Website navigation – walking in your customer’s footsteps to improve sales

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No online retailer needs to be reminded of the importance of designing a site that makes it as easy as humanly possible for customers to find exactly what they want. In a self-service environment the relationship between ease of navigation and sales is absolutely clear. Indeed, you could argue that good navigation design is the most critical factor in determining whether a site performs well against its competitors.

Twenty years after the birth of e-commerce, customers should be able to take it absolutely for granted that finding what they want online will be a painless experience, facilitated by an intuitive series of links or an effective search engine. For the most part that’s exactly what online merchants deliver.

Where navigation goes wrong

But not always. For the truth is that no website is perfect and as sites become more complex it becomes harder to avoid navigation fails. For instance, as a site increases the number of products listed – a process that is often accompanied by diversification into new categories – organising and classifying items within the expanding inventory inevitably becomes more complicated. In the worst case scenario, a customer might find themselves chasing a hierarchy of links to a dead and unsatisfying end if the wording on the links and the classification of products is not completely aligned.  

And in addition to menus and tabs, the customer may be linking from an ever-changing menu of “recommended” or “discounted”products displayed on the home or landing page. This is a great way to highlight products of particular interest but errors creep in. For instance, a camera store customer clicks on a link to a digital printer offer but is directed instead to a page of accessories such as tripods.

At a more fundamental level, some pages are simply confusing. A customer links from a search engine and the product they are looking for is certainly there on the landing page – but hidden in plain sight by the sheer number of other items on screen. 

For many the search box will be a last resort, but the keywords entered by the customer may not correspond to the tags under which the product is classified. 

The hidden problem 

And here’s the $60m problem. You won’t necessarily know that your customers are having difficulties finding what they want. Yes, you may be aware there is some kind of issue because the site stats are telling you that certain items are underperforming. Equally there might be a higher than average drop-off rate from some parts of the site or at a certain point in the customer journey – but crucially you won’t know why. 

Walking with your customer

One of the best ways to identify navigation problems is to see the journey through the site just as your customer sees it, following the route from page to page on a click-by-click, action-to-action basis.

That’s what UserReplay enables you to do. Acting as a kind of “black box” for an e-commerce website, UserReplay allows you to record and play back every single customer journey in real time. Effectively you go where your customer goes and experience the site from his or her perspective.

And this can tell you a huge amount about navigation issues. For instance, by following the complete journeys of selected customers you can see where they have been sidetracked – perhaps following a misleading or ambiguous link to an irrelevant part of the site before going back to the landing page to start again. And using the same recording you can also establish just how easy it is for a customer to get back on track, by using, say, the breadcrumb links.

Equally, UserReplay can help you identify broken links or provide evidence that you may need to think again about how certain items are tagged for search.

In a self-service environment, customers have no one to turn to for help when they get lost and need direction. By deploying UserReplay to hone your navigation design, you can make it much less likely that they will require help. The result will be higher sales.  

Photo: Intel Free Press/flickr cc