Every website has the same purpose: buy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product (“buy my DVD-set”), a service (“hire me to turn your program around”), or an idea (“go green today”). It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer, a small business owner, a global superpower, or just on the web for fun.
If your visitor doesn’t take action (buy), you lost them. Building your website without appreciating a visitor’s perspective will lead to a poor site experience, and you’ll be scratching your head, wondering why visitors are leaving (while money leaks out of your pocket).
If, like most website owners, your team has followed conventions without considering why, you could do better. Here’s how:
1. Ask Them To Buy
Right now you feel like a tech-savvy person when the IT guy asks if your computer is plugged in (you know it isn’t, you scoundrel), but you’d be surprised how few people remember to ask their visitors to buy.
[banana by edkohler]
Be clear to your visitors that although you’re providing value right now (you are, aren’t you?), there is a lot more value if they buy. Buying will help them and help you, and that just makes the world a better place.
2. Have A Call To Action
Don’t make your visitors think too hard. If they have too much to read, they’re going to abandon your page. If they’re not sure what your page is about, they’re not going to buy. Your visitors aren’t stupid, but they are busy.
Decide what your page’s call to action is (Hint: It’s to buy, but you may have to word it differently), and make it the biggest thing on the page. Throw a different color in there, add an outline, do whatever it takes to ensure your call to action stands out.
Okay, now go ahead and double its size. Your call to action can’t be too big, it’s just that important.
The call to action is what the whole page is about. Everything else serves to point people right at it.
3. Get Rid Of Distractions
Sometimes, your offer is so good that people will just buy (“grow 10 inches today” or “google search”). Most of the time, you need to support your call to action.
Evaluate everything on your page through this lens. Does it directly answer a question a visitor might have before buying? If your product is expensive, mention the high return on investment. If your service has helped hundreds of people, show some testimonials as proof.
Anything on the page that doesn’t directly support the call to action – or visitors’ hesitancy to take that action – is counter-productive. It’s friction, and it slows you down. You don’t need a friendly welcome message unless your visitors find your call to action unfriendly.
Realize that visitors don’t come to your site to kick back and relax – unless, of course, that is the “buy” action of your site. Web users are multitasking, busy (crazy busy), and have an attention span that would make your grade school teacher pull out her hair.
4. Write For The Web
Be clear. Omit words that add no value. Write for scanning.
The visitors to your website do not read it like a book, though our eyes do begin at the top left. From there, we flick our gaze from element to element, focus on the headlines and images, briefly check for interesting facts, then move on.
If you don’t mesmerize us, we’re gone.
Sometimes you can violate the rule, particularly when your buy action is to keep reading, and your source of value is in your eloquent prose.
Of course, I often violate this rule, and my prose is as eloquent as a drunken sailor making an academic dissertation.
5. Show, Don’t Tell
The web is for liars, crooks, and spammers. At least, that’s our default belief. You have an uphill battle for visitor trust, so cut out the puffy qualitative words. “We’re the best sunglass manufacturer on the web” means less to me than “We sold 3.7 million sunglasses last year.” Don’t say, “I’m an acclaimed graphic designer,” instead say, “I won 6 design awards in 2007.”
Likewise, when an image serves better than a sentence, choose the visual.
[cartoon by hugh macleod]
6. Do The Work For Your Visitor
Why do I have to choose whether I want to search your bookstore by author or title – can’t you infer that?
Why do I have to prove I’m not a spammer – shouldn’t you figure that out for me? How many customers are you willing to lose to confusing captchas(?) in order to avoid spam?
It’s already hard enough to get your visitor to buy. Don’t put a single barrier in front of him that is non-essential. You may create more work for yourself, but the seamless customer experience will be worth it.
Your goal is to make sure your customers don’t have to think. All they have to do is buy. If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy of Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think for yourself or your design team.
Install Google Analytics on your site if you haven’t already. Make sure you set up goals and funnels where applicable. Not sure what those are? Google has a decent guide inside your analytics profile, or you can use this great visual guide for goals (and another for funnels).
The basic gist is that you need to know what percentage of your visitors are taking the first step to buy, then the percentage that take the next step, and so on all the way to a completed purchase.
Only after you start measuring can you…
8. Test & Optimize
Matched with Google Analytics, Google Website Optimizer is a tool for running multivariate tests on your website. A multivariate test lets you identify elements on your page that you want to test: a picture of a family versus a close-up on a face, a yellow purchase button versus a red one, a 6-word tag line versus a 30-word introduction, and so on.
Google Website Optimizer scrambles up all the elements you want to test into every possible combination, then serves them randomly (and equally) to visitors. After enough traffic, your analytics will show you which performed best.
By optimizing conversion (oh yeah, this is called conversion), you make your marketing programs that bring visitors to your site more efficient (that part is called acquisition). I’ll be talking about these topics another day.
Optimization is never finished. Test, measure the results, then optimize. Rinse and repeat. Digital marketing is like direct marketing on speed.