By Mark Brixton

When optimising e-commerce websites, site navigation plays a definitive role in turning potential shoppers into paying customers. Whereas site search refers to searching a website’s content for specific information, site navigation is the pathway browsers take to find their way through a website.

In short, the more user friendly this pathway is, the easier it becomes for visitors to navigate a website, which also assists in lifting online conversion rates.
1. Make site navigation consistent
Nowadays, it’s all about the seamless customer experience. Site browsers should only have to learn one interface; so having site navigation that’s inline with your site search is critical to delivering a great user experience.

2. Use the language of your site visitors in navigation links
Know your target customer, and investigate trigger words being inputted via site search. These words will probably differ from what is used internally, so optimise navigation links with your target market in mind.

3. Use industry standards layout

It’s great to get creative, yet it’s still vital that visitors understand your interface and can quickly figure out how to navigate around the site.
As a general rule, most sites put sorting options at the top, refinements in the top or left navigation, pagination at the top, bottom, or both, the search box prominently displayed at the top of every page, and navigation categories also at the top of every page.

New Zealand retailer, The Warehouse, follows this example, giving visitors a familiarity that makes its website instantly easy to navigate.

4. Show breadcrumb trails.
Let customers know where they are on your site by making the refinements used to get to the page they’re on, visible. This helps explain how users got the results shown, and also allows for easy moving to broader categories and refinements without having to press the browser’s back button.
On a site that offers up a lot of product and information all at once, such as pureplay surfwear retailer, breadcrumbs are extremely helpful. Surfstitch utilises this navigation tool particularly well. Without it, visitors could easily lose their place on an otherwise busy website.

5. Use Super Menus

Exploit these drop down menus to divide categories into subcategories or groups, in order to lessen the number of clicks required to navigate your site. This gives customers fast, easy access to both subcategories and non-product content.

6. Provide options to navigate through reviews
Help your visitors find the information they need on specific products by offering methods to navigate through reviews. Reviews can be sorted a number of different ways, including by oldest, newest, positive, negative or most helpful.

7. Give the customer viewing options on category pages

Allowing the customer to filter their view of the products by grid, list or a hybrid of the two empowers customers to set the style that suits them best for viewing. However, be sure you don’t sacrifice speed and performance when customers alter the site as they may leave – use Ajax to create a fast transition and keep customers on site. To set your default view, test which version converts best overall and make that the default view.

8. Simplify the user experience for mobile devices
Mobile commerce is all about streamlining the path to purchase to match the reduced screen real estate. Rather than laying out all options like you would on a regular screen, use dropdowns for refinements, ‘Sort by’ filters and ‘Next page’ to make the journey easier. Also, consider placing another search box at the bottom of the page – without the screen real estate to provide a wider browsing experience, the search box is even more imperative.

9. Make links large enough to use on a mobile
Make sure your links are big enough to click on a mobile screen. If they’re not, visitors will find it frustrating to have to try several times to reach the page they want.

10. Contemplate Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) when changing navigation
Old navigation links will have SEO value. Take advantage of this by exercising a 301 redirect on them in order for the SEO value of old navigation pages to be linked to new navigation pages.

Mark Bixton is the country manager of SLI Systems. For more information,