Whether your menu is vertical, horizontal, has images, has dropdowns, or has many or few items, you want it to give your customers immediate access to purchase your goods. There are so many options and sometimes you might find yourself with a massive menu system that does not convert users to buyers. However, there are two key elements that can aid you in developing an e-commerce navigation system: knowing your market and understanding the user’s experience.
Know Your Market
Having a website is the beginning step to creating a truly global business, and the scope and size of your project is very important. You might start with selling tennis shoes and later build out to selling more sportswear. So think about how you will grow the size of your business.
There are also different categories of merchants. For example, if you are an adult merchant, acquiring banks will consider you a high risk and may have specific assurances you need to provide to your users and your payment processor right up front (e.g. terms and conditions, privacy policies, agreements, etc.).
In the global Web market, you will have more competition, which can provide you with competitive advantages. For instance, many industries have one strong forerunner with an effective website. Larger companies spend millions of dollars on marketing, and their website development — including a clear e-commerce navigation system — is a big part of that. Look at your top competitors to see how they have successfully designed their website and navigation system. If they are at the top of their industry, then they must be doing something right.
Consider, for example, Amazon.com. What does it do that you think is effective? What can you learn from them? A basic principle in their menu system is simplicity. Instead of a bulky menu, Amazon.com uses a clickable menu—notice that once you click the menu it stays down—and a search bar. Of course, you may not have as many products as Amazon.com and if you are selling services, neither of these options may apply. However, do the work and check out the million dollar designs.
E-Commerce Navigation System: User Experience
Do not make the user think. Pages, applications, and purchases should be less than one click away. You have three seconds to capture and hold your visitor’s attention. Eliminate any questions a user might have upon entering your site for the first time. Your visitors should understand clearly and quickly what you are selling.
Be clear, concise, and direct—it will pay off in the end. Consider what questions a visitor would ask when browsing your site. If something is confusing to you, the site’s owner, then it surely will be confusing to someone who knows nothing about your business. In fact, if you can hone down your entire menu system into four categories, you will find that those pages will get more traffic. This will allow you to focus on those pages rather than spreading them thin.
If your customers speak English, you will want to think and read from left to right. Their eyes will begin on the left, so capture the user with your key features here. Horizontal menus are great, but are only effective if users can clearly read them and want them. Run tests to see if horizontal or vertical menu bars are most effective for your site.
You also want to make sure that people can easily find your website through search engines. Standard SEO mandates a lot of text and big menus as a practice, but that is not always necessary. Make sure you have a sitemap available for the search engines to crawl, but you do not need to have everything contained in your menu system. If you spread your website too thin, you may find that you have scattered search engine results.
Google’s most recent penguin update has led to social networking likes gaining importance. Consider adding social networking to your menu system and in your additional navigation areas. Navigation items (both images and text) can also contain metadata, so it is important to include this wherever possible.
Trial and Error
The last and most critical consideration is to get feedback from your users. Get a market group to view your site and give you feedback. Keep yourself open to change. Even if you have a menu system that works, you can always improve it based upon your users and market.