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magento & ecommerce

How to Organize Your E-Store Navigation and Search

Efficient and intuitive web-store navigation and search are crucial aspects of user experience. If a visitor gets confused as soon as they enter the store, they will most likely leave without checking any of the products. Therefore, you must ensure that your site’s navigation and search are well-optimized and provide relevant results. Thankfully, winning this game is easy enough if you know the rules.

In this guide, we’ll share the best tips for organizing online store navigation and search. From designing a correct user interface to implementing artificial intelligence, we’ve listed effective solutions for any e-commerce business. Read on to find out how to convince your site visitors to explore your offerings and make a purchase.

E-Store Navigation Best Practices

Every site starts with navigation. To be more specific, the entire front page of any site is a navigation page. Its main objective is to introduce your brand to the customer and get them deeper into your store. Let’s look at the best tips for creating clear and user-friendly site navigation.

1. Meaningful Categorization

This is an obvious tip for improving site navigation, however, many site owners fail to make convenient categorization. The products should be divided following clear and predictable logic. Avoid adding too many main categories to your primary navigation, consolidate them as much as possible. As a rule of thumb, the simpler your navigation, the better. You should also look out for overlapping categories. Here are few examples of bad and good product categorization.

Imagine a sustainable footwear store. It may use traditional category labels such as Women’s, Men’s, and Sale, and product type subcategories such as Boots, Heels, Sneakers. In this case, the site user will know exactly what to expect on the page they click on. However, you can also divide the products by material: Apple Skin, Eco Leather, Recycled Plastic. The site users won’t know what awaits them under each label and may decide not to spend their time checking it.

The second example is a women’s apparel store. Most users expect to see standard classification by clothing type: Dresses, Jeans, Tops. However, some sites also add occasion or style categories, such as Wedding, Summer, Party. Products in these categories will likely be overlapping, furthermore, the user won’t know what to expect.

Typically, the primary category indicates a product class (e.g. Women’s or Footwear). General product details such as type can be added as subcategories (Boots or Swimwear). It’s best to avoid dividing products into overly specific subcategories. Categorization by occasion, brand, color, or size works best as a filter.

2. Use Clear Language

Getting creative in your wording may be tempting, but don’t overcomplicate things when it comes to site navigation. Product category names must be clear and standard, indicating a predictable path. Choose descriptive category names. No matter if the category labels seem boring. For instance, categories such as Learn or Discover on a university’s website will be a mystery for most potential students. But if they were named “Courses” and “About Us,” the page content would be easier to predict. The same goes for vague product categories such as Lifestyle.

3. Use Subcategory Dropdown Indicators

Don’t divide your products into too many categories, as a crowded menu will make the navigation confusing. However, overly broad categories aren’t better, so you need subcategories that are typically placed in an expandable menu under the main categories. Some sites feature expandable non-clickable main category buttons. This may be confusing if the dropdown menu fails to appear right away. On the other hand, if your main category buttons are clickable, the user may not understand that they can shop based on more detailed categorization.

Dropdown indicators make the navigation clearer, showing the user that they can shop by product details rather than its general type.

4. Choose Standard Placement

Creativity may be great with site visual design, but when it comes to button location, the best practice is to stick with a generally accepted standard. Naturally, not all sites are the same, though there’s a limited number of layouts users are familiar with. By placing navigation elements where users expect to find them, you’re improving the user experience and boosting your chances to make a sale.

Eye-tracking analytics used by UI design professionals show that most site visitors look at the upper left corner of the screen first. It’s a perfect place to locate the most important navigation elements, such as the main category menu or the “Home” button. Then, the sight moves to the upper right corner, afterward to the bottom left, and finally, to the bottom right. The best practice is to categorize your site elements by importance and place them in accordance with it.

The above-mentioned placement, however, is a standard for desktop site versions. Mobile devices have their own specifics, one of which is a lack of space and consequently a need for expandable menus. In this case, it’s also best to locate the menu button in the upper left corner, but it should be noticeable. A small button tucked in the right corner will be hard to find and thus confusing.

