This is the seventh article in an eight-part series which describes the role of a digital media strategist in improving the website operations of a company or organization.
All of the elements of your website which we have discussed so far are designed to shepherd your visitor to the point where they will read and respond favorably to your call to action. Your website can be perfect in every other facet, but if it fails to ultimately persuade your visitors to take the desired action, then you have ultimately failed.
When your digital media strategist began evaluating your efforts in the digital realm, she interviewed your organization’s key personnel to discover your objectives for your website and your other online operations. Strongly connected to your objectives are the various calls to action which appear on your website. In many ways, they are the culmination of your objectives. Your calls to action are asking your visitors to take actions which, in aggregate, will lead to the fulfillment of your objectives.
Your digital media strategist, therefore, will analyze your call to action (purchase, lead generation, etc.) and the vehicles through which a website visitor can respond to your call to action (shopping cart, contact form, etc.).
First, your digital media strategist will look at your actual call to action to ensure that it:
- matches your objectives for your website. If one of your objectives is to increase the size of your newsletter subscription list, for example, then your website should include an element (a call to action) which persuades your site’s visitors to sign up for that newsletter. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Many organizations, however, do not have clear objectives for their websites and so they find it difficult to formulate corresponding calls to action.
- is clear and explicit. When your call to action reaches the forefront of your visitor’s mind and heart, it’s no time to beat around the bush. Instead, it is time to clearly ask your visitor to take the desired action. If yours is an ecommerce website, don’t be shy — ask your visitor explicitly to place an order. If your objective is for your visitors to contact you regarding your services, be up front and ask them to call you or send you an email.
- uses the appropriate vehicle to help your customer respond.Ecommerce sites will use a shopping cart to enable their visitors to purchase products. Consultants will use a contact form on their websites to allow their visitors to contact them regarding their services. Websites which are content-heavy (newspaper or magazine sites, for example) will probably have a sign-up form to help their visitors subscribe to an email newsletter.
Once your digital media strategist has evaluated your call to action and given you recommendations for improvement, he will turn to the vehicles through which your visitors can complete the desired action: your web form(s) and/or your shopping cart.
Web forms are the vehicles through which you allow your visitors to contact you to inquire about your services, sign up for a regular newsletter, request a catalog, etc. It may seem like there’s nothing which can be done to improve a web form (after all, it’s just a form, isn’t it?), but there are actually several things you can do to make your web forms more usable. And the more usable your forms, the more likely your visitor will complete them and the more effective your call to action will be. Here are some tips for improving your web forms, in no particular order:
- Make the form the focus of your page. In other words, minimize distractions. Devote your form’s page to collecting the information you need and don’t distract them with advertisements, links to other pages (apart from your main navigation), additional content, etc.
- Use labels, fieldsets, and legends for accessibility. These elements enable the visually-impaired to more easily understand your forms.
- Give the user immediate clues when the field is obviously correctly or incorrectly completed, and be specific about the nature of the error. For example, if a user enters an email address without the “@” character, your form should immediately notify the user that they have entered an invalid email address.
- Automatically reformat phone numbers, dates, or credit card numbers to match the format you need. For example, if your database requires phone numbers to just have numbers and no parentheses or dashes, don’t force your user to enter their phone number that way. Instead, use programming to remove the extraneous characters.
- Use checkboxes when more than one choice can be made and radio buttons when choices are mutually exclusive. If there are too many radio buttons (more than five perhaps), consider using a drop-down select box.
- Only ask for information which is absolutely necessary to serve your objective. No one likes long forms — the more information you ask for, the more likely your visitor will begin to wonder if completing the form is worth the time and frustration.
- Clearly point out which fields are mandatory. This can be accomplished through placing an asterisk next to the title of the field, bolding the title, etc. Just make sure that it’s obvious and that you clearly state somewhere near the form how mandatory fields are identified.
- If an error is made and you have to return people to the form, preserve the user’s choices and the data they’ve already entered (except for password information). When completing a web form, nothing is more frustrating than having to enter the information more than once.
Shopping carts are the vehicles through which you allow your visitors to purchase your products (or perhaps services). Like web forms, shopping carts can be made more usable through several subtle improvements. Taking these steps will make it more likely that your visitors will complete a purchase on your site. Here are some tips for improving your shopping cart, in no particular order:
- Show shipping and tax rates early in the process (as soon as you know the shopper’s address). Or allow your shoppers to enter their zip code to see an estimate of shipping and tax. In surveys of shoppers’ behavior, the reason most often given for abandonment of shopping carts is unexpected shipping and tax. Showing your customers this information early in the process will prevent the “sticker shock” which can lead to abandoned carts.
- Provide answers to common questions within the shopping cart. Some of the questions your customers may be asking as they go through your shopping cart include questions about shipping, returns, customer service, privacy, security, your guarantee, etc. If you can answer these questions within the shopping cart process, you reduce the likelihood of your user abandoning the cart to go find the answers.
