8 Product Discovery Essentials for Advanced eCommerce Optimization

In this guide, we're going to take a deep look at product discovery and why it's such a powerful factor to consider when optimizing any eCommerce site. We'll explore its crucial impact on conversions, and we'll look at 8 essentials you must improve so you can drive more revenue AND provide a much better user experience for your customers!

Ready? Let's get started.

Table of Contents

  • What is Product Discovery and Why Does it Matter?
  •  8 Ways to Optimize Product Discovery
    1. Optimize Your Homepage
    2. Nail Your Navigation
    3. Beef Up Your Filterable Product Attributes
    4. Optimize On-Site Search
    5. Optimize Search Traffic Landing Pages
    6. Optimize 404 Pages
    7. Utilize Popular Product Pages
    8. Secondary Product Discovery: The Key to Upsells
  • Wrapping up...What’s Next?

What is Product Discovery and Why Does it Matter?

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be defining “product discovery” as the process of someone visiting your website and discovering a product they’re interested in. “Product discovery time” is the time it takes for that to happen from when they first visit your site to when they discover the product.

Let’s set up an example for clarity: You visit the homepage of an eCommerce site. On the homepage, there are a bunch of banners promoting sales and popular products. One of the popular products catches your eye and you click on it to take a closer look. That’s product discovery. And the time it took you to discover that product is product discovery time.

To learn about why product discovery time is so important, let’s look at some data:

Clicktale recently released a deep analysis of the web metrics from thousands of eCommerce sites. In it, they released some very interesting data around average bounce rates and average time on site.

Here’s what they found:

  • Smaller retailers tracked a LONGER time on site (200 seconds) than larger retailers (70 seconds).
  • Smaller retailers tracked a HIGHER bounce rate (34%) than larger retailers (9.4%).
  • Bounce rates were particularly poor for retailers in the 50k - 100k Alexa Rank range.

Note: They defined “smaller retailers” as sites with an Alexa Rank of greater than 10k and “larger retailers” as sites ranked under 10k (lower Alexa Ranks are better).

What does this data actually mean?

It’s a little confusing at first when you think about why the smaller retailers are able to keep visitors on their sites longer than larger retailers (a sign of greater engagement) but they are also seeing higher bounce rates (a sign of lower engagement).

However, when you put the two numbers together you can see what’s going on:

On smaller sites, shoppers are spending more time attempting to find their desired product, then leaving because they can't find it. That’s both frustrating to the customer and bad for conversion rates for the retailer.

On the other hand, larger retailers are making it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for, and as a result, more people are sticking around to make a purchase.

In the study, Clicktale concluded: “Short time on page can indicate that users leave the site too quickly; when combined with low bounce rate, however, it actually indicates that users find what they are looking for faster.”

So, here’s why all this matters:

These numbers illustrate that larger retailers are beating smaller retailers in the product discovery game and they’re reaping the rewards as a result. Due to the less-than-optimal user experience smaller retailers are providing, customers are abandoning their stores before they have a chance to discover products they want...a disappointing experience for all involved!

Strictly going off the tiers defined by the study, if your eCommerce site hasn’t cracked the 10k Alexa mark yet, this is likely an area where you can greatly improve. (Even if you are a larger retailer, there’s likely still room for improvement here.)

Still not sure if you should be focusing on product discovery?

Dawn Kole, founder and president of Digital DNA Marketing, recently published an article stating “The next big opportunity on the horizon for eCommerce web sites to continue to grow their share of consumer spending is enhancing product discovery.”

In other words...this is important!

"Improving Product Discovery experience is one of the biggest opportunities in #eCommerce -- check out these 8 tips"
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How to Optimize Product Discovery

Now that we understand why product discovery is so important, how do we master and improve it?

Keep in mind that the important theme here is relevance -- the same thing that is responsible for Google’s success. The more relevant your site is to each individual customer that visits it, the better your product discoverability will be. So we’ve researched strategies that the top eCommerce companies are using to make product discovery lightning-quick for their customers.

Before we get into our top recommendations for improving your product discovery experience, there are two areas I want to mention that have a big impact here, but are far too in-depth to delve into in this guide (and, you’re probably already well aware of them). Those are site speed and mobile-friendliness -- just keep in mind that these two things will have an effect on everything else we’ll discuss.  

