Never Befriend A Man Named Hussein

Please note: this is not a post about Obama.  I’ve already addressed how my brother saved his life once and I’m not going down that rabbit hole again.  Ever.  Too many full-tilt crazy people and LRAs on my list.

You ever get introduced to someone and the minute you hear their name, your brain kicks in and says “I knew it!  This guy? Definitely a jackass!”

There’s a scientific reason for that feeling – and you know you’ve had it — but this is an ecommerce post so I won’t go into the details here.  (Jump to the end if you want to know how you can find out the brain explanation.)

One of my closest friends has this hate-them-in-your-tummy feeling about girls named Amy.  He despises them all.  Well, except me and that’s because I frequently remind him that my touchy-feely-hippy-crunchy-love-light-and-joy mother wanted to name me Star so Amy is really just a placeholder for the poledancer/stripper name I should have had.  Star Africa?  Please.

But I digress…

According to my personal email address book, I know 17 Husseins (of various spellings.)  Sadly, I don’t have contact information for the one I’d have married (you know, the guy who’d 100% be on my soulmate list) but I have a dozen and a half others – first and last name Husseins.

In my experience, Husseins are some of the sweetest people on the planet.

Till they’re not.

They’re all warm and cuddly and then you say something innocuous that sets them off, and they become a donkey on the edge with a dragon to prove it.  (Hello, SEO traffic from random quotes.)

Bottom line: Husseins (which incidentally means blessed) are the scorpion to my frog.  (#Measure people please note: sample size is too small and I know you have 111 ways to tell me my conclusion is not statistically significant.  Feel free to move on and spare me the Excel spreadsheets that come whenever I post.)

So, the question becomes are all Husseins like this or am I making statements that purposely alter their action(s) so that my theory becomes true?

In other words, how Oedipal am I?

With or without the Oracle of Delphi’s help, we create self-fulfilling prophecies all the time ESPECIALLY on the web.

Navigation is likely the best example.  You get what I give you.  If I don’t give it to you, you don’t get it.

Navigation accounts for 40-60% of your success online.  Over 80% on a mobile device.

People are going to do what you give them to do.  If they want to buy a rake and you force them to figure out whether they should click on gardening tools OR gardening supplies OR outdoor gear OR outdoor living, it’s your own damn fault when they bounce or attempt to use your crackerjacked internal text search and fail.

Users are going to click on the things you tell them to click.  If you don’t tell them to click, they aren’t going to click.

Your navigation controls their fate.  It’s that simple.

What other predicted-behavior things are there web-wise?  Here are six of the ones I see the most.

Low Adoption To Cart (ATC) Rate – These days, marketers are so caught up in the social proof, big data and omnichannel BS that they often miss the big picture.  You know, like the fact that the majority of websites have plenty of traffic but they just don’t know how to effectively convert it.  If you don’t have action directives on every view, you aren’t going to get the ATC rate that you should.  This isn’t about having orange buttons or using Hevetica instead of Arial, it’s about having BIG, BOLD, IN-YOUR-FACE buttons that tell the user to add-to-cart or buy now all over the place.  It’s about having more than one perpetual cart per page so that the user is constantly reminded they’re supposed to place an order.  It’s about not having dead ends, creating urgency and causing people to act.  It’s about asking for an order.  Over and over and over.  Till you get it.  Period. (This works the same if you’re in lead generation.)

High Abandoned Cart Rate – Distracting links/navigation in your cart?  A survey pop-up that asks the user to rate your order process before they’ve completed checkout (my personal pet peeve)?  No ordering alternatives (meaning no phone number or other contact information?)  Lots of rude error warnings?  Address correction things that take you to sites that aren’t secure?  Irrelevant questions?  Too many steps?  Exorbitant – and unexpected – shipping/delivery fees?  All of those things – and dozens more – make your users jump ship.  “Experts” tell you that people leave because they are searching for a discount/coupon – yes, that’s definitely a SMALL percentage of your folks – but it’s not the biggest reason people abandon.  (Giving them large discounts is often the easiest way to convert them but it’s not why they leave you at the altar.)

High Bounce Rate – Let’s face it.  If you’re like most, you deserve the traffic you get.  Take it from someone who is recklessly using Shrek quotes (as seen above) just for the traffic/comic amusement.  Link farming? SEO black-gray-ish tactics? Posting on random blogs and/or unmanaged comparison shopping/affiliate sites?  Remarketing programs run amok?  They’re all going to get you garbage traffic which is then going to get you a high bounce rate.  It doesn’t matter how kinky I am, if I’m coming from an adult “finder” message board and you’re selling property management supplies, I have to be really creative to figure out how to make your leasing rental forms suit my needs (unless I have some sort of paper cut fetish, I suppose.)

