Website conversion tips for beginners

Technology, Training

Usability is important. Very, very important. If you can’t use a website, then you won’t. Unfortunately, unlike driving a moped or becoming a hairdresser, anyone can build a website and then inflict it upon the world at large. I get asked the odd question about usability by people who are really, really green, and so I’ve been moved to write this basic tips guide. You know, so I don’t have to answer any more dumb questions.


“How can I make people trust me?”

Invest in some truth and remove the waffle, it’s really pretty simple. Try stating the actual full price of a bookcase including the extras, postage, tools, labour, VAT etc. rather than the base price for a dismantled bag of twigs. Just because it appears more enticing at offer stage, that doesn’t mean I won’t leave at the payment stage when you reveal the actual, horrifying, cost. Jon Norris actually coined the term “trolley shock” for this phenomena, and I use it all the freaking time when talking to retailers. Information is key to trust. Try and imagine the questions people might be asking, or even better LISTEN TO THEM, and then place the information they need within easy reach.

Moral: Don’t spin anything. Ever.


“I’ve found this neat way of disabling the right-click using JavaScript. Cool, huh? Maybe you can use it in your blog to tell other people as I think it’s a really useful tool to stop piracy.”

Yeah well, first it’s not my blog. I know I talk like I own Freelance Advisor but actually I’m one of the niche writers they are desperately trying to retire by not paying me and telling me to get lost. Secondly; how does crippling my browser actually help protect you from piracy? Lets see how many ways I can come up with to pirate your images while you relax in your JavaScript fortress;

  • Disable Javascript
  • Press alt-p
  • Use a screenshot tool
  • View source, then download the bmp file (really, bitmaps… really?)
  • Type in the image url
  • Fetch the image from the cache on the local machine
  • You know that thirty-odd lines of Javascript you’re using to disable my right click? javascript:void(window.onmousedown="return true;"); I just need this activated on runtime via the Chrome console or something and boom: right-click is back AND I can keep javascript on
  • Use that button on the keyboard and the left click
  • Use an FTP view to search the media on the server (why this is enabled I don’t know)
  • Use Google to search for just “*.bmp” on your domain
  • Use Firefox to access the images via the media… thing it does.

So that took me all of 15 minutes to rip off every single image on your site, incidentally including the pictures of your dog and some guy that seem to feature heavily on the server but not at all on the site. What makes it even worse is I would never have tried if you hadn’t tried to stop me in the first place.

Moral: if you don’t know diddly-squat about piracy or security: don’t dabble blindly in it. You will just end up with a broken site that everyone wants to rip off. Also, watermark your images; it’s easier, ensures you are credited and it enhances your brand reach.

Bounce Rate

“How can you reduce our bounce rate? It’s the single biggest blocker to sales.”

Ha, ha, ha. No it isn’t. Your product is the biggest blocker. It’s always the biggest blocker. If I’m selling shoes and you’ve got no feet then we are not going to be seeing a high CLV from you even if I dedicate the entire site to you and personalise it at every step of the way. Bounce rate is the usability equivalent of Unicorn horn and Griffin penis. Everyone wants to get it, but actually, it’s a myth. Whatever your bounce rate is I can reduce it to under 1% by tomorrow. I’ll do this by emulating a click whenever the page is loaded. Bingo, 1% bounce. Are you making more sales? No, of course you’re not because nothing has actually changed.

Moral: Don’t worry about metrics that other people have mentioned or told you to worry about; worry about what is actually happening, on site and in your customer comments.

User testing

“What questions should I be asking my users / visitors to find out how to convert more of them”

That is going to depend, a lot, on what you want to know. There are a billion different questions you can ask and each will be useful in getting data related to that specific question. You have to work out what it is you want to know before you start phrasing questions. If your ultimate aim is to increase value per sale, then perhaps ask the customer AFTER a sale; “what would have made you buy more?”. It is simple, but if you refer back to point one’s moral; you don’t want to be fancying up your questions or you will be getting fancied up answers.

Moral: Don’t think that other people know better than you (the site owner/developer/king) just because they might have UX or UI in the title. Us UX people get all our information from you anyway…

Responsive/mobile/tablet design

“I’ve heard a lot about responsive design, should we plan to get a responsive site?”

Do you want tablet and phone users to be able to use your site? The latest generation of tablets are truly marvellous to behold and it will be a major shock to companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple if the uptake and usage is not mesmerizingly epic. So if your site doesn’t work for 50% of visitors, guess what will happen to your conversion rate? Spoiler: It’s not pretty.

Moral: Seen a trend that will affect your business? Account for it, work out if it effects you, do something about it!


“Can you just add a captcha to that form… I don’t want to get spammed”

I may have covered captchas before. But since then they have got-even-more-exciting. There are stats on how bad captchas are for your conversion rates, but this seems to have been missed by a large number of small businesses.

So just to be totally clear: Captchas reduce traffic through your form. NOT spam, TRAFFIC. So if you want less traffic it’s an awesome idea to add one.

Moral: Captchas are bad.

Photo by Michael Himbeault