Seeing your website through the eyes of a customer (Part Two)

Seeing your website through the eyes of a customer (Part Two)

In the second of our two-part series, we examine the importance of navigation when improving your website from the point of view of your customers.

We’ve already talked about the benefits of looking at your own website with a fresh perspective, especially when approaching the experience from the point of view of your customers. It’s a great way of making significant changes without having to implement a total overhaul.

Last time, we looked at ways to improve readability and performance. For those of you who might have missed it, you can read what we had to say here.

For everybody else, let’s dive straight in and look at another one of the most effective ways to improve your website from a customer standpoint.

The pathway to a better website

A well defined ‘customer journey’ is something you may have already put in place across other areas of your business. It’s a major component of the overall customer experience and an essential aspect of meeting your own commercial objectives while delivering quality customer service.

Well, the exact same thing applies when it comes to your website.

Intuitive, objective-driven navigation is the cornerstone of any successful website. Regardless of whether you’re looking to increase brand awareness, create warm leads, or convert sales right there and then, it’s important to have a clear pathway that makes it simple for customers to do whatever it is you want them to do.

What’s more, search engines use your website navigation to discover and index new pages through internal link architecture (the links within your website that connect your pages). This is how search engines understand the content and context of the destination page and determine the usefulness of your website relative to the needs of users. The more useful and relevant your website, the greater the search visibility.

Unfortunately, not every website’s navigation is thought out in this way. Either the right navigation wasn’t there, to begin with, or, as things change over time, the navigation function that was originally implemented no longer serves the needs of the user and the business. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make improvements to help fix a few things.

Just to be clear: The most effective navigation is always planned in advance before website development even begins. Without venturing into the realms of a complete redesign, or even the need to rearrange things from the backend, here is a list of best practices you should be able to implement yourself.

1. Use internal links (especially in your blog content)

You probably implement links across your website, but are you using them to their full potential? Just to clarify, we’re talking about internal links here. These are the ones that link from one page on your website to another page on your website, not the ones that link elsewhere.

Linking internally is website navigation in its simplest form — directing users from point of relevant information to the next — but is extremely effective at helping users to find exactly what they are looking for. Moreover, internal links, when used correctly, can help ‘guide’ users in the direction you want to take them, essentially serving as a call-to-action on your webpage.

Seeing your website through the eyes of a customer (Part Two)

This is especially the case when used in your blog content. You’ve already seen one example sitting at the top of this article, taking you to the first part of this two-part feature. That’s a perfect example of how internal links can be used to help users navigate their way to more relevant information on your site.

But what about the other way? What about using internal links to guide users to the direction you want them to take? Well, why don’t you click here to find out…

See what I did there?

2. Categorise your blog content

It’s more than likely that your content management system (CMS) allows for categorisation of your blog content. If so, grouping related blog posts together by topic will help users find exactly what they’re looking for — or at the very least put them on the right path to use all those lovely, helpful internal links I mentioned just a moment ago.

While there are no immediate SEO benefits to categorising your blog content, keeping visitors on your website for longer and reducing the bounce-rate (the percentage of visitors who only visits one page and then leaves) does assure the search engines that your content and your website is worth people’s time. And this, in turn, works in your favour when it comes to the overall search engine rankings.

Some opinions state that assigning one post to multiple categories (as you will find is often the case) can negatively affect SEO; penalising you for ‘duplicate’ content because of that. However, that’s not entirely true.

Having said that, some believe that blog excerpts that feed through to multiple blog category pages can be considered as duplicate content. This is kind of a grey area and few opinions seem to agree on this. Your best bet is to keep an eye on how much you’re assigning multiple categories. If you see this becoming a regular issue, then you should consider restructuring your categories altogether.

Just remember, the primary reason for categorising your content is to better serve the user experience. Everything else is secondary.

3. Implement parent / child pages

In the same way you can assign blog content to certain categories and sub-categories, standard web pages can also be structured into ‘parent’ and ‘child’ pages to create a hierarchy that is easier to navigate.

A child page is essentially a sub-page belonging to a specific section on a website; a section that is governed by a parent page.

Seeing your website through the eyes of a customer (Part Two)

For example, individual products on a shop are typically sorted by ‘product type’ in order to make them easier for users to locate, while also making it easier to locate similar products through common association.

You can also see how this works in the way child and parent pages are chained together within the child page URL.

Seeing your website through the eyes of a customer (Part Two)

As always, it’s the improvement of the overall user experience that we’re most concerned with here. That being said, structuring webpages into parent / child hierarchies does assist the search engines when crawling and indexing your web content. So there are SEO benefits as well.

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