February 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

Small changes can make a big impact in web design, experts say

When US-Mattress.com color-coordinated its Add to Cart button with its View Cart icon, it produced a 7% increase in overall sales. That shows that small changes can have a big impact, said IRWD10 speaker Kevin Richards, president of Ventura Web Design.

Changes that seem minor, such as changing the color of a site’s Add to Cart button, can make a large impact, said Kevin Richards, Ventura Web Design president at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability 2010 Conference, in a session entitled "Step by Step: Little Changes Add Up." For instance, color coordinating its Add to Cart button with the View Cart icon resulted in a 7% increase in overall sales.

“Small steps do make a big difference,” he said. But those changes have to make sense for a retailer’s demographics and how those customers engage with the site, he said.

That means that even though Ventura client ScentsandSprays.com might not want to support Internet Explorer 6-the Microsoft browser launched in August 2001 which has long been plagued by security issues-a large share of its core demographics are still using the browser. “So if we said that we wouldn’t support the site on the browser, we’d lose a large share of our customers,” said Richards.

Instead Ventura worked with ScentsandSprays to focus on changes that made sense for the site, such as displaying the site’s best sellers. “It seems simple, but it makes a huge difference,” he said. “We sell candles and you can’t smell a candle through the Internet-yet. But when people see what other people have bought it gives them a level of comfort.”

Since the site has an older customer base that spends four minutes, on average, on the site, it decided against bells and whistles touches like video.

To draw in new users, the site began using its own meta descriptions. Doing so is a simple way to stand out and draw traffic-even if the site’s ranking is five or six on a page, said Richards.

Small back-end changes, such as cleaning up the site’s structure and coding, can boost a site’s search engine rankings. Doing so can have a significant impact on a business, said Richards. For instance, doing so on ScentsandSprays boosted its traffic 30% in November 2009, compared the previous November, increased its page views 17%, the average time on the site 21% and sales 47%.

Before retailers implement changes, they should test them out, said Rick McNeill, web design production manager for Meijer Inc., who joined Richards in the IRWD10 session. That can mean a $40,000 usability test or a $29 test on sites like UserTesting.com or FiveSecondTest.com. “Statistically speaking you may not be getting a large enough user base with the inexpensive site, but you can gain some nuggets of information simply by getting some feedback.”

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