Do customers have to look high and low for the products they want on your Web site? Is the checkout process unnecessarily complicated? If you want to increase sales and keep customers coming back time and again, make your site easy to navigate. In Web design, this concept is known as task flow.
When a site’s task flow is intuitive and easy, users do not notice it: they go about their business and execute their tasks — searching, finding, and buying — without even thinking about it. But bad task flow stops them in their tracks. They click around without finding what they need, get frustrated, and eventually leave to look elsewhere.
But because you are so familiar with your Web site, you may not even know if it suffers from poor task flow. After all, you use it every day, and you know where everything is. To get a user’s-eye-view of your site’s task flow, you need to think and act like a newbie. Ask and answer these questions to improve your site’s flow.
- Is it easy for users to get around your site?
- Is it easy for them to find and get (purchase) what they want?
If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” then you have some work to do. Visit some of the leading e-commerce sites on the Web and see how they do it. Amazon.com and eBay are always at the cutting edge of e-commerce user experience, so you can learn a lot just by examining their site design and task flow.
Here are some common places where task flow breaks down:
- Site architecture. Online shoppers are impatient: If they can’t find what they want in three clicks or less, they will go elsewhere. If your site is well organized and easy for new users to grasp, that is most of the battle right there. Are there ways you can simplify your site architecture?
- Navigation. Always maintain persistent navigation. A user should never find themselves in a place where they cannot get back to the beginning of their task, and they should be able to get directly to core portions of your site, not the least of which is the home page.
- Search. Is your search function easy to find and use? Are the search results presented logically?
- Shopping cart. Is your cart easy to find and use? Can users break the flow — say, to shop for additional items — and get back to their cart and continue the transaction? If not, you risk losing lots of sales.
- Checkout. Is your checkout procedure simple to navigate? Are you asking users for more information than you need? As noted above, online shoppers are in a hurry. Require them to provide only the information you need to complete the transaction.
Another way to improve your task flow is to monitor your site statistics. Take a look at your stats, analyze your traffic, and see where your flow is breaking down. Are there obvious dead-end pages in your site? Do users reach a certain area of your site and give up? If you are getting lots of hits to your shopping cart, for instance, but very few completed transactions, that may point to a problem with your cart. This isn’t terribly scientific, but it may give you invaluable insight into how your users interact with your site.