How to Eliminate Dead Ends With Smarter Website Navigation

Imagine being in an unfamiliar place, using Google Maps or Waze to get from point A to point B. After driving for quite some time, you’re directed to the wrong location — and a dead end to boot. Drivers rely on GPS apps as much as shoppers rely on website navigation. In both cases, reaching a dead end is a disappointing user experience.

In eCommerce, the consequences of dead ends are missed opportunities to make sales and deliver exceptional customer experiences. But, there’s a silver lining: Brands can turn what would be a dead end into a creative detour, so shoppers stay on your website and continue their journeys.

dead ends and navigation

Why is Website Navigation Important?

Website navigation in eCommerce provides users with structure and organization, enabling them to move from one page to another seamlessly. The main goal of website navigation is to connect shoppers with what they’re looking for.

Consumers today have more choices than ever. If they’re not able to find the item they have in mind on your website, they’ll jump to the next brand they can think of or the first one that pops up after a simple Google search.

According to a survey conducted by Clutch, easy and intuitive navigation is the most important website feature for 94% of users. When it comes to mobile website navigation, more than half of all users will leave a website if the navigation is frustrating. A dead end is not only frustrating and irrelevant, but also a full stop to what could otherwise be a loyalty-building shopping experience.

The Most Common Dead Ends and How You Can Fix Them

Dead ends are not entirely preventable — after all, not every shopper will leave your site through your cart page. But brands can easily create new pathways, so customers have more options apart from closing the tab when they reach a bump in the road. The key is clever redirection.

The following are the most common spots for dead ends and some website navigation ideas to help you facilitate uninterrupted shopping journeys for your customers.

1) Your search bar’s ‘no results’ page

Typically, high-intent shoppers are the ones using on-site search. They know what product they want to buy, and they want to find it fast. But more often than not, there’s a disconnect between the search terms that shoppers use and the labels your products are tagged with. Spelling mistakes and complicated combinations of keywords are also unavoidable. This will often lead shoppers to a no results page — here are three tips to save your brand from turning this situation into a bad experience.

  • Acknowledge and suggest alternatives: When shoppers use terms not detectable or understood by your search solution, improve their website navigation experience by automatically suggesting alternative keywords. Another, much-preferred way to avoid this experience altogether is by ensuring your site search solution can recognize and correct typos, identify synonyms, and detect and understand human intent. This makes it much less likely that shoppers will encounter zero or poor search results.
  • Recommend related products: On occasion, you simply won’t have the item they’re looking for in stock. Rather than showcasing cobwebs or a sad smiley on an empty page, use this prime real estate to make alternate product recommendations. You already know what this shopper was looking for — use their real-time browsing data to make personalized suggestions with enticing product photos that will send them through to product detail pages in a single click.
  • Provide an alternative way to search: Sometimes, the journey ends before it even had a chance to begin. Faced with a search bar, even the most high-intent shoppers may be unable to put into words the specific details of the items they’re after. What follows is often a half-hearted attempt to browse through endless category pages before they leave your site unfulfilled. To prevent this disappointing dead end journey, give shoppers the opportunity to search using a photo or screenshot, so they can instantly explore visually similar products even when they’re at a loss for words.
better website navigation

2) Your product detail pages

Product detail pages are another high-intent moment that can sour in seconds — for example, if an item is out of stock in the right color or size or it simply isn’t quite right upon closer inspection. Alternately, even if a shopper adds to cart, you can increase their order value and keep them looking at more items with some smart merchandising as part of your navigation strategy.

  • Surface similar options to explore: Give shoppers a path to take when an item is out of stock or they are looking for something similar to the featured product. You can do this with a “similar items” carousel or even by turning your product images into a sort of visual search journey, where a customer can click through on the image itself to find visually similar options, similar to how the magnifying glass feature functions on Pinterest. Once you present them with options, make sure they can filter by attributes like color or material until they find what they’re looking for.
  • Make the entire image shoppable: You can turn casual browsing into engaged shopping by enabling customers to purchase all products featured in an image. Brands can do so by automatically adding all shoppable items to a “shop the look” carousel beneath or beside the primary PDP image. Maybe they came for a jacket that’s out of stock, but they were drawn to the jeans in the photo — this way, the out-of-stock notice doesn’t put a stop to their journey.
  • Promote collections and galleries: To keep website navigation inspiring, and to reel shoppers back into the journey before they leave empty-handed, you can also include recommended collections that best suit customers’ preferences and browsing history, featuring both professional and UGC images, right on the PDP.

3) Often-overlooked wasted real estate

Wasted real estate on your website can come in many forms, but some of the most common are 404 error pages and sign-up thank you pages. When customers sign up for anything on your website, it means their engagement, interest, and likelihood to purchase in the future is high. Conversely, if they’ve just hit a snag, your error page could be your last chance to win them over before they leave in frustration. Both of these situations represent key opportunities to do more with the space you have on the page.

  • Redirect back to history: Once a shopper has filled out a form, like an email sign-up or loyalty program membership, instead of directing them to a thank you page, send them back to their most recently viewed items. This way their shopping flow isn’t disrupted.
  • Showcase popular products or personalized suggestions. If you have to send shoppers to a thank you page or they land on a 404, use the bulk of the space on the page to showcase best-sellers and personalized products recommended based on their browsing behavior. Instead of having to use your website navigation menu, they can easily click through on products to continue their journey.
  • Introduce engaging content. Some shoppers need a little more encouragement to continue browsing. By including shoppable rich media content — like UGC, short videos, or even tutorials on how to use or style your products — on thank you and error pages, you can re-engage shoppers and deepen their affinity with your brand.
website navigation

Website Navigation as a Critical Element in Your Customer Experience

With users often dropping off websites in as little as 10-12 seconds, according to statistics from the Nielsen Norman Group, replacing dead ends with valuable detours is an important way to hold shoppers’ attention for much longer and to ensure that the customer journey is not cut short prematurely.

In addition to having more chances to uncover products that shoppers are looking for, smarter desktop and mobile website navigation sends a signal that you care about the customer experience. When shoppers know that your website can not only provide products but also cater to their unique needs and journeys, they’re more likely to come back, purchase more, and even recommend your brand to their peers.