Are Your Online Sales Being Held Back By Your Website’s Design?

Guest blog for Geek Business: October 2016 (http://www.geekbusiness.com/2016/10/are-your-online-sales-being-held-back-by-your-websites-design/)

If your website is failing to convert enough customers then you might want to consider some of the following advice, which aims to highlight and fix what could be having a negative affect on your conversion rates.

Does your site value form over function?

Who doesn’t want a good looking website? We’ve all visited sites with slick user interfaces, beautiful logos and images that would be perfectly at home on the National Geographic’s website. You find yourself oohing and aahing over the way the page just seems to know what you want and where you want to go and effortlessly nudges you along your journey. Then you think of your own clunky website and you cringe, because it’s just not pretty like the other websites. Before you call in your web developer though, perhaps you should first consider exactly what it is you want your website to do. This might sound like an obvious question, but what’s the purpose of your site? I’m betting you’d quite like it to create more customers for your business. So while it’s very tempting to overhaul your plain looking website in favour of a much jazzier version, you should never forget that functionality trumps form. A website’s main function should be to convert visitors into customers. That might seem a little too simplistic an explanation, but getting conversions should be the focus of your website. So what’s the best way to achieve this?

Putting user experience first

Your website needs to prioritise the experience of those using it by thinking about what information visitors are looking for. You need to consider what objections a prospect might have or what key information they need in order to make up their minds to purchase from you and not one of your competitors. Answering these common questions and removing as many obstacles as possible will make people more likely to buy or enquire. You should constantly being asking yourself: how can I make the lives of my potential customers easier? This can be a tricky mindset to get into, especially if you’re very familiar with navigating the various stages of your site. One way to get around this is to ask a friend who has never visited your site before to look up some of your most popular products. How can they search for a product? Do you have a search bar that makes it easy to skip right to it? Can they search by brand name, colour or size? Or are they forced to scroll through long tedious lists? Are there any unnecessary or annoying steps that get in their way, such as having to create an account before being able to checkout? The chances are that if your friend struggles then your customers are also struggling and this could be harming your site’s conversion rates. If you’d like some more independent data from real users to your site, you can turn to the online services of What Users Do or User Testing. The data provided by these sites can help you to decide if your website really needs that massive overhaul or maybe just a few tweaks to improve user experiences and in turn your conversion rates.

Adding value to the customer through content

It’s also a good idea to think about how you can add value to your customers rather than demanding it from them. Think of the relationship you have with your customer as a two-way street. By this I mean if you’re asking for a user’s email address then you need to give them something valuable in return – an eBook or a special offer. You could also do this simply by creating interesting and reliable content, perhaps through a weekly or monthly newsletter, or sharing links to great articles on your website through social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to name just a few. The knock on from this is that if you create relevant long form content then it will be more likely to appear in long-tail search terms and so attract more traffic to your site from people searching for those related terms. Don’t forget that just creating lovely content is not enough. If you don’t promote that content then there isn’t much point in creating it at all. A good rule of thumb to abide by is the 20/80 rule that is often applied to business. Spend 20% of your time writing the article and then 80% promoting it. Be careful though not to make your social media channels too spammy, as this will turn people off, causing them to unfollow you. The 20/80 rule can be applied here too: 20% of your posts should actively promote your business and 80% should provide non-promotional and value adding content. You’re aiming to be a voice people can trust. Hubspot has some great advice on promoting content via social media. You might think there’s not a lot of point in your company promoting itself through social media, because what you sell is just, well, a bit boring, but you’d be wrong. 3M, makers of such thrilling products as Post-it notes and, contain yourselves, Scotchgard, have over a million and a half followers on Twitter. This is pretty extraordinary for a company that sells such mundane and everyday products. As Forbes points out in their article, the reason 3M has so many followers is because they are, ‘asking questions. Sending out news, creating videos, linking to activities, […] 3M’s social (media) team has found that the more questions they ask on Twitter the more engagement they receive from their followers and the more new followers they attract.’ The secret here is to treat your customers like you would your friends – offer them things you think they’ll find interesting. Doing this will not only build trust in your company, but people will want to share your content, so your brand and its products will show up in front of more potential customers, who might only remember they’ve run out of Post-it notes when 3M pops up in their Twitter feed.

