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Can you map your way to successful product navigation?

Half of potential web sales are lost because customers can't find information, whilst 40% of customers never return to a site when their first visit is a negative experience. The key to mastering website navigation is, therefore, to understand the needs of your customer. Getting navigation right is about addressing the following questions:

How do you select the right menu? 

It is crucial to get the visual presentation of the menu right. If a customer cannot find what they came to the site for within ten seconds, then that could be a lost conversion. 

Be wary of the hamburger menu. There’s plenty of data out there saying this icon doesn’t work for customers. It doesn’t work that well even on a mobile, where there is a rationale for using it due to the reduced screen size. Why would customers interact with the hamburger icon, when there is no explanation to demonstrate exactly what it does? This is well illustrated by the GBK example below. With GBK you presume the only options available to the customer from the navigational bar is to ‘Find us’, look at the ‘Restaurant Menu’ or ‘Book’ a table. Potentially people looking to navigate the site might even press menu thinking it offers navigation rather than food.

So what does a well-executed menu look like? Clearly defined categories, well grouped together into lists that reflect how the customer thinks. 

One final point:  navigation must go to a level which enables the customer to find the group of products in which they are interested (e.g. men’s trousers) but not offer every variety at this stage, otherwise your customer will drown in choice.

Are you talking customer language?

The second step to site navigation is to explain those navigational options in a way that minimises potential customer confusion. The test is to challenge yourself: are you calling your product the right word and is this a customer friendly term? 

From our research, we have found a number of sites where producer thinking seems at odds with customer language.  If you were searching for a scarf on a website menu you would most likely look in accessories and under that heading expect to see a ‘Scarves’ or ‘Scarves and Gloves’ menu choice.  Hermès however have put scarves in ‘Women’s Silk’. 

To test your thinking and wording a technique called card sorting can be used. This useful tool not only helps to create an informed information architecture; it also enables you to get an insight to what keywords relate your products. This helps to transform your early taxonomy into customer-friendly language.

Are you helping your customers get quickly to what they want?

Simple is best when it comes to navigational choices - ASOS demonstrates this very effectively, filtering their customers by gender from their homepage. This method of using high level navigational choices to sort customers initially and then following this up by providing a number of descriptive subcategories, helps get the customer to their desired product in the most efficient and quick way.

Sainsbury’s on the other hand, may be confusing the brand proposition with the holding company. 

Are you using filters correctly?  

Filters help customers narrow a selection to only those items that match their particular needs or interest. The challenge is to present these filters in a way that’s simple and easy for the user to grasp. Two examples illustrate the challenge.

The first is the old BHS website. Here filters were not clear as they were in a mixed group of navigation headings, so size as a filter is separated from fit for example.  In addition these filters did not travel down the page but were fixed at the top, meaning that to change them customers had to return to the top of the page and interrupt their browsing.  












Next, in comparison use a sticky navigation where customers are able to access content from anywhere on the page, without having to scroll.  Recent survey data states that sticky menus are 22% quicker to navigate – therefore enhancing the usability of webpages. 


Our check-list for effectiveness should help you make a quick assessment as to whether you need to spend time on improving navigation:
⦁    Are people using your navigation? Check heat maps to show where the activity is and if there’s more interest in search than your top line navigation you should ask why.
⦁    Have you fallen into the hamburger trap?  If you have, then look at your heat maps to judge whether customers are engaging with it.  If not change it.
⦁    How confident are you that you are talking your customers’ language?  A simple test is ‘the family test’.  Ask your friends and family to use navigation to find things that they regularly buy and listen to their feedback.
⦁    If you don’t use filters to help your customers ask yourself why not.  If you do, check that they are grouped together appropriately and that they travel down the page as the customer scrolls down.
⦁    Finally, can you help your customers get to what they want more quickly by offering simple high level choices on your main landing pages?


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