User experience is (almost) everything

I was consulting a client and I pointed out numerous areas where the user experience could improve – particularly in the purchase funnel. The shopping cart had a “clear all items from cart” button in addition to the ability to remove individual items (why would you have a “nuke this entire purchase” option?), the site offered free shipping to the USA as a standing offer and had a large and obtrusive shipping calculator in the cart that only worked for the USA (again, why?) and multiple other distractions in the purchase funnel. When I recommended alternate designs that would be cleaner and keep the user focused on buying what they had added to the cart he said “changing these things on the web site don’t matter, I need traffic!”.

I had to respectfully disagree. Traffic for traffic’s sake is fool’s gold. What you need is qualified traffic, a clear motivation to buy and the easiest and simplest way to buy.

I had another client who had a small business for a men’s health product and was promoting it on Instagram by posting pictures of models in skimpy clothing. As we were discussing his business he kept referencing his thousands of Instagram followers of which he was very proud. When we started getting into the analytics it turned out that the referral traffic from his Instagram account was negligible and the conversion rates were abysmal. I asked him how much time he spent on sourcing and posting these pictures. “About 2 hours a day” was his answer. I suggested that he make some changes that took 2 hours on only one day and had lasting effects on improving his revenue for months and possibly years to come. That’s the power of good UX. It saves time.

Best practice is often pooled ignorance

Someone told me that the other day – “best practice is often pooled ignorance”. I laughed in tacit agreement. Best practice is what the herd thinks is right. It’s what the thought leaders think is right. And often it is right. But not always. In 2015 many were laughing at the idea of a viable Trump candidacy for President. Now he’s the one laughing.

Here’s a few examples of “best practice” that aren’t always best practice.

It’s considered best practice to have any call to action buttons above the fold on landing pages. You want the user to see that big shiny button straight off and let him know that’s what he needs to click before he scrolls any where. This is Hubspot’s recommendation, I’m Hubspot certified and that’s what I believed.

However, the product and the audience are not taken into account in such a best practice recommendation. Consider the landing page or lead generation form for a nursing home for an elderly parent. In such an emotionally charged purchase decision would it make sense to scream “buy now!” with a bright button above the fold? No, it would go counter to the mind frame of the customer at that point in time in the customer journey. It might even seem gaudy. In such a customer journey where a sensitive and emotional purchase decision is being considered you have to emphasize trust, build rapport, appear to NOT wanting to increase business. In such a case you may want to have a landing page with several paragraphs regarding the high level of care, the difficulty of making such a decision and then have a simple text link as the call to action. It seems crazy, but by de-emphasizing conversion you may in the end wind up increasing conversion.

Another example: the 5 second rule of landing and home pages. Best practice says if you don’t communicate the idea or the product value in 5 seconds you lose the customer. Best practice says that copy should be short and to the point because people don’t like to read. After all, we do have the acronym TLDR – too long to digitally read. However, if you look at almost any stock or investing landing page for disreputable penny stocks or get rich quick sites you will find that they are incredibly long, incredibly verbose and almost intentionally annoying to navigate. BUT THEY ALL DO IT. If they all do it, it must be working. There’s something about the get rich quick mind set that makes it more attractive to bury the value proposition in a mountain of text.

Even the more reputable purveyors of riches-through-stocks advice like the Motley Fool make it difficult to get to the meat of the matter in their marketing. Motley Fool drives users from email to a landing page where there’s a video that auto-plays but the video has no controls. You can’t pause it, you can’t fast forward or reverse. It’s several minutes long and you  just have to sit through it to get to the heart of the pitch. Is this a marketing mistake? Possibly, but I bet they tested it and found that this is what works best for conversion.

So remember, best practice isn’t always best. Always consider the audience, the psychology of the purchase decision and the product and ABT: always be testing.

Segmentation on user action

Most segmentation strategies focus on things like gender, geographic location, race, weekend vs. weekday traffic and the like. However, I have found that segmenting by user action is far more effective at driving conversion.

Let’s take a hypothetical that an e-commerce site has a wish list feature. Customers can put items on the wish list for purchase later. Let’s say a customer adds an item to the wish list. Now what does this tell us? It tells us the user is likely to return and since most wish list functions require registration we now have the personal info of this user. That means we can send them a customized and highly targeted email campaign or have the wish list product info dropped into a cookie so when they return a modal pops reminding them of the product.

