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    When EIS evaluates an ecommerce website we judge it according to a collection of heuristics.  A heuristic gives us a way to compare what is currently happening against certain ideals which are developed from:

    • Rules of thumb
    • Best practices
    • Experience-based methods, and
    • Various ways of solving problems, grounded in knowing what works

    EIS has been refining heuristics for many years so they are finely tuned the specific aspects we are looking at, such as:

    • Taxonomy Fundamentals
    • Search & Navigation
    • Product Information Management & Workflow

    Performing a Heuristic Analysis

    Starting at the top level, the heuristics we look at with regard to the site are things like, whether it has clear organizing principles and has intuitive groupings, such as audience type, products, or subject matter. The user should not be overwhelmed by too many choices, nor forced to drill down too far to get to the target information.

    The user interface (UI) design should be compatible with the taxonomy structure, so that the elements can be easily mapped to it. Finally, the labeling should be clear and jargon-free, while keeping in mind search engine optimization (SEO) opportunities that would improve the page’s ranking.

    The following illustration is an example of a few fundamental heuristics.  Each heuristic is graded and commented for clarity as needed. 

    taxonomy heuristics examples

    When complete the grades are rolled up into an overall grade for the site. 

    taxonomy heuristics summary example

    Evaluating the Results

    Here are a few issues that can come up through heuristic analysis, and their impact on the visitors to the website:

    • Too much specificity in the first level: With a long list of options, the visitor may find it difficult to locate the right product category or item. Lower level categories should roll up into a more comprehensive one; for example, hand tools and power tools should roll up into a “Tools” category.
    • A flat taxonomy: If no hierarchy is provided, the visitor has a long list to review and does not get guided to the right category.
    • Lack of synonyms in the auto-complete: If only one term brings up the desired item, the visitor has to guess right the first time. The terms “chain saw” and “chain saws” should bring up the same list of products. This can be achieved by using a word map that makes the terms equivalent in the search.
    • Using non-standard labeling: Labeling terms with a plus sign (+) to indicate they are being combined in the search is ineffective for search engines; an ampersand (&) should be used, or the SEO will be adversely affected. 

    Logs Provide Additional Insights

    Reviewing search logs can provide valuable insights into what users are trying to find. Some companies have dedicated staff that go through search logs, while others have a part-time individual assigned. It is important to have someone who monitors the logs. The goal should be to optimize the top 300 searches, which will constitute a large majority of the likely searches.

    Bounce rate and cart abandonment rate are two metrics to look for. By checking on these actions, problems may become evident. However, the solution may not be as evident. It takes careful analysis and a structure process to make improvements.

    The search experience can be a differentiator, determining why a potential customer does or does not go to a site. If search experience is so streamlined and personalized that the user experience is good, the shopper may not go back to the other sites but will stick with the one that provides a positive experience. Following best practices in taxonomy design will improve both the user experience and the SEO for websites.

    Caveats

    Collectively, these strategies will help get customers to the site and keep them there. But keep in mind they are not a silver bullet. If the pricing is not competitive, or the product is not available in the inventory, conversion will not occur. The taxonomy and site can take the user only so far. But getting the customer to the product details page (PDP) is an essential first step.

    Earley Information Science Team
    Earley Information Science Team
    We're passionate about enterprise data and love discussing industry knowledge, best practices, and insights. We look forward to hearing from you! Comment below to join the conversation.

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