Card Sort

How many items should you have in a navigation menu?

1 minute read time

Miller’s Law states that the average person can only keep 7 (plus or minus 2) items in their working memory.

This law has been frequently misunderstood to think that it applies to website menus. Thinking that menus must be no longer than 9 items (7 plus 2).

This is, however a user experience myth, because menu items are visually present and require recognition rather than recall.

In fact, research has shown that menus on content rich websites perform better when they have many items rather than a few.

Amazon is a perfect example of this. If you take a look, you’ll see that they have a top menu bar, a menu bar below that and a menu that opens up on the left side with each one expanding to more options. They have over 90 category links!

So, how many menu items should you include on your website?

The first part of this answer is that you need not be limited by a certain number. Rather, you should weigh the content you have on your website and organize it into meaningful chunks and feel free to link to them all.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But there is a pretty straightforward way to get an answer for you and your audience. And that’s the second part of the answer to this question.

You should let your audience determine how many items makes sense to them.

You can do this very quickly and easily by running a usability test called a card sort.

Each card represents a page or an area on your website. Participants can organize and even name the groupings that make sense to them.

Patterns will emerge and you can use this data to make an informed decision about how many menu items to include in your navigation.

It takes a little more work to ask your audience what makes sense to them, and then to really listen. If you do though, you’ll be far ahead of your competition.