All posts in Design

It’s getting to be that time again (even if we hate to see the summer end)

This is going to be a hard blog post to write because of my love for the warm months and summertime fun (it’s a rough day for me when I have to put the golf clubs and fishing poles away). However what I have to say is VERY important. The holidays are coming and with them come family, friends, food, fun and for many of our clients, the busiest sales time of the year.

So don’t get caught unprepared! Start implementing your changes now so they are ready when the time comes.

Other than making sure your site is running correctly (duh), here are a couple of very important areas to make sure you have rocking and rolling:


Product Pages:

Make sure your product pages are ripe with reviews, have pleasing photos of your products, and please please please have big colorful and properly located call to actions (add to cart buttons).


Checkout Process:

Have a very clean, easy, and fast checkout process. Have you looked at your abandoned cart numbers recently? Almost everyone that I have looked at these numbers with are shocked to see how many people have picked out their purchase and start to go through the process to buy and end up leaving before finishing. These abandonments are very often lessened by doing a few alterations to your checkout process, so get together with us or an expert and take a good hard look at what can be done to improve this VERY important area of your site.


Triggered Emails:

Triggered Emails are great for business. They have a vast array of functions that are all really powerful. You have your review request email sent after a purchase (of course you want to allow a bit of time for delivery) that are great for building up your review section and passing on the words of happy customers (and also great for “mending the fences” with people that may have had a less then satisfactory experience). There is your gift certificate emails, great for bringing in customers, new and returning. Of course the most important triggered email is the abandon cart email. I cannot stress this one enough, this email quickly pays for itself. It is sent a day or so after someone leaves the checkout process without finishing. It sends a gentle reminder to let the customer know that they have left something in their shopping cart and provides a link back to checkout process. These emails have an average of a 15% conversion rate and, in some of client’s cases, over a hundred thousand dollars is missed revenue!!! This is free money people!!! So if you don’t have triggered emails you should very strongly consider having a nice template made that relays your branding and styles to assist in your online business. You are seriously missing out if you don’t.


Email Blasting/Newsletters:

Have a great template put together and get the word out about sales events, new products and reminders to get holiday shopping done ahead of time. Sure, not everyone reads every newsletter, but plenty of people take a look, and if you’re offering something special there is a good chance for you to drum up some solid business.


Remarketing Ads

These little babies are a great way to spread the word of holiday sales, upcoming events, new products and so much more. They are fairly inexpensive and very much worth your time to get set up.


I have very rarely seen a website that is perfect for ecommerce, and I have often seen sites that could stand a lot of improvement. I said it before and I’ll say it again; Now is the time to make sure your ready to have a great holiday season. So get together with us soon and let’s make sure that while you’re enjoying the festivities with your loved ones your website is busy working away and making you the money that your company relies on!

Let’s talk!

Check this out. A few tips for your checkout process.

Your checkout process is one of the most important parts of your e-commerce site. Some statistics say that up to 56% percent of checkout processes are abandoned, 56%!!!!!! Imagine if you owned a brick and mortar shop and half of the people that brought items to your checkout counter decided that they didn’t want to buy all the items that they picked out right before handing you their debit card.

So why do people leave? They obviously found what they were looking for. They took the time to read your product descriptions and clicked add to cart. They are ready to buy and start the checkout process and then poof, they are gone.

I am going to give you a few tips to help keep them in the process until it is done and the order is done.

First of all, KEEP IT SIMPLE. Nothing turns people away like checkout processes that have page after page after page of stuff to fill out. Don’t ask for information that you don’t need. Sure it would be nice to know every thing about your customers but the fact is that you will scare more people off by asking too many questions. Why do you need to know my age, sex and favorite color? Keep it simple, quick and easy.

Make your call to actions easy to see. The continue button should be bright, big and friendly.

Take away unnecessary navigation options. Guide them by not giving them many distractions. I would suggest removing any side and top navigation any search options or email sign ups. Basically present them with only the task at hand, finishing their order.

