Instant gratification. The internet has made instant gratification easier than ever, especially where ecommerce shoppers are concerned. Sure, buyers must wait for the packages to arrive at their doors when ordering products, but they sacrifice the immediacy of using the purchases for the immediacy of buying them. No one needs to shower, dress, drive through traffic, and deal with crowded shops anymore, and for that luxury, they’ll wait a bit for shipping. They do want ecommerce sites to load quickly and without error, though. They want sites that catch their attention and hold it. They want ecommerce websites that are easy, intuitive, and designed the way they think. If your site can’t appeal to that need for instant gratification, if you can’t pass that blink test—the three to five seconds during which your ecommerce site is judged—you’ll lose the sale.
Does Your Ecommerce Site Pass the Blink Test?
1. Pages That Load Quickly
More pages and images will cause your site to load slowly. Studies by Gomez show the 40% of average online shoppers will leave your site after three seconds. These shoppers expect your pages to load in two seconds or less, and that’s a tall order when you’ve put so much time into images, scripts, videos, and other rich media. Slow load times can negatively affect you in other ways, too. In addition, the head of Google's web spam team, Matt Cutts, validated the research proving that site speed and page load times impact your position on search engine result pages (SERPs). After all, Google is trying to push their users towards relevant and enjoyable experiences -- and no one enjoys that little spinning icon that browser developers put in to keep us entertained while pages load.
If you're using a cloud-hosted solution for your website, how fast your website loads is a function of what content management system (CMS) that you use.
If you're not using a hosted system and need to control your website's design and function yourself, there are still tools you can use to optimize performance for the user experience. When building new pages, you can use tools like YSlow and Page Speed to test the loading times. If you’re still struggling, check your images to be sure you’re using the right file formats. Some use more space than others, so you don’t want to waste that space on simpler images.
- GIFs work best for images with few colors. Logos should almost always be GIFs.
- JPEGs should be images with several colors and details. Photos are often best as JPEG.
- PNG should be used for high quality transparent images.
By scaling the image to size before uploading, you can cut down even further. If you upload the picture as is and resize once it’s on your site, the image will still slow your load times. I'm guilty of this all the time. We have this nice easy image resize button in HubSpot's blogging software and I'm sometimes tempted to just resize the image using that instead of uploading an image that's the right size.
This can be awesome for small adjustments, but for chopping a 5,000 pixel high-resolution image (like the Lego man graphics we sometimes use) down to 650px to fit here it's a really bad idea, since not all browsers or mobile devices play nicely with the HTML size parameters, and even if they do it still affects page load time since the image file size remains the same. Imagine if I bought you the collected works of William Shakespeare for a holiday gift (I'm a nice guy like that) and asked you to boil it down into a tweet. You'd still have to read it, comprehend it, and miraculously identify what does and doesn't matter to get it down to 140 characters (the maximum length allowed for a tweet). It's a big job! It'd be much easier if I just gave you the tweet to begin with.
2. Attractive Design
Once your site loads, the design is all you have to keep them interested in the next few seconds. High quality images are important, as well as the layout and text. Simple messages work better than blocks of text, especially since no one wants to stop and read every word before buying. Just be sure the images and message match, or you’ll confuse your buyers.
Just because you need to keep things simple here and there doesn’t mean you can’t be bold. If you’re too busy worrying about short phrases and small images, you’ll miss your chance to really hook your viewers. Your site should stand out from your competitors. The best way to do this is to make use of your white space for a clean-cut appearance rather than cramming several options and images onto your homepage. Using one column, or two at most, is often the wisest course of action.
You should always A/B test layouts and design for yourself. While one or two column layouts have worked best as entry pages for us here at HubSpot, your site visitors might respond differently.
3. State Your Unique Value Proposition in Your Headline
Buyers want to see what your site is all about as soon as they arrive. If you’ve buried your value proposition somewhere in a wall of text, you’ll only catch two out of every ten visitors according to Brian Clark, the founder of Copyblogger. He also says eight of those ten visitors will read the headline. With that information, it’s easy to see how important an informative headline is.
Your headline should never say something as generic as “Welcome to Our Site.” Instead, immediately state the ways your buyers will benefit from the products and services available on your site. Be concise. Be informative. Don’t make those buyers work for the information, or they’ll be gone in a flash.
