Seven elements that improve conversion
by Kent Lewis
I recently decided to upgrade my digital camera before an upcoming family vacation. I know just enough about digital cameras to be dangerous, and had an idea of which features were important before I went online. From start to finish, I spent 30 minutes researching digital camera models and pricing before making a purchase. Online product reviews in PC World Magazine and in threaded forums were influential in my decision. When it came to purchasing, selecting an online retailer came down to trust. In all successful business relationships, building trust with the customer is essential in converting prospects into customers.
Even after 10 years in the interactive business, I’m still amazed at how well-established companies can build Web sites without a thought to the overall quality of the experience. There are many ways to misconnect or disconnect with site visitors through bad design. A few of the most common mistakes I’ve seen recently, include: use of pop-ups, opt-out (spam) email, selling of customer emails or information to third parties, poorly designed shopping carts, unresponsive or unprofessional customer service and support.
Many of the problems mentioned above have less to do with the Internet than inherent challenges within the business itself. Companies serious about the Web need to ensure their infrastructure and corporate culture lend themselves to the Internet before jumping in with both feet. Assuming your company is ready for the Web, if not already online, I’ve outlined seven elements below that will aid in building trust with site visitors.
With the proliferation of mobile devices with varying screen sizes and connection speeds, it’s almost as if we were back in 1994 when the Web was slow and difficult to use. Many mobile phones and PDAs have Web connectivity and browsers, but offer a very different experience than a full size computer screen with broadband. Companies with a high percentage of mobile customers should design accordingly. Even PCs and laptops have accessibility issues including bandwidth, browser plug-ins, resolution and security restrictions that make applications like Flash and streaming video inaccessible. To ensure your site is ADA compliant, make sure it has HTML text navigation so that visually impaired (and search engines) can easily navigate.
Building a Web site for specific target audiences would seem to be a fairly obvious consideration in the development process, but is often overlooked. Graphic designers are rarely aware of the impact their use of animation, images and graphical text can have on search engine visibility or compatibility with mobile devices. In a similar vein, programmers developing backend functionality are not frequently educated on the impact of dynamically generated content and code can have on visibility and browser compatibility (i.e. Firefox). Most importantly, the entire development team may create a site that looks absolutely beautiful on all screen sizes and types, but is, in fact, very difficult to navigate to accomplish a desired task. The easy answer is to involve a usability engineer and search engine optimization specialist throughout the development process.
A vast majority of companies are in commodity markets, where many competitors offer similar products and services at parity pricing. When a prospect visits your site, how are you differentiating yourself from the competition? Too often, companies use their competitors as a baseline when developing a new site, often in such a plagiaristic fashion as to marginalize their competitive advantage. When building any Web site, make sure key differentiators and less tangible benefits like brand identity, culture and values all factor into the experience.
To attract and retain visitors, consider what type of information your target audience would appreciate and give it to them. Ideally, your company has a wealth of internal resources that can help create useful content and features that customer’s value. For companies with limited bandwidth and resources, consider partnering or licensing content and tools (like calculators, blogs, podcasts or RSS feeds). Often times, valuable content can be leveraged externally to other partner or industry Web sites to generate additional, credibility, visibility and traffic.
It may seem obvious to include contact information on a Web site, but far too often, companies bury this information or omit it completely. All sites should include the basics: contact form, phone, fax and mailing address. Some businesses may need specific email addresses, driving directions or maps, but all service-oriented companies should have a toll-free number visible on every page of the site.
No matter how beautiful, accessible, usable, unique or helpful a Web site is, it doesn’t matter if nobody ever visits. In order for a Web site to be appreciated by its intended audience, it must be proactively optimized and promoted. Marketing basics consist of including the company URL in all marketing communications including advertising, business cards, collateral and email signature files. Consider utilizing search engine optimization (SEO) to gain visibility in popular search engines. For an added bonus, incorporate “print this page” and “email this page” into site functionality to increase potential for viral pass-along.
Respecting Your Audience
Web sites should be designed with the audience in mind, and in the case of business-to-business (B2B) Web sites, there are very specific expectations and requirements. Any B2B company worth its salt will have one or more of the following elements on its site: industry certifications, reviews, awards, press coverage, articles, customer testimonials, case studies, product demos, free trials and white papers. The key is to understand the benefits of each in building trust, and determining relevance to your company, industry and target audience. Don’t forget search engine optimization (SEO) considerations when designing and maintaining the Web site.
For business-to-consumer (B2C) Web sites such as e-retailers, there are entirely different expectations and requirements. Some of the more important site elements include: strong brand/identity, security certifications and guarantees, shipping, return and privacy policies, customer testimonials and reviews, merchandising, promotions and product comparisons. Rather than get distracted by the bells and whistles, it’s critical to ensure the site functions reliably and visitors are able to find what they are looking for.
Trust is built on a foundation with a multitude of influential elements. The fewer of the above elements included in your Web site, the greater the likelihood the visitor will go elsewhere, like a competitor’s site. By following the above recommendations, you are all but guaranteeing an increase in trust and online sales.