Make Your Website Navigation Easy
When creating an e-commerce website, you obviously have selling as a goal. Whether you are dealing in products or services, you are trying to create an online store that encourages customers to part with their hard-earned money. One of the best ways to do that is by making it easy for people to find their way around your site. That's why the navigation system you employ is so important. Even if your visitors love your products, they will leave in frustration if they can't figure out how to find the right color or style, get it into their shopping cart, or complete the sale. Here are some tips to help you make it easy for potential customers to find what they are looking for.
Â· Follow standard conventions in the placement of your navigation links. Even though it might be tempting to make your site look "new and different," you don't want to do that when it comes to navigation buttons. Web users are creatures of habit and become used to looking for certain elements in certain places on a website. Don't throw them a curve by putting your "Home" button anywhere but near the top left corner, for example.
Your primary navigation bar should be located either across the top of your page, down the left side, or both. And those links should be available from every page of your site. Don't force people to go back to the home page just to enter another part of the site.
Â· Keep navigation consistent throughout your site. Don't put buttons in different locations on different pages. Keep their appearance the same from page to page, as well. This is not the place to attempt to provide variety. Be sure that visitors can find their way to your home page and other content pages from every part of the website. (Read another article on Clean Website Design here.)
Â· Put your "About Us" and "Contact Us" sections where they will be easy to find. These two buttons help build user trust in your site. If they know a little bit about who you are and how to get in touch with you, they will be more likely to try your products. So be sure that people can see these buttons as soon as they enter the site, without scrolling. If you bury this vital information in the footer, very few people will take the trouble to look for it.
Â· Break navigation links into logical categories. If you offer an array of products on your site, arrange them in ways that make it easy to browse, much the same way you would if you had a brick and mortar store. Let's say you are selling toys, for example. You might want to have one navigation bar that separates items into age groups, and another that sorts things by price or by indoor or outdoor use. Put yourself in your customer's shoes and try to imagine what would be most helpful to you if you were trying to find a present for your child or grandchild.
Research indicates that people tend to ignore lists that have more than five or six entries, so if you have more categories than that, break them down again into subgroups. Therefore, your toys for ages 0-2 might be subdivided into articles that are appropriate for infants, crawlers, and toddlers, for example.
Breadcrumbs also help shoppers get to items they want or return to products they viewed earlier. It might look something like this: Toddlers> Outdoor Toys> Tricycles. If you design your site so that grandpa can see that he started in the toddlers section, then went to outdoor toys, then to tricycles, and if all of those headings are linkable, he can easily browse your selection until he makes a decision.
Â· Make it obvious whether a category is clickable or not. If you have a category title with several clickable links below it, be sure the title does not look like a link itself. There is nothing that makes users turn away from a site faster than finding what they think are broken or unusable links. It sends the message that "this merchant is not reliable."
Â· Don't make your navigation buttons open a new browser window. This practice needlessly clutters a user's desktop. If your visitor wants to keep a certain page in a separate window, he can always use the "open in a new window" option himself.
Â· Be sure you give each page a title that describes its content. Be aware that if a user wants to bookmark one of your pages, (which is a very good thing), the page needs to have a title that will be easily identifiable. If all your pages have the same or similar titles, visitors to your site will not be able to return easily to a particular spot that caught their interest. Make it easy for them to remember why they liked your site and why they might want to go back.
Â· Make sure your navigation buttons look like they go somewhere. In other words, don't depend on your visitors rolling over a button with their mouse in order for it to appear clickable. It should be obvious at first glance that a button can be used for navigation. (Check out another article on Using Links here.)
Â· Provide easy access to purchase and checkout links. When you succeed in convincing a website user to buy something you have for sale, be sure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. This is another area where it is important to follow conventions. Users will look for the shopping cart and checkout links in the upper right hand corner, so put them there. Be sure those buttons are available from every page in your site, and make the order forms and shipping info as user-friendly as possible.
Â· Test all of your links and navigation bars on the Internet. Just because everything works from your hard drive as you are building your site, it doesn't mean it will work on the web. Try to use several different browsers and screen sizes when you run your tests, too, so you can make sure everything looks and acts like it is supposed to.
As you put your online commerce site together, think about the highway department. They put the road signs you need right where you will be looking for themâ€¦at the side of the road. They are clearly marked with one or two words that should make it easy for you to get where you want to go. Make your website follow this model, and you will increase your chances of having happy customers who enjoy their experience in your cyber-store and are eager to return.
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