Information architecture: simply put, it’s the science of organizing a website so that visitors can easily find what they’re looking for. IA is an extremely important aspect of running an online store that should not be overlooked. After all, as pioneering information architect Jakob Nielsen put it, “If the customer can’t find the product, the customer can’t buy the product.”
Here are some areas of your online store to pay close attention to when reviewing its layout.
Develop a clear purpose
Even if you’ve been in business for a while, it’s good to go back to the basics every now and then. Ask yourself: What’s my site for? Every site should have a clear purpose, whether it’s to inform, persuade, entertain, or, in the case of ecommerce, sell.
Keep your site’s purpose in the back of your mind as you structure your content and navigation. On a site where the primary purpose is to get visitors to the checkout, every step a user takes should be part of a clear path to get there. You may have various other sub-goals within a site (to inform your customers about an important ethical issue, for example) and that’s fine, so long as you can see how each piece of content fits into the broader purpose of your site.
Organizing your products
Before adding any products to your store, consider how many products you want to sell and how to organize them. Keep in mind that while having more products may bring in more traffic, having too many products (especially if they're not well-organized) can overwhelm and confuse customers.
Creating collections through your Shopify admin is a great way to help your customers find products and navigate your store.
If you’re having a tough time trying to categorize your products, try an offline exercise called card sorting. This involves writing down your products on a piece of paper and asking various people to try and categorize each product in a way that makes sense to them. The products that are most often grouped together should give you an idea of which products make sense as a grouping.
Navigation is crucial to the success of your online store and something you should consider as early as possible. If you make it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for in as few clicks as possible, they'll be much more likely to convert and return to buy from you in the future.
Since your navigation bar appears on every page of your store, this is a great place to start reducing visual clutter that will carry through to every page on your Shopify site.
Reducing your navigation items to just the essentials can also make your site easier to use.
One good technique is to organize all of your products under a single “Shop” menu item using a dropdown menu. It’s also a good way to organize all of your store’s informational content such as your “about us” and contact page as well as terms and shipping policies, by grouping these related items in a submenu under a single main menu link.
If this proves to be a bit too restrictive to you, carefully consider each item you add to the top level navigation bar and the value it brings to helping customers locate the products they are looking for.
Figure out where your customers are going—and where you want them to go
Analytics offer an incredible window into how your customers behave when they visit your site. In a perfect world, they’re following a clear path from your homepage or landing page to the content they're looking for, and then making a beeline for the checkout. But is that what’sreallyhappening? Or are they getting caught up in a convoluted navigation structure or bouncing once they see the checkout process?
To create an information architecture that keeps users more focused on the end goal, imagine your customer’s purchasing scenarios or user flows. Remember that not all buyers will have the same motivations or behaviour. According to information architect Donna Spencer, there are four essential modes of information-seeking: known-item, exploratory, don’t know what you need to know, and re-finding.
Customers in each of these modes require different navigational features to succeed, so think about how your site looks from each of their perspectives. If someone knows exactly what they’re looking for, they’ll most likely want to type specific terms into a search box. If they’re just browsing, they might not know what they want but your site should have some suggestions. If someone wants to go back to something they’ve discovered in the past, it should be easy to find.
Find more helpful articles in The ultimate guide to starting an online store.