When Websites Look Like Junk Mail


February 13, 2007

So your website isn’t converting enough visitors and you really aren’t sure why. Is it the form? Is it the color of the buttons?

I think everyone should take a very big step backwards and say, “If I didn’t know this business, would I buy from this website?” Like the movie Groundhog Day, I feel like I keep having the same experience: people who show me sites that don’t convert well, but not for all these technical reasons. It’s not the buttons, it’s not the forms, it’s not the Truste icon, it’s not the pictures.

The problem I sometimes see is that site looks like the direct mail that comes to my house every day. Oh sure, it’s beautifully designed, but I don’t even have to open the envelopes to know which ones to pitch, and I’ll bet you don’t either. From the bulk rate permit number (instead of a real stamp) to the snipe that say, “Urgent! Time sensitive material!” it screams of a sales pitch. They aren’t trying to help me and they don’t let me go shopping — they are just selling at me. I wonder if your site is like that. (I really wonder if my company’s site is like that, and would love any criticism. It is ironic that the space we know the best, our own, is the place where we are able to judge the website so poorly — we just know it too well.)

I’m sorry that I can’t show you any examples of sites that look like junk mail, but I will just offend readers and friends (and I have already perfected the talent of offending my nearest and dearest, so don’t need the practice.) Instead, I would suggest that you user test — and you might even do it on your next business trip.

I came home from the WAA marketing meeting in Portland on Saturday, and all the way home, I did user testing. I tested with one guy in the Portland airport. I tested with two women on the plane. And I tested with one guy in Dulles International airport. I wasn’t testing my site but I wish I had been. The anonymity of testing while traveling was really awesome. No one ever asked my name or for my card — they were just looking at a couple of web pages and comparing them. I could have learned all the things that people I know don’t say.

Robbin Steif