An Outsider's Perspective on Your Web Site

Today I am interviewing Joshua Hay, one of our Conversion Analysts, about the value of an outside perspective when it comes to evaluating your Web site. He's a member of our team who performs Real World Sales Analyses, assessments that evaluate a Web site's conversion system.

Here's your chance to get inside the mind of someone who spends most of his day analyzing site after site, evaluating the inner workings and identifying both immediate and long-term solutions for improvement.

Anthony:  Josh, what's the first thing you look at when you start evaluating a site

Josh:  First, I begin by checking out the homepage's active window

A:  For those who don't know, could you explain what an 'active window' is?

J:  Sure. The active window is the central real estate on your computer screen. Eye tracking studies show that when people are viewing web pages, their eyes start in the upper left corner and follow along the top navigation, until they hit the end of the browser, at which point they travel diagonally through the center of the screen until they stabilize at the left navigation. The sight path then proceeds to go back and forth across the center area, between left navigation and right column, then back and forth, back and forth, engaging within the central area, hence the term active window.

A:  So why is the active window important?

J:  The active window is the portion of a web page to which the eye is drawn most frequently. It's the area "above the fold" where the visitor's gaze is naturally attracted, and most often engaged. Because the visitor is most comfortable engaging within the active window, it holds the key to conversion.

A:  What do you look for when you evaluate the active window?

J:  I start looking for the UVP and the main calls to action.

A:  What is the UVP?

J:  UVP stands for Unique Value Proposition. It's a sentence or phrase that answers the question, "Why should I do business with you and not someone else?" It describes the value of the company from the perspective of the visitor. How does the company stand out from its competition or topological landscape and bring value to the visitor that others do not? Visitors quickly and easily need to understand both the value the site offers and why they should choose this company over other competitors.

A:  And why do we look at the main calls to action?

J:  Calls to action are critical to moving visitors forward in their buying processes. If you can't persuade your visitors to take the action you want them to take - which, by the way, must be the action they want to take - then you might as well hit the delete key and wipe your site from the server.

Every page I evaluate has to answer three important questions. For your site to be successful you must insure you've planned an action you'd like your visitors to take.

  • Number One: Whom am I trying to persuade?

  • Number Two: What am I trying to persuade this person to do?

  • Number Three: What information does this person need so he or she is persuaded to take this action?

A:  How much do you worry about whom the site is speaking to when assessing conversion stumbling blocks?

J:  We make some general assumptions that help our clients begin to ask themselves the right types of questions. Realistically, we'd need more information before we could dive deeper, so we want to make sure they're thinking is directionally correct

A:  But the second question you mentioned - "What am I trying to persuade this person to do?" - that should be crystal clear, right?

J:  Absolutely correct. And on many sites I evaluate, I have to point out that the page has not clearly defined what action the business would like their visitors to take. I can't state this strongly enough - the visitor must know where and how to take action. It can't be complicated. And you can't make them have to work to find it.

A:  Do you always start your assessments with the home page?

J:  Typically, yes, because additional landing pages add additional complexity. I'm trying to help the business find as many stumbling blocks within their conversion process as possible - the whole process is actually about finding faults, which might be tough to hear. People want to hear they've done a great job. But I wouldn't be doing an assessment if things were going well. What I'm really after up front is all the low-hanging fruit a business can fix quickly to generate much-needed ROI - and these are fixes that will continue to pay dividends over and over.

A:  Where can site owners start looking on their own?

J:  The homepage is certainly the place to start, but I'd also recommend looking at the other key landing pages on the site. Site owners should look at their logs and see which search terms are driving the most traffic from search engines. The landing pages the spiders have indexed based on those search phrases would be excellent pages to analyze.

A:  And when you look at these landing pages, you should be looking at the same things you look for on the homepage?

J:  Certainly. Then afterwards you follow or 'click thru' the intended action and begin to see where the path leads. Along the way, we use our three questions to assess how well the resulting page - the page the call to action takes the visitor to - meets the visitors' needs.

A:  You mentioned many sites lack clear calls to action. How do you assess the intended action there?

J:  If the site is missing a call to action, I do what every visitor would ideally do - I go to the navigation for help. This isn't optimal, because it means the visitor has to disengage with the active window. I also evaluate the text and design to see how easy it is for the visitor to understand what to do.

A:  What do you look for in terms of navigation?

J:  The things I look for are rooted in the concept of "trigger words." Trigger words make up the vocabulary visitors would use to describe their problems, and more importantly, their solutions. Visitors much more successful solving their problems online when the navigation and links contain their own vocabulary rather than industry-speak or jargon.

A:  Can you show me a good example of site navigation?

J:  An excellent example of navigation chock full of trigger words is Kinetic Fountains - it's a small site selling various types of water fountains. This site's navigation provides many different visitor types the ability to browse in their own terms. Businesses should make sure the site provides different navigation paths based on every different way a person may decide to shop or move forward

A:  So, I look at the homepage and key landing pages and evaluate how clear and easy an individual buying scenario is. I make sure to take a hard, honest look at the value I'm providing the visitor and ensure I'm answering the questions they're asking. Then I look at the navigation to ensure the visitor can easily move forward within their buying process, even if I allow them to become disengaged with the active window. Anything else?[AG2]

J:  Of course! There's plenty more where that came from. We need to take a deep look the checkout process, plus the help pages, contact information, and specific tools used on the site. We must assess the site's ability to convey trust-building elements to the visitor. We must make sure the site includes reassurances - in customer-focused language - about things such as guarantees, security and privacy. Basically, we must make sure the pieces are in place for our visitors to build the necessary confidence in us to award us their business.

I could go on and on talking about eliminating the stumbling blocks commonly found within the conversion process. Starting with the steps I've laid out here, a site owner will find plenty of low-hanging fruit to raise conversion rates.

You can do it yourself, if you can be brutally honest about something that's as close to you as your business. But there's a big advantage to involving a knowledgeable outsider. As we say around here, it's hard to read the label when you're inside the bottle!

Anthony Garcia is Future Now, Inc.'s Senior Persuasion Architect and the organizing force behind A Day in the Life of a Persuaion Architect.

Volume 121: 12/1/05

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