Think about the last time you shopped at a brick-and-mortar store. What was the first thing you did upon entering the store? Were the departments well marked? Were you able to find your items quickly, or did you leave out of frustration because you couldn't locate what wanted?
Online shoppers encounter many of these same issues. That's why when starting a web site, you should consider these tips to simplify navigation, which can help convert clicks to sales.
(*) STICK TO THE STANDARD
There is a good chance your customers use the Internet regularly and are accustomed to certain standard navigation formats. Keep your navigation simple, and don't stray too far from the user's comfort zone. For instance, most Web users are accustomed to primary navigation always being at the top or left side of the page, says Tom McCracken, Director of LevelTen Design, a full-service e-Media agency based in Dallas.
(*) PROVIDE A SENSE OF SCALE
Making the web site's hierarchy visible through drop-down menus under the home page's main headings on the home page is a good way to give the user a sense of a site. If one of the primary headings on a home page were "Tools," the drop-down menu would list "Hammers," "Saws," and so on. With larger sites, it's always a good idea to provide a search box to avoid frustrating users.
(*) MAKE IT INTUITIVE
McCracken advises that visitors to a web site should be able to find what they need in no more than three clicks, and proceed to the first step in less than eight seconds. In order to achieve this ideal, the direction on each page should be clear and consistent.
To start, consider that upon entering a brick-and-mortar store, most people first search for a sign indicating the section they are seeking, such as Housewares. Once in the Housewares section, it makes sense to look for signs that point to particular products, such as lamps or rugs. A web site should have a similar intuitive layout.
(*) SHOW THE STEPS OF PROGRESSION
If you want your customers to complete a process, try giving them a clear picture of how far they've come. If they can clearly see that they only have one more step to go, they may be more likely to finish. Across the top of the page, the first step in the progression might read "Your Information," which is where customers enter a billing and shipping address. The next step might be "Payment Method," followed by "Review Your Order," then "Submit" to complete the purchase. Make sure throughout the entire process, the customer can see not only every step going forward, but the current step and the step or steps that lie ahead.
(*) GIVE THE USER FLEXIBILITY
If a user goes down any path on the web site, make it easy for them to back out. This can be accomplished easily by keeping a global navigation on every page. The step navigation described above also should assist users with backtracking if necessary.
(*) KEEP THE CUSTOMER ON TRACK
Remove extraneous navigation once a customer is in the final steps of what want you'd want them to accomplish. The primary goal of any business site is conversion, McCracken says, which may mean getting the customer to contact you, make a purchase or register for a special offer. Therefore, a web site should have has obvious conversion paths, i.e., make it easy for the visitor to contact you, place an order or get to the registration form. Also, navigation should integrate call-to-action conversion accelerators.
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