Boost Ecommerce Conversions with UX Design

Written by Alex Harris

View the recent interview – Boost Ecommerce Conversions:

Transcript from the interview:

Boost Ecommerce Conversions with User Experience & Design

In this Google Hangout, 2Checkout Content Wrangler Sean Edgar sits down with User Experience & Design specialist Alex Harris to discuss how international e-commerce companies can create websites that lead to more conversions and lead generation. Alex Harris is the founder and creative director at AlexDesigns.com. With a history that spans conversion rate optimization and AB testing, Harris brings rich insights into how companies can help guide visitors to press the buy button.

Here’s the transcript of this interview:

Alex Harris is a specialist in user experience and design.  He’s accomplished over 5,000 A/B tests.  He’s been working since 2001.

Alex will be speaking with us a little bit about how eCommerce merchants can use user experience and design to help increase conversions.

Sean Edgar: How can user experience and design help to increase sales for eCommerce sites?

Alex Harris:   It’s really taking yourself outside of your business and putting yourself in that customer’s shoes, and really being able to kind of define the experience they’re going to have ahead of time.  As a web designer, we call it “defining the customer journey.”  As a conversion optimizer, it’s really creating the ideal click path.

How do you get them from wherever they arrive – you know, from an advertisement – to really, the finish line?  That whole process of getting them in, the key word is called on boarding.  You’re bringing them step-by-step through a certain process to really convert them, whether it’s a sale through eCommerce or whether you’re collecting a lead.

But in-between that whole process, there’s a lot of different micro conversions.  So as a user experience web designer, you really want to not only design for a great brand, but you want to create user-centered design or user-centric, really putting yourself in the shoes of the potential customer and improving that experience to get them to that finish line.  That way, you can kind of predict – using usability and testing – to make them get closer at each micro conversion to your end goal.

Sean:  How can these merchants learn these insights?  What are some of the research techniques that would be best for a merchant to learn about their audience and how they shop?

Alex:   Understanding your customers is really key.  Because most marketers out there, they just spray and pray.  They market to way too many people.

You really want to isolate who your real, ideal customer is.  You could do that in many different ways.  You want to use analytics.  But before you even do that, you want to almost guess.  You want to create these personas of different people out there.

So you have this type of person who might be interested in your product.  What would be the problems that they may have in their lives that your product is actually going to solve?

If you want to research that person, you can do that using Facebook.  Find out what Facebook pages that those types of people may like.  Then you can really get into the mind of that potential customer.  You can create a better experience and define those personas ahead of time.

Sean:  Fantastic.  At 2Checkout, our merchants sell to over 200 different countries.  How does this equation change if you’re having a merchant looking to address a global audience?

Alex:   Well, global is really the way the web is going.  Not only do you have to design for your ideal customer, but where are they located and what they may be purchasing in the global aspect, it’s pretty easy.

It probably comes down to translation and currency.  You want to obviously speak to them in their own language, and then ask them to pay for their products in their own currency.  I think it’s called localization, selling the products for a specific market and ensuring that you’re talking to them in their language.  It’s that personalization, defining the experience specifically on a one-to-one basis.  Because people like to buy stuff from people they like.

Sean:  Absolutely.  Are there any other steps besides currency and language that should be taken into localization?  How about cultural issues, design, colors or anything along those lines?

Alex:   Yeah.  Where I live in South Florida, more likely, we’re going to be selling stuff right now potentially for summer.  If you’re in Berlin or Europe right now, you’re probably selling stuff for maybe winter.

You want to ensure that the climate matches with the geolocation aspect as well.  You want to ensure you’re selling the right products at the right time for the right people.  It could be based on weather, geolocation or seasonality.

Sean:  Very, very good advice.  Before launching specifically into what companies should do to help increase conversions through design, what are some of the worst things you can do to diminish conversions?

Alex:   Some of the worst things are probably the most obvious.  As I said, you don’t want to design for yourself.  Me, as a web designer, we all like to develop and design pretty websites.  But you’re not designing for yourself; you’re designing for that perfect customer.

You want to put yourself in their shoes and not only have a beautiful website and a great brand, but you want to really talk to your audience and then understand what problems they have.  Then base your designs and your changes on feedback.

That kind of ties into making assumptions.  You don’t want to make assumptions at all.  If you arrive at an eCommerce site, a lot of times, you’ll see that there’s just a picture of a bag or a picture of a shirt there.  The company is assuming that we know what they’re selling.  You don’t want to do that.  You don’t want to make any assumptions.

That even works into security.  Just because you have an eCommerce site doesn’t mean people know that you have a secure site.  So you want to make it obvious.

You want to make it obvious of what you sell.  That could be incorporating what is called a unique value proposition, having a clear headline or tagline that clearly explains what you do and what you want the customer to do.  So lead them step-by-step across your site to get them where you want them to go.  Giving them clear directions of what you want them to do.

Because you don’t want to make them think.  If someone arrives at your eCommerce site and if they have to think about what you’re offering or what you’re selling, that’s what creates friction, and that’s what causes bounce rates.

Sean:  Absolutely.  How would this apply to how companies design and implement their call-to-action buttons?

