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Navigation Tips Users Will Love

Posted on 12.15.2011

Among the many causes of website abandonment, poor navigation is a key contributor. Without a clear path to products and content, and logical choices for narrowing searches, visitors usually decide that it’s not worth their time and energy, or they may conclude that you don’t carry the product they’re looking for.

Even worse, they may assume that your service is as bad as your navigation, in which case they’ll go to your competition’s site to find the products they seek.

Fortunately, there are many straightforward tactics for making site navigation better, and preventing site abandonment by visitors who become lost within navigation dead ends and confusing pathways. With some changes to your navigation design, and by testing various options to see which ones work best for your visitors, you can create a navigational experience that helps visitors succeed in finding the products or information they’re looking for as quickly as possible.

The tips below can help you create a satisfying and productive browsing and searching environment for your customers.

Navigation Design

Let visitors navigate around your site from any page.

Visitors often get “stuck” after they arrive on a site from a search engine, from special offers or ads on another website, or from a link on a blog. Be sure to show visitors how they’ve landed on your site with a navigation bar at the top of the page, and allow them to navigate to other pages without having to go back to your homepage — no matter what page they landed on initially. Be sure to include the navigation bar on all the pages so that visitors can easily browse from page to page.

Only show refinements that have results.

Make sure the refinements you show are relevant to the category, and that all the refinements you offer provide results. You don’t want to frustrate visitors by delivering a subcategory page without any content. You can also customize refinements for each category. For example, if a visitor selects “dresses,” they probably don’t need to refine by gender.

Display breadcrumb trails.

As visitors browse your site, they often need to know how they got to the page they’re on — and how they can get back to an earlier starting point. Show visitors the refinements they applied to get to the page they are currently on, so that they’ll know where they are and why they received the results shown. This also makes it easy for them to move up the navigational “ladder” without having to click the back button on their browser.

Offer viewing options for browsing.

Different visitors will have different ideas as to how they want to see your site’s content or products. Choose a default method such as a grid or list view for displaying information, but let visitors choose which views work best for them. Grid views let people see more content above the fold with bigger images and fewer details, while list views show smaller images but contain more details. A hybrid view combines these benefits, offering larger images and more product details.

Ratings and Reviews

Show ratings and reviews information in navigation and refinement options.

Add ratings and reviews to product and content information displayed on navigation pages, and allow visitors to refine by star ratings. Many visitors want to see content and products with the best ratings first, and some won’t want to see any but the top-rated choices.

Provide options to navigate among reviews.

It can be tough for visitors to wade through pages of reviews. If your products or content generate a high number of reviews, allow visitors to choose which types of reviews they see (positive or negative, for example) or offer a quick summary of good and bad reviews. Many sites let visitors view reviews by pros, cons and best uses, and sort by newest, oldest, highest rated or most helpful. This reduces the steps visitors must take before deciding on a purchase.

Refinement Display

Use sliders for continuous refinements.

For refinements such as price or size range, sliders take up less space on the webpage. Some visitors may find them more complicated than alternatives such as links or drop-down menus with fixed ranges, or text boxes allowing users to specify upper and lower limits. If you want to use sliders, test them and make sure your visitors understand how they work. Also, make sure your sliders work well on a touchscreen device so that mobile users can work with them — if your sliders don’t work well in the mobile environment, you can use alternatives such as drop-down menus.

Show color refinements using color palettes.

Color palettes add visual appeal to navigation, in addition to helping site visitors choose a color option. They’ll respond more quickly to a display of actual colors than the names of colors in text — and showing color options takes up less space on the page. Palettes can also remove confusion that may arise from “artistic” color names. For instance, you may call a color “southwest sunset,” but the site visitor won’t know if that means yellow, orange or something in between.

Add visual appeal by using images for navigation.

Consider using images to indicate navigational categories, such as product types (cookware, clothing, sporting goods, for example), brands, colors and shapes. Make sure the images you use are clear and simple, and won’t leave your customers guessing as to what they mean. Also, make sure navigational images can’t be confused with actual products or content. You can minimize confusion on navigation pages by displaying other cues to help differentiate between subcategories and products. For example, show the number of results that visitors will see if they click on the subcategory images, label subcategory images clearly, and make sure there’s a clear distinction between the layout of your products and your subcategories.


Use banners to enhance your navigation pages.

Banners help give your visitors a visual confirmation of their location, indicating where they are in the product category. They also help you highlight sales, special promotions and popular results related to the navigation category, as well as shipping specials and related product information.

Offer merchandising-specific refinements.

Refinements don’t need to be limited to product and content details. Visitors will want to know which items are on sale, which are new arrivals, or which are bundled together as part of special deals. Allowing visitors to refine by these factors is a great way to improve the usability of your site, and guide visitors to items that you are promoting while improving conversion potential.

Rank content and products in a way that makes sense for your business.

For instance, you may want to show your highestmargin products first, or the ones for which you have excess stock. You can separate the results into “items on special promotion” and “most popular items”, for example — or, show all items in the same results list, but with the top five items in excess stock listed first followed by the most popular items.

About the Author: Thierry Costa is the vice president of marketing responsible for SLI Systems’ global marketing efforts and driving growth of SLI’s search technology and services in the ecommerce and publishing industries.

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