Have a progress bar. Let people know where they are in the process, it’s much easier to stick with a process if you know the end is in sight. Plus reassurance that there will be a final step of confirming the order information before being charged puts peoples’ minds at ease.

Make sure your security seal is visible and up to date. As we hear more and more horror stories of people’s personal information being stolen online, folks are definitely more soothed by seeing a security seal that is up to date and prominently displayed.

Lastly, and I have talked about this before, make good use of triggered emails. If you don’t have a confirmation email (an email sent to a customer to let them know that their order has been received) then you’re in trouble. Most people have confirmation emails but in addition to that you should consider having an abandon cart email (an email that is sent after a few days of someone leaving the checkout process reminding them that they still have something in their cart).

I strongly urge everyone to setup a checkout goal funnel in Google Analytics and then use the funnel visualization report to see where people are falling out of your checkout process. This will really give you a great insight into where your checkout has issues. You should set up your “goal” to the “order sent” page and have the steps be the pages you have leading up to it starting with your “view cart” page. You will be able to see not only how many people are leaving the checkout process but also which page they are leaving from and where they are going. A useful tool indeed, and really, if you are in e-commerce YOU NEED THIS.

It’s likely that most checkout processes could use a little work, so keep these tips in mind. If you need some help or an extra set of eyes to take a look at your site, drop us a line at


The Only Audit You’ll Ever Ask For

Websites should be attractive, consistent with your company’s branding, and designed to sell. Sometimes a few little tweaks to your look and function can make a big difference in how well you are serving your clients.

Everyone wants their website to look top notch. Who wouldn’t? We all want to be represented in the best possible light. But let’s be honest, there will always be someone out there that has a newer, more creative, fancier looking site. Keeping up with the Joneses is tough on the internet, and constantly doing full site redesigns is not only difficult but expensive and time consuming. Now I am not saying a total overhaul is never a good idea, certainly if you haven’t had any major design changes in 5 years it’s probably time to invest in one. Short of starting from scratch lies a different option.
It’s very difficult to judge your own website (or any visual representation of yourself or company), it’s often either one of two extremes. You either can’t stand it so much that you can’t see the positive aspects or you love it so much that you can’t see the flaws. That’s why on occasion it’s a really good idea to do what we like to call a “site audit”. Don’t worry we aren’t talking about the IRS rummaging through your files. All I mean is having a professional take a detailed look at your site. We look at your general visual design as well as the functionality, searchability, and how well it is selling your products. After doing so we provide a detailed report of recommended changes, why we suggest them, and an estimate on the amount of time it would take us to implement these changes. You certainly are not obligated to make these changes, or you may just pick one or two for now and keep the rest as a wish list!

A few of the areas that we will take our magnifying glasses to will be:
Basic visual design
Navigation functionality
Checkout processes
Search engine optimization
Product page organization
And much more

We have had quite a few of our clients take us up on this opportunity and make some of our suggested changes much to their benefit in profits and traffic. Don’t get left behind, drop us a line at!

Your Holiday Plan – Time to “Turn the Crank”

Ah, the holidays…   time with the family, good cheer, snowflakes on kittens and the crush of eCommerce retailing.

For many eCommerce retailers, this is the sales performance Super Bowl.   This post is to designed to give a few quick marketing tips to help you “get yourself right” for gameday.




If you did CPC last year, look at the corresponding keyterm performance reports for comparable periods of time last year.   It’s always interesting to me that different parts of the product selection seem to have different curves during the holiday season.   Some items peak earlier than others. Some items tend to be more for last minute shopping.   Peak season is the time to pay special attention to these trends. There are a lot of companies that don’t play the CPC game aggressively until the peak season.   You’ll see an influx of competition and price pressure to maintain position. You want to maintain your position on the terms that you are profitable on.  You need to have clarity on which terms those are. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of smaller retailers give away a lot of profit by being overly aggressive on their terms during the holiday because the prices went beyond where good ROI could be had. Conversely, you leave money on the table by not bidding aggressively on your best terms during the buying frenzy.

