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Examining the Order Effect of Website Navigation Menus With Eye Tracking

Alex J DeWitt

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 6, Issue 1, November 2010, pp. 39 - 47

Article Contents


There was no significant relationship between the distance of a menu item to the centre of the menu and the time elapsed before users first fixated on that menu item. There was a slightly increased performance when locating items in the first half of the menu as opposed to the second half. It’s interesting to speculate on what insights we would have if a significant relationship had been found: If users were usually faster at looking at and finding items at the beginning of a menu, it would be clear evidence for site designers to place all the most important items at the beginning of a menu and the less important items at the end. It could be argued that many designers follow this practice anyway, although this study has shown no evidence to show any benefit to that. Therefore, the implications on menu design are limited and show that less time should be dedicated to the position of menu elements and more time should be dedicated to the terminology, Information Architecture (taxonomy), and aesthetics of menus. I would argue the exception for conventions that users anticipate, such as “Home” being the first item and “help” and “My Account”/”Log in” links tending to be on the right hand side.

In conclusion, the location of the items does not have a great impact on how quickly users can find them (at least for horizontal and vertical website menus containing 6 to 10 items). The variance of location speed must be due to other factors, one of the likely candidates being the graphical treatment of the menu, which may attract attention to items based on their colour, shape, font used, etc. Another possible factor is the users’ conscious or subconscious searching patterns that they tend to follow when looking around a web page. It is important to remember that although no significant patterns were found overall, there were still many individual cases where some menu items took significantly longer to find than others, and each use of the site produced a non-generalisable pattern of behaviour. Studies should continue to examine the optimal order of menu items if it has been identified that important menu items are being located with less efficiency and more work is needed to consider longer menus with more than 10 items.

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