Walking the bridge between usability and search engine optimization practices to enhance user experience since 2000.

Free Download: Holiday Conversions Tips

Still looking for last minute ideas to increase your ecommerce sales?  Fresh ideas? Are you sure you covered every possible persuasive design angle for your holiday promotions?

This past Tuesday Shawna Seigel interviewed me during her regular show, eCom Experts.  In addition to the suggestions and examples from the broadcast, I offered a free Holiday Conversions Tips free document download.

Listen to the Podcast

You can listen to the entire show:

E commerce Site Conversions and Providing a Holiday Conversion Checklist

Free Checklist

The free checklist comes in 3 formats for immediate FREE download.  Feel free to share it.

  • Holiday Conversions Tips PDF, 6 pages
  • Holiday Conversions Tips .doc, 6 pages
  • Holiday Conversions Tips .docx, 6 pages

Free Download

Revenge of the User Friendly Web Site

When Google’s Matt Cutts announced that the search engine hoped to protect searchers from “bad” merchants, I jumped at the chance to help them by suggesting user friendly sites.

But, as I wrote today in Google Needs Proof Your Business is “Good” or Rank Will Tumble Down for Internet Marketing Ninjas, if Fortune 100 – 500 web sites don’t need to pass usability and accessibility standards, what hope is there for the rest of ecommerce sites?

I described how famous brands get away with designs that suck and still rank.   Since they get away with rank spots that smaller businesses jump through hoops to try to get to, it’s getting to be a pain in the neck convincing site owners to invest in usability audits.

Let’s Get Revenge

build your business site with confidenceIn small towns like mine, when the recession hit, unemployment soared and everyone was in a frightened daze, we bought local.  It got to be a really serious mission where I live because our beloved main street with its quaint small businesses was dying.  Even one of the favorite farm produce shops burned down.  To help them and others rebuild, families like mine bought locally.  Several years later there are lots of new cafes, bakeries, clothing shops and more opening.  The burned down business was completely rebuilt and is thriving.  Several resturants only local produce and meat for then menus.

Houses that were neglected are being repaired.  The local college enrollment shot up.  Even some new web design and search engine marketing businesses are popping up, to supply the needs of all the new businesses who want web sites.  What helped make all this possible was community, networking, word of mouth referrals and a even a sense of pride and satisfaction knowing that the money is staying within the Tribe.

The experience of buying from local merchants is special too.  There can be a first name basis relationship and lively conversations spark up with the people waiting in line, with the cashier or patrons of the cafe.

Can You Emulate This Success?

I believe it’s worth trying.  Consider this from Improving UX Through Front-End Performance

Adding half a second to a search results page can decrease traffic and ad revenues by 20 percent, according to a Google study. The same article reports Amazon found that every additional 100 milliseconds of load time decreased sales by 1 percent. Users expect pages to load in two seconds—and after three seconds, up to 40 percent will simply leave.

Can you keep up? If you’re designing sites with rich content, lots of dynamic elements, larger JavaScript files, and complex graphics—like so many of us are—the answer might be “no.”

Of course the big brands invest in all the fancy scripts and heavy visuals. Most small business sites are practical.

Consider all the research into neurology, persuasive design, customer service design and accessibility. As Mashable points out in a piece today called Brain Friendly’ Website Design Attracts More Viewers:

Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Journalism propose that, since the brain is engaged through motivation, the most effective way to get readers to visit and stay on a website is to give them proper motivation, such as invoking emotion with stories and pictures. The researchers also say that the simpler the design, the better.

If you base your ecommerce web site design and business model on how the big brands do things, you’re cheating yourself. Step back and look for realistic opportunities and design for your people.

Recommended Reading for Ecommerce Sites – Checkout Design Usability Data

IF you own or are working on an ecommerce website and have questions about user interface that converts, you may like

The State Of E-Commerce Checkout Design 2012

Here’s a walkthrough of just a handful of the interesting stats we’ve found when benchmarking the top 100 grossing e-commerce websites’ checkout processes:

The average checkout process consist of 5.08 steps.
24% require account registration.
81% think their newsletter is a must have (opt-out or worse).
41% use address validators.
50% asks for the same information twice.
The average top 100 checkouts violate 33% of the checkout usability guidelines.

Optimize to be Remembered, Design for Effortless Ease of Use

If you could have had a crystal ball in 2004, would you have known that the power of online marketing is hiding within conversations? Did you consider that the content you put on your homepage holds little salt with readers unless it can be backed up with outside information? People still want the same thing today as they did five years ago: trusted people-tested results and recommendations.

Were you aware back then that search engine technology has undergone several scientific studies to help determine the effectiveness of search results for Internet users? What helps search engines understand what we want? Conversations. Why do we want anyone talking about our web sites? Conversions.

Who got the better deal?

One day I was running errands and a woman stopped me to admire my Teva flip flops. She said she had a pair and loved them but hadn’t seen them in the color combination I was wearing. We compared notes about how we learned about this product and who got the better deal.

Teva flip flops

Teva www.teva.com

I learned about my Teva’s from a social networking web site dedicated to women over 40. A small staff tests products marketed to women in that demographic and report their findings on their web site. They also invite member feedback. They promote these discussions and each product they test in Facebook, which is how I learned about the flip flops.

Based on the high praise of testers and member feedback, I followed the affiliate link and bought two pairs, one for myself and one for my daughter. I paid full price and was taken to a web site that offered over 30 choices of the product to select from. The whole process went well. I felt good about the purchase based on the type of customer conversations that followed the site’s review. I was also able to add my own feedback to the discussion when I received my flip flops.

The woman I met described her experience. She was browsing online shopping sites and followed a link that took her to a sale on flip flops. She wasn’t so concerned with the brand name as much as she was with the price. The page she landed on displayed two pairs of flip flops, at a buy two-for-one price that was 60% cheaper than what I had paid for mine. She was happy with her bargain, until she saw mine and realized there were other patterns nicer than what she bought. She asked me to show her the manufacturer tag and this is how she learned it was Teva’s that she had purchased. Her experience satisfied her need for the right price, but she had no recall of the name of the flip flops, couldn’t remember the web site where she purchased them from, and she was never prompted to visit the Teva site to see more choices. She also had no opinions to help inform her purchase. She simply went with the bargain price.

She got the better deal. She paid far less than I did. But I had the better interactive customer experience. I was never a number or a body-less sale. I also not only remembered the name of the site where I made my purchase, but I returned to it again to leave a comment. I’ve also recommended it to people. Most people will never hear about the other woman’s Teva experience, because she wasn’t really sure she had even bought that brand. She was certainly not inspired to share her experience online anywhere. She will not help sell the shoes or refer the web site she ordered hers from.

Conversion optimization

From the perspective of the web site owners whose site I purchased my shoes from, they made out well. They used social networking to get the word out about their web site and each new product they test. They selected images to help illustrate experiences with products. When optimized for image searching, these pictures may take searchers directly to their product pages. They created a community with free membership. Feedback is strongly encouraged. And it’s not just words. They figured out the emotional connection that’s also needed for conversions. A product used to remove cellulite showed real members’ before and after photos. Women love to know they’re not alone with some sort of perceived “body imperfection.” The site owners understand how trust increases conversions by using genuine photos and comments instead of marketing hype. How fun it is to respond to a “me too!” moment.

They also earned money for all their focus on conversion optimization, although they most likely don’t come to work everyday calling it that. More likely these site owners ask themselves what would work for them and their community. What would sell to women like them? What have other web sites missed by targeting baby boomers or marketing to women? Or, what doesn’t work? What have women been miffed about for so long? Could it be images of size zero women models? Perhaps altered images or just the fact that we know so many diet and health product marketing relies on fake and touched up photos? The owners of this site set down to optimize for emotion, trust, momentum, credibility and findability.

Most search marketers focus on keyword marketing, keywords in domains and quantities of inbound links. This is important, but search engines are also strongly invested in our web usage behavior. Truly, it is how we search, make choices and interact online that matters most to conversion optimization, and it always has been.

Sure, some of us call this usability, user experience, persuasive architecture and search usability. The unifying thread is the human to human connection or “social conversation.” Perhaps you’ve heard this term too and toss it aside as just another fancy name for social networking. However, consider semantic search. Consider all the ways we define words. Keywords can no longer rule the stage because there are so many definitions for certain words. “Green” is a color, and so much more. “Cougar” is an animal, and so much more. “Cup” is something that holds coffee, and so much more. After years of search results’ leading to re-searches, today’s search engines know that to present us with accurate search results will take a mix of magical mind reading and a more practical study of our brains and human-computer behavior.

We can help by creating conversions that help search technology understand the context in which words are placed. Someday, you will be able to type, “lump found in breast,” and search engines will know we’re not talking about a chicken, perhaps it’s a woman who is conducting the search, and it will bring up medical sites and supportive sites, such as those put up by survivors. Search engines will know what results to give you based on your search history, your location and, remarkably, by whom you converse with and how you network.

Your mission is to optimize to be remembered, design for effortless ease of use and accessibility and to be honest, authentic and well, human.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, September 11, 2009

No Guidance, No Interaction, No Sale: Improving Internet Shopping Usability

A good friend recently told me a story about how a company built a web site that needed user instructions to use it. The only page that was allowed to put a link to those instructions was the homepage. Therefore, should a visitor arrive via a search engine to a landing page within the web site, they were out of luck. No guidance, no interaction, no sale.

Missing user instructions

Does your user interface lead nowhere?

I went Christmas shopping online for a computer armoire. I knew exactly what I wanted because I had done previous research on the manufacturer and pricing. The specific piece I wanted was sold out on every top brand department store that had advertised a low price for the item.

Next, I searched in Google for the item by brand name and product description. My expectation was that the company that makes the computer armoire would come up and Google would show me the actual product pages itself so I could get right to it. I was wrong. The manufacturer’s website not only didn’t appear in the natural search results, it also didn’t show up in any paid placement areas of the search results page. How odd for a name brand company not to have their own website rank well, I thought.

Google presented me with all the major department stores that sold the computer armoire that I had already spent an hour checking that were all dead ends. So, thinking this was strange, I searched directly by the name of the company who makes the furniture item I wanted to buy. Perhaps they still had some in stock.

No such luck! They don’t sell their own products! All their web site does is let you search for stores that do. I entered my zip code and their search results brought back no results. However, I already own this piece of furniture. I bought it down the road. I would have done so again, but they were sold out. Not only does this furniture company not sell their own merchandise, they don’t do any promotion of their resellers. There is no time savings device to take potential customers to any reseller who may still have the item in stock. This was a complete dead end. In the days of personalization and communication, this is unacceptable.

Rather than give up, I searched Google with the exact product number and manufacturer as my search phrase. My expectation was that someone, somewhere on the planet, must have this piece of furniture for sale. I was even willing to pay a higher price if someone could prove they had one in stock. I would even DRIVE to pick it up if it was at a store nearby.

Google brought up many excellent search results for me. It didn’t take me long to realize they were all distributors of this particular piece of furniture. I was delighted to discover the first site I visited had what I wanted. Or did they?

They couldn’t tell me whether or not it was in stock. Taking a chance, I began to go down the purchase path to order it. It allowed me to proceed as a “guest”. I was able to add the product to a shopping cart. However, it never told me if they had it. Since everyone else was sold out, I didn’t feel confident they had the item in stock either. I got as far as the address and billing phase, but stopped because not only did I not know if they had the item, they weren’t about to inform me if it would arrive before Christmas or could be expedited to do so. When I looked around for other clues, I realized there was no log in area for customers, no way to track orders and no payment method offered ahead of time. There was no indication whatsoever they even knew I was there trying to place an order. This is because there were no user instructions, no welcoming content, no confirmation of data received and no online presence that anyone was behind the curtain.

