ECommerce Usability: The Homepage Interview
Posted by Kimberly Krause Berg on: 2006-10-05 19:37:48
Self SEO > Ecommerce Articles
It's easy to overlook important information that your website visitors may need when they first arrive to your homepage. While landing pages are helpful in guiding searchers to your site, eventually even these folks will find themselves on your homepage. Everyone has the same basic questions.
These questions revolve around Who, Where, What, When, Why and How. Answering them is fun, and not as obvious as you might believe. Using them as guides for credibility, trust, persuasiveness and desirability is an added bonus for your overall conversion rates. Don't settle for a brief welcome statement that offers no guidance or spark of interest. These six words can help you add some zing!
Firstly, who are you? This is a basic question. It’s often answerable by a logo. A logo is not that exciting, nor is it likely completely descriptive. Just ask Google. Add a descriptive tagline, which contains keywords and explains the purpose of the site or points out a valuable detail.
"Who" is found in your business address. Evaluate whether it is important to your business to provide an entire business, office or headquarters address, or simply a whittled down version. Many websites offer no clues about their country of origin, language and whether or not it targets a global or local target market. Search engines benefit from finding a zip code and town, in text, on your homepage. This increases your page’s chance of coming up in local searches, or whenever a search engine determines a local result fits someone's search criteria.
Who you are is not enough, however. Who are you selling to? Men, women, old, young, here, there, and yes, if you offer senior citizen discounts, don’t hide this fact. Who would benefit from your products and services? Who is on your staff? Who is your sales representative? Your visitors want to know who you are. You are much more than your website or company name.
Your location is important. If you place “Call our toll-free phone number” on your homepage, it’s helpful to know what country, at least, your company is located in so that somebody from half-way around the world understands when to call. If you run a local business, targeting local sales, is this obvious from your homepage? Is your site a headquarters with offices worldwide? What is the native speaking language? This may be important for those who are uncomfortable doing business outside their own country.
Some site owners know people will not buy certain products, such as medical supplies or drugs, from outside the USA, for example. Therefore, they pay for fake addresses, or display addresses that are nowhere near the company’s true home base. Determine if you need to offer a map to validate an address, or register with places such as the Better Business Bureau, to improve credibility.
Small businesses, if you work from home, rent a postal box, or explain that your home-based business is located in a certain country or province and leave it at that. There are other ways to prove your credibility and authenticity, without losing your right to privacy.
Included for “Where” is addressing where your target market is coming from. There may be instances where your content can address people from certain towns, cities, countries or schools. This information offers instant validation to your homepage visitor that they have arrived at a place that is intended for them.
This may be the most obvious point to address on your homepage, and the most challenging when you truly understand the real question. ‘What” is more than just what your product or service is. That’s the easy part.
What also pertains to what action do you want them to take once you tell them what you do? I’ve been to sites that spend so much time explaining what they’re about, but forgot to say if you could order it online. Remember, this is the homepage we’re focusing on. It’s not helpful to make anyone click around to figure out what services are offered, or what ways they can buy the cool products displayed on the homepage.
What credit cards do you accept? What award did you just receive? What do customers think about your services?
"What" is also where you can offer the value proposition, features and benefits. Do this by understanding and then addressing the one big question your visitors have – “What’s in it for me?”
The more you describe what you do or sell, the more information someone has to base decisions with. You aren’t wasting their time with this one. The value and benefit of your “What” may be greater or more substantial than the competitor’s site, who forgot to include this part or can’t offer a better deal.
This is easily an overlooked element on homepages. Everyone has a “When” question. It may be “When I call you?” List office hours or store hours, or when your “live help” person is on duty. When can orders be taken? When do you ship? When is the sale over? When is the clearance sale going to start? When will the next shipment of your hot items arrive? When can they order? That one is easy, and one reason you should use an “Order or Buy Now” button in some cases. (There are reasons for its sister button, “Add to Cart”, too. You may discover you need both.)
I recommend that you walk around your whole site and ask each page the “When” question. When can they print a page? When does the confirmation email arrive? When does the next news update occur? You can go nuts with this one, but the more you answer this question, the more confident your visitors will feel about you or the company.
Related to “What”, is “Why”. This is where you lay out the value proposition and marketing content, in more detail , but be thoughtful and precise. Do you want a homepage that scrolls forever about why your product or service is the best there is? Or, can you nail the top-level benefits and link to more of them inside the site, where additional information and call to action prompts are?
Why will this product make someone smarter, thinner, richer? Why do 3 billion people around the world use it? Why are you so smart, thin and rich? Why is your book on the New York Times best sellers list? Why are the gems in your necklaces so special and will rose quartz really heal? Will being rich make life better, really? Why are the parts on this product better than the parts on a similar product sold by the other company? Why are your qualifications important?
Why did you name your website what you did? I have a friend whose online business has a good reason to answer this question. The site (and company) name cover two unrelated topics, but the company has combined them into something unique. Customers want to know what inspired this.
This is not an excuse to go on an ego trip. It’s an opportunity to show your passion. It’s how you define your offer. Do the homework for the many people who are still comparison-shopping, and convince them you have what they want and need.
Finally, how do offer your product or service? If there’s a shopping cart, strong identifiers are a login and cart icon at the top of an eCommerce website. Other clues are links to “Track your order”, “Your account” , buy buttons and order instructions.
In addition, your visitors have Time concerns. Timing is vital for sales. In addition, it communicates your readiness and ability to stay current and up to date.
Are they limited time specials? How often does your blog update? How often do you send your newsletter? How many clicks does it take to get to pricing? You may not address this one via content, but your navigation or embedded links to “Price Comparison Chart” or “View our prices” conveys how long it takes to get to vital information for comparison shoppers. How many products are in inventory? This may express expertise, for example. How many people subscribe to your newsletter? This may indicate popularity and length of time in an industry.
The purpose of interviewing your homepage may seem more practical to you now. Answer the six questions by providing focused content, navigation links and descriptive labels, bullet points, and small size instructive text.
They all contribute to your web site’s overall credibility, which is the next topic in this series.
Please stay tuned to the Cre8pc Blog for Part II - Convincing Website Credibility
Usability Consultant, Kimberly Krause Berg, is the owner of UsabilityEffect.com (http://www.usabilityeffect.com), Cre8pc.com (http://www.cre8pc.com), and Cre8asiteForums (http://www.cre8asiteforums.com/). Her background in organic search engine optimization, combined with web site usability consulting, offers unique insight into web site development.
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