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Increase Sales by Improving Website Navigation

Updated on October 31, 2012

Navigation Boosts Earnings

Web site navigation is about designing and improving your web site so that customers buy faster and stay longer. Understand key concepts, then learn to use your website statistics to plan navigation improvements.

How People Move Through Your Website

People move through your website in a variety of ways. They won't just arrive on the home page; they may come directly to one of your products or to your client list or your staff directory. They could show up anywhere; they might go anywhere. Worse, they might leave at any time.

  • Navigation is the design elements you create, especially links and menus, that guide your customers through your site.
  • Web Statistics tell you where your customers came in, where they went, and what page they left from. You'll have to put on your thinking cap to figure out why they are going to different pages and, especially, why they are leaving your site.

Navigation for Waterways and Websites

The dam creates the lake, and the fish ladder gives the fish a way in. Is your website navigation designed that well?
The dam creates the lake, and the fish ladder gives the fish a way in. Is your website navigation designed that well? | Source

Navigation: Web or Waterway

Civil engineers reshape lakes and rivers using dams and fish ladders to get fish where we want them to be. Good web designers follow their lead. A good web designer will shape navigation on your site to create the flows that you want your customers to follow. There are two primary flows:

  • The fish ladder is for customers who know what they want. Your navigation takes them straight to the shopping cart with as few clicks as possible using landing pages, sales pages, and squeeze pages.
  • The stocked lake above the dam is for customers who don't know what they want. You want them to stay on the site, being happy and entertained, learning their way around, getting to think of your site as a home away from home. Then, like fish climbing the ladder to get above the dam to the lake, they come back to do some shopping.

A Sophisticated Fish Ladder

This high-tech fish ladders is designed to maximize the flow of fish upstream to their destination.
This high-tech fish ladders is designed to maximize the flow of fish upstream to their destination. | Source

An Airport Taxi Line

A taxi line at an airport works just like a fish ladder. In Las Vegas (not shown) the taxi line speeds people to the casinos.
A taxi line at an airport works just like a fish ladder. In Las Vegas (not shown) the taxi line speeds people to the casinos. | Source

You Don't Need a Home Page

Home pages are passé. Or, to be more precise, not every site needs one. Netflix, for example, wants you downloading videos and renting DVDs, not reading a home page. So they don't have one at all!

Fish Ladders, the Las Vegas Airport Taxi Line, and Sales Pages

Salmon want to go upstream to spawn. So river navigation design experts create fish ladders like the one on the right to help them bypass the dam and get right where they want to go.

Similarly, people who come to Las Vegas want to get to the casinos, and the city wants to get them gambling as fast as possible. The taxi line at the Las Vegas airport is so well designed that it can load 100 people into taxis in under 20 minutes. (I know, I timed it.) For your website, if you are selling low-priced, popular items, or if you're having a special blow-out sale, you're going to want to get your customers right to the information they need. You're looking at landing pages, sales pages, squeeze pages, and catalogs. These all link straight to the shopping cart.

As you can see from the photo of the fish ladder, getting fish, or people, straight where they want to go can actually involve some pretty clever engineering. Here are the main tools we use for fast sales on a web site:

  • Targeted Landing Pages. A targeted landing page is a page you design for customers to arrive at if they are close to ready to buy. You can create a different landing page for each product or service, to keep the customer focused on what they want to buy. If you run a time-sensitive business, you can create landing pages for the current season or the special blow-out sale.
  • Sales pages. A sales page is designed to guide the prospective client to buying your product or service. Often, it gives an explanation of the benefits of your high-end services. It usually links to an Buy Now button, or more than one. Or, if you don't sell directly on the web, the page links to a contact form.
  • Catalog Pages. If you sell a lot of items, you should develop a web catalog supported by a web database. Each catalog entry has an attractive image of the item, enough information to entice the buyer and build confidence, and an “add to cart” button. Items such as clothing and shoes that have multiple size and color options require multiple images, “click to enlarge” graphics, and drop-down boxes for size, color, and other selection features. Customers should be able to choose in seconds, then click “Add to cart.”
  • Squeeze pages. A squeeze page is a landing page that is also a sales page. It is often quite long. It may have a "buy now" link every 2 to 3 paragraphs, and go on a dozen paragraphs or more. The goal is to the customer buy in, or, if they still have doubts, to keep reading until every doubt is satisfied and they buy in.

