Clicks That Count
The Only 4 Things That Make a Difference Online
By Amy Africa
I just got off the phone with a soon-to-be-ex-client. Soon meaning, soon-as-I-can-write-them-a-Dear-John-letter-soon.
Every Monday, Peter (name changed to protect the guilty) calls or e-mails me to tell me about some fancy-schmancy new next-best-thing he found over the weekend. You know, THE THING that will reinvent his $250 million e-business overnight. As if.
Sure, there are lots of bells and whistles you can add to your site, but do any of them work? Are any of them worth the money? Not really.
Don't get me wrong, I like all the new, singing, dancing stuff just as much as the next guy. But no matter how much it costs, 99.9 percent of it doesn't work.
There are really only four things that make a difference online. Whether you are a small, entrepreneurial start-up or a Fortune 500 company, you need a solid entry page, the best shopping cart/inquiry system money can buy, killer navigation and search function, and a great back-end e-mail program. Nothing else matters.
#1. The Perfect Entry Page
If you're like most, 80 percent to 90 percent of the people who visit your site today will never get off the page they came in on. Sure, some of this happens because the user clicked the wrong button and landed on the wrong page, but most of it happens because we don't give the customer what they're looking for the instant they arrive.
What do customers look for on a home page? One of the first things they do is look for an offer with "a reason to stay." In the upper right-hand quad of your site, you need to give the customer something to focus on. Deals, especially limited-time deals, work best, but you also can use this area to promote a special product or service. Anything with a deal or a deadline creates urgency and causes people to focus.
The user also will look for good, easy ways to get around, a place to contact you and a little bit of intro copy. Eighty percent of users scan text online as opposed to reading it, so the only place you can get everyone to read is in the intro copy of the entry page.
The customer also will look for something to buy. If you're not selling something on your entry page, fix it fast. You need to showcase three to five featured products with pictures, headlines, a little bit of copy, price and buy now/more information buttons. Your entry page is the window of your store—to get someone to come in and look around, you've got to show them something they want to touch and feel. Otherwise, they'll keep walking.
In the right-hand column of your entry page, you'll want to give your customers lots of little attention-getting sales pitches: "Top 10 Bestseller Lists" work well, as do little product features, tips of the day, and so on.
I also recommend including self-banners at the top and bottom of your site. Self-banners work just like regular banners but instead of promoting other people's products and services, they promote yours. They're meant to look like mini-advertisements, so simple animation and bold colors, such as red, yellow and black, work best. If you need a good example of self-banners check out www.autosportcatalog.com or www.hellodirect.com.
Remember, the No. 1 goal of your entry page is to get the customer to drill. It's your job to get them to pick and click something they want to see as fast as possible. If you don't do that, they're history.
#2. Killer Navigation
Navigation accounts for at least 40 percent of your success online. It's important that you offer your customers several tiers of navigation: top navigation, bottom navigation and left-hand navigation. Contrary to popular belief, there's really no such thing as right-hand navigation.
Your top navigation is your action navigation. It tells the user what they are supposed to do at your site, whether it be to order or to inquire. Things such as free catalog, auction and Web specials tend to work well. If you're driving most of your traffic from offline methods, be sure to include a quick/express catalog order.
Bottom navigation is a regurgitation of the three to four items listed at the top as well as links to your site map, privacy statement, customer bill of rights and contact information. Contact information includes your logo, a five- to seven- word tagline about your business, address, phone and fax numbers, URL, e-mail address, and any copyright information.
Your left-hand navigation tells the user what's in your store and how they're supposed to get around. At the top of your left-hand bar, ask them to sign-up for your free e-mail or newsletter. Underneath, offer them a couple of ways to search (pure text searches and drop-down boxes tend to work best), the highlights of your store (the three to four items you really want them to check out), your subject categories and your content. Content includes customer testimonials, company information and a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee. At the bottom of your left-hand navigation, encourage your customers to refer a friend or colleague to your site.
After you've developed your navigation, work on the search function. It should be intuitive and easy to use.
#3. Solid Shopping Cart and Inquiry Forms
If you're an e-commerce site, developing a solid shopping cart is one of the most difficult things you need to do. Your cart needs to be designed for the lowest common denominators, meaning the people who are a few french fries short of a Happy Meal.
Your cart should break the ordering process into four to six steps, starting with the easy billing information first. It must calculate shipping, handling and taxes and mimic any and all offline processes—if you take purchase orders offline you must do it online as well.
Be able to calculate discounts immediately. One thing that drives customers bonkers is when we bring them to our sites using all kinds of special discounts, they shop around, put stuff in their basket, and then proceed to the checkout only to find out their discount will be calculated at the time of confirmation.
The customer despises this. They want and require that the total price on the final sheet is exactly what you're billing their credit card. Anything less is a primary motivation for abandonment.
It's your job to set the customer's expectations—with availability information and anticipated delivery times—to make the process as fast and easy as possible and to confirm his or her success. Confirmations are one of the most successful and underutilized ways to solidify or enhance the ordering process. Remember to pop up a thank you landing page after order completion.This page should thank customers for their order, tell them what to expect next and then drive them back into the site. If you have a good end-of-order process, you'll drive about a quarter of your traffic back into the site after the initial order. At the same time, you'll also want to send customers a thank you e-mail to again thank them and offer them a good reason to go back inside your store.
Creating inquiry forms is much easier than building a perfect shopping cart. Make sure everything is in a vertical format (for example, city, state and Zip should be on three lines instead of one), remind them of the offer in the upper left-hand corner, make the form easy to print out, and include phone/fax/e-mail information on the bottom of the page.
#4. A Great E-Mail Program
Contacting your site visitors on a regular basis is an absolute must. Develop a one-to-one e-mail or newsletter contact program to keep in touch with prospects and customers about special offers and sales, new product introductions, Internet-only exclusives, scratch-and-dent offers, etc.
To make yours stand out from the bazillion other e-mails people receive, add some personality to your correspondence. One of the best e-mail programs I've seen comes from www.anitalang.com. Anita Lang sells high-quality animal-inspired jewelry to upscale pet lovers. Every other week she sends out an e-mail to her house list that includes lots of special Internet-only offers as well as funny, anecdotal information about the antics of Scruffy, Nathan and Bear, her furry-legged friends.
When you're putting together your e-mail program, pay special attention to your "To" and "From" lines, subject line and the first two lines of your e-mail. Personalize your e-mails with the person's name—"friends" and "colleagues" just don't cut it anymore.
Your subject line works just like an envelope teaser, only more aggressive. You have 24 to 35 characters to get your e-mail opened, so choose your words wisely. And, pay attention to your opening two lines. About half of the people delete your e-mails after reading the first couple sentences so don't waste the space with unsubscribe messages. Use an aggressive message with active hyperlinks to make them click fast.
Don't under estimate the power of your "from" address. Whether it's a character, a real person or someone you make up, your e-mails should be from a name. More than 30 percent of people delete e-mails without even looking at the subject line because they don't recognize whom the e-mail is from.
Dancing bunnies? Flying spaceships with helpful green aliens that land all over the screen? They can't hold a candle to the things that work. And yes, that still holds true if you are a multimillion dollar company searching for a new Internet consultant, Peter.
Amy Africa is the president of Creative Results, a strategic direct marketing agency located in Williston, VT. She can be reached at email@example.com.