A good website in the early days builds the foundations for success. Improving your website is what sustains success. Amazon’s website is a great example. The website evolution of Amazon provides some great tips to help you improve and evolve your website. Particularly when it comes to website navigation for websites with larger amounts of content.
It's easy to forget Amazon was a start-up not too long ago.
Nobody’s pretending their website is the singular cause of Amazon’s success. There is however no denying the website has played a significant role. In many ways, it’s where their strategy and efforts enter reality and became concrete. Where intentions became results.
Let’s look at the website evolution of Amazon. You’ll see the continued thought, effort and progress that’s contributed to their meteoric raise to success. In doing so, we’ll share tips and lessons you can consider when improving your website navigation moving forward.
While Amazon’s early days were pretty old school, a lot of their improvements set the new standards we know now. Looking at the how Amazon changed may help you do the same in your industry.
2000: Dense Navigation
Text Heavy – The first thing that strikes you is the lack of visual appeal. Likely influencers of this approach were the inconsistent and limited internet speeds at the time (handicapping use of images) as well as ‘texty’ content being highly valued for SEO by search engines at the time.
Cluttered Menus – The top and side menus are cramped and cluttered. This was nonetheless a big step forward from many sites of its time where the user would have to click through layers of pages to get where they wanted. Naturally, many would get lost and give up.
Forward Thinking Content – As dated as the website looks, the underlying content is impressive even by today’s standards (although it would be approached differently). The Amazon website was geared at letting people progress towards buying goods online. Every piece of content on the homepage was facilitating this. This focus on progressing the user is always key in website navigation. That is their style and the committed to it fully.
2006: Structural Navigation
De-cluttered Menus – Menus continued to evolve in the hunt to improve user experience. Becoming less cramped, and utilising drop-downs within menus to show information contextually within changing pages.
Side Menus Too – Hierarchy was also added to the side menus. Similarly to the top menu the page was better at balancing and utilising space, text and colour. This doesn’t just make the page more appealing to look at, it also makes it easier to process the information and navigate effectively across the website.
More Images – Images are increasingly being used to balance the aesthetic of the page (albeit selectively). Again these images aid user’s processing of information and support easier navigation.
Content Shift – No question the overall focus remains on encouraging purchases. There is however a slightly more subtle shift of attention within the content towards existing customers. The greater prominence of content relating to personalisation and the user’s account.
Did you notice it too? – The search bar. While it was top left initially, the size and positioning hindered it’s provenance back in 2000. in 2006 however, it’s been relegated to the bottom of the page. Perhaps they thought people only used search function if they had couldn’t find what they were looking for on the page.
2011: Search-Driven Wayfinding
Menu Reduction | The top menu has been reduced to the bare bones of what a user should need (meanwhile finding additional space to promote account usage and promoting deals). The left-hand menu has become the one stop shop for navigating through categories of products.
Content Selection | Perhaps with a ‘less is more mindset’, Amazon’s homepage removes the right-hand content providing more clean space for the page’s core content. Similarly, the core product content is also reduced in scale.
Prominent Search Bar | From the bottom to the top! The search bar now sits atop the throne with pride of place on the homepage. This encourages searches and increases the insight Amazon can attain about what their users are looking for.
2016: Seach-led Navigation
Menu Evolution | Despite the significant volume of products, the menu has been further reduced to streamline a user’s first impressions and overall experience.
‘All in’ on Search | A bold move! Amazon have now made search the key (and practically only) way for users to find and purchase new goods. We believe this was so elicit as much insight from users as possible with regards to desired goods.
Visual Renovation | By this stage the visual appeal appears to have become a priority for Amazon. Notably more simple in appearance, the homepage is focused on steering the user towards a few key activities.
2020: Hybrid Navigation
Here we are. Improving your website over 20 years is quite the achievement. And the results for the user and business are evident. Website navigation has evolved – an in some regards come full circle.
Visual Improvement Continues | A truly streamlined menu promoting use of search. Very fitting for a content heavy, general store style website. Search can continue to act as a key driver of insight into consumers and what goods and services they want from Amazon. The website navigation approaches implemented and honed by Amazon contributed significantly to their success and growth.
Contextual Content | Why the change back to lots of content? This is content with a difference. Where previous high volumes of content where largely generic with minimal tailoring, by this stage Amazon are able to personalise the content displayed on the homepage to the specific user’s account and history on Amazon.
Amazon's Website Evolution
The purpose of Amazon’s website has always been about making finding and buying products online quick, easy and reliable. They have never strayed from this. Furthermore, they have also been forward thinking in building for the future. If not always with visuals, certainly with streamlining user processes.
Initially, Amazon’s homepage provided a wealth of option and plentiful calls to action. It was about encouraging clicks and ultimately purchases – all the while gaining general insight (popularity of categories, clicks vs. purchases, etc.). Over time, as the store’s popularity, breadth and depth grew, steering users towards search queries provided Amazon with more tailored insight. Accounts also allowed for the tracking and understanding of users more easily over time. All helping improve and personalise the shopping experience they could provide. Let’s look at a few key lessons to take away when improving your website navigation.
Think Amazon will stop improving their website? We doubt it! Why not check out the changes they’ve made already by clicking here.
Improving Your Website Navigation
#2 – The Importance of Website Navigation User navigation is your #1 priority 100% of the time. If users can’t find what they are looking for, your website is of little use. Research your target audience and focus especially on how they use and navigate a site like yours. Understanding your audiences process helps you prioritise and position content throughout your website appropriately. This is especially true the larger your website is.
#3 – Function Over Form If your website is intended to enable your users to perform a specific task, streamlining the function is what matters most. There’s no question visual appeal makes a big difference. It’s the first thing we commented on! Amazon’s success demonstrates strong visuals can elevate and experience but best in class functionality drives success.
The effort put into improving your website is the single biggest contributor to success. Similarly to Amazon, you too will make mistakes (they buried their search bar!). Stagnant websites suffer – not just in SEO. Websites that do not evolve stand still and become irrelevant to their users. By taking time each month (or even quarter) to get some feedback. Big or small, numerous or few, improving your website for your target audience snowballs into a seismic improvement for your business.
A Final Thought
We love website development, so we keep a keen eye on the different options, offerings and trends out there to stay ahead. It’s also about bringing our own style to the work be do and ensure we can give the best advice possible. We don’t have any ties to any of the parties mentioned. Our advice is based on experience, research and personal preference. We’re confident it will help you make a decision on what’s best for you. Naturally, we’re also keen to hear feedback and answer any questions you may have.
The aim of our blog is to share our experience and advice in the hope it saves you time, hassle and money. We’re keen to hear your ideas for future posts so if you have any questions or requests please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Thank you!
At Ngage, we’ve had the pleasure of developing websites for amazing organisations and entrepreneurs from around the world. From clean landing pages for aspiring start-ups to a ‘first of its kind’ tourism data platform for one of the most respected tourism data research organisations in Europe. So what have we learnt so far? More importantly, how can we use it to help you?