Five Tweaks to Boost Online Conversion Rates

At this point it’s probably too late to implement a big Website redesign or add fancy functionality to your site in time for the Christmas shopping season. But according to Mark Wachen, CEO of New York-based technology services firm Optimost, you can increase online conversion rates dramatically by making just a few simple tweaks. Here are his last-minute suggestions for online merchants:

1) Don’t be cute with your navigation buttons. If you want shoppers to “click here,” tell them to “click here.” According to Wachen, Web retailers make two common mistakes with their navigation buttons: They try to get cute with buttons that read “your path to savings” or “follow me” because they want to try to be unique, and they make the buttons too small, difficult to find, or unusual-looking so that it’s not apparent to shoppers that the’re meant to be clicked on in the first place. One Optimost clinet was able to increase sales 10.5% simply by changing the copy of its navigation buttons from “Get X Now” to “Click Here to Try X.”

2) Put key phrases in boldface. We are conditioned at an early age to seek out the key information in any media, Wachen notes. Web retailers can make an enormous impact on sales by leveraging that human tendency to distill enormous amounts of information down to a few key phrases. Is something on the site free? Can shoppers win a contest? Are premium items on sale?

3) Don’t overhype the bells and whistles. Virtual tours and site demos are among the most expensive Website design flourishes. But while they may provide some value to Web-savvy visitors, they also can pack the most potential for lost business. Even in the age of cable modems, high-bandwidth tours and online tutorials can wreak havoc on a customer experience: What if the download freezes your customer’s computer? What if a separate pop-up box causes the customer to lose track of your home page? Many of the more elaborate Web design elements, says Wachen, can do more harm than good when it comes to converting online sales.

4) Cut your instructional copy in half. Having too many words on a Web page is retail suicide. It’s 2005; people don’t need a dissertation explaining the intricacies of your registration process. Providing instructions on how to operate basic navigation tools or redundant copy describing your rationale for organizing category listings in a particular manner diverts the attention of consumers who are shopping online because they are busy and seeking quick gratification.

5) Offer a light at the end of every tunnel. If you’re conducting business on the Internet you will need a certain amount of information about your customers. But don’t push it. For example, you never want to ask for a customer’s fax number in a registration form unless you absolutely need it; it is an unnecessary distraction. You do, however, want to make the goal clear when asking customers to register. So provide a clear demarcation of the steps involved (step 1 of 3, for example), and acknowledge that you are asking people to work by offering encouragement, such as “Step 2 of 3. Almost Done!” This humanizes the company and shows a level of respect for the customer. An online subscription service working with Optimost, Wachen says, was able to net a 5.8% increase in subscriptions simply by strategically inserting the words “almost there” into its registration pages.

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