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.

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.

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.’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 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.


No such thing as an informational page

A client of mine has several ancillary business lines in addition to their main product. For the sake of argument consider these additional products that compliment the main business line like Dell will try and sell you antivirus programs when you’re shopping for a new laptop. I was tasked with boosting the sales of these products. In doing my research on their site on how they currently market these products I discovered a number of pages that were well designed and had highly relevant content but they lacked one thing: a clear path to purchase. When I brought this to the client’s attention I was told that these pages didn’t need a call to action button or any other improvement of the user experience to buy. I was told these pages were purely “informational”.

There is no such thing as a purely “informational” web page in eCommerce.

If a user got to that page, whether by browsing, Googling, using internal search, word of mouth, carrier pigeon message…whatever… they took the time and effort to get there for one reason: they are considering buying. They have now self identified themselves as a highly qualified prospect. Why would you not make it easy for them to buy?

Imagine if a car dealership worked like this. You take an hour or two on your Saturday to drive in your beater car you are hoping to replace to the dealership and when you walk into the showroom you find that there before you is the gleaming new car that you want. You can pick up the brochure for the model, you can open the car door, plant yourself in the driver’s seat, whiff the new plastic smell and count the cup holders. And once you decide that you want it….nothing. There’s no sales people. There’s no bell to ring for service. There’s no information on how to buy it. You would likely stand around bewildered and then walk out and give your business to someone else.

That fictional dealership would be out of business in under a month.

First rule of good UX in eCommerce: make it easy to buy.