Website workout – 5 steps to improve conversion rates

exercise workout

If your website is underperforming, you may be tempted to throw time and money at marketing or search engine optimisation (SEO) to increase web traffic. Although a worthwhile exercise, doubling web traffic will NOT guarantee double the results. You have to make people want what you are offering and engage their interest so they do something about it. That’s why website conversion rates are so important.

Getting a higher proportion of website visitors to take action is far easier, quicker and cheaper than getting more people to visit the website in the first place. Increasing conversion rates will help make your website more profitable, recouping return on investment. Implementing a few simple design and content improvements can make a massive difference. Here are our top tips.

1. Define clear goals

The first step is to define your website’s objectives in terms of specific goals – things you want people to DO. This could include buying a product, contacting the business, signing up for a service, joining a mailing list, donating money to a cause, sharing information, recommending the brand to others, or a host of other goals.

Most of those are goals you can define, measure and track. Once you’ve defined and benchmarked goals, you can see about converting a higher percentage of site visits into actions that achieve those goals.

Carrot or stick2. Answer people’s needs

Next, think about WHY your site visitors might want to do those things. Are you providing an answer to people’s needs? If so, what’s going to make people act on that need? You can decide whether to use the carrot or the stick – give people incentives to act, or suggest the negative implications of not taking action. Often you have to do both.

As an example, see the headlines below from websites promoting internet security software. The first two use the carrot – the good things you’ll get as a result of using the product. The two at the right use the stick – if you don’t use this product, think what will happen! The example with the face picture goes one step further – almost making the offer into a global cause to fight for.

antivirus headline examples

Both the positive and negative approaches appeal to emotions in different ways, and both are valid. Know which approach to use when, and if you use the negative approach, make sure your product or service can answer a negative with a positive.

Remember, people don’t buy products or services; they buy answers to their needs. If they have a health problem, they may buy some medication or exercise equipment, but equally they may just want some advice. They often go online seeking one thing, and end up finding another. Your website should show you can answer those needs and push people over the line to make them act, achieving a mutually beneficial result.

3. Stand in your audience’s shoes

ShoesA classic mistake many corporate websites make is to talk about themselves. The website is for the target audience, not the company execs. Think about what the users want or expect, what’s on their mind, what concerns or barriers there may be, and what you want people to do as a result of visiting the site.

Use their language, not your jargon. Address them personally, make it about what they need, their desires, their concerns, the benefits to them.

It is a mistake to assume people are logical – most decisions are influenced more by emotions than facts, even when people are looking for practical solutions to needs. Recognise and address negative emotions like fear, worry, stress or pride as well as appealing to positive emotional states like satisfaction, friendship, caring and sharing. You can use that knowledge, combined with carefully crafted copy and appropriate imagery, to influence behaviour and direct people towards preferred goals.

The example below shows two different ways of addressing the same topic – the first is by Apple and the second Microsoft, both talking about cloud computing. The Apple version is all about YOU, the user, while the Microsoft version is about US, the company. Which one would appeal to you? Which makes you want to find out more?

Cloud computing text examples

benefits text examplesThe examples to the right (from Apple) show how to sell benefits and appeal to emotions. Rather than saying “long life battery” the text explains how this feature will make your life better. Instead of using bland terms like “Product description”, Apple engages your senses and emotions, making you want to engage with the brand, transferring “beautiful” thoughts associated with the product.

4. Provide clear calls to action

Now we get to the crunch – turning thoughts into actions. The key to this is asking (or commanding) in the right way.

  • Use active language – words that suggest doing something (verbs rather than nouns). For example, say ”See how this product works” rather than “Product information” or “Join us now” rather than “Membership application”.
  • Address the user directly via personal pronouns (“you” or “me”). For example, “Your kids will love you for it” rather than “benefits for families with children” or “Tell me more” rather than “further information”.
  • Be bold – command nicely, be positive. For example “Get the facts now” rather than “Would you like to know more?”. Or “Don’t take our word for it! Hear what our customers say” rather than “Customer testimonials”
  • Draw attention – make action calls stand out, by paring down other content and using design devices sparingly. Colour, size, space, positioning and 3D effects all help to make actions stand out, but don’t use them all at once or they’ll cancel each other out. Do not distract users from the desired goal.
  • Choose the right time and place. Your website builds relationships with users, no matter how ephemeral. Just like any relationship, it’s usually not a good idea to propose marriage on the first date! Don’t expect calls to action like “subscribe to updates” or “give us feedback” to work on a home page. The user hasn’t even got to know you at that stage! Treat everyone as an “undecided” – you have to convert apathy into interest and warm them up a little before expecting them to commit. Put calls to action in context – at logical decision points.
  • Make sure every page has a relevant action, even if it is just taking them further along the path towards a final goal.

