The “email navigation bar” has been a mainstay of email design for a long time. Take a random dive into your inbox and check out any promotional/marketing emails you’ve received. (Especially from online retailers.) How many of them have the eponymous navigation bar? I’m pretty sure the answer’s going to be the majority of them.

I’m here to make a stand against the conventional “email navigation bar”. I have my reasons. And while I don’t expect everyone to agree to them, I hope you’ll come away with a new viewpoint.

The Email navigation bar caught in the wild

Here’s just a few of emails with a “navigation bar” in them.

Argos have made the decided that they need the entire website navigation in their emails. This could be the most in-elegant implementation possible. With all these links crammed into a small area, this is not thumb-friendly on mobile devices.

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Boden have all but two of their website navigation links in the “email navigation bar”. I can see that this is appealing and it was a smart move to not include all website navigation links in the email. But yet, for smaller devices not only is this top “email navigation bar” in the email, they’ve duplicated their efforts after the main content – see here.

screenshot-boden

Here Net-A-Porter have gone one step further than Boden. A selection of eight of their website navigation links are on the “email navigation bar”. Presumably, these are either click-throughs that perform well or categories that they would like to have more exposure for. For smaller devices Net-A-Porter have gone full-on hamburger.

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I’d even say these are “so-called” email navigation bars, they aren’t navigation bars. Clicking on any one of these links will not navigate you through the email. They are click-throughs. Click-throughs to the site or company the email is from. So why is it called a “navigation bar”?

Email design ≠ Web design

Back in the day, it was thought that emails should look like the website/online organisation/company they’re being sent on behalf of. Use the same structure. And we’ve sort of stuck to the same design patterns. But I find this to be a bit problematic. Emails aren’t websites, so why are we trying to design them as such?

Your campaigns are lying to you

Well one thing the “email navigation bars” have going for them is that they generate a high volume of clicks. And this is usually the argument for having them in your email design. But think about this for a second. If you send a campaign and the majority of your clicks have come from your “email navigation bar” rather than the body of your campaign – has your campaign been a success? Sure you’ve sent an email and your customers are reminded that you exist, shown interest and clicked. But not because of the content of your campaign.

Take it or leave it, you can’t have it both ways

The problems keep on coming with “email navigation bars” with the sheer number of devices that need to be supported by email these days. There are some incredible elegant solutions to handle email navigation bars.
One solution is the hamburger menu, to accommodate smaller devices. But again, this is using web design solutions to email problems. Reducing the number of links in the navigation bar for smaller devices. Or take the “navigation bar” out altogether for smaller devices, which is an easy solution. But considering the growing numbers of email opens occurring on mobile devices, you’re taking away this prized click through area away from the customers who open on mobile. So why was it on the email in the first place?

Learn from your “email navigation bars”

“Email navigation bars” aren’t going anywhere. They generate too much interest from the users. They’re an easy win for marketers in terms of click-throughs. Would I be so harsh to say a lazy win? Capitalise on the items that are in your navigation bar that generate the most clicks. Incorporate them into your campaign. Make a bigger feature out of them. Who knows, it might just work.

The future of the “email navigation bar”

Perhaps we can give the “email navigation bar” another name? Priority click-throughs. In-email website navigation bar. The “please-please-please click through our email” area. Or just say what they are – website navigation bars. Plopped into an email.

And maybe we need to be brave and trust that the campaigns we’ve crafted will generate the click-throughs we need so much. It’s refreshing to see emails from the likes of Mr Porter, Finery London and Howies with fantastic designs and engaging content and no “email navigation bar”.

Jaina Mistry

Author

Jaina is an email marketing specialist with nearly 10 years experience, currently working at Padawan Group where she spends her days in the trenches of email marketing from design and build to strategy, testing and analysis.