Articles in the Site Usability Category

May 22 2008

Five Tips for improving your Shopping Cart

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Part of my job here at MoreVisibility is helping our clients with their current shopping cart systems. A lot of times, I analyze how they function and I look for certain things that could be improved upon. I do this from two angles simultaneously – from the “Web Intelligence” angle, where I really use data from Funnel Visualization and other types of Ecommerce reports, and then I use the “Common Sense, Everyday Shopper” angle, where I really use my personal experiences and gut feelings to explain what I’m seeing, or what I think will work best.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m a regular person, just like you. I shop online, I comparison shop, I used sites like SlickDeals.com to find cheap stuff, and I get frustrated and leave websites in a hissy fit of sorts when I don’t get my way. Yes, I’m very high-maintenance when it comes to online shopping.

So, let me share with you five tips for improving your current Shopping Cart / Ecommerce system that (in my opinion, of course) can improve your sales, conversion rates, and keep your customer’s blood-pressure as low as possible.

1. No, I don’t want to create an account – I just want to checkout.
My apologies for the harsh tone of that first point. However, this is sometimes how shoppers feel after they’ve clicked on the “Checkout” button of your shopping cart. Often times, instead of starting to fill out their billing and shipping information as they probably expect to, they are required to create an account, a username and a password, and in some cases, enter in the security question and the answer to it (The problem isn’t sometimes the answer to the security question – it’s remembering what security question you selected in the first place!). This can be frustrating, and it could lead to a quick exit off your website. Try experimenting with removing the “create an account” process from your website all together, or, if your system absolutely requires it, find a way to use the person’s first and last name as the username, creating it automatically for the shopper. Yes, I understand that you are doing this so that your returning visitors will have their information saved, or for a certain tracking system that you may have. Remember, a returning shopper has to be a new shopper first, so make it as easy as possible for them to buy that first time, then think about encouraging them to create an account later on.

As a last resort (if you absolutely cannot remove or move the “create account” function), add in a “guest” option that allows someone not to have to create an account first before purchasing something.

2. Show me the money!
Jerry McGuire was right. Don’t wait until the very end of the shopping cart process to tell me exactly how much I’m paying for shipping, tax, and other surcharges – I want to know what I’m paying right away. No-one likes hidden or surprise fees, especially as they have their credit card in their hand and waiting to type in those magical sixteen digits. If your cart does this, find a way to get it to calculate everything – especially shipping – within the “My Shopping Cart” page, before a user clicks on “Checkout”. List them as line-items, so that it is extremely clear what the full cost of everything is, including the breakdown of tax, shipping, and non-member fees. You may get a person to shop at your website and purchase something that first time, but this is something that is frustrating enough that the person may not come back again.

3. Cancel all page-refresh functions
OMG, I cannot even begin to tell you how frustrating this is for me. For example, I could be merrily filling out my address, city / state, zip code…only to see (and hear) the page refresh out of the blue, because I added in six digits to my zip code or my shipping charge is now higher than it was before, because I live in Florida as opposed to living in New York, sending me back to the very top of the page (and sometimes, erasing or clearing whatever information I already put in there in the first place). ERRRR!!! Please do your customers a great favor and find another alert system when they make a mistake. Have the system wait until they click on “Next” or “Continue” to tell them what went wrong (and, find a nice way to do it, in a nice language that doesn’t come accross as mean or over-bearing).

4. When I add an item to my cart, please take me to my cart
This is something that can be debated about for hours on end. For me, when I add an item to my shopping cart, I would like to be taken to the “My Shopping Cart” page, so that I can then checkout, change shipping options, or see how much the new Blu-Ray player that I probably don’t need but I can’t help myself from buying it will cost me. What I don’t like is when I add an item to my cart and the page simply refreshes, sending me back up to the top of the page. “Did I do something wrong?”, “Is the site broken or not working?”, or “What just happened?” are some of the things that I immediately say to myself when this happens. Sometimes, I don’t even notice the “1 item in your bag” text notice, tucked away in a small font in a remote corner of your product page. Sometimes, it could be too late – I’ve already left the site because I thought it was broken or just not working.

5. Fewer Pages + Fewer Distractions = Higher Conversion Rates
Finally, it’s about as simple as this formula. Give me one or two pages to fill out all of my information (including a summary of items purchased), cut out the “noise” that could be surrounding the shopping cart process (like far too much cross-selling, calls-to-action for subscribing to your newsletter, and other jazz), and chances are that you will simply sell more things and make more money, while keeping more people happy. The worst possible thing to do to a customer is to frustrate them, especially considering that they have the entire internet at their disposal, armed with dangerous things like back buttons and “X” buttons on their browsers. Keep it simple, easy, smooth, and hassle-free, and you will really increase the chances of selling profitably online.

March 18 2008

Your Search Function – Make Sure it Works

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Google Analytics SiteSearch OverviewI wanted to talk about something I’ve observed ever since Google Analytics introduced the SiteSearch section of reports into the program, back in November 2007. This is something that is happening across the board for most websites, regardless of industry, design, or type of content or language used.

First of all, let’s take a look at how people are finding your website. Most people will search for a keyword on Google or Yahoo, and will click on either your paid advertisement or your organic listing (and, of course, they are both prominently displayed on the first page of the search results ;).

With the exception of your branding keywords, if you ever look at any keyword report, you will see that most of the top keyword searches are either two or three words in length, and they are fairly normal in terms of refinement and how specific the search is. Chances are that these users were not looking for your website using search terms like “iphone” and “apple”, but they also didn’t use something like “green refurbished 8 gig apple ipod nano leather carrying case strap”. They probably were, for a lack of a better term, using some normal, middle of the road search term.

