Images and objects also play a part in influencing behavior. A study found that showing children a Santa Claus hat increased the likelihood that they would share candy with other children. Exposing kids to the Toys ’R’ Us logo yielded the opposite effect, making sharing less likely. This is because people make associations with certain images and objects, and by exposing people to carefully selected visuals, you can condition them to perform the behavior you want.
You can use this idea when designing your website. Don’t simply choose images for their decorative value; instead, think about what emotions you want your visitors to experience. What message do you want your images to communicate? Select images that have meaning and will help put your visitors in the right frame of mind about your product.
When should you close a sale? Simple: ABC. “Always be closing”. You will convert visitors into customers at different stages in the process and at different speeds, so by delaying closing the sale, you risk dragging those people who have already made up their mind through more marketing, when all they really want to do is sign up. Provide easy access to that purchase, sign-up or subscription link on every page of your website, and perhaps in multiple places. Of course, don’t flood the page with calls to action; just provide enough closure opportunities to make it easy for people who have made up their mind and want to sign up to do so.
Legacy Locker display a photo of a happy family next to its introduction to elicit a desire in visitors to care for and protect their loved ones.
You should also aim to keep the process flowing. This means leaving no dead ends. For example, when the visitor gets to the bottom of a marketing blurb or description, where do they go next? Provide links to next actions right at the bottom of each section and sub-section. Make it easy for visitors to browse by directing them through the sales funnel rather than leaving them to figure out where they should go. This can be done by putting links with labels such as “Learn more” at the bottom of brief descriptions and adding call-to-action buttons like “Buy now” or “Take the tour” right under your main copy. Make sure the visitor always knows where to go next, so that when they finish reading a section, a link is waiting to direct them to the next stage in the process.
When a limited amount of goods is available and those goods have value, getting ahold of one give its owner a certain privilege. This is because once the item is sold out, purchasing it becomes much more difficult, and so its value grows. Google generated a lot of buzz through scarcity when it first launched Gmail, its Web-based email application. It did this by limiting access to the beta: you could only get it if you were invited by someone who already had an account. Getting a Gmail account was a privilege, then, and people in turn wanted it more than they would have if it was completely open to new sign-ups.
Scarcity also makes people think that if they delay, they might miss their chance to get the product, and so they will act quickly. Advertising limited-time offers and limited stocks are great ways to push people who are sitting on the fence into making the purchase or signing up.
Skype leaves no dead ends. Notice how under each little feature description is one or more next-action links, like “Learn more” or “See it in action”.
Risk is one of the biggest barriers to conversions. Can people trust your company? What if your product doesn’t do what they want? What if they discover something better? Risk sows seeds of doubt in the minds of visitors. They’re not sure whether to buy your product or sign up for your service because there are too many unknowns. Thankfully, we have a good deal of control over risk, and the best way to tackle risk is to offer a money-back guarantee.
Money-back guarantees mean just that: if the customer isn’t happy, they send the product back and get their money refunded, usually in a limited timeframe, such as 30 days. Money-back guarantees shouldn’t scare you, because if your product is good, you will likely see few returns. Money-back guarantees may even be cheaper for your business, because if you don’t offer one and a customer really wants their money back, they can get their bank to refund their money, and then you’ll get a chargeback, which means you’ll pay an additional fee on top of the money you refund. Offering a money-back guarantee means no chargeback fees, more customers (because of the lower risk) and higher trust in your business.
One of the best ways to sell your product is to get people to try it out. When people try a product, they are doing more than just looking at it or considering it: they are actually using it, which means they are getting involved. They start to experience it, learn how it works and maybe even put their own data into it if it’s a software application. Essentially, they become much more involved with the product, and so the chance that they buy it grows dramatically.
Sitepoint offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for its books, which means customers face very little risk: if they’re not happy with the product, they can get their money back.
If you sell a digital product, such as a desktop or Web application, why not let people try it? Many applications offer online demos in which people can log in and play around without any commitment. Many also use the freemium model, in which people can use a basic version of the product free of charge but have to pay for extra features. This is great because users start to do two things: they learn how the product works, and they save their data in it. Freemium users invest their time in your product, so they’re inclined to stick with it when they need more features, making a premium upgrade likely. Another way to let people try your product is through a limited-time trial.
Pixlr, a Web-based image editing application, gives you a demo link right on the landing page. Clicking on it lets you instantly try out the product without having to sign up or divulge any personal information.
A study by ForeSee Results>1, analyzing 10,500 transactions in 30 online stores, discovered that the deciding factor that closed the deal for 34% of users was that the stores didn’t charge shipping costs. People like to know that the price they see in their shopping cart is the same amount they’ll get charged on their credit cards. The last thing they want to see is additional costs at the end of the check-out process.
Shipping option hell at Badgepoint. Don’t force your users to analyze large cryptic spreadsheets. Offer simple and clear shipping solutions instead.
Offering free delivery would surely boost sales, but it may not be a viable option for every store. If you do charge a shipping cost, be transparent about it and offer clear and simple shipping options. At this stage, you don’t want to confuse potential customers about how much money they’ll be charged: it should be clear. A good way to do this is to update the total cost on the check-out page when the user selects a shipping method, so that the total reflects the full price. You should also make the options clear and easy to select, because you don’t want to slow down customers in the check-out process.
There is a concept in marketing called choice paralysis. It describes the state of consumers when presented with too many choices of the same type and few differentiating factors. For example, when you go to the supermarket and look at the shelves of pasta, you will probably see a lot of brands, each offering different pasta shapes in different packages. Which do you pick? Which is better? Which one do you like best? When the choices are too many, you become paralyzed: you don’t know which product to pick.