- Use a persistent cart throughout your site. This means that you should show the contents of a user’s shopping cart on every page of your site. Typically, persistent carts appear somewhere near the upper-right-hand corner of the page. At the very least, you should display the number of items in the user’s cart along with the current order total; however, the best persistent carts actually enable the user to view the specific contents of the cart, often by clicking on or hovering over the smaller cart which only shows the number of items and the order total.
- Use upsells to merchandize additional products. As your user prepares to checkout, you can display additional products which might interest them. Typically, these are low-priced items which are impulse buys (sort of like the candy and magazine racks in the checkout lanes of a grocery store), but they can also be higher-priced items which are closely related to the products the user has already placed in their cart. If your website has wishlist functionality, you can also display items from the user’s wishlist, which can be quite powerful (since you know they already want these items, they are more likely to place them in their cart if you display them during the checkout process).
- Allow your shoppers to edit product details (quantity, size, color/pattern, etc.) directly within the shopping cart. If your user does decide they want to change something during the checkout process, they won’t have to leave the shopping cart to do so.
- Reduce the navigation options within your shopping cart. Once the user has entered the checkout process, you want to subtly encourage them to complete the process (rather than give them obvious options to navigate elsewhere on your site. Obviously, the user can still go wherever they want — all you are trying to do by minimizing navigation during the checkout process is to reduce the likelihood that your user will accidentally click on something which removes them from the checkout process.
- Use a progress indicator to help the shopper know where they are in the process. This can be a progress bar, or a text indicator (“Step 3 of 5”), etc. This orients your shopper and reduces uncertainty.
- Include indications of product availability (both outside the cart on product detail pages and within the shopping cart). Doing so will reduce surprises — one of the worst things that can happen is for your shopper to complete a purchase, thinking they will receive the item soon, only to find out later that it is backordered. Such a scenario decreases trust and confidence and makes it more likely that the customer will not shop with you again.
- Consider providing live chat functionality within the cart. For those who can afford it, a live chat feature can be very useful and will enable your customer service staff to help customers who find themselves confused or paralyzed within the checkout process. The affordability of live chat includes more than being able to pay the monthly fee from a live chat provider. You also must be able to afford to have personnel available to interact with customers during a reasonable number of hours in the day. For example, if you are based in the Pacific time zone and your customers are confined to the United States, you might want someone to be available to respond to live chat requests from 5:00 am to 7:00 pm Pacific time so that there will be someone available to answer questions from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm no matter what timezone they live in (from Hawaii to the east coast of the United States).
- Accept promotion or coupon codes within the checkout process.These allow you to make special offers such as order discounts, free or reduced shipping, gift with purchase, etc. One thing to keep in mind, though, is to consider not making the promotion code field prominent within the shopping cart. If you make it too prominent, users without a coupon code will be tempted to leave your cart to see if they can find a coupon code on another website which aggregates coupon codes from hundreds of websites. The best approach is to minimize the promotion code section of the shopping cart but then give your users explicit instructions to help them find it when you advertise your offers (in an email blast, for example).Note: when I first wrote this article, websites that aggregated promotion or coupon codes were not as common as they are now. Searching for coupon codes during the buying process is becoming more and more ubiquitous. Something to consider is that making promotion code fields less prominent may be more frustrating to your customers than it is useful to you. I know of one company who has at least experimented with even including all current promotion codes in a popup window that can be accessed from their shopping cart and checkout process because they believe that customers will search for them anyway – they believe that including the promotion codes in their own popup will discourage their customers from leaving the shopping cart and enables the company to pay the affiliate fee they would owe if the customer were to find the promotion code on a coupon site which is one of the company’s affiliates.
- Include a toll-free phone number within your shopping cart.Customers who are confused about something can then call your customer service department to either complete their order over the phone or receive help in how to complete it online.
- Display third-party seals which demonstrate the trustworthiness of your checkout process. Verisign, McAfee Secure, and The Better Business Bureau are good examples of third-party “watchdog” companies which provide accreditation seals to companies which meet their standards. These seals will give your customers confidence that their private information is safe and that they will have a good shopping experience with your company. It is also a good idea to display any guarantees your company provides (satisfaction guarantees, same-day shipping guarantees, etc.).
- Make effective use of your “cart is empty” page. If your customer clicks on the View Cart link on their site when they haven’t put any products in their cart, they will be shown an “Empty Cart” page. You should take this opportunity to provide links to the main product categories on your site, remind the customer of your toll-free phone number, provide a link to your live chat feature, answer questions, etc. Doing these things will encourage your customer to continue shopping.
In the final installment in this eight-part series, we will discover that a digital media strategist will evaluate your analytics system.