Is your website ready for the holiday season? Do you sell products online? Are you sure your site is user friendly and persuasive?
The objective of this checklist is to provide you with assistance in making sure your website is ready to generate revenue. Each item is intended to support your online marketing investment by increasing the overall usability for everyone who visits your site. User experience design is most often considered an afterthought. Truly successful websites include usability, user experience and customer experience design as part of their business requirements and plans for their online presence.
Remember – Every page is a “landing page”.
1. Help your website visitors make good decisions. Many people don’t know what they want. Help them make choices or browse longer. Most visitors just need a little extra incentive to make a purchase.
2. Use models of all shapes, ages and sizes for clothing sites. The images you select may turn away potential customers. For example, Victoria’s Secret neglects curvy women, plus size and women over 27 years old.
3. Choose crisp, clear images. Find ways to show the size of products. It is difficult to determine the size of a bird feeder, humidifier or compost bin without either reading a description or viewing a comparison picture. Provide close up details of craftsmanship. Show tread. Provide step by step images of custom work.
4. Online shoppers are unable to touch materials used for clothing, crafts, furniture, etc. Therefore, write product descriptions that describe every detail, including how it feels when touched, worn, and used.
5. Add real life use cases to promote sales. Technical sites with gadgets often forget that how we use devices is important to know. Can your products be used in the rain and snow? What is the average life span of a battery, roofing tile, light bulb? If a light bulb lasts 7 years, it is worth paying a little bit more for it.
6. Some people will not order online with a credit card. They will, however, use their PayPal account. Increase conversions by providing alternative payment methods.
7. Does your navigation inspire clicks? Be descriptive. Add categories. Men’s what? Plus size what? Absolutely avoid mystery links that don’t specify exactly where you are taking visitors. They don’t have time.
8. Look at how Amazon does their site search in the header. Visitors can search the site or by category or with keywords. Auto-complete functionality is also helpful. Your website has to function as the salesperson who is guiding a customer by making suggestions.
9. Add related topics, related items, favorites, testimonials, customer ratings, etc. to product pages.
10. Provide a newsletter with coupon codes, special deals, limited time specials, etc. Never require a phone number for a free newsletter.
11. Offer functions such as wish and favorites lists. Add a way to “Pin” items. This not only acts as a way to add to a personal wish list but advertises your products to others.
12. Membership has its benefits. Provide personalization and perks to increase the number of return customers and visits. Etsy and Amazon are examples that track customer orders and browsing history, which helps visitors with remembering and re-ordering.
13. Put vital information at the “point of action”. For example, place the return policy, shipping and warranties on the product page by inserting brief notes “No hassle returns” and “Free shipping”.
14. Provide examples for how your items are used and then place the call to action button nearby so that it can be ordered with ease. Consider a podcast along with visual and text stories.
15. Always provide navigation that communicates “sense of place” for your visitors, such as where they are, where they came from and where to go next. If a link is intended to take a visitor off the website, provide a warning in the link label that they are about to leave the site.
16. Answer questions at the point of action, point of sale, and inside landing pages. The moment you force a visitor to go hunt for information is the click of death for revenue.
17. Add content. Your products and services will not sell themselves. Describe features in image captions. What are the benefits, how to care for it (think fabric), etc. Add bullet points or tabbed menus for benefits, features, ingredients, comparisons, etc.
18. Create confidence by thinking of every possible concern a guest could have and respond to it with your site. How many days are left to ship? Can you rush it? Answer these questions within the content or product descriptions instead of a FAQ.
19. Provide proof of expertise and skills if you sell services and certain products like crafts online. This might be in the form of awards, customer feedback, ratings, interviews, and video demonstrations.
20. Place your specials, offers, products and promotions on the top half of every landing page and the homepage.
21. Replace your sliders with smaller images. Studies indicate that most sliders do not convert. Replace them with one or two static images, with a killer offer and big juicy call to action button. Reference: Carousels Don’t Convert
22. Update the Title and Meta description. Add a value proposition in the Meta description of each product page. Insert a trigger word such as “Free”, “Award winning”, “Top Rated” into the Title tag. The goal is to stand out in search engine results pages.
23. Review and spruce up your calls to action. Try changing colors for your buttons. Experiment and test color choices. Reference: The Science of Colors in Marketing
24. Navigation links are vital to your website. Without links, people would have no idea where you wish to go. Create momentum by adding action words to top level navigation such as “Explore Resources”, “Learn About Us”, and “Browse Services. Try including keywords and verbs, like “Learn about [my company name]”, “Browse Custom Furniture”, and “Explore Marketing Resources”.
25. Whenever possible, avoid stock photos. Choose “real life” pictures of products, or to help convey a mood, create desire or make an emotional connection with your customers.
26. Place a demonstration video into a page. However, do not set it to run automatically when the page loads. Allow site visitors to choose to watch it when they wish to. If it is used to sell a product, be sure you have a call to action button next to the video.
