Imagine this – You’re running low on food at home so you head over to your local grocery store. When you walk in the door you see that there are no departments, no aisles, no signs telling you what’s where. There’s just a huge pile of food and products lying in the middle of the floor in a barren environment. How would you feel about that? Would you start foraging through the pile looking for what you need? Or would you bail out and never come back?
Now imagine that grocery store is your website.
The point is – don’t try to pile everything on your site into one place. Organizing your website like a grocery store will help both new visitors and returning visitors alike.
Grocery Store Customers = Website Visitors
No matter what product or service you promote on your website or how specific it is to a target market, website visitors vary. For instance, one grocery store customer may prefer to stroll through the entire store, through every department, up and down every aisle looking for this and that. On the other hand, another customer may walk in and straight for the bakery, pick up a loaf of bread, go through the self-checkout and head out the door. These are just two examples of the types of visitors you may have coming to your site – the shoppers and the buyers.
Shoppers typically have a sense of “why” but not “what”. Meaning, they know that they have something that needs to be remedied … “my shoes are falling apart” … “my business costs are too high” … “my child needs care while I’m at work” … but they’re not exactly sure what can facilitate those needs. They are in full exploration and education mode when it comes to website usage. The structure of your website, like a grocery store, should take them down a path from one place to the next, from one topic to the next. And once they find what they’re looking for they’ll take a closer look.
Buyers, on the other hand, already know exactly what they need. They could very well have been a shopper on your site previously, but now they’ve returned and are ready to buy. They don’t need to go down the path of discovery anymore, they just want to find exactly what they’re looking for quickly and easily. Much like the departments, aisles, and shelves are often labeled in grocery stores, your website should demonstrate a similar hierarchy of information that’s easy to navigate.
Departments, Aisles, and Shelves = Website Navigation
Organizing the architecture of a website can be a daunting task. The structure needs to reflect how you want the visitor to use the site, tell the story you want to tell, and ultimately get them to convert (i.e. buy online, submit a form, download a document, etc.). Plus it should be logical and easy to use so that both new and returning visitors can find what they’re looking for. Thinking about it like how a grocery store is organized can help.
Shelves = Content Pages
Much like a grocery store starts with the products it sells, a website must start with the content. Think of organizing your content like a grocery store organizes its shelves … you have similar products (content) that all belong on the same shelf – these shelves are your pages. Furthermore, you may have related content that will bring you to other pages (like how a grocery store put will put up a point-of-purchase sign by the tortilla chips that says “Don’t forget the salsa in Aisle X”. Starting with the content will help you organize the site “upwards” to the category page and landing page level.
Aisles = Category Pages
An aisle in a grocery store may contain cereal, pancake mix, oatmeal, and granola bars. These are all unique but similar in how and when they’re used. Therefore, the category pages of your website should be seen as the marker signs on the ends of aisles – letting visitors know, specifically, what they’ll find if they venture down that path. Visitors not sure of what they are looking may peruse the “aisles” looking for something that stands out, but will know where to find it the next time they come back. Plus, visitors that know exactly what they’re looking for will know right where to find what they need.
Departments = Primary Navigation
The departments of a grocery store as well as the primary navigation of a website are the first point of consideration for a visitor to determine where they need to go. If I’m looking for milk I go to “Dairy” and not “Produce” … if I’m looking for product information I go to “Products” and not “About Us”. It seems trivial, but sometimes the determination of what needs to be the primary navigation becomes quite subjective. Remember you’re guiding a visitor down a journey … either a journey of discovery or a journey of purchase. The primary navigation and ultimate structure of the site should be obvious to either type of visitor.
Furthermore, the actual terms used for these primary sections of the site should be obvious to anyone. Grocery stores around the country all use the word “Dairy” for a specific group of products. A person going into a grocery store in New York and in Seattle will find the same types of products in the Dairy section. Similarly, a person visiting one site to the next knows what to expect to find under primary navigation terms like “Products” or “Services” or “Contact Us” as opposed to terms like “Our Offerings” or “What We Do” or “Get In Touch”. The point is, don’t make your website visitor work too hard to find what they’re looking for … people like familiarity.
In-Store Specials = Calls to Action
Many times when you walk into a grocery store there will be a display or two of in-store specials … “Buy One Box of Cheerios and Get One Free!” … “Peaches Only 25¢”. Once you get in the store and start walking around you’ll see a myriad of in-store specials on shelves and aisle end-caps all begging for your attention and wanting you to do one thing – take action.
And so it is for website actions. Your website’s calls to action (CTA) should grab people’s attention and clearly state what the payoff is. Using an alternate color for your CTAs is an easy way to draw attention. And, for the love of all that is holy, stay away from phrases like “Click Here” and “Learn More” as a call to action. These phrases hold absolutely no value for the visitor and will be ignored. Using phrases like “Download the Whitepaper” or “Receive Our Newsletter” are clear signals to visitors as to what they should expect when they click that button.
The most important thing to remember when organizing your website is to put yourself in the shoes of the visitor and ask yourself “Where would I go to find X?” While it may difficult at times to climb out from the weeds and take a look at your business from someone else’s point of view, you can always start with the “grocery store” approach and adapt the site based on visitor behavior and feedback.