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      12 Navigation Menu Design Tips for a Better User Experience

      While creating attractive and valuable web pages is important, your efforts can be wasted if they are unorganized. This could make it difficult for users to view and interact with your content, leading to bounces (page exits) and potentially lower search engine rankings.

      Fortunately, you can design the perfect navigation menu to help users quickly find the pages they’re looking for. With many styles and formats to choose from, you’re able to create menus that impress visitors and deliver an excellent User Experience (UX).

      In this post, we’ll introduce you to navigation menus. Then, we’ll explore twelve useful tips for designing your menus as well as share some examples to inspire you.

      Ready? Let’s get started!

      An Introduction to Navigation Menus

      Navigation menus display an organized list of all your web pages from one dedicated area. Typically, they appear across headers or sidebars, so that they’re clearly visible and accessible for your website visitors.

      Menus enable users to navigate around your site more easily, but they also help them to make sense of your content. For instance, by viewing your menu, users can better understand the relationships between your web pages:

      mega menu dropdown example

      When setting up your navigation menu, you might consider featuring submenus or local navigation menus within your overarching main menu. Then, you can add lower levels of categories to your navigation if you have lots of content on your site.

      12 Tips for Designing the Perfect Navigation Menu

      Now that you know how helpful navigation menus can be, let’s take a look at twelve useful tips for designing one.

      1. Prioritize Accessibility

      A well–designed website is one where users don’t have to work hard to find what they’re looking for. Meaning, when a visitor lands on your page, they should be able to quickly locate your menu and understand how to use it:

      stylized dropdown navigation menu

      Although you can be creative, it’s important to prioritize designing an accessible website. Therefore, try to avoid vague or complex labels that might confuse readers. Instead, opt for clear fonts, high-contrast colors, and direct language.


      2. Optimize the User Experience (UX) 

      Providing a quality UX can boost your conversions and reduce bounce rate. To optimize your UX, aim to keep your menu simple so users don’t have to get to grips with complex systems. There’s a lot to be said for neat, clean designs that allow visitors to breeze through your website.

      It’s a general rule of thumb that in three clicks or less, people should be able to land where they want to be on your site. That’s why websites with lots of content areas often choose mega menus:

      mega menu navigation menu design

      These mega menus are frequently used by large e-commerce stores since they make all pages accessible from one space.

      Another factor that can impact your UX is your hosting provider. DreamHost provides quality shared hosting that can set you up with customizable themes and must-have plugins for all types of websites. We also offer user-friendly interfaces plus regular updates and around-the-clock support.

      3. Stick with Straightforward Designs

      You might be tempted to fill your menus with lots of effects to impress your visitors. However, consider saving the flashy features for your overall web design. Still, you might like to include images if it assists with your navigation goals:

      navigation menu active and hover state design example

      Another option is to utilize relevant, helpful icons such as directional arrows to guide users through your sections.

      4. Appeal to Your Audience     

      You can’t design the perfect navigation menu without considering your unique target audience. With this in mind, you can choose color schemes, typefaces, and call-to-actions (CTAs) that are more likely to appeal to your market. This can make your links appear more clickable.

      For example, a hard news website is unlikely to use the same font and messaging as a quirky baking blog:

      split navigation menu design with logo at center

      When choosing headings or CTAs to feature in your menu, you’ll want to inspire users to act. Essentially, visitors need to be incentivized to read further or discover more of your content.

      5. Be Consistent

      It’s important that the format and design of your menu meets your visitors’ expectations. So, consider using the same styling options to highlight menu items. This way, users know when a link will take them to a new page or expand into a dropdown menu.

      For example, Benefit’s website uses directional arrows beside links that expand into dropdown menus:

      simple mega menu with call-to-action

      Additionally, it can be helpful to distinguish between primary and secondary headings. You might want to do this by making top-level menu items slightly larger, or applying a bold style to indicate more significance.

      6. Organize Appropriately 

      A navigation menu is an ideal way to organize your web pages. Plus, it enables users to view your content in a way that makes sense. For instance, blogs can organize posts by topics while an e-commerce website might group products by categories:

      multi-level dropdown menu design example

      Once you’ve identified the main categories of your content, you can build your navigation menu around this. It’s also useful to choose relevant headings that properly describe the page.

      7. Establish a Clear Hierarchy

      Implementing a hierarchy within your menu enables you to break content up into smaller chunks. This makes it more digestible for users. As such, try to group relevant information together.

      For some websites, it can be useful to organize information according to what is most popular or important to visitors. Then, you can make these headings stand out within your menu. Strive to achieve a balance between showing users pages of interest while also leading them towards pages that best serve your business goals.

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      8. Consider the Mobile Experience

      A responsive menu will display attractively across different size screens such as smartphones and tablets. This is important since nearly 60% of total global traffic comes from mobile phones.

      Most websites tend to opt for hamburger menus for mobile devices:

      mobile nav menu design

      Failing to build a responsive website is arguably one of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to web design. Therefore, as you are creating your menu, consider which links are most important to include in your primary menu as this is what will be seen on smaller screens.

