Optimise to Win, Pt 8: Provide Options - Spread the net wide

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Optimise to Win, Pt 8: Provide Options - Spread the net wide

Note: this is the eigth of our multi-part Optimise to Win series, where we show you how the best businesses get more conversions than their competition.

Best practices to improve the user experience

1. Have Clickable Parent Categories

If you have more than about five categories, it's likely that you would benefit from having parent and subcategories. Hierarchy and categorisation are basic human needs for making sense of the world, and of course we want to make our users' experiences as intuitive as possible.

Users expect to be able to start their browsing on a broad level and then to narrow it down. If your site has parent category headings but they aren't clickable, users will be confused and frustrated that they can't follow their normal usage pattern. Take for instance, Pottery Barn's or REI's websites.

Hovering over the parent categories gives users a "text select" cursor rather than a pointer cursor signifying a link. Users browsing for "Living Room Furniture" or "Gear" have nowhere to go, and their browsing immediately becomes much more complicated & less helpful. User testing confirms these results over and over again.

When parent categories are clickable, on the other hand, users begin to use them extensively in the beginning of their shopping process to compare & contrast the different offerings. See how Toys-R-Us and Go Outdoors have implemented deep category linking:

2. Place your subcategories in multiple parent categories when necessary

Whenever a subcategory may fit well in a parent category, it should be placed there. If "Side Tables" is in the "Living Room" parent category but not the "Bedroom" category, user testing has shown that many users will be unable to find side tables at all. It is always better to include more categories that may overlap than to try to be as succinct as possible -- if a user can't find what they want, they will quickly leave the site, likely never to return.

A Best Buy site case study shows this very clearly:

One subject was unsure whether she would find computer adapters in “Office” or “Computers & Tablets,” because the former describes a usage context, while the latter describes the type of product. Based on the subcategory options, she found the latter to be the correct one. However, in “Computers & Tablets” (above right), she was in doubt about whether to look in “Batteries & Power” or in the generic “Accessories.” Luckily, both led her to adapters. Also, notice how Best Buy has an “Ink & Toner” category within “Computers & Tablets,” as well as a “Printer Ink & Toner” category within “Office,” allowing users to find the category in any of the potentially matching parent categories.
3. Have a "What's New" or "What's Hot" category or filter

Your best users will check your site often, and they're looking for new arrivals, sales, or seasonal items. It's very easy to add products to a "What's Hot" product group and show them on the homepage, and it's also good for SEO - it keeps your page content fresh.

Furthermore, featuring a group of products can significantly increase their sales. Have an attractive item with a particularly good profit margin? Make sure it's featured, so that it gets the attention it deserves.

Take some time to sort your items for seasonality and newness - a filter that just shows recently added SKUs won't likely be as effective as if you tailor your featured offerings to what your users are most looking for at the time, with regard to seasonality and trends.

4. Suggest substitute and complementary products on product pages

Most users do some comparison shopping before buying, and the easier we make it for them, the more likely they'll buy from our website rather than a competitor. There are some great ways to present alternative products on any given product's page. Amazon pioneered this tactic and is still a market leader at suggesting similar items:

Beyond substitute products, we also need to present complementary goods along with a product -- if a user is looking at a mobile phone, we ought to suggest a good cover or headset to go with it. After someone has decided to make a larger purchase, they are extremely susceptible to buying less expensive complementary products. Suit salesmen take advantage of this fact by waiting until you purchase a suit before they suggest expensive ties, cufflinks, vests, etc. because they realise that users are much more likely to purchase add-ons after deciding to make the large purchase.

5. Keep track of a user's recently viewed items

Instead of making the user keep track of bookmarks, a wish list, or an extensive "back button" history, we can help our casual browsing users feel like they are free to take a look around without losing track of what they've already looked at using a "Recently Viewed Items" section.

For instance, CarSales.com.au does this pretty well (see top right corner of above image), but they limit the history to only 2 cars. We would recommend keeping track of at least 10 previously viewed items instead:

This functionality should be available on pages beyond just the product page, since people are just as likely to be lost on a category page as on a specific product page. There are several ways to display this list in an attractive, unobtrusive way, such as how Crate & Barrel shows thumbnail links on a small vertical column on the right-hand side:

6. Maintain lists of compatible complementary goods

Users often find it difficult to match a product with an accessory that fits without discoverable, suggested options. For instance, if someone wants to purchase a camera and a case, they need to be able to search for "Nikon D5100 case" and get only results that fit the Nikon D5100. Some users get so frustrated at being unable to find a selection of definitely fitting cases that they'll buy a camera based primarily on the fact that they know that the case they picked out will fit it.

See how Amazon shows a picker (in the left-hand column) for compatibility with whichever model of iPhone the user wants a case for, and filters the results by the user's choice:

On Newegg, it's vital that users can determine what individual computer parts are compatible with, so their compatibilities are shown on the category product list. Newegg lists series of a product, but users often aren't sure if their particular model is within a product series, so that provides another usability problem:

While it can be difficult to establish and maintain compatibility lists across your catalogue, it's absolutely worthwhile to give users those clear options.

7. Whenever you show a product, link to it and its category

It can be great to include contextual images on your product or category pages. Often, users will see something in the image that they want that isn't the primary product displayed in it. Try to include links to all of the products in an image so that users can get the one they want as soon as possible.

Consider the following image. A user saw the main banner image and immediately decided he wanted the side table:

...so he clicked it, but nothing happened. He then tried the “Save to list” button, assuming it would save all of the products shown and that he could then simply remove the other products. But that didn’t happen either. “Nooo… Arrgghhh, it only added the sofa. I would like to get the sofa table,” he said, hovering over and right-clicking the table in the image. He laughed in despair as he continued, “I want this. What do I do? I want this one [pointing at the table]. I expected it would save all of them when I used the button, but it only saved the sofa.” After searching for the table, the subject ended up abandoning the website.

If possible, always give links to all products included or a description that includes which products are available and which aren't. Users get much less frustrated if they know they can't get something than if they think they may be able to but can't figure out how. See, for example, how Pottery Barn includes the product details in the description on hover of a contextual image:

In the end, if they can't find it, they can't buy it.

In the end, we need to give users as many paths and tools as possible to make their shopping experience easier. Ensure that you focus on product discoverability in all stages of site design and product categorisation as well as in all contextual images.

Sources: Guidelines For Better Navigation And Categories


For more, check out our other Optimise to Win posts:

At Redfox Media, we employ all of these methods and strategies for clients in our Online Accelerator program. Enquire now to discuss how we can help your business, and get a FREE SEO report!

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