Skip to Main Content

Most Common Design Barriers to Conversion

Posted on 9.22.2016

:: By Amberly Dressler, Managing Editor ::

It doesn't take much for a Web visitor to leave - never to become a buyer.

Keeping potential customers on a site for longer is priority for many organizations - attempting to reach this goal by employing technology that delivers visitors with recommended products, personalized offers and contextual content, which have proven to increase conversion. If their website design gets in the way, however, it's all for naught. Let's look at some common design barriers that can kill conversions. 

Site Doesn't Adapt to the Device

Mobile has hit its tipping point for both email opens and, for many industries, website traffic, which means sites that do not adapt to the device their customers are using will see lower conversions than those that do. When a person opens a brand's email message from their mobile device and clicks through, only to deem the site nearly unusable on their phones, they will bounce and likely never return.

Of course allocating the resources - time, money, staff - to such a project is daunting as there are likely many variables at play within different businesses. If there is one project to tackle though, it is to get mobile friendly. Google recommends the use of responsive Web design, as it only has to crawl one site (rather than a dedicated mobile site and a separate desktop site). Adaptive, dedicated and responsive all have their cheerleaders and critics, but the goal is to get moving on this project right away as there is no better way to kill conversions than to not adapt to the device visitors are using. What's more, not having a mobile-friendly website WILL hurt a company's search engine optimization (SEO) initiatives as Google is penalizing sites that do not take the large and high-value audience of mobile users into consideration.

Navigation is Confusing

There are expectations that Web users - all of us, really - have about how they should be able to navigate a site whether it's an information publisher, retailer or service provider. Recent design trends, however, have forced our collective minds to adapt to new conventions.

For instance, with parallax scrolling - where the background content (e.g., an image) is moved at a different speed than the foreground content while scrolling - the top, fixed navigation bar that we've all become used to has all but disappeared. Savvy designers, however, always have a fixed navigation option or call-to-action (like Squarespace does below) when using parallax scrolling so a user can get back to where they were, take a next step or learn about something else. The alternative of not having a fixed navigation item as a prospective customer endlessly scrolls down the page, is that the user becomes frustrated and leaves. 

Another design trend that has forced Web users to re-think how they navigate a website is mobile and its popular "hamburger" menu. Some sites are opting to replace their full navigation menu even on desktop sites with the hamburger menu but that can cost conversions.

"Hiding the core pages behind a simple and recognizable icon seemed like a good idea at the time, but too many webmasters have found that pages buried in a hamburger menu never get seen or clicked." (source)

No Site Search

When navigation fails or a person is looking for a specific product, article or service, they turn to site search. Not including a robust site search option is a mistake as consumers have gotten used to locating the search bar, using it, and having it deliver suggested answers and personalized results. Companies with on-site search should also make it a point to always deliver results for a person's query, whether there is a direct match or not. While relevancy is important, delivering a "zero results found" message can hurt conversions whereas suggestions about what to search for instead or what the site does offer (versus what it does not), can help the user with completing their tasks. 

Website Fails to Follow Web Conventions

Similar to how a person expects a website's navigation options to work, they have also been trained, essentially, to follow certain Web conventions like the logo gets them back to a site's homepage. If the logo is missing, not in the left-hand corner or it does not lead them back to the homepage, the site risks frustrating and losing that visitor. Web designers and marketers will want to check out Website Magazine's October issue for a feature on following Web conventions. 

Slow Loading

One of the most repeated statistics in the Web industry is from Kissmetrics that 47 percent of consumers expect a Web page to load in two seconds or less, and after three seconds, 40 percent of these shoppers will abandon the site. There is a number of reasons a site may be slow to load including images are too large, a hosting issue or the plugins being used- many of which are addressed within Google's PageSpeed test

Copy Isn't Conducive to Scanners

Let's get real - the large majority of website visitors are not reading every word a content developer writes (still with me?). When it comes to websites, information is great but not if the copy is presented in a way that people who are just scanning a page for highlights can't understand what the page is about, quickly. The use of headers, bullet points, graphics and call-outs, as well as font, color and size choices to establish hierarchy, can go a long way for turning visitors with short attention spans into buyers. What were we saying?