Here’s another hypothetical: consider a web site with 3 levels for a service: novice, intermediate and pro. Let’s say the pro version has the most profit margin and that’s what you want to focus on. You could watch for a specific path in web traffic that indicates the user is a highly qualified prospect. For instance, if the user is a new user (has not visited the site before) and the pro product page is the 2nd or 3rd page visited by that user. That’s an indicator that this person is qualified, the site can then be optimized to convert that visitor to sale.

When your audience is telling you what they want with their actions, listen.

Cold value proposition, hot leads

Some companies have a hard time explaining themselves. Maybe their product or service is complicated, maybe it’s esoteric or maybe they just can’t find the right words to express themselves clearly. Perhaps their brand guidelines prevent them from speaking a language that most people can understand. A lot of financial companies and consultancies have this problem. If it’s not a tangible product that can easily be expressed in an image or a sentence you have value proposition problem.

Now if that company’s web site is geared toward lead generation, you have an even trickier wicket to play through. If the visitor doesn’t understand why they need the company why would they give away their information? In cases such as those it’s critical to get the prospect to self qualify as soon as possible.

Let’s take a complicated product like life insurance. There’s term life insurance, whole life insurance and variable life insurance. You get the difference, right? The names are self explanatory. Well, no. I had a client that was a major insurance company and they approached the problem of explaining the difference between these products in exactly the wrong way: long explanatory copy blocks. Reading long copy blocks filled with industry jargon leaves the prospect ultimately bored and confused.

The right way to approach this is to speak directly to the prospect’s needs. Create a profile of the prospect for each of the products and then have the prospect tell you he or she fits the profile. For something complicated like life insurance the prospect doesn’t know what they want or need, it’s up to you to tell them.

This can be accomplished in many ways. You can do it with copy: Are you under 50, make over $50,000/year and want protection for your family? Learn more. You can do it with a slider filter. The prospect moves  the sliders for age, health, income, etc. and then the settings are submitted and the optimal product is recommended. You can do it with forms, if just the right checkboxes are added and the form is not too arduous. Under 50? Check. Make over $50,000/year? Check.

Get creative with that customer profile, think about how you speak to that profile and never, never be boring.

 

You can’t program creativity

Everyone’s talking about programmatic and real time bidding (RTB) advertising. In case you don’t know these terms programmatic and RTB is a robotic way to control and optimize ad spend that is highly targeted. When you start to load a web page your browser details and your cookie details are sent to a market place and ad impressions are purchased on a visitor by visitor basis. This is all done in 100 milliseconds.

Here’s an example: Bob likes sports, he visits ESPN frequently and his last Amazon purchase was a football. This information is stored in Bob’s cookies. Bob uses Safari as his browser. Safari users tend to be more techy and have more disposable income. A sports retailer has noticed that their mobile app has the most downloads between 6pm and 10pm on Tuesdays. The retailer would like to optimize their ad spend to generate the most mobile app downloads. So, Tuesday nights a programmatic campaign targets sports loving, Safari browser using people who made a sports purchase in the last 30 days.

Sounds spooky? Welcome to the modern world of digital marketing.

But a recent study showed that content marketing drives three times more leads than buying a SEM campaign. Why is this? Probably due to advertising overload. On the web we have become inured to ads. I have been on Facebook for 8 years. They know a lot about me. And yet I think I’ve clicked a Facebook ad once, maybe twice. And since it’s estimated that 35% of all adds are now served by programmatic systems it’s guaranteed that I have been exposed to the most targeted of ads thousands of times. But I don’t click. I’m sure graphic designers and marketers spent untold hours trying to make the most compelling display and text ads, but the pure fact that they are ads makes them entirely forgettable. Ironic, no?

But if a product or service had a compelling video or a blog post I would read, watch and maybe even click. If the content showed some creativity and thought I might click. If this content went out of it’s way to NOT sound like marketing or just a page to boost SEO results I might click. Even in this age of big data and software eating our jobs and driverless cars we crave humanity in marketing. 

