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How to optimize your product categories

13 Nov 2018

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One of the challenges every e-commerce site has to face is optimization. People often wonder how to optimize their site and don’t even know what they want to achieve. The reason for optimization is very clear: it helps you make the way between the visitors and the product they want shorter.

This comes from the fact that people have a short attention span. With the increasing use of modern technology, scientists make jokes about the human attention span being shorter than the one of a goldfish. And the jokes are not far from the truth.

When people come to your site, you’re actually quite lucky. They took the precious minutes out of their time to look for something they want from your store. But there are many distractions out there. A phone call, a favorite TV show, boredom, change of mind or a simple ad the visitor can see on the Internet. All this and much more is after the little time you have with your visitors.

To get the sale, your job is to get the visitors to the products they’re looking for as fast as possible. Sure, there are up-sells, cross-sells and other techniques you may use. But these come only after you got the visitors to what they want. First, you need to get them there.

To help you with that, we have five tips on how to optimize your site for you.

Optimize your search functionality


The search function is the easiest way to get your visitors to the products they want. It’s one of the best functions you can have on your site. 

The site visitors will come, type keywords into the search box, and expect to find what they are looking for. That’s why you need to prepare your store exactly for that. How? Make sure you follow this simple checklist:

  • Implement the search function on your site.
  • Make your search box visible.
  • Use auto-completion in your search box.

If you follow the checklist, the fastest road from coming to your site to the product purchase is ready.

Use subcategories and filters for easier navigation


This advice is not for every e-commerce store out there. Many stores don’t use subcategories or filters but still have perfectly clear and easy navigation – usually stores that sell their own products or the specialized ones that don’t offer that many products and don’t need further navigation. But chances are that you should use subcategories and/or filters.

How can you tell if you need more levels of categorization? The best telling sign is the number of pages in one category. Once you have five or more pages in a category, you should seriously start working on further categorization of your stock.

Let’s take a look at an example: You run a clothing store. A visitor comes in looking for a backpack. So he browses the backpack category, going through your stock. Let’s say you have twenty products per category page (you really shouldn’t have more). If the backpack that would fit the customer’s needs is on page seven, he would have to scroll through more than a hundred products.

Yes, there are visitors who like browsing through your stock. But unnecessary scrolling will usually cost you a customer rather than gain one.

And how to categorize your products? 

Well, it’s a very simple three-step process.

The first step is to determine who your products are for. This way you’ll get the simplest first level categories: Men, Women, and Children. You can see those categories in every larger clothing online store. Of course, those categories are not suitable for any store. If you don’t sell gendered products, you can skip the first step and go straight to the second one.

The second step is to determine what the products are, for example, pants, skirts, shirts, etc. This will give you the second level categories (for stores that don’t have gender categories it’s the first category level).

The third step is to determine what the product is for. For example, pants can be further categorized into jeans, suit, casual, sport, etc. This will leave you with the final category level.

For further navigation optimization, you can add a filter to the site. Filters let the customer make much more specific searches. For example, if the customer searches for blue suit pants size 32, he can select the category suit pants and filter the products by color and size. That will give him the selection of suitable products, move him further in the purchase process, and move you closer to a sale.

Limit the number of products on the category page


Again, this comes down to the short attention span and the fact that people have hard time when they have too many options. This scientific phenomenon is known as choice overload. It’s a paradox every store owner has to work with. Having more products will help you bring more visitors to your store, but at the same time, fewer visitors will make a purchase. The one way around it is to limit the number of products on your category pages.

First, you should always have more pages for your categories. Having the whole category or subcategory on one page with products loading as the visitor scrolls down will result in choice overload. People are not able to go through an enormous number of products and still pay attention. Having pages for your categories will enable them to see only a few products at a time. That will help you keep their attention.

Also, have a limited number of products on one category page. The best possible way is to keep your products to four in a row with the maximum of five rows per category page. This will give you twenty products per category page. This number of products will enable the visitors to keep their attention on the page and not get overloaded with too many choices, giving you the best chance to make a sale. 

Use clear and simple category names


This point is pretty self-explanatory. When naming your product categories, use words that have a meaning. You may want to express your imagination or sense of humor but always remember that what may seem funny and meaningful to you and your friends doesn’t have to be appreciated by other people. It may just confuse them.

Take a home decor store with a category named Easy Livin’. Sure, it’s a good name for a song but for a category in a store? What does it mean? What kinds of products does it refer to? And most importantly, why would I click on it as a visitor? Well, most visitors won't do so because they won’t know what it means.

People don’t want to go through all your products trying to find something they like. Shopping isn’t an Easter egg hunt. People want to come and find what they want as fast as possible. If you make it hard for them by giving your product categories ambiguous names, they will leave instead of searching.

Use breadcrumbs


Like in the fairytale, breadcrumbs will help you find your way. Experienced web designers and UX specialists all over the world strongly recommend using them. Breadcrumbs have many advantages especially for e-commerce stores.

Breadcrumbs serve as a very efficient navigation tool for your visitors. They reduce the number of clicks to get to higher-level categories. This means that the visitors will be able to move faster around your store and spend less time looking for the products they like. By boosting the navigation capabilities of your site, breadcrumbs can reduce the bounce rate. And unlike other navigations tools, they take up just one line, so you won’t have any issues with insufficient space on the site.

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