1. Optimize Your Homepage

"Is your #eCommerce homepage lacking? Try including these components, optimized for product discovery"
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Here are the best things you can include on your homepage to boost product discovery (and sales down the line). Keep in mind that your homepage can be a dynamic, personalized page versus a static page for everyone.

This list is in no particular order. In fact, the order of these items is one thing that can be customized and personalized towards each individual visitor and their browsing history.

A. Current promos.

These are your current sales, new items, and time-sensitive offers.

Example: Here’s Blue Nile’s homepage where they’re promoting a giveaway:

blue-nile-product-discovery

B. Personalization Units.  

These are your “Recently viewed” and “You might also like” product listings that are shown for logged in visitors (or visitors whose browsing history is saved via cookies).

Example: Since they practically invented the idea of personalizing the homepage with products based on your browsing history, it’s only right to use Amazon as an example here.

Just to show how far they take this concept, I just loaded Amazon.com and counted 11 different sections on the homepage that were pulling in products based on my browsing data. That’s a lot!

Here's an example of just some of them:

amazon-product-discovery

Note: You can personalize based on more than browsing history! For example, if you’re a fashion retailer and a customer is logged into their account, you could customize the homepage to show men’s or women’s products depending on their gender. (Tip: Social login solutions can help you gather this data without even making the visitor enter it manually!)

Here's another example of a different personalization tactic: Adidas includes a personalized product listing on their homepage based on the visitor’s city:

adidas-product-discovery

C. Trending/Popular Products.  

What should you show to brand new or unknown visitors that don’t have any browsing history yet? From our analysis and experience, the best practice here is to show popular and best-selling products on your homepage for this segment of your visitors.

Examples

1. Wayfair.com shows currently trending products immediately below their main homepage promo: 

wayfair-trending-products

2. Here’s a great looking Best Sellers product listing on Forever 21’s homepage: 

forever-21-product-discovery

 

Tip: The Trending Wall App from AddShoppers is a great, easy way to show trending products on your homepage or anywhere else.

D. New Arrivals.

For fashion brands, showcasing new arrivals is a must. Everyone wants to be the first of their friends setting the trend, so these product displays are super compelling in the apparel industry.

Examples

Here are some new arrivals featured on the homepage of NineWest.com: 

nine-west-product-discovery

 

Banana Republic puts their new arrivals front and center on their homepage: 

banana-republic-product-discovery

 

E. Educational content.

An opportunity that most retailers aren’t taking advantage of yet is including educational content that pre-sells your products. This content is great for people that are in the browsing state but not ready to buy yet.    

Example: Here’s a great widget on the homepage of Crutchfield.com that promotes their reviews and other helpful content to in-market buyers.

crutchfield-product-discovery

    

Bonus: A big opportunity here that almost no retailers are doing yet is to show educational content based on browsing history. For example, if a visitor comes and looks at different TVs, why not show your “Ultimate TV Buyer’s Guide” when they go back to the homepage? Or, show them retargeting ads for that same buyer’s guide...

2. Nail Your Navigation

"Is your #eCommerce navigation driving customers away? Make sure you read this"
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Think about what segment of your audience uses navigation. It’s people that know what kind of product they’re looking for, but don’t know specifically what they want yet (otherwise, they’d be more likely to use the search bar). For example, you’ve just started searching for a new sofa. All you know is that you’re looking for sofas, but you don’t know anything specific yet, so you’re just going to search for the category.

For this reason, it needs to be fast. You don’t want to lose someone right when they’re starting their search.

Make sure your navigation section is both powerful, fast, and easy to use. Flyout menus are the current trend (the key here -- if you can handle the navigation without reloading new pages, that cuts down a huge amount of time).

Examples

Eastbay has a great flyout navigation menu:

eastbay-product-discovery

 

It’s really easy to start your search by using their flyout menus and they offer many different ways to narrow your search down.

(However, as an aside, I don’t think the pages you land on after clicking a link in the flyout menu are very effective. Clicking on “Basketball” leads to random basketball products instead of a sub-category page -- see below. The left navigation is saving them here, but I think it could still be improved.)

Don't do this!

Don't do this!