      9. Use Familiar Web Conventions

      Designing your menu with unfamiliar conventions might require users to learn new practices, which can be inconvenient and annoying, so you’ll want to avoid this. For instance, most users are accustomed to clicking on the website logo to return to the homepage.

      If your logo leads to a signup or product page, this may confuse your visitors. Another common convention is ‘visited’ links changing color. Including these well-known practices on your website enables users to intuitively navigate your pages.

      10. Optimize for Search Engines

      In order to drive more organic traffic to your website, you can optimize your navigation headings with popular keywords. Google Analytics and Google Keyword Planner are excellent tools that enable you to identify which words and phrases users are searching:

      getting keyword ideas in Google Keyword Planner

      Then, you can include these key terms within your menu. As a result, your website may just rank higher in search engines.

      11. Choose the Right Type of Menu

      There are many types of navigation menus to consider. Dropdown menus often display when you hover or click primary categories. Then, you’re presented with a list of secondary items.

      These menus look stylish and modern. Plus, they’re a great way to conserve space:

      simple dropdown navigation menu design

      You can go a step further and design a complete mega menu. These are best used for content-rich sites, since they can present all your pages without appearing too clunky:

      menu menu navigation design example

      Horizontal menus, which list major pages in a row format, are also quite common. Alternatively, a vertical menu, listed in a column at the side of the page, assists readers with scanning, since eyes naturally move down (not across):

      stylized sidebar navigation menu design

      Vertical menus tend to be a good match for websites with longer menu labels since they offer more space. However, they can also be eye-catching, which makes them a good choice for creative service sites.

      12. Add Breadcrumbs

      Breadcrumbs enable users to see where they are within your site’s structure. Plus, they make it easy for visitors to return to high-tier pages that led them to their current location:

      sidebar navigation menu design example

      Adding breadcrumbs to your menu avoids users needing to navigate all the way back to the beginning. Instead, they can easily jump back a step or two to find what they need.

      Excellent Examples of Navigation Menus 

      Now that you know how to design the perfect menu for your site, let’s take a look at some examples.

      Mostly Serious

      Mostly Serious features a clear hamburger icon to make room for a fun animation:

      off canvas menu design default state

      When you click on the icon, it opens a vertical sidebar menu with only the primary headings displayed:

      off canvas menu design expanded active state

      Once you start scrolling past the animation, you’ll see a sticky horizontal menu that’s neat and accessible, without distracting from the experience of reading the page:

      fixed nav bar example

      In this example, each type of menu is used appropriately. On top of that, when you hover over menu items, all navigational links are highlighted in bright blue and underlined for consistency.

      Bobbi Brown

      The Bobbi Brown website features a primary horizontal menu nestled beneath the heading. This makes it one of the first things you see when you land on the page.

      Each of the main menu items features its own dropdown menu that includes text links among high-quality images, which make the menu more engaging:

      simple mega menu with images

      Additionally, the menu is organized effectively, with the most important categories appearing first such as New and Bestsellers. Even within the dropdown menus, image links prioritize the most useful customer pages, while other areas of the site are stacked vertically at the side.

      This is Amber

      This is Amber features a quirky off-canvas flyout menu in the form of tabs that expand when clicked. Then, the selected page slides across, replacing the existing page you’re viewing:

      horizontal navigation menu design

      It’s an incredibly unique way of displaying menu items. Plus, it does a great job of building a brand identity. Visitors can also access the primary links through a horizontal header menu at the top of the page.

      Blackbird Cigar

      Blackbird Cigar uses a hamburger menu, which opens a vertical menu when clicked. This is styled like a dropdown menu although links open across instead of down:

      nested sidebar navigation menu design

      Moreover, the menu features a stylish design that conveys a clear hierarchy, enabling visitors to understand the relationship between pages. For example, when visitors hover over primary links, they turn transparent, while secondary links are distinguished from top-tier pages using contrasting colors.

      French but Nice

      French but Nice is a portfolio website that uses a captivating vertical sidebar menu that organizes projects chronologically:

      brutalist sidebar navigation design

      When a user hovers over one of the links, a preview of the page appears in a lightbox. This is particularly useful for a website of this kind, since visitors can view multiple projects without leaving the menu.

      Create the Perfect Navigation Menu

      A navigation menu is a necessary part of any website, so it’s important to make sure that yours is user-friendly and effective. Otherwise, your content can be difficult to find and hard to make sense of.

      However, when you follow a few (or all) of our top tips, you’ll be able to more easily design the perfect navigation menu. For instance, you might choose a hamburger menu so that your pages can be viewed on mobile devices. Or, you could utilize strong colors, fonts, and images to make your links more clickable.

      At DreamHost, we understand the importance of getting your content online quickly. That’s why we offer Shared Hosting with SSL certificates, a domain, and privacy protection to get you set up in no time. Choose a plan today to get started!

