Sweating the Small Stuff

Sometimes it's small stuff. Actually, all too often it's small stuff. Details. Things you think are no big deal. But when it comes to your conversion rates and that ROI pot of gold, little things can have a big impact. Contrary to that popular book title, if you are looking to do better, you really really do need to sweat the small stuff.

Here's the question to keep in mind: From any single point on your Web site, how do you keep your visitor fully engaged and moving forward in the process? Do you remove all the dead ends, unnecessary navigation loops and nonproductive pit stops?

No? Then here are three ideas to get you started.

Product Pictures

You know... those larger views, those chances to see the other options or alternate perspectives? Ever notice how a bigger view is simply that - only a bigger view? Some folks manage to put in a "close window" action link in the window. But how many times do you see one of those larger views come up and find yourself thinking, "That's it... that's what I've been looking for." But you can't do anything in that window except close it down. Wouldn't it make better sense to provide a buy-now or add-to-cart option? If I have to back-track my way through the process, even one or two clicks (and heaven forefend you should make me use the browser buttons for this), you've taken the edge off my enthusiasm and undermined my momentum.

Your easiest sale online is to those people who come to you knowing what they want. So why would you want to discourage your easiest sale by making it anything other than super easy?

It's hard to find a good example to show you how to do the product image thing correctly - even the venerable Amazon.com leaves its visitors at a dead end if they click to see the product enlargement. But The Perth Mint, in sunny down under, doesn't.

Remember the question-of-the-day? If I'm on a product enlargement page, how are you going to move me forward in the process without making me go backward? If you put me in a place where you are persuading me to take action, make it possible for me to do just that.

Keep Shopping

You've probably had this happen to you. Me, I get deeply into a site, following the trail of something I'm keen on. I finally find it, happily pop it into my cyber-cart and decide to look for something else. Maybe it's related to the thing I was just looking at... maybe there was a picture of it as a cross-sell item. Can't remember. Ah, I'll click the "Keep Shopping" button. You've put that there to make sure I don't have to use the browser buttons - you're trying to keep my activity within the active window. This is good.

So I click on "Keep Shopping" and wind up... back on the home page! Aaarrrrggggh! Now I have to start wading into the site all over again. Suppose what I really wanted was to get the same item in another color? You've just made it harder for me to re-navigate my trail. Of course, I can use the back buttons on the browser, but you've just done something that really irritated and disappointed me. So I think this time I'll just use the browser for a new Web address instead.

What might you have done? You might have offered me a choice of going to the home page, returning to the product page I just left, or proceeding with checkout. Or you could have provided fewer options and just had the Keep Shopping button take me back to where I was (which, in theory, includes some global navigation). Magellan's online travel store does a perfect job of putting you right back where you were. This is important if your navigation is complex, your product offerings diverse, and it's critical if you are using a cross-sell strategy on your product pages. You want to put me back at the beginning of the next lead, which was on the last product page I visited.

Or you could simply... ah, but that brings me to...

Shopping Cart Confirmations

Way back when we first started publishing this newsletter, I asked everyone how much time they spent staring at their shopping carts in the bricks and mortar world. Let's face it, we may occasionally cast through what we've put in so far, but I've never seen a single human put something in a shopping cart and then stand there staring at it. What? To make sure it got in there?

Well, actually, yes. In the bricks and mortar world, we are in close contact with our carts. We have perceptual confirmation that the stuff we selected actually landed in the right place and is still there.

But way too many sites spend way too much time back-and-forthing between product pages and the shopping cart page. Just the act of taking me automatically to my cart every time I add an item disrupts my momentum and requires me to reengage with the selling/buying process. A major disincentive if you are trying to up your visitors' average order size.

Consider, then, the sites that make the cart a component of every page: as you move through the Web site, your cart is always there with you (which makes the "Keep Shopping" issue moot). Staples does it. So does The Vermont Country Store. Imagine how gratifying it can be to see the list of what you've put in, complete with assurances that you aren't necessarily stuck with this stuff. And at any point you can decide to just wheel that cart to the door.

Make it Easy

One of your most important tasks in designing and improving your Web site's persuasive architecture is to make it very very easy to "buy," whatever that "buy" is. It isn't just usability issues that create road blocks for the folks who come to you. All to often, it's inattention to the procedural details that can keep your visitors moving forward effortlessly, purposefully, even delightfully toward the And-They-Lived-Happily-Ever-After ending. Time to sweat some small stuff.

Volume 91: 5/1/04


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