A user is more likely to follow a call to action if it provides what they need and they know what will happen when they click. In the example below, the buttons at the left are passive – they don’t really urge you to do anything. Who goes to a website to “browse”? People always want to do something. What happens if you “click here”? There’s no reason to venture into the unknown. Why should I “submit”? I may prefer to be reassured about what sending a form means.

The examples at the right are more likely to be successful, because they use active language, address the user directly and suggest benefits people could get as a result of clicking the link. 

action button examples

5. Remove barriers to conversion

It’s easy for people to find reasons not to do things. Just ask my teenage daughter! When you’re on a website, procrastination is just a mouse click away. If you’re directing people down a path to action, you need to remove (or at least lower) any hurdles that are in the way.

Keep it simple

Minimising distractions is a good technique. A web page that focuses on one goal will have far more impact than one with numerous panels, offers, buttons and images relating to wonderful things elsewhere on the site. One way to achieve this is to review your web page and remove everything that isn’t essential to the core offer or desired action. Strip it out. Go on, be ruthless.

Reduce the number of offers. Reduce the number of navigation options. Give people a clear path to follow. You can use a “squeeze page” – its job is to force people down just one path to an end goal, using repeated calls to action.

The Dropbox screenshot below is an example of reducing distractions and providing clear, minimal choices. Website navigation is almost non-existent (it’s actually down in the footer area) so you have to focus on the offer. The 3 choices are clear and the benefits are pared down to the bare essentials. From here, a user is quite likely to click on one of those three buttons and sign up for one of the services.

Dropbox screenshot

Anticipate resistance

Often websites fall at the last hurdle, as evidenced by the rates for shopping cart abandonment, or stats that show people often spend lots of time on websites without completing any goals. This is usually because there is something stopping people from committing – which is often as simple as not knowing what the delivery cost or timescales will be, not knowing what guarantees they’ll receive, or not being sure whether the product or service is exactly right for their needs.

The shopping cart examples below show how to anticipate resistance points and preempt potential concerns. The “buy now” button includes mention of a money back guarantee and shows credit card symbols for extra reassurance. The line of text below shows that express and international delivery is available, removing the barrier for impatient or overseas customers. The buy now panel bottom left shows the item ordered is in stock – another potential reason not to buy is removed, and its help panel explains the terminology for a specialist product, as does the sizing chart for the Tshirt site bottom right. The risk of ordering the wrong thing often prevents people committing. These small but very important details can make or break conversion, particularly for e-commerce transactions.

e-commerce examples

Make sure it works properly

Another show-stopper can be accessibility or usability – the contact details aren’t easy to find, the enquiry form doesn’t work on a mobile, the text is hard to read, or the website is too slow. No matter how great the product or service, nor how creative the design, if the website isn’t highly usable, it isn’t fit for purpose, and it won’t convert. Simple as that.

Conversion is not just about online sales – a valid goal may be to get people to telephone the business. If you use a 1300 number, calls can be tracked, and there are smart systems now that let you link tracked numbers to web stats. Make sure the phone number is clearly visible – the top right of a page is becoming an accepted place to look for one.

You should also ensure the website displays on mobile devices correctly. Preferably start with the mobile version and use responsive design techniques to optimise it for other devices and resolutions. If the website, or some of it, doesn’t work properly on mobiles you’ll miss out on conversions and people won’t come back.

Basic legibility can be another barrier to conversion, for example low contrast or small text. Remember not everyone has 20-20 vision or is viewing the site in perfect lighting conditions. If they can’t read it, they won’t go further, end of story.

In summary…

To improve website conversion rates, focus on what you’re trying to achieve, who you’re trying to convert and what exactly you want them to do. Then you can address those people directly, answer their needs, call them to action and remove any barriers that may be in the way.

Further information

» Articles and resources relating to website conversion
» Slideshow: website workout – design for conversion (see below)
» Contact Credos for advice or a website makeover

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Credos Associates is based in Brisbane, Australia

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