Card sorting and information architecture

Perhaps the most critical piece of any web site is the navigation menu. If the information your customers are looking for is on the homepage or one of the landing pages and is communicated in a few short seconds your navigation doesn’t matter to them, but if it’s not the customer has to hunt for it in the navigation menu. If your customer gets lost in that menu structure you have a great likelihood of losing them. Often navigation structures are chosen by a single person and it may make perfect sense to that individual why they have chosen the navigation terms or sub navigation structure. But that may not make sense to the vast majority of your customers. For example, I conducted a test on the navigation menu for a global manufacturing company that had “shop” as the top menu item that lead to a list of the product categories the company made, for example, shop > cameras. There was another menu item called “discover” that lead to glossy content for a few featured products. When we changed “shop” to “shop products” we saw a 54% increase in interactions with that menu item and a 35% decrease in interactions with “discover”. So, clearly people were confused.

To determine the best navigation terms and information architecture you can use a method called card sorting. Write down all the navigation terms your site uses onto index cards. Then, hand those cards to a person unfamiliar with the web site and have them order the cards on a table or pin board in the manner they think is most logical. Repeat this process with a dozen or so people to find patterns in how an audience would think about navigation item groupings. You can also give the subjects alternative top category names and see which ones are picked most frequently. To draw on the “shop” vs. “shop products” example mentioned earlier you could add other alternatives such as “products” and “see products” and ask your card sorting test subjects to pick the one they think makes the most sense.

Reward framing and offer perception

I used to do a lot of offer testing for a company with 35 e-commerce sites. Offer tests work like this: the traffic is split 50/50, one group sees one particular offer to buy, say a “buy 2 get 1 free” offer, the other group is given a different offer of “33% off your order when you buy 3 items”. Now, if the customer buys exactly 3 items and they are all priced the same then the discount to the customer is the same. However, the perception of the offer is not the same. We tested this very offer combo on two different sites during two different times of the year. Each time we tested it “buy 2 get 1 free” out performed “33% off your order when you buy 3 items”.

In a test done in the physical realm, car wash loyalty cards were tested. Customers to a car wash were given two different kinds of loyalty card. We’ve all seen these cards, they have little icons on them and the business owner punches them out or puts a sticker on the icons to indicate a purchase has been made. One type of card had a buy 8 get the 9th free message on it. The other had a buy 10 get one free message but two of the icons that indicate you had made a purchase were punched out. So, both types of cards have exactly the same value, they both require 8 purchases to get one for free. However, for the buy 8 get 1 free card only 19% of customers redeemed it for a free car wash while for the buy 10 get one free with two purchases already made card 34% redeemed it for the free car wash.

That’s a pretty big difference. So, if you’re going to offer the customer a reward of some type, consider re-framing that offer in another way and see which one converts at a higher rate.

 

How to measure the unmeasurable

Sometimes you have a page that you want to optimize but there’s no clear metric to determine success. For example, it might be a customer service or support page – no add to cart buttons or lead generation form to give you hard data on if you’re using the optimal design.

In such situations, if you’re trying to get customers to the information they need you might use time on the page to determine success, the less time on the page, the better the design. You got your customers to the information they need quickly and they left happy. But that is an unclear metric, it could be the page design is not optimal and people are just leaving quickly in frustration because they can’t find what they need. AKA: a high bounce rate.

Another interesting way to measure such pages that have no clear metric of success is to incorporate survey data into your analysis. I have done this with survey providers like Foresee and Opinion Labs.  Now imagine that a web page has an optimization test running. For simplicity sake, say it’s an A/B test of two page designs. 50% of traffic sees design X and 50% sees design Y. Or, Sarah sees page design X and Jim sees page design Y.

Sarah comes to the page and sees design X. She can’t find the information she needs and she’s frustrated so she answers the survey and gives the site a negative review. Jim, however, sees design Y and gets exactly what he needs in a few seconds. He answers the survey and gives a very positive review. Now multiply Sarah and Jim’s experience by 100. With a larger sample of data you get a better idea of how your page design performs.

By combining time on the page with survey results you get a better sense of which design is optimal. If design Y has a lower time on page metric and has better survey results you have two metrics that confirm each other and you can be more confident that you have a better design.

Button psychology

For the vast majority of task oriented online marketing it all comes down to the button. During the customer journey we may have started with our prospects clicking a link in Google’s search results, that took them to a landing page where we expressed the value proposition of our product to the user, that may have lead to a showcase page for more information on our product and glossy content and then we ask them to click a button: an add to cart button, a download button, a register button. Please dear customer, just click this button.

