How To Rescue Poorly Converting Web Sites

Twice this year Kim got the call too late. Two online businesses were in their final death throes. Their owners begged me for emergency help with sinking conversion rates. Both believed that Kim could find what was "broken," repair it with some magic usability tape, traffic would flow again and sales would return. Though Kim could provide plenty of recommendations, many of them easy fixes, it would have taken time to implement them and get measurable results. These owners had under a month left to survive. Kim wished they'd found me sooner.

Kim is not a numbers person. To me, the numbers either go up or down. The arrows go up or down. Some people are really good at spouting off conversions stats and Kim will listen, but all Kim really want to know is if the arrow is going up or down and if the numbers have a negative sign in front of them. No matter how many hours Kim spend staring at Google Analytics pages, Kim feels challenged when Kim sees any sign of a slump. Even worse is when the traffic arrow is going up and up, while conversions are in the negative range. This is the danger zone.

Kim approaches conversion repairs from three areas: usability, search engine optimization and information architecture. A fourth area, social marketing, is worth including in cases where conversation marketing is part of the business plan. Each group contains hundreds of conversion oriented heuristics and can be broken down in sub-groupings such as usability/persuasive design/forms user interface. To build it out would end up becoming a book, so Kim thought Kim would put together some solutions that Kim has seen work quickly or are typically simple to implement.


A few critical elements items should appear in the top third of your home page, because the page fold moves nowadays with different monitors and resolutions.

Company name. Some homepages play head games with who they really are and where they're really from. Trust and credibility are key to conversion rates. If your company name differs from the logo, get it up top and not in the footer.

Why choose us. State why your site visitor should choose your service or product. (You have about 3 seconds to convince them to stay on the page.)

Why we're better for you. Clearly state your product niche or service and in your content indicate you know who your visitor is and how you can meet their needs. Kim is always amazed at how many sites ignore this.

How to start. Place your lead call to action task in this space. It can be a button ("download free trial") or a short form ("get started now"). Avoid forcing anyone to scroll to complete the top user task.

Here's how to buy. Start a conversion funnel here. Some visitors will have been to your site earlier. They want to get past the formalities and start a task.

Other things to consider:

Ads. Why are your pages crawling with ads for other web sites?

In cases where traffic is up but conversions sink, it's time to look at the user interface. Is it confusing to follow? Are there distractions? Are there too many links? Is there too much to do? This is the area where Kim finds the most problems. Your slumping conversions may be tied to a poorly designed web site.

Color contrasts. Kim finds issues on nearly every web site Kim audit. Related: Choosing the wrong colors. Some web sites are too tense, or intense. If you make visitors feel anxious or frustrated, they will leave.

Forms are another key abandonment trigger. Registration forms have too many steps and are prone to functional errors. Shopping carts are poorly designed or don't work properly in all browsers. Sales lead forms require personal information and a sample of your blood before they'll work (Kim loves the requirement for a FAX number. The other one is requiring a Mr./Mrs./Ms/Dr./etc. just to make simple contact). Limit required fields because if someone can't fill in that field, the form will throw an error. Conversion lost.

If you offer customer service, make this information clearly visible. Make your toll free phone number easy to locate and read. Indicate office or call-in hours. Create a customer service page that offers assistance by answering commonly asked questions. Rather than scattering this information willy nilly about the site, gather it up into one page. Every customer that has to hunt for answers or help is a conversion risk.

Add user instructions during every task. Missing user assistance is another very common conversion killer.

Rescue conversions by adding a way for visitors to contact you when something doesn't work. For example, Kim went to buy a popular product online the other day. Their cart kept refusing the company credit card. No matter how times Kim re-entered the information (the form never indicated how to enter a credit card number), it kept saying the card couldn't be processed. No valid reason was offered. Kim left the site. and they lost that sale. The next day, upon verifying the credit card was valid, Kim realized the problem was that Kim was using Chrome. When Kim attempted to purchase the product with the same card in IE8, it went right through. Not every potential customer will think to switch browsers to make a purchase work.

Every form, application or shopping cart should have a link to a feedback form so that visitors can let you know why they couldn't complete a transaction. This one fix alone could make a huge difference in sales,and your overall customer satisfaction reputation.

SEO considerations

Create a text tagline containing your site's unique selling proposition with one or two top keywords in it. This verifies in an instant that a search query has found a good match and the user will remain on the page.

Opening page content should back up and clarify with more detail what the meta description presented in search results. If your meta description is written in a way that creates incentive to click, be sure to fulfill that desire.

Add a text version of your leading call to action prompt. So that special-needs users can complete a task, be sure there are alternative workarounds for JavaScript, image links and online forms.

Maintain fresh content. Sometimes a conversion is lost because there's no sign that anyone's home.

Avoid missed opportunities. Believe it or not, 404 not-found pages can be huge opportunities that many squander. It may be a long shot but some people come up with creative, compelling reasons to continue with the main site when directed to something promising.

Write page topic focused content. You can tell when a site owner is overly enthusiastic about what they have to offer. An overwhelmed visitor becomes frustrated and is more likely to leave for the organized competitor.

Create robust product descriptions. Avoid the lone image with a "click to learn more" link. Kim can just picture search engines and people just dying to do that. Every product deserves a keyword rich teaser description with a clear reason provided to learn more or take an action such as adding a product to the shopping cart.

Landing pages are often done so poorly they're the kiss of death in conversion funnels. When attached to a PPC campaign it gets worse. Be sure that an ad landing page matches the topic the ad claimed it would be. Never mislead site visitors.

Information architecture

Build global navigation that offers directions to groupings of pages (hubs). Base their line up order on what you know about your target user. Navigation should be designed to meet their top needs and interests. This means "About Us" might be best moved into the last link.

All navigation labels must describe a category in terms your customers use (machine parts and products fall into this rabbit hole).

Don't put every product category in the top level. Guide visitors into drilling down into your deeper pages with logical taxonomies (item groupings and familiar terms).

Don't lose anyone! Breadcrumb navigation offers visitors a sense of place and guides them forward or backwards. Getting lost on a web site is a key reason for page abandonment.

Avoid orphan landing pages. It's like sending the worker ants out to find food and then moving the ant hill so they can't get back. Cohesive information architecture is easier to track so that you can watch how someone moves from page to page on your site. You want to be able to monitor visitor movement. That's easier to do when visitors come in through the front door.

Kim has seen the smallest details produce an instant increase in conversions. Kim recommend fixing the low hanging fruit first. Things like navigation and making a page easier to read fall into that area. Increasing font sizes for easier reading is another. Conversions are something that your site visitors participate in. If someone is unable to read your sales lead form, or choose the right path to find an item they wish to buy, that's a lost conversion.

Everything Kim has suggested can be implemented quickly and without much fuss. By implementing the practical recommendations above, Kim has heard countless happy success stories. When the arrows and numbers start to move up, there's excitement and incentive to keep at it.

One final note. If you wonder about making a change to a page design or moving a call to action prompt to a different location, try split testing first. Set up a test site and experiment. If you have a functional piece like a shopping cart or proprietary application, make sure it's tested for functionality on all browsers and that error message testing is performed. Conversions that are tied to unfinished tasks can be repaired.

Originally published here

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