Consider testing a discount as a way to differentiate from the competition. For example, you might try a 10% off offer in your ad text or landing page. Run it as an A/B test with two different ads with two different tracking urls.

Lastly, double down on the holiday blitz by using Microsoft AdCenter. I’ve been impressed with the volume coming from Bing and Yahoo and you might find different veins of opportunity in the bidding environment in the AdCenter. Again, now is the time to try. There is volume and opportunity.



Turn the crank!   Have you a had a meeting to talk about ramping up your email strategy for the peak season? Whoever is in charge of email should be at the top of their game right now. This is the peak season! If ever there is a time to be aggressive, it is now. How aggressive? Short answer is “VERY”. Do you have data from last year? Use it! Unless you saw some real blowback from over mailing – ADD SOME MAILINGS. You really don’t know where the line is, until you push up against it.

Also, this is the time where you have the best chance to do some testing. Segment your list. Try 3 messages per week vs 2 messages per week and compare results.   You are trying to maximize your ROI for this year and learn for the future. The peak season is a great time to run statistically significant tests.

Testing ideas:
Try an A/B/A test. Break your list into three parts. Depending on your list size this could be 33%, 33%, 33% or 10%, 10%, 80%.  Test an offer on two of the parts and roll the winner to the remainder. This allows you to optimize your offers for more than half of your audience.

Abandoned Cart Emails

Do you have them in place?  There are incremental sales to be had here at no additional cost. Peak season is the time when you have the most abandons. If you don’t have abandoned cart emails in place there is no quicker route to ROI than to implement them now.

Likewise, Product Reviews and Review request emails. The holiday season is the time for you to get a good volume of these to build up the quantity of reviews on your site. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an abundance of fresh content for search engines and site visitors in Q1 2012?


Shopping Engines


Just make a point to revisit your feeds and tweak your listings before Thanksgiving.  Make sure your listed products are up to date and in stock.


Your Webstore


Freshen up your category list. Does it make sense to make a “Gifts” category or “Holiday” category? Consider some seasonal “Hero Images” for your homepage or category pages. If you don’t have any, there still might be time. Circle the wagons and schedule a photo shoot.




Not much to talk about here.   SEO is not something you can change quickly.  Hopefully the peak season is the time when you can reap the benefits from your natural listings (and the work you’ve done to make your site search friendly, fresh and content rich all year).


Design Studio: What Makes a Hero?

One of the most common challenges I face as a designer is the task of simplifying designs.   Most of the time, the companies I work with would like to be able to communicate many different things about their company and their products to customers.   In email newsletters, for example, they might want  to show new products, showcase best sellers, display all of the product categories, highlight some new press, talk about upcoming seasonal items, present a special offer, solicit participation on the site’s blog and also do a survey.   Most of the time my job is to meet all of these needs and to present the information in a visually appealing, easy to understand format.

Sometimes, however, it is also my job to push back.  Part of being a designer is to be proactive and to suggest other approaches to the presentation of the information that might actually bring greater success to the presentation or campaign.  eCommerce is customer-centric and prospective customers often have very limited attention.  I help my customers “get through” by helping them focus their messages.

In this post, I would like to talk  about one technique for getting through.  I will talk about using a single strong image to simplify and bring impact to your presentation.   This technique is called the “Hero Image”.

The basic idea of the “Hero Image” is this:  Show don’t tell.  When you use a Hero Image you let the presentation be a visceral experience that conveys your brand promise.  For a clothier, that could be the confidence and happiness that you feel when you look good.   For a gourmet company, it could be the sensual experience of quality food.    Perhaps the image has a few words that position the company or enhance the essence of the picture, but otherwise you let the image carry the load.