To sum up the idea of these sales solutions, if you have customers who want to buy now, don't send them to your home page. Bring them straight to a targeted landing page which is also a sales page for the item they want; or bring them to a catalog page; or, for high-end items that require a long explanation, bring them to a squeeze page. Customers will race upstream to your shopping cart like salmon climbing a fish ladder.

A Dam Creates a Lake

This computer graphic shows how a dam can be designed to create a lake. You can design your site to keep customers browsing, too.
This computer graphic shows how a dam can be designed to create a lake. You can design your site to keep customers browsing, too. | Source

Lakes, Stores, and Web Sites

Your web site is much more like a department store in a mall than like an ordinary store. People may walk into any floor and room in a mall department store. Have you noticed how the newer malls have very few aisles that go all the way through the store, and how they have few signs to help customers find things. The interior decorators have designed the store layout - it's navigation - to keep customers staying in the store and browsing.

This is the concept of the lake, where a dam holds deep water that's good for stocking with fish. In the department store, the interior designers have put up walls to slow traffic flow, and people stay and browse the stock in the store. If your product or service is high-end, and you want people to get to know and trust your business and really think about what you have to offer, then you should design your web site like a dam with a lake, or like a department store in a mall. Give them a place to hang out and get to know you!

Keeping Customers Where You Want Them

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Malls are designed to draw people in, then keep them wandering, with exits just out of sight.Inside malls, major department stores set up boutiques to keep their exits out of sight and keep customers browsing.
Malls are designed to draw people in, then keep them wandering, with exits just out of sight.
Malls are designed to draw people in, then keep them wandering, with exits just out of sight. | Source
Inside malls, major department stores set up boutiques to keep their exits out of sight and keep customers browsing.
Inside malls, major department stores set up boutiques to keep their exits out of sight and keep customers browsing. | Source

When they've stayed a while, or gone away, and thought about it, and come back, they're probably ready to purchase. At that point, you direct them to a contact page (for high-end sales with personal attention) or to a sales page with details of a specific product that links to shopping cart.

Here are the pages that function like a lake behind a dam, keeping your customers on the site until they buy, or, at least, are sure to come back.

  • The Home Page is the door to your site for these browsing customers.
  • About Us pages that tell about the company, it's vision and mission, and the team build a sense of connection and confidence.
  • Testimonials and Endorsements give confidence about the quality of your company and its products.
  • Articles and Blogs sell through education, presenting you as an expert.
  • Entertainment, especially videos, keep your customers entertained. If they like you, they'll buy from you.

Make sure that your customers don't stay lost forever, though. You don't want them to become like the big fish who lives in the bottom of the lake and never gets caught. Make sure that you have opt-in registration for newsletters, contact forms, and more ways for them to interact with your business.

Hanging Out at the Las Vegas Airport

If you're luggage is late and you have to hang out at the Las Vegas airport, at least you have this plane hanging out with you to keep you entertained.
If you're luggage is late and you have to hang out at the Las Vegas airport, at least you have this plane hanging out with you to keep you entertained. | Source

The Best of Both Worlds

For most companies, the ideal web site has the best of both worlds. Consider the Home Depot website as an example. Consumers land right in the middle of a gigantic database-driven catalog of things to buy. But home improvement professionals get pages and pages - an encyclopedia, really - of information about how to use Home Depot online to get what they need to succeed in the home improvement industry.

Plan your site to match your customers and your price-point.

  • If you deal in impulse purchases, easily understood items, low prices, and special offers, think catalog.
  • If you have high-end items that are time driven, "buy now special offer" type things, such as training courses starting on a certain date, then use squeeze pages.
  • If you have high-end items or services that customers really need to ponder, and you want to build their confidence, then set up your site with lots of information for browsing and lots of ways to get to know you and keep in touch.

Use any or all of these, as needed.

