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Keep it simple… 5 tips for better sales online (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – June 19, 2009)

How savvy are your customers? Are they sophisticated in using the Internet? While I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, it’s important to remember that most people – no matter how much they use the Internet – don’t spend much time thinking about the Internet.

For a perfect example, take a look at this Google video asking people in Times Square what a browser is:

(Hat tip: The Next Web & Customer Experience Labs)

So, if your customers aren’t that savvy on the web, should you avoid awesome Flash widget-ry and new, improved Web 2.0 crunchy goodness on your site? Well, it depends. You see, that’s not the right question. The right question is: what do your customers need? And if you don’t know, how can you find out? Here’s how:

  1. You can observe a lot just by watching. Yogi Berra said it best. When you watch your customers use your product, service or website, you’ll see things you’d never imagined. Some may shock you. Some may seem silly. But your customer isn’t wrong when they can’t figure out what to do next on your site. Your site is. I once watched a customer use a site repeatedly click on an image that wasn’t clickable. It didn’t show up in analytics, because no tool I know of will track actions that don’t do something. But in just 10 minutes of observing the customer, we were able to improve usability – and the conversion rate we were looking for – dramatically. Tools like can show you exactly what your customers are doing to help you make things right. (And, yes, I know I talked about them last week, too. It’s that cool a tool).
  2. Keep it simple. Customers come to your site with a problem to solve. Anything that doesn’t help them solve the problem – any distraction, pop-up, extra step, upsell, what-have-you – can stop your customer cold. They don’t need anything that doesn’t contribute to solving their problem. So don’t do that. Earlier this week, B.L. Ochman offered a great example of “keep it simple…” tactics in practice that ought to be required reading. So go read it.
  3. Don’t reinvent the wheel. As Steve Krug writes in “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”
    – his legendary book – “Innovate when you know you have a better idea… but take advantage of conventions when you don’t.” I’d add, “and then test to be sure.” There’s a reason the gas pedal is on the right and the brake on the left in every car: because if you switched them, people would die. Look at how others have solved the problem and work from there.
  4. Apply these tips everywhere. You can apply these same lessons to tools like Facebook and Twitter, too. For instance, RADSMARTS looks at the habits of highly effective Tweeters, finding they, too, focus on low friction, high value communication. And, really, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
  5. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. If improving your customers’ experience is a one-time event, don’t be surprised if your business only has a one-time gain. You’ve got to embed continuous improvement into your company’s DNA. As Bryan Eisenberg recently noted, “Good online marketers come in many sizes and shapes, but all have at least one trait in common: They are never satisfied with their results.” I think you could remove the word “online” – and for that matter, “marketer” – and describe every successful business person I’ve ever known.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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  1. This is great advice to improve online sales. Keeping your site simple is very important to keeping potential customers on your site and ready to buy. I just recently was on a site and it was so confusing i left and went to another site.. ending in that company losing a sale. Nice Post!

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