5 Best Practices for Using Web Design, Navigation and Analytics to Improve Conversions
Making your e-commerce Web site easy to navigate can mean the difference between making a sale and sending your shoppers running for the hills (or worse -- to another e-commerce site).
Regardless of what you sell, navigation plays a strong role in determining whether conversions occur. Great online retailers use navigation to expose buying decision criteria throughout the site. This type of navigation is responsive and contextually appropriate, so that it guides shoppers closer to a purchase with as few clicks as possible.
Your top-level navigation should reflect your unique product offerings, and provide a persistent and consistent view of what your store is all about.
But you also have an opportunity to use navigation as a selling tool -- one that responds to each shopper action by refining product options and selection criteria.
One online retailer recently told me that he was seeing up to five times the average site conversion rate from pages featuring navigation with refinement. We can make a lot of design decisions based on intuition and our own customer experience preferences, but we also can rely on site metrics to tell us what works and what doesn't.
Here are a few best practices for using Web design and analytics to improve navigation and conversion rates.
1. Dynamic "left" navigation
Online shoppers have come to expect dynamic product navigation based on the attributes specific to the products they're seeking. There's no rule stipulating that it has to be on the left side of the page, but that has become somewhat of a Web design convention. New Web 2.0 storefronts are changing the way shoppers interact with online stores, but dynamic refinements will continue to be a popular feature because of their popularity with shoppers and their tendency to convert effectively. Onlineshoes.com does this really well. As you drill down into its very broad footwear assortment, it's extremely easy to make choices based on width, color and new arrivals, for example.
2. Social shopping
Shoppers want to know what other shoppers think of the products they're considering purchasing. How did they rank them? What was the best use for a product? From a Web design perspective, how reviews and rankings are featured on a Web site will vary widely, but these kinds of social shopping criteria are best utilized when incorporated into a site's navigation.
On DelightfulDeliveries.com, shoppers can not only narrow their choices based on price and occasion, but also can further refine their options based on which cookie bouquets, for example, received four- or five-star rankings.
3. Use analytics to measure navigation effectiveness
As I mentioned above, dynamic navigation can work great to convert shoppers. But it's important to monitor navigation activity and adjust according to what's working and what's not. For example, if your Web analytics tell you that shoppers typically don't click on certain refinement options, then why are you exposing them? Alternatively, if 'Occasion' seems to get a lot of clicks -- moving shoppers quickly to a purchase -- you might want to promote it and measure how much more effectively it works as a top-level selection criterion.
4. Merchandising by the numbers.
The fundamentals of merchandising haven't changed that much over time. Think about the open-air market and what a merchant would do to sell more products than his competitor. Intuition and savvy play a large role in merchandising, but so do your business metrics. Does your merchandising strategy leverage your business metrics?
5. Test and refine.
If you're an online retailer, your site merchandising comprises much of your Web design elements -- or it should. I would argue that 100 percent of your site's real estate should be working to sell more for you. Nice Web design need not be compromised to make your site sell more, but you have to present more than just a pretty face. By using multivariate testing you can experiment with individual design elements and merchandising "zones," and determine what works best. Many online retailers apply this strategy to landing pages for e-mail and search marketing by creating and testing (for highest conversions) a few different, well-merchandised landing pages.
Kevin Lindsay is the director of marketing for Mercado Software, a Pleasanton, Calif.-based provider of e-commerce search and merchandising solutions. Reach Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org