Optimization is not a random crap shoot. Before you get to conversion tactics, you need to make sure the website works – and it’s easy to use. People won’t buy from your site if it’s broken or difficult to use.
A good way to explain this is by using a pyramid. Like Maslow’s hierarchy, the conversion pyramid (concept first introduced by the Eisenberg brothers) indicates that only once the base needs on the bottom are met, can potential buyers move up to address the next need:
Here are the layers of the pyramid:
1. Functional. Does it work and do what it’s supposed to? First and foremost it needs to be free of technical errors. It needs to work with every browser (including mobile devices). You don’t like IE? So what! If 20% of your visitors use it and one third of them uses IE11, your site better work with IE11, or you’re losing money. Quality assurance testing is a must. Cross-browser testing is a must.
(More about this in Track 2, Conversion Research)
2. Accessible. Can people use the site with all devices? All skill levels? Handicaps? Are there any barriers to using it? Alt tags on all images?
Make sure your front-end developers check this web accessibility checklist.
3. Usable. Is it user-friendly? Is it fast enough?
Can people figure out how to use it without thinking about it? Can they understand the language? Can people buy the way they want? Is it obvious or do they have to “figure it out”? Make sure you perform usability tests.
We’ll go in-depth later in Track 2.
4. Intuitive. Does the sales process on the site match the thought sequence of the user? This layer is about reducing friction in the buying process, anticipating customer questions, and providing answers at the point the customer asks (as opposed to using a separate FAQ page no one visits). It’s about improving the flow of the visitor’s site experience and optimizing aspects that keep the visitors from buying.
Recommended reading: How to make your website intuitive to use.
5. Persuasive. Do users understand if what you offer fills their need or solves their problem? Does your website join the conversation in their mind? Does it offer enough proof? Remove doubts? Enable a friction-less checkout? Improving persuasion on your site is mostly done by writing better copy (targeted at every persona), using better product images and/or using improved design.
Everything related to product descriptions, feature tours, demos, and product comparisons (even with competitors) are considered persuasive issues. It’s also your service descriptions, case studies, testimonials, and white papers.
It’s a great mental model to determine how you should be optimizing, and in what order. Make sure the first 4 steps are taken care of before moving on to the final one. While the higher you go on the pyramid, the bigger the potential impact on optimization – if the bottom layers are broken, your conversion potential suffers deeply. Also bear in mind that the level of effort needed to optimize for each level varies from site to site.
How we use this hierarchy in our work
When we analyze sites to identify leaks and think about treatments, we start from the bottom level of the hierarchy. Meaning we don’t think about applying some psychological triggers until all bugs have been fixed.
1. If we discover that the website doesn’t work with a particular browser – we can jump for joy. Fixing functional issues is a low-hanging fruit that brings instant, and possibly very high gains. Bug fixes are the biggest sources of uplifts ever.
2. Check accessibility: Accessibility is about making the website usable for everyone – no matter their physical condition or the device they’re on. Alt tags for images, readable font sizes, contrast between buttons/text and background, and so on. Optimize for people with disabilities.
3. Perform a usability analysis, and fix issues. Usability is about how easy it is to learn to use your website (and how easy to remember how something is done). Websites with usability issues suffer from conversion problems too. Fixing usability problems fixes a bunch of problems right away.
4. Optimize design and sales process / funnel: Intuitive is about web design, prototypicality, cognitive fluency and meeting user expectations. Does the website feel intuitive and natural based on visitors buying preferences? Does the copy make everything clear and obvious?
5. And finally, we address persuasion, sales psychology and so on.