5 Secrets of High-Converting Websites—Backed by Science

A website is an essential investment for every small business owner today. To be truly successful, it has to grab visitors’ attention and turn them into prospects and customers. It must convert.

You probably have a website already, but are you getting the most from it?

A lot of people know an engaging website when they see one. But they struggle when it comes time to break down what makes them work—or replicate them on their own business websites.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do this all on your own. Decades of research have distilled key principles that turn website visitors into customers and make the difference between a high-converting websites and low-converting ones.

Website designs vary depending on your industry and what you’re offering. That said, some key principles transcend those differences. Understanding and applying them will help you make your website as compelling as possible.

Remove the “friction” that keeps visitors from becoming customers. A lot of small business owners think about what else they should add to make things more engaging. But try asking yourself a different question: What can I take away?

When someone lands on your website, they want to know: 1) who you are; 2) what you do; and 3) how you can help them. Everything else is just a distraction. Things like walls of text, rotating images, or flashy animation might seem like a good idea, but they can confuse people and dilute your message.

Your visitors are spoiled by the endless options the internet has to offer. If your website doesn’t grab their attention in the first few seconds—if it puts the burden on the visitor to figure it out—don’t be surprised when they hit the “back” button and find one of your competitors!

Even if someone sticks around, it’s hard to get them to become customers if they’re forced to jump through hoops or wade through unnecessary design elements. Do you really need someone to fill out seven form fields just to join your email list? Do you need an image carousel on your homepage when just one photo might do?

DesignBoost, a company that teaches people how to design websites and mobile apps, cut the length of their homepage by around 80 percent and increased email list sign-ups by 13 percent. Remove the distractions and potential roadblocks from visitors becoming customers (the “friction”) and you might be surprised just how much your conversion rate jumps as well.

Give every page of your website a clear purpose. If you don’t have a clear goal in mind— something you’d like a visitor to do after engaging with a certain part of your website—it probably doesn’t have a place in a high-converting design.

Consider door-to-door salespeople. They don’t knock on your door just to chat, right? They have a specific way they’d like you to respond if things go well. Unfortunately, that sense of purpose sometimes gets lost in website designs. We get caught up with cool graphics and logos, and we lose sight of the goal: drive more business.

Start by assessing each page of your website and asking yourself what you’d like a visitor to do immediately after interacting with it. Every design element on the page should support that goal.

Giving people too many options to choose from is just as dangerous as giving them none at all. Ever go on a website that urges you to join an email list, schedule a demo, and call them all at once? You probably just left the website instead. That’s what most people do.

Offering too many options is actually demotivating. Research published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that customers suffer from “feature fatigue.” They report less satisfaction from products that attempt to do too many things. Professors Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper came to similar conclusions. Their study found that grocery shoppers who sampled from six varieties of jam were 10 times more likely to buy than those who sampled from 24 varieties.

Use white space to break up text and make your website more readable. It’s tempting for small business owners to “throw the kitchen sink” at their website visitors. We’re excited about the business we’ve built, and we’re eager to share that excitement by telling people everything they could possibly want to know (and then some).

Being thorough is great, but you can run into trouble if the way you present your content is too difficult for people to get through. Most visitors are busy and distracted, with ever-shrinking attention spans. Walls of text can intimidate even the most interested people.

A better design strategy is to break up your content with plenty of white space. This means using:

  • Short words, sentences, and paragraphs
  • Bullet points
  • Headings and subheadings
  • Images
  • Anything else that gives the eyeballs a rest

Leaving room for plenty of white space is smart because it respects the way people actually read online. Very few of us actually “read” at all. A 2008 eye-tracking study from the Nielsen Norman Group found that we read less than 20 percent of the average web page. We jump around pages, skimming and scrolling until we find the content we’re looking for. A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that simply using more white space between paragraphs improved comprehension of the material by 20 percent.

Be mindful of visitor expectations. Every visitor comes to your website with preexisting expectations. Most people have been online for quite a while now. We’ve seen design trends come and go and best practices develop. How well you acknowledge these expectations and meet them has a larger impact on your conversion rate than you might know.

Say you have an e-commerce site selling clothing. You’ve broken the bank to hire a designer who promises a truly original design, something that no one has ever seen. You think it’ll be a huge boon for your brand.

Things go wrong, though, when someone lands on your website with preconceived notions of what an e-commerce clothing site should look like. Because they’ve been to countless e-commerce clothing sites already, and yours looks completely alien, they question whether your business is a good choice.

These expectations are so powerful they actually influence what people prefer to see. Psychologists, who have been exploring this phenomenon since the late 1800s, call this the Mere Exposure effect. Simply seeing something over and over actually makes it preferable over other things.

It pays to follow the basic structure and layout that people have come to expect. Look at some of the leading websites in your industry. What are some common things they all do with regard to design?

An online tie retailer, Skinnyties.com, took this to heart and redesigned their e-commerce site to better reflect visitor expectations. Within just a few weeks, they increased their conversions by almost 14 percent and their monthly revenue by 42 percent.

This doesn’t mean there’s no room for originality. Your website doesn’t have to be a carbon copy. If you view expectations or norms as foundations to build on, you can still use your copy, logo, colors, and other elements to showcase the unique value you bring to the table.

Use photos of people to guide visitors and attract attention. As great as online business is, sometimes it lacks a personal touch. It’s hard to recreate that feeling of going into a small local store where you know the employees, and they give you individual attention as they guide you through your purchases.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to reclaim some of that humanity in your business website and make more sales: photos! Adding just one or two can have a remarkable effect on your conversion rate.

Photos of people, faces in particular, grab out attention in a special way. Science has proven that we’ve actually evolved to focus on faces. From when we are very young, face perception is a key skill to navigate social interactions. Just one look says more than words ever could.

We don’t just pay attention to faces and the emotions they express. We are also drawn to the direction of their attention. A landmark study from Dr. Stanley Milgrim found that even people in busy cities will stop to find out where others are looking, especially if they’re in a large group.

You can tap into these natural inclinations in your website. By strategically placing a photo of someone looking at content you’d like to emphasize, you can draw more attention to those areas.

Medalia Art, a boutique online art short, was using paintings for artists’ profiles. They tried using photos of the artists instead and increased their click-through rates by an incredible 95 percent!

Don’t be afraid to add a picture of yourself and/or your team. Ditch the stock photos, which come off as corny, and give your visitors something authentic. It’s nice to know that real people are involved in the operation, not just a faceless entity hidden in online anonymity.

You don’t need to break the bank or win any design awards to make your website more profitable. What you have to do is much simpler than that: put your visitors first.

The principles above will help you do just that. Apply them, and you’ll make your website more user-friendly and compelling. You’ll convert more visitors into customers, making the most of your “virtual storefront” in today’s digital world.

Are you using any of these website design tips already? What do you think is the next step to make your site more compelling? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Corey Pemberton for MasterCard Biz.

  • All views expressed on the published articles at https://www.mastercardbiz.com are those of each of the authors, and do not in any way represent the opinions of Mastercard International Incorporated or any of its affiliates (“Mastercard”). Mastercard is not responsible of the information contained in these articles.