One of the most important things to think about on a website is the navigation. If you’re navigation isn’t up to scratch, your customers will struggle to find your products, and your conversion rate drops. As digital technology and platforms have developed, things like mega menus and layered navigation have evolved to direct people to the type of products they are looking for straight away.

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Nowadays, it’s common practice to have a menu stemming from your header and a filter option on your products pages, which reduces the product and secondary filter options down selection down as you go.

That being said, it’s not always the best idea to have a million different ways to shop, search and filter on your website. Sometimes, a busy menu can put people off, and having a huge list of options can make customers feel overwhelmed. Finding the right balance can be difficult - It’s a maze out there. But there are a few standard things that can really boost not just your navigation, but the overall look of your site to help your customers get where they need to be.

Here’s a look at seven of the best practices today for a good navigation system on your online store.

 

Why seven?

Good Question! Research shows that we best retain seven chunks of information at any given time. Remember in psychology when your teacher started talking about Miller's Magic Number? It’s seven, and this is what they were talking about. Our brains can hold around seven chunks of information in our short term memory - anymore than this and we are likely to forget most of it. If you give your customers a list of 15 things they could look at all at once, chances are they will miss important links and pass over many categories simply because it’s too much to take in. Try and keep your sections to seven or lower so customers can retain everything they need to find what they are looking for.

 

First things first (and last)...

People remember the first and the last of a list more than the middle. If you ever played the brain training game then you’ll know that when recalling word lists, you’ll probably remember the first few and the last few, but the middle section will be harder to remember. Get your customers where they need to be (and where you want them to be) by putting the most important parts at the beginning and end of your menu. You often find the Sale category at the end of the header lists on sites, for example. Customers love a good sale, so they will remember seeing that category if it’s at the end, but it shouldn’t necessarily be placed in front of a different, full-priced category you want customers directed to before they hit the sales.

The Sale category is best retained at the end of the list so it's not the sole focus of the customer

The Sale category is best retained at the end of the list so it's not the sole focus of the customer

 

They know where to go...

Your customers know that if they look in the header, they will probably see category options. They know that if they go to the footer, they will probably see the social media options. They know the basket is usually in the top right of the screen. It’s pretty standard for online stores, so why put your menu somewhere they won’t look for it? It’s a really good thing to want your site to be different; to stand out from the crowd. But if your customers can’t navigate the site, no matter how unique it is, they won’t buy.

 

But don’t give them the same spiel.

Use titles specific to your product types

Use titles specific to your product types

As equally important as having a menu easily accessible, is having a menu that gives a customer something new to think about. Because people look to the same place each time they browse, links like “About” get glanced over, but rarely clicked. Customers have been there and seen that. If you have analytics, investigate what your customers were searching for when they landed on your site. Will your navigation links take them to the product they were looking for when they clicked on you? Did your customers search for “our services” or did they search for “stilettos”?

 

Dropdowns are dead (mostly)

Recent research into how people browse a site shows that dropdowns are annoying. Our eyes have already moved elsewhere, while our finger is still on the scroll option, so we can accidentally click where we don’t want to go and get annoyed. Also, if you’re clicking on a first level category, the odds are you want to go there, so being presented with more options in a long list causes a delay in the RTP journey. But dropdowns are not wholly bad. If you use a mega menu, this is thought to be the best option for dropdowns. Usability testing by the NNG shows that because there are lots of options, usually very well laid out on the page, so the disruption is worth it.

Use a dropdown with expanding options

Use a dropdown with expanding options

Reduce your clicks

We, as a species, are lazy. We don’t like doing things unless we have to, so clicking through to find something on a site can be a bit of a turn off for us. We don’t want to dig, we want to be hand-fed the grapes whilst relaxing on a chaise lounge. This is most evident when it comes to hidden navigation. If we can’t see it, we don’t use it, so your customers could be missing vital links for their purchase journey. A user study by the Nielsen Norman Group shows that hidden navigations on desktop reduces in people using it less and taking longer to use it when they do. Unless it’s on a mobile, hidden navigation is just another thing a customer has to go and find.

 

Navigating on the go

Speaking of mobile, navigation for these devices will be different than desktop, because the screen size means it’s even easier to over-face your customers. Another study by NNG highlights the best ways to put your navigation into a mobile screen. The most common way to get your navigation accessed, without it eating into the screen space permanently, is an accordion style drop down behind what is universally known as the ‘hamburger icon’. This way, people can get to the information they need to see without being bombarded with everything all at once.

The hamburger icon is well known as the menu button on mobile

The hamburger icon is well known as the menu button on mobile

Use it with accordion style filters for the side menu to reduce over-facing customers

Use it with accordion style filters for the side menu to reduce over-facing customers

When you’re thinking about your navigation, think like a customer. What do you want to see when you’re shopping? What will you search for when you shop? Talk to us today about how to implement these best practices for navigation with your online store.


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