There’s big reasons we prefer to shop online – time-savings, convenience and ease of use to name a few. Whether from the couch or waiting at the airport, we have instant access to find exactly what we’re looking for online. It may be an emergency anniversary gift that has to be delivered tomorrow or a book you’ve been dying to read. Regardless of what we’re looking for online, do our search habits change? For example, would I shop for a pair of shoes any differently than I would for an online course that’s required for my profession? Nope, it would be the exact same way.

For me hunting for the perfect shoes requires going to the site, navigating to women | shoes, filter by sandals | wedges | size 7.5 | tan (maybe apply one more filter like price range because I only want to see 10 results per page), then find exactly what I’m looking for, add to cart, checkout, and confirm purchase. I always shop the same exact way. It doesn’t matter the retailer or the item, I want to filter down to the exact item I need, and in the fewest clicks possible.

My search for an online continuing education course is no different. Once I get to the course catalog, give me as many ways to filter (by course name, delivery type, credit hour, location) so I can find what I’m looking for without having to browse through a full page of results. Because if I don’t find what I’m looking for within a few clicks, I’m leaving the site and going to another one that is easier to navigate.

Maybe your online habits are different from mine (no hard feelings) and you prefer using search terms.  What works for Google should work across all websites, right?! Of course. You can search by keyword or exact phrase, and expect for the results to be accurate. Maybe you’re looking for a watch that is also a heart monitor—type in running watch with heart monitor in the search box—presto, 20 different items. Same with browsing for online course—you’d type in Affordable Care Act to find CME specific to that topic. Different purchases, same browsing behavior.

Last and probably the most important scenario, is for those that shop for items that are recommended by others. They might filter or use search terms, but once they reach the results, they want to know how other people rated the item. Again, doesn’t matter if it’s the pair of shoes, the watch or an online course. So, having a site that enables peer reviews, helps with a very important phenomena called “word-of-mouth” marketing. And, 63 percent of people are more likely to purchase a product from a site if it has product ratings and reviews.

And, once the perfect item is found may it be my summer wedges or the Ethics course I need, it better be easy to buy! Having a My Account, Cart History, and pre-populated profile information are all ways to make the final steps to purchase as seamless as possible.

In summary, the keys to success related to online shopping and continuing education include:

  1. View your CE catalog as an online store, people shop for CE the same way they would at any big online retailera. Your content won’t sell itself, unfortunately, it has to be easy to find
  2. Understanding web browsing habitsa. 63% more likely to purchase a product from a site if it has product ratings and reviewsb. 50% average bounce rate, half of your visitors who land on your website leave and don’t come back
  3. Promoting paths to easily find contenta. Improve bounce rates with great navigation, filters, cross-linking
  4. Removing barriers to purchasea. Seamless path from browse to purchase