In this article, learn the most effective ways to simplify and optimize ecommerce navigation. Discover where and how to display your categories for higher engagement to examples of retailers who offer strong navigation experiences.
Types (and Examples) of Ecommerce Navigation
Your site navigation setup influences how your visitors discover and interact with your products. Consumers who know what they’re looking for don’t want to jump down a rabbit hole to find it, which is why displaying the most important elements in a clean and concise way is key to creating a winning navigation experience.
Horizontally across the top of the page
As the navigation flow of choice for most retailers, a horizontal navigation menu helps users quickly see where they need to go from the homepage. Eyetracking studies have shown that a horizontal top page menu is easier for consumers to navigate – and by keeping the menu clean and clutter-free, it makes for a more pleasing visual experience.
Trading Depot sells a wide variety of home appliances and accessories and makes products easy to find via their top page menu:
Asos take is a step further by including small icons and imagery within their category dropdown menu:
Vertically down the left side of the page
While the majority of online retailers opt for horizontal navigation menus on their websites, some retailers offer such a wide variety of categories that there isn’t enough space on a horizontal menu to cover them.
One of the most classic examples of ecommerce stores with large catalogs who use vertical navigation is Amazon. As we know, the site has dozens of categories – and there are multiple options on the left-hand side where a user can narrow down by size, color, brand, price range and customer ratings to find what they’re looking for.
Ecommerce Navigation Best Practices
When creating the structure for your main and subcategories, make it as easy as possible for your customers to browse the page. Here are some quick ecommerce navigation tactics to consider when bringing your site experience to life.
1. Your most important categories should form the primary headings of your menu.
These products/categories will be visible at all times as your customer navigates your website.
However, it is worth noting that while it may feel at odds with the other categories you have created, if you have a product that outsells everything else on your site then consider allocating some of this prime navigation space to it.
Levi’s have a broad range of items but also recognize that 501 and 511 jeans are their iconic pieces and so give these prominence in their navigation:
2.When appropriate, list subcategories under as many applicable root categories as needed.
This will allow customers multiple routes to their desired product instead of forcing them down unnecessary dead ends.
For example, a pet store’s main category structure may be something along the lines of dogs, cats, small animals, big animals, pet food, accessories, gifts. Dog and cat food can then be stored both under pet food but also the dog and cat range.
Female customers on the BooHoo site can get to new items for clothes by going to the ‘New In’ category or the Women’s tab:
3. Be intentional about how you name your categories.
Firstly, it tells people, at a glance, the range of what you sell so that they can decide whether to delve deeper into your site or to go elsewhere.
Secondly, the category names which make up your navigation will also be a key driver of traffic to your site – contribute as they do to your SEO efforts. For this reason you should focus on clear, functional and commonly used terms. It is not a place for marketing talk or funny and witty copy. The basic rule of thumb? They shouldn’t have to click on it to know what’s in there, but for a more scientific approach do your due diligence using Google Adwords to find out the most searched terms.
MADE’s category name are clear and straight to the point:
4. After naming categories, consider the way you order them.
This is relevant to both the primary navigation and any subcategories in drop-downs. The smart-sorting of categories would position the most common/valuable ones on top and least valuable at the bottom. This can be achieved simply by reviewing sales/ERP data. However, remember the order should be logical for people – if your products have a natural flow, take this into consideration.
For example, Zalando have put everyday items such as dresses, over more specific and less frequently bought pieces like trench coats and swimwear:
Personalized Navigation Based on Shopper Behavior
Now that you’ve identified the more basic elements you should be doing to set up an effective ecommerce navigation experience, it’s time to add the layer of personalization to your efforts. Customers who’ve visited or purchased from you before should not be bothered by a navigation that is irrelevant to what they’re interested in, so this step is key.
Optimizing your category page navigation can be done in a few simple steps. To see how it’s done, check out our quick run-through on how to optimize category pages with product recommendations.