5 Signs It’s Time for a Navigation Audit

By Laura Mason

Experience Strategy & Optimization Lead – Digital Experience, Laura Mason shares how to recognize when your B2C Commerce site needs a Navigation Audit. 

Navigation, and the underlying product taxonomy, are essential parts of every B2C Commerce site. They enable merchandisers to sell products, allows users to find and discover products, and play a crucial role in SEO, which can get shoppers to the site. The design of the navigation and taxonomy are essential to success in all these areas.  

The Art of Navigation and Taxonomy Design 

Navigation and taxonomy design is part art and part science. While research and data inform priorities and opportunities to achieve goals, there’s an art to organizing and balancing what can, at times, be competing priorities within the constraints of the UI as well as the user’s cognitive processing. Information Architects (IAs) lead teams through the design process, knowing which best practices and conventions to use to solve different types of problems and even how to effectively break conventions when more creative problem-solving is needed. IAs work with User Experience (UX) designers to ensure that the visual and interaction design adhere to the highest standards in promoting usability, accessibility, and customer satisfaction across devices.   

The Changes to Navigation Over Time 

Once a navigation and taxonomy are designed, it’s generally not reconsidered in its entirety until the next site redesign, which can be three or more years away. While navigation generally won’t undergo frequent or significant changes in the meantime, it will undergo changes. Often, the changes to the navigation are incremental additions to support the company’s growth and shifting priorities. These additions can include new categories, seasonal categories, categories for SEO, links for new initiatives, promotional categories, and other internal requests. Because these changes are limited in scope, the primary consideration is how to fit them into the existing navigation structure. The impact on the navigation overall and any downstream effects on the user aren’t considered.  

The Effects of Incremental Additions 

While a few small additions might not have a significant impact on the navigation, over time, the cumulative effect of many small additions can be substantial. The balance in a once carefully considered navigation can start to shift. When it does, it’s generally not in favor of the user. Navigation with lists that are too long, links that are poorly organized, and many irrelevant links can start to create “noise” as the user tries to find links that are relevant to them. There’s a tipping point where navigation becomes so difficult to use that it can no longer serve one of its essential purposes — to help users find and discover products. 

5 Signs It’s Time for a Navigation Audit 

Unfortunately, there’s no flashing red warning light or even a KPI to let you know when the navigation is reaching or has passed that point. There are signs, however, that can tell you when it’s time to take a closer look.  

1. Customer satisfaction scores and feedback 

If you’re collecting customer satisfaction scores and feedback using polls, surveys, or customer support logs, users might tell you they need help finding products on your site. They might even tell you that navigation is the source of the problem. Listen to your users. If you need to figure out what the specific problem is, follow up with additional research. Make it a priority. Users can’t buy your products if they can’t find them.   

2. Decrease in navigation use  

If you’re tracking navigation-related data, an overall decrease in the percentage of users using the navigation might be a sign that users are avoiding the navigation. Navigation links with low click-through rates can also indicate issues within the navigation that are contributing to its decreased use. The problems fall into two categories:  

  • Usability issues: The user would use the navigation and elements in the navigation, but an issue prevents them from doing so effectively. Some common examples include non-descriptive link labels and lists that are too long or poorly organized. It can also include issues, such as broken or inconsistent spacing, that negatively impact readability. Usability issues can be fixed, although some are more easily identified and fixed than others.  
  • Usefulness issues: The navigation, or elements in the navigation, do not meet users’ wants or needs. For example, when SEO categories are created, links to these categories are sometimes added to the navigation. These are links to landing pages designed to meet the needs of mid-funnel users searching the web rather than for top-of-the-funnel users shopping the site. Links in the navigation that aren’t useful can become the “noise” that creates friction as users try to find useful links. 

When you identify links that aren’t useful or less useful than others, it doesn’t mean you should automatically hide them or remove them from the navigation. It does mean that you should understand how many of these links there are, if there are patterns (for example, many are SEO categories), what the impact on the user experience is, what the cost-to-benefit of having them in the navigation is, and if there are options and strategies to approach the links that can better achieve goals.  

3. Changes in site search patterns  

Internal site search logs show you what users are searching for most on your site. When there are changes in these patterns–particularly if they coincide with other data, for example, customer satisfaction scores and feedback that cite problems with navigation–it can indicate that users are moving to site search because the navigation is too challenging to use. A pattern you might see in site search includes more searches for higher-level, broader categories versus more specific inquiries.  

The initial thinking here might be that having more users moving to site search is a good thing, particularly if site search converts well. However, if it impacts customer satisfaction, you may have users who are using site search but doing so grudgingly. In the Net Promoter Score scale, these are the “passives” who are likely to leave your site if they find another that better meets their needs.  

It’s important to remember that navigation serves purposes site search does not:  

  • Navigation lets users get an overview of what the site sells, which is particularly important for new visitors.  
  • Navigation is not only a means to find products; it enables users to discover products. This is similar to a brick-and-mortar experience where shoppers pass other aisles and end caps on their way to find the product they want.   
  • There are always users who will prefer the guided experience navigation offers. According to Nielsen Norman Group, there may be several reasons, including navigation having a lower interaction cost and requiring less memory load than site search.  

Even Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce site with the most heavily used site search, still has a well-designed navigation that follows best practices.  

4. Lower keyword rankings  

If users are avoiding your navigation, it can also negatively impact your keyword rankings. The click-throughs in your navigation are a significant indicator for search engines to use when determining the importance of a page. Click-throughs on these internal navigation links also help improve a page’s overall SEO page rank and keyword rankings. When users avoid clicking through your navigation, it’s a lost opportunity for your most important pages. 

 5. Out of sync with competitors  

If a site’s navigation and taxonomy are significantly out of sync with its competitors, it’s often for one of two reasons: the team has done the ground-breaking research to find an innovative new direction and is leading the pack (in which case, others may soon follow) — or the site is behind.  

While it’s essential to heed the advice to “Follow your users, not your competitors,” it’s also important to remember that users do go to other sites, and they do comparison shop. Users will have expectations based on their experiences. Analyzing what competitors and others in your industry are doing and why can inform changes to consider for your own site.  

If you see one or more of these signs that point to problems with your navigation, it’s time to take a closer look.  

Site Navigation Audit

A Navigation Audit allows you to review, evaluate, and analyze your navigation and its underlying taxonomy in its entirety from a business, merchandising, user experience, design, analytics, and SEO perspective. Through the audit process, you can identify where the navigation is performing well and where there are opportunities for improvement. The opportunities for improvement might be targeted, one-off types of changes, or point to larger issues where the original navigation structure no longer supports the growth and shifting priorities and a redesign might be necessary. Whatever the problems are, the navigation audit provides key information you need to understand the scope of the issues and to move forward to address them.  

Partner with Experts

RafterOne has a team of strategists, architects, SEO specialists, analysts, and designers who have created highly successful navigation and taxonomy designs for Salesforce clients for nearly a decade. If you’re looking for a partner in your next navigation and taxonomy redesign project, we can help. Reach out to connect with our site navigation experts to discuss if now is the right time for a Navigation Audit for your Salesforce B2C Commerce site. 

– Laura Mason, Experience Strategy & Optimization Lead – Digital Experience

Time to support the growth of your B2C Commerce Site?