In my years of digital marketing and testing two things have become apparent.

1. When dealing with forms, especially one page forms, buttons that indicate that the process will be over with that button click are almost always most effective at converting the customer.

The marketing psychology of this is pretty obvious. Consider the word “submit” for a button. It’s vague. It communicates sending digital information through the ether, but then what? Now consider the dreaded “continue” button. That communicates that there’s more form to come, that punching in your personal information – a process most people hate – is an ongoing process, you could be doing this until dinner time!

Now consider the words “finish” and “complete”. That intones that you’re done. This is the end, don’t abandon this form now, you just have a few more boxes to tick and then you get the satisfaction of having completed the task. It is my experience that “finish” and “complete” can lead to considerable increases in form completion.

2. When dealing with e-commerce sites yellows, oranges and reds are the button shades that convert the most.

Walmart.com’s add to cart buttons are orange, Amazon’s is a dark yellow and Target’s is of course red, but that’s also in inline with their branding. This is no accident. I am sure they are testing this all the time. Orange is empowering, stimulating and reinforces what I like to call the “warm glow of consumerism”, that feeling of excitement you get when you pull the trigger on buying some cherished item.

Of course, you should always be testing buttons but if you’re looking for quick wins in conversion of form completions or purchases, the two suggestions above are likely winners.

The power of one word, or, why copy matters.

The beginning of this post is taken from an excellent episode of RadioLab (they’re all excellent) and I encourage one and all to listen to it.

Facebook had a problem; users were reporting photos as abusive and offensive when they weren’t. Why? People were posting innocuous group photos of family and friends and it turns out that other people in the photos simply weren’t happy that the photo had been posted. They may not have liked their pose, their facial expression or simply didn’t want it public. Having no other option to have that photo taken down, the self imagined victims were reporting the photos as offensive content.

Facebook created a solution, they asked users to select from some options in a drop down to describe how the photo made them feel. Some of the options were things like “embarrassing”, “upsetting”, “bad photo” and “other” along with a box to enter text to describe “other”. When they released the feature they found 50% of users selected one of the named emotions and 34% selected “other”. But of the people who selected “other” the number one typed in response was “it’s embarrassing” – a slight variation to one of the drop down choices.

In light of this data Facebook tweaked the interface. So instead of just “embarrassing” and “upsetting” they changed the choices to “it’s embarrassing” and “it’s upsetting”. This raised the number of people who selected one of the listed emotions from 50% to 78%. One word: “it’s” increased interaction with that content by over 50%. By including “it’s” the blame is shifted from a person to an object. I’m not embarrassed, it’s that photo that is embarrassing.

I recently did a copy test in the global navigation bar of a major electronics manufacturer. The global navigation had 5 options including two items; “Discover” and “Shop”. Now if you’re looking for a new widget from this company, which would you choose to learn more about it? You aren’t ready to buy it just yet, so you might want to “Discover” more information about it. But when you go to “Discover” you find glossy articles talking about other products from the company, not the one you want. “Shop” is the menu item you want, it is where all the products are listed by category and you can drill down to the product detail information. So we changed “Shop” to “Shop Products” and saw a 54% increase in interactions with that menu item and a 35% decrease in interactions with the “Discover” menu item. 

A travel business client has a gift card line of business where you can buy someone a card with a dollar amount attached for travel anywhere. The default amount shown (you can change it, but the dollar amount is very prominent) is $1000. I suggested we do a Valentine’s day promotion with the headline theme of “send the ones you love to the places they love”. It’s a message of giving something you know the recipient will enjoy and the word “love” is used twice – a powerful emotion and a powerful word. The client’s marketing department came back with a different approach of “venture big this Valentine’s day”. The word “venture” as in “venture capital” means to take a dangerous risk. The first definition from dictionary.com is below.

Venture, noun. 1. an undertaking involving uncertainty to the outcome especially a risky or dangerous one: a mountain climbing venture.

So the message is: spend a lot of money ($1000 suggested on the page) on the outside chance that your loved one will appreciate it. The test did indeed fail and my suspicion is that the word “venture” is primarily responsible.

And so you see, a single word can have a powerful effect. Take care with your copy and test it rigorously.