By Amy Africa
CEO, Eight by Eight Web Usability Expert
Navigation accounts for over half your success online. If I can’t find it, I can’t buy it. These days, navigation comes in all shapes and sizes: top, left, bottom, right (although righthand navigation is usually very risky so you don’t see it a lot) and often times, a combination of the four. If your navigation is good, the user won’t need to use your text search. If you want to improve your site, you’ll want to make it easier – and faster – for people to buy from you.
How do you improve your navigation? Make sure your most popular items and/or categories are represented. Look carefully at your word connect – if a user is searching for T-shirts, he doesn’t want apparel, he wants T-shirts. Consider problem/solution navigation. Look at using bestsellers lists and recently viewed items boxes.
Speaking of text search, if you want people to use your text search, put it in the upper righthand corner or in the top of the middle column. Should you put it there? Not likely. Yes, statistically people who use your text search will be more likely to buy than almost anyone else on your site, however, if your text search sucks, the traffic won’t buy and they will leave. (Either on the search results page or one of the three subsequent search pages after it, successful or not.) Chances are, you don’t want that. Does that mean you shouldn’t have a text search? Absolutely not. However, where you put it should be based on how well it works.
Like navigation, having a solid cart/checkout will be a big part of your success online. One of the biggest secrets to cart/checkout success? In-your-face action directives that tell the user exactly what they’re supposed to do next. This starts with the very first page (for some, it’s a View Cart page, for others it might be a pop-up cart.)
From a user perspective, the best checkouts have alternative ways to order, safety and security icons, a temperature bar (allows the user to know how far along they are in the process), speed (you’ve got to be seamlessly quick) and without a lot of drama. What does that last part mean? It means that the checkouts with the absolute highest conversions all have one thing in common: they’re lightning quick, safe and they only ask questions that are relevant to the order. Getting someone to make complex e-mail sign-up choices for one of your bazillion newsletters or asking them to register with your site BEFORE they hit checkout is not the best idea. In fact, it’s often the worst.
E-mail is your silent weapon. One of the best things about e-mail (especially trigger e-mails) is that it makes up for all your other weaknesses online. To have a solid e-mail program, you’ve got to capture as many e-mail addresses as you can. Ask for the email address aggressively till you get it – after you have it, you can use that space for something else.
When something is important, ask for it. Action directives in the cart and throughout your site are key. Make sure you ask for the order/inquiry on every view. Yes, people will scroll on your site but don’t take the chance – when something is important ask for it repeatedly.
Trigger e-mail programs are key for any size e-commerce business, especially small ones. There are all sorts of trigger e-mails you can choose from: abandoned cart, abandoned search, abandoned site, EBOPP’s (e-mails based on past purchases), EBOSI’s (e-mails based on selected interest), thank you for ordering, thank you for signing up for our free newsletter and so on. The key with triggers is to make them look like one-to-one communications – from me to you. Unlike thrust e-mails, big, fancy graphics aren’t going to make the difference in your triggers so you’ll want to keep them simple and action-oriented. (For example, if you send a thank you after a catalog request, you may want to send a trigger that suggests items that the user might want to look at/buy online while they’re waiting for their catalog.)
Category pages are often more important than your main entry page, use them wisely. What’s important for a category page? Good question. You want to show the user your breadth of product line in such an aggressive way that they know what they’re supposed to do/purchase.
Use your social sharing icons wisely. If you are advertising Twitter/Facebook (which is NOT right for everyone), bring them to YOUR page, not a “create an account” page or a “sign in and share” page. Also, if you are not using these tools consistently – as in once or more per day – It’s often best NOT to promote them.
Check your site speed regularly. Things like Flash, guided navigation and search, heavily-scripted forms, unwieldy carousels, and poorly optimized images can all have a HUGE impact on your site performance. Just because your main entry page loads quickly does not mean that your users won’t experience a slowdown in your checkout. Be diligent about your site load/performance and your e-mail deliverability.
About the Author
Amy Africa has been in the forefront of web usability studies, web design improvement, and successful e-commerce for over 15 years. Amy has been widely published in industry magazines and has been featured at web conferences around the globe. Her depth of knowledge, backed by intensive field testing and web user studies, has earned her the reputation of a voice to be heard on Internet topics ranging from site improvement, traffic building to analytics, email marketing and mobile.
See Amy Live!
Amy will be Keynoting the second day of Conversion Conference East 2011 in New York City, in a session titled, “Websites for Lizards: Online Selling to the Reptilian Brain.” See the full agenda and read more about this session.