5 Proven Techniques for Improving Your Navigation

I’m this close (see my fingers almost touching) to murdering one of my clients…

Don’t get me wrong… I adore the guy but he and his team are just TOO SMART to be good Web marketers. They just don’t seem to be able to think INSIDE the box. Looking at things from a Lowest Common Denominator perspective is THE key to Web success.

Here’s the abridged story….

One of the things this company sells is trash cans. In fact, according to them, they are the market leader in trash can sales. So, my client, Oscar (named changed to protect the guilty) says to me recently “I don’t understand what’s happening. We sell the majority of the trash cans out there. In fact, we’ve sold over umpteenbazillion (I honestly can’t remember the exact number) each week offline. So why aren’t we selling any online? YOU must have done something wrong with our navigation.”
I love it when he personally attacks me because it gives me the chance to remind him that their sales are up over 35% from last year thanks to all my “screw ups” and “by the way, where’s my commission check?”
Actually, I had very little, if anything, to do with their navigation because the recommendations I suggested were overruled by their “internal team”. They thought I was “too archaic.” In their words, people don’t need things spelled out for them today — they’re savvy enough to know what’s what.
This, of course, is a VERY BIG FALLACY! Even though users have been shopping for a long time, they’re actually LESS savvy online than they used to be — mostly because they spend less time on your site which means they are less likely and less inclined to learn anything about it.
In any case, to make a long story short, Oscar’s team had put all the TRASH cans under Receptacles. Not under garbage. Not under trash. Not under waste. Not rubbish. And certainly not under all of them (which is the way I recommended.) But under receptacles.
Frankly, I don’t care what you list trash cans under in your catalog — catalogs are TANGIBLE and much easier to navigate than a Web site with seemingly infinite possibilities. Catalogs have a clear beginning and end. You can easily take a catalog in your hand and flip through it untill you see the picture you want. Web sites are NOT the same.
Navigation on a Web site is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You get what I give you. If I am a bookstore and I give you the categories history, fiction, non-fiction, children’s, poetry, and lifestyle and entertainment, where are you going to find a cookbook? What about a book about how to play golf? How about a book on how to make things out of polymer clay? Since there are no cooking, sports and crafts categories, is everything supposed to be under lifestyle and entertainment? Do you honestly think L&E when you’re looking for a cookbook? No, you think cooking. (By the way, the above is a real example of an online bookstore.)
 If you don’t see cooking as a category, what do you do? Statistically, over 50% of the people will leave immediately. The third of the people (if you have a good brand) who stay will drill around and most likely adopt your text search (the #1 place of abandonment, after the cart, for the majority of Web sites.)
So, in a nutshell, pretty much everyone leaves and nobody is happy. Your users aren’t happy because they didn’t find what they wanted and you’re not happy because you didn’t get the sale.

The good news is that it’s fixable.

Find out what your customers want. Track what they are using to find you and what they are looking at and for on your site. Look at exactly what words they are using and make sure those words are represented on your site. If Oscar’s team had really looked at their statistics, they would not bring someone who searched for trash cans on Google to a site that had NO representation of the words “trash can” on the entry page, category page or any other page between. 
Make sure the most important things you have are listed. If they are REALLY important make sure they are listed two, three, four, five, or even ten times. The more ways people have to find them, the more likely they are to find them.
List the index section (no more than 22-ish items, please.) in alphabetical order so the user can figure out what you sell and where they should go AT-A-GLANCE.   If a big percentage of your business comes from a couple items (or categories), put them in a highlights section above the index and then put Bestseller! icons near them in the alphabetical section underneath so they stand out.
Then watch. Chances are, you won’t hit perfection right off the bat. However, if you pay attention to what’s happening on your site, you will know what’s working and what isn’t so you can fix it.

As a footnote…

Oscar and Co. changed their navigation and their online sales of trash cans as a percentage are already exceeding their offline sales. I haven’t gotten my commission check yet, but according to his team, I am no longer an archaic dinosaur but a forward-thinking Web Diva, which is worth way more to me than the check.  (Yes, I am well aware they are not using “diva” in the flattering sense of the word but frankly, it’s still fine.  I’ve been doing this for a long, long time.  I’ve been called a heck of a lot worse.)


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