As an online retailer, you have probably spent a significant amount of time and money to get visitors to your website, but what percentage of those visitors convert into actual customers? Any increase in the share of visitors that go on to make a purchase will have a dramatic effect on your bottom line. Consequently, improving your sales process is one of the most important and rewarding tasks to work on.
Here are our top tips on how to make the most of your traffic and turn more visitors into buyers – also known as increasing your conversion rate.
The path from ad to checkout
The journey from the moment you get the potential customer’s attention with a compelling ad, until an actual purchase takes place, is often overly lengthy and complex. Your goal as a store operator is to make it as short and streamlined as possible. If you haven’t worked extensively on this, there is likely much more to be done to remove obstacles on the path from ad to payment. We will use Google as an example, as the search engine is the primary marketing channel for many online retailers:
Here, your keyword-based AdWords ads or organic search results are the first steps in generating both awareness and interest. Many of your potential customers will drop off at this point – possibly because your ad copy is less compelling than your competitors’, but sometimes for good reasons. Maybe your product simply wasn’t right for the specific user. It’s impossible to please everyone, but there is much that can be done to improve the proportion of users who see your ads and end up on your website.
Once the user has clicked on the title and landed on your site, the other half of the sales funnel remains. The landing page has to meet the user’s expectations and live up to any promises made in the ad. At the same time, you have to convince the customer that your product is the right choice by keeping your message clear and relevant.
Usability is also a very important part of the equation. Compelling copy is not enough – it is equally important that your images, layout, navigation, links and other details cooperate. The route leading up to the checkout should be obvious to everyone, including those who don’t usually shop online. If you’ve done everything else right up to this point, now is the time for the client to act and finalize the purchase. To avoid drop-offs in the checkout process, it must be easy to use and meet the customer’s requirements. Some common reasons for customers backing out at the last minute are login requirements, extensive forms to fill out, or shipping charges that aren’t mentioned in a previous step.
As the funnel’s appearance suggests, far from all of your visitors will go all the way. This is normal – even with the best possible sales pitch and excellent website usability, your products won’t appeal to everyone. However, there are many methods that improve the likelihood that more visitors stay in the funnel. In the real world, a sales process is of course more nuanced than the well-known funnel. But the fact remains that every step leading up to the checkout, as well as the checkout itself, is a step where something can go wrong. The visitor could lose interest or be otherwise diverted from your favorite scenario: the finalized purchase.
In other words it is important to reduce or simplify the steps between Awareness and Action, to summarize the AIDA model. With few exceptions, it should always be as easy as possible for the user to move forward in the funnel.
The good news is that you can affect all parts of the process to some extent – often with relatively simple means.
1. Get the customer’s attention
Making potential customers aware of your existence is the first step in in all forms of marketing. You are probably already familiar with Google AdWords, which will continue to serve as our example. The same basic principles apply to all text-based online ads, as well as your organic search results, i.e., the non-paid results.
The main benefits with AdWords, especially for small businesses, are that your ads can be highly targeted and that it’s inexpensive to test your ideas on a small scale. Improving your ads continuously doesn’t have to be too time-consuming and can quickly translate into better margins.
Example: ad copy
It’s peak season for long johns when this article is written, so we will use the phrase “long underwear” as an example. In any event, googling the exact phrase long underwear (or any particular product name in isolation) is a typical example of a commercial search. The actual AdWords ads that ended up at the top of our result page were the following:
Which ad looks most compelling at first sight, and why? All of them are very polished, but differ in certain areas. Starting from the top, Lands’ End and Patagonia have opted to put their brand names first in the headline. JCPenney opens its headline with our exact search phrase instead, making it look somewhat more relevant at first glance. Patagonia and JCP also use a ® registered trademark symbol, giving them an added touch of authority. All three stores in our example make excellent use of the URL field (green), pointing it to a page that matches our search perfectly. That makes it seem more likely that we’ll end up on a page pertaining to our search, instead of the home page or a category page. Similarly, all stores use AdWords’ seller ratings, which is a plus, but probably not a deciding factor in this case considering the similar ratings.
Somewhat surprisingly, none have either a call-to-action or some form of unique selling proposition (USP) in the ad’s headline, instead repeating their store URLs. This looks like a waste of limited space, although there are of course various enticing offers in the description eld.
Patagonia and JCPenney informs us of their amount of followers on Google+, but none use the additional callout text available to AdWords advertisers. What makes the JCPenney ad stand out though, is the added sitelink element that makes the ad larger than the others.
