Cameron FrancisJanuary 02,2014

Guidelines For Superior Categories And Navigation On E-Commerce Sites

Category: Ecommerce

The ability for visitors to quickly find products is crucial for any ecommerce site. Certainly, if a visitor is unable to locate a product, they won’t purchase it. We have attempted to determine how site visitors navigate and locate products on a site, utilising category and home page navigation.

Throughout our testing, we noticed that site visitors would frequently leave sites, since they weren’t able to quickly locate the items they were seeking. Within this article we will examine several helpful guidelines that will assist you with e-commerce usability.

Include Parent Categories And Don’t Make Them Shallow

When your category hierarchy only consists of headers and labels, it often does not meet user’s expectations and it can force them into sections that are narrower than they want, which limits their ability to explore your products by browsing.

To make your subcategory choices both scannable and manageable, it’s important to group them properly in drop-down menus. Most sites do this, but on a number of the sites we tested, the categories in drop-down menus were text labels, and not clickable links. This did not meet the expectations of most visitors who were expecting that they would be able to be clicked.

The majority of site visitors had the expectation that all of the headings would be clickable and frequently attempted to click them in spite of a cursor indicating that they were not clickable. Site visitors had a desire to maintain a broad range of products with the anticipation that they would land on a page displaying a group of subcategories that would be of assistance to them in choosing a scope that was more defined, instead of a page with product listings. To support site visitor’s product exploration it is crucial that you make your product hierarchy consist of parent categories and not provide text labels that are shallow. By doing this you make it easier for site visitors who have not completely decided what they desire or who are looking for purchasing inspiration by viewing broad categories prior to narrowing their search.

On sites that had headings that were parent categories that were selectable, visitors frequently relied on them to get an overview of a complete category. They then went on to decide which subcategories to choose.

This guideline should not be limited to only drop-down menus, since it is applicable to any hierarchy representation of categories. For instance, it could be applicable to categories that are shown in a sidebar.

When Needed Place A Subcategory In Several Main Categories

Site visitors will frequently become confused when a subcategory would logically fit under more than one parent categories, but it is only present in one.

Depending upon the specifics of your site, you may have some subcategories that site visitors may expect to show up in several parent categories. For example, some site visitors may look for a kitchen table in both the “Tables” and “Kitchen” sections.

Ideally it is best to design top-level categories that have no ambiguity. However, this is not practical at all times. Consequently, in order to avert the usability issue of users being unable to locate a subcategory where they expected it, it is best to place the sub-category in more than one parent categories.

When implementing this functionality, there are two ways to proceed. One way is to place the subcategory in the taxonomy of the site and then link to it from several parent categories. The site visitor would jump immediately to their desired category regardless of the access point.

Another choice is to duplicate categories so each one of them constitutes a unique entry into the hierarchy of the site. The difficulty with this approach is its technical complexity. All of your products need to be consistently tagged across numerous duplicated subcategories. In addition, this implementation makes it a necessity to set up canonical pages to avoid duplicate page penalties from search engines.

Include A New Product Filter Or Category

Oftentimes, users will want to know what new products your store is offering, without needing to browse through products they have viewed in the past. Many visitors who are experienced with a brand or site and already have a good concept of the product line want to find out what is new on the site.

A new product category that is filter-based is an excellent addition to aid returning visitors, making it easy for them to identify new product arrivals. It is often helpful to make “new products” a filter, as opposed to having a separate category. This helps site visitors to find the new products that are in various categories.

Supplementary And Alternative Product Suggestions

Accessories, substitutes and alternatives to a product being viewed by a visitor are often difficult for the visitor to find in the absence of cross-selling and upselling on a product page.

Cross-selling and upselling will increase your sales, and when you implement them properly, they can increase the usability of your site as well. Having supplementary product suggestions works well for site visitors seeking accessories to a particular product, and the suggestion of products that are similar is helpful for visitors who are seeking product alternatives.

If a visitor lands on a product page and that product does not quite satisfy their needs, they will either abandon their search on your site or seek alternatives. Fortunately, the majority of site visitors have some degree of patience and choose to seek alternatives. However, if finding these alternatives is problematic, they will exit your site.

Display Recently Viewed Products

Finding a product again that was viewed previously can be needlessly complex when a user is forced to navigate categories again to locate the product.