27. Review text content to be sure it is not too long and rambling. People scan rather than reading every word on a page. Shorten text, and chunk it up with smaller paragraphs and sub-headings.
28. Remove distractions from product landing pages. They know what they want, came to get it and your page must let them order it without any additional nonsense. Related items are okay. Advertisements are not.
29. Provide a site search near the page header or somewhere in the top half of every page for fast access.
30. If you have huge inventories, provide alternative search options such as A-Z search, drop down categories, search by brand, ratings, etc.
31. If you are out of stock on an item, provide a way to backorder it or show when it is available again. Provide a way for your customers to opt-in to receive an email when the product is re-stocked.
Several years ago the department store, Target, was sued because blind persons were unable to make purchases from their website. This was a wakeup call to ecommerce, and any website intending on being used by all people. Accessibility means that all people, no matter what their physical limitation may be, can use your website.
This means that your website should be designed for people who wear glasses and contacts, are color blind, or may have trouble with lighting and color contrasts. It means that people with injured hands, hand and body tremors and carpel tunnel that makes using a mouse impossible, can still use your website. It means that screen reader software will work, so that people can listen to your website to use it. Design for special needs includes handicapped persons, deaf, blind, those with diseases that cause shaking, and people who are ADD or ADHD and find it difficult to stay focused while reading.
32. Check color contrasts in your text. Use this free color contrast tool. Poor color contrasts in your text content make it difficult to see and read your web pages.
33. Place Alt attributes behind images. Every image should contain an alt attribute that describes the image. Place your company or website name in an alt attribute behind your logo. Never stuff keywords into alt attributes. Reference: Alt Attributes WCAG2.0
34. Be careful when using animation or moving sliders on webpages that contain text that you want your visitors to read. If you insist on a slider, do not put it on automatic. Give your visitors control by allowing them to start and stop the images. Reference: Animation for Attention and Comprehension
35. Avoid colored text on colored backgrounds unless you have tested it for color contrasts. Gray text is a fad. Use black, dark green or dark blue for reading.
36. Never use black for a link color if your text content, headings and sub-headings are also black.
Before search engines appeared, how did Internet users find information? Where was information located and who had it all?
It is hard to imagine what life was like before the Internet became part of our daily lives. Schools are removing classes on writing in cursive and replacing them with how to handle Facebook bullies. Google plans on the being the one and only place on the entire Internet to provide the answers to all questions by all people.
To do that, Google must know who we are, and this is not something we agree is what we want.
We do, however, provide the same thing we have been offering since we first plugged in a computer, dialed up a modem and waited for our email to load. For many people during the early 1990’s, American Online (AOL) was where the party started. We began by sharing what we found.
You Have to See This
This is how it all began.
In 1995 I bought a 286 PC with a 9600 baud modem that shared my phone line. To get email, access the Web and make my first AOL website, I had to call a long distance phone number to reach an AOL server. Once I was connected and the modem screeching ended, I went to my favorite groups in AOL that were arranged by topic to meet and talk with other people interested in the same things. I belonged to and moderated several email subscription groups that essentially did the same thing, which was bringing people and information together.
In the years to come, there would be all kinds of ways to find people to meet and share information with, such as e-zines, groups, chat rooms, listservs, Deja news, UseNet and early forms of instant messaging. In 1998 I launched a forums, while participated in several others. There was no shortage of information.
I met mentors who taught me how make my first websites by emailing me or recommending books. Back then, search engines were not born yet. If I wanted to know how to do something, I went to a forum or an email distribution list.
They all worked by making referrals and recommendations.
Search by Popularity
Before search engines, everything was referral based.
I repeat. The way to find information at the dawn of the Internet was by referrals.
If you are a search engine marketer, this is important. The basic core algorithm for all search engines is “What is the most popular website?” This one question tortures and challenges search engine marketers. They have created schemes, tricks and tools for the sole purpose of creating web page popularity. Their mistake is not studying user behavior. Companies do not invest in studying user behavior and how the data relates to their particular web site requirements.
Conversions and Search Engines
Today, rather than refer to words like usability and user experience design, the code word is “Conversions”. Call it what you wish, but the fact is, you can lead a person to a search engine result by hook or by crook, but if the web site is not designed for that visitor, they are leaving.
It is a fact that most companies pay for a web design, without understanding or caring about the user experience. Companies care most about search engine rank. They will do just anything to achieve this, but pay no attention to making their web site user friendly. Everywhere is the evidence, from banner ads plastered all over pages, to forms that demand to be filled out before a web page can be viewed.
It boils down to this one secret. Are people recommending your products and services? Are they chatting about your brand? Do they refer you? Are you providing a trusted resource?
If your website were to suddenly disappear, would anybody care?
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If you know me, you are aware that I have been doing what I call Holistic Usability and SEO since the year 2000. From the moment I combined the two practices, I became a black sheep.
