The July 2018 UK Customer Satisfaction Index asked 10,000 UK consumers, from a range of organisations: “What are the top three things (insert brand) could do to improve its service?”
Twenty-four per cent gave the second most popular response – Better website navigation. Such a simple request! In UX research we frequently see customers struggle to find items they want to buy online or get lost trying to answer a simple question.
So, I hear you ask, what makes a website easy to navigate?
A Logical Structure And Hierarchy
Important items are easy to find – In a menu, this could mean putting your most popular items first, which is why women’s clothes are often before men’s in department store menus. Listing items alphabetically, or highlighting, can also make things easy to find. Note: important to the business may not be important to the customer!
Groupings match expectations – Are things where users expect to find them? This is particularly important for large mega-menus. Card sorting is a great research method for understanding how customers group products that can improve your website menu.
Easy to understand – Another benefit of card sorting, or its compatriot tree testing, is uncovering terminology that users don’t understand. Are you using too much jargon or industry terms that users don’t get?
No unnecessary duplication – Repeating items in menus can make them confusing and overwhelming. A product may ‘fit’ under several categories but are you undermining the meaning of those categories by doing so? An overwhelming menu puts users off and they may abandon before finding what they are looking for.
As shallow as possible – A big caveat here: yes, users are more likely to get lost in deep hierarchy but this is not a reason to leave items or categories out. Department stores like John Lewis and M&S have no choice but to grapple with this problem and users will cut you some slack if they appreciate the breadth of products you cover.
In context – Navigation isn’t just about menus. The correct in-text links can move users deeper into your site as they search for knowledge or related products. Make it easy for users to navigate to additional content at the right time.
Knowing Where You Are And Where You’ve Been
Navigation indicates where you are – Disorientation on a website often leads to abandonment. Location indicators in your menu (styling the area the user is in differently) make users aware of their surroundings and therefore able to move backwards or forwards with confidence.
Breadcrumb trails/progress bars reflect hierarchy or journey – Another one about orientation and confidence. Knowing how many steps are in the process makes getting to the end seem more achievable, while breadcrumb trails can let you retrace your steps or jump up a few levels in the hierarchy. Lost users leave, confident users go deeper into your site.
Consistent labelling – Users stuck in loops are often the victims of inconsistent labelling. They think they’re going to a new page but they’re actually going back to the same place for a third time. Exasperated cries of “I’m back here again!” do not make for a happy customer.
Ensure the browser back button lets you retrace your steps – Build your site as well as you like but users will still use the browser back button. Disorientation often occurs when users try to click back out of a modal overlay and find themselves going back two pages because the site doesn’t treat the modal as a true step in their journey. Don’t do it!
Easy To Use
Menus trigger when expected – Careful coding of a mega-menu means that users don’t move out of their hover selection when navigating to lower levels. Or menus open every time the mouse gets anywhere near them. Constant flickering is distracting and having to be precise with your mouse, or finger on touchscreen devices, is hard work.
Clear and readable – It should go without saying that your site should be readable, but this goes double for navigable items. Remember that post 40 most people’s eyesight deteriorates, and mobile phone screens are small. Make sure that labels in menus are readable (no italics!) and calls to action stand out.
Consistently findable – Put menus, links, etc where users expect to find them and don’t move them around on the site. A sticky menu is extremely findable as it stays in view as the user moves, so if they do get lost it’s easy for them to get re-orientated.
Careful use of icons – Note that this doesn’t say “don’t use icons” but do be careful. While icons can be a great shortcut, especially on mobile, be sure that they are recognisable by the majority of your users. The hamburger menu was still confusing for older users, if it did not have ‘menu’ beneath it, when designers were telling us it was already old and passé. Users don’t click on what they don’t know.
Remember there is no hover on mobile – Different devices make it very difficult to have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to menus. Going mobile first isn’t always the answer either. If you need different approaches for desktop and touchscreen devices, then create them. The high visitor numbers, but low conversion rate, often seen on mobile sites is partially related to navigation.
Finally, don’t forget that site search is navigation. Clarity, consistency, duplication, structure and hierarchy all need to be considered. Drop-offs from a search page mean a potential customer came looking for something specific and they couldn’t find it or anything else of interest on your site. If they came looking for a spade on your cupcake site that’s fine, but it pays to be sure that you’ve taken into account misspellings, relevancy and offered them any suitable alternatives before you let them leave.
We spend so much time trying to acquire new users, but perhaps we should divert some of that energy to keeping the ones we have. Satisfaction builds loyalty and loyal users are not only likely to buy again but buy more when they do. A report from Adobe highlights this, on average 40 per cent of revenue comes from repeat purchasers, that make up only eight per cent of all website visitors.
The UKSI Report Says:
“The highest performing organisations for customer satisfaction are constantly reviewing where they need to prioritise and improve, based on a balance of customer feedback, commercial objectives as well as the timeliness and practicability of implementing improvements.”
Improve your site navigation today. Help your users and help yourself!