It’s a difficult balance to strike – whenever ‘best practices’ come up, it’s hard for marketers to upset the status quo and say they want to try something new.

But the concept of the ‘best practice’ is really just a myth, says Chris Stolz, manager of ecommerce web analytics and optimization at the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). As the head of optimization efforts for HBC, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue, he’s responsible for ensuring users’ ecommerce experiences are just as good online as when they go shopping in-store.

“In a steering committee, or in a meeting or kickoff, when somebody uses the phrase, ‘Well, best practice says that we should,’ what I find it usually means is, ‘Well, what I want is.’ I challenge you to find somebody to state a best practice that is not what they truly want,” said Stolz, speaking from Inbound Con, a Toronto-based conference held Sept. 18. It explored social media marketing, content marketing, and optimization.

Instead of relying on best practices doled out by the marketing department, he says it’s better to just do whatever customers want. Here’s a quick roundup of five of his tips on how to build optimized landing pages and ecommerce sites, aimed to give users a better experience – giving them what they want, rather than what the marketing department wants.

1. Go where your users and customers are.

For startup entrepreneurs, and anyone who’s followed the lean startup method, talking to customers seems like a basic idea. Yet as simple as it is, marketers often would rather fall back on tried-and-true practices, instead of just asking customers what they want, Stolz said.
A good example might be how an e-tailer looks at Amazon, especially as it’s an ecommerce powerhouse, he said.

“Amazon gives free shipping, so that means people are programmed to expect free shipping from me – I should give them free shipping,” he said. “Figure out what your customers are doing, what they want, what they expect. Test, change things, try things … Don’t just offer free shipping because Amazon is, and that’s a best practice now.”

That might mean running tests over and over again. For Stolz and his team, they ran 20 or 30 tests in about eight months, building on what they learned from each test, achieving quick wins, and building bigger things in the background as the tests were completed.

If you’re not running tests, what you’re really doing is just guessing what your customers want – and that’s never going to be as accurate as what your data is showing, Stolz said.

2. Avoid using multiple navigation methods – instead, try to keep things as clear and simple as possible.

When it comes to creating landing pages, one of Stolz’s number one pet peeves is an oversupply of navigation methods.

“Every single time a customer touches something, they have to learn how it works,” he said. “Just because a customer’s seen a slider on somebody else’s website, or a carousel or whatever you call it, doesn’t mean your customer knows how to use it, or that it works for your customer.”

Stolz added pages that are covered in accordions, sliders, links, buttons, drop-downs, and so on can be confusing, and having too much interactive content is more of a hinder than a help. He recommended that as a test, marketers should try to streamline their content and see how customers respond.

The principle of simplicity also carries over to text, and to whatever it is you want your customer to do, he added.

“Clarity. Don’t make them think, ever,” he said. “Ad copy, headlines, call to action – clear, simple, and most importantly – driving the emotional response. I want that … Complex calls to action almost always lose to simple ones.”

 

3. Try not to obsess over the little things.

For marketers, constantly iterating and refining their work is key to what they do. But that being said, getting overly concerned about details like a page’s colours is just unnecessary, Stolz said.

“We assume that these small changes always mean big wins,” he said. “They can, but they don’t always. Small changes can make a huge difference if the change is meaningful.”

One thing Stolz does is to put two landing pages side-by-side, and then stand up and walk 12 feet away, while looking at his screen. From that distance, if he can’t perceive any major differences, then he’ll tell his client that the change probably won’t be worth too much.

4. You don’t need to put a security logo on every page. Actually, it might be better if you don’t.

With all of the data breach headlines making the news lately – including Target and more recently, Home Depot, consumers are understandably anxious about giving out personal information, like debit or credit card numbers.

However, slapping a security logo doesn’t actually make them feel any better. In fact, it can be extremely confusing, Stolz said.

“Security logos are not always better. Everybody always says hacker-safe logos and PayPal Secure logos – a lot of the time they work, and they work really well in [ecommerce]. But they don’t always,” he said.

He recounted the story of a company he worked at almost a decade ago, where the marketing team put a ‘hacker-safe’ logo on every page. But instead of feeling reassured, consumers assumed a hacker had gotten access to the site, as the logo redirected them to a page about encryption – something they didn’t necessarily understand. Sales went down and calls to the call centre went up, with people calling to say the site had been hacked, Stolz said.

 

5. Make your checkout experience as perfect as you can.

One of the biggest mistakes a retailer can make is not showing customers the deals they’re getting, or the promotions they’re getting, when they make it to the checkout screen. That’s the hotspot for customers to abandon their purchases, and it’s even more likely to happen if they don’t see the deal they thought they were getting on that last page, Stolz said.

And of course, the checkouts need to be as neat and easy to understand as the rest of your newly-optimized landing pages, he added.

“We all knew this – make sure your checkout is the most beautiful, streamlined checkout in the world,” he said. “I like checkouts with nice, big fields so it doesn’t look too busy, it just looks really simple and clean.”

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