Your site navigation is trying to serve too many masters.

The standard practice is to mirror your site architecture so that everyone has a way of reaching their destination regardless of where they land. But this doesn’t make sense if you think about your target audience. Every part of your site may attract visitors, but the majority of your conversions probably come from a very specific sub-set of categories/brands/products.

Some Examples:

  • You sell parts for 50 years of Porsche, but 1970-80 Porsche parts account for 75% of parts sold.
  • You have a business magazine that covers a dozen topics, but 80% of subscriptions come from readers of your Interviewing and Salary sections.
  • You sell a suite of 5 SEO tools, but 70% of sign-ups come after people read about the link checking tool

This is standard for any type of business (see Pareto Principle) and it begs the question of why we treat all content as equal. You know that your business lives or dies based on specific content being seen by a specific customer. So why is your important content buried below a half dozen far less valuable options? Doesn’t it make more sense to prioritize what matters and make finding it as easy as possible?

You can improve the experience for your key customers by building some shortcuts into your top navigation. The shortcuts should emphasize the key content and make it as visible as possible. It can be handled with a mix of link ordering, labeling and customer-centric curating, so you don’t have to make substantial changes to site architecture.

5 Ways to Add Shortcuts to Your Top Navigation

You can mix and match the tactics below to find what works for you. Some of them are probably not for you, but every one of them will be an improvement over the alphabetized category drop-down that you are using now.

1. Re-Order Navigation Links Based On Business Value:

The easiest way to create shortcuts is to put links to the most important content at the start of the top navigation (left side). People read from left-to-right and putting their most likely goal at the start of their reading will reduce skimming and get them into the site faster.

Old Navy top navigation

Old Navy puts links for women, it’s core customers, at the start of it’s top navigation. If you know who your core customer is and what they want, then why not make their life easier?

2. Align Navigation Options with Product Attributes

Your visitors can have very specific tastes in products: Camera shoppers may expect a specific sensor type, bedroom furniture shoppers may only be looking for mahogany headboards, TV shoppers might only buy Sony televisions, etc. Factoring these attributes (specs, material, brand) into navigation shows that you know your customer and lets them go straight to what they want.

Williams Sonoma flyout menu

Williams-Sonoma uses labels to orient users toward more specific solutions based on the selling points for their audience. Notice the sections for Materials and Brands.

3. Be Selective in What You Show (Curate Your Internal Links)

Give visitors links to the what they want or what converts. Don’t sweat it if a few things aren’t immediately visible. If you are using data to plan your navigation, then the less visible options should be less important to your business.

4. Consolidate Secondary Options

Maybe you don’t want to sacrifice any opportunities or you know that there is strong seasonal element to some offerings. If that’s the case, then consolidate your second-tier opportunities but keep them in the top navigation. This way, you’ve got plenty of room for the top content but you don’t lose as much visibility on other areas.

5. Use Eye-Candy to Pull Them In

If your store is known for it’s style, hard-to-find brands or a specific product, then leverage that to get people to click. We don’t see images in top navigation very often, but it can be a great lure for visitors. The key is to have good images or video. Poor quality or un-interesting visuals are just as likely to turn people off as get them to click.

SurfStitch feature style

SurfStich carries the leading surf, snow and skateboard apparel brands. Featuring their merchandise makes it easier for visitors to visualize their offerings and entices them to click through.

Stop Trying to Help Everyone

Don’t start treating non-core visitors poorly, but accept that your business is not for everyone. Discover who your customer is and what they are looking for & then make sure they are getting it. They are the ones that are mostly likely to convert and the ones that will become advocates if treated well.

Improving on What You’ve Got

This is the 2nd post in a series about improving your website by leveraging your existing assets as much as possible. Small, targeted changes to your existing site can have a large impact. I’m starting at the top of your site and working my way down. Next week will be our first discussion of page copy.

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