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Website Sales Slow? It’s Time for the Mom Test


by Jennifer Laycock
What if you built a site and all the right people showed up, but none of them bought anything? What if you looked at your traffic reports and analytics and you saw traffic streaming in in droves for all the keywords that perfectly describe what you do? What if you had killer content and tens of thousands of links, but sales were flat? What if you knew you had the best prices or the most unique offerings in town and STILL no one was buying?


What would you do?
Would you realize you probably had some usability issues? Hopefully. (If not, let’s hope I just clued you in.)
So what do you do about it?
What if it’s Not Them, it’s You?
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that throw people off course. Earlier this year, the guy who heads up our analytics department stumbled across something interesting. We had a site that was built with a fluid design. (Meaning as you expanded your browser window, the content of the site stretched out to fill the space.) He noticed the primary conversion point on the web site was in the upper right hand corner of the site. That meant that as the browser window grew larger, the conversion point moved further and further away from where people’s eyes naturally looked.
He dug into the analytics for the site and sure enough, as a user’s screen resolution increased, their conversion rates went down. It didn’t matter how targeted the traffic coming in from the search results was, a major usability issue on the site was standing in the way of their conversion.
Restructuring the site to place the conversion point in a better position that wasn’t affected by screen resolution did wonders for the site’s conversions, giving the client an increase in leads and sales without us ever having to drive a single new search visitor.
The Mom Test
In the world of small business where staffs are small and budgets are tight, shelling out for a usability analysis isn’t always (ok, is almost never) feasible. Heck, many small businesses are already digging spare change from the couch in the lounge just to pay their hosting bills. That’s why it’s important to remember the single most cost-effective usability tool you have in situations like this: your mother.
Don’t have a mother? That’s fine, get the mother of one of your employees. Get the mother of your SEO (but not mine, she’s so web savvy she runs backlink checks), or the mother of your accountant. Any mom will do, though it’s best if she’s over the age of 50.
Then sit her down at your site and ask her to do whatever it is you want someone to do. That might be sign up for a newsletter, it might be purchase a product or it might be download a white paper. Just start her off on the site with no instructions other than “do this.” Then watch.
If she can’t quickly and easily find her way to what it is you want her to do, chances are good you’ve got some usability problems. If you’re standing behind her wanting to yell “it’s right THERE!!!” while she leans forward and stares at the screen, you’ve definitely got usability problems.
Sometimes finding the problem is as simple as getting an outsider to take a fresh look at your site and to see how they interact with it. If the mom in your experiment can’t find your subscribe button, you need to move it. If she gets to the checkout page and says “holy smokes, that shipping cost is insane!” you need to adjust your shipping options or make sure they show up earlier in the checkout process. 
Observe the problem, then get creative about solving it. (And find a new mom for your next round of testing.) It’s not a scientific method, but on a tight budget for a site getting solid search traffic on targeted terms, it could make a big difference. 
Analyze the Performance of Your Site, Not Just Your Keywords 
In the world of search engine optimization, it becomes all too easy to focus in on the keywords and phrases you’ve optimized for and to look at which ones convert while ignoring the role your site may be playing in those conversions. It simply doesn’t matter how targeted your SEO campaign is if you’re feeding people into a site that makes it difficult for them to buy. 
That’s why it’s essential to realize search engine optimization is only part of what your site needs to get the job done. You wouldn’t dream of spending a ton of money on advertising and promotion for a brand new club without also investing in a good architect and designer. After all, if your patrons can’t find the dance floor or the restrooms are hidden behind unmarked doors…all those new customers will probably leave as quickly as they came. 
That’s why the best SEOs will encourage you to invest in analytics and site reviews as part of your campaigns. They know they can maximize the impact of all that targeted traffic by looking to see how people interact with your site and what ultimately drives them to become a customer. 
If your search firm simply spits out a list of keyword rankings and traffic referrals each month and calls it a day, chances are high you aren’t getting everything out of your site you should be. If your site isn’t performing as well as you’d like, consider the mom test. Even if it’s simply a launch point to going back to your firm for some real usability testing, it may tell you a lot about what you need to do for your site.
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