Martin Newman takes a look at how web optimisation can turn your website browsers into buyers
Ask your customers which websites they spend the most time on and you’ll hear the same names again and again: Facebook, Amazon, BBC and maybe MailOnline. The way these high-traffic websites are designed has more of an impact on how successful your own website is than you might think.
The acknowledged expert in website usability, Jakob Nielsen has created a law of web user experience: “Users spend most of their time on other websites.” He argues that web users expect your website to work in the same way as the websites they already use, as they have learnt how the web works by using other websites.
So what are the norms that you should follow when creating a website for consumers to view on desktops, laptops and other large screens?
Whether you actually sell product online or not, visitors to your site want to find what they are looking for easily and quickly. For this reason, navigation design and site structure is crucial to the usability of your website.
Best practice is to have your navigation menu options along the top or left-hand side of your web design. Your site structure (which pages sit beneath and link through from which other pages) is also crucial, as this will determine the options that appear when you hover over each top menu selection.
It helps to imagine that you’re a consumer coming to your homepage for the first time. Clearly outline your value proposition at the top of the homepage – if not the top of every page – and also include a phone number so that anyone who can’t find the information they want can easily call you.
Your value proposition could include whether you offer next day delivery or click-and-collect, the times your centres are open or if you deliver from your centres to customers’ homes. You will see many major retailers’ sites do this.
Alongside your navigation, the search function on your site will also be crucial to helping to convert site visitors into customers. Your website developer will advise on a suitable search tool to make sure that customers can find their way around your site. Several research studies have shown that consumers that use search boxes on ecommerce sites are more likely to make a purchase (likely because they have a specific purchase in mind).
For larger retailers we would advise a search tool with extra functionality – for instance that it recognises common spelling mistakes and corrects them, and that it understands synonyms (so if someone types ‘firebowl’ it also brings up firepits).
A wealth of information
If you sell products online, two of the other most important areas of focus are your product pages and checkout pages. High dropout rates on these pages (people leaving the site without making a purchase) indicates that there is either something wrong with your proposition or the design of the pages themselves.
Assuming that your products are reasonably priced and delivery costs are competitive, a high dropout rate on your product pages likely indicates a design flaw.
Your product pages should include at least one picture of the product, a description of the product mentioning approximate dimensions if appropriate, materials the product is made of and any details not visible on the picture. For the plant category, additional information that your products would be labelled with in-store should be outlined.
It is helpful if you can also outline your delivery and returns proposition on this page (many major retailers do this on a tab that sits behind the product info) so that customers can work out immediately how much a product will cost in total and how quickly they can have it delivered without needing to leave the page.
Another nice-to-have is a selection of social sharing buttons on your product pages, so visitors can share details of your products with their friends on social media easily. Again, consumers are used to using this type of functionality on other major websites.
Once a customer has added a product to their basket you now need to get them through the checkout. Here we find that asking consumers for too much or unnecessary information before they have made their purchase can lead to them dropping off.
Your web platform may not allow you to offer guest checkout (checkout without setting up a username and password). If you can offer this then best practice is to allow a customer to checkout without registering, and give them the option of registering once they have completed their purchase.
If you do require consumers to register at checkout, then ask for an email address and password rather than making them select a username they may struggle to remember.
Do you really need to know additional information such as birthdate and gender as part of the registration process? In consumer tests we have run, customers particularly dislike being asked for what they consider to be irrelevant personal details during checkout.
Also allow them to use the delivery address as the billing address – or vice versa – rather than have them fill in the same address details twice, and suggest addresses with a postcode look-up field to reduce the amount they need to type.
Finally, if they are likely to make repeat purchases then it’s helpful if they can save their payment details for future use (think about how consumers are used to using Amazon’s one-click purchase feature).
In summary it is quite legitimate, and even desirable, to draw inspiration from high-traffic ecommerce sites that lots of your customers visit, so there is familiarity for users of your site.
Martin Newman is the CEO of multichannel consultancy Practicology.