Dick’s Sporting Goods does a fantastic job with their navigation. Their main flyout navigation includes sports and their subcategories:

Dick's Sporting Goods flyout menu

Dick's Sporting Goods flyout menu

Then they bring you to a landing page where you can drill your search down even further (even if you click on a subcategory):

Dick's Sporting Goods subcategory page

Dick's Sporting Goods subcategory page

3. Beef Up Your Filterable Product Attributes

"Do your product filters make shopping your #eCommerce store painful? Check out these tips to boost conversions"
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So far, we’ve covered getting people from your homepage into your category or product listing pages. Now you need to focus on showing them products that meet their needs as soon as you possibly can. Otherwise, they’ll abandon your site and go back to Google, or whatever other traffic source they came from.

There are 2 keys to making this experience as fast and easy as possible for your customers:

1. Make your product attributes as rich as possible.

You want to tag your products with as many attributes as possible that make sense for their category (these are your tags for color, height, width, length, brand, etc per product) and make sure that all of these attributes are sortable and filterable. This makes it super simple for your customers to easily narrow down their search to find exactly what they’re looking for.

2. Optimize the user experience for sorting and filtering products on your product listing displays

Obviously, what good is it having rich product attribute tags if it’s not easy for your customers to actually use your product listing pages to narrow down their search (as mentioned above)? You want your user experience to be as good as possible here. Make it fast and easy to add or remove filters from the search.

Here are a couple tips:

  • Avoid reloading the page every time a filter is added or removed -- use Javascript to update the product display.
  • Put your price filter near the top since that’s one of the most frequently used filters.
  • Use checkboxes whenever possible -- it’s much quicker to perform one search for all of the potential items you’re interested in than having to do multiple searches.

Examples:

Here's an example of how NOT to utilize tags. Take a look at the filtering options from Amazon here: 

amazon-product-tags

What if you wanted to look at either Paperback OR Hardcover books? Or books from the either the Marketing & Sales OR Real Estate categories? It’s difficult to do because you can't check multiple options -- rather, you have to select just one.  This means you have to restart your search in order to browse everything you're looking for. Not good for product discovery...and conversions!

However, Wayfair does a fantastic job here. For one specific example, take a look at their table lamps. I counted 23 different filters!

wayfair-product-discovery-1
wayfair-product-discovery-2

 

Note: It’s important to mention that it’s possible to add too many filters to your product listing pages that cause confusion. In practice, however, it’s always better to err on the side of having more filters versus less.

If you are concerned about having too many filters, try this exercise. Add all filters that you can possibly imagine to your product listing views and track the usage of each one. Keep the top 10 most used filters, and either remove the rest or have them hidden by default plus a “Show more filters” button to reveal them.

4. Optimize On-Site Search

"Good site search is essential for #eCommerce. Can your search handle these advanced queries?"
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Even though you represent an eCommerce brand, your site must still function well as a search engine. Thanks to Google, people expect to be able to type some (often misspelled) words into a box and get exactly what they’re looking for in an instant.

The folks over at the Baymard Institute have done some very thorough research into site search and it’s a highly recommended read.

Here is a compilation of the basic things your site search must be able to handle:

  • Exact product names or product IDs (eg. “iphone” or “MKRY2LL/A”)
  • Product types or categories (eg. “iphone covers”)
  • Commonly typed informational items (eg. “return policy”)
  • Product types with feature criteria (eg. “blue rugs” or “mens running shoes”)
  • Variations of the same keyword (eg. “laptop computers” and “notebook computers” should return the same results)
  • Misspellings of any of the above
  • Quick searching and returning of results

Relating to speed of search results, typeahead searching is one trend that has become very popular in top eCommerce sites. If you’re not familiar, typeahead searching refers to the dropdown search menu that shows up below the search bar as soon as you begin typing and updates in real-time as you type your search.

This is typeahead search in action.

This is typeahead search in action.

It helps speed up the start of your search process because you can narrow down your search before reaching the search results page, thus starting you off with a more targeted search and cutting out some of the work for you. Sometimes, the exact product you’re looking for will display right in the typeahead search results, making your search super fast: 

typeahead-search-result

 

Need a solution for site search? Here are some that we recommend: SLI Systems, SearchSpring, Nextopia, Hawk Search, and Swiftype.

Another aspect to consider is what to display when there are no search results found. Definitely don’t serve up a blank page saying nothing other than “no matching products found”!

At least show me some red shoes...or even just shoes!