Is your value proposition clear?

You need to be explicit in why your company is a better choice than your competitors. It might be hard in a competitive field to distinguish your company from another’s, but there’s bound to be something you can use to your advantage. If your business has been around for years then perhaps you’ll want to highlight your years of expertise and knowledge in the field. Create headlines that clearly show the user why your product or service is better than your rivals. Kissmetrics has picked out some great examples of companies that make their value propositions clear. By using a headline like ‘Easy Email Newsletters’, MailChimp are differentiating themselves from their competitors by highlighting how easy their service is to use. This is likely to appeal to those who don’t have lots of experience or time to learn a complicated system. They want something they can get to grips with quickly and easily. While Argos’ value proposition is displayed prominently across its website – ‘Fast Track’ same day deliveries. Argos further employs a user rating system to back up their claims and for users to share their opinions on products they’ve purchased. You might also decide to incorporate customer testimonials, case studies and Trustpilot ratings on your own website.

The sales or enquiry process is too long

As I mentioned earlier, user experience is key to creating customer conversions. If you’ve gone to the trouble of creating great content that attracts visitors and optimised your site so that it can be navigated quickly and easily across devices, don’t then blow it at the last hurdle with a convoluted checkout process. Think to yourself, are the steps the customer needs to make a purchase clear and easy to follow? Is the check out process as short and simple as it can be? Don’t force people to create an account first, instead let them place their order then use their details to create an account after. This will help to stop people abandoning their shopping baskets and increase conversion rates. When you’ve fallen in love with a product, nothing is more irritating then being delayed in your journey to buy that product, worst still is being stung by a delivery charge you weren’t told about during the decision making process. All that time you spent making a customer trust you goes down the drain simply because you weren’t upfront about the delivery charge, which most people don’t mind paying if they’re able to factor it in from the beginning of their deliberations. The same goes for other processes on your site like contact forms. If you’re asking for information, make them quick and easy to fill out by not asking too much. Think about what information you really need at this stage and what you can ask for later. Customers generally follow the path of least resistance, and if you’re the retailer that shows them the way, they’ll buy from you and not your rivals.

Creating a mobile first website design

In 2015 Google announced that Internet searches on mobiles overtook those conducted on desktops. Yet many companies still struggle to make sales via mobile phones despite the huge increases in mobile usage. The reason for this is because mobile sites are often an afterthought, bolted onto existing desktop sites in order to try and hoover up what was, up until recently, minimal mobile traffic. These bolt on designs aren’t usually successful because they simply don’t take into account the format they’re being shoehorned into. This wasn’t a large problem all the while Internet usage on phones was low, but now the smartphone market has exploded, mobiles have become a vital tool on which to conduct product research where ever a person may be. As a result, most people are now more likely to encounter your website via their phones rather than while sitting at their desks. The bar on mobile sites has risen. People now expect a website to work the same regardless of which device they are using to access it. It is no longer acceptable to squeeze your desktop site into a mobile format, because this creates horrible user experiences, such as endlessly scrolling across a page just to read a line of text, or trying to click on a tiny button or link. As we saw earlier, good user experiences are vital for creating customer conversions. A Kissmetrics’ survey vividly backs this up with an eye-opening statistic – 79% of shoppers who experience a badly performing website are less likely to visit that site again. The last thing you want to be doing in an ever-expanding mobile market is driving mobile users away.

Putting user experience first – part two

To create a great user experience for a mobile customer to your site, you just need to apply the same thinking you did to your desktop design. Help people to find what they want quickly and easily. Provide them with easy ways to search and make the answers to common queries painless to find. It’s especially important on mobiles to try and streamline processes, as each click means another page load, which is a potential breaking point if your site is not running quickly enough. You might want to check your site’s loading speeds with some of these tools Page Speed Insights and Web Page Test.

A website that embraces mobile first design builds the mobile site first to ensure that it is providing an optimal user experience. Remember Internet searches now outnumber desktop searches, so it makes sense to reverse the design process. Your site need not be the flashiest in the business, but it’s imperative that it offers a great user experience regardless of the device that’s being used to access it. If you only remember one thing from this article, make it this – great user experiences result in more conversions.

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