This week we're looking at an e-commerce website for educational toys, Brainwaves Toys. I met the proprietor, Karen, at Small Business Marketing Unleashed last month. She's having a blast with the site because she's passionate about what she sells, but she's new to website marketing and looking for ways to improve.

homepage.jpgAs always, I asked three questions that are critical to guiding website analysis:
  1. Who is your target audience:  Mothers, fathers, grandparents, other adults who care about a child's development. Homeschoolers, teachers, preschools.
  2. What is your unique selling proposition: One stop shop for hand-picked toys and games that enhance a child's learning, sense of play and educational development. Great resource for homeschoolers and teachers. We can gift-wrap many toys before shipping.
  3. What is your main website goal: Online purchase.
The current Brainwaves site has done many things well, especially usability of the shopping cart and checkout process. However, it needs a little help with design and navigation to get visitors to that point.

Navigation: Which one do I use and where in the world do I start?
Research shows that confusing navigation is the number one way to lose customers. If people have a hard time finding their way around your website, they're just going to give up and leave. And when you have great products that really sell themselves like Brainwaves does, you don't want your navigation to get in the way of a sale.

When you enter on the Brainwaves homepage, there are three different ways to navigate the site. There is a global horizontal bar organized by age group. There's a global vertical bar that's not particularly organized at all and mixes functional (shop by price, age) with topical. And there's another featured section in the middle that is also organized by topic, some of which are in the left sidebar and some that aren't. The housekeeping links such as about us and contact are buried in the footer. While they need to be there, they also need to be more prominent "above the fold" (visible without having to scroll).

With the variety of toys for sale on Brainwaves, I like the idea of having two sets of navigation: one for age and one for toy category. It seems sensible that people would use one of those two systems to browse. However, they should be kept entirely separate from each other.

Research also shows that users scan web pages, and won't bother to look at lists with more than 5-7 links. If you have more than that, break them up into categories and subcategories that are logical and easy to scan.

Always keep your customers in mind; organize your navigation in a way that makes sense to them, call each link what they would call it ("educational toys" takes visitors to the home page, so call it "home"!), and make it easy to scan and browse. If you aren't sure if your organization or labeling (words in the links) make sense to your customers, test it! Find a friend who is in your target market and ask his/her opinion.

Design: Use the header to say who/what you are and draw people in.
There is so much going on in the header of this website, that the main message is getting lost.

There are two items that should be in the header of every website:
  • Company/website name
  • Tagline/benefit statement.
The header is your chance to tell visitors what this website is about and why you are unique. It needs to be the first place people look. And be sure to create the tagline as html, not in an image. Search engine spiders ignore images, and a strong tagline that says what you are about and uses your primary keywords help search engines and people to classify your site.

This particular tagline "Educational Toys for Gifted Children," uses a primary keyword and states simply what visitors will find on the site. But it doesn't tell visitors why this site is unique. And I'm afraid the phrase "gifted children" will turn a good portion of visitors away. It really needs to be re-worked to include the unique selling proposition. For example:

"Hand-picked educational toys that enhance learning, development, and sense of play"

It says exactly what you'll find on the site, (toys to enhance learning, development, and sense of play), includes a primary key phrase (educational toys), and says why the site is unique (hand-picked).

Use the header to display images that target your audience and draw people in. While the Verified Merchant and GeoTrust logos are good to include on the site somewhere, they aren't important enough to take up such a prominent location, and can go below the fold or in a sidebar. I'd love to see an image of a child playing watched by a parent or a grandparent ... something colorful that screams "for kids."

Keep in mind that the header should be consistent on every single page of the website. Remember, on average only 5% of your visitors will enter at the home page anyway (and that's a good thing!).

Marketing: You've got a great personality, so use it!
The best way for a small business to compete online with the big guys is to let their personalities shine through. I've met Karen, so I know first-hand that she's got a vivacious, passionate, knowledgeable, and endearing personality. She's incredibly passionate about educational toys that foster creativity and learning. She's a mom who has raised three children. She surfs the internet and hand picks every one of the toys that she sells through Brainwaves. What parent wouldn't connect with that instead of a cold, distant corporation just looking to make a buck?

