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The following questions were asked by Jennifer LeClaire for’s upcoming book Sell Now. I thought that readers might like to see what I answered before anyone else.

How does one design a web site for results?

The correct answer is "It depends". Allow me to explain. What it depends upon is firstly the goal of the website. Have you defined what it is that you need from your visitors?

For instance are you an e-commerce website selling products to the general public? If so then your business objective is to sell products.

A content website on the other hand might be driven by ad sales, in which case the goal is to generate as many visitors and page impressions as possible.

Service websites might want to reduce the amount of service calls from customers, so a conversion is counted as a visitor who got what they needed without calling the helpline.

Finally a business selling services might want to generate leads, so filling in contact forms or sending a request for quotation is considered a conversion.

All these different business functions have a different result and therefore need to be designed in a different way. Perhaps the best answer to this question is to say you first define your goal and then design your site to help your visitors achieve that goal. Then of course you need to measure and test the various ways in which people navigate the site so that you can better cater for them, find out what they need and fulfill their desires. You do that with a good web analytics system.


In your opinion, what are the key elements of designing a web site to increase conversions or sales? Top tips?

There isn’t one answer to this question because again the correct answer here is that "it depends." It depends on which people you want at your website and what your business objective is.

However to give you an example of one answer lets take an e-commerce website. The first key element is to ask yourself to whom are you selling your product? Have you done your market research? What kind of people are going to be purchasing your products and what motivates them to buy? This planning is the most important phase of the development, because if you get this right you will have 4 or 5 key types of people with key motives to buy from you.

Let’s say for instance you’re selling Jewelry. Some of your visitors will be women whom are looking for the latest fashions. Some will be perturbed males who have got to buy a present for their wives or girlfriends, have a budget and need a lot of help. Someone will be looking for presents for a 21st birthday. Someone else will be looking for a specific piece of jewelry from a specific designer.

Do you communicate to each individual in the same manner? You shouldn’t. Your copy and content is the most important part of your website, so by planning how you communicate with the people that buy from you is the key part of the process that wins or loses the sale.

For instance consider how you would communicate with two of the persona’s above, lets take the obvious ones, firstly Mr Bob Noclue, a 28 year old guy who is buying a present for his girlfriend.

He is motivated by the desire to buy his girlfriend a nice present that she will appreciate and because she’s special to him he doesn’t want to offend her. So he wants to feel safe in the knowledge that he’s buying a gift that if he makes a mistake can be easily put right (a good returns policy). You want to make it easy for him to make a decision by assuring him that the gift he’s buying is something that will delight his lady. You might craft the product copy like this;

"When she’s happy, you’re happy. Delight her with this beautifully crafted 24 carrot gold engraved Aztec heart pendant. You can place a picture of yourself inside so she never forgets who gave her this delightful gift. From the mountains of Brazil each one hand crafted with meticulous care, this unique gift will delight the lady in your life. We even guarantee it. If your lady doesn’t love this gift then you can swap it for any product matching the same value or get your money back, no questions asked."

Next we need to craft the same product to a different persona.

This time it’s Jane Iknowwhatiwant, a 28 year old highly fashion conscious young jetsetter who is buying a product for herself that will help her stand out from the crowd. She wants to know details like who the designer is, how the product was made, who else is wearing it, and whether she can have it before her next dinner party.

"Exquisite fashion from the Aztec. Be the belle of the ball with this outstanding and unique 24 carrot gold heart pendant from the Ronaldo fashion house. Each item from Ronaldos is uniquely crafted which is why celebrities across America are our customers. Order it today and you can have it delivered to your door within 2 weeks, just in time for you to shine at your next dinner party."

By doing your research and planning your website to communicate directly with the people who are going to buy from you, you have a better chance of closing the sale. My top tips? I only have one, craft your copy and images to communicate with the people who are going to buy from you.

What are the biggest mistakes web site owners are making with relation to converting site traffic into leads/sales?

They make it difficult for people to achieve their objectives by putting hurdles in front of them. The biggest hurdle is the one I’ve just described, they communicate to the wrong people about the wrong things. If I was Bob Noclue I wouldn’t be impressed by the high fashion copywriting and that is typical across all websites. There is a "one size fits all" attitude when it comes to copywriting and it’s woefully inadequate.

Then there are the usual suspects like bad usability and design getting in the way of completing the process. Stuff like bad shopping processes, poor internal search engines, poor information architecture, irrelevant graphics, poor error messages, poor returns policies, poor security etc. The basic stuff that web developers should have covered, often result in lost sales.

But let’s face it, when you really want a product you will move mountains to get it. The main problem is that copy and content doesn’t persuade the visitor to "want" the products.

What does it take to close a sale on the web?

You have to give the right message, to the right prospect. That’s all.

It sounds easy, but in most cases it’s not done very well. Most sites fall down here because they aren’t credible in the eyes of their visitor (giving the wrong message) or that they put too many distractions and hurdles in front of the visitor.

Of all the things we talked about above, do feel that designing for conversions is something that most web sites are doing? If not, what could they be doing better? Where are they missing it?

The websites that do at least try to convert often do so in a way which is pushy and deliberate rather than tugging the heart strings of the purchaser, which is what copy, content and graphics should be doing.

We also find a lot of websites using words, which aren’t factual, but are values based. Things like "Plenty of room" instead of "300 square meters of space". Plenty of room is a value based statement, but isn’t descriptive and doesn’t put an exact picture in your head. Plenty of room to me could mean something entirely different to you. 300 square meters on the other hand can’t be mistaken for anything else.

There is a lot of hype out there which everyone is bored with. Words like Guaranteed (without any accompanying explanation), lowest prices anywhere, while supplies last etc. are all so common our minds switch off. If you guarantee something describe it in the same paragraph, tell us your prices and tell us how many you have in stock!

The majority of websites miss that they need to communicate their message in a way that we as the visitor want to be sold. Give us what we want and we’ll buy. The money being spent online right now proves it. Unfortunately not enough businesses out there know enough about who they’re selling too and how to communicate with them.

Another big reason is they don’t measure and test, they don’t find out where the hurdles are and they don’t scientifically improve their websites. All of this can be helped by web analytics tools, which too many businesses don’t act upon. I know too many businesses that have expensive tools to track what they are doing, then either don’t have the time, don’t have the staff or don’t have the knowledge to use them. But the bigger crime, which is even more common is the business that has the web analytics tool, knows how to use them but then doesn’t act on the data.

In Summary

Learn about your visitor. Learn who they are, what motivates them and why they come to your site. Then write for them, all the while testing and measuring in a continuous improvement cycle – kaizen for your website if you’re into quality control and you will improve your web conversion rates.

This Web Marketing article was written by Steve Jackson on 5/2/2006

Steve Jackson is the Editor of the Conversion Chronicles, a website conversion rate marketing newsletter dedicated to improving website conversion rates. He is also the CEO of Aboavista a web conversion and web analytics consultancy based in Finland and the USA. You can get a free copy of his e-book sent to you upon subscription to the Conversion Chronicles web site.