Faceted Overload: Simplifying the Sidebar Navigation

The benefit of using a faceted sidebar navigation on your website is that you aren’t constrained by vertical space. You can list as many links in the sidebar as you need. But this benefit also has a downside. Listing too many links in your sidebar can lead to faceted overload.

Users Miss Links Below the Fold


This is when the faceted navigation extends below the fold and overwhelms users with links. This faceted overload makes information harder to find, slows users down and clutters the page.

An overloaded sidebar makes links hard to find because part of it lies below the fold. This means users have to scroll to see the rest. This can lead to users missing important links.

Most users will pay more attention to links above the fold. They don’t want to spend time and effort scanning through a long list of links to get to what they want. Finding the link they want should happen in seconds.

A faceted overload can also lead to lower user engagement. The more links you display to users, the longer it’ll take for them to make up their mind. They not only have to scan more, but they also have to decide where to go. The more options that appear in front of them, the tougher their decision.

Top-Level Links Can Minimize the Sidebar

There’s a way you can keep all the links you want in your sidebar while minimizing workload. By applying faceted minimization you can display all your links above the fold without overwhelming them.

Most faceted navigations have top-level links. A top-level link is the main title that describes the other links under it. It’s what users read first before they see the other links. Faceted minimization hides the secondary links and shows the top-level links first.

Users only have to scan the main title to find what they’re looking for. Once they find it, they click it and the other links display. With this approach, the user doesn’t have to scan every link in the sidebar. They can find what they’re looking for easier by scanning the main titles first.

Faceted sidebar navigation allows you to list many links on your page. But you can still overwhelm users if you list too many. When your sidebar navigation starts to overload, apply faceted minimization to make your navigation easier to use. Processing information and making decisions take time and energy. Users only have so much of it.



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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Oli Reply

    Nice article – keeping primary navigation options visible above the fold is a good design choice.

  2. Tim from IntuitionHQ Reply

    Just doing research about site navigation. This article gave me some good ideas about how navigation should be organized.

  3. Vincent Reply

    Good article. Agreed with everything except I prefer the way that with new WordPress admin menu users only need to hover over each main item to reveal the sub-items, then if any are clicked that section stay open.

    This results in far less clicks and no need to guess what sub items are, which results in even less clicks as you can ‘see before you click’ what sub-items are there.

  4. Joel Siddall Reply

    Interesting article. Some very good points here.

  5. Marja Erwin Reply

    I have visual processing issues, and when sidebars don’t scroll with the rest of the page, or they scroll separately, they can give me migraines.

    It tends to be better if there’s a wide separation or a clear vertical separator between any non-scrolling and scrolling elements. It tends to be worse if there’s not, and there’re horizontal lines such as text or landscape backgrounds or the like.

    I have have trouble with animated position:sticky headers/topbars, but not with narrow position:fixed headers/topbars.

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