Optimize Your Left Nav Where It Counts – Conversion Wednesday

By Chris C.

Learn how to optimize your left navigation where it counts most.

Optimize your left navigation where it counts the most

Experiences are different from site to site and there are no blanket rules for optimization of your website. However, we’ve done a lot of testing with left navigation designs and there does seem to be an area of your site where this option/element is the most impactful: your sub-category or product listing pages.

These pages would be any page where you are merchandising the products that are within a specific section of your site. If you are selling sports merchandise, it might be pages that list all of the products you carry for a specific team. For a cell phone case site, it would be all of the cases you carry for a particular cell phone model. These pages are the ones that the left navigation has the biggest impact on your visitors shopping behavior.

Why is my left navigation so important on product listing pages?

This is where they are browsing your shelves for a product. If they don’t see anything they want, your left navigation allows them to look in another area of your store for what they are looking for.

Left navigation relevance can vary from site-to-site on product pages, homepage, or main category pages (where you list your other sub-categories), but any page that is a list of product for a certain section of your online store is where your left navigation will be seen and used the most.

It sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked when optimizing your site. Make sure that your left navigation is easy to read and provides the most helpful, relevant options for your visitor. It should provide alternate categories of the site that are related to the section they are currently shopping in. This way, if they can’t find a product that they like on the current page, you’ve clearly labeled other areas of the site that are similar and might contain what they are looking for.

What about filters?

Again, filters are helpful depending on the site. Often, filters are viewed as the final solution to long lists of products. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just slapping filters up on your product listing pages will solve your conversion issues. Filters are a different way of browsing the products that you have listed on your page, but it doesn’t answer the question of what to do if the product I’m looking for is not in this area of the site.

The first step with filters is to find out if they are helpful to customers. If they are helping customers convert, then you can look into the next steps. We’ve seen that location, messaging, and styling of filters can play a big part in how often they are used. Your customers that use them will determine how effective they are.

So what’s the difference?

Filters are a helpful tool for browsing products. Its purpose is to help browsers narrow their selection.

The left navigation serves two different purposes. It is a secondary action for those visitors who have browsed through and still aren’t finding what they are looking for. It also provides a way for visitors to quickly change the area they are looking at if they’ve gone to a page that isn’t what they were looking for.

Can I use both?

Yes, you can run filters and left navigation on the same page since these two elements address different visitor needs while shopping on your site. However, I highly recommend that you test these to find out the most efficient way of combining the two on your site. You don’t want them to compete for attention with one another on the page and testing will allow you to find the right location, usability options, and design for combining these two elements in the most effective way.


If you have a left navigation on your site, it is providing the most help on your product listing pages. You can also provide filters since they provide help with a different part of the shopping process. However, you should always test any changes to your site while optimizing. Testing not only ensures you only make positive changes, but it will give you more information about what areas of your site are being used the most by your customers.