Category structure is crucial for any e-commerce website. Get it wrong and drive away visitors.
Get it right and reap high CRO benefits.
Get a user-friendly category from the beginning, even it means spending more money and time. It pays off in the end.
If you already have one up on the board, mere tweaking it around will not do any good to your business.
You have to make major structural changes. You have to get it right.
The category hierarchy should be easy to understand and use. All users, including the layman and first-timers, should be at ease when browsing.
Vehicle Parts & Accessories is the main category. Motor Vehicle Parts & Accessories is the sub-category. Motor Vehicle Electronics is the sub-category of Motor Vehicle Parts & Accessories. Motor Vehicle Electronics has its own sub-categories. This an example of category tree structure.
1. Do not mix up categories with product filters. Do not confuse visitors
Before we go to that point I would like to know the difference between category and product.
Category: It is a crucial part of the catalog hierarchy. Each category is different from the other. Like “table “and “chair” are two different categories in the furniture e-store.
Filters: They help users narrow down the displayed product list in the category. Filters use the product attributes to narrow down. The product attributes are size, color, make, and material, etc.
The filters are not unique like the categories. You can combine many filters to search the right product from the category.
For example, use the filter “study table teak wood 26” tall, wood color” to search the study table.
That is fine if you keep filters as filters and categories as categories. The problem starts when you mix them up. Do not pass on product attributes as categories.
So if you put “study table teak wood 26 inch tall” as a category then what about the other tables.
How will users search for a center table, dining table or other types of tables?
2. Keep your categories and sub-categories easily navigable and manageable. Make product search super-efficient.
There is no need to dwell on what categories and sub-categories are. You know it well.
What is worth talking is not to overload the sub-categories in the category hierarchy. Otherwise, you will give your customers the choice-paralysis effect?
Do not overwhelm them with large numbers of categories. They will have trouble making the right choice.
Keep the parent category and its sub-categories in manageable numbers. Do not give a cluttered look to the users.
Avoid more than 10 sub-categories.
3. Create a User-friendly category hierarchy. Take the pain out of the product navigation
Visitors use product categories to find a product.
Make it smooth for them.
For that, you have to create a user-friendly product hierarchy.
Take note of the crucial points when you figure out the product category hierarchy.
- Group: Write the name of the all the product types and group them together
- Label: Give every group a descriptive label
- Nest: Place all the groups with similarities under a parent group.
- Rank up: Place the most important parent category on the top and least at the bottom.
The number of the levels in the hierarchy depends on the size and diversity of the product catalog.
The best way forward is to create the tree structure and view it. If there are more than 10-subcategories, it means you have to subdivide further.
Make it the thumb rule.
4. Prevent category overlap. Save your cart from abandonment
See below in the screenshot, you will find that “cars and trucks” category overlaps. Such a hierarchy will only confuse users and result in abandonment.
There are reasons behind category overlapping.
The first one; it is machine-generated.
The second one; failure to merge and rename manufacturer’s categorization across vendors.
The third one; combining many categories into a single one.
Do not overlap. Save your customers from frustration.
Frustration leads to cart abandonment.
5. Avoid shallow categories. Avoid visitor’s ire
I am using the screenshot to give you an example of the category that looks clickable, but actually is not. Though nothing is wrong with Amazon’s category taxonomy. It is super. We all know how good Amazon is.
But, would your visitors feel the same?
If the parent category is nothing but text labels it’s a big usability failure. It prevents explorative product browsing.
The goal of visitor is to browse category hierarchy and get desired search result. If they find a label in place of the clickable parent category, it shallows their product search.
Many times visitors click the product category (headers) only to find shallow text labels. That is frustrating.
6. Create and link compatibility based product lists. Influence buying decision
A compatibility-based product list page is a unique page. It links with each compatible product in your catalog.
Suppose you have Oppo F1 camera in your product range. The page links to compatible accessory products pages like glass screen case and lenses.
The page has product type filter. The user can see the list of the compatible “back covers or cases” for the Oppo camera phone. This allows vertical navigation of the product catalog. It builds confidence in the product and influences a positive buying outcome.
This requires a high level of automation. But upsides of having such compatibility relations are manifold. Such compatibility-based based product list pages should be cross-linked to the product page itself.
7. Use descriptive, common names for category naming. Improve searchability, increase usability.
Visitors rely on the visible navigation options, including the categories and the sub-categories. Most of them read the main category’s name to get a hint of what the store has for them.
Thus, all the names should be easy to understand. No special domain names or industry jargon or site-specific names. Use instead descriptive words, more of generic nature.
Avoid brand names. New users may not understand or recognize them.
Avoid vague category names, otherwise, visitors might ignore important navigation paths.
Use descriptive category names so users know what to expect. Use common category names because they are search engine optimized.
Double up the benefit.
8. Keep category naming consistent. Keep out the confusion. Guide visitor to the right destination.
Keep the names of category or sub-category or product type consistent across your store. Otherwise, you will confuse visitors.
Visitors are in doubt when a category name changes.
Avoid shortening the name to override the space constraints or improve the aesthetic looks. Never force visitors to interpret the category names or assume they will understand it. When it comes to navigation never do that.
It will only confuse them and throw them off the important navigation path.
Keep the name consistent in categories and sub-categories. In Help texts, product descriptions, promotions, the guide and website content.
Take it as a writing on the wall.
9. Display very popular filters as categories. Bend the rule, improve the conversion rate.
If you have a popular product (star-seller), then you can use it as category header. It would have been category filter, in an ideal situation. But popularity allows you to change that filter into a category.
Like “Nike Running Shoes”. That should never exist as a category but as a filter of “Running Shoes”. But it does. See above in the screenshot.
The sole reason it is in high demand amongst the Nike customers.
Since that product category filter is highly used, it would be good idea to make it a category.
10. Get a “What New” category or filter. Save visitor’s time
Many of frequent visitors come to your store to check for new products. But, they do not want to rake up the product categories now and then to check for new ones.
If you do not have a dedicated “what’s New” category then you better get it. It will save them time and efforts.
They know about new additions, if any, since their last visit.
This feature keeps them aware of your latest products. Especially during the festival season, special occasions and holidays.
11. Avoid mixing category groups
Users are more likely to misinterpret if the categories with the same group are of mixed type. This generally happens when:
- you mix categories at different hierarchical levels
- you mix different product types
- you mix filter based categories with product type categories.
Suppose you create a category “Movies & TV”. You place video streaming service like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video under that category. Visitors can mistake the category “Movies & TV” for DVD. Because both Netflix and Amazon Instant are video streaming service.
The right category name would be Video Streaming Service, instead of “Movies & TV”.
Product categorization is the critical part of the e-store navigation. It is like the signboard of the highway. Place it wrong and your visitors end up in the wrong place on your e-store. So create, test and re-test your category taxonomy before your open the e-commerce highway to your store.