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How to Improve Findability on Your eCommerce Website

Mary Clare Riordan • September 29, 2015

By Therese Kokot, Senior Experience Architect

findability cropped

If customers can’t find it, they can’t buy it

We’ve all been there at one point or another. You walk into a store, certain you’re going to find a particular product, but alas, it’s nowhere to be found. After your fifth time of circling the store, you may give up and leave, but in most cases, you can find an associate to help you find the product, and the store will still end up making a sale.

In the online world, it’s a different scenario. The customer arrives at your site on their own terms, from their own computer or mobile device. If the sought-after item can’t be found, or the information they’re looking for isn’t readily available, they’ll quickly leave your site without converting. At that point you have not only lost out on a sale, but even worse, it’s also likely another online retailer has been given the opportunity to get that business and keep that customer. That’s not what you want happening.

The success of an eCommerce website depends on the customer finding what she needs quickly. You can’t assume that what makes sense to you will make sense to your customers. This is where website taxonomy research and testing come into play.

User Centered Research

As a member of your company, you may feel very capable of organizing navigational elements of the eCommerce website, since you already know the products and information so well. And, you might argue that, since you even buy and use the products your company sells, you are representative of the end user – even better. Isn’t that what they call “user centered design”?

Ironically, no. You are probably one of the worst people to make decisions about the site taxonomy. There’s an inherent bias that exists when having any familiarity with a given site. When you’re already used to the site the way it is, you already know how to find things or can figure things out more easily. A fresh perspective is necessary.

Enter user centered research, the practice of recruiting external participants, that represent the target audience, to be part of the evaluation process. The end result from this research? That is user centered design.

Taxonomy Research Methodologies

Taxonomy research methods we’ve recommended for our clients here at LYONSCG include conducting a content audit and/or content inventory, tree testing, and card sorting.

The first step in evaluating the taxonomy of the site is a content audit and/or inventory, which gives you a solid idea of what currently exists within the site. A content audit is the exercise of cataloging the contents of a website manually. This activity provides valuable insight from a human perspective, particularly in identifying pages that are redundant, outdated, trivial, or unnecessary. In contrast, a content inventory is an automated aggregation of site pages, possibly including analytics data to show conversion rates. The inventory is ideal when a site is very large and complex, providing a way to see overarching patterns for visitor behavior.

Content Audit Example

Content Inventory Example

The final two steps in taxonomy analysis are tree testing, a technique where primary and secondary categories are arranged within a tree, and participants are asked where they’d go to find particular items, and card sorting, which tasks participants with organizing topics into primary categories. Both of these methods will help you understand the expectations your customers have for your site. (Here is another article that goes further into detail on tree testing.)

It’s important to note that these activities should be practiced at the outset of a project in the discovery phase and prior to development. If site navigational system decisions are made during development, it can easily result in a lot more work as well as re-work for your team.

Any one of the three methodologies can be used for your eCommerce site, but when used together, they can provide a powerful toolkit for taxonomy definition.

Want to learn more? Contact us.


Therese Kokot is a Senior Experience Architect at LYONSCG, and has worked extensively with a variety of clients over the past fifteen years, including B2C, B2B, and nonprofit. She holds a Master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction and is passionate about improving user experience.

Mary Clare Riordan

About the author

Mary Clare Riordan

Mary Clare Riordan is the Marketing Programs Manager at LYONSCG. When she's not running creative demand generation campaigns, you can find her cheering on Boston sports and Marquette basketball, running along the Chicago lakefront, or spending time with family and friends.

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