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      On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO: Complete Guide & Essential Tips

      Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex and ever-evolving field that can certainly be confusing for beginners — and understandably so. With over 200 ranking factors and new “rules” being added by search engines all the time, it can be tough to know where to start.

      Well we’re here to shine the light on the situation for you. You see, there are two main “categories” of SEO — on-page and off-page. One refers to things you can directly control such as optimizing your website’s title tags and headings, while the other refers to external signals such as others linking to and sharing content from your site.

      When you understand the foundations of these distinct optimization types, you’ll be able to develop a comprehensive and balanced SEO strategy. Knowing how to cover all your bases, from image optimization to link building, can help ensure your site’s organic search success.

      In this complete guide, we’ll introduce you to SEO basics and explain the difference between on and off-page SEO. Then, we’ll share different ways you can improve both to boost your site’s rankings. Let’s get started!

      Why SEO Is Important for All Websites

      Before we get into the specifics of on-page and off-page SEO, let’s discuss the importance of search engine optimization more broadly.

      On a daily basis, the average online user will conduct a wide variety of searches on the web. From looking up directions to the nearest shoe store, to learning exactly how many steps are in the Eiffel Tower, most of us turn to the search bar as a reflex. In fact, more than 50% of online traffic comes from organic search.

      When it comes down to it, SEO is so important because all websites have the same goal – to be found and seen. A web page’s search rankings have the power to drive traffic, generate leads, and boost conversions. Therefore, SEO is relevant to almost every aspect of your online marketing strategy.

      The Difference Between On-Page and Off-Page SEO

      Now that we’ve covered the SEO basics, let’s dive into the differences between on-page and off-page SEO.

      What Is On-Page SEO?

      Also known as ‘on-site SEO’, on-page SEO is pretty self-explanatory. It refers to all the page ranking factors you can manipulate or optimize on your website. These elements can include the content on your product and service pages, blog posts, landing pages, and microsites.

      On-page SEO encompasses title tags, meta descriptions, heading structure, content, image optimization, accessibility, and overall website performance.

      What Is Off-Page SEO?

      As you might expect, off-page SEO or ‘off-site SEO’ includes all page ranking factors beyond your website.

      For instance, ‘backlinks’ (or ‘inbound’ links) are links on other web pages that direct back to your website. When your site has lots of backlinks from credible sites, they can benefit your search rankings because these pages can pass on some of their authority to you.

      This is a classic example of off-page SEO, but there’s more to it. Off-page SEO is not as straightforward as on-page SEO. However, it includes concrete SEO strategies for social media, domain authority, and more.

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      10 Ways to Improve On-Page SEO

      It’s time to go into more detail for on-page SEO. Here are 10 factors to consider when optimizing your web pages for SEO!

      1. Create High Quality Content

      Creating high quality content is one of the most effective strategies for boosting your chances of appearing higher on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). After all, Google’s algorithms are designed to provide users with only the best and most relevant content.

      Keep in mind that quality includes everything from appearance to practicality. Your ultimate goal should be to create visually appealing, accurate content that will serve a useful purpose.

      For instance, if you are starting a blog, you might want to make sure you have a clear niche and stick to it. That way, you can work on growing your knowledge and establishing credibility in your subject area:

      gardening website example of high quality content

      Similarly, you’ll want to produce new blog posts regularly because readers and Googlebots alike favor fresh content. You may also want to develop a brand style guide and reference it when creating new content. This way, your audience can feel reassured by consistency.

      Calls to Action (CTAs) are also vital if you want your content to inspire your readers to make a move. Other indicators of high-quality material include images and reader-friendly text, but we’ll dive more into those later.

      2. Use Target Keywords

      Using target keywords on your page is one of the most straightforward SEO tactics you can implement. However, you’ll need to consider your intended audience before you can find target keywords.

      For example, if you run a craft blog, your ideal reader might be parents of children under 12. You could hone it down further to parents in the Pacific Northwest. Once you know your audience, you can find target keywords using tools such as Google Keyword Planner.

      You can start by introducing keywords that you anticipate your target audience may use. Then, see what similar words and phrases are produced. Choosing keywords with high monthly search volumes but low to medium competition is often best.

      It’s also wise to choose a diverse range of keyword types and lengths. For example, you may decide to use some shorter, medium-competition words. On top of that, you could select some lengthier keywords that are highly specific. These are called ‘long-tail keywords.’

      For example, if you run a candy store in Wisconsin, you might choose ‘candy shop’ and ‘candy store’. Then, for long-tail keywords, you could use ‘best candy shop in Milwaukee’:

      Google Ads Keyword Planner Tool
      Google Keyword Planner

      Once you have your keywords, you can place them anywhere on your site. You can add these phrases to blog posts, your About Us page description, product details, and anywhere else you like. However, you’ll want to avoid keyword stuffing.

      Essentially, you can use keywords anywhere you see text on the front end of your site. We’ll get into less visible locations for keywords later.