At least show me some red shoes...or even just shoes!

Even Apple is guilty of this one! 

At least show me some popular cases!

At least show me some popular cases!

Here are some ideas for making the most of your “no results found” pages:

1. Show best selling products.

Here's an example from PetSmart: 

Hey, sharks might like cat food.

Hey, sharks might like cat food.

2. Show trending products.

Here's an example from Lighting New York:

lighting-new-york-trending-wall

 

3. Show related products based on a broadened search.

Here's an example from Macy’s:

Take that, Banana Republic! (see above)

Take that, Banana Republic! (see above)

5. Optimize Search Traffic Landing Pages

"If your #eCommerce search traffic landing pages suck, you're leaving money on the table."
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It’s especially important to show relevant products quickly to search traffic (both paid and organic). Why?

You have Google to both blame and thank for it. On the bright side, they’ve built one of the world’s largest traffic sources based on the fact that they deliver relevant search results at lightning speed. On the flip side, due to that exact same reason, they’ve trained everyone to expect to see exactly what they want immediately after searching...and that has raised the bar for us.

Think about it this way. Google is the best in the world at giving you 10 hyper-relevant links plus other information within milliseconds of your search. If that same experience isn’t carried over when they click on the link to your site, they’re going to assume you don’t have what they’re looking for, even if you do have it. They won’t be as likely to click around to find what they want -- they’re just going to hit the back button and check out the next search result instead.

In a nutshell, the upside here is that Google does all of the heavy lifting with actual searching. They handle all the difficult, hairy keywords that people search for (see the search criteria in #4 above) with amazing speed and precision. The downside is people are going to expect that same speed in discovering what they’re looking for when they arrive at your site.

With paid traffic, it’s even more important because you’re paying per click!

So, what can you do here to maximize product discovery accuracy and speed for search traffic?

Our biggest recommendation is to create specific landing pages built for both user experience that supports product discovery and SEO.

Let’s look at an example by searching for “white shag rugs” in Google and examining some of the landing pages that are returned in the top 10 results to see how well they've optimized their pages.

Specific Products: Amazon, Wayfair, Overstock, and Target had landing pages appear that showed specific, single products. The positive is that those products were, in fact, white shag rugs. However, I wasn’t searching for a specific products. I wanted to see a listing of white shag rugs that I could browse through to really begin my search.

Non-Specific Product Listings: Ikea, Home Depot, Home Decorators Collection, and Target (Target had 2 results in the top 10) showed product listings, which was good, however they all missed the mark in different ways.

Target and Home Depot brought me to a landing page of all shag rugs, but it didn’t have any kind of filter applied to show only white ones.

Home Decorators Collection did the opposite -- they showed me all white rugs, but there wasn’t a filter applied for shag rugs. (As an aside, since this is a guide for product discovery, their user experience once I hit the landing page was terrible. I tried to narrow down my search by selecting a style or material, but it took me to a completely separate category page, losing my original search criteria. There were some filters, but they were very easy to miss.)

Ikea had the worst result, just landing me on their top level “Rugs” page. It's almost like they dropped me on a "build your own search result" page, but they didn't even give me frustrating cartoon instructions with no text. Maybe that will work well for their audience, but looking at it from a conversion rate optimization perspective...I think not.

Specific Product Listings: Walmart landed me on a page created especially for “white shag rugs”, matching my search perfectly. They were also the #1 result...coincidence? Doubtful. This was the best search result by far and it was super easy for me to browse the products listed and discover products I was interested in.

(Quick SEO Note: They had “White Shag Rugs” as the H1 tag).

Here's their winning landing page:

Maybe not an Amazon killer, but Wal-Mart has stepped up their eCommerce game!

Maybe not an Amazon killer, but Wal-Mart has stepped up their eCommerce game!

Note: In this test, the paid search results were slightly better, but there were still a good number of brands landing the visitor on generic category pages.

Key takeaway: Make sure you are creating dedicated landing pages for top search terms relating to your products, and make sure the correct product listings are shown.

6. Optimize 404 Pages

"404 pages are an often-overlooked opportunity in #eCommerce."
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An often over-looked area, your 404 pages actually represent a good opportunity to help drive product discovery and get visitors engaged in browsing your store.

