Its easy to focus on search engine ranking and lose customers in the process.  Having great page rank is meaningless if you’re not making sales…


What is going on with e-commerce websites? It appears that online entrepreneurs spend so much time worrying about website traffic that they ignore the customers who actually want to buy something.

Recently, I tried to order a product we spotted at a trade show. It was perfect for our application so we did a Google search to find the manufacturer and a líst of dealers who sold the item.

Almost all the websites that distributed the product had proper contact information and invited people to call, which we did. After six frustrating phone calls to dealers we still hadn’t found anyone willing to answer the telephone. Since we had to leave a message almost everywhere we called, we decided to try California even though we are located in the east, and it was far too early for any reasonable person to be at work.

We finally got in touch with a friendly salesperson in Boston, who was very helpful but unfortunately the company was out of stock. Despite not being able to fill the order, we kept their information on file because they were friendly, accommodating, and dealt with all our questions. They tried their best to meet our needs but if we would have ordered using their online system and found out later that the product was back-ordered we would have been very upset since we had a deadline to meet.

Next we reached the manufacturer who told us he was too busy to check if he had any stock, and maybe he could get back to us by four o’clock. Just as we were ready to give up, the phone rang; it was the owner of the California dealer, who had the product in stock, took the order, and shipped it out the same day.

Businesses, especially website businesses cannot run on autopilot; customers are people and they expect to be treated like human beings. Now it is not always possible to answer every phone call the minute someone calls, or to have every product in stock when people need it, but the more human interaction you can build into your website the better your sales will be. To paraphrase that old saying about horses, “you can lead search traffic to your website, but you can’t make them order.”

Why Should Anybody Buy From You?

Ask yourself this simple question: why should anybody buy anything from you? You probably aren’t the only company that sells your product or service, and even if you are, there are most likely substitutes available from competitors.

When potential customers find you on Google they are also finding all your competitors. So unless you sell a totally unique, non-fungible (non substitutable) product, service or brand that is also the lowest priced on the market, then you best give people some compelling reason to buy from you.

The product we were looking for was available from a dozen different website businesses, spread all over the United States and they all sold the same product at the same price. In the final analysis we purchased from the supplier that was the furthest distance away in a time zone three hours earlier than us; but we purchased from that supplier because we were able to talk to a someone who answered all our questions in a friendly, intelligent, and engaging manner.

It’s what used to be called customer service before businesses were turned over to database programmers, number crunchers, and search savants who think of human interaction as something to be avoided.

The Human Touch Creates Confidence and Sales

Websites are a very efficient method of lead generation and potential sales as long as you engage your audience with a presentation delivered by a real person who explains as much as possible about the things you sell, and how you sell them. And that includes things like delivery, which is one of the major complaints and points-of-contention that online customers have. Nobody likes surprises, especially when they cost time and money.

Web sales success has little to do with features, benefits, or technical advancements, in fact a barrage of features and specifications is just as likely to confuse visitors, and paralyze their purchase decision. The one tactic that overcomes this problem, that inspires confidence in your advice, trust in your ability to deliver, and convinces people to purchase, is information presented by a real human being.

You Can’t Always Handle Things Personally

Understanding you cannot always be available, the next best thing is Web video. A video provides a complete, consistent, error-free, professional presentation of the information you want customers to receive. Hiring, training, and managing staff is expensive, and their handling of customers is often unreliable, resulting in a negative impression of your company.

Lest We Forget Tricky Dick

And that brings me to the Web entrepreneur who thinks that they are so charming and persuasive that they are going to be their own Web-video host.

Anybody who studies audience behavior is familiar with the classic case of the 1960 Presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy. Most people who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon won, while the people who watched on television thought Kennedy won. This was a seminal example of how auditory and visual performance influences content, impression and response.

This lesson has been well learned by politicians but has somehow escaped the attention of business leaders and Web entrepreneurs.

Human Motivational Optimization

Web entrepreneurs’ obsession with search optimization, and their fascination with technical solutions to human problems, has created an e-commerce environment that is decidedly remote and unfriendly. Sales are a motivational exercise in people-problem solving: people buy things that fulfill physical, emotional, and psychological needs. The answer is to adopt a Human Motivational Optimization approach to the presentation of your website material.

What is Human Motivational Optimization? It is a mindset used for designing Web experiences for human beings, not just search engine spiders.

Human Motivational Optimization For E-commerce

Let’s say you have an online business that sells clothing. The best way to display clothing is on a model who twists and turns so the audience can see the item from all sides, as well as how it hangs or drapes on a real person. A garment displayed flat looks like a rag, and just doesn’t do the product justice.

Even quality still photography doesn’t show how a garment looks when someone moves; and high quality fashion photography is more expensive than short fifteen to twenty second Web videos.

You can also add some professional voice-over narration that explains all the fabric details, design features and options available. A Web video fashion catalog is the most effective way to sell clothes online.

Perhaps you sell cosmetics. Another product ideally suited for Web video. Teaching visitors what products look best together based on particular facial features and coloring as well as different makeup styles for work, play, and evening are ideal opportunities to up-sell and build confidence in you and your products. Customer education is one of the best Web marketing tactics you can employ in order to distinguish yourself from the competition.

Not Every Product Is Sexy

Clothing and cosmetics are both high profile products, but let’s say you sell something that is not quite so sexy, something like sandpaper. Sandpaper is boring but, if you need an abrasive product, you better pick the right one or you’ll make a mess of whatever you are trying to build.

Teaching customers what products to use turns one-time buyers into long-term customers. When customers buy the wrong thing, they invariably blame the supplier, while suppliers that provide valuable purchase advice create a significant barrier to competition.

Even major box store retailers have learned that they cannot afford to have a bunch of part-timers helping customers. Best Buy has their Geek Squad and Apple Stores have their Geniuses.

Returns on electronics and computer equipment are too costly, and that goes double for online businesses where shipping is a factor. And that doesn’t take into account customer ill will created by the aggravation and frustration of being sold the wrong thing. Rather than being an expense, a professionally produced Web-video e-commerce catalog is actually a tactic that saves time and money, both in the sales process, and customer relations.

Web video engages audience attention; informs viewers of product advantages, details and options; and explains who should purchase, as well as who shouldn’t. It educates people on how to get the most out of what you sell, and it does it in the most compelling and memorable manner. It establishes a trust-based relationship with clients and that is something competitors cannot overcome with high pressure, price-slashing tactics.

The Geeks are Killing Your Business

Today we have a generation of entrepreneurs trained in highly specialized technical areas like search engine optimization, database development, statistical analysis, and Web-based programming. All of these disciplines view business, even marketing, advertising and public relations as if they are somehow quantifiable, scientific disciplines that can be measured and managed without consideration of that messy notion called human nature.

The biggest problem in business is dealing with people, and just because your business is Web-based, doesn’t mean people no longer count.

We know ‘if you build it, they will come’ is not a viable marketing strategy, and the idea ‘if they find you, they will buy’ is just as wrong. Start thinking in terms of Human Motivational Optimization: start designing websites for people, not search engines.

Jerry Bader, Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia