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.
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
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, September 11, 2009
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.
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.
Does your user interface lead nowhere?
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- No guidance, no interaction, no sale.
- Remember your target market and especially the “Last minute holiday shopper” user persona.
- 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.
This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, January 2, 2009