Editor's Note: In the January/February issue of eM+C, we debuted a new column called eAnswers, where e-marketers and e-tailers ask e+MC experts questions, and they answer them using their knowledge and keen insight. We received so many great answers to our questions that we couldn't fit them all in the publication. As a result, we posted the additional answers to some of questions that appeared in the issue here.
Q: "We are well-regarded as an independent, unbiased source of information about curly hair. We also have to sell hair-care products and advertisements to pay the rent. How do we maintain editorial independence in covering the companies whose products we sell and who perhaps buy advertising from us?"--Gretchen Heber, co-founder NaturallyCurly.com Inc., Austin, TX.
A: Users understand that advertising and product sales help support the site. Offering ads and product sales won't adversely affect the site experience-so long as ads and product sales are clearly separated from editorial content. But if the site unclearly mixes editorial content and advertising, users will lose trust in the site and go elsewhere for information.
Visually distinguish paid advertising from content, and avoid "advertorial" content- advertising intended to look like editorial content. If any such advertising exists, clearly label it as advertising, sponsored content, or promotional content.
Most importantly, maintain editorial independence, regardless of advertising dollars or product sales. Continue to review and report on products that are sold through the site as well as those that are not, with honest and straightforward evaluations of or information about each.
Have a clear editorial policy, and list it in your About Us section or in a frequently asked questions area. Make it clear-to both advertisers and users-that editorial is independent of advertising.
Advertisers are interested in the site because it is successful, and it is successful because of its independent, unbiased information. Changing editorial to match advertising dollars would ultimately backfire for the site, its users and its advertisers -users will lose trust in the site and stop visiting, and advertising doesn't work if there's no one there to see it.
--eM+C expert Amy Schade, a user experience specialist at Nielsen Norman Group (www.nngroup), a Fremont, Calif.-based usability consulting company.
Q: We are thinking about redesigning the product detail/product information page on our Web site, and wondering what key considerations and elements we should include. Any advice?"--Zachary Applegate, search and marketing manager, PlumberSurplus.com, Riverside, Calf.
A: Product pages are places where you'd like to be at your persuasive best. In general, the impact of addressing discrete elements, important though these are, is almost always less than the impact of changing the quality of your copy and your product images (or offering multiple images).
In other words, changing your font sizes usually will have less effect on your page conversion than will creating persuasive copy that answers your customers' questions. Similarly, changing the color of your headers will have less effect than will making sure your ‘add to cart' button is prominent and located in a place where customers would look for it. I call this the conversion optimization hierarchy; where persuasiveness trumps usability, accessibility, and functionality.
One key consideration in preparing your persuasive copy is to make sure it addresses the benefits (not merely the features) of the product.
It is also important to present different categories of product information in a way that feels intuitive and obvious to your customers, as in this product page for a PC Tablet (http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/products/Tablet_PC/productdetail.aspx?
c=us&l=en&s=dhs&cs=19&sku=A1121508) that uses an effective tab format. Not every customer will be interested in this product's specifications - and the jargon-y nature of specifications may flat-out put some customers off - but you want to make sure those who require the information can find it quickly.
All elements being equal, you then need to begin testing your product pages, carefully refining how changes to your page affects your conversion rates. You can do this for free using Google's easy-to-use Website Optimizer program (http://services.google.com/websiteoptimizer//)
--eM+C Expert Bryan Esienberg, co-founder and chief persuasion officer of Future Now (www.futurenowinc.com) a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based interactive marketing optimization firm.
Q: "We are also thinking about updating our Web site's checkout process. What are the the key features and elements that need to be included or reviewed here."--Zachary Applegate, search and marketing manager, PlumberSurplus.com, Riverside, Calf.
A: Checkout processes ask for standard information -every site needs a shipping address, billing address, and method of payment. However, there are many ways e-commerce sites can run into trouble, even in these standard transactions. For example:
Tell users items were added to the cart.The checkout process starts when users add items to the cart. Don't ignore this crucial step. Let users know when they've added an item to the cart, with an obvious visual change to the screen - a small line of text or easy-to-overlook graphical change to the screen is not enough. If users end up with 3 items in the cart due to inadequate feedback, they'll blame the site and may be distracted from making a bigger purchase or making a purchase at all.
Let users change their minds. Many shoppers use the shopping cart as a "dressing room" - a place to consider items without committing to them. Let users pick and choose within the cart by allowing them to update quantities and remove items easily.
Don't force registration. Shoppers don't want to register, they want to buy. Don't force users to register to proceed through checkout. Instead, offer the option for registration at the end of the process. Tell users the benefits - from their perspective, not yours - of registration, including faster future purchases and easier order tracking. At the end of the process, all you'll need is a password, which seems easy after all the other data entry in the checkout process.
Be lenient. Let users enter phone numbers and credit card numbers any way they would like to - with dashes, without, with dots, with or without spaces. Clean up data on the back-end - don't force users to learn the preferred format for your site.
Identify problems.If there's an error, tell users at the top of the screen, where they're most likely to see it, and also include a message where the problem appears on the page. Tell users what the problem is in easy-to-understand language - don't talk about "data entry errors," "alphanumeric characters," "invalid entries" or "missing fields." Tell users they need to enter a phone number or check an email address.
Let users know they're done. Give users a progress indicator in the checkout process so they know when the order will be complete. And when it is complete, tell them so. Give users a confirmation screen which summarizes the purchase. Make this page printer-friendly, so users can quickly print out a receipt.
-- eM+C expert Amy Schade, a user experience specialist at Nielsen Norman Group (www.nnp.com), a fremont, Calif.-based usability consulting company.