E-Commerce Optimization: Separating Hype From Reality
Responsive web design (RWD) continues to be one of the biggest hypes for digital marketers. If you don’t already have a responsive site, chances are good you’ve at least thought about making this a priority, especially if you’re in the e-commerce space. However, as is true for most trends, getting caught up in the excitement of RWD doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a perfect solution for everyone, or that those brands that are implementing RWD are doing it well.
If you’re thinking about responsive design — and you certainly should be — you can avoid making some of the similar mistakes made by early adopters. Here are some other considerations to keep in mind.
Focus On Users, Not Screens
With so many devices and screen resolutions to juggle, it’s easy to get bogged down in technical details and forget about your users. Rather than thinking about how your site will render on different size screens, think about the experience your users will have when browsing your site across devices. Web visitors expect a similar experience regardless of the device they’re using. When that experience changes dramatically, they’re more likely to leave.
Just as important, think about how easily people will be able to interact with your site on all of their devices. Users won’t care if your site is responsive or not, but they will care whether they can accomplish what they want. If your links are too hard to click, pages take too long to load or navigation isn’t fat-finger friendly, your site has failed. And that can happen to a responsive site just as easily as one that isn’t.
Maintain Clear Interaction Cues for Users
When site visitors are using a laptop or desktop computer, they have the advantage of relying on the cursor to indicate what’s “clickable.” Without being consciously aware of it, many users actually “read” with their mouse — i.e., moving the cursor along with their eyes. However, on mobile devices there’s no hover behavior and no cursor that turns into a finger whenever it passes over a link.
Furthermore, because viewing websites on mobile devices is generally quite slow, most people are reluctant to start tapping all over the page. This means that your design must make it visually clear what elements on your site allow for user interactions. Buttons, links, form fields and other points of user interaction, for example, must be large enough to be clicked easily, yet spaced far enough away from other page elements that the user doesn’t risk clicking the wrong thing.
Invest Time Designing the Right Navigation
Navigation is one of the most important elements of any website, regardless of the viewing device. For visitors using mobile devices, however, poor navigation design isn’t just a nuisance; it could make your site practically unusable.
Effective site navigation helps users find what they’re looking for, as well as understand where they are within the site. However, with as few as 400 pixels of width to work with, it can be challenging to figure out how to present your navigation without it becoming the center of attention. Therefore, the best solution is one in which the navigation is there when users need it, and hidden when they don’t. Some sites do this with a “hamburger,” a three-stacked line menu icon, a symbol that’s growing in popularity and has almost reached “convention” status.
The worst thing you can do is try to shrink your menu to fit the device. Many organizations with large, complicated menu structures have attempted this and the result is generally a long list of tiny links that are nearly impossible to click without first pinching to enlarge. Avoid any solution that doesn’t feel natural and effortless to your users. In other words, you may have an information architecture problem, so you should deal with it at the root level.
Recognize That Customer Journeys Are Device-Centric
Before you even start your RWD project, take a look at your site’s analytics reports and segment visitor paths and conversions by device, screen and window resolutions, browser, and OS. Even if the data isn’t entirely accurate, it will give you a glimpse into how your visitors behave differently according to the device they’re on.
Whatever the key customer journeys are for your brand, know this: they’re likely to vary according to device. You need to know enough about your visitors and their goals in order to ensure responsive design takes these different goals into account. Your goal should be to understand what role a smartphone or tablet visit may play in the overall customer journey, and to make sure your responsive site meets the needs of visitors by presenting the right information on the right device at the right time.
Looking Beyond Your Website
While many marketers are considering how to implement RWD on their websites, few have extended the same focus to their email marketing programs. Over two-thirds of emails are opened first on mobile, and most are only opened on mobile. It goes without saying that many people receiving your emails are probably not seeing your site or landing page as you intended. Recreating your email templates in a responsive format is essential for email marketing success, but so is fixing the downstream pages.
If there’s one parting thought I’d like to leave you with, it’s this: A responsive site isn’t necessarily a high-converting site. Most of the people who are creating responsive sites are trained in web development, not usability or conversion rate optimization. The measure of success for your site, whether responsive or not, will always be conversion rate. Think less about the screen and more about getting your users to their conversion goal.
Tim Ash is the author of the bestselling book Landing Page Optimization, and CEO of SiteTuners. A computer scientist and cognitive scientist by education (his PhD studies were in Neural Networks and Artificial Intelligence), Tim has developed an expertise in user-centered design, persuasion and understanding online behavior, and landing page testing. In the mid-1990s he became one of the early pioneers in the discipline of website conversion rate optimization. Over the past 15 years, Tim has helped a number of major US and international brands to develop successful web-based initiatives. Companies like Google, Expedia, Kodak, eHarmony, Facebook, American Express, Canon, Nestle, Symantec, Intuit, AutoDesk and many others have benefitted from Tim's deep understanding and innovative perspective.
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