What works well in text ads and what doesn’t is not always obvious. You will inevitably end up testing multiple variations until you find the perfect message, but there are some elements that are always worth keeping in mind.
Many of these factors also affect how much you will have pay for your AdWords Ads. Google’s practice of rewarding relevant – and punishing less relevant – pages and sites also applies to advertisers. All of this happens automatically; signals that your ads are relevant include that your headlines matches the content of the destination page and the percentage of users who click on your ads.
2. Not all clicks are good clicks
Our previous sentence notwithstanding, it is worth mentioning that you don’t really want everyone to click on your ads. Some consider their click-through-rate or CTR a measurement of success. However, it is far more important to get the right people to click. For example, if you are selling a luxurious product with a matching price tag, you are not interested in clicks from bargain hunters. Similarly, if you don’t ship internationally, there is no reason to pay for visitors from other countries.
In AdWords, you can get around most such problems by geographically restricting for which users your ads will appear. You can, and probably should, use negative keywords in your campaigns, i.e. parts of a search phrase that result in your ads not being shown, such as free, cheap, or phrases containing brands you don’t carry.
Text ad checklist (AdWords):
- Unique selling proposition (USP): Why should the customer choose you? Some examples could be free shipping, low prices, high quality or a large assortment, but it could really be anything that sets you apart from the competition in a positive way. A strong brand name is also a USP in itself.
- Call to action (CTA): A CTA could be something as simple as “Buy Now” or “Sale” – an element that creates a sense of urgency.
- Make the most of your available space: AdWords ad headlines have room for up to 25 characters, a description with two lines of text at 35 characters each and a URL containing up to 35 characters. Furthermore, you can add callouts, ratings and other elements to your ads. With few exceptions, you should make use of most of the space – particularly the 25-character headline. If your headline is enticing, chances are that the user also reads the rest of the ad, giving you an opportunity to reinforce the message.
- Send users to the right destination: As previously mentioned, making the URL point to a page that matches the exact search phrase is preferable in most cases. It’s a confirmation for the user that he or she will end up on the right page immediately.
- Put the keyword(s) first: Text ads are all about being relevant. Having the exact match keyword or keyword phrase early on in the title will significantly increase your chances of getting the user’s attention.
You can also choose on which devices your ads are displayed. You may, for example, want to opt out of mobile traffic if your site doesn’t work well on mobile devices.
Much of the same applies to organic search results
This is a given to anyone familiar with search engine optimization, but is often overlooked by others: Your organic (non-paid) Google search results can be customized in much the same way as your AdWords ads. The main difference is that you use HTML elements on your own site – the title tag (<title>) is used for the headline and the meta description (<meta name = “description” />) is for the description eld.
The vast majority of e-commerce platforms have these features integrated, so you rarely need to bother with HTML. Depending on the platform you are using, these elements can be generated automatically from the page title or with a separate function. Check with your platform provider to find out how it works in your case. The number of characters at your disposal also differs from AdWords. A rough guideline is that the title can contain up to 55 characters and the description eld up to 155 characters, including spaces.
3. Guide your visitor to the right place
We have already mentioned the importance of keeping your message relevant and to show the users that they will end up on the right page. Now is the time to deliver on that promise and make sure they land on a page that meets all their expectations. On the web, we tend to be much less patient than otherwise and prefer to spend no more time than necessary to find what we seek. If you send the users who clicked on a “long underwear” ad to a page with quilted jackets, many will bounce right back to the search results and try another ad, rather than make a potentially time-consuming effort to find what they were looking for on your site.
In other words, getting the landing page right is crucial. The more specific you can be, the better. But even if your visitor lands on just the right page, it must also be user friendly, informative and trustworthy – all without losing sight of the checkout process. There’s much that can be done in terms of copy and layout to create attractive product pages, but what works best also depends on your industry and specific product. A layout that works perfectly for selling long underwear is not necessarily suitable for selling Rolex watches. Nevertheless, there are some common denominators that most product pages can use to drive more sales.
Most of the methods that make your product pages more effective are directly related to the user experience. Well-structured copy and images, less non-essentials and a better security mindset are all positive aspects for your visitors, while also improving your sales and potentially even your search engine rankings.
However, never let the product pages lose focus of the target: the finalized purchase. The changes implemented should never set up new barriers between product information and the purchase. There is lots of useful information available for anyone who wants to dive deeper into sales-focused web design usability. One of our favorites is Jacob Nielsen’s Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed. Also check out the free articles further down in this text.
