No, there’s no typo in the title. Yes, I’m actually asserting that sometimes marketing – or rather, marketers – can kill your website conversion rate.
In most e-commerce companies today, marketing is the primary owner of the website. That seems sensible. After all, the website is an extension of the company’s brand. It is the company’s online presence. The website contains the messaging about corporate identity and value proposition. Products are positioned and sold on the website. Services are described. Such things are classically owned and managed by marketers. Naturally, marketing should own the website, right?
The problem with marketers owning the website
The problem – the BIG problem – is that despite being of immense marketing value, websites are also fundamentally user interfaces. They are not static print materials, logos, or just messages. Because they are user interfaces, websites must foster and support interactive experiences for human beings. Interactive experiences fall into the domain of design. And marketers usually aren’t trained designers. They aren’t trained user advocates, although the good ones will embrace this role. Marketers haven’t been trained to fully appreciate (or articulate) the challenges their websites pose to users. Marketers are experts in messaging, targeting, communications, advertising, drawing attention and building interest. But they aren’t experts at capitalizing on that interest through successful user experiences. Put another way, they’re trained to build the top of the website funnel but not to create successful movement through that funnel. That’s why website conversion needs to include expertise in interaction design, usability evaluation, and experimentation. Yet because of their ownership of the website, marketers have found themselves in charge of user interfaces.
Expert blind spots and lagging conversion rates
The damage that can happen when marketers own websites comes from an “expert blind spot” that makes marketers unreceptive to approving design improvements or adopting UX-improving add-ons. As a result, sales conversion is lower and abandonment of SaaS applications is higher than necessary, hurting bottom-lines.
About that expert blind spot. Marketers are expert users of their own websites. This causes many marketers to overestimate the usability and clarity of their websites, making them reluctant to make changes, especially if they perceive those changes as affecting anything related to their usual concerns (messaging, branding, etc.). Designers are expert users of their own websites, too, but designers are explicitly trained to “kill their darlings” and continually employ an empathy-rich user-centered mindset. Marketers, meanwhile, have spent thousands of dollars and many months on messaging and audience and brand. Everything seems usable and clear to them. For e-commerce websites, this means conversion rates suffer. For SaaS applications, this means greater abandonment and customer churn. Confusion and frustration become the defining characteristic.
“But wait! We used a design firm!”
Many marketers recognize the need for design expertise (or at least the need for design skill) and so hire a design firm to help. But when presented with design alternatives from a firm, marketers will usually react more strongly to brand, messaging, presentation, layout, and graphical appeal—things on which they’re experts—not to understandability, navigability, usability, and clarity, things that are much harder to judge on the surface, especially with an expert blind spot ruining any hope of objectivity. Designers at agencies know that marketers can quickly gauge things like messaging and graphics but have less visibility into where users might become confused in a task workflow. To keep happy clients, agency designers focus on what gets noticed.
Now let me be clear that I am not blaming marketers. Great marketers are priceless, as any CEO knows. Without great marketing, products aren’t sold, messages aren’t heard, and brands aren’t established. But when it comes to websites, interaction design is more important than many marketers appreciate. And yet marketers are too often making decisions that are fundamentally decisions about interaction design.
So… What’s a marketer to do?
If you are a digital marketer, marketing manager, or e-commerce director, here are four steps that you can take to lessen the chances that marketing hurts your website or web application:
Admit to having an expert blind spot. When it comes to your own website, do not assume that a well-messaged well-branded attractive site is also a well-designed or usable one. Be skeptical of your own intuition and assessment of users’ behavior and needs.
Invest in and observe on-site user tests. Remote A/B testing is great, but the best way to remove your expert blind spot is for you to sit in on usability tests and observe a struggling user from “over the shoulder.” This activity builds empathy, the most important attribute good designers possess.
Adopt tools to improve UX and reveal users’ struggles.Website add-ons can reveal where websites fall short of delivering successful user experiences. At AnswerDash, we provide an add-on to websites and web apps that reveals what questions users have, where they have them, and what answers lead to increased conversion or decreased churn. Marketers that employ AnswerDash learn that their site visitors have questions that no one could have imagined. With AnswerDash’s answers, site visitors buy more and conversion rates increase by double-digit percentages.
Marketers who focus on carefully understanding what challenges their site visitors face will do more for their conversion and abandonment rates – and bottom lines – than those who only bring more visitors to their sites. Better websites with better user interfaces result in greater sales and more satisfied users who will return.