How to Easily Design a User Friendly Category Hierarchy for Your Online Store

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If you are planning to create a web store to sell products online, you will be pleased to know that creating your site and designing the look and feel are, from a technical perspective, very simple. All you need to do to cover that side of things is to put into play one of the trusted sales platforms, such as Magento ecommerce, pick a good theme and add your branding. Of course, that isn't by any means all there is to designing a web store that offers a good user experience. In order to do that, you have to think about how your catalogue is structured, and something those in the web development industry call 'information architecture'.

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Structuring a Catalogue for E-Commerce

The information architecture for your e-commerce site is effectively how you structure your products so that people who land on your homepage can find them. While you will of course have a text search for your site to allow people to find things that way, some people will want to browse everything you have to offer in a certain field, and will expect to be able to drill down through a category hierarchy to do this. How many levels your hierarchy has will depend on your product range and the diversity of what you sell, but to explain the following design process we will assume you want to have parent categories, sub categories below them, and in some cases sub-sub-categories below those.

No More Than 10

Research has shown that users get confounded when faced with more than ten options at once on a website, so each level needs to have 10 categories or less. Remember this rule as you go. More than 10 subcategories can be displayed at once as long as there are no more than 10 per parent. If you find yourself thinking you need more than 10, you need to divide them up into more specific categories at the level above or create more sub-sub-categories below, for instance, if you sell clothes and find you have too many things you want to put under 'dresses', you can either split the dresses category up at the parent level, perhaps into 'formal dresses', 'work dresses' and 'casual dresses', or you can have a subcategory level below of 'long dresses' and 'short dresses' and put your other categories into those.

Plotting It Out

The easiest thing to do to create your hierarchy is to write down on sticky notes (either real ones, or on a note app) your key groupings, and jiggle things about until there are only ten (or fewer) at that level. Then, take notes with other categories on and place them under these high level ones. You may find some sub-categories belong under more than one parent, and that is just fine. Do the same at each level until you have a hierarchy you are happy with, always making sure no level contains more than 10 items in a given category, and you're done and ready to configure them on your online store!

A good category structure helps your customers and also helps you organise your stock, so put some time into this exercise and get it right!

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