We are podcasting again live from WordCamp Seattle 2016. Our guest on episode 40 is Eric Amundson, owner, web strategist and user-experience designer at IvyCat.com.
I’ve known Eric for several years and he has been heavily involved in both our local Seattle WordPress and our WooCommerce meetups. Today I am chatting with him about some of the main concepts you need to know to make sure your users and customers have the best experience once they land on your eCommerce site.
We chatted about:
- The most important aspects of user-friendly design for your eCommerce site’s homepage
- Navigation and tips on what to think about when creating menus and navigation on your site
- How to make the most of your sidebars and the main elements to avoid
- The pros and cons when it comes to mobile-friendly sites and some thoughts on mobile responsive vs. mobile apps
- How content is #1 when it comes to the user experience and a unique tip to help you generate content for your online store.
Thanks To Our Podcast Sponsor: WP101.com
Bob Dunn: Hey everyone, welcome to episode forty. Bob Dunn here, also know as Bob WP on the web. Today we are sharing with you our second show recorded live at Word Camp Seattle 2016 a bit over a week ago. It was a fantastic two days of learning and connecting and I would highly recommend checking out a Word Camp near you if you haven’t already. With that said, I am honored to introduce my good friend, Eric Amundson, who runs a company called IvyCat.
Hey Eric, welcome to the show.
Eric Amundson: Thank you so much, Bob. I appreciate you asking me.
Bob Dunn: He actually took some time, I think he was in the contributor room, so I pulled him out from important stuff. If something goes wonky in that and it’s his fault, it’s my fault.
Eric Amundson: If WordPress crashes and burns, it’s all you?
Bob Dunn: Yeah, really. Oh god!
Eric Amundson: Only Eric would have contributed.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, really, but keep me out of that room. Well, before we chat with Eric, go to the questions, I’d like to thank our sponsor who stepped up to cover both of our podcasts here at Word Camp Seattle, my friends over at WP101.com. If you are new to WordPress or just starting to wrap your brain around WordPress, their collection of exceptional and professional video tutorials not only guide you through the WordPress basics, but also help you with some very popular plugins. For me, they are the go-to site where I send a lot of people who are struggling through the murky waters of WordPress in the beginning. That is WP101.com and I will be chatting a bit more about them later in the show.
Before we dive into the questions on usability, user-friendly sites, eCommerce, that’s our topic today, I would like to have Eric tell all you just a bit about IvyCat and what he does.
Meet Eric Amundson from IvyCat
Eric Amundson: Sure. I started IvyCat in 2002 as a web designer. I had been laid off from a job where I built an e-commerce site. I built my first eCommerce site in ’99 and did a good job, used FrontPage, made all the mistakes and learned from them. Then over time, when WordPress came out—I started using it about 2005— in 2010 I hired my first employee. We focused the business more on, instead of just all sorts of sites, more on eCcommerce and event management sites. That’s really what IvyCat specializes in, is WordPress based eCommerce and event management sites.
Bob Dunn: Excellent. You’ve definitely got to check it out, I believe it’s IvyCat.com.
Eric Amundson: Right.
The importance of making your eCommerce site user-friendly
Bob Dunn: Yep. Check it out for sure. Now, first question, we’re going to dive right into this. Let’s talk about making your eCommerce site user-friendly or what we call improving the UX or user experience. I thought I would start with a few areas that are not only important with a WordPress site in general but very critical to an online store: the homepage, the main landing page. Are there some do’s and don’ts that you can tell us? I mean, there’s probably hundreds of them, but some really majors do’s and don’ts with your landing page?
Eric Amundson: Sure. Absolutely. In fact, I can tell you a quick story.
Bob Dunn: Cool.