      3. Optimize Images

      Users prefer high-quality images, and search bots favor lightweight, SEO-optimized ones. Let’s consider a few ways you can ensure your photos are helping your search engine rankings.

      To start, it’s best if images are clear and high-resolution. Beyond that, you can compress image files so they are not large and heavy. Whenever possible, you may want to use a compression tool such as TinyPNG:

      TinyPNG online image compression tool

      This free tool enables you to shrink down PNG, JPG, and WebP files so that they don’t slow your site’s loading times (more on this later).

      Another simple way to optimize images is by adding ‘alt text’ (alternative text). Simply put, alt text is a summary of an image that users on the front end can’t see. It serves two essential purposes.

      Firstly, alt text increases your site’s accessibility by enabling users with impaired vision or complete loss of sight to interact with images. Assistive technologies (such as dictation tools) can help some visitors listen to the descriptions of your visual media files. Furthermore, bots can’t see pictures, but they can read the alt text.

      How you add alt text will depend on the Content Management System (CMS) you use. With WordPress, the process is simple. When editing your site in the Block Editor, just select the block for an image and find Alt text in its settings. Here, you can easily type in a brief image description and input some relevant keywords.

      4. Create Internal Links

      Whether you run a blog or a multi-page website, you will likely deal with many unique links. An ‘internal’ link is a URL that leads to another page on your website. For instance, you may have a footer with links to your blog, contact page, and other essential information.

      When creating your web pages, it’s a good idea to include internal links wherever possible. Of course, this process should always be done naturally. These internal links are crucial because web crawlers use them to jump from page to page while scanning information.

      In fact, if one of your web pages doesn’t have any internal links leading to it, it’s considered an ‘orphan page’. Search bots can’t find it. Therefore, it can’t be indexed, and it definitely can’t be ranked.

      Furthermore, internal links can keep users on your website for longer. This increased time on page may lead to conversions, lead generation, and more. Lastly, and most importantly, internal links help provide a positive UX.

      For instance, in a blog post explaining a complex subject, it might make sense to link to another one of your articles elaborating on a related concept. Additionally, internal links can help users navigate around your site as they search for specific details, such as contact information.

      5. Optimize Permalinks

      While we’re on the subject of URLs, let’s discuss permalinks. These are the permanent URLs that represent your pages, and they are also crucial for strong SEO.

      When creating new pages, you’ll want to ensure that your URLs are straightforward and intuitive. For example, if your domain is, your other pages might have URLs like and

      If you run a blog, your URLs may need to explain more complex information, but remember to keep things simple.

      For instance, for an article titled “How to Declutter Your Bathroom in 10 Simple Steps”, using the full title would be too lengthy. Instead, you could use

      Using concise permalinks is best. In fact, certain ‘stop words’ (prepositions, articles, connectors) are ignored by search engine bots. Therefore, they should be left out. It’s also wise to include any relevant keywords in your permalinks.

      6. Consider Readability

      Whether your content is brief or lengthy, readability is an important ranking factor. Your articles and pages should be well-written. It’s best to write directly and concisely, using shorter sentences and vocabulary that fit your audience.

      Additionally, you can use headings and subheadings to organize your content. These elements are essential if you’re producing lengthy how-to guides or listicles:

      WordPress heading structure

      Headings also create more opportunities to insert relevant keywords. Furthermore, you’ll want to ensure that sections are neither too short nor too lengthy. Quality content tends to be skimmable without large blocks of text. You can also use those high-quality images we mentioned before to break up the text.

      7. Utilize Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

      Meta tags are bits of HTML code that signal to search engines how they should read your content.

      Title tags and meta descriptions are examples of these, and key for helping search engines understand how to rank your website’s content. These meta tags generate information that will appear to users in the search results and might encourage them to click on your page.

      Here’s an example of a title tag:

      example of title tag appearing in web browser tab

      Now let’s look lower down the page to see a meta description:

      meta description example in Google search results

      These elements are critical if you want to boost your search engine rankings. Without them, your page’s content will be advertised with a chunk of the first paragraph on the page. Furthermore, web users will have a hard time navigating back to your page when using multiple tabs in their browser.

      To easily add title tags and meta descriptions to your posts, you might want to try out a free WordPress SEO plugin. Yoast SEO and All In One SEO (AIOSEO) are popular choices.

      8. Monitor Site Performance 

      Site performance also plays a crucial role in search engine rankings. Here, we’re mainly talking about speed.

      As you can imagine, users looking at the search results don’t want to be led to pages that are slow or don’t work correctly. In fact, Google has created what it calls Core Web Vitals. It assesses page loading times, interactivity, and page stability to give you a Core Web Vitals score.

      If you’d like to check how your site performs, you can test it using tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights:

      Google PageSpeed Insights - Core Web Vitals Results

      Simply enter your website’s URL and see how it does. If your site needs some performance improvements, you can try implementing caching or lazy loading. Even better, you could ensure that your web host uses a Content Delivery Network (CDN), though this may require changing hosts.