Site visitors frequently want to return to products they visited in the past for a variety of reasons. However, the most frequent reason for returning is to re-examine product features and pricing while they are engaged in comparison shopping.

For a variety of reasons, visitors frequently want to find a product that they viewed previously. However, on sites that don’t feature items that were recently viewed, they were only able to do this by searching for it again or repeatedly clicking the back button of their browser.

Dedicated Pages Listing Products That Are Compatible

Site visitors find it difficult to locate products that are compatible with the one they are viewing and verifying that it is in fact compatible when a site does not specifically list products that are compatible or link to them.

Locating a cell phone carrying case may seem like a trivial task, however, it became quite difficult for visitors to many sites and their completion rate was only 35%. This indicates that two thirds of the site visitors gave up, or bought a product that they thought was compatible, but in actuality, it was not.

Locating compatible accessories may be tough. This is why you need to suggest both supplementary and alternative products on each product page, in addition to listing products that were recently viewed. If most of the accessories in the industry you are in are strictly compatible with certain products, then having entire pages that display compatible products may be beneficial.

Determining the compatibility of products in an e-commerce site offering thousands of product can be a large task. However, by using intelligent queries for every category that is compatibility-dependent, a significant portion of the work may be automated.

There are numerous benefits of compatibility determination. In addition to giving users the ability to vertically browse across categories, it gives you the ability to generate powerful filters. It is also helpful for SEO, since compatibility lists may be presented as pages in your site, providing you with a number of unique and targeted landing pages for every product.

Be Sure To Link Contextual Images to Displayed Products Directly

Site visitors experience frustration when they see a product displayed within a contextual image and are unable to navigate to the product.

Although compelling images can certainly enhance the aesthetics of an ecommerce site and be a style-based path of navigation, the absence of a direct link to products that are displayed in your images will be a source of frustration to site visitors.

During our tests, site visitors were perplexed when a site did not have a direct link to products from their associated images and they were forced to search for them in order to buy them or learn more about them. This served to harm their perception of a site.

Images have a tendency to garner the attention of site visitors. When a visitor is searching for a product they will often scan the images on a page for any items that appear like the product they are seeking. Consequently, images should always be linked to their associated products, even if you have an image that is meant only as an inspiration for the products you are depicting. Site visitors are still likely to take notice of additional products shown in the image, particularly if they are in the midst of an active search for those types of products.

If a product is not currently being sold, then it should not be displayed. At times this can be problematic since images sometimes display products that were available when the image was created but are not currently available. Sometimes, creating a new scene that depicts multiple products is not feasible. In these cases, the product link should be replaced with a product description.

Visitors Won’t Buy a Product They Can Not Find

In an era when customers are accessing e-commerce sites with increasing frequency via social media and search engines that sometimes cause them to land deep into the hierarch of a site, enabling visitors to understand where they are positioned within the hierarchy and to easily navigate to the parent category is crucial. Even when visitors use the on-site search, they will be dependent upon the category taxonomy to understand the range of available products.

When a site visitor cannot find a product, it has the potential to damage your brand since they will infer that your site does not carry these products. This can lead to an immediate sales loss and future sales losses as well, since a visitor won’t visit a site that does not have the products they are seeking. Even though you may actually carry the products they desire, in the eyes of the visitor, you do not, since they were unable to find them on your site.

Regardless of the time and effort spent on site aesthetics, landing page optimisation, and product images, the overall experience of the customer will fall flat if you do not have a solid category taxonomy.

Designing navigation that is category-based is not a simple job. It requires an excellent information architecture, logical hierarchy, systematic labelling, well thought out design of the home page, and curated pages for subcategories.

It is not possible to cover all of this information in this type of article, however the guidelines we have listed are a good start toward enhancing the usability of an e-commerce site.

In summary:

  • Do not create shallow categories
  • Include a subcategory in several main categories when needed
  • Create a “New Products” filter or category
  • Make supplementary and alternative product suggestions
  • Display items that were recently viewed
  • Create pages that are dedicated to listing compatible products
  • Link images to products they depict at all times
Author: Cameron Francis Cameron Francis is the Director of eTraffic Group. He has been engaged in all aspects of online marketing for the past 8 years. He is actively involved in SEO, Paid Search, Social Media Optimisation, and Web Design.
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