When building your ecommerce store, it’s easy to place a lot of focus on individual pages, adding all the right text, page layouts, and so on. However one area that deserves special attention is your site navigation.
Navigation is an essential part of your store experience. How customers move and browse your store has an impact on how they view their experience, and can even make them leave your site. In one survey, 54% of customers said that poor site navigation is one of the most frustrating issues that influences their experience. Good site navigation was also among the top 5 things that make for a positive customer experience.
Making it easy for customers to find their way around makes for a positive impression, but there are plenty of ways that make it more difficult. So, let’s look at what makes for great navigation and what you should avoid.
#1 - Do - Keep your primary navigation clear and easy to understand
Picture this - you’re visiting an online store you’ve never purchased from before. You’re somewhat familiar with the brand and products, but this is your first time taking the plunge to make a purchase. And then you’re presented with lots and lots of menu options right from the moment you land on the store’s homepage. It can quickly become very confusing and this can be immediately off putting. Sometimes, having lots of choice is great but when it comes to your primary navigation, it’s more important to keep things straightforward.
The first step to great site navigation is keeping your primary nav clear and minimal. You can then use subcategories to help customers navigate further, which we’ll come to later. Sticking to some expected norms for navigation is also valuable - look at what competitors and larger businesses are doing with their navigation and note any similarities and patterns. Compare your own navigation, and see if you could make any improvements. Customers shop on lots of different sites, so they’ll be accustomed to certain styles of navigation.
The other aspect to this is to keep your navigation easy to understand with the language you choose. Use common and recognizable words for both primary navigation and subcategories. This avoids any confusion for customers, and makes your store more accessible.
#2 - Don’t - Make your primary navigation so minimal that it becomes confusing
On the other hand, there is such a thing as too minimal when it comes to navigation. The number of options will entirely depend on your product, customers, and what makes sense for your business. In the previous example, we used La Colombe’s navigation. Theirs is minimal, using subcategories to further aid customers. However for a business like Skims, this wouldn’t make as much sense. Let’s take a look at their navigation.
Each of the different categories for Skims’ products have their own subcategories. For example, under “Swim” they have 4 different subcategories. Another category, “Underwear”, has 12 subcategories to choose from. If they were to put all of their products under simply “Shop” in their primary navigation, it would get very cluttered and confusing very quickly. Here, it makes sense instead to have each product type have its own primary navigation option.
Too few options can be just as confusing as too many. Therefore it’s important to decide how many options in your primary navigation will make for a helpful experience for your customers.
#3 - Do - Make smart use of subcategories
Subcategories give you the ability to further define your navigation options and make it easier for customers to navigate your website. Especially if you simply have a “Shop” option in your primary navigation, subcategories will make it simple for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for. As with primary nav options, these can be defined by whatever makes the most sense for your store and products. The classic example is for apparel, where it might be broken down into “T-shirts”, “Sweatshirts”, “Accessories” and so on. However, let’s take a look at Homesick’s subcategories:
Their subcategories reflect not just the base product types like “candles” and “reed diffusers”, but also other aspects of the product that customers typically look for. Homesick’s scents are named for cities and memories, so customers may be looking for a specific city. The subcategories make this easy for them to find.
#4 - Don’t - Forget about mobile navigation
Did you know that mobile ecommerce sales make up 60% of global ecommerce sales? Mobile shopping is big business, and that means there’s probably a large portion of your customer base using a mobile device to browse your store. According to Google, 48% of users feel frustrated when a site isn’t mobile friendly, and 52% say that a bad mobile experience makes them less likely to engage with a brand. On the other hand, 67% of users say that when they browse a mobile friendly site, they’re more likely to make a purchase.
So, mobile navigation is going to have a serious impact on customer experience. The best way to improve your mobile navigation is to think about it as completely separate from your desktop navigation. Think about what users want from a mobile experience - it needs to be fast, responsive, and easy. They won’t want to have to tap through as many options as you may have available on desktop. That may involve adding some of your more popular subcategories to the mobile navigation menu for ease of access. For example, if you notice a lot of mobile traffic to the page for a particular collection then you can add this to the mobile menu.
Here’s an example of what Facetory’s desktop navigation looks like:
And now here’s what it looks like on mobile:
Immediately on opening the mobile menu, the subcategories appear. This makes it easier for customers looking for something specific - it takes fewer taps to navigate the store.
If you’re using Shopify to power your store, then all themes are mobile adaptive meaning that your menu will also adapt to suit a smaller screen. However it’s worth going over your mobile navigation to ensure it has everything your customers may need or expect.
#5 - Do - Use extra navigational tools like breadcrumbs
There’s more to navigation than just your primary navigation and subcategories! Adding in extra navigational tools will give customers a helping hand as they browse through your store. After all, they may check out different categories, products, and pages throughout their journey. And it should be easy for them to flick back and forth between pages they’ve visited. One way to do this is by adding breadcrumbs.
Breadcrumb navigation acts as a sort of path that shows the user’s journey to the current page. So for example, it might be homepage > men’s > sweaters. This appears on the page to help the user quickly navigate back through their journey. It also helps with showing page and category hierarchy.
Here’s an example from Faherty:
#6 - Don’t - Use confusing language or undescriptive anchor text for internal links
Another navigational tool you can implement is internal linking. As the name suggests, this is where you link to another page on your website. There are lots of internal links you can use on an ecommerce site, especially on key pages like product pages and FAQs. These give users handy links that will be highly relevant to their journey, for example linking to shipping and delivery information from a product page.
It’s important for navigation to ensure that any internal links use clear, descriptive language for the anchor text. It should be obvious to the customer where the link is leading them to, so there’s no confusion. If they click on an internal link and it’s unclear where it leads to, it might as well not be there! In the example above, the anchor text is “Read more FAQ here” which leads to Neighbor’s FAQ.
Here’s another example from Neighbor’s product page:
These internal links are useful for the customer, and are presented in a clear way. This helps them navigate through your store better to pages which will help them along their purchasing journey.
#7 - Do - Use your sitemap for extra handy links
One more navigational tool that is essential is your sitemap. This appears at the bottom of every page on your website, and can provide helpful links that don’t have an otherwise obvious place. This typically includes pages related to customer support, or quicklinks to different collections.
As customers browse through your site, they may want easy access to things like FAQs, or information about delivery and returns. Having a sitemap delivers that easy access, and means they don’t have to hunt around through other navigation menus to find it. The easier it is for them to find, the better their experience will be.
It’s important to take every opportunity you can to improve your customer experience. Navigation is a straightforward way to do just that, and can make a big impact on how customers feel about your store. As a bonus, great site navigation is also beneficial for your SEO. By improving your site’s navigation, you may improve its chances of ranking higher in search. This means it will bring in more customers, and they’ll then have a great customer experience.