So what can this mean for eCommerce retailer?  Look at your messaging on your website and emails.   Is it overly complicated?    Consider trying a new approach that captures your company’s unique selling proposition with a hero image.  Here are some recent examples:

Do you have an image that really says who you are?  Try testing it head to head against your current creative and see how it does.   Let me know if you want a second opinion.  Email me:

Have fun!


An Update:     I don’t think any company has done this better than Apple.  Steve Jobs understood the value of simplicity.  Modern life for many people is frenetic and complicated and people are often overwhelmed by a barrage of marketing messages.  But look at Apple’s messaging.  It was calm.  It was clear.  It was confident.  Recently, it was also poignant.

Did you see the page in tribute to Steve Jobs?  It’s as good an example as I can think of and a fitting hommage to man that knew the power of simplicity.

Many times, “less” can be “more”.



Socialize your Email Marketing Campaigns

Socialize your Emails Part 1
by Kathie Ross

Rarely do you see an email marketing campaign these days without social links. They have become synonymous with email campaigns. There are many different ways to use them and to promote them.  Some of which are:

  1. Join Us and Like Us links
  2. Share with your friends links
  3. The big trade – offering something for liking them on Facebook, etc ( I will talk about this in a later blog post)
  4. Community involvement with a twist ( I will talk about this in a later blog post)

The most common way is to use the social icons as ways to get customers to “Like” or “Join” the social community. This allows companies to communicate with their email recipients in many different ways. It will also help the company to go more viral in their approach thus getting more followers, more email sign ups and ultimately more purchases.  Over time I have collected some of my favorite designs. It’s fun to see the style that each company puts into their individual email – the branding of their social programs.

Following are some of my favorites:


Socialize Email Marketing

Social Email Marketing

Social Email Campaigns

Socialize Email Campaigns

Facebook and Twitter in EMail

Facebook and Twitter in Email

Promote Facebook in your Emails

Icon for promoting Facebook in your Emails

Social Icons for Email

Social Icons for Email

SWYN (Share with Your Network) Share icons allow companies to get their email recipients to pass on their email campaigns to anyone in their Facebook, Twitter or other networks:

Socialize Your Email with Share Buttons

Socialize your Email with Share Buttons

Socialize Your Email with Facebook Buttons

Socialize Your Email with Facebook Buttons

The examples above are great ways to get started with socializing your email. In the next blog post I will follow up with some further examples of getting new followers.

Where’s the Banana?

Okay, so I know this is a pretty basic topic, and not nearly as buzz worthy as Andy’s product extensions or Facebook’s credits, but it seems to me by far the easiest and most productive thing one can do to increase web store transactions. And even though I’ve told people at every cocktail party I’ve ever been invited to, it’s hard to believe how many web stores still don’t do it, even after all those parties.

My big secret is this: if you want people to buy stuff, you’ve got to get them to click the “proceed to checkout” link, so make it the biggest, bestest action item on the page.

It’s that simple. But try this experiment. Go visit a dozen online stores and count the ones that still use just a text link for the “proceed to checkout” action. Or if they use a button, they make it the same size and color of the “continue shopping” button. You’ll be amazed.

So to update an old Seth Godin theory for our purposes, your shoppers are (no offense) gorillas, and when a gorilla gets to your view cart page, what do they ask themselves?

Where’s the banana?

That’s right. You want it to be super clear to shoppers what you want them to do next. If they aren’t done shopping, they’ll know what to do, or take the time to figure it out. If they suddenly realize they’ve got the wrong size or color, they’ll take the time to figure out how change it.

But when they’re confused, or they start to slow down with their shopping, or they just aren’t sure what they want to do, that’s when we want to help them, that’s when we want to show them the banana.

Make it a big, bright green image button. Or do some fancy CSS and round the corners. It doesn’t matter what technology you use, it matters that it’s the most noticeable call-to-action on the page.

So why do so many stores not consider implementing this? It certainly can’t be a conscious decision. We’ve certainly never done an A/B test on a checkout button that suggested we should use the tiny, blue text version. I think a lot of it has to do with the way designers often mock up home, category and product pages, and programmers then interpret these designs for the rest of the site pages. Most e-commerce platforms, even CommerceV3, use text-based checkout links by default. It’s easy to replace, but someone has to remember to do it.

