'nice job' comments in the last week on one site than I've gotten in the sites history.

I'm not entirely convinced the setup is that much better, but it is that much better than the old design. It is going to take alot to get me to change in the future. I think 50% of it is the reduced load time. I'm convinced there is incredible reward in reducing load time. I'm instigating a 20k barrier for html+gfx now (before banners that are out of my control). If I go over that limit, it better be for good cause.


 6:55 am on Sep 19, 2000 (gmt 0)

You've got me thinking about load time versus usable time.

I have one client whose business requires heavy graphics to display art related goods. The time to fully load a page can be more than a minute. In designing that site, I had no choice but to allow such "rule breaking". In fact, looking at competing sites, load times of 2-3 minutes are common.

However, I realized that this need not mean the user must wait more than a minute to see something useable on their screen. Taking care to create top-of-the-page sections that render quickly made a lot of difference. Breaking layout tables into three or four separate tables instead of one long table is very important for this, especially if the page has nested tables.

Netscape in particular can take a lot of time to draw a complex table structure. And unlike Explorer, Netscape often does not render anything at all on screen until the whole table is ready.

I feel rendering time is the real usability issue -- not download time. I've seen pages that take up to an extra 30 seconds to render in Netscape, even though the "document done" message appears in 10 or 15 seconds.

Large dimension JPEGs are particularly bad for this, no matter how well compressed they are, because the browser still needs extra time after the download is complete to de-compress and draw the image.

I thought I'd share this, because my client, whose pages can take over a minute to fully download and display with a 56k modem, gets regular compliments on how fast the site loads! The server logs are full of incomplete downloads, but the sales are there, and that's the goal.


 1:58 pm on Sep 19, 2000 (gmt 0)

<You've got me thinking about load time versus usable time. >

I have a similiar situation doing a site for a business training company. About six pages listing seminars availoable with complete contents of each seminar. Pages are around 60-70k.

However by splitting up into one table for the seminar list and then seperate tables for each seminar's contents, the seminar list table renders quite quickly whilst the rest of the page is still loading.

Works a treat.

My 2c



 8:24 am on Oct 10, 2000 (gmt 0)

It has been almost two months since I made the switch, and there is little doubt it has helped. Average daily hits have remained increased by 35%. Average per user hit has also went up 1.75 clicks to a whopping 5.5 clicks per user. Additionally, SE rankings are up across the board. I attribute the user increase to the reduced load time, the se increase due to the combined factors of reduced tables and reduced page size.


 3:14 am on Jan 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

I just wanted to update this conversation. I changed a site to right hand menus from left hand menus a few months back, and I've actually seen an increase in stickiness (I watch page views per unique, not time).

The SE ranking improvements I was hoping for didn't really materialize, but the user compliments and SALES increases did.

I know that Jakob Nielsen and other usability folks caution against moving away from "standardized" elements, such as inverted L navigation. But I got different results, and I personally enjoy being able to keep the cursor on the right side near the scroll bar.

Edited by: tedster

sean orourke

 4:30 am on Jan 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

Tedster, although Nielsen cautions against nonstandard navigation, he does state that you can break from standards if it brings a significant increase in usability. When Bad Design Elements Become the Standard [useit.com] lists his opinions on the adoption rate vs. usability gain tradeoff in greater detail. The article also has a section specifically on the left-justified navigation rail which I found interesting.


 4:46 am on Jan 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

Anyone used javascript and cookies to let the user select right-hand navigation as a preference? Seems do-able, load the nav column by calling a function, collapse the side not chosen.


 8:28 am on Jan 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

Sean, here's a quote from that Neilsen web page that you linked to.

If we were starting from scratch, we might improve the usability of a site by 1% or so by having a navigation rail on the right rather than on the left. But deviating from the standard would almost certainly impose a much bigger cost in terms of confusion and reduced ability to navigate smoothly.

I got more like a 20% improvement in pageviews. Maybe people are a bit more flexible than Jakob assumed. Elsewhere on that page Jakob says:

If we were designing the Web from scratch, I would recommend using a different link color than blue. Since we are designing sites for the Web as it exists, I retain my recommendation to leave the standard link colors alone.

I never thought twice about using different link colors if the color scheme needs it. I figure as long as the underline stays, and visited links have a new color, what's the problem?

Is Nieslen right here? As he did with right hand menus, he does say that the blue color is not the best standard. Does anyone have experience with link color making a difference in site functionality, usability, etc?


 12:25 pm on Jan 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

Three comments:

Right vs. left could affect your SE placement either way. Your nav bar may be substantially more or less attractive to search engines depending on its content.

Where your nav bar is located in your HTML file doesn't necessarily control where it's located on screen. CSS, for example, allows you to arrange the file for SEs and the screen for users.

I tend to use blue-ish links. Users do seem more likely to recognize a blue link as a link (outside of obvious nav bars and the like), but mixing blue with whatever color you use for your text seems to work pretty well without looking hideous on non-white backgrounds.


 6:32 pm on Jan 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

>> Your nav bar may be substantially more or less attractive to search engines depending on its content.

Thanks gmiller. By the above statement, are you referring to text vs. images and the presence of alt in image tags? Or are you talking about more than that? Your choice of the word "substantially" intrigues me.


 7:25 pm on Jan 21, 2001 (gmt 0)

I'm actually talking about keyword density in the nav bar. If the SE likes that kw density better than that of your main content, you may improve your ranking by having the nav bar above the content in your .html file. Conversely, if your main content has a better kw density than your nav bar, the reverse would likely be true.

Naturally, this is all subject to the usual disclaimers about how some SEs may not pay much attention to a keyword's location in the file and how kw density isn't the only factor SEs use and such, but you knew that already.

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