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Why worry about getting twice as many people to visit your site, when it can be far easier to double the number of sales from the people already visiting? Here are 10 ways to improve your website conversion rate.

What is a Conversion Rate?

Your conversion rate is a measure of the number of potential customers that go on to buy. In the context of a website, it is usually the percentage of visitors that make a purchase. Many websites concentrate solely on increasing the number of visitors they have, when often they have fairly simple problems with their site that, if solved, would have a huge effect on their conversion rate and improve their site's bottom line at minimal expense.

Improving a website conversion rate can be relatively simple. Here are 10 techniques for doing just that:

10. Make The User's Life Easy

Let's start with something that sounds simple, but apparently is too complex for many companies to get right. The more difficult you make your web site to use, the less people will buy from you.

A well designed website should aim to prevent nobody from buying - to allow 100% of the people who want to buy to do so. So where do they go wrong?

  • Accessibility
    Making a site accessible is a legal obligation in many countries. Despite that, inaccessible websites are still being created. That can affect your sales, depending on how inaccessible you are, as visitors find the site impossible to use and go elsewhere (and end up recommending one of your competitors to their friends as well). A fairly typical inaccessible site could be losing 5% of potential sales because of this. (A really inaccessible website could even prevent search engines indexing it, giving a far higher amount of potential lost sales.)  
  • Browsers
    Many designers only pay attention to Internet Explorer. The justification for this is usually that 99% of the site's users use IE. It never seems to occur to the designers that perhaps the reason they have so few visitors with other browsers is that their site is fundamentally broken - it doesn't work in anything else. Percentages of people not using IE varies from site to site - over 60% of visitors to this site use an alternative browser, for example. The number most often quoted though, is that 80-85% of web users are using IE on Windows, which means that an average site that doesn't work in anything else could easily be losing 15-20% of sales.  
  • Be Bold!
    What happens when a user decides to buy a product? They add it to a shopping basket. How do they add it? They click a button or link (usually a button). What happens when they can't see the button? They go elsewhere. There are some users who are still uncomfortable scrolling. Having things above the fold is still important. And yet there are still plenty of sites out there with buttons that are too subtle, or don't say the right thing, or are hidden away at the bottom of the page. "Add" is rubbish button text. "Buy" is ok. "Add xxx To Your Basket" is great. "Add xxx to Your Basket" in big letters on a big, bright button, near the top of the page, is even better. Calls to action, like this, don't have to be gaudy or tasteless, but they do have to be obvious and clear. Sites I have worked on where just the call to action was changed have reported anything from a 1% to 30% increase in sales as a result.  
  • Usability
    If your potential customers want to find out more before they buy, can they? Is it obvious to the user where to go to find the technical specs on your products? Are they online at all? Are they in PDF format? Can users even find your products in the first place? This is probably the most common mistake I see on any website - a complete failure to think of what the user wants and needs, and how they might use a site. Plenty of sites have product pages with a photo and some sales patter - and nothing else. Anything from 1% to 99% of potential sales can be lost through poor usability.

When you combine all of the problems above, it becomes fairly clear how easy it is to have a site perform poorly. Make your site accessible, make sure it is usable, make sure it works in common browsers, and make your calls to action clear and unambiguous, and you should be in a position to start converting the people who want to buy.

9. Be Clear, Open and Honest

If you have a product out of stock, say so. Few things annoy users as much as reading all about a product they are after, adding it to a cart, and starting the checkout process - only to find out the product isn't actually available.

The same applies to pricing - a user might spend $100 on a product, but when they find out the shipping is $100 on top of that, they are unlikely to continue the sale. Showing delivery pricing is tricky business, but not impossible. An Ip to Country database will allow you to work out where a user is from and show them a likely delivery cost, for example. If you can't do that, show delivery prices for the countries most appropriate to you - where your products are most often delivered, or for major world regions.

8. Don't Waste Time

One of the biggest mistakes sites make is asking for too much information. Your conversion process may be sale, or it may be a request for information. Either way, don't waste the user's time asking for things you don't need to know. This is, of course, doubly important when it comes to asking for information the user deems private, and that they don't want to give out without good reason.

You don't need to demand the user's email address before letting them download a PDF. You don't need their phone number when they fill out an email enquiry form. A user may not want to buy from you twice - so why make them create an account so they can buy again later before processing their first order? You can give the user the option to do all of these things by all means, but make sure it's not compulsory.

