What Does Your Website Menu Say About You?

Blog / 22 Feb 2019

Tags: User Experience / Website Design / Website Navigation

For any retail website the menu is crucial, acting as your shop window. Just like a shop window that isn’t refreshed on a regular basis, a website menu can get busier over time. With each new product line it can be tempting to add them all to the menu, however a shop window with every single product in it isn't appealing! Just ask your visual merchandiser! Don’t allow your prospective customers to think that the inside of the shop is going to be as overwhelming as the window is.

So where to start with your website navigation?

Remember, you have a search feature

Well firstly, it’s key to remember that the menu isn't the only way users can navigate your website. Your search function and menu should work hand in hand. Users who want something specific tend to search, while those who are browsing or who are just curious are more likely to use the menu. Considering this, does the menu need to go as deep as it does or is it doing work that your search feature is already covering?

How are products distributed in your menu?

The next thing to consider is product distribution. Identify categories that have a very small or very large number of products in them. Combining categories that only have a handful of products in makes the menu more readable - users can miss categories in the menu if there is an overwhelming number of them. On the flip side it is important to break down large categories, try a sub category menu to give customers a clearer idea of your product range.

Delve into your engagement

Once the menu has a reasonable balance, take a look at engagement. Are users clicking on the obvious links or is something unexpected getting a lot of attention? It may be that your order needs to be changed as users are satisficing by clicking on the first potential category they see because the correct category is too low in the menu. The ordering will of course change depending on whether users read from left-to-right or right-to-left but the principle stays the same. The naming of categories may also be misleading if too much jargon is used, especially if the business uses different terminology to its customers.

Research to find answers

User research is really going to help you at this point. There are two testing methodologies that can provide insights on naming, ordering and findability. Tree testing can check if users expect to find products or information where the business thinks they fit. If labels are not understood or the hierarchy is confusing, they will either select the wrong answer or take a long time to find the right one – which can lead to early exits.

Card sorting can help with naming, as well as ordering. By grouping and ordering menu items, participants identify where the menu matches or doesn't match their expectations. Participants can also be asked to rename groups that don't make sense to them, providing additional information.

After you have tried all of these suggestions you should be much closer to a menu that both you and your customers are happy with! Another round of tree testing to check that tasks users struggled with before are now easier to complete is a great idea. Benchmarking the old and new menus against each other helps convince wider stakeholders that the right changes have been made.

The best test of all, of course, is to push your new menu live in an A/B test against your old one. Measure the impact on conversion and revenue - perhaps include a survey to explore the effect on user satisfaction as well.

Take your menu from terrible to terrific with these tips. You know you want to!