Alex:   As I said, you don’t want to make assumptions.  With your call-to-action buttons, you don’t want to assume that people are going to want to click on “add to cart” or “buy now” or whatever call-to-action buttons that you’re using.  You want to test a variety of different call to actions.

The call to action, really, is just a secondary action for reinstating your unique value proposition.  So if someone is potentially looking to buy a certain bag in a certain part of a country, it might meet that person’s needs versus another part of the world.

The call to action really needs to be supported by the value proposition.  What value am I going to get in return by making this transaction with this potential company?  A lot of times, people say, “What’s in it for me?”  The company shouldn’t be talking about themselves; they should be talking about the customer.  Really, what’s in it for me?  And the call to action really needs to support that.

Sean:  Absolutely.  Going on, we were talking about analytics and how these people can understand not only their customers before the buying process, but during and after.  What metrics should a company be paying attention to that they can find on Google Analytics or potentially beyond?

Alex:   With anything in analytics or really trying to figure out where you want to improve your conversions or improve the user experience, is that you want to spend time where there’s opportunity.

A lot of times, companies are making assumptions that this is the area of the site or this is the area of the page where we think people are making the most actions.  A lot of the times, they’re just assuming you do that.  So you use different tools to figure out where people are spending the most time on your site.

Google Analytics is pretty straightforward.  The number one tip is to look at your top traffic pages.  Remove the home page and a couple of other pages.  But you want to find out what your top traffic pages are for natural search and pay per click.  That’s really where the 80/20 happens.  The majority of traffic is going to come in on 20% of your pages, and that’s going to produce 80% of your revenue.

Once you’re able to define those specific pages, then you can start to break down some micro conversions or KPIs – key performance indicators.  Obviously, total conversion rate is absolutely important, but there’s also micro conversions in-between that.

Some other KPIs that you want to look at is average lifetime value, the total amount of spend that a person may make over a month, a year or a certain period of time, the average order price or the revenue per visitor.  Also, the frequency of purchase, how often you get someone to come back and make more purchases.

The time until purchase.  What’s that barrier of entry?  How long does it take someone to actually make a purchase?  That’s key.  Because if you can lower that barrier of entry and have a smaller amount of touch points before they make a purchase, then you have more conversions in a shorter period of time, thus increasing your conversion rate also.

Then you can use also other types of tools, like Visual Website Optimizer or Optimizely.  We can track revenue to a particular page.  So after you have those defined those individual pages that are the most important, you can tie a revenue dollar to each one of those pages, so you know where to spend more of your time or money.

Then we go to individual page basis, where we use either like ClickTale or Crazy Egg.  But we use heat map software to really figure out the area of the site that people are actually clicking on.

So on the home page, if you have a list of products, you want to know where people are clicking on the area of your site the most.  More likely, it’s going to be on your call-to-action area or maybe your bestseller area.  Spend time doing your testing and your user experience tweaking in those areas.  Don’t spend it on the whole, entire page.  The more quick wins that you can get, the more you’re going to learn.

Then we move into some of the qualitative analysis.  How can you learn more about your customer in general?

We use tools like SurveyMonkey or Qualaroo.  Those are survey tools.  But particularly, Qualaroo allows you to survey people based on intent.  If someone were to arrive at your cart page and then back out, or arrive at your checkout page, not finish everything, and then leave, you can pop up a survey and ask them why they may not have purchased.

Then also, if they do actually purchase, after they purchase, ask them what influenced them to actually complete their order.  Because once you figure out what is working, you can do more of that.

Sean:  Fantastic.  Are there any CMSs or eCommerce CMSs – you mentioned beforehand – that you’d recommend for an eCommerce company with an international scope?

Alex:   International, I think all of these will definitely take into play.  But the biggest one, 9 out of 10 times, we were using WordPress for content management system.

WordPress is really great, because it’s super flexible if you want to add an eCommerce component to it or you just want to do lead generation or like with your software, doing an in-line purchase.  That’s a great way to accomplish some small business purchases.  Because allowing people to not actually have to leave the page and actually do those in-line purchases is a great way to increase conversions, for sure.

Aside from content management system, we also use Drupal a little bit.  In eCommerce, what we’re using a lot these days are Bigcommerce and Shopify.  Those are probably the two biggest ones.  They really tailor to improving traffic through SEO and then converting that traffic with their one-page checkouts.  Also, they’re doing a lot of great stuff with making their experiences mobile-friendly, because incorporating all that is really important these days.

Sean:  Absolutely.  On the converse of that, are there any plugins you’d recommend that are absolutely essential for anyone who wants to sell online?

Alex:   Plugins, there’s really so many.  Lately, to get those micro conversions, in order to build trust with people, you have to build a relationship with your potential customers.  In order to do that, you want to get them on your email list.  A lot of times these days, we’re using landing page software like Unbounce or LeadPages.  Those are two great ways to collect leads.

As far as completing the conversion in the eCommerce sale, we use membership sites, membership plugins like MemberPress or OptimizePress.  WooCommerce is the other one.

Sean:  That’s fantastic.  I also want to ask, because responsive design gets an awful lot of attention, especially with the proliferation of various devices in the international scale besides desktop.  How important is responsive design to the user experience right now?