There are ways to leverage a great personality both on and off site. I'd love to see a letter from Karen and/or a bio on the about page. She could really play up that Brainwaves is a "mom and pop" shop run by a mom who is passionate about learning. Adding her voice to the copy and using her personality as a main selling point would definitely boost trust and interest in her target market. I'd even include a picture of Karen and her family. On the contact form, say that visitors are contacting Karen directly, not just a help desk. In the product descriptions, incorporate the "hand-picked" unique selling point by saying why each item was chosen.

This is the kind of situation where I would definitely recommend that Karen start a blog. She's a good writer, passionate about her product and site, and has a lot to say. Her blog could feature cool new products as she finds them, talk about child development and learning, and share personal stories of raising her three kids. A blog would showcase her personality and knowledge, build trust, and drive links and traffic to the Brainwaves website.

She could also build relationships by sharing her expertise and passion by leaving comments on other blogs and getting involved in parenting and education forums. Remember, you must always contribute relevant information to the discussion; these ARE NOT place to sell your products or just link to your site. 

Usability: An easy checkout process is key to sales.
checkout-process.jpgThe Brainwaves website does a great job of making it easy for users to buy:
  • The view cart, checkout, and submit buttons are large and easy to find.
  • The process is as simple and clean as possible.
  • Errors are clearly marked and easy to fix.
  • Visitors can easily go back a step to make changes to their cart or personal information
  • There are short explanations of the process on each page.
  • The steps in the process are well-labeled at the top of each page and indicate where you are in the process.
A few general issues I noticed:
  • The site-wide font size is way too small. One of the primary targets is grandparents, but there's no way they'll be able to read the site with decreasing vision. Bump it up at least two sizes.
  • The checkout page asks you to log in or register. However, the username and password are not required fields, so it is possible to checkout without actually registering. This needs to be explained, or have separate options for "returning users," "create an account," or "go straight to checkout." Some people will be more likely to buy if they know that registration is optional.
  • There's a thank you page after submitting a message through the contact form. However, it should provide links back to key content as well as saying thank you.
  • There's too much happening on the homepage. It needs to include just a few sentences (with keywords!) overviewing the site, and then drive visitors to deeper content.
  • Pull the customer review section up under each product so that it is one of the first boxes under the product description. When a customer makes a purchase, ask them to come back and review the product on the confirmation page/email and include the link back.
The general structure of the Brainwaves website is good and the product descriptions are strong. With a few key changes to the navigation, adding some personality, and re-focusing the header, this site could really stand out. 

Thanks For Your Submissions
I was overwhelmed over the past week by the many website submissions for review in this column. If you submitted your site, it may be a while until I get to it. I will email you a heads up the week that I review your site.

If you are a small business and would like to submit your site for review in this weekly column, email your URL and the following information to

  1. who are your primary and secondary target audiences?
  2. what is your unique selling proposition (what makes you stand out)?
  3. what is your main goal for your website (sales, leads, page views)?

May 9, 2008

Jackie Baker is an internet marketing analyst with SiteLogic Marketing ( where she focuses on auditing websites as well as SEO, social media, usability, and information architecture consulting. She comes to the industry from a marketing/PR and website development background. Jackie maintains an active presence online through her blog ( where she shares her love all things equine, particularly therapeutic riding.


Many times with a site that specializes in merchandise I see that users are more in the browsing mode rather than the hunting mode. I' d be interested to hear what you have to say about that and how (if any at all) did you take that into consideration with navigation and site layout.



Good question! In addressing the navigation of this site in particular, I took both into browsing (looking to see what is interesting) and hunting (looking for something specific) into consideration. Creating a navigation system that is organized and logical helps both these kinds of users. The "hunter" will have a much easier time going directly to what they are looking for, and the "browser" will have a better idea of what is available. In addition, featuring content on the homepage and sidebar (like Brainwaves does), and the related items upselling are both great ways to encourage a browser.

If you can come up with a strong navigation scheme that makes sense, is organized the way your customers think, and is labeled intuitively, both of these types of users will find what they want.

great article thankyou for the tips ill deffinitely link this article!

Thanks for the Great Post! It really contains awesome information.

There are some good reminders here that being the best at something is often just about getting the basic things right and not over complicating them. Having text large enough to read seems very obvious but I've seen many sites that make that mistake and turn you off straightaway. Thanks for a very informative article.

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Search Engine Guide > Jackie Baker > Site Clinic: Easy to Navigate Equals Easy To Buy