When I first found a web site that wouldn’t let me see the products on its homepage I was shocked and thought it was me making user errors. But it wasn’t my fault. The website really would not let me use it.
It was clothing site advertising in Facebook. The picture of a shirt caught my eye and the offer sounded like a great bargain. When I clicked the ad and arrived to the site’s homepage, I was presented with a form request to sign up for their email newsletter first. The rows of pictures behind the form were blurred out so I couldn’t see them clearly. The form had no close form option. I looked and clicked and poked and prodded, only to conclude this web site wanted to force me to sign up first before it was going to let me enter the site. Since then I’ve heard of other similar stories like this one.
In an age of conversions and user engagement, why do marketers insist on preventing people from browsing and purchasing?
The Over Eager Marketer
The opposite strategy is to bombard customers who made a purchase. I ordered every Christmas gift online because I was too busy to get out to a store and the online deals were attractive. I ordered from Overstock, Macy’s, Target, Amazon, Hayneedle, 6pm, Etsy, stalked Mamma’s, and some unique sites owned by friends or where I found items that contributed to causes or supported economies in Third World countries. Of the places I ordered from, only the smaller sites and Amazon have left me in peace. All of the other stores send me an email every single day!
They get you to sign up by offering free shipping or a 20% discount. They say having your own account helps with order tracking and customer support. This is all good stuff and useful. They don’t tell you that they’ll pummel you with specials every day, forever. So, I began to unsubscribe. Interestingly, a few of the smarter stores realize that some emails are better than being bombarded or not getting any at all, so they offer an option to limit how often they contact you. This is the kind of usability design I like. Understanding the needs of your customers and site visitors earns your brand respect and may prevent total abandonment.
Mystery links come in text or image format. These are my favorite conversion blockers because they are common and illogical. They’re known frustration triggers and can cause a sane, calm person to lose control and start screaming at their monitor. I see examples every day in my work but some of my favorites are:
- An image that says “join us” but doesn’t offer a single clue about what you’re being invited to join. It’s not placed near anything to join and the picture itself offers no clue.
- Links with creative labels that don’t offer visitors any possible clue about where they will go if they click on it. Creativity is great and I encourage attempts at being unique but web site visitors are not mind readers. And they’ve been burned after years of poorly designed sites. They need to trust you and want to understand where you’re taking them and even better, why.
- Links that don’t look like links. This one just kills me. How many times do you go to a site with rows of products, a product name underneath, maybe a brief description (if you’re lucky) and maybe a call to action prompt like a button to learn more or purchase. Of these things, which one do you click? The odds are you will bet on the button if it looks like a button. But, would you know if the image itself is linked? How about the product name? Or, maybe part of the description? How many times have you looked at rows of products and moused over everything because none of it offers a clear signal that anything is clickable? Or, everything is clickable and each link goes to the exact same page.
- Headings and sub-headings and text links that all look exactly the same. If you want people to click somewhere, make the link look like a link. Many sites use the exact same font color for headings and links, making it impossible to know the difference between text and a link. The risk here is missed entrances to conversion funnels because nobody knows where to go.
- My final example may seem unusual but we’ve all experienced this. A site blocks conversions because it neglects to convey what it wants us to do there. We humans behave differently when confronted with web pages. We face distractions from ads and rotating images, or loads of images, or a disorganized layout. We’re looking for something and our focus is on figuring out where you put it. Sleepy conversion rates can be traced to a page not having a user path to follow to complete a task. There’s no guidance provided in text or the way to do something is shrouded in mystery or surrounded with 25 other things to do. It just takes a few seconds of this and visitors will jump off to look for the site that’s easier to use.
As popular as usability and user experience design are becoming these days, when conversions drop and the alarms go off, it’s the search engine marketers who get the calls first. While there’s a very good chance your site needs help battling Panda and Penguin, it doesn’t hurt to take the time to get user feedback too.