4. Shopping cart and checkout process
When the customer has put an item into the shopping cart, you are nearly there, but there is still a significant risk that the purchase will never happen. Statistics from 28 different studies, compiled by Baymard Institute, has shown that on average, more than two-thirds of all online shopping carts are abandoned. The reasons are several, but many relate to obstacles between the shopping cart and the final step of the checkout process.
One obvious obstacle, which has now been removed by most online stores, is a requirement to register and log in to make the purchase. Another is that the customer is using a mobile device in a checkout process that isn’t optimized for the device. In general, the percentage of completed purchases, or conversion rate, is significantly lower for users of mobile devices compared to computers, so there is plenty of room for improvement here.
There are also other causes for shopping cart abandonment that has nothing to do with the payment solution. Some of the most common causes include surprisingly high shipping cost, the total being higher than expected, or simply that the customer wasn’t ready to buy. The latter problem cannot be fixed, but it may be possible to avoid some cart abandonment by being transparent about the shipping costs and cart value before the customer moves on to the checkout.
Checklist for a smooth checkout
- Mobile devices: Preferably, the customer should only have to fill out as few form fields as possible in order to pay. This is particularly true regarding smartphones, where filling out forms is much more cumbersome. For example, Klarna Checkout only requires an email address and a zip code from the user, something that improved mobile conversion by 80% when implemented by major Swedish online bookstore Adlibris.se.
- Number of steps to complete the purchase: Fewer steps and annoyances improve usability and increase your sales. Let your customers con rm the purchase first and then choose how they want to pay. That way you reduce the number of drop-outs associated with entering credit card information and other sensitive details.
- Additional ways to pay: By offering alternatives to credit card payments, such as paying by invoice or even in installments, the customer gets additional incentives to act immediately.
- Security and transparency: Security is extremely important for everyone who shops online. A credible, secure and recognizable payment solution will help increase your conversion rate.
5. Other parts of your web design
It will hardly come as a surprise that your store’s overall design affect your visitors’ first impression, but your design choices may also have unexpected consequences. One example is using a design language that doesn’t reflect your products and pricing. A low-cost store with an exclusive-looking design could send out the wrong signals. Compare the décor and layout in physical stores: Walmart and Prada stores look very different for a reason, although their approaches might be equally effective.
Everything from the overall appearance of your site down to the smallest details will influence the user in apparent or subtle ways and in the end affect your sales. Is your website using slideshows and if so, what is their purpose? In some cases the purpose is merely decoration, which does not help promote the most important parts of your content.
Going from big to small elements, a tiny text box with your company information in the footer might convince a fair number of customers that your business is trustworthy. Many details of this sort are difficult to put a price on, but one can always learn from others. For example, what parts of your biggest competitors’ websites are good or not so good?
Some relatively minor details that could have a major effect:
- Contact page: It should be obvious which company operates the store, with the address of the business, a map and other contact information readily available. Adding a human touch by including names and pictures of employees might also help.
- Site speed: Excessive loading times are a major annoyance for the user and are also known to affect your Google rankings. Better compression can be a solution. If your web hosting is causing problems, replace it or upgrade to a better solution.
- Cross-browser compatibility: Ensure that your site renders well in all popular browsers, including their mobile versions. Older browsers are another problem; especially obsolete versions of Internet Explorer, which are all-too common. If you don’t have the time to test all of them on your own, there are services that will do it for you, such as crossbrowsertesting.com or the free alternative browsershots.org.
- First things first: On the web, the term “above the fold” is flexible, considering that many use low-resolution displays. Make sure that your most important content is shown at the start of the page, even on low-end monitors and handheld devices.
6. Testing and evaluating
In order to measure, test and evaluate what we have discussed so far, you need capable analysis tools. Google Analytics is an excellent starting point, since it’s both free and powerful, but there are of course other alternatives. The most important features include being able to visualize how your visitors use your site, where they come from, how many people proceed to the checkout and so on.
With the help of Analytics or a similar tool, you can test practically any changes made to the site or to your advertising, and choose the option that works best. The universal method that works well in almost every context is A/B split tests.
This approach is as simple as it is effective: simply run two different versions of e.g. a product page or a text ad to find out which delivers the best results. Small changes can make a big difference and it’s not always the obvious changes that have the biggest effect. The occasionally surprising results and the fact that you are always exploring unknown territory is what makes this field both exciting and potentially very rewarding to work with.