Here’s hoping that 2010 will be a better year saleswise than 2009. To help you make sure it’s a good one, we present our fresh round of New Year’s resolutions to help you deliver a more effective Website.
These pick up where last year’s ideas, tips and tools left off (see “Nine New Year’s resolutions,” January 2009 issue). Use all 18 for the best results!
- Bounce into the new year
As you look at the critical metrics on your dashboard, zero in on one that always tells the customer’s story: your site’s bounce rate.
Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits that end as soon as someone hits the landing page. Segmentation is key: Analyze by audience and look for high-traffic pages with high bounce rates. There’s a lack of alignment between what people want to do on these pages and what you offer.
How do you get a handle on customer intent? Start with a look at the traffic sources for your high bounce rate pages.
Check individual queries and keywords for visits from search engines. Understanding what users hoped to find positions you to redesign these pages to meet their goals and yours.
- Shop your own site
Last year, you made a resolution to engage in a regular schedule of simple usability testing. Didn’t get that test program started? Take a baby step forward: Shop your site. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many e-commerce executives are unfamiliar with their own site’s “no results” search page, checkout thank-you screen or order confirmation e-mail.
Adopt this regimen: At least once a week, put on your customer hat and attempt a customer-critical task on your site. How far are you able to navigate your site before something breaks or you reach a page so counterintuitive that you can go no further?
- Check the signage: Does your navigation have a scent?
If shopping your site introduces you to pages that leave you scratching your head, list navigation among the potential culprits. Retailers live in an increasingly search-centric world: Site searchers are on a mission and ready to buy. And every word they type into the search box tells us what they want and the language they use to describe it.
But navigation still matters. Navigation offers an opportunity to establish trust with product organization that makes sense to your user and reveals relationships among the categories you sell. Think descriptive, concrete page headlines and well-placed links that make it clear to your users exactly what they need to do to move forward.
As user interface expert Jared Spool points out, site visitors are tracking a scent, and with each click forward, that scent must become stronger. Well-crafted page headlines, breadcrumb trails and easily recognized links help visitors track scent. Remember: Lost scent equals lost sales.
- Jump the gate
2010 is a great year to become a gatejumper in your business.
Gatejumping is a term popularized by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith in their book Trust Agents. Gatejumpers identify the gatekeepers in their business, challenge assumptions and invent their own games. Think Amazon vs. the book business, the handy and inexpensive Flip vs. the typically costly and clunky camcorder.
Now think about your own business. Who and what are the gatekeepers? What are the unquestioned assumptions and how can you successfully challenge them? Commit to some experiments in gatejumping and see what changes for you, your customers and your competitors.
- Host some “why-to-buy” jam sessions
With gatejumper juices flowing, bring a fresh perspective to the “why-to-buy” sessions that I recommend companies hold regularly. The “why-to-buy” is your unique selling proposition (USP), the reason someone should purchase from you instead from your competitors.
At a why-to-buy jam session, bring together marketers, merchants and creatives with the front line staff closest to your customer. List and rank the reasons someone should buy from you.
Check your list against buyer survey data, and make sure your site’s “why-to-buys” are readily apparent throughout the shopping process.
- Shake up the design process with lo-fi prototyping
If your site’s why-to-buys are easily overlooked, your page design could be to blame. Clutter and lack of prioritization can sabotage even the cleanest template, but the process your team uses to develop new pages is also relevant.
Many retailers favor mocking up ideas with polished comps: full-color pages that provide detail and evoke emotional response. But comps take time to create and invite criticism along too many dimensions too early. And they often leave the IT team’s questions about essential functionality unanswered, forcing developers to make assumptions that, when incorrect, can be costly to fix.
Lo-fi prototyping provides your team with an alternative that promotes rapid iterative design. When you sketch your new pages on paper, you focus early on factors that can have the highest impact: page real estate allocation, headlines, call-to-action buttons and navigation.
Napkin sketches evolve into simple wireframe diagrams that help your team find and fix problems early in the process. Plus, when design begins with a whiteboard instead of Photoshop and HTML, technical skills are no longer a requirement for prototyping — anyone with a good idea can contribute.
- Find your voice in the social media conversation
Last year you launched your company’s Facebook page, got the initial product videos up, kept the blog going and started tweeting. But does anyone in the building remember why you’re doing all this? Are the people working on these projects even talking to one another?
Now that your company is taking part in the social media conversation, take stock of what’s being said, what you’re learning and what actions make sense. Your company’s social media evangelists have stepped up and mobilized the troops; now start integrating their work into your overall online strategy so that their learning and actions have maximum, measurable impact.
- Create a live template for your on-page SEO
Start the year off with a clear illustration of what’s possible by providing one “perfect” page. Choose a keyword important to your site, and on its one page do everything right. For your one “perfect” page, shed your CMS shackles and hand-code your CSS and HTML.
Putting your customer first and search engines second, fill your page with abundant, relevant content that is written in top-down, inverted pyramid style. Humans and search engines both like first things first, and the best SEO technique for any page is to offer content worth linking to.
Use a well-written title tag to describe your page. Use keyword-rich H1 and H2 headlines, but keep your art director happy with CSS that keeps their appearance consistent with your visual brand.
Lose all generic “read more” and “details” links, replacing them with keyword specific link text. Remember the significance of image search when you name photos, replacing catalog numbers with descriptive words. Now launch your page and use any success you achieve to campaign for adopting these techniques across the site.
- Don’t neglect the smallest screen
Computer displays keep getting larger, and designers love the way this removes constraints. But what about the growing number of shoppers who aren’t visiting your site from a computer?
It’s time to develop a mobile formatted site or smartphone app. More shoppers in 2010 will be accessing your current site from their phones and drawing conclusions about your brand based on that experience.
With ultra-limited screen real estate, a mobile site forces your team to make disciplined design choices. Your product selection and purchase process have never demanded greater streamlining. To succeed on the mobile Web, you’ll need a deep and precise understanding of your product and how your customer shops for it. Those are great things for us all to get smarter about in 2010.
Larry Becker (www.LarryBeckerWeb.com) is a Website effectiveness consultant.
Ready to shake up your design process? Pencil and paper remain my favorite tools, but here are two cool new ones:
MOCKINGBIRD: Visit Gomockingbird.com for a browser-based tool that lets you drag and drop to create and share simple, useful wireframe diagrams.
FIVESECONDTEST.COM: Upload your mockup, rough or polished, and it’s shown at random to visitors who take five seconds to point out what they notice and/or where they click. It’s a great way to get pre-release feedback (and possible prescreening for your live site testing). ONE CAVEAT TO REMEMBER: You have no idea who’s testing your design and the extent to which they resemble your customer.