Nine New Year’s resolutions


Happy New Year! Here are nine tips to help you get more value from your Website in 2009. Adopt them as your effective Website resolutions for the coming year, follow through, and watch your site sell more.

  1. Innovate, even when times are tough

    The economic downturn requires all retailers to be acutely conscious of ROI. If your site is effective, your 2009 project portfolio may be weighted toward the fundamentals, but it should also include a few less conventional initiatives to help users discover your brand, your products and each other.

    Even in lean times, effective site owners will continue to seek out feedback from their customers and their employees, and use this input to launch experiments on their sites.

    As the list below reveals, the ability to test and measure our efforts is more robust than ever. So in 2009, why not resolve to try something new, and measure the results?

  2. Embrace an iterative (re)design process

    If your coworkers have been referring to 2009 as “the year we redesign our site,” remind them that big, bloated redesigns are dangerous. While you spend six to 18 months building what you hope will be the perfect beast, the world will change and your competitors will have pulled ahead.

    Instead of a large-scale redesign, look at continuous iterative Website change. With a project-based approach, you’ll see more of your innovations come to life sooner — and to better effect.

    Understand what’s behind the redesign battle cry. Is it the site’s look that people find offensive? Narrow the scope to a simple site facelift.

    If clutter is among the culprits, then it may make sense to address site navigation and organization. If the driving complaint is that the site is simply “stale,” then probe further to learn what specific new features and functionality are desired.

  3. Start up a Website testing program (on the cheap)

    With that wholesale redesign off the table and a plan for a series of surgical strikes in place, resolve to truly measure the effect of your site changes. In other words, test.

    The size of your budget need not pose an obstacle. Google’s free Website Optimizer provides online marketers with both split and multivariate testing (MVT) capability.

    Especially useful: reporting that not only picks the winning recipe for your page, but also identifies the relative importance of each ingredient. In 2009, plan on running at least two tests a month.

  4. Create an actionable, cross-channel site analytics program

    Is your site analytics program still burying you in reports and data instead of rewarding you with actionable insights? It’s time to shape up.

    With a tip of the hat to Web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik, build your program to track outcomes that matter to your business, user behavior (clickstream), and that critical, oft-neglected ingredient: user experience (think “voice of the customer”).

    When you track outcomes, don’t limit yourself to a one-dimensional view of conversion. Are you tracking the offline sales effects of your Website traffic? (Hint: Measure the use of your site’s store locator function.)

  5. Launch a site survey to get the most important questions answered

    Chances are you already survey customers and nonbuyers alike, but how often, and to what end? Let 2009 be the year you move from a one-off approach to a survey regimen.

    Use a simple exit survey to listen to a statistically relevant sample of your visitors, day after day and week after week, and you can respond to trends that are more meaningful than those revealed by a single snapshot.

    There are some worthwhile premium tools out there, but you can cut your teeth with a free one that tracks your most important site metric: task completion rate. Visit for a free survey that poses these three questions to your visitors:

    • What is the main task you’re trying to complete on this Website today?
    • Were you able to complete it?
    • If no, why not?

    Launch the survey, identify your “segments of discontent,” and then fix what’s broken.

  6. Be a usability testing guerrilla

    The best site analytics programs go beyond the “what” to incorporate the “why.” Even with the advent of inexpensive MVT, there’s no substitute for direct observation, for listening to a shopper think aloud as she clicks through your Website.

    If you don’t have the budget for a full-fledged lab test, launch your own guerrilla site-testing program. The key ingredients are users, a protocol, a moderator and notetaker, and a willingness to act on the results.

    Does your testing sample matter? Sometimes. But for common — and critical — features like cart, checkout and site search, stroll confidently down to your accounting department, or recruit five users at Starbucks.

    Your moderator’s primary task is to remind these folks to think aloud as they click. Your notetaker records where the stumbles occur, writing directly on a copy of your testing protocol — a simple document outlining the tasks you want your user to complete, and the specific questions your design team needs answered.

    Guerrilla usability testing is easy enough to repeat often — the most challenging part can be making sure your organization acts on the results.

  7. Accept no excuses for second-class search

    Site search is a conversation, a rare opportunity to listen to your customer tell you exactly what she wants in her own words. Yet this past year I found many retailers were still mumbling apologetically when it came to the subject of their site search.

    If 2009 is the year you resolve to fix your site search, start by making sure your results are accurate, relevant and useful. Next, see if you’re avoiding these three common pitfalls:

    • Results that cater to only one kind of shopper: Not every visitor to your site is interested in shopping via guided navigation. Make sure your site search results also offer such bread-and-butter merchandising features like good-better-best hero products.

    • The dead-end no results page: Like your best salesperson, your site search should always suggest an alternative. If you lack the algorithm, start with a hard-wired link to your bestsellers and a large, bold-type invitation to get help by calling your toll-free customer service. A smart human is often the most helpful form of “advanced search.”

    • The amnesiac search results page: Some search results pages seem to “forget” that they also serve as landing pages. Then they seem to forget to highlight the retailer’s value proposition, the why-to-buy. And then visitors buy somewhere else.

  8. Set your site video program in motion

    Simple product demonstration videos can help your site sell more. While the “Will it Blend?” series garnered well-deserved buzz, many other retailers have learned that their own straight-faced, modest production value clips can boost site conversion.

    To start building your site’s video library (and YouTube channel), work steadily and methodically. Shoot product demos for your best-selling SKUs in your top categories — and for products where online sales lag in-store performance. Perform A/B tests to measure the effect of video vs. no video.

  9. Blog more, because text still matters

    When it comes to communication online, the eminently searchable written word is still king. RSS carries your message across the blogosphere, allowing people to learn about your products, services and brand before they even visit your site.

To get the most value from your blogging, publish more than the sporadic advertorial. Write regularly in a human voice that reveals your passion for your products and what they do and what real problems they solve.

Allow comments, and consider inviting those customers who contribute frequently to author posts of their own. This will add authenticity and help maintain reader interest.

And if incorporating user-generated content is also on your 2009 site resolution list, you’ll be on your way. Happy 2009!

Larry Becker is a Website effectiveness consultant with more than a decade’s experience managing, marketing and optimizing large-scale retail Websites.