Navigation Benchmarking

Our websites will be upgraded in August as a part of our ongoing brand initiative. We will no longer use a left navigation structure as the only choice for our websites. Beginning August 1st, top navigation will be the default CMS option and will be supplemented by left navigation on internal pages that require it.

Although there are numerous advantages to this approach, our decision was supplemented by reviewing 125 universities classified as division one institutions. Our goal was to determine what type of navigation structure was common in higher education. We reviewed the main homepage, alumni association homepage, and one internal academic webpage from each university.

Homepage Navigation Location

Alumni Homepage Navigation Location

Navigation Location for Internal Webpage


We found that either top navigation or a combination of top + left navigation is used prevalently. This is particularly true for homepages and is inline with industry trends that we have observed over the past few years.

It is more difficult to implement across full websites, which explains a near 50/50 split as you move to internal academic webpages. However, with our CMS we will be able to manage a top + left navigation combination for internal webpages. This will provide a cleaner user experience.

Using top navigation is especially important on a homepage, because it opens up so much space. Think about it—the left navigation bar on our current websites takes up nearly 33% of the content space. By moving that navigation to the top, we greatly increase what we can do with the design of our homepages!

Homepage Navigation Designs Chart

We saw that 35.3% of homepages used a hover menu as their top navigation implementation. An equal 35.3% used static top navigation tabs. We elected to use hover navigation because it provides the user with a better experience. Users are then able to scan the initial set of links under each tab. We are also confident because of the success we have had with the hover navigation on our main homepage.

We excited about this change. It allows us to build responsive websites that are more visual. Moving the navigation out of the content body will allow us to take our academic and administrative homepages to ‘another level.’

Joel Vertin
Digital Services Manager