Beneath that headline, you can expound upon your value proposition with one short, simple sentence. Hook them first with the info they crave, and then fill in the rest of the spaces with your additional statement to show why your products are different from your competitors’ products.
4. Use Pertinent Images
If you’re a stock photo champion, you can be sure buyers are bailing when they visit. Your images have to be unique to your site and support your message. Sure, stock photos are cheap, but they don’t mean anything to the buyers who drop by your site. Instead of the cheesy handshake shots or photos businessmen behind desks looking super busy, include images of your products, your staff, and even your loyal customers.
5. Make Navigation Easy
When people visit your site and can’t find their way back out of the maze of pages, they’ll go somewhere else. Abandoning a confusing website is as easy as clicking a single button. Make sure all navigation is labeled and easy to use. A top navigation bar can show general categories for your pages,
Side menus can help drill down to the exact products your buyers want. The menus should always have clear wording so that customers can find where they want to go with just the click of a button.
6. Use Consumer-Focused Content
In addition to using clear and concise language to hook your buyers, you need to also speak directly to those customers. Avoid using words that focus on your company and instead focus on the customer, such as exchanging “We” and “Us” statements for “You” and “Your.” Don’t talk down to the customers or use jargon they won’t understand. Making your company the expert is important but not at the expense of your customers’ self esteem. Finally, speak with your buyer personas’ voices. Your target audience should see themselves in every word. These are all part of the "psychographic" dimensions of a good buyer persona - use verbiage and tone that will resonate strongly with the audience that you're trying to attract and convert.
7. Smooth the Bumps
Your visitors may find your page because of banner ads, search engine results, PPC ads, or other means. Their click should take them directly to the page advertised so they see exactly what the description stated. If someone’s looking for a green shirts and your site takes them to the homepage instead of a list of red dresses, they’ll back away quickly. That disconnect between the ad and the matching landing page will break their trust in you. Not only will you lose that customer for that moment, but you’ll also likely lose them forever.
8. Assure Buyers’ Safety
Studies show most Americans are still worried when shopping online that identity theft, computer viruses, and credit fraud might occur. If your page doesn’t show the many ways you can keep their information and money safe, they’ll leave immediately. Remember, they may consider your intentions less than noble without certain reassurances, whether you’re planning to defraud them or not.
9. Include the Most Important Information Above the Fold
The Nielsen Norman Group says web users spend 80% of their time on the information found above the fold. This “fold” was so named after what is visible on the first page of a newspaper when it’s folded in half. Even then, everyone knew the most important stories were on the front page in the top half of the page. The same is true of your website content. Most viewers will scroll down to see what’s below the fold, but they’ll spend a lot less time there. What you want to say should be said first, boldly, and right there on the page as soon as it loads for viewers.
10. Cool It with the Calls-to-Action
We’re normally big fans of the CTA, but not if they get in the way of the user experience. If you’ve got flashing lights all over your ecommerce site, buyers will leave. Instead of overwhelming them with a million different choices right off the bat, choose the most relevant CTAs with the most important next step. You'll probably want to consider using dynamic content to customize the user experience to each user. This way, you won’t paralyze the buyer with too many choices or, worse, annoy them so much they never come back.
11. Make the Next Step Easy
When you do choose a CTA, it should tell the buyer exactly what will happen when they click the link. Be as informative as you can without overdoing it on the copy. Remember to keep your call-to-action above the fold and near the top of the screen. Many also suggest the CTA appear on the left side of the page, because viewers will see this first. If you’re still unsure, we’ve written a few blogs about creating CTAs that will excite your buyers and prompt the next move. Again, this is a design feature that you should always test for yourself. Your calls-to-action are one of the most important design features that you need to align with your buyer personas.
12. Make the Site Mobile Friendly
According to Pew Research Center, 45% of American adults use smartphones and 25% use tablets. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile and tablets, you can count on losing those customers.Incorporating responsive design into your website is the best bet, but you can do a few things to a full site that will make it more mobile friendly.
- Make images viewable on mobile devices using HTML5, jQuery, or JPGs
- Concise and readable text is crucial
- Make links clickable with areas large enough for thumbs
- Use a single column for content
- Place your CTA above the fold
- Make sure your forms are simple
Always be sure to optimize your site so you pass the blink test, especially after adding new content. Otherwise, you could be missing out on many potential customers.
Originally published Oct 23, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated October 20 2016