SiteSearch Navigation MenuNow, if you are fortunate enough to have both a Search Function on your website and Google Analytics, take a look at the “Search Terms” report, which is the second report from the top, inside of the “SiteSearch” section (which is located within the Content section). Are you surprised with what you are seeing? Yeah, so am I – I still find it tough to believe.

What I’m talking about is the fact that the top search terms people use on your website’s function are normally one-word terms, and they are very basic search terms at that. I’m talking extremely basic – words like “medical”, “label”, “mp3”, “windows”, “spine”, and so on. And, guess what? Some of these people are buying items from your online stores, or reaching the Goals that you have set-up for your profiles.

What does this all mean?
This is my theory. I believe when people land on a website and interact with a website’s search function, that they expect that the website knows exactly what to serve up to the visitor in its search results, despite their unrefined, raw search terms. I believe that people work under the assumption that once they are on a website, that the website should know exactly what the visitor (customer) is thinking right away, and that it should display exactly what the visitor wants to see, or they are back to Google to find another site to go to. I also believe that they feel Google is the place that needs that more-refined search term, so Google can understand what a visitor “is talking about”, whereas the website’s search function should already know what a visitor is talking about, and they shouldn’t have to produce some long-tail, exact search term.

Is this unfair to a website owner?
Oh yes, I feel that it is. But, you know what? That’s life. Remember, the visitor is always right. If they can’t find what they are looking for – or, what they expect to find – they’ll leave your site, and probably interact with another website’s search function, and will keep doing that until they are served up what they want to be served up.

So what do you recommend that I do?
I recommend that you make sure that your internal search function works extremely well, and produces clean, relevant search results at all times. Test it out frequently, and make sure it’s working without any bugs, or serving up any weird search results. Work closely with your programming team to make sure this happens. For example, if you sell plates, and if you search for “plates” on your search function, make sure plates appear right away in the search results! Also make sure that when a user clicks on a search result, that they are taken directly to the correct page, matching the search result listing, otherwise they may become frustrated with your site and leave right away.

…and if someone searches for something that I don’t sell, have, or promote?
Get creative. Don’t simply display a “no results found” message. Send them to a nice looking page that apologizes to the visitor that you do not carry that item or offer that service, and that also shows them the main products or services that you do offer. If there is an item that is constantly searched for that you do not carry, perhaps your visitors are asking you to add it to your website.

February 25 2008

Your “About Us” Page – It’s all about you!

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Last week, one of our clients confessed to me that they were extremely surprised at the high amount of traffic their “Leadership” page had been receiving. They were surprised that so much of the traffic that had been landing on their homepage eventually found its way to their “Leadership” page.

My response to that statement was “…don’t be surprised by that – I’ve also noticed how much traffic some of our other client’s “About Us” pages receive, too…”. Now, I ask the readers of this blog to start to take notice of where your traffic is going as well. Chances are good that your traffic is going to your “About Us” / “Leadership” / “Executive Team” pages.

What does this mean?
In my opinion, this means that, at some level, the visitors to your site are interested in your company. They are trying to learn more about the people in charge of your company, whether they are simply curious, or checking credentials as some sort of measuring stick. They probably want to know the story of your executive team, and their roles within your organization before contacting you, and (hopefully) doing business with you.

What should be on my “About Us” page?
This is of course going to be different for each company. There are also no set rules or guidelines, so I can only tell you what I like and what I expect to find. When I visit a company’s “About Us” page, I like to be able to clearly and fully understand what the company is and what the company does. Depending on the type of company, I also like to see a brief list or summary of main services offered. Then, I scroll down or look back at the navigation of the site and locate a “Executive Team” page, where I can see the names, faces, and short bios of the people in charge of the company that I am interested in or curious about. An “Executive Team” section or page adds trust and credibility to your business in the online world, and a company gets those extra “Trust Points” with me.

How should I market / how should I put together my “About Us” page?
The concept of “different strokes for different folks” applies here. If you consider your business a serious one, you should keep your “About Us” / “Executive Team” page(s) that way as well. Keep the bios of the executive team short and to the point, but highlight whatever accomplishments, certifications, and degrees the person has. A nice color photo of each member wearing a suit also adds a clean-cut professional touch. On these pages, I would let the content speak for itself – there is no need to slap on your huge-orange-flashing “FREE QUOTE” feature graphic here. Keep the paragraph about each executive brief, but loaded with current responsibility and biographical information. A good experiment here would be to see what happens when you add a calm, inviting call-to-action image to this page. Depending on the nature of your visitors, it may not have any affect, or they may react positively to it and pursue the call-to-action.

What if I don’t have an “About Us” page? Do I even need one?
Whether you sell bean bags or real estate, I would strongly recommend you integrate an “About Us” page on your website that explains who you are and what you do in a very clear manner. Or, if your “About Us” page is cryptic and uninformative, I would advise a clean-up project on that page.

Remember, these points are merely my opinions. All that I know is that websites with an “About Us” or “Leadership” page seem to find a very high amount of traffic going there, generating a lot of pageviews. Therefore, as the saying goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Another good experiment that someone could conduct would be to see what happens to the traffic as a whole when the “About Us” page is removed from the website navigation. I have a strong feeling that your traffic will visit less pages as a result, and you may even find yourself with fewer leads or conversions, as well.

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