Eric Amundson: Which is, I have a customer who is in South Africa and years ago I was building a blog for her that she could use to promote these organic sprouters that she sold online. One day, after I had given her an initial design, she sent me this e-mail and said, “Hey, can we talk on Skype here? I’ve got some questions about the site.” We get connected and she says, “I was on this one site and I saw this background that was the ocean, and in the background the ocean was just gently moving the whole time, and I just thought that was so pretty. Then this other site there was this butterfly that flew in from the right hand side of the screen and alighted atop the logo and then every few seconds it would just flap its wings and, can we do that on my site?” I said, “Jeez, Val, absolutely we can do that, but I have two concerns. Number one is that motion draws the eye, so that background is going to keep drawing people’s eye and that flapping wing from the butterfly is going to take people’s attention away from your message, which is buy my product.”
Motion and things that draw the eye, I think, are a problem. When I put that to her like that, the other problem was budget. At the time, we would’ve had to do Flash to get that done, and her budget was really low, so she made the decision, no that doesn’t make any sense.
Bob Dunn: Okay (laughs).
Remove the distractions on your homepage
Eric Amundson: For your homepage, you want to speak really clearly and concisely and directly to your audience. That’s not just in your copy but also in your imagery, you just need to have a concerted message for your audience and know who your customer is and the questions that they’re asking when they come to the site. Make sure that everything that’s on that landing page or that homepage serves that purpose of answering those questions.
What about sliders on Commerce sites?
Bob Dunn: Right. Yeah. How about, I’m just going to throw something in there, sliders, what do you think about sliders on eCommerce sites?
Eric Amundson: Sliders kill your conversion rates.
Bob Dunn: Okay.
Eric Amundson: We see that through analytics, that people can’t stop looking at sliders. Sometimes they don’t know that, they start reading down the page and the slide turns, and their eye flicks up above and they lose their attention. It’s really interesting. A close friend of mine, Marty Diamond, who is an analytics expert, she’s seen that time and time again. Put a slider on a page and people just, it’s like they wander around and bump into walls.
Bob Dunn: Well if you don’t listen to your analytics, who are you going to listen to?
Eric Amundson: That’s right. They’re like your bookkeeper for your website stats.
Insights on navigation: aim for simplicity
Bob Dunn: Okay. Navigation, you probably even mentioned it in your first answer, and it’s huge for an eCommerce site, how many clicks do you get through to get to a product and stuff. Give us just a few insights around when they’re creating their site navigation for an eCommerce site. Some of the top things, again, that you think about.
Eric Amundson: Well, simplicity, I think, number one. We’re working on a redesign for a company in Seattle now and their top level navigation has eighteen items in it. That’s just in their main navigation, and then they’ve got a utility navigation that’s got a few more items, and then their banner is really busy because it’s got phone numbers and credit cards and all sorts of stuff in there, and there’s just way too much to pay attention to. I think, simplicity. I think one of the things you and I talked about earlier, I’m a firm believer in every page on the website needs to have a very distinct purpose, and the website owner needs to know that purpose. In fact, sometimes when we’re doing content analytics for customers, we’ll create a spreadsheet that has a column for, what’s the purpose of this page? We make them fill it out, because it makes it a lot easier down the road when someone says, “Hey, I want a flying butterfly on that page,” you can say, “Oh, well the purpose of this page is to get someone through the check-out process, and we think that flying butterfly is going to distract from that, so no.”
Bob Dunn: Yeah.
Eric Amundson: It really empowers the website owner to make intelligent decisions about what goes on their site.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, that’s a great method. In fact, maybe you’re going to have a lot of other developers and designers listening, and they’ll say, “Oh, I’m going to start using that. Cool.”
Eric Amundson: Yeah.
Bob Dunn: Copyright it.
Eric Amundson: I’ll sell it as a WordPress product.
Bob Dunn: Exactly.
Use your data and analytics to make informed decisions
Eric Amundson: You know, one other thing I’ll mention Bob, real quick, is with the do’s and don’ts of homepages and landing pages is, if you’re on an e-commerce site, you should be tracking that stuff. Not just Google Analytics like, hey I want to know how many people hit the page, but what are they doing when they hit the page? There are tools like Crazy Egg or Hotjar where you can do heat map tracking, and that is really fun to go through with a customer because a customer, and even us as web developers, we can assume we know how people are going to move through the site, and you can be really humbled when you put heat map tracking on a site and then visit it a month later and go, “Oh wow, that blog link that I thought was really cool and everybody was going to visit, nobody clicks on it.” Those pieces of data help you make more informed decisions about how to alter your website. Nobody’s clicking on that link? Get it out of there, because it’s just a distraction.
