20 Lessons Learned Optimizing Websites

After over two decades of building websites and spending the last 6 years focusing almost exclusively on optimizing conversion rates, I’ve learned a few things ūüėČ

1) ¬†Track Everything –¬†If you don’t know what people are doing on your website, you can’t tell if they are finding the information they came for. ¬†We suggest tracking 3 main things (for all segments of traffic):

  • Engagement
  • Micro Conversions
  • Macro Conversions

Everyone knows their macro conversions (how many sales you make) because the show up in your bank account. ¬†But what about Micro conversions? ¬†How many newsletter signups are you getting. ¬†How many “Buy Now” button clicks? ¬†And what does your engagement rate look like? ¬†Do you know how many people are actually reading your content?

2) ¬†Segment, Segment, Segment [your data] –¬†It’s important to segment your data by common segment for 2 reasons: You can compare segments for performance as a pseudo baseline, and you can tell when one segment starts to suffer.

Consider segmenting by Device, Gender, Source/Medium, Geography, and User Behavior.

3) ¬†Know what you want [your visitors to do] –¬†If you don’t know what path your visitors should take through your website, or what content they should consume before contacting you, they don’t stand a chance.

4) ¬†Sell 1 thing with options on “How” to buy –¬†So many ecommerce and direct response companies make the buyer choose between 10 similar products, and then they have to choose 3 different options to “customize” the product. ¬†Sure, people love choices… but instead of forcing someone to choose what product to buy,¬†make the choice easy¬†and provide options on how to buy. ¬†One-time payment, 3 Low installments, 12 month financing.

5) ¬†Make Choices Easy –¬†What’s better: a Raven? or a Writing Desk? ¬†It’s difficult to compare two very different items. ¬†Giving someone too many choices or no way to measure and evaluate your product guarantees your visitors will make a choice… the choice to leave.

6) ¬†Confusion Kills –¬†This is a warning that spans many relevant topics. ¬†It’s important to keep your information consistent. ¬†There needs to be a clear path forward at every step of the way. ¬†And if you are running split tests, you don’t want to confuse visitors by showing the same visitor multiple versions of the same test, or even worse – different prices! ¬†This kills trust and confidence.

7) ¬†Mobile First –¬†It’s not a buzz word. ¬†The majority of traffic on the internet is coming from a tiny personal computer. ¬†Regardless how much of your traffic is currently mobile, it’s the future. ¬†There’s no denying it. ¬†When you get on your own website, you shouldn’t be pulling it up on your computer. ¬†To get your team to focus on mobile first, you just have to make your phone the #1 way you look at your site.

8) ¬†Landing Pages… for EVERYTHING –¬†Landing pages are one of the most under utilized ways to optimize opt-ins, downloads, signups, and sales. ¬†Your product page IS a landing page. ¬†That’s where Google sends people. ¬†Have a landing page for every action you want your visitors to take (and treat it like a landing page). ¬†You can even create specific different landing pages for important segments. ¬†Conversions will increase and Google will reward you.

9) ¬†Color Matters –¬†In college a friend of mine, a foreign exchange student from China, came up and randomly gave me a hug saying, “I’m sorry.” ¬†I didn’t understand, but it turns out, I was dressed all in white. ¬†He thought I came from a funeral.¬†¬†It’s no secret people have strong associative relationships with color. ¬†Color IS a non-figurative symbol. ¬†Red means stop. ¬†Green means go. ¬†Purple means royalty. ¬†In the US, Black is associated with death, but in Asia, it’s White. ¬†Know your audience and what each color represents.

10) ¬†Use Internal Ads… and go Vertical –¬†Your website visitors are looking for ‘something,’ even if that something is just a way to kill time. ¬†Don’t let them wonder around your site aimlessly. ¬†Use your site to advertise to your visitors. ¬†Advertisements are a way of directing traffic. ¬†That doesn’t mean you can use them to direct traffic internally. ¬†Also, note that vertical ads are considered more visible than their square or horizontal counterparts.

11) ¬†Sliders Suck –¬†Yes, sliders suck. ¬†No, you shouldn’t use them. ¬†I’ve never lost a test against a slider. ¬†If you feel the need to represent 5 different departments on your home page, use tiles. ¬†http://shouldiuseacarousel.com/

12) ¬†Share your Unique Value Proposition –¬†There are lots of options out there, why should I care about yours? ¬†Maybe it’s customer service, maybe it’s user reviews, maybe it’s quality or price. ¬†Whatever the reason, you need to tell your visitors why they should care about your offering. ¬†Tell them, and tell them often.

