My oldest kid is only nine years old, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve uttered the phrase, “If everyone else is jumping off of a cliff, should you do it too?”

That cliche has always served me well whether we’re talking about getting a cell phone, playing age-inappropriate video games, or literally jumping off a cliff.

When it comes to web design, though, I always thought the opposite was true: that small businesses would do well to mimic the themes found on the Big Boys’ sites. After all, large corporations have large budgets that they can use to test a wide variety of techniques. Surely they must be doing this and only using the designs that convert well.

I was dead wrong.

Tim Ash

I attended Tim Ash’s “Conversion Rate Optimization Masterclass” at CMC18. Tim has written two bestselling books on landing page optimization, and he is the CEO of SiteTuners, a company dedicated to dramatically improving conversion rates. They’ve worked with companies like Cisco, Groupon, and the American Red Cross.

Clearly, this dude knows what he’s talking about. He’s even bald.*

And what he said throughout this four-hour workshop really blew my mind. It was especially surprising to see some well-known sites like Best Buy and 1-800-Flowers.com being thrown up as examples of what not to do.

If you weren’t at his workshop, you’re in luck. I’ve decided to highlight some of the site design mistakes that Tim says many companies are making.

 

Using Pretty Pictures

Everyone wants a site that looks great. That’s why we hire designers.

But in the scramble to create the best-looking site out there, we have to stay focused on our goals. What do we want visitors to do when they reach our sites?

Tim says that there’s a “visual hierarchy” of things on your page. If visitors only see text, they’ll read the text. If there are pictures, though, their eyes are drawn to the pictures. If there’s video or a scrolling ad bar, they’ll focus on that.

Now, when it comes to pages that sell a product, you want people to be drawn to the image of what you’re selling. You want that image there.

However, there’s also a trend of super-imposing your text over a background stock image that’s loosely related to what your business does: the words “Tech Support” over a picture of a computer or the words “Boost Site Performance” over a graph with a wiggly line going up.

These unnecessary images can distract visitors and decrease your site’s performance. If the image has no reason beyond looking pretty, get rid of it.

 

Capturing Customer Data

“The money is in the list.”

Everyone and their brother has been saying that for years, so almost every website you go to has some sort of form asking you for your name, your email address, your home address, three different phone numbers, a good time to call, and a list of your favorite date spots.

It’s creepy, and it scares people off.

Somewhere in your company, you probably have sales people or tech dudes mumbling something about needing to fill the CRM databases, but Tim points out that you don’t need to get that data all at once.

Instead, you can collect little pieces of data as you go along using “progressive disclosure.” As your site visitors begin to trust you more, they’ll be more comfortable giving you information about that.

Write that phrase down and memorize it because it will totally impress the Suits at your next boring meeting.

 

Being the Best

Why should site visitors choose your company?

  • We’re the best….
  • We’re the biggest
  • We’re the cheapest
  • We’re the tastiest

Wrong.

Using adjectives in your site copy might sound good, but you’d be better off being more specific:

  • We have a 100 percent customer satisfaction rate.
  • We have over 5,000 locations nationwide.
  • Our customers save an average of $250 a month.
  • We’ve been rated the most popular restaurant in Tampa

See how adding those details works far better than using adjectives?

Tim advises you to cut to the chase and tell visitors what they need to know.

Relying on Your Navigation Bar

Here’s an eye-opening insight that Tim provided: People only use the navigation bar when there’s a failure on the page itself.

What exactly does this mean?

A well-designed page should lead the visitor to complete the CTA. If it doesn’t, the visitor is likely to hit the back button or — we hope — use the navigation bar to find what they need.

If the site visitor is fairly certain that your company has the solution she needs, she’ll take the time to search for the information. But you probably don’t want to take the risk that she’ll look elsewhere. You want to make sure that she finds the information she needs directly on the page.

There are a few exceptions to this that we’ll get to in the next section, but, in general, you should never try to solve a problem by saying, “Well, can’t the user just go to the nav bar?”

 

Serving All Needs on One Page

Unless your business serves one specific need, you probably have a few different types of people who come to your site. It’s impossible to tailor your message to every customer persona on a single page, so Tim recommends segmenting your site by creating mini-sites (either within your site or on a separate web page) that cater to each persona.

He says that higher ed sites tend to do this really well. I’m too lazy to scroll through the slides Tim sent me, so I’ll use my own beloved alma mater’s site. Open up Wellesley College’s website (http://www.wellesley.edu/), then come back to me after you’ve taken a few minutes to marvel at the splendor of our gorgeous campus. (I won’t stop using adjectives when it comes to Wellesley.)

Most of Wellesley’s site visitors are likely coming from three different categories — prospective students, current students, and alumnae. (I’ve now screwed up their site statistics by sending a bunch of marketers there. Mwahahaha.) If you’re an alum, you click on that link in the nav bar (I told you there were exceptions.), and you get taken to a mini-site full of information that relates to your needs. Prospective students click on the Admissions link and dive into a mini-site that has the information they need.

Your mini-sites don’t have to be all on one website. Tim also shared an example where his company was working with a business that sold surveillance equipment. They said that a significant portion of their business comes from people who think their spouse or partner is cheating. So they created an “Is your partner cheating?” mini-site that drives sales in that segment.

The key takeaway here is to think about your customer personas and how your site can best serve their needs. In most cases, you do this by guiding them to a mini-site that focuses on that persona.

 

Including a “Learn More” Button

What?! How are visitors going to learn more about my company if I don’t have them click on a button that tells them to learn more?

This trend is so prevalent that you’re probably surprised that Tim says that the “Learn More” button is a weak CTA, but it makes sense.

Do you really want customers to learn more about your business?

No. You want them to purchase your products/sign up for your mailing list/schedule a consultation/etc.

Why would you then direct them to simply “learn more”?

It comes down to really focusing on what you want people to do when they get to your site. You want them to take concrete action (that boosts your bottom line).

Sure, people may want to learn more about your business and what you can do for them before they’re willing to make a purchase, but there are better ways of driving them to learn more. They might watch a video, call to speak with an expert, or sign up for a mini-course.

 

Tim’s presentation included actionable ideas for increasing the conversion rate on your website, and many of those ideas went against the trends that you typically see. If you’re looking for some ideas for your own site, I highly recommend reading his book or contacting SiteTuners for some advice.

 

*To learn more about how baldness correlates to marketing expertise, recall Nadya Khoja’s keynote speech.

 

Shannon T. has been writing professionally for over 10 years. In addition to the thousands of articles, blog posts, and web pages she’s ghostwritten, she has bylined work that’s been published on sites like Headspace.com, ModernMom.com, Chron.com, and Fool.com (The Motley Fool). Having earned the HubSpot Academy Inbound Certification, she’s able to craft pieces that satisfy the needs of both readers and search engines.

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