Bob Dunn: I know I’ve done a few heat maps on ours and I moved stuff around.
Eric Amundson: Yeah.
Use your About page to prove your value
Bob Dunn: One thing that’s always consistent is our About page. We always get a ton of click-throughs on the About page. No matter what we do, no matter what design, I guess people still want to know who the heck I am and if I know what I’m talking about.
Eric Amundson: We see that on a lot of eCommerce sites. I tell people, the About page is used to legitimize you. When people don’t know who you are and they come to this site and they … “Do I want to buy this product?” Or “Do I want to use their service?” That’s one of the first things they do is, what are these people about? Are they legit?
Bob Dunn: Exactly. They’re not like the Amazons where everybody knows Amazon.
Eric Amundson: If you’re not a household name, you’ve got to prove your value. The About page is a great place to do it.
Make your sidebar clean and focused
Bob Dunn: The next question is, the sidebar. The good old sidebar. WordPress eCommerce plug-ins have widgets you can drop in, I know WooCommerce has several of them, sometimes themes make it easy to use a sidebar for a specific page or product, and there are plug-ins that do that. How does someone make sure that their sidebar is not a distraction and any for-sure elements to totally avoid in a sidebar in an eCommerce site? It’s kind of a two-part question.
Eric Amundson: Right. Avoid flying butterflies on your sidebar.
Bob Dunn: (laughs)
Eric Amundson: Or waves. I think it really goes back to the same question, if you know the point of the page, make sure that anything you put in the sidebar accentuates that. While you’re shopping through a store, maybe you want a cart over in the sidebar so that the person can keep tabs on what they’re buying, but when you get to a check-out page, you want to start removing that stuff so that the focus is, give me your credit card number and your information and check out. Honestly, motion, that sort of stuff, I think too many things in a sidebar. Oftentimes as a store owner you feel like, well I’ve got to get people to join my e-mail list and they’ve got to check out, and I need this and I need that and I want them to see this and oh, we write so much great stuff on the blog so I’ll put that in the sidebar, and it’s too much.
Bob Dunn: Yeah.
Eric Amundson: If you have a focused point of each page, then those decisions make themselves.
Bob Dunn: I see a recurring theme here through all of this: keep it simple.
Eric Amundson: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Worry less about apps and more about making your site mobile-responsive
Bob Dunn: Now, mobile. We could probably talk about mobile forever and ever and get onto all the things, but I’ve talked about it a little bit in past shows and people … This just isn’t with eCommerce sites. People are being told, “Get an App for your site. Get an App for your site.” Really, is an App necessary if you have a mobile-responsive or mobile-friendly online store, and is there some guideline of should I get an App or should I not get an App?
Eric Amundson: Right. Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I’ve known folks, including realtors, who go to these self-help seminars for realtors and they come back all charged and they call me up and say, “Eric, I was told I need an App. Where do I get an App and can you make an App for me?” My question is, who’s going to download your App? To me, for the small guy, have a mobile-responsive site. True, good App development is expensive, so you need to be able to prove to yourself that it’s worth it, that you’re going to get a return on your investment. I think for the small guy, responsive is the way to go. Obviously if you’re Zappos or Amazon or whatever, an App can give you capabilities that you wouldn’t have, maybe, within a normal web page, or you can organize things differently, or maybe just get more performance out of it. For the small guy, I just think that’s misinformation.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, we get so many Apps on our phones anyway, it’s like, do I really want to download this? I’m always deleting them. I think, oh I’m going to use this App, and I never do.
Eric Amundson: I do the same thing.