Alex:   It’s very important.  It’s absolutely essential for you to take into account the mobile experience in general.

Because as a web designer or front-end developer, people hear about what they call “mobile first.”  But that’s not even so important anymore, because there’s a lot of people out there who use their phones; 90% of the time, not even their computers.  That’s what they call as “mobile-only.”  So you really need to ensure that you’re creating an experience for whatever environment the customer is in.

There’s a couple of reasons why responsive and mobile-friendly are really important.  It all comes down to your CPA, your customer acquisition costs.  If you can really reduce the amount of money that it takes to acquire new customers, then you can spend more money and have higher conversions.

With responsive design, Google takes into account a natural search and paid advertising, mobile-friendly and responsive pages.  Not only does it help increase the speed of the page, but Google knows that you’re creating a great experience for their audience.  So having a responsive page is key to Google’s algorithm.

What I would say also – aside from responsive or mobile-friendly – is that everybody out there is competing with Amazon.  If you are selling anything on the web, more than likely, people are looking at your prices and then going to Amazon.

So if you don’t have a great experience, then more than likely, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table because they’re just researching what you have to offer, and then going over to Amazon to purchase it.  If you’ve been on the web, more than likely, Amazon’s going to have the lowest price.

Then we also want to take into account tablets and email.  Because while a lot of people do research on their phones, they’re more likely to actually make a purchase on their iPad.

We’ve done a lot of research in the last year to figure out the best experience for the right people at the right time.  We know that people start to use tablets more in the afterhours.  They’re probably sitting on their couch watching a movie, looking at their iPads, researching or reading blogs or potentially checking out.  So you want to ensure that your eCommerce or your WordPress experience is also a great experience within an iPad.  That’s where we take into account all the aspects of user experience.

Because what shows within the picture of your tablet, your desktop or your mobile phone is what we call the active window.  We want to ensure that the active window clearly explains our unique value proposition.  If you’re not thinking about the user experience in the right way, in the active window, they’re just going to click back and you’re going to have these huge bounce rates.

Sean:  Very cool.  One question I have is that we’re seeing a lot of countries who don’t necessarily have smartphones.  It might be a lesser technology.  How do you actually plan to address some of these countries that don’t quite have the smartest or most up-to-date technology, but still provide them with a good user experience?

Alex:   Great question.  It’s probably going to come down to speed.  You want to ensure that the page is going to load on dial-up.  In conversion optimization, we try to find the low-hanging fruit.  Where can we find the biggest opportunities without spending the most time?

That usually comes down to QA.  If you’re able to test your eCommerce experience or your checkout experience on as many devices as possible – an old iPhone, a tablet, a dial-up connection, IE 8, IE 7, if you have to – but if you can test your experience on all of these different devices to ensure that almost everyone is going to get a consistent experience, then it’s more likely going to work properly in any environment, regardless of what country or speed that they’re on.

If you are able to really dig into the analytics and understand that a certain country might be getting more traffic than others and they may not have the latest technology, then you can deliver an experience that’s specific to them.  The pages don’t need to be as long.  You don’t need to use as much code.  You can use less video.  You can lower your images.  You can make them not as big as normal.  Based on geolocation, you can serve different experiences based on their localization.

Sean:  Absolutely.  I completely agree.  You’ve kind of touched on this with the tablets.  What devices do you think people should keep an eye on as taking a more prominent role in eCommerce as time goes on?

Alex:   Definitely, mobile, tablets.  Really, all of those experiences.

Resolutions have gotten a lot bigger even.  So if you’re marketing to people who maybe on bigger monitors or iMacs, you actually want to start to design your experiences even bigger.  Why should you be on this 27-inch monitor and have a 960-width experience?  You’ll fill the whole page while ensuring that it’ll load fine.  But fill the whole page with information.

Impression’s really everything.  Within a couple of seconds, you really want to ensure that people are going to understand what you have to offer and be able to deliver it.  But yeah, it’s all the different devices: mobile, iPad, all the different sizes of desktop computers.  Then also, specific browsers.  Because obviously, if you’ve been on the web for a while, if you use old Internet Explorer browsers, it’s a different experience than using Google Chrome.

Sean:  Absolutely.  Well, that definitely wraps up all my questions.  Is there anything else you’d like to add at all?

Alex:   Yeah.  I talk to people about user experience and conversion optimization.  Basically, at the simplest form, you want to think about three things: the discovery process, where you’re actually defining the customer; the creation process, where you’re actually creating products or solutions to solve their problems; and lastly, the ability to learn from that and scale.

You want to discover, create, and grow.  If you’re able to discover the perfect customer, create great products for them, and then learn from all that and then scale that over time, you can use the exact same learnings of what you learned on your home page or your landing pages and then scale that through all of your advertisements, and really be able to grow over time.

If you’re really not optimizing your experience, you’re probably not growing.  Every eCommerce company has a conversion rate baseline.  You want to continuously iterate and test different things and talk to your customers and get their feedback, so you can iterate in the right way and grow your baseline over time.  That’s really the key to success on the web.

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