      9. Prioritize User Experience (UX)

      As we approach the end of our on-page SEO strategies, it’s time to discuss UX. This concept is behind most other optimization tactics because the ultimate goal is to make a website more user-friendly.

      On top of quality, performance, readability, and strong internal linking, there are a few more specific ways to create a positive UX for your site’s visitors.

      A huge part of UX is linked to usability. Therefore, smooth navigation is particularly important.

      To make exploring a multi-page website easier, it’s best to use a prominent navigation menu either at the top or left of your page:

      example of accessible website navigation

      Additionally, you may want to create a search bar feature and include helpful links in your footer. All these elements help users navigate around your site without scrolling.

      10. Optimize Pages for Mobile Devices

      Last but not least, if you want your pages to rank at the top of the search engine results, they must be mobile-optimized. This is because most internet users prefer to use their smartphones or other handheld devices.

      There are currently more than 4.9 billion mobile internet users globally, and the number is growing. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Google declares mobile-friendliness a must for SEO. Plus, with the rise of m-commerce, any online businesses that neglect their mobile visitors are likely to miss out on significant sales.

      There are a few very simple ways to ensure your website is mobile-optimized. For starters, you can opt for a mobile-friendly WordPress theme. That way, you can set it and forget it.

      If you expect to customize your site extensively, you may want to use a WordPress page builder that has mobile previewing and modification settings:

      BeaverBuilder website page builder tool

      Beaver Builder is a popular choice that offers responsive designs and editing features. It’s also easy to use with a drag-and-drop interface.

      How to Improve Off-Page SEO (3 Essential Techniques)

      Now that you know everything about on-site SEO, let’s explore how you can improve your rankings by other means. Keep in mind that the following section is briefer, simply because you have more control over on-page than off-page SEO.

      1. Build Backlinks (Domain Authority)

      Backlinks to your site show Google that your content is credible. That’s why building backlinks can enhance your website’s ‘domain authority’. Your site accumulates a positive reputation through how many backlinks it has.

      Gaining backlinks takes time and quality content, but you can use some measures to actively participate in the process. For instance, you can write guest posts for other credible blogs in your niche and link to your content

      You can also monitor your site’s mentions online and request that any unlinked instances be credited. Furthermore, some common formats that get linked to include how-to guides, “best of” listicles, and even infographics.


      You’ll want to be careful not to participate in anything shady when building your inbound links because you can be penalized by Google. Since backlinks require time and effort, we recommend using tools such as Ahrefs, which has a backlink checker.

      2. Support Social Proof

      Another way to build trustworthiness is to provide simple evidence. ‘Social proof’ typically refers to things like reviews and testimonials.

      You can create a Google Business Profile for your company or website to gain social proof. This platform has a review feature built-in:

      Google Local Search results

      Other types of content marketing can also serve as social proof. For instance, conducting a survey and then publishing your findings is excellent evidence of your legitimacy and professionalism.

      Additional forms of social proof include testimonials and partnerships with other credible brands or individuals. For example, some companies collaborate with influencers in their niche to build more social proof.

      3. Grow Your Online Presence on Social Media

      On the subject of influencers, social media is perhaps one of the most important channels where e-commerce businesses can further build their off-page SEO.

      That’s because you can share quality content on any social media platforms you use. This material can include stunning images, target keywords, and links:

      Instagram business page

      Ultimately, social media is the place to build a brand, so we recommend developing an entirely separate (and complementary) social media strategy. All of these efforts will contribute to your off-page SEO because social media posts and pages can appear in search results.

      However, you’ll want to consider which platforms your target audience uses. For instance, if you are appealing to millennials, you might want to focus on Instagram. Whereas with a younger audience, you may prioritize creating content for TikTok.

      Improve Your Site’s Visibility Using On-Page and Off-Page SEO

      Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex and dynamic field. That can make it challenging to get started with both on-page and off-page SEO strategies. However, it’s essential to prioritize these optimization methods to boost your website’s visibility.

      When it comes to on-page optimization, you can start small, implementing keywords, internal links, and high-quality content. Later, you can advance to elements such as title tags and meta descriptions. For off-page optimization, backlinks, testimonials, and a strong social media presence are essential.

      If you’re a beginner in SEO,  you might want to forget the site audits and leave them to the professionals. Check out our DreamHost Pro Services and free up your time to focus on the creative side of your business. We offer specific plans for SEO marketing that will help you rank higher on SERPs. Plus, we have an SEO toolkit to take your site to the next level!

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      What is SQL Injection? Attack Examples & Prevention Tips

      Security is an important issue for all web applications and databases, especially those using the Structured Query Language (SQL). Although criminals most frequently focus on high-value targets, even small online applications can be victimized. When important information is stolen or an application is compromised, the financial, logistical, and reputation costs can be severe. Criminals and hackers frequently use a technique named SQL Injection (SQLi) to gain unauthorized entry to a remote database. This guide describes a SQL injection attack and explains how it is used. It also discusses how to detect SQLi vulnerabilities and how to defend against them.

