One of the most promising initiatives that you can take to improve revenue generation from your e-Commerce site is to optimize site navigation. In this four-part blog series, I’d like to walk you through the building blocks of an optimization strategy that can lead to consistently positive revenue outcomes from your existing e-Commerce site.

Key Takeaways:

  • Site navigation has a significant impact on visitor experience
  • Optimal site navigation depends on how your visitors prefer to interact with your brand
  • e-Commerce optimization starts with an introspective look into your existing site

 

 

Background

A good first impression is one of the most critical aspects of an e-Commerce website. By providing an intuitive and enjoyable site experience that lends to comfort and satisfaction, you can facilitate sales and reduce your bounce rate.

Because navigation can vary so much between e-Commerce sites, due to product categories and product type variance, there are no set guidelines or how-to’s for organizing your onsite navigation.

As of now, navigation design is treated as an art in-and-of itself, driven by a designer’s empirical (and sometimes qualitative) experience. It’s all about intuition about how to build a logical information architecture: the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details in otherwise complex systems.

For most e-Commerce sites, navigation is treated as a ‘set it and forget it’ item. However, if you check the history of leading e-Commerce companies, you will notice that they are constantly experimenting with – and changing – their navigation options.

Check out the evolution of Amazon and eBay’s on-site navigation:

Evolution of Amazon and eBay site navigation
Our objective is to emphasize the importance of onsite navigation and to encourage you to develop and implement your own e-Commerce navigation optimization strategy. After thoughtful consideration of your navigation options, you can begin to create that positive user experience that will ultimately lead to more predictable and sustainable revenue growth.Needless to say, these companies would not continually dedicate valuable resources to their site navigation if they were not getting some good returns on their investment. So, if you are aspiring to join the club of the most successful e-Commerce companies, consider optimizing the navigation of your own e-Commerce site.

Analysis

Any good onsite navigation optimization strategy begins with an introspective look into what’s working with your current navigation element. Analyze your current situation:

  • Where are your visitors clicking?
  • What is the natural progression of your sales funnel?

Once you have a grasp on the status quo, you should establish baseline goals for further improvement. Then, arm yourself with analytics tools that can help you to better understand which new navigation element(s) are contributing to an effective optimization campaign.

That said, we don’t pretend to be “analytics gurus”. This short list of recommended actions below should be treated only as a pragmatic 20/80 approach where with 20% of effort, you get 80% of benefit. If you have access to a web analytics expert, we highly encourage you to solicit his or her input as well.

Smoke Tests

Once you’ve begun to design your navigation optimization campaign, it’s important to consider the types of metrics that are important to you. What are the implication of these results on your bottom line (more importantly, does it contribute to improved revenue-per-visitor)? Some of the more common metrics are:

Bounce Rate: Simply put, your site’s bounce rate is a metric that counts visitors who arrive at one page on your site and immediately leave (or “bounce”). There are many reasons why a visitor might bounce, but often times a poor site navigation could cause frustrated visitors to close their browsers.

The picture below shows Google Analytics’ bounce rate report:

Google Analytics Bounce Rate Report

Most industry experts consider a bounce rate of less than 20% to be difficult to achieve; bounce rates over 35%, however, are a cause for concern, and anything above 50% might require immediate action.

Page Views Ratio: Check the ratio between unique visitors and page views. Below is the example of Google Analytics showing 5.96 pages per visit.

Visitor Statistics Including New vs Returning Visitors

 

It is great to have visitors engaged and spending time on your site. More page views is generally considered a good thing. However, a large ratio between pages viewed and visits could highlight a navigation problem wherein visitors are unable to easily find what they’re looking for.

Based on our empirical experience, an average of more than 7-8 pages per average visit raises a red flag and deserves further consideration.

Exit Pages: Evaluate the list of the top exit pages to determine anomalies. For example, the report below shows that the home page receives the most traffic and that it has the highest percentage of exits:

Exit Page Report

This potentially indicates an issue with the site navigation wherein visitors are circling back to the home page without being able to find what they need and eventually leave.

e-Commerce Information Architecture

Your current navigation holds clues about the alignment between your site’s content and your results. In your analysis, you should evaluate both the revenue and traffic aspects of your site:

Revenue Importance:

  • It is critical to understand the revenue impact of each type of page on your e-Commerce site. For example, analysis of a report like the one provided by IBM’s Coremetrics tool (below) reveals the revenue importance of different product categories.

IBM Coremetrics Report

 

  • Information such as this should help you to make a decision about which categories should be shown at the primary navigation level.

In-Page Analytics:

  • Almost all major web analytics tools provide a feature that illustrates the number of clicks on each of the navigation options. The picture below shows Google’s in-page analytics report:

Google In-Page Analytics Report

 

  • This information helps you better understand visitor’s preferences. This will help you decide which navigation options to keep and also how to create a layout that will better expose those that are most frequently used.

 

Flow analysis

This analysis is not popular with leading web analysts. Their attitude is that it is virtually impossible to control visitor flows, and therefore it is irrelevant how visitors behave on an e-Commerce site. What does matter are the end results.

In general, we think that flow analysis and control are poorly addressed and all that we need are better software solutions. However, when it comes to site navigation, flow analysis can provide important insights.

Entry Pages: Similar to in-page analytics, this report helps with understanding the importance of different types of web pages.

The image below shows an entry page report:
Entry Page Report

If a particular page category is an entry page for a significant number of visitors, you should ensure that it is represented in the top navigation to lend to a consistent user experience for that group of visitors.

Visitor Flows: Visitor flow analysis provides a multi-dimensional understanding of visitor behavior on your e-Commerce site.

e-Commerce Visitor Flow Analysis

The Google Analytics Visitors Flow Report above shows a relatively small drop-off rate between different steps in visitor flow, which is an indicator of significant visitor interest. However, it appears that a significant number of visitors keep coming back to the home page in search of something they did not find in the first place. Such visitor flow indicative of an issue with the site navigation. In an ideal case, the visitors should move forward from one level of the site to another and not backwards to the home page.