Category Archive: Usability

How a Panda Penalty and 60% Traffic Drop Nearly Doubled Our Sales

A while back I posted about my e-commerce site recovering from Panda. In that post I mentioned that the site suffered a 60% drop in traffic. What I didn’t mention is that despite the massive drop in traffic our sales nearly doubled that year (2011). We didn’t expect it, and it wasn’t directly due to the change in traffic. The sales increase was caused by our efforts to increase our conversion rate to offset the traffic loss.

Here’s How We Did It

We read a book called The E-Myth Revisited. If you’re running a website or business, I very highly recommend reading it. Some aspects of the book come across as rather elementary, and there were sections that could have been left out. However, the substance of the book was excellent, and it caused us to change the way we looked at and ran our business, including our e-commerce site. I’ll only describe here what applies to our increase in conversions and sales, but there are other great and beneficial reasons to read the book.

Although customers loved our site and it had a very professional design, we had never put an overall vision for it into words. It was really just a site selling products, along with useful information for our customers + excellent customer service. One of the steps in “The E-Myth Revisited” is to write down a vision for your business…what you want your business or site to convey…what you want people to feel when they land on your site for the first time or walk in your door.

A Unified Vision

Actually coming up with a single sentence for our vision wasn’t easy, but once we did it we felt we had a real purpose. We had a single goal or vision that every page on the site should attempt to achieve…a single unified feeling for every aspect of the site. So we got to work on making that happen. We made relatively simple changes to the design…a color here…a message there. But the impact was amazing. The day we made the first changes, our bounce rate was cut in half and average time on site nearly doubled. Conversions more than doubled, and sales went up by almost 100% for the year.

So despite losing 60% of our traffic from Feb. to the end of the year due to Panda, our sales were about doubled compared to the previous year. And it wasn’t due to a change in search traffic or the terms people searched for to arrive on our site. The data was consistent across all traffic sources…not only Google, but also Yahoo and Bing where we had not been penalized.

One Change, Not Many

In every previous year we attempted to maximize our sales and conversion rate. We made numerous changes to every element of our site, but each one either had very little impact or none at all. It wasn’t until we changed one thing that we saw a huge and instant impact…the vision. And that vision was based on feeling instead of product specs or direct benefits.

Why Feeling Beats Logic

When a customer arrives on your site, they’re going to instantly feel a certain way about it. If they’re looking to purchase something, they may very well decide to make that purchase or not within a couple of seconds, without even having read anything about your products. Most of them will use thinking and logic after, to support the decision they’ve already made based on how they feel about your business.

What’s more important than anything else, is that your website conveys a feeling that puts your customer in the mood to do whatever it is you want them to do.

Product specifications, direct and indirect benefits, price, etc…it all matters.  But it’s all secondary to the way someone feels when they land on your web page. If they don’t get a good feeling, if you don’t put them in the mood to buy, it doesn’t matter how good your product or sales copy is…most customers aren’t going to buy from you.

This year we focused on reducing the amount of product specification and benefit language in our marketing, and focused instead on the feeling people will have when they use our products. And our conversions are up nearly 30% over last year.

For us, getting hit by Panda and losing 60% of our traffic caused us to try to improve the aspects of our business we could improve. And it worked, extremely well. Whether your site has been penalized or not, make sure you’ve got a written vision based on what you want your customers to feel, and make every page of your site convey that feeling. You’ll be glad you did.

A Final Note

Despite our substantial increase in visitor engagement signals, our e-commerce site was hit again by Panda 20 (what most SEOs are calling the latest one) after having recovered this past March from Panda 1.0. This is yet another indication to me that Panda is not primarily concerned with what’s good for visitors. Our bounce rate is just under 20%, with ~6 pages viewed per visitor, and just over a 4 minute time-on-site average. This highlights the need for multiple traffic sources and promotional methods even for high quality businesses, in addition to keeping fixed expenses as low as possible.

Using Image Sliders to Improve Design & Conversions

Just a short post here on something I’ve been working on recently: clickable image sliders. These are images, usually in the form of banners, that change or rotate either automatically or when a visitor clicks a button to advance, go back, or select an image/banner. Many big brand sites use image sliders to showcase product classes, new items, and promotions. I’ve never used them before, but decided to give them a go on a new site. After using them on one site, I’ve decided to add them to several of our sites. They really are a fantastic way to highlight different content, products, or promotions all on the same page. Often times your visitors will arrive on a page looking for something slightly different. Rather than having some of them click back and leave, these sliders offer a way to appeal to different needs without the user having to scroll down or search through your menus. They also make your site appear more professional.

To see an example implementation, take a look at our home page where I’ve just added 3 image slider banners. Notice the images are clickable, so visitors can go right to the content they find most appealing.

There are plenty image slider plugins for WordPress, but since I prefer to use static sites whenever possible, it was a bit of a chore to find an easy to implement solution. But I did find a really good one, and it’s extremely easy to implement. I’m using code provided by slidesjs.com.  For the home page of this site I chose the ‘standard’ version. The only real modification I made was to remove the forward and back buttons. I prefer to have the images take up the full width of the center content area, set them to advance automatically, and allow visitors to move back and forth via the little bubbles beneath the images.

All you need to do to get the sliders up and running is copy and paste the html code on the page you’d like the slider to appear on, put necessary CSS code (again you can simply copy and paste this) in your style sheet, and reference the javascript files in the head section of your page code. I copied the js files and am hosting them myself, as I feel that’s safer than assuming they’re going to stay where they’re referenced on the slidesjs.com site.

Image sliders make sense for a great variety of sites, from info sites where you’d like to highlight useful pages or featured content, to e-commerce sites where you may want to direct a visitor to a product class or catalog for download. And although they’re typically used with images only, you can use any HTML code, so it’s no problem to have text or text + images instead.

Hopefully you’ll find them as useful as I have.  :)