Two tips for using customer testimonials to generate content
Bob Dunn: Yep. All the time. Okay, this is one last question. This one came out of an early conversation that I had with Eric and it intrigued me. Now, part of user experience, of course, we’ve already talked about and he said a lot in the fact that, make your page about what it should be about. That includes the content, whether it’s the actual content written, the product description, all that stuff. I normally ask Eric at the end, what haven’t we covered? We’re going to save that for version 2.0 with Eric, because I’m sure there’s a lot we haven’t, but for this one, generating content can be a challenge, but with that said, tell me how you discovered using customer testimonials in a bit of a unique way to generate content?
Eric Amundson: Sure. Just real quick, to call back to what you said, content is part of this. I think content is almost all of this. I am a big believer in that the design of the site and all of the elements on the site need to serve the message and not vice versa. My old way of designing sites was, hey I’m going to do a big Photoshop mock-up and then I’m going to get you to buy off on it and then I’ll code the site and then I’ll ask you for content, and that’s backwards.
Bob Dunn: Yeah.
Eric Amundson: Yeah, I mentioned my friend Marty Diamond, she gave a presentation at our South Sound WordPress Meet-Up last week or the week before, and it was on how to write your content using testimonials. As you point out, content is probably one of the biggest complaints I hear from web developers, like, “I did all my work but then I waited forever for content,” or, “They’re just not giving me what I need.” Another problem that we see, Bob, is that people will write content, like a store owner will write their own content, and they write it in their own jargon-y words. They write what they think their value proposition is, they write what they think the customers wants to hear. What Marty talked about was, here’s the deal, you basically get five or seven of your customers, get a list of five or seven customers, and then not you, you get somebody else who’s not affiliated with your company, to call these folks or to video interview them and to ask a list of questions.
The questions are things like, what was the problem that led you to this company and how is that problem now? What happened after you got to the company? What were some of your objections, how were those addressed? As you go down this list of questions, the whole point is to really draw a story out of the customer. I want to know what pissed Bob off before he came to the company and now that he’s at the company, how does he feel. What are the problems, what’s great, would he recommend this company to another customer? If he did, what would he say about them? What ends up happening is, you interview five people, seven people, and then you transcribe all of these interviews and you read them over, and what you start to see is a common thread through several of these interviews. For example, me as a web developer, I might think, what people want from me is WordPress sites, they want WordPress eCommerce sites, but interview a bunch of my customers, and by the way, I can’t do the interview because my customers would lie to me, they don’t want to hurt my feelings.
Bob Dunn: Right.
Eric Amundson: People who work with me couldn’t do the interview, but I can hire somebody else to do it. Anyway, I might think that my value proposition is I build cool WordPress sites, but if you interview five or seven of my customers and ask them, I think you’re going to hear a little different message. That message might be something like, “My last developer stopped picking up the phone or won’t answer e-mail. They flaked out on me, and I like that you pick up the phone, you answer me when I e-mail you.” That becomes my value proposition. If you see that common thread through all of these interviews, then you’re hearing from your customers the words that they use to describe why you’re special, and you use those words to create your copy. It’s almost like, copy and paste. You can take these things and not only do you get little snippets of testimonials that you can say, “Hey, Bob said this about me,” but you’ve got the actual verbiage that your customers are thinking about when they’re thinking about your value. It’s just the best idea I’ve heard for content, ever.
Another lady who’s a member of the Seattle WordPress Meet-Up gave another tip which I thought was really great, which is, when you’re having either employees or contractors or even customers write content and they get content block, you know, “I just don’t know where to start,” whatever, if you can go write the outline, like if you think of a webpage as an H1 header and then H2 sections, you give them a list of H2s. Here’s the story we’re going to tell in my H2s, you go write a few paragraphs under each one. That unblocks people, like, oh, I see what I need to do now. I just think those are two great content ideas that can really change the way your project works.
Bob Dunn: Great. I threw those in at the last minute because of our conversation, but I thought it was such a cool concept and strategy, you’ve got to share it, so I hope some of our listeners will think, hmm, maybe this would work, and give it a try.