Calls-to-Action Aren't Clear

As much as Web users want to self-serve, they also want a site to guide them as to what is most important and what they should do next. The use of calls-to-action (CTAs) in marketing is a no-brainer but sites are still getting them wrong, all the time.

Ghost CTAs where the background of the box is the same color as the page, for instance, do not make a strong-enough statement about what the next action should be and CTAs that are below the fold do not prioritize that action enough. CTAs should be prominent, bold, and tested for size, placement, color and copy. Without those elements, visitors are lost. On the Oracle homepage, for instance, it is very unclear what the tech powerhouse wants a person to do. With its vast offerings, Oracle would be wise to better funnel users on its homepage and support those funnels with relevant CTAs.

Social Proof is Lacking or Misplaced

The majority of people - both in business to business and business to consumer - rely on their peers' opinions to make decisions. If social proof (whether it's reviews, testimonials or some trust seal) is missing or misplaced, conversion rates will suffer. Brands with awesome social proof to share should show it off proudly as it will likely lead to more conversions.

Design Is In Conflict with SEO Efforts

Websites mean nothing if they are invisible on the search engine result pages (SERPs). Designers should know the basics of SEO and talk (yes, talk) to their marketing teams in order to include elements that will boost the site's rankings. For instance, a website featuring recipes will want to use structured data to mark up the site so that a preview of the recipe is included in the SERPs. Likewise, a company that holds events will want the details of the event (time, date, location) to appear in the SERPs.

Both designers and marketers will need to be careful, however, that they don't give away the house because Google's Knowledge Graph does have the potential to decrease website traffic when everything a person needs is in the SERP - never needing to click through. There are good recommendations (found here) on how to still earn clicks even if content is previewed in the SERPs, including leaving audiences with a teaser. 

Missing Contact Information

Believe it or not, people still call businesses (especially local businesses). Since we know that people who search for a local business tend to convert within 24 hours (open Google's PDF on the subject here), they are looking for immediate answers to their questions. Sites that do not include their contact information - phone number, email address, links to social profiles - risk losing conversions. What's more, companies will want to set expectations about how they can be reached. Since more and more people are expecting real-time responses on social media, it's wise to include hours of operation for each channel a business is on (phone, email, social).

Images are Low Quality

The use of images on the Web is a double-edged sword. On one hand, images can slow down a user's experience but on the other, they can get and keep a visitor's attention. Image optimization should be in use to ensure images don't slow down the experience and brands should be thoughtful about the images they choose - selecting only the ones that truly add to their message.

For information publishers, images that support a story should be used and graphics (like an infographic or chart) explaining a complex idea should also be in use as these are likely to improve conversion (e.g., downloads, sign-ups). For retailers, images are particularly important. E-commerce merchants will want to show a product in multiple ways such as a front-and-back view, a product shot and a model wearing/using the item. High-quality images that truly showcase a product are a conversion win for retailers. For service providers, they will want to consider images of their buildings and photos of their staff to add credibility (which can increase conversion) while also including product shots if applicable (e.g., a software company providing a look at their dashboard or a local contractor showing before-and-after images of their projects). 

Be Conversion Happy

While there are countless other reasons why customers don't buy on a website, these are some of the most common design barriers to conversion. Website Magazine will feature many success stories from readers like you, next month as part of #CROctober. We'd love to hear from you. What stopped your site from increasing conversions, and how did you fix it? Let us know here (include the subject line, "CROctober") or tweet us Tweet us @WebsiteMagazine

 Request Website Magazine's Free Weekly Newsletters 

Website Magazine Logo

Leave Your Comment

Login to Comment

Become a Member

Not already a part of our community?
Sign up to participate in the discussion. It's free and quick.

Sign Up


Leave a comment
    Load more comments
    New code