If you spend time making clear, top-level categories, making sure your on-site search technology works well, making visitors trust you, and making your offers urgent, you will stop losing customers.
Many marketers obsess about cart abandonment - and rightly so. But while cart abandonment is a serious issue, you need to ensure that you haven't lost the battle before you even get to the checkout process. It's easy to think about your product page and the funnel drop-offs in the cart as the areas where the leaky bucket begins and you start losing customers. However, that's not always the case. Many potential buyers drop off as soon as they land on your site - whether through your home page or another entry page. If you want to start plugging conversion leaks early in your customers' journey, try these four tips.
Fix On-Site Search
Depending on your site's complexity, this can be resource-intensive, expensive, or both. After all, not everyone has Amazon's budget to invest in search that takes in scoping, optimized crawling, and machine learning.
Consider the alternative, though. The rule of web awareness is that if visitors can't find something easily, it doesn't exist. For entry pages that serve multiple types of visitor tasks (i.e., not your standalone product landing page), a robust on-site search functionality can make or break a significant part of the visitor experience. For on-site search terms where you have a pretty good idea what they're looking for, insert a "featured" result to help visitors find what they need, above your site's on-site search results. You can see a modified example of this on Shoes.com - a search for "red sandals" returns a page showing pictures of four featured results in different categories, along with links to view all results in each given category.
In addition, make sure that you are tracking what visitors type in on your site search mechanism, not just what terms they use to get to your site from Google or Bing. Use the data to add intelligence to your search mechanism as well as to improve your navigation structure when clear trends emerge.
Cut Down on Your Navigation Categories
Many marketers, trying to save visitors a click, make a large number of options available on the home page. What could go wrong, right? If it's not what they need, they'll just look elsewhere. And if it is what they need, then the visitor just saved a click.
The problem with this mentality is two-fold.
First, the human brain can store about four items in short-term working memory at any given point. That's why phone numbers are designed in groups of four or less digits - and it affects how your visitors will navigate. When your navigation options exceed more than a handful of items, it becomes increasingly tough for your visitors to compare options. By the time they get to the last item on a list, they will have already forgotten some of the earlier items, breaking the navigation experience.
Place Trust Symbols Where They'll Decrease Anxiety
Most marketers who have worked on an e-commerce website know the value of establishing trust online. By default, visitors do not give away trust freely, and the bar is even higher for e-commerce, where bad decisions can be costly and immediately noticeable.
Still, many marketers do not put much emphasis on the placement of their trust symbols. Some are trying to squeeze in hero shots, others are trying to add all the benefits, and others just plain believe users will scroll and see the elements anyway. By default, many seem to put these important trust symbols in the footer, giving them about as much weight as their copyright symbol, where few consumers will look.
It's not enough to simply have trust symbols - if they are present but visitors don't see them at the point of purchase anxiety, they will not work quite as well. New visitors should see your trust symbols when they first arrive on your site (without having to scroll), and also in key positions throughout the purchase process, especially on the page that asks for credit card or payment information.
Give Visitors a Reason to Act Soon
There's a well-established art of drawing user attention and generating excitement. If what you have truly fulfills a user need, then you have clear taxonomy to help the user get to the right place, and tools like anchoring to build on the interest.
But in the Attention-Interest-Desire-Action model, it's still possible to lose users between the desire and action stages - that is, just because you have something they want doesn't mean they'll get it from you.
One of the things you can do is emphasize urgency and scarcity - if you display the time left for a promo or the number of stocks left for an item, that helps the user make the decision sooner rather than later - and that's typically what you want on an e-commerce site. Rue La La does this magnificently - displaying an hour/minute/second countdown to the sale expiration, as well as identifying how many items remain in stock when the supply gets low.
None of the individual items are silver bullets, but if you spend time making clear, top-level categories, making sure your on-site search technology works well, making visitors trust you, and making your offers urgent, you will see that bucket leak far less.
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Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.
Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."
Connect with Tim on Google+.
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