When we think of eCommerce, it’s natural to think of Amazon.com, eBay, or one of the millions of small and large businesses selling “things” on the web. True enough. But let’s break down the basic elements of a good eCommerce website:
- It’s designed to get traffic – drawing in potential customers through advertising, SEO, integrated social media, or other marketing. It gets Attention.
- It builds confidence in the site owner by establishing the company’s expertise in the product category, using professional and responsive design, and via testimonials and trust badges. It builds Trust.
- It inspires the visitor to do something – in this case make a purchase, schedule an appointment, or engage with the company. It motivates Action.
Here’s the funny thing. If you look at that list with only eCommerce in mind, it makes total sense to you and all the piece fit perfectly. But now, think of your business and your website – eCommerce or not – and read that list again. Those same elements apply, right?
Attention, Trust, Action … Repeat
Turns out that the three elements of Attention, Trust, and Action are the elements of every single website on the internet. And we’re not talking about “just” business websites. Even your Aunt who posts pasta recipes online has the exact same motivations. She may not be selling those recipes for money, but I guarantee you that she wants someone to cook that meal and then tell her all about it.
Key Takeaway: EVERY website is designed to drive Attention, build Trust, and motivate Action – just like an eCommerce site.
The Critical Path
The idea of “Critical Path” came about back in the 1940’s at the DuPont Chemical Company. I first learned about it from my uncle, who was a general contractor. I used to work for him on his job sites occasionally hanging drywall, painting, cleaning up … whatever he needed done. He even named his contracting business “Critical Path Construction” because he knew that project success was not just about getting tasks done. Sometimes tasks need to be done in a particular order. For example, if the cement foundation is poured before the footings have been finished, the entire project fails. If the framing isn’t done when the drywall arrives, production grinds to a halt.
Your website visitors are on a critical path too. You need to get the customer’s Attention first. Then you build Trust. Then you give them a call to Action. If you try to motivate action before building Trust, you haven’t laid the right foundation. Future interactions are just a repeat of this same cycle. eCommerce sites focus on this like a laser. And you should too.
Key Takeaway: Your website visitors are on a critical path. There are no shortcuts to the Action.
Work Backwards So You Can Work Forwards
When you are running an eCommerce site, the Action is easy to define. You want the visitor to click the Buy Now button. Even the simplest business website exists with the sole purpose of inspiring some kind of action. It could be anything – signing up for an email newsletter, calling the office, making an appointment, or getting the customer into a physical location. There is always something that you want the site visitor to do.
This is where great website design starts. You have to know what you want the visitor to do. Not only does this guide the entire process of building out your website, but it gives you something specific to measure success against. If your objective is to collect email addresses for your newsletter, then the call to Action, building of Trust, and gathering Attention are designed to accomplish that. If you are not getting email signups, then you adjust those things until you achieve the results you are looking for.
So – like all good eCommerce sites – you begin where you want the site visitor to end up. After you have the Action defined, then you build the rest of your site with the sole desire to instill the kind of Trust that the visitor will need to have in order to convince them to take the Action you desire. Then you create a strategic plan of Attention – marketing – to bring the best visitors to your site.
Key Takeaway: Think like an eCommerce business and start building were you want the visitor to end his journey on your website and work backward from there.
If It Doesn’t Drive – Cut It Out
Now comes the hard part. Since we know that your website – every website – is best thought of as an ecommerce site that’s sole purpose is to accomplish a specific objective, then anything that does not further those elements should be removed. If it doesn’t drive the desired Attention, build Trust and confidence, or motivate the visitor to Action, then we need to consider that it’s become a distraction.
There is a famous quote by Blaise Pascal, “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” What he meant was that he always started by jotting down everything he wanted to say, but then spent time taking away anything that wasn’t necessary. We should all follow this rule when working on our website.
The best eCommerce sites follow this rule. They know that any distraction – even offering too many options or products – can make a customer just stop and move on. They even cut out entire pages of content if it does not keep the customer on the critical path.
It’s a lot harder than you might think. When we entrepreneurs are passionate about something, we want to share everything we can. Learning how to include everything that’s necessary, but ONLY the things that are truly necessary, takes a bit of getting used to.
Key Takeaway: Anything that does not drive desired Attention, build Trust and confidence, or motivate the call to Action is a distraction. Pack your website full with everything you need, and nothing more.
The Bottom Line
The lessons of eCommerce apply to every website on the internet because there is always some Action that you want the customer to take. There is a critical path that the customer takes before they do what you want them to do. Website visitors follow a critical path. You get their Attention, build their Trust, then deliver your call to Action. And you should remove anything that does not advance those three elements.
Thanks for reading!