Shortening The Distance to a Sale

Has This Happened to You?

You're in a store, armed with cash, and ready to buy that product, but can't find the item anywhere. You could travel to another store, but then you'd have to walk out to the parking lot, fight the traffic, pay for the gas and find another parking space.

Now picture this scenario online where in a fraction of second, a click of the right index finger will take you to a different store.

As a general rule, the longer it takes your visitor to find their desired product and get to your checkout page, the less likely they'll stick around and buy. There are a number of reasons why your "distance to sale" may be too long: Complex navigation, incomplete information, or lots of products with no search feature. Your best source for determining problematic areas like these is your web analytics.

10 Ways to Shorten The Distance & Increase Conversion

First, let's explore why visitors might tend to hop around your site. According to the Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines developed in part by the US General Services Administration, there are some highly relevant parts of a site that could impact your distance to sale.

10 Factors Impacting Your Distance to a Sale

  1. Understand and meet visitor's expectations - make sure your visitors are not surprised by what page they've landed on. Target your ads to appropriate destination URL's.
  2. Provide clear, intuitive navigation - think about how frustrating it'd be if in some cities a red light meant go and a green light meant stop. Don't break accepted navigation standards; for instance, be sure to have your logo in the top left part of your page with a link to your home page.
  3. Provide useful content that's organized clearly - if you're an Ecommerce business, you'll want to give the visitor all the information they need to make a purchase decision in as few clicks as possible.
  4. Avoid cluttered displays - Judiciously use graphics and images to support your offer, message and product.
  5. Facilitate scanning - web users like to scan the key features of a product or service, with the ability to quickly and easily drill down to more detail.
  6. Distinguish required versus optional fields - Keep your forms as short as possible, and make it easy for your visitors to move on to the next step. Always have a link to your privacy policy on your form. And make the form filling easier by naming your form fields to follow Google's form fill convention.
  7. Provide feedback on users' location - use breadcrumbs to allow the visitor to see where they are and to easily navigate back levels (Home > Turtle Products > Turtle Cages)
  8. Use descriptive page headings - make it easy for your visitors to immediately know what the page is all about, and try to keep headings consistent with your PPC ads.
  9. Provide feedback when users must wait - any unexplained delays will increase the chance your visitor will leave your site. An example of great feedback is the progress bar used by travel sites while searching to find matches for your travel requirements.
  10. Account for browser differences - test your pages and cart/form functionality on all browsers.

The Answers Are in Your Web Analytics

Your web analytics makes it quite easy to determine the level of your website's complexity. In "Conversion Analyst", there's a report called "Clicks to Pages" that shows the number of pages visited prior to visiting a specific page.

Suppose you've experienced a decline in online sales from your PPC campaign for a particular product from the same period 12 months ago and have investigated numerous metrics in an effort to determine what may have been the causes.

You're interested to see on average how many clicks (or pages) does it take your visitor to arrive at the shopping cart page. Your report from 12 months ago shows that the average "clicks to pages" metric was 5 pages.

In running the same report for the most recent month, however, you notice that the average has increased to 8 pages.

How to Get The Data

It's rather easy to get important data regarding our site's complexity from "Conversion Analyst". After logging in, go to REPORTS, "Navigation", "Clicks to Pages", and "By URL" or "By Title".

In the report, you'll notice 2 data columns - Number of Visits and Average clicks. For our example, we'll want to locate the URL of our shopping cart page, cart.asp.

We can see that for the time period reported that the average clicks to our shopping cart page was 8. Let's get a little more information that will help us determine why our visitors are taking more pages to find our shopping cart.

By placing our mouse over the magnifying glass to the left of the cart.asp line, we see that one of the options we have is to view the "path to here". By clicking on "Path to here", we're taken to a path analysis chart showing us the pages that were visited prior to arriving at our shopping cart page.

In Conversion Analyst after drilling down, you'll see a path analysis chart similar to this that graphically lists the pages that were visited prior to arriving at our shopping cart page.

Now if we run this same path analysis report for the same period 12-months ago, we'll be able to look for any additional branches of activity between our primary entry page and the checkout page. These added branches may be an indication that our customers are confused or not getting all of the information they're expecting. Also, note how many visitors exited our site from one of those new branches of activity.

Once you've identified the new branches, take a look at the primary entry page and those new branches for any changes you might have made in the content or navigation. Also consider our visitor's expectations prior to their visit. If we're driving traffic to this primary page from a PPC campaign, check that there is a strong degree of continuity between our ad creative and the content on the page. A change in our PPC ad copy could influence our visitor's navigation behavior.

Note that depending on the size of your site, a path analysis chart may become difficult to manage due to the numerous possible navigation paths. So it's important to focus on the path navigation for specific products or pages, one at a time.

More Specific Recommendations

  1. Your web analytics should help you determine what product/service attributes are important to your visitor. While details for some products seem trivial, those same details could be vital to the visitor's decision-making process.
    • For example, if we're selling wine gift baskets, the dimensions of the basket may not be that important to our visitor, and we may benefit from a cleaner product page by placing that information on a drill down page.
    • However, if we're selling wine racks, the dimensions are most likely important and should be listed on the product's main page.
  2. Whenever you list your privacy policy link, test displaying text similar to "We value your privacy, and will never sell or share your information" next to the privacy policy link. Usually that one sentence is all your visitor wants to know. By getting them not to visit your privacy policy page, you've removed another distraction that could increase the distance to a sale.
  3. Test your modifications to product pages where the "grass isn't walked on much". You don't want to risk losing a significant amount of sales on your most popular items while you fine-tune your site.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to optimizing your distance to a sale, remember that not only are you testing your visitor's level of patience, but you're also competing with any offline distractions that could take your potential buyer's attention away. The longer it takes for the sale to be completed, the better the chance that any interruption, even a phone call, can foil the sale.

On the other hand, one less click for every potential purchase could improve your conversion rate, resulting in more profits and revenue from your existing traffic without any further ad investment.

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