Are you looking for the right structure for your website? An intuitive category structure can significantly improve visitors’ impression of your website by allowing them to easily find what they are looking for. Even if websites differ considerably in what they offer, there are practical approaches for structuring online presence – websites as well as online shops – that you should know about. In this article, we share best practices for deciding the right categories for your website and demonstrate these methods using the example of an online shop.

To find the right structure for your online presence, the first step is to put yourself in the shoes of the website visitor. How do you as a visitor quickly find what you are looking for? Regardless of whether the content is more or less broadly spread out, the needs of visitors sometimes vary widely. The focus here is the task of satisfying all interested parties, the solution is user-friendliness.

Categories as a guide

Imagine the following thought experiment: You are on holiday and want to go on a cycling tour. Which guidebook tours do you tend to focus on? At a glance, tours with too many stops seem confusing and those with too few, uninteresting. An ideal tour should catch your interest and allow you to quickly find the places you want to visit.

It is similar with your website categories. Your categories should provide enough information that there is a good overview – but not so much that it overwhelms visitors. Because if your online shop is not easy to navigate, you risk losing customers.

Get the big picture!

What all websites should have in common is a smooth communication with the visitors: This means the website’s categories and options should be able to guide them optimally through all the more detailed content you provide.

To ensure this user-friendliness, think about your overall concept first. Collect your ideas for your website and what you want to achieve with it. If you want to set up an online shop, you may already be able to derive a strategy from your brick-and-mortar business in sense of product line and creating a branding. Or maybe take the online shop as an opportunity to redesign the overall concept. If you are interested in a pure online presence without an online shop, even then you should consider an overall concept for your storytelling.

Another tip is to look at the structure of competing websites. You can sometimes find surprisingly simple and intuitive solutions for categories that you could adopt for your website. Categories in online shops now have a certain pattern. For example, imagine an online shop for fashion, where the first level is usually sorted by men, women and children.

Step-by-step: Creating categories with Card Sorting

Card sorting allows you to filter out your categories without overlap.

You can create your website or product categories in four steps using a method called ‘card sorting’. An advantage of card sorting is that you can first visualise your ideas and then flexibly move them around until you have created a selection and structure that suits you best. It can be helpful to share these ideas with others (ex. associates, friends…) who create their own category structure thereby finding out how other visitors orientate themselves to your content. Take care not to miss or duplicate categories. You can master card sorting in four steps:

  1. If you are creating a simple website without a basket, collect all the content and topics you want to present on individual cards. For an online shop, collect all your product types that you offer in your brick-and-mortar business and also want to offer in your online shop. Product attributes, such as size or colour, should not play a role here.
  2. Sort these cards into logical groups for you.
  3. Think of a suitable title for each group.
  4. If you have covered all of your content and nothing overlaps, you have worked out your appropriate categories!

When giving titles to your categories, make sure they are easy to understand. This is especially important for prospective customers who do not yet know you or your product range; they should find familiar terms here. To reach a broader audience you should also avoid using overly technical terms in the categories.

The next consideration is how to incorporate these categories into your main menu. There are several ways to do this as well, including an important feature called a ‘Mega Menu’. This allows you to create several menu levels in order to avoid overwhelming visitors by displaying too many categories in the main menu. An optimal number is about five to seven categories in the first level, which you can supplement with appropriate sub-categories if needed.

We hope this information has already given you some ideas on how to organise your website. We hope you have fun sorting!