Our recommendations for your 404 page follow most of the same guidelines as your homepage. Here are the most effective items you can include on your 404 pages:

  • Popular or best-selling product lists
  • Trending product lists
  • Current sales and promotions

These three items have already been covered in section one, so if you need to review you can go back to that section.

Example: Overstock has a great 404 page. They show recommended products and trending products to help you get back to browsing their store. The recommended products are personalized based on your browsing history (another concept we’ve discussed already).

overstock-404-page

Here’s another example of showing trending products on a 404 page: 

swak-trending-products

Neil Patel wrote a blog post about how to optimize your 404 page and mentioned the same thing -- see #5 here.

7. Utilize Popular Product Pages

"Popular product pages are one of the best ways to boost #eCommerce sales. But what should you put on them? See here."
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A great resource that you can set up is a dedicated landing page for the best-seller and trending product listings that we’ve discussed in previous sections already. These are great resources to send people to who are just looking for ideas -- especially gift shoppers.  They’re also great to include in your new subscriber email series as a way to acquaint them with your brand and products (eg, “Check out our most popular products!”).

Here’s a fantastic trending products page:

sideshow-trending-products

If you want a trending products page like this, check out our Trending Wall App.

To get the most of trending products pages, here are all of the places you can promote them:

  • Your homepage
  • Your site navigation
  • Emails to customers
  • (Bonus) If you’re using the AddShoppers Trending Wall App, you can embed it into a tab on your Facebook page
  • Social media posts

8. Optimize Secondary Product Discovery: The Key to Upsells

"Are you driving as many #eCommerce upsells as possible? Make sure to optimize for secondary product discovery."
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Don’t forget about this! Thus far, we’ve been focusing on driving initial product discovery by capturing visitors’ attention when they first come to your site. However, there is another big opportunity here as it relates to driving upsells and cross-sells using product discovery once a shopper has made it all the way to a product page or further down the buying cycle.

Make the most of the buying momentum by making sure you have the best chance of driving your average order values up as high as possible with upsells. The leading mechanisms for driving upsells all include effective product discovery integrated to touchpoints such as your product detail pages, add to cart functionality, cart page, checkout success page, and post-order emails.

Here are some of the ways you can maximize upsells using secondary product discovery:

A. Related item widgets.

Some of the most popular product listings you can integrate into your product detail pages and cart page are “Recommended items”, “Complete the look”, “Customers also bought/viewed”, “Frequently bought together”, “Related products”, and “Related trending products”.

Here are some examples:

Amazon’s “Frequently bought together” widgets are well-known:

amazon-bought-together

6pm.com has three product discovery listings on their product pages (“You May Also Like”, “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”, and “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” lower on the page): 

They also have a “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" section lower in the page.

They also have a “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" section lower in the page.

J.Crew has a great “complete this look” widget in their Add To Cart modal:

jcrew-additional-products

Blue Nile does a great job here recommending accessory products based on the items in your cart, plus a special offer on a complementary product:

blue-nile-cart-upsells

Bonus: If you have a minimum amount for free shipping, these widgets can be great for driving up cart values as seen in this clever integration by Lulu’s:

lulus-free-shipping-upsells

B. Behavioral Targeting.

Use Behavioral Targeting after a customer adds a product to the cart to display a modal that suggests another related product and/or a special offer. For example, “Add this matching hat to your order and save an additional $10 off your order!”

This can also be done when a customer clicks the Checkout Now button.

C. Targeted email marketing. If you have the necessary data captured either from purchase history or from on-site browsing history, you can even send out any of these recommended product listings in emails, even post-purchase.

For example, you can trigger an email that goes out after someone makes a purchase with some recommended products based on their last purchase. (Want to make this email convert even higher? Offer a special free shipping coupon so they don’t have to worry about extra shipping costs because they didn’t order everything at once.)

Wrapping Up...What’s Next?

Now that you have tons of ideas about how to improve the product discoverability experience on your site, it’s time to start implementing. Hopefully you have at least a couple items that you feel are areas of opportunity for your eCommerce store.

So, it’s time to start implementing...but before you do, let us know in the comments which of these you're most excited about adding to your store.

Looking to boost revenue, email subscribers, or generate more referrals?

Join an upcoming Live Demo of AddShoppers to learn about how we can help you -- plus see examples of the Trending Wall and Behavioral Targeting Apps we mentioned in this guide.