So take a fresh look at your own efforts and make sure you (or your testers) can immediately spot the banana. While you’re at it you may want to review the rest of your site pages using the same technique. But start on the view cart, where you’ll see the best return for your efforts.

Bring Your Home Page into Focus

Good Home page design requires a strong focal point for the page. When a customer looks at the page, there should be one primary message (usually including a bold image) that jumps out. This should speak to the customer’s reason for coming to your site. It should emphasize best sellers, new products, or a current promotion that entices the customer to click and shop.

It can be difficult to select one message to put in that spot. Ah, but there is a solution. You can actually put a few (2-4) important messages in front of the customer with the use of rotating hero images at the top of the Home page. This is a very effective way to get your hottest promotion AND your new product line AND a best seller or best selling category with a big, bold splash right across the top of the page. If the customer clicks before they’ve seen all the rotating images, well, they clicked in and that is the goal! So, get focused and give rotating hero images a try.

5 Powerful Tactics for E-commerce

Okay, time for Tom Funk to take a deep breath. I’ve spent the better part of each day since September 8’s introduction of Google Instant, panicking, gnashing my teeth, tearing my hair, rending my garments and dodging chunks of falling sky.

Search is an important source of lifeblood to any commercial website. Until now, I’ve always felt Google did an exemplary job in letting relevant results, from little guys and big guys alike, bubble up to the surface of search.

Now, Google Instant and its predictions bias search against the long-tail, against the little guy. We now have less a web of discovery, and more a web of trend-following, big-name brands, and some repetition of your personal user history. Google Instant is the tyranny of the majority, where nobody finds anything without seeing a little eBay, Facebook, or Lady Gaga first.

But it’s time for me to look beyond Google Instant for a moment, and recognize what matters most to ecommerce marketers and site owners. There’s plenty of stuff we can control. Let’s stop fretting about what we can’t.

1. Brand positioning. Visitors coming to your site from whatever source must immediately “get” — both through the look-and-feel and from a clear “positioning statement” or slogan — who you are, what you do, and why that’s a benefit to them.

2. Guarantee. Offer a strong, unconditional guarantee, be conspicuous about it. Stand behind it. It’s a selling point, not some hidden legalese boilerplate.

3. Checkout optimization. Shop your own site with an eye toward removing roadblocks, eliminating unnecessary forms and fields, cleaning up the look, adding confidence-building logos of your security, shipping and credit card partners. And enable a friendly, low-key abandoned cart email program.

4. Testing. Use Google Website Optimizer to test any significant offer, merchandise selection, navigational or design element. You’ll not only prove that your ideas were awesome, you’ll quantify just how awesome they were. Or, as is often the case, you’ll prove some ideas just don’t move the needle. No worries. That’s valuable too. Imagine you find that a $10-off deal doesn’t lift conversion any better than a pitch that emphasizes five-star customer ratings, which doesn’t cost you a nickel. Cha-ching!

5. Customer retention. Far more important that how much search-engine traffic you can capture, is what do you do to convert visitors to customers — and to build a long-term relationship with those customers so they come back to buy again and again. Today’s best tool for retention is still a generous, creative, and smartly segmented email program. That’s been the case since the dawn of ecommerce, and some 89% of merchants still say email is their highest-ROI channel. But social media is fast becoming the new customer relationship channel. If you’re not active now on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon, and wherever else your customers are spending their online time, your customer retention efforts are behind the curve.

Full disclosure: I’m a Google shareholder. Yup, I have 10 bright, shiny Google shares. So I’ll totally be at the annual meeting in Mountain View, doing the secret handshake with Larry, Sergey, Eric, Matt, Marissa, and the rest of the gang.

But even with that massive financial conflict-of-interest, you can always count on me to be 100% objective in my assessment of Google.