Give site visitors a why-to-buy

Why should someone purchase from you — and not one of your competitors? An effective Website provides more than a call to action; it offers visitors persuasive reasons to take that action.

To sell in a highly competitive marketplace, your site needs to become a dynamic showcase for your company’s why-to-buy message. Here’s what you need to know.

The six-second test

Let’s start with a quick test. Find three people familiar with your product category, but unfamiliar with the ins-and-outs of your Website.

One by one, seat each person in front of a Web browser opened to your homepage. Give each subject six uninterrupted seconds with the page.

Time’s up. Now, ask the question “Does this page give you a good reason to buy from this site?”

Next, repeat the same exercise with one of your site’s most highly visited landing pages. Choose a page from your paid search campaigns, and as you give your subjects those six seconds, consider the cost of driving traffic to the page in question.

Time’s up. How well did your site do? If your subjects struggled to come up with good reasons to buy from you, consider the stakes.

Few online retailers have the advantage of a completely exclusive product. Without a persuasive and clearly communicated why-to-buy, you run the risk of commoditization and competing solely on price.

When a site’s why-to-buy message is eluding potential customers, there are usually two likely causes.

  1. The site’s owners haven’t determined this vital messaging.

  2. The site’s design is hiding it.

Let’s tackle each of these problems.

Nailing down your why-to-buy

You probably realize that your why-to-buy is essentially your value proposition: the specific benefits a customer receives in exchange for doing business with you. At the heart of your why-to-buy is your unique selling proposition (USP), the reason customers should choose you — and not the competition.

Strong USPs typically share a few common characteristics: They provide a benefit customers actually care about, they address a void in the market, and they make a promise the company can successfully keep. The best USPs remain memorable even after competition creeps in and starts to catch up.

To get started, assemble a small cross-functional team and get ready for some brainstorming. In addition to writers, merchants and marketers, be sure to include your call center folks, the front line that receives consistent exposure to the real voice of your customer. The group’s task is to hit the whiteboard and answer this simple question:

  1. “Why should someone buy from us?”

    To avoid easy, boiler-plate answers, add:

  2. What problems do our customers face? Remember to include challenges specific to purchasing your product by Web or catalog, vs. in person.

  3. What can we do better than the competition?

    Push the envelope a bit further:

  4. What would make our customers gleeful with delight?

  5. 5) What would drive our competitors crazy?

These questions will generate fresh ways to look at existing benefits as well as ideas for potential new services to consider.

As you take your why-to-buy inventory, always be specific and concrete. Any retailer can say it offers “great service,” but fewer will deliver “24/7 product support.” Many will claim “no risk shopping,” fewer will be willing to offer “free shipping both ways” or a “110% price guarantee.”

When the whiteboard is full, get the group to rank their choices for the top-10 specific benefits your company can offer today. (And keep a second list to track the potential new benefits you’ve identified.)

Now, supplement your brainstorming with data. Start with your buyers’ surveys. Relearn what existing customers value about your offer.

Be sure to segment: You’ll want to understand which specific selling points your most recent, frequent and highest-dollar customers find compelling. Then go beyond the converted. What do your online survey results tell you about what non-buying visitors find lacking in your offer? Pay attention to open-ended responses that give you voice-of-the-customer input on problems that need to be solved.

Where your why-to-buy matters

Your next step is to write out your why-to-buy in language that’s devoid of internal jargon. Then place this messaging on your site.

Start with a modest goal: State your why-to-buy in less than a screen’s worth of concisely worded bullet points. You have the skeleton of page. With proper linking, some of your site visitors will discover it and then take the time to quickly scan it.

Can you express your why-to-buy in two or three simple sentences? A short paragraph like this belongs on your home page and key landing pages.

Of course, a five- to seven-word summary of your why-to-buy should be found in your tagline, beside your logo in the upper-left-hand corner of every page on your site.

These are just obvious starting points. For most sites they’re helpful and necessary — but not sufficient.

Real success requires that your site place specific elements of your why-to-buy in the right context — at key touchpoints in the shopping process. Make the appropriate selling point visible to the shopper’s scanning eye at the relevant moment.

Good: Every product page on your site features an easily-noticed callout box listing the five most important reasons to buy from you.

Much better: Your prospect discovers your why-to-buy in context.

  • When she searches for your product on Google, your Adwords copy succinctly presents just the right benefit — the one you’ve A/B tested against other components of your why-to-buy.

  • Once she’s on your site, your prospect scrolls to the bottom of a long category page — or clicks into that second page of search results. The site recognizes that she may be trying to decide. A small graphic catches her eye, inviting her to get help from your product specialist via phone, e-mail or chat.

  • On a product page, as your customer’s eye drifts over the “add to cart” button, a relevant message, “In-stock and ready to ship,” is directly within her field of vision.

  • On the cart page, as your customer contemplates clicking the checkout button, she notices that the shipping line doesn’t simply read “0.00” or worse, leave a blank. Instead, this space highlights your “Free two-day shipping.” And your unconditional satisfaction guarantee is also visible in a small linking graphic nearby.

Look at each decision your shopper needs to make as she browses your site, trying to find, choose and buy. Which specific element of your why-to-buy message can you reveal at each point, to provide your shopper the confidence she needs to move forward to conversion?

Keeping your why-to-buy visible

Whether your site takes a basic “billboard” approach to advertising its why-to-buy, or reveals this messaging piece by piece, in relevant context, success will also depend on the overall design quality of your site.

If you’re convinced that each of your pages provides ample reasons to buy from you, but your site still failed the six-second test suggested earlier, consider two likely culprits:

  1. Clutter

  2. Ignoring design and usability conventions

Successful Web page design relies on prominence and prioritization. The most important elements are given commensurate graphical treatment. They get noticed first, while less significant page elements are subservient. Clutter is the enemy: If everything is important, nothing is important.

If you’ve determined that you are selling primarily on service, but your site “shouts” at your user with competing red banners proclaiming “sale” and “clearance,” your lifetime guarantee is likely to be overlooked.

If your pages are clean and clutter-free, but your shoppers have to work to learn how to use your site, your why-to-buy may again be overlooked.

Websites should be unique in their selling proposition and conventional in their design. The result isn’t a cookie-cutter site; it’s one that allows your brand’s why-to-buy to shine.

Larry Becker is vice president and principal, Website effectiveness, at the Rimm-Kaufman Group Web consulting firm.