Imagine walking into a supermarket where none of the aisles were labeled and there was no logic to where items were placed. Or imagine a bookstore without sections, or a library without an index. Wouldn’t that be frustrating?

That’s exactly how shoppers feel when they visit an eCommerce store with poor navigation. Online shopping is supposed to be convenient and should save time. If, instead, they’re forced to waste even a few precious minutes figuring out how to navigate your store you’re going to lose them.

That’s why optimizing navigation and search on your eCommerce store is so important. You want to help your customers find products to buy, not hamper them.

Here are 6 changes you can make to improve your eCommerce website’s navigation.

Use Search Autosuggest

Sometimes customers come to your store already knowing what they want to buy. They know the product or the brand, and they might even know the model number.

In this case you don’t want them guessing which section or sub-section of your store to search in. If you carry many different brands, or different product categories, your customers face a daunting task.

Instead, install a search bar with autosuggest. What this does is give customers a list of potential product matches as they start typing a product name into the search bar.

For example, look at the auto-complete feature on Newegg. I’m looking for a Sony Vaio, and Newegg figures this out to show me a list of matching keywords. Clicking on any one would take me to a page with all products matching that keyword.

Newegg Optimizing Navigation

They also show me a matching brand, which takes me to the brand page. Finally, they even come up with a list of specific products under ‘Recommendations’, which takes me straight to the product page. There’s obviously something wrong with the recommendations because only one product is relevant to my search, so if you work at Newegg you should upgrade your software.

Use Filters

For customers who know what kind of product they want, but aren’t sure what exactly to buy, filters will help them make decisions a whole lot faster.

Allowing users to filter search results by cost, dimensions, color, reviews and other parameters will allow them to narrow down on the right product options. Without filters they’d be left with too many options to sift through, and if they don’t find something in the first 10 listings they’ll go to another site.

Take a leaf from the incredible set of filters on Zappos. I know I want athletic shoes for men so I head to that section in the navigation. I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for and there’s no way I’m going to sift through the 4,500+ results that Zappos gives me!

Zappos Optimizing Navigation

With the filters I can narrow down shoe dimensions, category, and so on, and eliminate products that I don’t like or wouldn’t fit me. After selecting a few colors, styles, a price within my budget, and the right size for my feet, I’m left with just 11 products to choose from.

Use Drop-downs

The key to making navigation simple is to reduce the number of clicks it take to get from any page to the product that the customer desires.

Now, you’re bound to have a few broad product categories, and within those categories you’ll have sub-categories. You might be able to further organize your products into a third level of sub-sub-categories.

If this is the case, it makes sense to use a drop down in your navigational bar allowing customers to go directly to the right sub-category.

Back to Zappos, they have Shoes as a top-level category. Within that there are sub-categories for women, men and children. Under each one of these there are more categories.

Zappos Optimizing Navigation

With a drop down, I can get a bird’s eye view of the entire structure and head straight to the sub-category, in this case athletic men’s shoes. Without the drop down, I’d have to click 3 times to get there.

Make Categories Searchable

When customers click on a category, or sub-category, they are essentially searching for or filtering products that belong to that category.

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Many stores don’t allow customers to search by category, forcing them to pick a sub-category instead. But what if customers have no idea what the sub-categories are, or just want a general overview of each sub-category before going deeper?

Let’s say I want to do some home renovation and I need a bunch of tools. I’m new to this so I’d like to see the whole range of tools out there and then select the ones I need based on the work that needs to be done on my house.

If I go to the Home, Garden and Tools section in Amazon, this is what I get.

Amazon Optimizing Navigation

Now, Amazon forces me to select a sub-category within the Tools and Home Improvement category but I’m not sure what I should be searching in. It could be any one of ‘Home Improvement’, ‘Power & Hand Tools’ or ‘Hardware’. It would be much easier for me to decide if I could look at the entire category first.

You can argue that because Amazon has so many products, it makes more sense for customers to go straight to a sub-category for a more refined list of products. Yet, allowing customers to click on categories in the navigation doesn’t stop them from going straight to sub-categories if they want to.

In Zappos, each category is also a link. You can search the entire Shoes section, or search the main categories within like Women’s Shoes, Men’s Shoes and so on, or just go straight to Athletic Shoes if you wish.

Duplicate Your Sub-categories

When setting up your sub-categories, don’t limit them to a single category. Sometimes you might find that certain sub-categories fit under multiple categories.

Go back to the Amazon example. Under the ‘Home Automation’ section you’ll find categories for products that also belong in the ‘Electronics’ section. While some customers might think to look under ‘Home Automation’, others might be searching for the same products elsewhere.

On the Zappos site, you’ll find that Men’s and Shoes are two top-level categories. Within Men’s, Shoes is a sub-category, and within Shoes, Men’s is a sub-category. Both lead to the same results.

By duplicating subcategories across different categories, you’ll solve the problem of customers searching for products in the wrong categories.

Use Dynamic Categories

Sometimes people visit your site just to browse your collections. They might have seen an ad on Facebook, or read one of your posts, and clicked over to your store to see what you have.

They’re not searching for anything specific so it’s up to you to impress them. Use a dynamic category like ‘best reviewed’ or ‘most popular’ to showcase products that are hot. These are likely to be hits among new visitors too.

A category for new products provides something for regular shoppers. These are people who have already visited your store, or even bought something, and they keep coming back to see what else you have. Seeing new products each time they visit will keep engagement levels high.

Finally, you might want to try out a category for products on discount. This will attract shoppers on a budget and help you get rid of your clearance items.

Pro Tip

With LemonStand it’s a breeze to customize your navigations. However, if you’re on a custom platform, it might take a lot of work and development.

For a quick solution, try using a live-chat application like Olark. With Olark your support team can see which pages customers are browsing and their search history on your store in real-time. They can find customers who seem lost and quickly jump in and point them to the right product pages.

Conclusion

You may get a lot of traffic, and you may have a wide range of products, but if your customers can’t find the right products, they can’t buy them. By making these changes to your product search and navigation you’ll see an improvement in conversions and a decrease in bounce rate.

Have you tried optimizing your navigation? What results did you see in terms of conversion rates?