Increasing online sales doesn’t have to be an intimidating undertaking: There are fundamentals that any business can and should implement. (And if you’re still not selling online, you definitely should.) In this article, we’ll review best practices for optimizing your online sales experience, broken down into 4 categories:
Advertising legend David Ogilvy famously said, “5 times as many people read the headline as read the body copy,” and numerous studies have since confirmed the disproportionate importance of headlines. Marketer Derek Gehl emphasizes that an effective headline tells the customer not what the product is, but what it does for them. He highlights the example of a company that makes a storage box for Legos. The company’s website had the title “The Amazing Toy Storage Box For Lego.” Accurate, succinct… and boring.
Gehl changed the headline to “Finally! Discover the Secret That’s Got More Than 50,000 LEGO-Crazy Kids Worldwide Actually LOVING Clean-Up Time!” A Lego storage box doesn’t sound that special, but anything that makes kids love cleaning up is a must-buy.
Limited-time discounts or emphasizing limited stock are proven tactics for increasing sales. Deadlines activate people’s fear of loss, which is very strong in humans—stronger than joy caused by gain. So while a customer might waffle on whether to buy your product, they will buy quickly when a ticking clock counts down (sometimes literally) until they lose their discount. The customer might not want the product that much, but they fear losing it (and the discount) even more. Be sure to emphasize scarcity and urgency in your copy when using limited-time offers.
People’s brains don’t really read full sentences. We skim them and fill in the blanks (explaining this optical illusion). Compose your copy in a way that lets people get the most important information quickly. Break up text using headlines and subheaders; bold, italicize, and underline key words and phrases. Use bulleted or numbered lists instead of listing things in long sentences.
Debates rage about where to place your CTA. The answer is subjective—give your potential customer a CTA (in this case, the option to purchase) when they are ready for it. Too soon and you will scare them away, counterintuitively hurting your conversion rates.
You might have heard the advice to move your CTA below the fold. This strategy is partially true. “Below the fold” is a newspaper term literally meaning below where the newspaper is folded, so beyond where a reader could see without actively looking. In web terms, it means “where the reader will have to scroll down to see.” Some companies were surprised to find that moving their CTA below the fold increased conversion rates. As marketing guru Neil Patel explains, what they were actually observing was the effect of moving their CTA to after their pitch. Instead of scaring away users with an immediate ask, they won them over with copy and then presented the CTA to a primed and ready customer.
As Patel points out, if users are landing on your homepage already sold on your product and ready to buy, then it is totally appropriate to place a CTA above the fold. The important thing is that the CTA is presented when the user is ready.
Recently the darlings of web design, image carousels are fast falling out of favor. They confuse users and provide too many options. Usability researcher Jakob Nielsen relates the story of one woman who could not glean important information from the very first slide of a carousel and explains how carousels disadvantage users who are low-literacy, non-native language readers, and/or mobility impaired.
Many major brands have switched back to static banner images. Static images have the added benefit of forcing you to determine which single image, deal, or piece of copy you want to highlight. This limitation is good, as it will streamline and simplify your user experience.
According to Facebook, “87% of consumers say that a ‘complicated’ checkout process will make them abandon their shopping cart.” One of the easiest ways to correct this is to reduce the number of pages in the checkout process. When possible, make checkout a single page. Ask for only essential customer information.
Entering a credit card number also counts as an additional “step,” so payment options should include digital wallets like Apple Pay and PayPal. Mobile users in particular do not want to punch in their credit card numbers every time they make a purchase.
According to one study, 18% of consumers have abandoned a purchase in checkout because they did not trust the site with their credit card info. The same study found that any symbol denoting security on the checkout page can increase user trust. The most effective was the certification label from Norton, the web security firm. Acquiring their seal on your checkout page will require purchasing a protection plan.
“Trust” seals from Google and The Better Business Bureau were also effective. These seals don’t denote technical protection—you can earn them through an application process with the organizations.
Providing free shipping is one of the most costly ways you can boost sales, but also one of the most important. Baymard shows that a whopping 50% of consumers who abandoned items in an online shopping cart did so due to “extra costs” at checkout like shipping.
There are additional benefits that may offset the costs. Studies have found that customers will spend more per order with free shipping (sometimes to meet minimums) and will wait longer for an order if shipping is free.
All of these methods are backed by previous testing and experience, but only you will see what works best for your business. Most organizations use A/B testing on their sites, which randomly gives users one of two versions of the site’s user experience. Over time, testing insights will tell you which of these proven methods will optimize your sales.