Have you ever been frustrated by a website with a confusing structure? Customers find this issue especially infuriating when it comes to ecommerce sites—in fact, poor navigation can deter them from shopping with that particular site altogether. This means that business owners miss out on repeat customers due to something as fundamental as the usability of their site.
Investing some time into the structure, organization, and ease-of-use of your online store can go a long way toward building trust with your customers—not to mention the positive effects it has on your online store’s relationship with search engines like Google. Below, we cover a few best practices to incorporate into your site planning if it’s time for a structure and navigation cleanup.
1. Funnel down from the beginning
Your customer's ability to easily find what they’re looking for largely depends on what they’re shown the second they arrive on your homepage. For this reason, it’s important to naturally categorize your products or services at the very top of the page. A top navigation mega menu—or, if you’re focusing on the mobile version of your site, a hamburger menu—allows you to easily present a selection of categories and subcategories that follows users as they scroll through the page. Consider the broadest distinguishing characteristics between your products and list them here in the order that makes the most sense.
Once customers funnel down into the category page that meets their needs, you’ll want them to be able to shorten the list of products visible at one time so they don’t become overwhelmed. Decide on a few secondary ways to segment this selection of products—color, material, etc.—and add filters so that shoppers can easily remove products that don’t meet their needs. At this point, they’ll have a much smaller and more exact selection of products to peruse as they look for the perfect item.
2. Maintain consistency throughout
An ideal site navigation tool is completely integrated and intuitive. It is always accessible and yet stays out of the way; it is innovative and yet still predictable. If this sounds challenging, that's because it is. Great navigation has to be developed carefully and deliberately. However, the overarching theme here is a simple one: the navigation experience needs to be consistent, both in user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).
A consistent UX Design refers to consistency throughout your site and consistency with what users experience elsewhere on the internet. The first point is self-evident; no matter what page the user is on within your site, they should experience a uniform set of navigation options. If the navigation format is inconsistent, customers may be confused and wonder if they’ve moved to another site. Additionally, while you can customize your navigation's UX, there are certain standards that shoppers are used to dealing with. Be sure your customizations maintain some standard elements so that the navigation process remains familiar to site visitors.
The other element of navigation consistency involves your UI Design. Specifically, your navigation should look and feel at home within the context of your site in terms of color, font, and other visual indicators. It will likely take some extra time and effort to align your navigation tool with your brand, but it is well worth it to provide a consistent experience.
4. Streamline your buying process
Once you’ve optimized your navigation itself, the next step toward increasing conversions is to focus on the buying process itself. For the most part, this involves simplification—you’ll want to remove any distractions that might deter your customers from their path to conversion (for example, removing the unnecessary refinement options from your navigation). Other considerations here include maximizing the use of space above the fold and displaying the right product information on a navigation page.
A more immediate way to shorten the conversion path is to introduce “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now” buttons for each product on a page, allowing customers to skip the product page altogether if they so choose. It may not sound like much, but removing just one click between your customer and their purchase can make a big difference in your conversion rate.
As a bonus, make sure you include a search bar in your top navigation as well—this will allow shoppers who are impatient to find the exact thing they need to do so in fewer clicks.
3. Keep a pulse on your site
There are several ways to keep tabs on how the navigation of your site is performing, the most fundamental being the use of Google Analytics. Ensure that you've enabled GA on your site and monitor your bounce rate, time on page, and other important metrics closely to get detailed information about how your customers are using your navigation tool, which features are used most, and which are not working.
In addition to analytics, heat mapping can give you a clearer view into customers’ actions as they interact with pages on your site. Tools like Hotjar and Lucky Orange allow you to gain intimate knowledge of your customers' needs, and then assess problems and pain points from this perspective to determine your plan moving forward.
5. Ask users what they thought
Post-order, try sending follow-up emails to see what your customers thought of the purchasing process. Was it easy to find the right category from the start? What about subcategories? Were products well organized on the page? You work on your store so often that you’re bound to miss details that a neutral third party will pick up, and having that objective eye is important.
Well-designed feedback campaigns that respectfully ask for participation in a short survey (or even for a response to a single question) let your customers tell you directly what your site is doing well—and what, if anything, needs to change. User testing is another effective way to ensure that your audience is not running into any issues with the way your site is arranged.
Looking at your website’s structure and navigation objectively is a great way to solve for the needs of the customer, and it makes your website easier to scan and index from a search engine perspective. Approaching an organization strategy with these best practices in mind can help you build a powerful, customer-minded, conversion-boosting navigation tool for your ecommerce store.