      What is a SQL Injection Attack?

      A SQL injection attack is an incursion that alters SQL Queries with the objective of tampering with a SQL database. It is most often used to attack web applications, but can be used on other systems that host a database. This attack uses a code injection strategy to send malicious SQL queries to the database. Often, these commands are based on legitimate information from the website. SQLi attacks are usually launched to achieve the following:

      • View private or restricted information contained in a database, including sensitive personal or financial information.
      • Add, delete, or edit information stored in a database. This could include either application data or metadata including the schema or table definitions.
      • Gain administrative access to a database, possibly creating a back door for long-term future use.
      • Compromise the server by using the database as an access point.
      • Launch a denial-of-service attack or incapacitate the database’s underlying infrastructure.

      Some SQL injection attacks are designed to remain undetected for a long period of time. In this case, the objective is usually to maintain ongoing access and eavesdrop on the database in the future. In some other cases, the hackers want to immediately extract as much information as they can, such as credit card numbers. Their intention is to resell the information or use it for criminal purposes. While the intruders would prefer to go undetected, they do not expect to access the system again. Finally, other attackers only want to inflict damage and take the application offline. They have no need for secrecy.

      No matter the purpose of the attack, it can inflict tremendous consequences upon the victimized organization. A SQL injection attack can cause several of the following negative consequences:

      • Lead to the loss of corporate secrets, confidential information, and other sensitive data.
      • Expose sensitive customer information, including credit/financial information, personal details, or private correspondence.
      • Incur direct financial loss due to theft and claims for compensation from users or third parties.
      • Generate negative publicity and a public relations crisis.
      • Take a web application or other component of a site offline or render it inoperable.
      • Hurt customer confidence and make it difficult for the organization to attract new clients and retain existing ones.

      Any organization can be targeted, even personal websites and small forums. According to the
      Wikipedia SQL Injection page
      , the average web application is attacked around four times per month. New exploits are always being developed, and it is difficult to design a truly bulletproof site. However, many hackers target sites indiscriminately using brute force. A database that has been secured through a few basic techniques is much more secure and difficult to compromise.


      This guide is intended as an introduction to SQL injections and does not cover every possible type of attack.
      Web security
      is a very complex field, and many possible attacks demand careful consideration. You should consult with web security professionals before launching any application that stores private personal or financial information.

      What is a SQL Query?

      SQL is a simple domain-specific programming language used to communicate with a Relational DataBase Management System (RDBMS). Database developers use SQL commands to send queries from database clients to the RDBMS. These queries contain commands to insert, update, delete, or read data. Queries are also used to administer the database and update the schema, including table definitions.

      During normal operations, web applications incorporate user data into SQL queries and forward them to the RDBMS. For instance, a query might add a new forum user or retrieve information about a category of products. Unfortunately, bad actors can manipulate these queries and cause the application to behave in an unintended or insecure manner.

      Types of SQL Injection Attacks

      Most SQL injection attacks fall into one of three categories. They vary in how direct they are and how difficult they are to execute. The three main categories are:

      • Classic (In-Band)
      • Blind
      • Out-of-Band

      Classic SQL Injection

      The classic method attack, also known as an in-band attack, sends altered commands to the database using the regular communication channel. It uses information learned from the response to gain information about the structure or contents of the database. This type of attack is easy to execute and can quickly yield results. It requires less skill, imagination, and programming ability than the other attack types. Many attackers use these techniques in an automated fashion on random sites, trying to find poorly-designed web applications.

      For this injection attack, the user adds information to the URL or the fields on a web form in an attempt to trick the database. The assailant hopes the database might transmit sensitive information or provide clues about its internal structure. For example, they might try to trick the database into displaying not only the public entries, but every row in the table.

      There are several variations on this method. Error-based SQLi attacks are designed to get the database to transmit error messages that reveal information about its internal schema. Union-based attacks use the SQL UNION command to append an additional query to the command. This can cause a database to display extra data. The information gained through a SQL injection attack is frequently used to craft subsequent attacks. A classic attack often takes an iterative approach. The attacking queries are refined until the database is fully compromised.

      Classic SQL injection attacks are often more successful with older applications that are built with PHP or ASP. This is due to security gaps and the lack of more advanced programming tools.

      Blind SQL Injection

      This approach is often used when classic attack methods do not work. In a blind attack, the attacker sends a manipulated query to the database and analyzes the response. The attack is considered “blind” because the attacker does not receive any direct information from the server. The attacker can analyze details, such as how long it takes the server to reply, to learn more about the database.

      The two most common types of blind SQL injection attacks are the Boolean Attack and the Time-based Attack. In a Boolean attack, the attacker expects a different response if the query is True than if it is False. For example, the results might get updated if the query is valid, but stay the same otherwise. The attacker might also be able to deduce some information based on whether they receive an error page or not.

