5 Ways to Boost Navigation and Search Conversions

Oct 30, 2012 7:05 PM  By

Poor navigation and search capabilities lead to high bounce rates, unhappy visitors—and, ultimately, fewer sales.

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Fortunately, with a little TLC, marketers can keep the navigation bar and search widgets in tip-top shape. Here are five ways to turn navigation and search into lean, mean moneymaking machines:

Simplicity
Resist the urge to be clever or cutesy with navigation tab titles. Instead, give consumers clear, familiar direction. Test out different tones and copy that more explicitly describes the page they’re about to visit. A search box should be tested for size and location, as well as the copy that lives in the search widget to prompt the search.

Harry & David recently ran a multivariate test on its search functionality, testing such elements as the button color and copy, search widget copy, and surrounding copy and links. After testing 2,500 experiences, the company chose a winner that produced a double-digit uplift in conversion rates—ultimately leading to more sales.

Consistency
Don’t confuse consistency with a lack of design and customization elements. Choose between side or top navigation based on the amount of content on each page and the site’s brand aesthetics. You can and should use multivariate and A/B testing on various placement options to get statistically valid results about what keeps consumers clicking through most often—so you’ll know what’s working and what’s not.

In keeping with this consistent approach, the search box should also be in the same place on every page or, if it shifts, in a highly visible location. On product pages or other pages with lots of content, consider testing an additional search box at the bottom of the page, as well as the size and color of the buttons themselves. Not sure if box placement and approach are working? Track and test user behavior—in a live environment—to know for sure.

Relevance
When it comes to search and navigation, it’s important that the results actually give customers what they asked for. This sounds obvious, yet too many sites offer results that have little or no relevance to what users clicked on or typed in the box, or likewise have mislabeled navigation that takes them down the wrong rabbit hole.

Some of the best search elements leverage information from previous site activity and search queries, improving the chances that visitors will find what they seek from the get-go. This helps marketers determine which products generate the most interest, so they can optimize the site to promote those items more heavily—and sell more.

Also keep in mind that navigation clicks and search query information are two of the many data variables that can be used to drive compelling and tailored offers for each visitor.

Clear categorization
A user’s ability to instantly recognize categories on the navigation bar is crucial to a site’s usability. Images or clever wording can mean very different things—or nothing at all—to visitors depending on culture, life experience, geographical location, etc.

This often leads to “mystery meat” navigation, where visitors have absolutely no idea what they’re going to discover when they click on a given tab. Sticking to unimaginative, text-based navigation may seem dull, but it quickly and clearly communicates to customers where they’re going next.

For search, more complex sites can consider adding a filter in the search widget itself. Amazon.com allows for a drop-down to search for a product within certain departments. Consider testing other search categories, such as department, price and color, depending on the depth of your offerings.

Readability across all formats
It’s amazing that so many e-commerce sites still haven’t gotten the memo: A significant percentage of online shoppers are now browsing and buying via tablets and smartphones. According to Prosper Mobile Insights, the main shopping activity of 81.4 percent of U.S. smartphone users is browsing for specific products and services. (Half of those surveyed made an actual purchase via their smartphone.)

Accessible and easy-to-use navigation and search optimized for mobile devices is an absolute priority. Navigation bars and search buttons should be large enough for all sizes of fingers to easily click on. Navigation that moves to a stacked, vertical layout rather than horizontal may be necessary to enhance the experience.

Smartphones in particular have a limited amount of space, so keep things short, direct and to the point. Reducing the number of clicks is absolutely essential to moving customers to where they want to be.

On mobile devices, where users have even less patience for clunky or cumbersome shopping experiences, avoid excessive scrolling and keep mobile layouts simple. And, as always, keep testing various elements and layouts to see what works best for mobile users.

Mark Simpson is president of ecommerce personalization company
Maxymiser.