Categories, Manufacturers, Attributes. And, Beyond.

By Manjula Higginbotham - Updated On 2/6/2020

Many online stores today have most (if not all) of the commonly used navigation elements – browse by category, manufactures, the search box, price, color and other attributes. All of these are commonly used navigation elements and all of them available as snap-ins and/or merge codes in AmeriCommerce. If you aren’t already using them, please consider using these features. Here’s one of the reasons why.

Visitors to an online store have unique ways of searching for a product (take a look at your search analytics, you’ll be surprised). How many different ways can you think of searching for this shoe? I’ve made a list of my ideas. I’m certain there are many more.


  • Red shoe
  • Pumps
  • Red pumps
  • Narrow Pumps
  • High heeled shoes
  • Satin red shoes
  • rsvp (brand) red satin shoes
  • High heeled red shoes
  • Shoes with red inner lining
  • Cushioned high heel shoes
  • Red open toe shoes
  • Party shoes
  • Red party shoes
  • Red shoes size 6
  • Red shoes under $100
  • High heeled satin shoes

    That’s a lot of different terms to search for a single pair of shoes (and I’m not even an avid shoe buyer – quite the opposite).
    [Side note: This shoe is available on Zappos if it caught your fancy :) ]

To account for the different ways in which visitors can look for a product providing options to browse by (multiple) categories, manufacturers and attributes is very important. Category and manufacturer options are easy to add. Attributes though easy to setup do require some creativity (identifying the different ways visitors could want to browse) and work (tagging each product with the different attributes) But once setup, it adds a lot of depth to your online store navigation. This in turn makes for an easier browsing experience for your visitors.

Beyond categories, manufacturers and attributes there are other many other components that lead to a better user experience and higher conversions (I don’t know of an online store owner that doesn’t like more sales!). Lets take it a level deeper and look at one of them - the different stages of buying visitors can be in.

[Note: Credit for these concepts noted at the end of this post. These are not my original concepts. I won’t be going into detail on every point. If it interests you, be sure to get the books. They are simply fantastic.]

Visitors to your site can be in different stages of buying.

  • Some may be ready to buy and know exactly what they want – your categories (multiple), manufacturer and attribute navigation options if done well will help these visitors find what they are looking for.
  • Others that kind of know what they want but are still in ‘research mode’ – it is important to address this group’s needs. I’ll give you an example in just a bit.
  • Some didn’t come to your site to buy but are just browsing (but can be persuaded to buy).
  • And then those that are there in error and will not convert.

Lets look at the type of visitor in ‘research mode’ in more detail. Not all visitors to your store are ready to buy. This is so often overlooked, I’m going to say it again – not all visitors to an online store are ready to buy. And, yet, many stores often overlook this traffic to their site. This is a significant number of visitors to a site (I’ve seen it as high as 40%).

cribIf you had a brick and mortar store and a first time parent walked in saying they were researching the purchase of a crib - Would you turn them away or would you help them research it and enchant them to where when they are ready to buy they return to your store? You may even throw out a possible promotion coming up to get them back to the store?

Do you do that on your online store? Do you offer ‘Buying Guides’? Is there a promotional line at the bottom of the ‘Buyer’s Guide’ to have them return to your site when they are ready to make a purchase?

The argument “there is so much information on the internet, I just need to beat everyone else’s price” just does not hold up. There are many more ‘buying triggers’. Many people prefer to buy at a store that helps them with the research. There is a certain element of trust that comes into play when you share your expertise. And, a Buyer’s guide is a great way to start the conversation.

A certain percentage of your visitors are on your site to learn about your products. Welcome them in and grab their attention and sell to them. This could be one of your competitive advantages. Use your expertise and stand out as the knowledgeable person that people seek advice from and eventually buy from.

If you are not offering ‘research content’ to your visitors, you are turning a good number of visitors away from your site. If you paid to drive them to your site through PPC campaigns, it is hurting your ROI. This may not apply to every eCommerce store but does apply to a large number of stores.

[Buying Guides are great for SEO as well, assuming it is unique content.]

I am certain there are many more creative ways to help visitors in different stages of their buying decision as well as different personas/buying modalities. Bryan Eisenberg discusses these concepts in great detail in his books.

Credits: I have drawn from Bryan Eisenberg’s work in conversion optimization. Bryan has written brilliant books on the subject and explained this in great depth. I am adding my examples and narrative but all credit goes to Bryan. I take no credit for originality on the concept of different stages of the buying process or different ways visitors search. I highly recommend Bryan’s books. If you implement his concepts, a conversion lift is unavoidable. When you sell more, be sure to send me a thank you note! ;)

Image credits: Shoe – Zappos; Crib – Pippin Mcgee.

I would love to hear your tips and ideas. Please add them to the comments to share with the community.

photo credit: Wooly Matt via photopin cc

About the Author

Manjula Higginbotham

I love tea, cats, and helping entrepreneurs succeed in their business.

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Ed Sturrock
March 14, 2011 12:35 PM

There are so many ways that customers can find your items and each of them need to be fast and intuitive.  I did want to mention another nice feature we have that let your customers dive into your store quickly and with fewer clicks is the search autocomplete feature.  We've extended our search box and merges to allow for autocomplete to be turned on.  

Read a bit more in our release history:

October 29, 2011 12:37 PM

Attributes are key to selecting and comparing many of our products.  We would like to see the cart enable the shopper to select only those attributes that are important to him or her, and then view the product choices. In other words, make the attributes independent of each other, rather than dependent as they are now.

Brian Gluck
February 17, 2012 6:10 PM

We too make extensive use out of the attribute system; it allows our customers to search for items by the criteria that is important to them (size, price, color) and is a key differentiation between us and our competition.

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