      A time-based attack extracts information from the database based on how long it takes the server to respond. The attacker can selectively add delays to the query and calculate the response time. They can also construct commands that take longer to process in some situations compared to others. For example, a time-based attack might initiate a complex calculation for each column in a table. Tables that have more columns take longer to process the query. However, if the processing time exceeds the connection timeout value, the response becomes useless.

      Although this type of attack takes more time, forethought, and consideration, it can eventually uncover plenty of information about the database. Therefore, it can be as damaging as a classic attack, even though it is less common.

      Out-of-Band Injection

      Out-of-band attacks are the most complicated and the most difficult to construct. They are less common than the other two types. They do not rely on the behavior of the database. Instead, they receive information through a different channel other than the original web application. For example, they can trigger the database to transmit DNS or HTTP requests to a server under the attacker’s control. This is often referred to as a compounded SQL attack.

      Some out-of-band attacks might only work if certain features are enabled on the database. For example, the UTL_HTTP package must be configured on an Oracle database before it can forward any HTTP requests.

      SQL Injection Attack Examples

      Many SQL injection attacks take advantage of SQL keywords and syntax. The object is to use valid queries to get the database to operate in an undesirable manner. The particular details of these dangerous commands vary between the various RDBMS applications. However, most attacks use a few basic methods. The following SQL injection examples demonstrate some commonly used approaches.


      Although the core SQL syntax is standardized, the implementation varies between RDBMS applications. The different database applications also offer unique enhancements and features. These might be more or less secure. Some of the following attacks might work on some databases and not others. Consult the database documentation for more details.

      In SQL, the -- symbol means the rest of the command is a comment. If a user adds a comment indicator to a field it might be incorporated into a dynamic command. This could cause other fields to be ignored.

      In the following SQL injection example, a web form might have a field for the username and another for the user password. The backend of the application validates the login using the following command:

      SELECT * FROM forumusers WHERE username="username" AND password = 'password'

      If an unprotected dynamic query, a hostile agent could enter the name of another user followed by the sequence '--. The quotation mark closes the field while the -- characters convert the rest of the command into a comment. As a result, the web application sends the following command to the database.

      SELECT * FROM forumusers WHERE username="otheruser"--' AND password = 'password'

      When the comment is stripped out, the command evaluates to the following.

      SELECT * FROM forumusers WHERE username="otheruser"

      If no other validation or safeguards are in place, the application might permit the attacker to log in as the other user.

      Using the UNION Command

      The UNION command is very powerful. It retrieves the intersection of two distinct queries. This can be used to extract additional results from the database, combining an “innocent” query with one requesting sensitive information.

      As an example, the original command might be constructed in the following manner.

      SELECT name, price, description FROM products where category ='categoryname'

      The attacker might then add the phrase 'UNION ALL SELECT username, password FROM forumusers -- to the end of a product name. This results in the following query.

      SELECT name, price, description FROM products where category ='categoryname' UNION ALL SELECT username, password FROM forumusers

      This might result in the login details of all the forum users being dumped onto the attacker’s screen along with the product information.

      Using Stacked Queries

      In SQL, the ; symbol is used to separate two queries, which are executed together in the same transaction. This is known as a stacked query. This is often a useful feature, but it can cause problems for web applications. If an attacker adds a ' character to terminate the original field, they can then add ;, followed by a malevolent command.

      For example, the application logic constructs the following command from a user-specified category.

      SELECT name, price, description FROM products where category ='categoryname'

      Then the user might end their product selection with '; DROP TABLE forumusers --. This causes the command to execute the following commands:

      SELECT name, price, description FROM products where category ='categoryname' ; DROP TABLE forumusers

      If not detected elsewhere in the application, this command would delete all the user accounts, rendering the forum nearly worthless.

      Using the OR Keyword

      Attackers can also use the SQL OR keyword to extract additional information. The phrase +OR+1=1 always evaluates to True, so an attacker can use it to access the entire table. It could also be used on the forum login page, which ordinarily generates the following query.

      SELECT * FROM forumusers WHERE username="username" AND password = 'password'

      The phrase +OR+1=1 could be inserted, radically altering the command.

      SELECT * FROM forumusers WHERE username="username" OR 1=1 --' AND password = 'password'

      The expression 1=1 evaluates to True. So does username="username" OR True. This results in an unqualified SELECT * statement without any conditionals, which displays the login information for every user.

      SELECT * FROM forumusers

      Other Techniques

      Attackers typically iterate through several techniques until they find something that works. They can potentially use a long list of keywords along with numerical and string manipulators. For instance, they can use the SQL CONCAT keyword. They can also use the CHAR keyword to transmit individual characters as their hexadecimal equivalents. This could bypass validation techniques that are scanning for certain invalid characters. Some commands provide information about the database and its schema, although they differ between the various RDBMS applications.

      Several websites provide detailed “cheat sheets” about the most common attacks. One example is
      Netsparker’s SQL Injection Cheat Sheet
      . It compares and contrasts the various RDBMS systems, so it can be used as a MySQL injection cheat sheet, for example. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) also provides a very detailed and useful
      SQL Injection Prevention Cheat Sheet

      How to Detect a SQL Injection Vulnerability

      To ensure a web application is not vulnerable to common web attacks, consider security issues at every stage of the development process.

