"Quick Links" - good use of navigation or cop out?

16 Mar 2010 - 3:53pm
6 years ago
9 replies
2864 reads
Jennifer Wolfgang

Hi all,

We have in what I call our "utiity" header navigation ("About," "Sign-in," "Region," etc.) a link + drop-down called Quick Links. This is where we store links to areas of the site that don't get any space on the homepage or in our global navigation, yet are important to us. Personally, I think it's a cop-out, reflecting the poor quality of our information hierarchy + content strategy (that doesn't exist).

However, I'd like to see if there is anything out there that discusses such links - i.e., the 'dumping ground' - as they pertain to usability and/or the information architecture of the site.




16 Mar 2010 - 8:24pm
Tania Schlatter

Hi Jennifer, 

It is definitely a no-no in our book to have items in a Quick Links category that do not have homes in the information structure. When that happens, the Quick Links are a dumping ground as you say, and only luck or serendipity will help a user find a link in a "polluted" Quick Links drop down. This is one reason to avoid Quick Links, and there are certainly others. Quick Links can only work if: 1. they consist of redundant links (links that have a home in the navigation structure) 2. they truly are the most commonly accessed links on the site and 3. have no more than the number of links that someone can quickly scan (say, 5) to see what they consist of. Any more than @ 5 items, and the links are no longer "quick."

There are much better ways to "showcase" the most common links on a site that live in the navigation hierarchy. Designing promotional areas into site templates is our one of our favorites. 



17 Mar 2010 - 7:52am

You could also consider, instead of a quick links section, to implement a quicklist that presents up to, say, five items that you have used the most lately. This is derived by some tracking of where the user navigates, but it makes the quicklist a lot more intelligent.

However, I agree with Tania, that every quick link must be found in the normal navigation as well. If you don't, your users have to remember several steps through your navigation to find that hidden item. This diverts their way of navigating, from looking in the menu first (preferred), to making up own routes through the navigation. For die-hards, this will be something they get used to; for novices it is hard to learn and remember. Not what you want, I'd say.

17 Mar 2010 - 10:45am

I'm not sure that having all elements of a site in the navigation is always practical, especially if you have sections/subsections/subsubsections/articles like most news sites.  These articles can literally run into the hundreds of thousands and can't all be represented in a top level nav.

You could implement something like Site Favorites for oft-used, but hard to categorize or too deeply nested links.  This is especially easy if you have user identity on your site, but works equally well if you don't mind storing a browser, flash or silverlight "cookie".   If the user comes in from a referring search engine, you could offer to add that page as a favorite at the top or bottom of the page.  

That way, it does have it's own category on the homepage as a collection of links saved by the user.  :)


17 Mar 2010 - 11:04am
Jennifer Wolfgang

Thanks for the input, all. Our main problem is in fact our site's IA. We really don't have one beyond our product segmentation; and, the way navigation is presented is all by what our stakeholders want to show, not necessarily what makes sense for the user. It's a hard-sell to change this as we are an 'inside-out' organization (more traditional marketing, in a sense).

The best way to sell our organization on deviating from what they think is 'right' is to have documentation that backs up what is considered merely my 'opinion'. I am working on getting some user-research and usability done, but that's a long way off. Have any of you found any writings or websites you've found that address this topic?



17 Mar 2010 - 3:33pm
Rob Hatch

Funny story.  We had Quicklinks on our Extranet for its first 18 months. In the first redesign of the header and navigation structures they were "temporarily removed" while we worked out other issues.  When not one of our users complained we simply  made the temporary permanent.  If a feature is never used, is it a feature?

17 Mar 2010 - 7:09pm
Jennifer Wolfgang


I totally agree! It can be a tough philosohpy to sell, though, and I envy your team's ability to enact such a response. I'm slowly steering my stakeholders away from the, "But it's important because we need a spot to promote ourselves" mentality. That's how quick links came about: lack of space for positioning certain areas *we* want to drive people to. Hope to do some reserach on it in the next year or so. If I do, I'll have to share here, of course :)

18 Mar 2010 - 12:01am
Dimiter Simov

I knew quick links did not work but did not have any empyrical evidence. Thanks Rob for sharing. My reasoning is that quick links cannot work because:

  1. Their name is meaningless. Quick? What makes them quick. The name states they are links, they are quick but does not state where they lead. The most important attribute of a link is to state where it will take you.
  2. They are a random collection of things built by someone else. If the collection does not match the user perspective (or mental model), it is not very helpful.
  3. They rarely point to things in which users are interested. In Jennifer's case, they point to things importnat to the organization, not necesarily the users.


The only function in which I have seen quick links work is showing history or recently viewed items. Of course, in this case they are called History or Recent items.

I suspect that quick links might work for users if users can build the list themselves. I have seen the option in the website of a client but do not have data whether users actually build such custom lists or not.


18 Mar 2010 - 9:22am
Tania Schlatter

Hi Jennifer,

Several years ago we worked on developing the information architecture for 13 related sites that are under the umbrella of the VP of Finance at MIT (http://vpf.mit.edu/site/content/view/full/2). Before the IA redesign, many of these sites used Quick Links and they were a dumping ground for random links that didn't fit anywhere else in the outdated site structure. These sites are primarily for an internal audience who use them fairly regularly. People had learned to find what they wanted in the Quick Links. We found that new employees who needed to access items found only in Quick Links they had no idea where to find what they needed. 

When we designed the new IA we kept the Quick Links (called "Short Cuts") because people were used to them and we kept them to a few links to items we knew were frequently accessed from web stats and user interviews. When we tested a prototype with both long-time frequent users and new employees/occasional users both were able to find what they were looking for.


18 Mar 2010 - 11:11pm
Mathew Sanders

Hi Jennifer,

It sounds like you have some serious problems with your site structure, and a tough organisational cultural to deal with in making some changes. In highly traditional companies you might get some support creating a business case that looks at some metrics that could be improved, and tie this to some potential improvements based on some small studies.

But to answer your question, even for a site that has a good site structure, I don't feel that it is a cop out to include quick links/shortcuts. In an intranet environment there might be a handful of things that people frequently use that aren't exposed in the immediate global navigation.

In a public-facing site if you have new content continuously being created, automated shortcuts (like most viewed, most commented) are a great feature (I think) for exposing content deeper in the website.

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