13) ¬†CTA (Clarity over Clever or Boring) –¬†There seems to be 2 camps of writing for a Call to Action. ¬†On one side, it’s boring and almost mechanical: “Submit” “Buy Now” “Sign Up”. ¬†On the other side, they seem to get too clever and wordy: “Yes! I want to fall in love with my job!” ¬†Not to mention the passive aggressive “pass.”

If you want a high converting CTA, write a short, clear, simple, benefits based statement.  (Easier said than done.)

14) ¬†Typography Matters –¬†A girly font for Harley Davidson just wouldn’t work… the same way a rustic font for Victoria’s Secret would feel weird. ¬†The font you choose says a lot about you. ¬†If you’re trying to be considered a trustworthy expert, ditch Comic Sans and use Baskerville.

15) ¬†Use Motion and Video –¬†There are three main styles of learning: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. ¬†Kinesthetic is the most powerful, although must of us become auditory or visual learners¬†through school. ¬†Reading is hard. ¬†Using GIFs and Video allow you to tap into visual and auditory learning centers of the brain. ¬†Sugru has some of my favorite explainer GIFs –¬†https://sugru.com/home-diy/how-to-add-key-storage-to-your-shelves

16) ¬†Match Your Brand –¬†The world of marketing, and yes your website is a form of marketing, is an interesting one. ¬†Sure, the goal is to attract customers, but while the business is focusing on people who become customers, marketing is focusing on people who don’t become visitors. ¬†Always trying to figure out how to get more of them to become customers. ¬†In chasing customers, it’s easy to get away from the heart of the brand. ¬†It’s important to have a litmus test to check all your creative and hair brained ideas against to make sure you stay on brand.

17) ¬†Use Lead Magnets –¬†You have visitors, but organic or paid, they aren’t a captive audience. ¬†Once they leave it’s hard to get them back. ¬†One method of starting people down the buying funnel is to have a lead magnet. ¬†An offer of something of value for [basically] free. ¬†For the price of sharing their email, your visitors get a really valuable piece of content and you get a way of contact them directly… but don’t stop there.

If someone indicates interest in your lead magnet, it’s an immediate opportunity to sell them on the next step > becoming a customer.

18) ¬†Use Tripwires –¬†How often do you try a new restaurant vs how often do you go to one you already know? ¬†There’s a lot of perceived risk in trying something new. ¬†This is why we always tend to go with “the devil we know” even if we don’t consider it a great choice. ¬†A Tripwire is an offer designed to make it easy and take the risk out of trying something new. ¬†Generally a low dollar offer for something of great value, the goal is to get more people to become customers. ¬†Are you more likely to try a new restaurant with a Groupon for 50% off?

19) ¬†Utilize your Transactional Emails –¬†Every time someone signs up for your newsletter or purchases a product, you send them a confirmation email. ¬†“Thanks for buying… here’s your receipt.” ¬†Guess what? ¬†These emails have a 300-400% higher open rate than your normal marketing emails. ¬†That’s a massive opportunity to be seen. ¬†Use the extra space on your transcational emails to advertise additional products, cross sell, up sell, or even promote affiliate offers. ¬†Your customers are opening them, don’t waste them.

20) ¬†Everything’s a Funnel –¬†You should treat your entire website like one big funnel. ¬† There are many entry points. ¬†They should all lead to a secondary page that is a logical progression closer to making a purchase, and then again, and again, until a sale is made. ¬†The one immutable truth about a funnel is: you can’t skip ahead. ¬†This is where most companies miss the boat.

You look at your list of 50,000 newsletter subscribers and think that if 1% buy, you’ll be good. ¬†And if you don’t offer everyone the chance to buy, you’re going to lose sales…

You should have an easy offer (lead magnet) that’s free where you can get 10% of your subscribers to bite. ¬†Then, of those that took you up on your free offer, make another easy offer (tripwire)¬†where you can get 50% of them to become customers, and offer an up sell (your original offer) to your new customers where roughly 30% of them will bite now. ¬†That’s 5x more customers and 250 more sales.

The trick is, in a funnel, nothing matters until you take the next step.

Conclusion:¬† There’s a lot that goes into an ecommerce website, but truthfully, most of it is just dev, design, and management. ¬†Necessary efforts, but they don’t have a direct effect on the bottom line. ¬†This list is based on what I’ve seen to have a direct and measurable effect on bottom line numbers.

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