      • During the design specification process, document how to handle security threats.
      • At the implementation stage, build common classes or functions to sanitize input and detect suspicious data. Every client should call these routines to ensure every case is covered.
      • Develop a strategy for input validation, also known as sanitization, to detect malicious input. All user-provided data should be verified to ensure it is legitimate. At the same time, valid input must still be allowed. See the section on
        Preventing a SQL Injection Attack
        for more information.
      • Use established quality assurance techniques and tools to ensure common SQLi attacks are blocked. Build automated test and regression scripts to validate fixes and ensure security holes are not introduced.
      • Stay informed about new security issues and emerging threats. Keep the web server and RDBMS updated to the most recent release using the latest security updates.

      Applications handling financial information are at an even higher risk of attack, and should consider some additional measures. This increases the development and operational costs but provides an extra level of protection.

      • Consider hiring a security firm or consultant. An expert can review the design documents beforehand and run a security audit on the final product. Some firms provide commercial web vulnerability scanners. These scanners can be run anytime during the development process.
      • Employ a web application firewall (WAF) to detect threats. These applications continually update their list of attack signatures and filter input coming IP addresses with bad reputations. Because these applications are continually updated, they provide a reliable level of ongoing security.

      The OWASP has a good
      security code review guide
      which covers SQL injection attacks along with other web security issues.

      Preventing a SQL Injection Attack

      Several basic coding principles can greatly enhance database security. Most attackers are hoping to find easy targets. If their standard playbook does not work, they are likely to move on to another site. Many of the most obvious safeguards can be used together for increased effectiveness. To reduce the chances of a SQL injection attack, follow the steps below.

      • Use parameterized queries: This technique uses prepared SQL statements to construct the query beforehand. Variables initially take the place of the actual parameters. The actual user-supplied values replace the placeholders later on. This draws a distinction between code and data, and renders many attack techniques much less useful. For example, an attacker cannot comment out the remainder of the query using the -- sequence. The double dash would be included as part of the username field. The database would attempt to locate a user field ending with '-- and would not find it.
      • Validate all data: Before accepting any data, verify it is actually valid. This includes rejecting any input using certain characters or certain keywords. Table and column names can be mapped to their actual internal names, which should not be exposed to the customers. Choice control can be used to limit certain selections. For example, a form’s design can force a user to select their birth year from a drop-down list. This means any input in this field is guaranteed to be valid.
      • Use stored procedures: This is an alternative to parameterized queries with the same goal. Stored procedures are saved inside the database, allowing the application to use them at any time. Typically, the procedures automatically parameterize the code. As an added precaution, only a user who has execute privileges can run these procedures. Unfortunately, there might be cases where this technique is not completely foolproof. Consult the user documentation for the RDBMS for more information.
      • Use non-standard names for tables and columns: Many attackers look for standard tables such as customers or fields including username and password. Adding a prefix or suffix to each string or column provides additional protection at the cost of a bit of extra complexity and longer strings for each name.
      • Escape the input fields: This technique is not considered effective on its own, but provides another layer of protection as part of a total security strategy. Every RDBMS has a method of escaping user-supplied data. This involves recalculating the input so it is treated as pure text, rather than keywords or application-specific symbols. Some applications convert the input characters into their hex equivalents. The PHP programming language, which is often used in conjunction with SQL, also provides tools for escaping SQL queries.
      • Restrict the access privileges of the database user: Determine the level of access every account requires and configure the user roles accordingly. This limits the damage any individual user can inflict. A similar optimization is to limit the system privileges of the database owner. Even if a user gains access to an administrative account, they cannot use it to gain further access to the server. SQL views can also be used to further limit access. Our guide
        SQL Database Security: User Management
        discusses how to develop an access management strategy for an RDBMS.


      A SQL injection attack is a type of security threat where attackers manipulate the data in web forms or in URLs. The main purpose of this attack is to get the database to behave in an undesirable or insecure manner. This might result in the database displaying confidential data or allowing an unauthorized user to modify, add, or delete data. An injection attack can cause a severe loss of reputation and operational or logistical consequences for the victimized business.

      The three main types of SQL injection attacks are classic, blind, and out-of-band. The classic method is the most common. The attacker directly assaults the database, submitting malevolent data as part of a query. For example, adding the -- sequence causes many RDBMS applications to treat the rest of the command as a comment. This might cause important parts of the query to be dropped and allow the attacker to log in as an administrator or another user.

      Database operators can protect themselves by considering security at every stage of the development process, hiring a security auditor, or deploying a web application firewall. Several coding defenses including parameterized queries, input validation, and stored procedures can thwart most common attacks. If you are considering deploying a web application that uses a database, consult OWASP’s
      cheat sheet
      security code review guide

      More Information

      You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information
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      useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of
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