When I think of conversion optimization and how I can better optimize a site, I always try to think of what the user experience would look like in a real store. If you haven't already seen it, Google analytics has created a series of real life videos which demonstrate how UX would translate in real-life settings. And while I wish I had the production budget that Google had to create these videos, we're instead going to watch a video the old fashioned way...using our imaginations. So let's begin.
(Start Scene) Imagine yourself as the proud owner of a brand new store. You've spent months building your store, hiring only the best contractors and the best designers to ensure it looks beautiful and is built with quality. You've created a successful advertising campaign by putting out flyers, coupons, radio and TV ads to build traffic and encourage word of mouth.
Finally, all of your hard work is about to pay off as you open the doors. People begin to pour in. It seems that all or your advertising has done the trick. You hear customers gasp in awe as they comment about how beautiful everything is, and you think it was definitely worth hiring that very expensive designer. Everything seems awesome right about now!
What Is Where
But wait... After your customers are done revelling at how eye catching and appealing your store is, they start to search for that product that they saw in your flyer. They start by walking up and down the aisles only to quickly realize that products aren't categorized in any particular order. Products are laid out on shelves according to their color and not what should logically be placed together. Your customer continues their quest through a rainbow of aisles and shelves - albeit very beautiful carved oak shelves - but still do not find what they're looking for. Your customer then stops, and comes to the conclusion that it's going to take forever for them to find this product. So they begin their new quest - finding a salesperson. But unfortunately, because its grand opening, they can't find a salesperson either.
At this point in your customer's journey, one of two things will happen. Number one (which is the most likely) your customer has become so irritated and frustrated that they will leave your store never to return because of their awful experience. Or number two, your customer is as patient as the Dalai Lama and continues to search until they eventually find what they are looking for. And for the sake of continuing with this scenario, we're going to assume that your customer has finally found what they came here for. Once again everything seems pretty awesome!
Uh Oh, wait a minute, your customer can't find the price tag. The customer searches all over the product and the shelves looking for a price. They ask themselves "How do I know if this is the same price as what I saw in the ad?" As your customer contemplates just putting the product back down on the beautiful carved oak shelve and walking out of the store never to return, they instead decide that it took them so long to find this product that they might as well take it to the cash register and see if the price matches up. Phew! Another crisis averted.
"OK really?! Seriously?! Where is the cash register?" Your customer has been walking through a maze of beautifully carved oak shelves looking for a product and now they can't remember where they saw the cash register. "Wait, was there even a cash register?"
At this point your customer is extremely frustrated because they spent all of their time looking for a product, a sales person, a price, and a cash register, that they have now completely lost their patience and immediately moved towards the highly visible exit [X] sign located to their right. (End scene)
This Happens All The Time
While this scenario does seem a bit unrealistic in the real world, websites make these mistakes all the time. It is very common to see websites that don't categorize products logically or include prices. It is common to see websites that have a difficult and/or hard to find checkout. It is common to see websites without a live chat, functional search bar, or FAQ page to help answer their customer's questions. Ultimately, there is an abundance of professional looking, well-designed sites that have great SEO and get a lot of traffic but still forget about the most important part of the equation...the customer! And it is the customer that is really what conversion optimization is all about; making their journey through the buying funnel as easy as possible.
So, remember, just because Google says that your site is optimized enough to rank on the first page, if your visitors don't complete an action or return to your site, it doesn't matter if you rank #1 on Google. It's as if your site magically disappeared. And not the fun kind of disappearing act like at birthday parties; the kind where money disappears like in that movie with the Facebook guy and Morgan Freeman.
The moral of this story is: it is important to invest in a great designer, SEO and PPC, but your site needs to be optimized for your customers, not just for Google. If it isn't, then money spent acquiring traffic is money wasted.