Converting visitors to buyers

by Trenton Moss on 1 November 2007

When you walk through the local shopping mall, what attracts you to one store over another? Is it strictly your needs at the moment, or is there more to it? Are you more likely to enter a store that's light, airy and inviting, or one that's kind of dark with narrow aisles and cluttered shelves? Eye appeal counts.

Learning from bricks-and-mortar establishments

For decades, marketing specialists have studied the buying habits of people shopping in bricks-and-mortar establishments using everything from focus groups to discount coupons to see what works. Based on accumulated data, these sell-pros know what works.

For example, the displays at the end of the supermarket, called end caps, are considered prime real estate on the shopping floor. In fact, manufacturers pay stores, or provide other incentives, just to get their ketchup displayed in an end cap. The store sells more, the manufacturer sells more and you've got a bottle of ketchup in the cupboard.

Marketing experts also know that products at eye level sell more than products on the bottom shelves and, again, eye-level shelf space comes at a premium. The next time you're in the supermarket, notice where the Coke is shelved. It's at eye level and the Coca-Cola Company knows it and offers stores a better wholesale price to get that shelf space.

Everything from the lighting (soft and natural, even if florescent) to the music playing in the background (tunes that wouldn't offend an aged grandmother) are all intended to entice you to buy at the supermarket, jewellery store or any place else that takes plastic (or cash, for that matter).

Making your website more tempting

These same, time-tested principles can be applied to ecommerce sites. When they are, you create an online environment that not only delivers the products visitors are looking for, but provides a pleasant experience as well. And, guess what? When that happens, the visitor-to-buyer conversion rate increases - and you start showing more profit in less time. So, what can you do to make your site more tempting, more attractive and more user-friendly?

Site design

The first rule is quite simple: know your buyers. If your target demographic is senior citizens, the dripping red pentangle against a black background is probably not your best choice of colour motifs. Perhaps something in the pastel area, soft colours. On the other hand, if you're targeting the 18-35 male buyer, go with the pentangle. It'll be something most of your expected foot traffic will recognize, and it definitely makes a statement. Colours count. Younger buyers want them bright, day-glo and totally wicked. The over 30 crowd wants something a bit more mature.

Text should be easily readable by anyone. This involves three considerations: font style, font size and text/background colours. Choose an easy to read font - Verdana or Arial often fit the bill. Consider font size. Banners should be at least 16-point, 20-point if it'll fit. As a general rule of thumb any font size less than 12-point is strictly off limits, except for fine print (e.g. legal mumbo-jumbo) which can be in 8-point to save valuable screen space. Finally, the combination of font colour and background colour is critical.

Site structure & layout

Keep your homepage simple and inviting. A cluttered homepage can quickly lead to sensory overload and send any buyer screaming for the virtual doorway, a mouse click away. Use large, well-labelled links for ease of use. Forget your 'artistic vision' for a moment and forget everything you learned in graphic design for print. Keep it simple, understated, well labelled and well organised. That way visitors will be more inclined to stick around, browse and, ultimately, buy.

A site map is a useful tool, especially if you've got multiple links off the homepage, followed by assorted drill-down screens before users find the products they're looking for. A site map is easy to build - basically a plot of the site, with direct links to specific features.

secure checkout is also a must, even if you have to go the PayPal route. Online buyers are becoming more and more savvy so, no encryption, no sale. Your site should make it easy to shop with a shopping cart that can be changed with a click, a fast secure checkout and an invoice in the e-mail box (with a confirmation number). Do this and you're building a base of buyers who'll be back because you had the goods and you made it easy, convenient and fun.

Keep in touch with your users

If possible, give your users something for free. Check out sites selling e-books and other niche information. You'll often find a free 10-page report on ‘everything you need to know before buying a turtle as a pet’. Naturally, the teaser provides just enough information to let buyers know they now need the £19.95 download on the ABC's of Turtle Care.

This can also provide potential buyers with the opportunity to 'opt-in'. The 10-page teaser can require buyers to enter an e-mail address, thus opting in for additional e-mails from you in the weeks and months to come. That's what the auto-responder business is all about - keeping your site's name in front of buyers.

With an opt-in, you can also deliver a monthly newsletter, the tip of the week or even the daily horoscope. This provides useful (or at least entertaining) information to keep your visitors' awareness of your site high, and their feelings about you good. After all, you're giving them something for free in the hope that they'll be back to buy. Good will goes a long way, even in the cold, transistorised world of ecommerce.

A final word

Eye-catching, convenient, uncluttered, easy-to navigate, easy-to-read and something for free - it's like a trip to the old local, corner market where Mr. Mishkin would give you a free Fireball when you came in with your mother.

There aren't any tricks or secrets to increasing your conversion rate. Ask yourself what you expect from any store you visit. Then, translate your wishes to site features to accommodate even the fussiest buyer. After all, even in cyberspace the customer is always right.

This article was written by Frederick Townes. Frederick is the owner of W3 EDGE, a web design company in Boston that provides custom web design, web development, website optimisation and search marketing services.

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