Building Better Category Pages

  |  September 14, 2007   |  Comments

Shoppers abandon category pages, not product pages.

There's a section for abandon rates, or where people exited your Web site, in nearly every Web analytics package. Online retailers often believe people abandon their sites on a product level. Yet abandonment typically happens at the category-page level. Why?

For each type of perspective, profile, or persona on your Web site, the category page's job is to help the consumer find the right product. Ask yourself, "What information does each shopper need to find that right product?"

To dig even deeper, each perspective, profile, or persona has different needs at different stages of the buying process. Retailers must account for these as well.

Three Potent Questions

Last year, I shared the framework we use for analyzing conversion barriers and creating powerful category pages. It may seem simplistic, but it's über-powerful when you commit to answering these three questions:

  • Who is your audience?

  • What action do you want them to take next?

  • What information do they need to feel confident taking action?
  • Let's start to actually use this framework by creating an example based on a rather simple buying process, such as buying movies:

  • Who? As we consider the universe of DVD buyers, we can answer this question by using Myer-Briggs temperaments as a basis for four customer perspectives. This is the most basic psychographic information.

  • What action? On the category page, we want people to find a specific product they want to buy today. We want to move them forward confidently so they can find something that will satisfy their wants, needs, and desires.

  • What information? We tie the answers to this question back to our first question and the page content begins to emerge:
  • Spontaneous types are hip and in the know, so when people are in this buying mode they're likely to seek top sellers and new releases.

  • Humanistics are people- and relationship-oriented, so they care about reviews and want to read what experience experts or others like them had with movies.

  • Methodicals are neat and organized and like to label things and experiences. While in this mode, people are likely to shop by genre.

  • Competitives know what they want and want it quickly. In this mode, people will search by actor, title, and the like.
  • In a recent screencast, I explain the good, the bad, and the conversion-friendly elements of Target's category pages:


    You'll find as you shop around that some stores do one or two things well, while ignoring other buying processes. Target did a great job of leading the design-conscious buyer through its category pages by allowing them to shop by color but did very little for those who want to shop by other criteria.

    Some other questions Target could have answered on its category pages:

  • What if I have limited space?

  • Is there anything I need besides a crib?

  • Can you give me a nursery checklist?

  • What do other parents suggest?
  • These questions represent only a few buying perspectives and only imply suggested solutions. They are a result of using of our three-questions framework.

    So if your category pages are giving you grief or you're struggling with what to do with them, you're failing to correctly answer at least one of the three questions. When you ignore any question, you fail to create compelling, relevant category pages.

    Here's another screencast demonstrating this common problem, this time with Luggage Pros:

    It's not for a lack of effort that most category pages don't make the cut. Instead, it's mostly the lack of the persuasive framework needed to create a page that moves prospects forward in the buying process.

    The solution is simple in theory but difficult in practice. Great companies will always struggle to know more about their customers and never stop trying to meet and exceed their expectations at every step of the buying process.

    Persuasion is always hard work, but it's always well worth the effort.

    Share with me your category page struggles or successes.


    Bryan Eisenberg

    Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of IdealSpot. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best-selling books Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, and Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends. Bryan is a keynote speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as Gultaggen,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others for the past 10 years. Bryan was named a winner of the Marketing Edge's Rising Stars Awards, recognized by eConsultancy members as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus, selected as one of the inaugural iMedia Top 25 Marketers, and has been recognized as most influential in PPC, Social Selling, OmniChannel Retail. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies such as Sightly, UserTesting, Monetate, ChatID, Nomi, and BazaarVoice. He works with his co-author and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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