I left that site and tried 4 others. In each case, it was a distributor. In every single case, they used the same third party shopping cart process, suggesting to me that the manufacturer supplies it to their resellers. Not a single one of these resellers could tell me if the product would or could be delivered by Christmas, was in stock or could be tracked. I never bought the item. For the major department stores that did sell the item, they never established whether or not they would re-stock the item. There was no way for me to be notified if they did. So here I am. A customer shopping online, prepared with money and the exact item I want, and I’m unable to buy it from the manufacturer themselves or any of their resellers.

What Are Some Lessons Here?

  1. Searchers are smart. They do their research before searching and will search by exact product descriptions, model numbers, manufacturer, brand name, and even down to exact measurements and other specifications. Make sure your web site is optimized accordingly.
  2. If you offer any third party application, be it a shopping cart or travel reservations, you MUST test it to be sure it works functionally and is designed to sell. Just because a manufacturer gives you a free cart in no way means they gave you one that will earn you revenue.
  3. If your order process shows an “Out of Stock” message, and you want the customer to return again or have any faith in your business whatsoever, show them how to find out when it will be re-stocked. If any of these stores would have re-stocked in a week, I still could have ordered and picked it up at a nearby physical store in time for Christmas.
  4. No guidance, no interaction, no sale.
  5. Remember your target market and especially the “Last minute holiday shopper” user persona.
  6. Don’t rely on resellers to sell for you if you don’t support them with usable applications and a well ranked web site of your own.

I did have good experiences with NetShops and Amazon. I’ll return to them again because they made purchasing online a pleasure and hassle free. And, they were prepared for last minute holiday shoppers like me with ship date deadlines, last minute crunch time specials and alternatives to out of stock items.

In other words, they knew I was coming and they were ready for me. That’s the best usability lesson of all.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, January 2, 2009

Ten Ways to Improve Product Images

If your web site contains images of products, what is the best way to present those pictures? Is “click to enlarge” the only step to take for an alternative view?

Here are some ideas to jazz up your product images:

1. Get close up shots. If you sell boots, offer a way to see the tread. If you sell handmade jewelry, show the types of clasps.

2. If you sell earrings, do you offer it in a variety of hooks? What does it look like with different ones? Are there safety features for loss included? What do those look like?

3. Know your user. What if your prospect has had a bad experience with a certain hinge on a type of laptop? When buying a new one, they want to see close up shots of how your laptop brands are made. What do known weak areas look like?

4. Remove the cover! Machines with rollers, for example, never seem to have pictures of the insides. Show parts and how they are connected together.

5. Craftsmanship and talent should never hide behind a poor picture. We want to sense the feel of the leather or suede. If you sell boots with fringe, do you offer a video of the boot in action during walking? Your site visitor can not try them on and walk around the store. So, do it for them! A stiff suede fringe over a thin, flowing fringe may sell the boot if you show your customer proof.

Video vs Static Image

Do you offer video of products or static images?

1. What are the use cases? For example, if you sell products to buyers who buy in bulk and must get quotes and information up front for their managers, which do you think will help them the most? An email link to a video or a way to print out a picture for a faster view?

2. Videos are nice for how-to demos. If you make one, tell your site visitor what plug-in or software they may need, in advance of the download, to view it. Describe how long it is and add a call to action prompt to direct them to what you want them to do when they are finished watching your demo.

3. Take a static shot from the video to use as a call to action to get to the video.

4. If you are showing how to take apart or build something, get close up shots. Don’t film the product from far away. Your customer wants to experience it.

5. Offer a choice to your visitors. When it makes sense, offer both video and images, with different angles and close ups. This is especially helpful for higher priced items.

Many people have web sites that sell the exact same thing as the brand or manufacturer does. There are resellers and affiliates to compete with. If you rely on a cookie cutter template provided for you and other resellers are also using it, what are your chances of outselling them?

Let your product images work for you.

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