December 8th, 2008 | 5 MIN READ

Is Your Website Optimized for Holiday Hunters?

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Moving along in our series on landing page optimization based on the Marketing Experiments Conversion Sequence, we're going to look at the variable "m": Motivation.

To recap, the Conversion Sequence C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) - 2a is a heuristic (memory aid) to express conversion as a function of motivation, the clarity of the value proposition (v), the incentive (i), friction or resistance in the mind of the visitor (f) and anxiety about the purchase process (a). It's not a formula you solve for, so put your calculator away and breathe a sigh of relief.

Marketing Experiments has performed thousands of conversion tests and found the highest performing ecommerce sites address customer motivation -- ecommerce site visitors are typically “hunters” or “browsers”:

1. Hunters already know what they want. They want to find the product quickly and easily. Usable site search, navigation menus and filters are essential to convert hunters.
2. Browsers may be contemplating a purchase, or just “window shopping.” Your goal is to get them to click deeper to products with enticing offers like top rated, best sellers, sale items and new arrivals.

We could also add a third customer type, the hunter-browser or "howser":

3. Howsers customers that are ready to buy from a certain category but unsure what they want/need from within that category. This type of customer may be closer to conversion and more open to suggestive selling and cross-sells (provided they are relevant and not overwhelming). Examples would be someone who’s looking for gifts for an 8 year old boy or redecorating a living room.

I've already talked about ideas to please howsers, but want to focus on hunters today.

I have to say, most ecommerce home pages cater more to the browser than the hunter. Think about how much screen real estate is used to display random products, banners, offers, testimonials, flash movies, newsletter sign ups and so on vs. navigation menus and search boxes.

But during the holidays, your site should be especially kind to hunters who know what they want and are closer to conversion than a casual "window shopper."

In Search of the Search Box

Because the goal of your home page is to send a visitor to a product page (I consider a click deeper into the site a micro-conversion success), your search box is a call-to-action on your site. In a way it's like a sales associate approaching a customer and asking "What you're looking for today?"

If a hunter doesn't want to browse your menus, he or she will look for the search box somewhere near the top of your site. If the color, shape and size of an add to cart button can have a major impact on conversion, certainly the size, placement and visibility of a search box can affect the likeliness it will get used.

Some retailers still use a text link for search (head smack):

And some have no search at all. Imagine walking into the Liz Claiborne store to find no sales people on the floor?

It's extra-confusing that the newsletter sign up looks like a search box but isn't, as with Sundance:

Others camouflage the search box with light-on-dark design (Armani Exchange), white-on-white (Victoria's Secret) or white on textured background (QVC):

Contrast this with can't miss search boxes like The Container Store and Crutchfield:

Bonus points for search boxes that are long enough to handle long-tail search terms like "star wars clone wars wild space hardcover" (Overstock):

Helping Hunters Browse

Hunters don't use search exclusively -- it depends largely on the hunter as an individual. The hunter may believe that search is always the fastest way to locate a product, or, based on previous experience with terrible site search tools, believe the opposite!

Your site's navigation labeling and categorization also influences the search/browse decision. Nearly every clothing retailer has menus like this, with just Womens, Mens, etc:

Someone looking for the "hooded scarf" (yes, they make those) would have to browse 4 or 5 menu levels deep to locate it. Much faster to go straight for the search box.

Other sites like Walmart have AJAX flyout menus that are easy to scan for "trigger words"

Office Max is the only site that I've seen using an alphabetized flyout menu, but I think it's very helpful for this business. Sticky Notes and Post It Notes are the same thing, but you would need to choose just one label in a traditional navigation menu.

I'm not saying copy these retailers, but I am saying, take a look at your home page and ask yourself, does your search and navigation support hunters? Is your search box easy to spot and your navigation easy to scan without too many clicks? If you're an apparel site, you may consider flyout menus. American Eagle Outfitters and REI are great examples:

Also, think about your business and how people shop on your site. For example, visitors to television shopping sites like QVC, ShopNBC and HSN are often hitting the website after watching TV segments. I like how HSN shows the last 12 aired products in the content area. I find it more effective than QVC's left hand menu, which is easily overlooked:

Of course, the home page and search isn't the only step in the sales process. Next post (after Wednesday's webinar: Dangerous Marketing Ahead: How to Break Bad Habits and Survive a Deep Recession) we'll look at ways to help browsing-hunters successfully locate product.

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