Posted on 09 February 2012.
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More people are flocking online to get their shopping done these days. But, an online shopper doesn’t necessarily equal genius website navigator. You need to ensure that your business website’s search tools are simple and intuitive for those who are less technologically inclined — or risk losing customers.
About 60% of online purchases result from a customer search, according to ecommerce design solution Volusion. Not only should you do everything you can to land your business in the search engine sweet spot, but you should also optimize your in-site search for convenient user navigation.
The following tips will help improve your ecommerce company’s search functionality, both on-site and via organic search.
1. Navigation Bars and Filters
Usability studies indicate that a user’s eye naturally progresses from left to right; therefore, place navigation bars to the left. Also, you’ll probably have more room for detail if the navigation bar runs down the left side of the screen.
From there, you may choose to expand navigation bars into drop-down boxes that display sub-categories. For instance, a navigation heading displaying “Automotive” might expand into subcategories that include “Carburetors” and “Transmissions.” Just be sure not to get too specific (e.g. “Bi-Xenon Headlamps”) or else the user could become overwhelmed and discouraged.
SEE ALSO: How to Design the Best Navigation Bar for Your Website
Once the user has moved beyond the navigation, he will be taken to a page full of products. Provide a filter option that allows him to narrow products further — by price, color, fabric, most recent, etc.
In addition to pairing products with colorful, high-resolution photos, make sure to include unique, intriguing product descriptions. Not only will the shopper be more intrigued to click through to the main product page, but Google is more likely to prioritize unique product descriptions versus unoriginal content.
Cross-link between product pages and categories. That way, the shopper will more easily find related products, all while spending more time on your site and lowering your bounce rate. Cross-linking is one of the most effective search methods for ecommerce customers, especially those browsing without a clear purchase in mind.
2. In-Site Search Box
If your site has a larger population of product pages, a search box can help with targeted navigation. Follow TasteBook‘s example and consider including brief search hints like “keyword,” “ingredient,” “fabric” or “sport.” Depending on the effectiveness of the tool, the search should bring the shopper to page full of corresponding products.
However, you still want to entice users on a mission to explore the site. Consider a floating sidebar of most popular products or categories that follows a shopper throughout her search or a feed of sales activity, like Fab.com’s social shopping page. And an ecommerce homepage should constantly cycle through featured products, sales and curated content so that repeat customers are more enticed to explore.
3. Organic Search
Speaking of homepages, Google will crawl the pages of a website that have the most SEO juice, which is usually the homepage. Therefore, the pages that you link to your homepage should be the most important. Keep in mind that these pages might not necessarily reflect the categories on your navigation bar. Give prominence to other highly-clicked pages like the “About” page, for instance — they’re more likely to be indexed by Google.
Be sure to index all of your main pages, category pages and even specific product pages. Use Google Webmaster Tools and Webmaster Central to learn how to effectively index pages, then track how users searched for and found those pages. You can even view the ratio of your total URLs compared to how many have appeared in Google’s web index.
In order to maximize SEO, be sure to attach strategic keywords (including long-tail keywords) to your site pages. Use Google’s free Keyword Tool to estimate the traffic you can expect from certain key words and phrases.
Finally, be sure to index user reviews as well — Google favors fresh, user-generated content. For this reason, you may also choose to invite curators to regularly contribute related content to your website, which will not only improve SEO, but will also add a community element to your business.
How does your website design and optimize its search features? Which are the most easily navigable ecommerce sites out there today? Let us know in the comments.
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Image courtesy of iStockphoto, alexsl
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