Eric Amundson: Well, I’ll tell you what, there’s a lady here who I’m going to hire to do this for me, and so on round 2 of this podcast, ask me how it went and I’ll tell you what I learned.
Bob Dunn: Oh, cool. All right.
Eric Amundson: I’m going to have my customers interviewed.
Bob Dunn: Well we will definitely have you back then.
Eric Amundson: All right.
What is Eric’s greatest frustration when shopping online?
Bob Dunn: What’s the thing that frustrates you most when you’re visiting these stores, trying to buy online?
Eric Amundson: It’s such a great question.You know, the first thing that comes to mind is mobile check-out, because I think we see in analytics that people love to browse stores on mobile but they hate to check-out because it’s such a pain to fill out all the fields and all the screens and stuff like that. I think we’ve seen, just within the last few years, some improvements there with things like Amazon Checkout or Amazon Payments, I’m sorry, and PayPal does this, I think Simplify Commerce has a simplified check-out for mobile. I think that’s really important and we’ll see more of that, because I do the same thing. I’m on my phone, I’m on my tablet and I’m shopping on whatever the site is, and then I put it down and I pick up my laptop and I finish the purchase.
Bob Dunn: Yeah.
Eric Amundson: I think that’s probably my biggest frustration. There’s a lot of other stuff, like annoying pop-ups and whatever. Slow performance bugs me.
Bob Dunn: Yep, drives you nuts. Then you start thinking as a developer and then you get deeper into things, start looking at your code. That’s what Michael last week said is, he goes to sites and starts looking at their code, and it’s like, oh my god.
Eric Amundson: Right.
What would Eric never buy online?
Bob Dunn: With everything that’s available online, a lot is available online, anything you wouldn’t buy online?
Eric Amundson: You know, that’s a great question. I basically buy almost all my clothes online, shoes. Hats. I’m a hat guy, and hats are difficult to buy online because my head is right between large and extra large.
Bob Dunn: Okay.
Eric Amundson: That’s something where I prefer to go into a shop and try them on.
Bob Dunn: That’s interesting. You’re the first person that has specifically said hats, and really when you think about, my head is kind of big and abnormally weird, so I don’t buy a lot of hats, but when I have, it’s like I put them on and nothing fits, you know? They all sit on the top of my head.
Eric Amundson: Yeah. Then when you go into the store, they can see it’s a watermelon on a toothpick, and, oh all right, we’re going to need to bring out the big guns.
If Eric could sell anything online, what would it be?
Bob Dunn: (laughs). Last one: if you could sell anything online that you wanted- resource, time, money, whatever, didn’t matter you’d just love to sell it online- is there something?
Eric Amundson: Yeah, such a great question. You know, I’ve been in the service industry so long that I get jealous and fascinated with the idea of selling products, whether it’s a WordPress plug-in or a service. Truthfully, if I could sell anything, I’d love to have a plumbing product, and when I say a plumbing product, something like ManageWP, or something that really is the guts that helps people get stuff done.
Bob Dunn: Oh, okay.
Eric Amundson: Like WP Migrate DB Pro, this is a developer tool that is just, once you have it and once you understand how it works, it’s a no-brainer. It just helps so much, and that’s a plumbing product where it’s part of my every day development scheme.
Bob Dunn: So we’ll wait for that moment when you’re … Maybe you win the lottery or something, or who knows what, you get the biggest client. We’ll suddenly see that product. We’ll be looking for the product from Eric. Very, very cool. Well, there is a lot around user experience when it comes to your online store and Eric has brought us some great insights and tips to help you either get started or reevaluate your current site. I just want to thank you for taking the time to join us with all your wisdom, Eric.
Eric Amundson: Thank you so much, Bob. I really appreciate you asking me.
Bob Dunn: Yep, this was a blast. Again, thanks to our sponsor WP101.com. Do check them out, the best WordPress learning for beginners on the web. Until next time remember, it’s all about your users, your customers, your shoppers. Always make sure they have the best experience that they can have on the online store so they will leave happy and eager to return again. Don’t forget to join us for the next WP eCommerce show.