7. Help The User Trust You

Most people are still cautious when buying online, and rightly so. There are plenty of people you really shouldn't give your credit card information to! It's important to give the potential customer every reason to trust you.

An address - bricks and mortar, not a P.O. Box - is a good start. A phone number, with people answering the phone, also helps. Showing a privacy policy and explaining shipping procedures clearly can also help the user to trust you. If you have a SSL certificate, show the "VeriSign Secured" logo to the user.

Design and content also play a part in trust. A poor design gives off an unprofessional feeling. If a company can't afford a decent website, or won't spend the money on it, how can a user be sure their order will be treated with the importance it deserves? If content is inaccurate or badly written, the same applies - show that you take pride in what you do.

6. Have a Clear Returns Policy

Returns on the web are, and are likely to remain, a major issue for consumers. With a bricks and mortar shop, the customer knows where the shop is and that to return the product they simply have to go back there and explain the problem. With the web, this is more of an issue. This is especially true for clothing (where people cannot try things on before buying).

Users are impressed with sites with a good returns policy and are more likely to buy from them. Have people phone for returns - they can then explain the problem to a real person, which is always a good first step. Free return shipping is usually a good option, if commercially viable. People don't like to pay to return things, especially if it is a mistake by the retailer. Finally, give the user plenty of time to return things. 28 days is fairly common, but if it takes you that long to deliver a product, what use is the return policy? 28 days from the date of delivery is better.

5. Keep the User Informed

When somebody buys something online, they want to know when it's going to arrive at their door. People are impatient, after all. Giving them an estimated delivery date during the checkout process is a good start. Emailing them when their product is dispatched is great. Giving them a tracking number if using a delivery service that supports online tracking is even better. Keep the user informed at every step of the process, before and after sale, about as much as you can.

How will this improve your conversion rate? Leaving the customer happy once they have made a sale means they are more likely to speak favourably about you later. They may even recommend you to their friends and within online communities. They are also far more likely to buy from you again.

Think about it like this - if a salesman is doing their absolute best to help you, and to make your life easy, and answering your questions, you might buy what they were selling. If they completely ignored you after you'd bought from them, how would you feel about them? They might well have undone all the good work they put in, because once you'd completed your purchase they see no immediate value in you. A company that shows it cares about their customers, even after they've finished shopping, will make a user far happier and far more likely to return.

4. Offer Different Payment Options

It might sound obvious, but you should offer the user a reasonable selection of methods of payment. Not everybody has a credit card, and those that do don't always want to use them. You don't have to accept cheques, but when deciding on payment methods, consider alternatives to the usual methods. Make the user's life easy and give them what they want.

3. Improve the Value of Visitors

People that buy from you are doing so because they like what it is they see. If a user adds a product to a basket, show them other things they might like as well. If they are viewing a product, the same applies - show them similar items. While they might not buy the product they first saw, other similar ones may not have issues that put them off the first. Upselling and cross-selling are tried and tested sales techniques, and there is no reason not to use them on the web.

2. Be Memorable

A good site will include information. A poor one is just an online catalogue. Information (articles, advice, reviews and so on) all help the user early in their buying process. Users start with research online, just as they do offline. If you can make contact with the user at that stage of their process, and give a favourable impression, there is a good chance that they will come back and buy from you when they finally decide to make a purchase.

Being memorable, and making sure you stick in the user's mind, is dependant on a lot of factors. You must have a USP (see the next point), and branding is important (no good if your visitors remember why you are great but don't remember your name), as well as the quality of your site and information.

1. Know Your USP

Finally, the most important point of all - your Unique Selling Point (USP). Your USP is what sets you apart from your competition. If a visitor goes to several sites looking for a product, why would they decide to buy from you instead of somewhere else?

Many companies do not know their USP. Almost all companies have one, but not all of them are aware of it. If you are a family run business, that's a potential USP. Great customer service, low prices, products that can't be bought elsewhere, free delivery, great support - all of these are USPs. Tell your users what yours is. Shout it from the proverbial rooftops.

Part 2

In March 2009, part 2 of this series was added: Nine More Tips for Improving Your Website Conversion Rate.

Bonus!

One excellent (and practical) way to increase your website conversion rate is to add consumer reviews to your store. They are a proven way to increase sales, and they have an excellent positive effect on your search engine optimisation work. A service like FeedbackFair will give your reviews extra credibility.


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