Part four on how to build an effective ecommerce category tree.

Fine tuning the system: getting the most out of your category tree

How to build a high performance Ecommerce category tree (for faster and more frequent purchase decisions) - Part 4/4: Optimizing your tree

Fine tuning the system: common issues to look out for

Now that you have your basic outline for your category tree set up, let’s look at a few potential problem areas, to make sure you get maximum performance from your navigation right off the bat.

Understand your platform’s limitations

Not all platforms are created equal, so find out where your platform under-performs and what options you have to improve. You may be able to code the changes yourself, or you may wish to switch platforms. The considerations may vary slightly from niche to niche, but I will give you some examples from the automotive industry. Ideally, a platform for an online retailer selling automotive accessories should have: 1) A system with a ‘Year / Make / Model’ lookupmdp-year-make-model-lookup.pngAll Web Shop Manager client websites are fitted with ‘Year / Make / Model’ lookup to easily find the right parts for your exact car. This allows people to search through the categories and find products relevant to their specific car. This is very effective for all large inventory stores. If this aspect is sticky, all the better, as people can access it from anywhere on site. If there is no ‘Year / Make / Model’ lookup feature, you can either implement your own (which may be expensive) or use your vehicle names and specs as categories themselves. 2) Sidebar attributes / facet navigationdriver-mods-sidebar-attributes.pngWeb Shop Manager client site using sidebar attributes to filter large inventory Describe the details of the product (such as color, size and materials) and allow products to be filtered using these criteria. You wouldn’t want to create a category for every color (for example, ‘tan car mats’) as it is not a category people are likely to be looking for and it would clog up your navigation. Allowing faceted filtering in your sidebar will allow people to check other products with similar attributes while they browse. If you don’t have this feature, you can either create a category for each attribute (increasing the size of your navigation greatly, potentially overwhelming customers) or just accept that your items aren’t browsable by those criteria. 3) Product groups (aka. Product series) Also known as ‘collections’, this feature allows you to group certain products whenever you like. This could be for a flash sale, to highlight a range you want to promote or for seasonal products. Examples may include a Spring Collection, Black Friday ‘Crazy Deals’ or a product specific sale, such as ‘Bumpers Spring Sale Promotion’. Rather than send traffic to a category that may have several thousand SKUs (eg. ‘Weathertech Floor Mats’) you can display a smaller selection from within the category, such as the ‘BAKFlip G2’, which would bring up perhaps 4-5 products. From that narrowed down selection it’s much easier to compare features and benefits before you put your vehicle fitment in, and ultimately make a purchase decision.sears-fitness-real-deals.pngSears grouping together all their fitness items that are on sale. A much smaller selection that showing ‘all fitness items’ or ‘all sale items’ together.

‘Too broad vs. Too specific’

I like to give a ‘three bears’ analogy when it comes to getting the scope of your category tree just right. It’s important not to overwhelm people with information. It may seem logical to present all options to your customers at once, so they can most quickly find what they need, but it will actually confuse them. Too hot! If you are too specific and list too many small categories right off the bat, you will be ‘too hot’, and customers are likely to turn away due to overwhelm. Resolve this by removing some categories from the navigation and allowing them to be filtered as attributes on the product and category pages. Too cold! If you don’t provide enough overview of your product range in your category tree, you will be too cold. Customers won’t be able to get an overview of what you’re selling, and may not even know that you sell what they want. Resolve this by ensuring all of the major product groupings on offer in your store are listed in the ‘top level’ of your category tree, known as your ‘main categories’. Just right….You have it just right when you provide a good overview of your product range, which is easy to browse quickly, isolate the category area you want and get down into the subcategories and product pages to start making purchase decisions. This is why we advocate a ‘three clicks to purchase’ methodology, and in general advise keeping subcategories to 2-3 levels deep at most. This will vary from store to store, so you will have to use your industry and customer knowledge to get your best results.

Dealing with large inventories

If you are dealing with large volumes of inventory and SKUs then your task of categorizing and filtering is especially big, and especially important. You will need to utilize cross-selling and related categories more than in smaller stores, and your filtering system will need to be especially dialled in.

Maintaining your tree over time

We now have your tree built, and that’s awesome - you are already huge strides ahead of where you were before, and the conversions and sales should begin rolling in. But the work isn’t done yet. You need to test, refine and improve your category tree over time. You will do this with A/B testing and heat mapping, which we will be teaching you about in an upcoming blog. This helps you find out where people are clicking, how they are browsing your site so you can determine clearly what is working and what is not. Once you know this, you can make changes and iterate to keep the parts that get results and change the parts that don’t, until you are fully optimized. Look out for a blog post coming up on that.

Over to you!

There’s only so far we can lead you on this journey, and now the time has come for you to take action and put together your high performance category tree. Your customers and bottom line will thank you for it when you do! To make sure you stay on track while creating your category tree, here’s a quick recap of the steps you need to take: [Action Steps Box]

Action Steps (Recap)

Step 1: Get clear on these four factors

1.1) Get clear on your success criteria 1.2) Identify your key products 1.3) Follow the ‘3 clicks to buy’ guideline 1.4) Ask ‘would this make a good landing page?’

Step 2: Prepare your data

2.1) Map your product data to categories 2.2) Define products with multiple categories 2.3) Define recommended / related products 2.4) Define other product groupings

Step 3: Build your tree

3.1) Main categories 3.2) Subcategories 3.3) Feature categories 3.4) Filters & Tagging [/Action Steps Box]

Further study

If you’re interested to learn more, check out my video on YouTube where I go into these topics and more. It’s from a presentation I was invited to give at the SEMA car show in Las Vegas called ‘Product Visibility: 4 Fast Tracks for Increasing Sales’ We hope you enjoyed this series! Is your category tree up and running yet? If you need help, let us know in the comments below!

BEDSLIDE - Client Testimonial

"The best thing out of everything was that our sales went up. The new site had a better design, the checkout process was better, and ultimately achieved all of our goals. That site has been up for a year and a half and we’re very happy with it, it’s still awesome." - Jake Plappert