As Holidays Approach, Fine-Tune Navigation for Conversion Boost

Sep 03, 2011 12:35 AM  By

Competing for shoppers’ time and dollars during the holiday season means creating a website experience that’s fun and engaging without being overly cluttered or confusing, to encourage visitors to browse more and buy more.

Navigation plays a big part in making shoppers satisfied with their online retail experience – if they’re confused by the way your products are organized or aren’t sure how to refine categories to narrow their options, they’ll quickly abandon your online storefront for someone else’s.

While every site is different, there are many guidelines you can follow to streamline your site’s navigation for busy holiday shoppers. Here are 10 tips for optimizing site navigation before the holiday rush begins.

1) Let shoppers navigate throughout your site from any webpage. Don’t assume shoppers will start their navigation from your home page.Visitors can enter your site on almost any page, depending on how they get there: from an Internet search engine, a link sent to them by a friend or through their social network, going directly to your homepage, from special offers or ads on another website, or from a blog. Show shoppers where they’ve landed on your site, and allow them to navigate to other pages without having to start on your homepage. Once they’re on your site, provide a navigation bar and include it on all pages.

2) Show products on all category pages. Minimize the number of clicks required to get to your products, and try showing your most popular items on your top-level category pages without requiring any further refinements to be picked. For example, if there’s an extremely popular boy’s t-shirt, then show this item as soon as someone clicks onto the “Boy’s” category, rather than force your visitors to do another click on the t-shirt category before they see it.

Many navigation systems make this mistake; they force visitors to go through several clicks before they show any products. The popular candy retailer Jelly Belly does this well with its Cold Stone Creamery brand jelly beans – shoppers can see the most popular choices as soon as they click on this category.

3) Provide different ways of ranking products on navigation pages. Offer shoppers a way to easily reorder the products on a navigation page. While they might choose to rank products by least expensive, best rated, or newest arrivals, you should also build in default choices that work well for your business – for example, the most used default options are “most relevant” and “most popular.” You should then allow visitors to reorder by options they prefer, such as best sellers, most/least expensive, highest rated or most liked by featuring these options at the top of the navigation page. Once visitors pick a new order, you should remember their preference, to avoid frustrating them.

4) Use the language of your visitors in your navigation links. Use site search data to research “trigger” words that your shoppers use when they’re trying to find products. If the navigation links use the language of your customers, they provide a much stronger information scent so when visitors click on them they help people find what they are looking for. For example, if teens are your primary market, they may have very different words or phrases in mind when browsing your site. If your navigation links match these words, shoppers can browse your site much faster, are more likely to find what they’re looking for and more likely to make a purchase.

5) Show ratings and review information in navigation. Add ratings and reviews to product information displayed on navigation pages. This lets shoppers know right off the bat that you provide ratings and reviews. It’s a good idea to show the number of reviews for each product to illustrate which products have reviews, and to help put the ratings into perspective.

6) Allow visitors to refine and sort by product ratings. Shoppers usually want to see products with the best ratings first – many of them don’t even want to see low rated products, and they’ll go straight for the 5 stars. Provide refinement options for ratings, and make this refinement visual by showing the different star rating options. You can also let shoppers sort products by their ratings.

7)Use banners to enhance your navigation page. Banners give shoppers a visual confirmation of their navigation location, indicating where they are in the product category or the landing page. They also help you highlight sales, promotions, and popular products related to the navigation results, as well as shipping deals and related products.

8) Ensure your navigation pages can be crawled by Internet search engines. Use short URLs that include useful keywords to your navigation pages (e.g., categories or subcategories) with very few parameters. Avoid using JavaScript links because search spiders can have trouble interpreting them.

9) Rank the products in a way that makes sense for your business. Ordering products by popularity will minimize the number of clicks shoppers must to get to the products they’re looking for. Consider also showing your highest margin products first, or the ones for which you have excess stock.

10) Test options and solicit feedback to keep improving your site’s navigation. Always test different layout options, refinements, categories, and result orders and measure the difference to your sales to make sure you’re providing your shoppers with the best user experience. Also, your customers are your best critics, so gaining feedback from them is essential. Conduct a survey or do some user testing to get some feedback.

Shaun Ryan is CEO of SLI Systems (www.sli-systems.com). He can be reached at shaun.ryan@sli-systems.com.