Choice paralysis doesn’t just delay purchases; it can also cause buyer’s remorse. More choice means more stuff to look through and more reasons to regret not buying something else if they end up disliking your product.
To help combat choice paralysis, keep your product selection small and well differentiated. If you still offer too many choices and can’t reduce them any further, recommend one of them to your visitors, such as your most popular product or service plan.
Use visuals to highlight that choice and make it stand out from the rest. People who are unsure about what they want will have an easier time and feel safer going with what’s recommended, and those who are sure can easily pick any other product that suits their needs.
Highrise effectively uses visuals to make the service plan it recommends stand out.
The Gutenberg diagram (or Gutenberg rule) is a map of something called “reading gravity”. Reading gravity is the path our eyes tend to follow when we read a page of text, which in the Western world is left to right and top to bottom.
The Gutenberg diagram is split into four areas:
The Gutenberg rule tells us that the reader will most likely start looking at the top-left corner of the page and end up in the bottom-right. It also tells us that the bottom-left area gets the least attention.
BusinessCatalyst uses the Gutenberg principle to lay out the introductory text and call to action, “Watch the video”, on its landing page. An arrow helps guide visitors to the button.
We can use this idea in Web design by placing key information in the top-left area and positioning a call-to-action button or link in the bottom-right terminal area, where a casual visitor will likely end up looking after a quick glance at the page. Note that the Gutenberg principle works best on pages with a balanced distribution of content. So, if certain elements on your page have strong contrast and eye-catching colors, they will likely attract the visitor’s gaze, even if they lie in weaker areas.
The Gutenberg diagram.
Sometimes you need to mention detailed technical specifications or perhaps special requirements (for example, the minimum requirements to run a piece of software). You could mention these things in the marketing copy, but that would probably break the flow. These details usually do not help sell your product, because they are simply extra information and not content that highlights benefits. You can improve your copy by moving this information to footnotes.
Your copy will be slimmer and more focused on conversions, while the footnotes with extra information will be available if and when the reader needs them. Make sure to use footnotes for good and not evil, though. Don’t state something in the main copy and then contradict it in a footnote: for example, saying that a product or deal is free when it really isn’t. Not everyone reads footnotes, so being honest about what you offer is best. Make sure you don’t deceive visitors or give them inaccurate expectations; that ultimately leads to dissatisfied customers.
This footnote on Apple’s website explains storage capacities.
Sign-up forms are barriers. Nobody likes filling them out because they take time and effort. The sign-up form is probably the last stage in your conversion funnel, so make sure you lose as few people as possible by making the form short and simple. Don’t ask for optional information; it can always be filled in later. Keep the form slim to make it quick and painless to fill in. It’s also helpful to remove additional navigation and content elements from the sign-up page and leave just the form and a link back to the home page. This way, there is little to distract the user from filling out the form.
With many online forms, the user realizes they have made a mistake only after they have submitted the form. They wind up back on the same page and face a list of things to change or fill in. Save users that trip by validating each field with AJAX as they fill it out. Place error messages right beside their respective fields. That way, if the users make a mistake, they can fix it before submitting the form.
Posterous has a unique process: you don’t even have to sign up. All you do to start a new blog is send an email with your first post.
We’ve looked at the theory of selling effectively: selling solutions instead of products, and selling benefits instead of features. We’ve looked at how the popular AIDA sales pitch structure can be adapted to the Web. We’ve also looked at practical techniques for boosting the conversion rate of your website.
Most websites are not art. They’re not built to be appreciated simply for their design. Instead, they are meant to perform a specific task, such as sell a product or present blog articles to readers. The design of your website should work towards achieving its goal. The look and feel of the website is, of course, important – they determine first impressions and build your brand – but it’s also important not to get sidetracked by implementing design elements for their own sake.
Think about the purpose that a particular photo serves on your website. Consider whether certain embellishments could help your website perform its function better. Web design isn’t all about function – an attractive and stylish website is great – but great aesthetics alone doesn’t make a website perform; for that, you need to ensure that your design decisions and strategy are driven by the goals and purpose of the website.
Every website is different and serves a unique audience, so it’s always best to fine-tune your strategy and tactics. Techniques that work well for one website may not work for another. How do you figure out what works best for you? You test. There are a couple of popular testing methodologies that will help you fine-tune your website: A/B testing (also known as split testing), and its more advanced sibling, multivariate testing.
A/B testing is the process of testing two variations of a page or items on a page against each other. For example, you might want to try two different calls to action to see which one works best. Each visitor gets a randomly chosen call to action, and your conversion goal for that visitor (e.g. whether they sign up) is tracked. After enough data is collected, the results show which call to action performed best.
Multivariate testing uses the same principle but allows for more variables to be tested at the same time. For example, you might want to test different versions of your website header, slogan, call to action or marketing blurb. Multivariate testing serves visitors random selections of each test item and tracks how well each combination of items performs.
While multivariate testing may sound fairly complex, there are tools available that make it really easy to do. One of the more popular tools is Google’s Website Optimizer, which lets you perform A/B and multivariate testing on your websites. Best of all, the Website Optimizer is free, which means anyone can take advantage of these two optimization methods.
Knowing the theory and best practices is only one aspect of developing great websites that perform well. The second part is testing: discovering what works and doesn’t work and making adjustments. The Web isn’t a fixed medium like paper, where changes are impossible. Your website is not in a finished state; it can evolve and adapt. So, to boost your conversion rates, you should test and optimize.
Google’s Website Optimizer.
The Smashing Editorial loves high-quality content and cares about little details. We also believe that content and design are crafts worth sharpening.
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