Do you want your website to (a) look pretty or (b) turn your traffic into paying customers?

Something that web-based giants like Google and Amazon got right from the start was focusing on option (b).

Google made $66 billion last year off little more than a logo, a search bar, and a button.

Amazon is no pageant-winner either — yet they raked in $89 billion.

Their secret? A relentless focus on the Big Three conversion factors: usability, value and trust.

Case in point:

  • Google puts functionality front-and-center, provides useful, highly relevant information, and returns trustworthy sites search after search after search.
  • Amazon gets you right to the product you want, offers the best price and fastest shipping, and provides huge amounts of information to help you make purchase decisions.

Copying Google and Amazon probably won’t work for you, but what you can (and should) emulate is their framework.

3 Lenses That Will Make Your Site Convert

The most common reason that a web design or redesign project fails is focusing on look and feel rather than conversion.

Don’t get me wrong — these are not mutually exclusive. As Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is not just what it looks like or feels like. Design is how it works.”

Form should follow function and vice versa. Which leads to consideration #1:

01. Usability

The web at its most basic is a way of presenting and organizing information.

Wikipedia is an example of design that accomplishes this: plain text with blue links that provide easy navigation between pages. You can find what you want in seconds, skip to the part you care about, and get what you came for.

Is it sexy? Definitely not. But it serves up exactly what you want with minimal effort.

That’s what usability is all about: helping users find what they want and take action. At its best, a focus on usability makes your experience so seamless that you never have to stop and think.

The widely accepted manifesto on this subject is Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. Impressively, he practices what he preaches. You can scan through the book in an hour and pick up life-changing insights that will restore your faith and make you more money. Brilliant.

Usability should be your first focus before all else:

  • What do users want from your site?
  • What are your goals for your site?
  • And how can you align those concerns in a clear, intuitive way?

Follow Krug’s teachings on the matter and you will be in good company.

02. Value

Finding your value can be hard. Divining why people should buy from you can seem like an elusive, amorphous task.

Thankfully, with a simple framework and lots of trial and error you can stumble upon some winning words.

There are two key components to a good value proposition:

  1. It aligns with your market’s desires
  2. It shows that you are better than the alternatives.

Here is a simple worksheet that focuses on exactly these things and here’s what you should think about as you work through it:

  • Find out what “job” your customers are trying to do. Weird question, but you should really look into hiring a milkshake. I’m not going to give you the summary here, because this article is really worth the read. Read this to understand why I talk about being “better than the alternatives” instead of “better than the competition.”
  • Talk in benefits, not features. How are you going to make their life better? No one cares about “fives nines reliability” (meaning your website will be up 99.999% of the time). What customers actually care about is not having to get out of bed at 3am to deal with unhappy customers.
  • Use the customer’s language. Even if you are a B2C business, your day-to-day conversations probably involve a lot of esoteric industry terms and brand names that may be meaningless to customers. People don’t think in terms of “residential photovoltaic installations”; they think about “solar panels for your home.” Talk to them! Listen to the words they use and copy them in your marketing. It’s that simple.
  • Make your claims believable. Be specific, use statistics, and show, don’t tell. What’s more credible: “Learn How to Make More Money from Your Website” or “See How This Product Page Design Boosted Revenue 39.7% for a Women’s Apparel Retailer”?
  • Test your messaging! There’s no substitute for hard data when it comes to finding the best offers, value propositions and messaging. At the end of the day, no matter how smart you are, you are not your market.

03. Trust

Trust is everything. If you don’t believe you’re going to get what you ordered, you probably won’t buy.

This is a tricky thing online — anyone can put up a website, so how can you who’s real, reputable and worthwhile?

Thankfully, there are a few tried-and-true methods that you can leverage:

  1. Start with Stanford’s credibility guidelines. These 10 guidelines seem obvious, but they’re powerful and neglected more often than you’d think. Showing that there’s a real organization behind your site that is knowledgeable and trustworthy is as crucial today as it was when these guidelines were first drafted in 1999.
  2. Use social proof. There are many types of “social proof”: testimonials, reviews, famous clients, industry associations — even showing off the size of your social media following can be effective. Just be sure to use proof that’s appropriate for your industry.
  3. Provide hard evidence. “Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams once said. Whenever possible, use statistics, case studies, original or third party research, a portfolio of your work, and any concrete or quantifiable asset at your disposal. This dovetails with the “show, don’t tell” point about making your claims believable: don’t make a value claim without backing it up.
  4. Set clear expectations. Customers like to know what they’re going to get when they buy. Ambiguity and unanswered questions are conversion killers. Online you don’t usually have the opportunity to have a conversation, so you have to answer questions upfront.
  5. Be consistent. When every customer touch-point is on-message, it reinforces your brand and shows the consistency we have all come to expect from modern businesses. Ensuring that your entire site is cohesive, practiced and polished will put you head-and-shoulders above most competition.

There are lots of distractions in any web design or conversion optimization project. Stay focused on these critical conversion factors to ensure that your site performs well. Integrating them into your strategy from the start is best, but even then it’s a good idea to revisit these guidelines throughout the project.

No matter how savvy you are, there will always be unknowns along the way — be sure to document them. Unanswered questions are ripe territory for testing and optimization.

That said, if your site is built around usability, value and trust, you’re on solid ground.

Ben Wills

Author Ben Wills

Ben is the CEO of Decoder, where he evangelizes the virtues of data-driven marketing and client advocacy.

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