Over the last decade, we’ve seen the barriers to entry for web design systematically dismantled.
Platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and more recently Squarespace mean you no longer need to be an experienced programmer to create beautiful, functional websites.
The natural result of this increase in accessibility has been a dramatic increase in website artistry. Visual designers are able to build and experiment with their artistic vision without the need for coding proficiency.
And of course, easy-access coding tutorial sites like Treehouse, SitePoint, and CodeCademy allow for even more experimentation and implementation.
This is fantastic news for innovation and the internet as a whole, but unfortunately, it also comes with a few significant caveats that often get overlooked.
In the quest to enhance our site’s aesthetic value, we can actually hinder, if not kill, our conversions. Every website has a goal. It could be to gain readers, add subscribers, sell products, acquire donations, or influence readers to pick up their phone and make a call.
Regardless of what conversions look like for you unique site, the entire purpose of that site’s existence is to convert. You aren’t actually interested in a better looking site. You’re interested in a high-converting site, and if you aren’t careful, the same actions that make your site beautiful can also lower your conversions.
1. Window Shopper’s Delight
As a designer, you want to give your customers the ultimate browsing experience. You want to elicit wonder and awe, or at least, “Oh wow, nice site,” when users reach your home page.
We know people don’t like to be sold; they like to buy. Accordingly, many sites these days are being set up like your typical department store. Everything is neat and organized. Price-leaders and high-margin items are placed up front. If you need any help, just ask the non-intrusive customer service attendee, Mr. Chatbox.
For companies with inventory at a similar scale to department stores, this system works—say, large online retailers like Amazon—but it probably won’t work for you.
Very few businesses offer product numbers in the triple digits. Most offer one primary product/service with perhaps a handful of supplementary options. In fact, according to Forbes, small businesses should actively seek to limit their product offerings.
For most businesses, the website should be a complete sales presentation, from pitch to close, NOT a browsing experience.
For large online retailers, the odds of a customer buying any single product are very low. The odds of a customer buying 1 out of 1,000 products are much higher. These retailers can afford set up a pleasant window-shopping environment, because they aren’t attempting to sell any single item.
For your business, this probably isn’t the case. You are attempting to sell a very small selection of products/services, and you cannot afford window shoppers.
The moment users hit your site, they should be systematically taken through a highly intentional sales process from start to close. Your website design MUST facilitate conversion-minded navigation.
You don’t want customers leaving your site with nice feelings. You want them leaving with product shipped or service ordered. Leaving users to their own devices will kill your conversions.
- Take a look at your website, starting at the primary landing page, and objectively evaluate where the design navigates you.
- Ask a few people who have never visited your site to click-through, and watch how they navigate your site.
- Use click-tracking software, like Crazy Egg, to take a detailed look at how users interact with your site and then optimize.
2. Too Many Features
Thanks to snippets, widgets, and plugins, new website features are only a click away from going live.
Whether you’re implementing a lightbox display, creating a custom contact form, or designing mobile-specific menu systems, the process for upgrading or beautifying your site is now incredibly fast and remarkably simple.
But let’s be honest. On some level, we’re all a bunch of techies. If you’ve chosen online business as your career, there’s a better than average chance that technology excites you, and that’s great.
The problem is that sometimes, we evaluate a new website feature by how “cool” or “cutting edge” it is, rather than taking an honest look at how well it facilitates our conversion funnel.
I don’t need to give you examples of new features or applications skyrocketing revenue. You know about those.
But what about the software company that significantly increased social sharing numbers by eliminating the social share bar? Or how about the website-monitoring service that removed its advanced pricing-selection application, opting instead for the commonly used grid pricing system? Revenue increased by 114% after removing a more advanced feature.
The point is, as much as you love utilizing the latest and greatest, don’t ever assume newer equals more effective for your target audience.
- Evaluate each feature. Is it actively facilitating the conversion channel?
- Test each feature. Do conversion rates drop or increase when the feaure is present on your site?
3. Massive Images
Images are a fundamental part of most website designs, and it’s no wonder. Modern readers are obsessed with visual media. Off the top of my head, I can name 10 different websites that generate >$1,000,000 in revenue by simply re-posting images and videos from around the web.
Saving my thoughts on that for the editorial section we don’t have, let’s look at the effect this can have on your conversions.
Images are great. They’re beautiful. They’re interesting. They’re worth a thousand words.
They’re also BIG files. The average size of a web page today is 320 KB. Out of that number, 206 KB is images. That’s average. Images are great, but un-optimized, they will increase your site’s load speed. As KISSmetrics did such a great job of explaining, low upload speeds WILL kill your conversions.
It’s actually quite shocking how many websites host massive images. Your high-speed enterprise connection might not miss a beat when loading your design at the office, but users will ditch your site if hasn’t loaded on their 6mbps connection within 2 seconds. Don’t overlook this, or it will kill your bottom line.
- Optimize images to match the pixel size displayed on a 1366×768 screen.
- Host massive images on 3rd party image hosting platforms.
- Implement the tips in this article.
4. Forgotten Copy
As I’ve mentioned previously, your copy is your pitch, presentation, and close all wrapped into one. People don’t simply look at images, colors, and geographic patterns and then decide to buy your product. The copy matters.
While your website should certainly take full advantage of eye-pleasing design elements, these elements should serve to enhance and emphasize the copy, not hide it.
If copywriting is an afterthought in your design process, so are conversions. Users should be able to quickly and easily discern who you are and what you’re offering within moments of reaching your site.
And of course, using your design to emphasize copy won’t do much if the copy itself is ineffective. Headlines, Calls to Action, CSS styles, etc., are all vital elements of your conversion funnel. For Copywriting 101, visit the experts.
- Have a 3rd party review your home page for 15 seconds and then write your pitch in 1 sentence.
- Perform A/B testing on CTA and headline sizes.
- If your original copy was an afterthought, hire a professional copywriter for at least your landing pages.
As humans, we tend to bring our personal preferences and creative ideas into the web design process. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, if we aren’t careful, we can lose sight of our website’s ultimate purpose.
You want conversions. You want a sales machine, not a piece of art. Your website can’t be your baby and your salesman at the same time. Be willing to step back and get feedback, and never stop testing.
Read more Crazy Egg articles by Jacob McMillen
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