Information scent and my search for spices.

Here's a true story that serves as a metaphor for why your website needs good navigation and information scent. 

This weekend I conducted a search for chaat masala. I had a Mark Bittman recipe variation for dal, and figured I could just get it at my local super-sized grocery store. This store is, in fact, the largest grocery store in southwest PA, and I had gotten garam masala at smaller stores before. I checked all the obvious places: International, spices, where they keep boxed dinners, to no avail. 

Since I live in an area with a significant Indian population (for Pittsburgh), I am rather close to two Indian groceries, and I knew they would carry my spice. 

Grocery K

I walk in, and it's dark. The store is crowded with products, and things are everywhere. To me, it seemed like the organizational principle of the place was "put the product wherever there is room."    

Grocery M

I walk in, and it's brightly lit. The store makes sense instantly. Dry staples like beans, dal and rice are along one wall. Across from the rice and beans, rows upon rows of spices, herbs, tamarind, sesame seeds... Another aisle has boxed dinners, another for frozens, prepared foods, and even mark-down section. Candy is in front of the register. 

Why I chose Grocery M

Grocery M is familiar. Sure, the other shoppers were speaking in another language, and my knowledge of what I was looking for was slim (spice blend?). But, it was organized. A glance at the store's shelves told me what was in each section, and I found the spices in seconds. Once I found the spices, it took a little while to find my specific spice, but after I briefly browsed the shelves, there it was. 

Organize your content like store M, not store K.  

  • Make sure your store is clean and brightly lit. Can someone glance at your website and get the gist of its contents? Or is it cluttered with distractions?  
  • Are your aisles organized? Your content organization and navigation structure should make sense and feel natural. 
  • Can a new shopper transfer knowledge? I had keywords, nothing more. But based on my experiences at other stores, I had a general idea where to look. I had a mental model. 
  • Did the customer convert? Ultimately, I found what I was looking for at store M. Store K? Honestly, I bailed. I knew there were other stores in town, and I didn't want to waste my time. Ask your users and check your stats: are users fleeing your content because they can't find what they are looking for, or did they successfully complete their task?