5. Utilize Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are a secondary means of website navigation. As you may have guessed, the name originates from the fairy tale about Hansel and Gretel who used breadcrumbs to find their way back home. Breadcrumbs on a website work the same way, showing the user their current location and a path to it. Typically, the indicator is located under the primary navigation menu and above the page content.

Breadcrumbs enable the site user to quickly get back to the previous page or the starting point. For instance, someone browsing footwear who is currently viewing a specific pair of boots. The breadcrumb menu in this case will indicate something along the lines of Home > Footwear > Boots > [Product name]. To return to the main Footwear category, the user can simply click the indicator instead of hitting the Back button several times.

Breadcrumbs can be added to your website using a plugin or by writing them into your custom code.

E-Store On-Site Search Optimization Tips

Users who know exactly what they’re looking for are unlikely to use even the most convenient navigation menu. Typically, they use the site search instead. In this section, we’ll list five essential features of an effective and user-friendly site search optimization.

E-Store On-Site Search Optimization Tips

1. Make the Search Bar Clearly Visible

We’ve mentioned the importance of taking into account the standard user eye path when talking about navigation optimization. The same rules apply to search bar locations. Most users look at the upper left corner first, then move to the upper right corner, bottom left, and bottom right. If you hide the search bar at the bottom of the page in an attempt to make the site design unique, most users won’t find it. And even if you locate the search bar correctly but match its color with the background, it will be nearly invisible.

An easy-to-spot search bar is essential for any fairly complex site, and any e-store can be considered as such. Make your search bar large enough, use a standard magnifying glass icon and engaging text, and ensure that the bar is available on every page of your site.

2. Typing Error Tolerance

Your site user should never see a “0 search results” page, even if they have misspelled a brand’s name or product type. Instead, your site should offer a fixing suggestion. Let’s assume someone wrote “Nuke” instead of “Nike.” You may not sell nukes, but the result page would suggest “Did you mean Nike?” rather than be blank. Create a list of common spelling mistakes for your product searches.

3. Search Query Suggestions

Search query autocomplete helps to save time typing and avoid spelling mistakes. Think of searching for something in Google – the algorithm predicts what a user will type next based on popular queries. In an online store, search suggestions can offer your visitor a close alternative if there are no exact matches to their query. The problem here is, although autocomplete can be found on 82% of the leading e-commerce sites, 36% of them use it incorrectly. The best practice is to:

  • Avoid redundancies
  • Highlight differences rather than similarities with customer typed query
  • Keep it simple – avoid visual content in suggestions, stick with text
  • Define the search suggestions list visually, making it stand out from the background
  • Ensure suggestions list doesn’t overlap with other site elements (mobile-specific)

4. Enable Search Within Categories and Filtering

Ensure your site user can search for specific details within a category or all departments. This can be done by adding a search suggestions dropdown list. It helps to save time on filtering and gets more relevant results. For instance, your fashion e-commerce site visitor is typing “green.” The suggestions list should contain “Search for ‘green’ in Dresses/Tops/Swimwear/All Departments.” Very specific details, however, work best as filters. Within the Green Dresses search query, your site users should be able to choose the required size, occasion, brand, or length.

5. Optimize Search for Natural Language

Natural Language Processing (NLP) helps to understand the user intent to interpret their search query correctly. Standard site search is based on keywords. Put simply, what you type is what you get. But NLP takes more factors into account when issuing recommendations and results, such as context and previous searches. Therefore, the search results are more personalized and specific, which leads to a better user experience. With NLP, site visitors don’t have to rephrase their query endlessly to find what they’re looking for.

Professional Approach

Creating convenient, intuitive, and effective site navigation and search on your own isn’t easy. Our mission is to collaborate with your team to ensure your site follows the best UI practices. By trusting the technical part of your online store to professionals, you can rest assured the user will find exactly what they’re looking for.

By interactivated • on November 10, 2021

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