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How Poor Usability Can Kill Your Copy and Conversions

October 8, 2008
By Karon Thackston © 2008, All Rights Reserved

It's funny how we, as website owners, don't always think like our visitors. A course of action that might seem perfectly obvious to us may stop our visitors right in the middle of their buying process. Take, for instance, e-commerce–type copy. Do you realize that what happens after your customers read your copy could make or break your sale? I'm not talking about shopping cart abandonment. I'm talking about good communication that keeps the buying cycle moving forward. Let me give you a real-world example.

One website offered custom-designed gift bags. The photos on their site were gorgeous. The copy seemed self-explanatory until I got to the request for quote page. There I found a form that asked questions I wasn't expecting. I was supposed to explain my preference of fabric color, the type of handle I wanted and a description of any accessories that should be added to the bag. I had no idea how to answer.

Because the copy stated that each gift bag was custom designed, I assumed I'd be given options to choose from. Instead, as it turned out, I was responsible for knowing precisely what I wanted and also for describing it in detail in writing on the request for quote form. It set me back a little.

Since most people aren't very comfortable with writing, I can easily see how a page like this would immediately stop visitors and send them packing. I could place the most compelling copy ever written on the sales page for these bags – copy that would have visitors primed and ready to whip out their credit cards. But after clicking to a request for quote page like the one described above, most would likely not order.

Would that be the fault of the copywriting? No. Yet most site owners would assume the text wasn't doing its job. Low conversions, in this case, would be an error in the sales process.

Web Page Copy Doesn't Involve Just One Page

Unless you're talking about a specific landing page that is created for the sole purpose of receiving clicks from a targeted PPC ad campaign, there are very few instances where the copy on one web page won't be affected by the pages around it.

Visitors click in and out of pages and back and forth throughout your site. They can also enter your site from literally hundreds of different links around the Net. For this and other reasons, you have to consider where they might come from and where they'll be headed.

How to Test

One of the best ways to make sure your site flows as it should is to ask several outsiders to take a tour. Have them start at one of the many beginning points (a search engine listing, a link to you from another site, your home page, etc.) and click through just as a customer would. Ask them to make notes about what they didn't understand as they go along so you'll know where to tweak your copy.

You may even choose to give them specific tasks to complete while they are there. For example, ask them to read the copy and then explain the benefits of a new product or service you've added, or ask them to tell you the process for registering for the members-only area of your site.

Another good idea is to draw a flowchart of your website. Seeing all the pages on paper can oftentimes give you a better understanding of how the copy on each page might affect all the others surrounding it. Once you take a look at the big picture and get some feedback, use that information to shore up the weak copy on your site.

When you take time to see things from your visitors' perspective and then implement adjustments accordingly, you'll begin to notice increases in conversions. And that makes all the work worth your while.

Karon Thackston
Writing With Keywords
Marketing Words Copywriting Blog

 
 
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 Phil Eschtruth Harrison said:
Nicely written Karon. It's certainly true that a cumbersome or confusing "contact us" or "get a quote" type of form will kill conversions. Some sites try to pre-qualify their leads by asking a lot of questions up front. There is something to be said for balancing quanity of leads with quality of leads. But that's of course where the copy writing comes in. Make sure what you say is attracting the kind of leads for which you are looking. Don't get them hooked only to scare them off at the next stage of the conversion funnel.

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