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If websites were human beings, usability would be their oxygen. They need it to survive (and thrive!) and they would only really notice its importance on smoggy days when they don’t get enough of it. As life-sustaining as oxygen is to the Homo-Sapien, such is usability to the website.
We have conducted millions of customer experience experiments on elements that increase (and, in some cases, decrease) conversions on websites and we have found 10 universally proven elements that affect conversions. These 10 factors hold true whether your website caters to businesses or consumers; regardless of geographic location; across all industries; for all conversion types, customer personas, and traffic conditions.
We recommend that every company review its site for all of these elements. The order is insignificant; all 10 elements will increase your conversions when optimized and each has the ability to devastate conversions when it is neglected.
1. Trust and credibility
The anonymity of the online world has created a subconscious yearning for reliable organizations. As customers, we want to do business with companies that are credible and trustworthy. A teenager with some web design and coding skills can create an impressive website in his basement, but that does not guarantee it will convert.
To create sites that convert, we must build trust and credibility into our usability. A few great examples of how to do so:
- Be reachable: On your website, include contact information. Which contact information to include (phone number, live help app, physical location, contact form, etc.) and where to include it (on every page or only on a “Contact Us” section) can be tested and optimized, but what is certain is that it must be available on your site.
For example, large consumer-facing sites often include this information in the header, on every page:
Many B2B sites have also found that including (at least) a phone number on every page is optimal:
- Showcase customers: Displaying logos (for B2B) or photos (for B2C) of some of your customers also builds trust. Select the customers that are most typical of your target audience so that your web visitors can identify and relate to them.
- Social proof: Including reviews, testimonials, case studies, and other elements of socially proven success is a big help when fostering trust for your site.
2. Clean design
Volumes can (and have!) been written about design elements that improve conversion rates. Without going into too much detail, clean design always wins, hands-down, over design that is cluttered, messy, and poorly thought-out. Investing in site design is a wise move that will prove ROI-positive many times over.
A clean design makes a good first impression and that should be one of its main goals. Some elements of clean design include:
- Optimal colour selection and contrast
- Images that can be zoomed and enlarged
- Call to Action elements that are clear and well-positioned
- Consistent page layouts
- Important information above the fold
MarketingSherpa published a great case study from Weather Channel’s multivariate test that optimized a landing page with clean design. The changes they made to the design increased conversions by 225%. Notice the color/contrast and the clear call to action button in the optimised version.
Once you get visitors to your home page, how they navigate through your pages can be an enabler of conversions or a deterrent. To ensure yours is the former, adopt these navigation best practices:
- Websites must be organized in a logical fashion
- Navigation should be clear and the user should always know where he is within the site (a good way to indicate this is to use breadcrumbs)
- Menus and submenus should have between 5-9 options (known as the 7±2 rule)
- All information on a website should be reachable with 3 (or fewer) clicks
- The company logo should be clickable on every page. Clicking it should return the user to the home page
Structure and design elements are critical; but equally important to conversion rates are the technical elements of usability. The goal, of course, is to make the technical aspects as invisible and unnoticeable as the air we breathe.
Load times should be as fast as possible, a customer who is ready to convert should never have to wait on a page or element to load. Redirection must be properly set up so that visitors typing www.yoursite.com and yoursite.com arrive at the same place. Your site must not have any broken links. Also, customizing the 404 page is a best practice that has a surprisingly positive effect on conversions.
Though you do your best to organize and structure your website in a way that is logical and navigable (see step #3), it is not always possible to anticipate everything visitors will be looking for. For this reason, it is important to conversions to make your website searchable.
In this case study, by adding the Google Site Search solution to its site, waterfilters.net (one of Inc Magazine’s 500 fastest growing companies in America) decreased their bounce rate by 4% and increased conversions by 11%.
The search element is relatively easy to implement and offers great conversion rate optimization results.
More and more, users are accessing websites on smartphone, tablets, and other devices. In fact, 69% of tablet users shop on their device. Today’s websites must be responsive to different browsers and screen sizes. Make sure that no matter the device or software, there is no horizontal scroll and that the customer experience is optimized for mobile.
In this study, when the O’Neill Clothing Company adopted responsive design, mobile conversions increased:
- 65.71% for iPhone/iPad
- 407.32% for Android
Responsive design has shifted from “nice-to-have” to an absolute “must-have” in today’s mobile-savvy world.
Simplifying and decluttering, though mentioned in our clean design section (see #2), is not just about design. In general, the user experience on the website should aim for simplicity. That is, any forms the user needs to fill out should only include the necessary information and be as short as possible. For example, if a user is already logged into your system, do not ask for information you already have (name, email, etc.).
Test all error messages to make sure they are straight-forward and understandable by non-technical visitors (error messages should not be written only by programmers, they should be approved by whomever is responsible for site messaging and branding).
Minimise flash or other required add-ons.
Keep things simple. It simply converts better that way.
The content on your website should not be neglected when you optimized to increase conversions. Always make sure all content you offer is useful to your target audience. But beyond useful, content must be easy to read.
Writing web copy is unlike writing novels or newspaper articles. On your website, utilize short paragraphs and heading styles.
Lists, both numbered and bulleted, work very well to increase readability and make content convert.
Involve your designer in selecting the proper font size and spacing for different styles and elements.
A good customer experience is a personal customer experience. Elements of your site can be customized when a user is logged in (or cookied). For example, prices can be displayed in local currency, texts can be translated to the correct language, only taxes and delivery options that are applicable can be shown to each user.
Beyond that, though, sites like Amazon.com will recommend products similar or complementary to those that the user has viewed before for a more personal experience with greater conversions.
10. Ease of conversions
Though it may seem like a no-brainer, the easier it is to convert on your website, the more visitors will complete conversions. Whether a conversion for your business means a sale is completed or a user leaves his contact info, make sure the conversion funnel includes as few steps as possible and is quick to complete.
Improving customer experience leads to increased conversions
To sum up these 10 usability elements that affect conversions is to simply say that the customer experience comes first. When you understand your customers and their needs, then optimize your site to fulfill them, conversions improve.
Of course, as always, we encourage you to try all of the tips mentioned above. But, when you do, make sure to measure customers’ engagement with your optimizations. Measurement will give you the kind of data you need to further optimize and increase conversions even more.
Which usability tips and tricks have worked for your site?
Image: witflow via Flickr.