If you’re looking for an enlightening perspective on your online store, try looking at it for less than a minute. That’s the duration of the average webpage visit, and the view is very different from what the designer, developer or store owner sees. At a glance, important things disappear, mostly because they were designed by people who are immersed daily in the site’s architecture. Whether you’re planning a new site or optimizing an existing site, here’s how to turn browsers into buyers with clear, user-friendly website navigation.
Best Website Navigation Practices for a New Retail Store Build
If you’ve got the idea for a store but not the site, the prudent approach is to keep it simple at first and optimize as you grow. Most e-commerce platforms such as Shopify offer a proven, tested template that conforms to navigation best practices. These will allow you to get eyes on your products, but the ultimate goal is to appeal to repeat visitors. This means following these trusted site navigation techniques such as:
- Setting a clear product hierarchy. Group your products into parent categories and subcategories to reduce decision fatigue for your customer. Don’t overdo it on the subcategories, however. According to the “three-click rule” favored by User Experience (UX) experts, it shouldn’t take more than three clicks to reach any inner page on your site from the home page.
- Including a search bar! Seriously, it’s where most shoppers start, so make it prominent. Users typically give 23% of their attention to the site header, so that’s where your important features need to be, including the search bar, shopping cart icon and contact details.
- Trimming your navigation menu. Save the top navigation menu for the essentials — ideally no more than seven tabs to limit decision paralysis. This is important for SEO purposes, too. Your page authority suffers in search if there is a perceived lack of focus in your navigation menu.
- Using secondary navigation. It doesn’t have to be visible until the user hovers or clicks above, but a secondary navigation menu is a good place to include your social proof icons, current bestsellers and running promotions. Keep it updated, too!
- Avoiding dropdown menus. The verdict is in: Dropdown menus are frustrating for customers, especially on mobile, and their content can’t always be found by search engine crawlers. Online fashion retailers, such as ASOS and Boohoo, get straight to the point with mega menus instead, where everything is visible (pictures, too) on one page.
- Filling your footer. The footer is too often treated as an afterthought in e-commerce, or used as somewhere to hide your legal disclaimers and other small print. That’s a wasted opportunity – the footer is premium real estate. Be sure to fill it with links to your important pages, contact details, and all the information about shipping, returns and so on that your customers crave.
Optimizing an Existing Retail Website
This is where we imagine most of this blog’s readers are. The user behavior flow in your Google analytics report is a vital resource for exposing bottlenecks, roadblocks or other clues that your website navigation needs tweaking. If in doubt, remove what’s not working, rename what’s underperforming and reposition what’s overlooked — and keep testing relentlessly!
To turn a good site into a great store, try the following:
- Rewrite labels. Replace any generic labels (e.g., products) with the terms that customers are actually searching for. You’re helping search engines, too. Shopify quotes the example of Harvard Business Services, which increased sales by more than 15% simply by rewriting labels.
- Make search engaging. Add filters and facets to search (like Amazon does) so that users can refine their search from the outset, and drive traffic to your best performing product pages by adding context, such as how many products you have in each category.
- Leave breadcrumbs. Let the user know where they are now (i.e., progress bar) and how to go back to a previous page, without having to input information again. This element of website navigation is a blend of sidebar and flyout menus, and intelligent use of color and texture (e.g., highlighting) for better UX.
These Navigation Errors Are Costing You Conversions
It’s easy to spot a website where copy, images and design are not aligned. Here’s how to stand out for all the right reasons:
- Keep it thorough, but succinct. Product descriptions should be detailed, but concise. They should be adding context to the images, not simply repeating what they show.
- Focus on SEO. Headings and subheadings should be optimized for search, so short- and long-tail keywords are more important than quirky brand statements.
- Build the right menu. Navigation menus should be consistent and standardized. Visitors expect to find them on the top left on every page.
- Create clear CTAs. The number one rule is to never force your visitor to search for a checkout button on a product page. Calls to action (CTAs) should be prominent, placed in a variety of positions, and clear about what they lead to.
Responsive page design is a must. Given that 73.1% of users will leave a website that is non-responsive, make sure your site is optimized for mobile and tablet, not just desktop.
Getting Checkout Right
The average cart abandonment rate at checkout is just under 70%. That’s a lot of effort wasted at the final hurdle. Create a frictionless, seamless checkout experience with the following:
- Minimize distractions by removing the headers and footers that feature on other pages.
- Use pre-filled form fields for faster checkout.
- Allow a “continue shopping” or “modify order” function without losing saved information.
- Show progress, letting customers know where they are in the shipping, payments and confirmation phases.
- Highlight the product summary, shipping cost and product availability from the start. If customers reach the end of the process to find that their item is out of stock or too expensive to ship, they are unlikely to return.
Remember that Mobile Matters
Mobile now accounts for 54.8% of global online traffic, yet too many retail stores are still thinking in terms of solely desktop. From a navigation perspective, content should appeal to a scrolling thumb just as much, if not more, than it appeals to a mouse that can dart around a page. The two hardest working features are the clickable logo at the top left and the “hamburger” icon at the top right. Make these prominent so that users can return to the home page (for the former) and select subpages (for the latter) easily. Avoid dropdown menus on mobile. Many sites “jump” or flicker when dropdowns are selected. From a user perspective, it’s more satisfying to scroll or swipe through a carousel of images than to click radio buttons or select from a menu.
Improve Your Customers’ Experience with Lily AI
Providing a slick, intuitive user experience through website navigation is one part of the challenge. Delivering a relevant shopping experience is the other. That’s where the powerful suite of data tools from Lily AI makes the difference, using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to show customers not just what they’re looking for, but also what they didn’t even know they wanted.