June 13, 2017
5 Things Web Managers Can Learn from Amazon.com

If you’re looking to understand how to create a website that really speaks to the needs of users or customers, you don't need to look any further than Amazon.com. But what does Amazon.com do that makes it so great? Take a page (or two) from Amazon's web experience and revamp your website strategy with these five things you can start doing today.

Apply a Search-based Architecture

One of the best things about Amazon’s web experience is how you navigate to find things. You can easily find the exact brand, size, and color of jeans by quickly clicking through an intuitive tree-like structure. A search-based architecture is designed to enable users to explore content using its dynamic set of topics and metadata.

Thinking of this approach in terms of the prospective visitor or student’s experience on your public website, think about how you could structure navigation via menus, shortcuts and other elements based on the type of prospective visitor. You could break visitors down into new visitors, current customers, or repeat visitors. For students, you might break this down as new student, international student, or master’s degree.

The type of visitor is the top-level navigation element. What comes next? It depends on the type of visitor and what’s important to them. For example, a repeat visitor who's looked at a particular product several times would be more interested in seeing advertisements for a Sale on that product or complimentary product. A graduate student wants to know what type of graduate degrees are available, admission requirements, registration process and so on. They aren’t interested in undergraduate programs or processes, so why show them that information?

A website that adapts to the visitor based on their selections enables you to surface the most valuable information to an audience quickly, reducing the visitor’s efforts and improving the potential of converting them (getting them to apply).

So how exactly do you implement a search-based architecture? Focus time and effort on clearly defining the taxonomy for your content – outlining the topics and metadata that are critical to each audience and implementing your navigation using this taxonomy.

Offer Recommended Content

You want to create an experience that provides as much information to the user in one place as possible. So, if a prospective customer is looking at listings for a new hiking shoe, they would be interested in seeing content focused on the best places to hike in their location, or tips for hiking long distances. A student is looking at a Commerce undergraduate program might also be interested in hearing what current students think of the program, what common questions others have asked, and who some of the popular professors are in the program.

You don’t want to give all this information on one web page – it would be too cluttered and hard to read, but you can provide much of it as relevant links and recommended reading on the web page where the program is described. Providing relevant information within the context of the visitor’s current experience helps to increase their time on your site and can greatly improve conversion rates.

How do you implement this on your website?

  • Strategically place widgets on web pages that point to additional information about the main theme or topic of the web page.
  • Insert key links to relevant supporting content in prominent locations

You can do this not only on your program pages but also on your blog or news sections. 

Personalize the Web Experience

Amazon keeps track of your visits. Every time you go back, they know what you’ve looked at before, and they can personalize the web experience using that information. This tracking is typically done using a cookie on the visitor’s desktop.

You can track your visitor’s visits over time and improve the recommended content shown, or move more important content to sections on the home page that get the right information to the visitor faster.

You can also personalize the experience using demographics or geolocation. So, for example, a visitor shopping for hiking shoes would be interested in seeing the ten best places to hike within 20 miles of their geolocation. The geolocation for a prospective student visiting your website shows they live in a climate that is always hot, so you could link to some interesting college life posts about winter carnival or learning to ski.  

Enable Faceted Search to Filter Results Quickly

Search is the fastest way to find the information you are looking for and Amazon is great at search. It provides something called “faceted search,” which is simply a visual breakdown of search results by additional metadata (or facets).

Go to Amazon and do a search on business books. You see the side navigation break the results down by type of book – physical or Kindle, and then by sub-topic. There are also additional search facets to further refine results by things such as Language, Prime, and Free Shipping. Amazon’s checkout service also adjusts based on the type of visitor you are.

Improve the quality of the search function on your public website by adopting faceted search. The search engine should break down results by logical groups from the highest level, down to the lowest level (or by however many facets you indicate).

Faceted search enables the visitor to get to the exact information they want faster without having to scroll through what could be potentially pages of search results.

Streamline Processes by Type of Visitor

If you are in Canada and you type in Amazon.com the first thing Amazon will ask you is if you want to go to the .CA version of Amazon’s site. On its home page, Amazon also offers the ability to jump directly into popular departments such as Kindle, or Music. You can do the same with your web experience.

On the home page of your website, you can provide quick access to popular products, programs or sections of the website. You can also do something unique with the different processes.

In the case of students completing a registration, instead of offering a single application process for everyone, provide different applications based on the type of applicant (new students, international, transfer, master). This is similar to Amazon's checkout service (Prime, first time buyers, one-click purchase). In the case of the application, find out what type of program they visitor is applying for first, then change the application form and process to match that type of program.

Think Like Amazon

Amazon may be a retail business, but there’s plenty everyone can learn from their web experience. From how to structure your website to the application experience, you can take a few pointers from Amazon and create an experience that focuses on providing the right information to the visitor quickly.

In the end, you will improve the user experience, resulting in users spending more time on your website and ultimately converting. 

Posted by David Hillis
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