Losing Money Waiting for Luggage

Wait! If the people waiting for their luggage are staring at an airplane over their heads, we're not making any money. Let's give them slot machines, instead!
Wait! If the people waiting for their luggage are staring at an airplane over their heads, we're not making any money. Let's give them slot machines, instead! | Source

Some Extras

Sales Boosters

Did you know that the Las Vegas Airport has slot machines in baggage claim? If you don't believe me, look at the photo. If luggage is delayed, you can start gambling right now. Well, high-end sales websites do the same thing. Think about Amazon, with their "Customers who bought this also bought" feature, and "Recommendations for You" and "Frequently Bought Together" enticements to boost sales.

Plan When to Show the Price

If you're running a sale, or you specialize in discount pricing, then put your price right up front, the way Herrington Catalog (a discounter for luxury accessories) does. On the other hand, if you are selling something expensive, you may want to hold of showing the price until a bit later. Be careful, though: This can be a dicey game. I get nervous hitting a "buy now" button before I see a price. It's not rational, since I haven't given them my credit card. But I fear being locked in to buying something I can't afford. So plan the placing of your pricing carefully. And you may even want to test different options, and use web statistics to see which way of showing your price works for the most customers.

Using Web Statistics to Make Sure it All Works

So, you've designed your site. You've got sales pages for the quick items, squeeze pages for the high-end, high-pressure close, and a nice home page and blog for the browsers.

But is it working? Your bottom line in your shopping cart will tell you. But what if part of it is working and part of it isn't. For that, you need to dig deeper and use your web statistics.

Planned vs. Actual

You planned your pages to work one way. Your web stats will tell you if they're working that way, or if something different is happening. For example:

  • The stats show you where customers arrive. Is it the right landing page?
  • The stats show you where they go next. Are they following your planned flow, or getting distracted?
  • The stats show you where your customers end up. Are the ones on the salmon-ladder buying? Are the ones in the lake behind the dam registering for your newsletter? Or are they hopping off your site and saying sayonara?

When a dam is poorly designed, the water can get fouled, and a fish die off is the result. See the image of the right if you want to be grossed out. But face the facts, customers hopping off your site are as bad for your business as a fish die-off is for trout season.

So what can you do?

Lost Customers Smell as Bad as Dead Fish

Poorly designed river navigation leads to a fish die-off. Poorly designed web navigation has customers running away from your site.
Poorly designed river navigation leads to a fish die-off. Poorly designed web navigation has customers running away from your site. | Source

Analyze and Fix Problems on Your Site

When a fish die-off occurs, ecologists go to the location and test water temperature, pH, and pollutants. You should do exactly the same thing with your site.

Go to the pages where customers are leaving the site, and look at them with a customer's eye. Check everything:

  • Are there irritating graphics, images, or colors?
  • Is there out-of-date or unimpressive news?
  • Are there any factual errors, grammatical errors, poor-quality writing, or unbelievable claims?
  • Are there links that take them off the site? Either remove them, or set them to open in a new window, so your site still on their screen.
  • Are there glitches, like missing graphics or graphics that are slow to load?
  • Are there broken links or links that go to the wrong places?

If you find that customers are going in the wrong direction, go to the page where they turned the wrong way. Why were they distracted? Correct the link to get them back on course.

Fix whatever you find, and soon, your customers will be leaping upstream to your shopping cart like the salmon on the salmon ladder in the video below.

Keep Them Leaping to Your Shopping Cart

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    • KrisL profile image

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Comprehensive and complete.

      It covers as much as some book chapters on the subject.

    • SidKemp profile image
      Author

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, KrisL. I enjoyed finding a way to share these ideas visually, too.

    • lanablackmoor profile image

      lanablackmoor 4 years ago from New England

      Absolutely. As a web designer I always try to explain to my clients that if a potential customer has to click around for a basic site element like the contact page or pricing for more than ten seconds, they've probably lost a sale. This is such a comprehensive yet simplified guide. Sometimes we get so caught up in SEO that I think we forget customer optimization is important, too. I'll definitely be sharing this around!

    • SidKemp profile image
      Author

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks, Iana. I had fum making a readable and useful guide on such an intricate topic. I hope many people find it useful.

    • bigjessy profile image

      Jessica 4 years ago from GERMANY

      hmmmm.... I smell fish here... strange.. xD

    • SidKemp profile image
      Author

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Good web design can use a lot of "fishy" techniques!

    • SidKemp profile image
      Author

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Hi BigJessy: Fishy or not, it works to go with the flow!

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