Excellent.org explains the principles for a good online store navigation and gives tips, on the picture is a street sign, which points in different directions

Online Shop Navigation – Important principles and tips

More and more people are shopping online, which is also reflected in the continuous increase in e-commerce sales [1]. In order to be able to take advantage of this enormous potential, you should make your users‘ shopping experience as easy as possible. A central aspect that determines the ease of use of an online store is the navigation of the website. Potential customers must have a quick overview of the products on offer without being able to see them next to each other on the shelf. And if something concrete is sought, it should be found quickly. This week, we will explain which navigation elements you can use in your online store and what you need to keep in mind.

The Online Shop navigation serves as an orientation

You probably know the following situation: You enter a store unknown to you with the intention to buy a certain product. In order to orientate yourself at the beginning, look out for appropriate signs. These are usually located in the different aisles and are labeled with generic terms that give an overview of the products available there. If you need further help, you can ask the store personnel. And in the end – thanks to groundbreaking signs and the additional help of the staff – you could find and purchase your product.

In online retailing the requirements are different, but the sequence should be similar. Entering the store is now the same as entering the website. Similar to a construction or even a supermarket, the nature of the products on offer should be immediately clear. The signs in stationary trade are replaced online by categories, with upper and lower categories. If a specific product is searched for, the search bar should fulfill this wish and, similar to store personnel, lead to the right product.

Various elements serve for orientation

The navigation of a website or an online store includes all the elements that help the visitor to find his way around and get from A to B. In the following, the different elements will be described in more detail.

Main menu

The main menu is the central navigation element and is therefore familiar to most people. It displays the main contents and serves the user to get a rough overview of the offered products. On the desktop, the main menu is usually located centrally under the logo or alternatively on the left-hand side. Subcategories are often displayed as drop-down or flyout elements.

Excellent.org explains the principles for good online store navigation and gives tips, the picture shows an example of a drop-down menu

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Especially with extensive content and correspondingly long pages, the menu is often integrated as a sticky menu. Here it remains visible at the top of the screen even when scrolling down and allows easy navigation.

On mobile pages, the menu can be displayed as a burger menu (icon with 3 horizontal lines).

Search function

In order to enable the user to search for a specific product, a search function should also be integrated. This is particularly important, as search queries can express potential purchase requests and thus provide valuable data.

Footer Navigation

Other important elements, for which there is no more room in the main menu (because they have nothing to do with the offered products, for example), can be linked in the footer navigation. Here you can often find information about shipping and returns, privacy and imprint, as well as links to social media.


Excellent.org explains the principles for good online store navigation and gives tips, the picture shows an example of a footer menu

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Filter function

Once the visitor has selected a category, the filter function allows him to narrow down the results further. In the category ‚Tops‘ under ‚Men‘, for example, only black clothing can be shown.

Breadcrumb navigation

Breadcrumb navigation is often located on the category pages between the main menu and the actual products. It shows users their current position on the page and allows them to return to previous pages.

Excellent.org explains the principles for good online store navigation and gives tips, the picture shows an example of breadcrumb navigation

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Page pagination

By pagination (division of products on several pages) endless scrolling can be avoided and by reference points the navigation becomes easier for the users.

Internal links

Online shopping eliminates the spontaneous purchases that come about by simply strolling through aisles in stationary retail stores. This problem is counteracted by internal links. Especially in online stores, these often take the form of recommendations or similar products. Here, users are offered alternatives that invite them to browse further.

Excellent.org explains the principles for good online store navigation and gives tips, the picture shows an example for internal links

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Tips for an easy to navigate online store

In the following section, we explain how you should design the navigation in your online store so that your users can find their way around better.

Meeting expectations

There are areas in which innovations and newly thought-out concepts make perfect sense. However, the placement of certain navigation elements should not be one of them. The main menu is expected centrally in the header of the website, the search function in the immediate vicinity. On category pages, the menu is then often in vertical form as a side menu.

These placements are used by a large number of websites and users have become accustomed to them. If important elements are now placed in other places, the navigation of the page must be relearned. There is a high risk that users will jump off again.

Pointing the way in all directions

An important point to ensure that users find their way around quickly is to show their current position. The breadcrumb navigation described above can help here. On the other hand, however, it is particularly useful to highlight the active category visually. For example, if a user is on a subpage of the category or menu item ‚Men‚, this menu item should be highlighted with a different color.

Excellent.org explains the principles for good online store navigation and gives tips, the picture shows the luminous inscription "You Are Here"

Designate categories in an understandable way

Also with many categories and subcategories, certain terms have become established where users immediately know what is behind them. The most important thing is that the terms are understandable for the target group. In addition one should pay attention to as concrete and short a formulation as possible: e.g. garden tools instead of products and T-Shirts instead of short-sleeved tops.

Particularly with the terms for the main menu one should select only a limited number, so that a fast overview is possible. As a rule of thumb, between 5 and 7 different elements are often recommended.

Ensure clarity

Provide more clarity through visual aspects. For example, main categories can be printed in bold to clarify the hierarchy. To facilitate an easy overview, leave enough space between different elements. In the drop-down elements (subcategories), for example, you can also work with symbols if they make orientation easier.

Excellent.org explains the principles for good online store navigation and gives tips, the picture shows an example for the clear presentation of subcategories

via matches21.de: Through different font sizes or highlighting
as well as indenting the subcategories allows a quick overview.


Usability – the easy and customer-friendly operability of a website – is a significant success factor. For example, if an online store is too difficult to navigate due to the unfamiliar placement of some elements, users are quickly frustrated. They lose patience and leave the website again – a purchase does not take place. So make sure that navigation is as simple and intuitive as possible to tap the full potential of e-commerce.


[1] Statista: Umsatz durch E-Commerce/Onlinehandel in Deutschland bis 2019