Search engines are all about the user experience. It is, and was, all they could do to discover how we want our information delivered to us. Yahoo! was one of the, if not the first, to implement what later became known as taxonomies, where they focused on organizing content into categories. Their directory listed sites alphabetically, so SEO’s clamored to choose domain names that started with the letter “A”. Yahoo! had a homepage that listed categories to begin searching from and they were called a “portal” site. Others tried to emulate the portal approach to information.
Information architecture and findability, while staples for any search engine and directory, took a back seat in the world of SEO, where the big cool things were keyword stuffing, link farms, reciprocal linking schemes and cloaking.
Google came out with a different way. No portal. Semantic search, understanding the meanings for words used in search queries, personalized search, local search, user behavior, user preferences, user favorites and the demand for accurate, credible content was the new way to gather and deliver information.
Meanwhile, even today, old SEO tactics exist. Google has spent much time and expense to finding ways to clean up the mess and they still do, which to me is fascinating when I know that I, as the black sheep, has been advocating for a search engine optimization approach that does not sacrifice the human experience but rather, supports it as the way to achieving better rank.
While information architecture and findability, organizing information, tagging, meta data and categories are part of what I do as an SEO turned usability analyst, I am not sure if these skills are taught to SEO’s in their conferences and workshops.
I No Longer Pitch SEO Conferences
It has been 3 or 4 years since I pitched to and spoken at a strictly search engine marketing conference. There is only one large conference , PubCon, that welcomes me to discuss web site usability topics to their mostly online marketing attendees. My last talk was standing room only, so clearly there is interest.
There is not enough interest by leading search engine marketing conferences in teaching attendees how to make user friendly websites that search engines value. Yet, to listen to the leaders from the Internet marketing industry describing how they respond to each new Google algorithm update, they nearly always recommend a user friendly website as one of their top methods for success.
I was so shocked when I read What The Experts Have to Say: Google Panda 4.0 and Payday Loan 2.0 Updates, that I had to stop what I was doing, dust off my old beloved Cre8pc.com site and share my thoughts.
Bruce Clay wrote, “The focus needs to be on content—that which provides value to the searcher—and a user-friendly site, meaning the structure and navigation is logical and clear.”
These other tidbits from the leadership folks in the search engine marketing industry too:
“optimize sites for user intent”
“Take eBay for example, they not only had a major issue with repairing website issues.”
“It’s cliche to say: “Focus on the user”, but it’s only cliche because people keep saying it but aren’t doing it.”
“Creating unique site experiences that are focused on high quality user experiences on your site is essential. For many organizations this is a big shift.”
Why is it, I wonder, that the top SEO’s advise making user focused, user friendly websites and yet the top search engine marketing conferences around the world do not encourage usability and user experience design topics? In fact, there are now separate conferences strictly on conversions design, attracting online marketers.
To me, the entire conversions craze is a marketing darling that SEO’s completely missed because the game, for them, is not about design or the user journey. The entire point of their existence was about beating the brains of any search engine by means of math and tricks. Like any game where the objective is to outsmart a pile of machines, this has been and still is, a crazy fun addictive way to make a living.
However, as I figured out 14 years ago, after fighting to get really ugly websites to rank for many years and even being employed to make websites that were forced to take a back seat to users in exchange for better rank, I slept better knowing I could do both. To make it even more fun, I learned accessibility design. It takes money and time, plus the right skills, to build a website for the user journey. Most companies will never invest in a website that is user friendly, accessible and optimized for search engines.
Why should you invest in the user experience?
If you would like to survive any search engine algorithm update, you must build a website that ALL people can use, on any device they choose, using any software they require to assist them and by providing the best content for their search query.
If you want to learn how to do this, request that these topics be presented at your favorite conferences and seminars. Like I said, I no longer pitch and as much as I love speaking at conferences, it is an enormous expense for the company I now work for to send me out.
However, you can hire me to visit your company, or perform a site audit to get your website on the right path. It may be the best business investment you ever make.
Don’t ignore the advice industry leaders are sharing with you.
I have been applying Holistic Usability and SEO practices for 13 years because the combination is powerful for building successful websites. Now, there is a book about it.
Get the download for free.
The Secret to Natural Website Conversions, by Kim Krause Berg
Natural text is an affordable Internet marketing practice that any type of web site owner can implement and yet an enormous number of websites ignore it in lieu of sliders, images and CSS3 navigation. With under five seconds to make a connection with site visitors, your web site must present value, trust, authority, ease of use, main tasks, and answers to top questions, inspire and motivate. My book will tell you how.
The Secret to Natural Website Conversions is a free PDF download available at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Its focus is on increasing website conversions by combining usability and user experience design with organic search engine optimization techniques. This book explains how to decrease site abandonment and bounce rates, increase page views and conversions and send happy signals to search engines.
Every page has tips, advice and provides oodles of examples you can use for your own web pages. It’s also easy to read and non-technical. The Secret to Natural Website Conversions was the topic of a radio show at WebmasterRadioFM and it was such a hit there will be another show about the book.
You can listen to the podcast here at the Ecom Experts show.