August 11, 2011

Streamline Search and Navigation with User-Friendly Refinement Options

Whether you’re a content publisher or an online retailer, navigational refinements make it easier for your site visitors to home in on what they came to see: anything from a news article to a child’s toy to an e-book. Refinements in both search and navigation serve to shorten the time it takes for a visitor to find their chosen product or content, while lengthening the time they’re likely to spend on the site. In other words, satisfied visitors who can easily search your site are encouraged to stay longer.

However, deciding which of many refinements to add to your site is challenging: Do you map refinements to the way your content or products are catalogued, or do you craft refinements based on the searching and navigation needs of your customers? Both approaches make sense, so it may take some experimentation to determine the right mix of refinements that work for your visitors and your site organisation.

The first step in this process is determining which refinements to include in both site navigation and site search. You might organise content within navigation or search along the lines of product pages, blog posts, help-desk information, and social media content. Under each category, you might have different ways in which information is organised, which will give you some hints as to which refinements to use. For example, your products might be organised by colour, type of usage, size, brand, age level, and so on – all of these categorisations can become refinements.

You can also look at the keywords visitors are using when they search for products and content on your website, which may give you further ideas for refinements. For instance, people may be searching extensively for brand names (Philips TVs), or gender-specific items (men’s jumper) – these keywords may uncover refinement ideas that you may not have thought of. Likewise, examining SEO traffic reports can tell you the keywords people are using on search engines before reaching your website, and you can mine this data for refinement ideas.

Where and How to Display Refinements. Once you know which refinements you need to add to your site search and navigation, you must decide how to display them to so that visitors find them easy to choose and use. Here are some tips for making refinements as user-friendly as possible.

Place frequently used refinements up top. This makes them easier to find. You can place less frequently used refinements farther down on the list, or you can make them visible only when the user has clicked on a certain category – they can then select refinements that are part of the subcategory.

Offer refinements by price. These days, shoppers may consider price above all other attributes when choosing a product, so allow visitors to decide the price point in which they’d like to browse. Display prices in different ranges, if that makes sense for your catalogue – for instance, under $10, $10-$20, and so on. It’s helpful to add a price “slider” to the site, which gives shoppers more flexibility in choosing a price range and also takes up less screen space.

Show number of results next to refinement options. Help visitors understand how many options they have when they apply certain refinements to their search by displaying the number of available results that fall under that refinement.

Display a breadcrumb trail. A breadcrumb trail will show a visitor the search term they originally used, and any refinements they have applied to their search. This way, if their search doesn’t yield the desired results, they’ll understand which refinements to remove, or they can return to a broader set of results if desired.

Allow visitors to navigate between refinements on the same level. Your visitors may click on one refinement, but then decide they want to see how results would change based on a different refinement. Engineer your refinements so that this change doesn’t require visitors to click back a step to see their original search results in order to apply a refinement change.

Show colour refinements as a palette. Engage visitors with a visual display of actual colour options as they refine their choices – it’s more helpful than showing colour options as text.

Test placement of refinement choices. Depending on the habits of your visitors and the way your site is designed, you may find that people will use refinements more often depending on where they are placed. The most common spot for refinements is at the top of the webpage or in the left navigation pane. Avoid placing refinements at the bottom of the page, since people need to scroll down to view them. Test different positions to see which ones your visitors prefer.

If you’d like to learn more about best practices for refinements, watch SLI Systems’ Site Search Tips videos on our website,