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Designing Your Way to More Sales

You may or may not have heard of this notion of ‘improving checkout conversions.’ Basically, the idea is that if you change the way your checkout system looks and works, you’ll sell more stuff. It’s a bad idea.

Why? Because the checkout process isn’t the important part of the sales process. Imagine you go to buy a car: it doesn’t matter how gracious, charming, and efficient the guy who takes your money is — if the saleswoman is callous and brusque, the chances are that you’re not going to leave with a new car. If you want to invest in improving your sales, you need to start at the beginning of the sales funnel, and optimize your way to the end. In short, it doesn’t matter if 99/100 people who see your checkout page buy something if only a dozen people ever see your checkout page.

So you start by designing the first part of your sales funnel that can be designed. Obviously, the content that you use for marketing and outreach can only be designed to a point — you’re generally relying on third-party websites to host the content, so design isn’t relevant there. You want to start at the landing page.

Motivation
Start with a simple question: how can I make it as obvious as possible why someone would want to buy my product? This is not a simple answer, but presumably you know enough about marketing (or you have a contractor who knows enough about marketing) to be able to put together an answer. I could easily write a long series of articles just about this one subject, but for now let’s just say that designing your landing page to maximize engagement and emotional investment is a huge part of conversion optimization.

OK, let me say one more thing: you need to design for your audience. If you sell tea, putting pictures of loose tea in cute little heart shapes on your landing pages works. If you sell handguns, little heart-shapes piles of bullets probably won’t. Figuring out what your audience expects, what they want, and what will turn them off is crucial to motivating them. Play to their weaknesses and your strengths.

Ease of Process
Outside of a (very large) number of one-page ‘buy my product now’ pages that bespeckle the Internet, almost every business has multiple steps you have to go through in order to be able to hand over money and receive a product. Maybe you have to choose the product from a variety of them; maybe you have to turn in your personal information — whatever you have to do to get from the landing page to the ‘handing’ page (where you hand over the money!), it needs to be as simple as possible. Imagine your customer has just gotten punched in the head by Mike Tyson and is running on two hours of sleep, and design a sales process they could get through anyway.

A big part of this that is often ignored: error messages. All too often, a great looking page will throw up an error message when something goes wrong, and that error message says “Something went wrong. Please try again.” Or something else equally useless. If you can use your error messages to actually help guide the customer back on track, you’ll see the sales uptick, even if your ‘bug rate’ is low.

The Actual Checkout
Let’s get one thing straight: absolutely no one wants to have to register for an account for your webpage just to buy your stuff. I don’t care if your selling actual makes-you-fly pixie dust for pennies, there are people out there who will leave your site rather than take the time to register. So unless you have issues where you have to log information about your customers, don’t force them.

Other than that, the advice I have is simple: take a look at any checkout system created by a large company for web entrepreneurs — I reference Shopify — and make sure that you have all of the same elements, plus or minus one or two for simpler or more complex products. These people have A/B tested the hell out of their checkout software, and in general, the further you diverge from one of those existing models, the more customers you’re losing. You can still add a ton of personalization and branding by playing with space, color, pictures, and so on, but you really want to have a structure that more or less sticks with a professional model and minimizes extras.

Takeaway: Checkout conversions aren’t what you want. More sales is what you want. Don’t focus on the last place you could lose a customer when you’ll lose so many more at the beginning of the process.

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