Transactional online content: question everything!

Transactional online content: question everything!

Ask anybody in the world who uses the Internet regularly and you will get a story, often replete with colorful language, about the online store or transactional website where clumsy design, incomprehensible error messages, or frustrating login requirements caused the consumer to flee in disgust.

It’s no secret that the e-commerce world is full of bad user experience, but here’s something that is a little surprising: a good deal of user failure in online stores is due to bad content. Results of a study published in Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox this past fall showed that 55% of user failures observed in an e-tailing environment were due to incomplete or unclear information or uninformative error messages.

“The key downside of e-commerce is that users cannot touch, feel, see, taste, or smell the offerings … there’s no tactile experience,” the article says. “Online shopping is purely an information experience … This again places a huge premium on good content.”

Asking yourself the tough questions about your transactional content

Whether you’re operating an online shopping site, a customer portal or other transactional website, you have probably invested heavily in user experience and usability for your site. But if you’re not questioning everything about your content on those sites, your users might still be disappearing before they finalize the sale. Here are a few of the biggies to get you started:

Are your buckets built for your people? Is your information organized and labeled in a way that is ultra-clear to people outside your organization? Are you using terms that are widely accepted by your user population, or are you relying on terms and phrases that might be jargony and easily misunderstood?

Are you trying to defy convention? In an attempt to be unique or set yourself apart from your competitors, are you employing labels and verbal cues differently from how users typically encounter them? Online users are creatures of habit and subconsciously respond to repetition and commonalities across sites. Trying to go against the grain (by using clever phrases on a button rather than a simple “Go,” for example) could work against you.

Are you serving people in the way that they really buy? What characteristics and factors weigh in to a purchasing decision? Are your users able to search and browse according to those factors? Do you offer simple-to-read yet detailed information about those factors in order to allow shoppers to compare?

Are your forms created to foster success? Consider everything about your forms: from how much information you’re collecting, to the way you ask for that information, to the way you group multi-part forms, to tooltips for explaining why certain information is necessary. Do not let your IT developers provide the content for these forms. This is how things go terribly awry.

What happens in alternative scenarios? Inevitably something will go wrong for a person using your site. When it does, what happens? Does your user encounter a generic error message written by the developer who built your content management system? Do they somehow end up spiraling down the rabbit hole with no way to return except to go back to the home page and lose changes? Content is a very important consideration in all of this; be aware of every possible thing that could go wrong, and create content that will address each of these situations clearly so users can easily recover and continue on their path.

Are you telling the same story throughout the site? Your home page is sassy and delightful. Your landing pages are warm and welcoming. But once a user gets to a product page, she faces dry, droning product descriptions that not only differ in tonality but that fail to position the product as something the shopper actually wants to own. Often this is a byproduct of an e-commerce site being overwhelmed by quantity, with too few staffing resources focused on content. But shoppers pick up on it, even subconsciously, and the feeling that there is something inconsistent or “off” might be the thing that shuts down that sale.

Are you building trust? The average shopping-cart abandon rate for ecommerce sites in 2011 was 75%, up from 71% in 2012, according to a Forrester report. Users are becoming more tech-savvy, but that just means that sites have to work harder to build trust: trust that the value is high enough and that the site will deliver in the way it says it will. Ensuring that the site does what it promises to do, and that content and messaging enforce the site’s value and integrity, are key factors in driving users to the finish line.

Are you giving customers as much care at the end of their transaction as at the beginning? If you’re lucky and your users do click the “Buy Now” button or finalize their transaction — what happens next? Does your content foster trust and confidence post-transaction as much as it does pre-purchase? Are you sending the right message to customers to help them understand what happens next and where they can go if they have any problems? Are you ensuring that they feel good about what they just did? This content is just as important as all the rest — and will help to foster repeat customers.

The moral of the story is: leave nothing to chance. Question everything about your content from the beginning to the end of your customer’s experience with your e-commerce or transactional site. It will make the difference between a lonely, long-forgotten shopping cart and long-term customer relationship.

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