Truncated Strategy – I see this more and more as of late, especially when it comes to mobile.  Folks will tell me that they don’t need – or can’t afford – a mobile strategy in the same breath that they say they are increasing their email frequency but aren’t seeing the results they used to.  Um, yeah.  So over a third of your users are reading your emails on their smartphones.  When they’re interested in a product/service they see, they click on the link – you know, the one YOU put in the email.  If you don’t have a mobile site – or at the bare minimum a page that gives your phone number and a click-to-call button – you shouldn’t be shocked when you see a decrease in email orders as you’ve effectively terminated their path and given them nowhere to order.

Weak/Non-Existent Transfer – This is in the same vein as truncated strategy.  We know that over 90% of carts and lead forms are abandoned on mobile devices.  In time, that will get better but it’s not going to improve this season that’s for sure.  If someone adds something to their mobile cart (or they start the inquiry process), and they subsequently abandon, you should transfer them to a CSR (best choice for phones, doesn’t work well for tablets) AND you should mimic their cart on your traditional (desktop) site.  The whole “mobile department is different from our web department” schtick is as exasperating as the “web department is different from our catalog department” baloney.  In the end, nobody should care where you get the order as long as you get it.  Not sharing your riches with your other departments/colleagues just ends you all up in the poorhouse.

Email Deliverability Issues – I don’t know who the idiot consultant(s) is/are that are telling companies that they should email all of their old hard bounces and opt-outs (“as long as they are over 18 months old”) but I’d like to use them for target practice.  Apparently there are more meth addicts in web consulting than I previously imagined as this is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.  First, hard bounces are labeled as such because they are PERMANENTLY UNDELIVERABLE.  Second, even though you may get some of your users back in the fold, mixing a bunch of crappy names into your file of good names  is NOT good for deliverability.  We spend boatloads of time on email creative when the majority of success happens outside the envelope – a big part of that success comes from getting your email delivered.

Have other things you think I missed?  Give me a shout.  I’m @amyafrica on Twitter.   Why Twitter? I need to improve my Klout score to get more business SAID ME NEVER.

Oh, about that brain thing.  In the next few months, I am starting a newsletter specifically about brain stuff.  I am doing an email – not a blog – so I can write whatever I want without impunity – you know, like how I may or may not have found myself spread-eagled on a highway beside my car with a cop pointing a gun at me a couple weeks ago.  If you want “in” on the list, send me an email to  If I like you, you will be added.  If not, sorry about your luck.  It’s probably your name.  As you’ve probably heard, I’m fussy.


P.S. My friend, JoAnna Brandi, says I use hostile language to get people to react.  Clearly she hasn’t seen my in-box because I don’t need any more hate mail than I already get.  She is right in one regard though – I do like to bat the beehive.  Why?  Because I genuinely like to remind people that you can change any/all of the self-fulfilling prophecies you have about your business…. your life…. your relationship(s)…  your fate…  The points above?  You can fix all of them.


8 Things That Drive Your Users Bat-Sh*t Crazy

“I saw you in the gym. You’re very strong.”  He said.  “Especially for a girl.”

It was 6:11 am and the silver-haired gentleman standing outside my door was wearing a burgundy-colored, Hugh Hefner-style robe and bright white tube socks.

I made a mental note to myself that I should start staying at Hampton Inns instead of luxury hotels.  Not only is the wireless FREE — not $29.95 per flipping day — but Hampton Inns have far fewer crazy-ass people.  (They probably don’t lock their fire doors either.)

Before I could reply, he continued.  “That’s why I need you to open my ketchup.”

For the love of all things holy.

Before I could conclude if that was the worst pick-up line EVER, he thrust a teensy bottle of Heinz from his right pocket.

“I can’t get it open.”  He stammered.  “I knew you were up because I saw you walk by when they were delivering my eggs.  You really should wear shoes in public places. The world is very dirty.”

The world is very dirty said the man propositioning me to take the clear security stuff off his ketchup.  (Incidentally, what exactly do the room service guys do with those little bottles of ketchup for it to require such protective plastic?  I mean really.)

I thought about explaining (sarcastically) to him that his socks weren’t going to protect him from all the communicable carpet diseases you could get from the Mandarin Oriental but I didn’t want to give ole’ Hugh a heart attack so I just smiled and replied: “I hate those little bottles of ketchup too.  Those safety seals are impossible to open, even with a knife.  Let me show you my trick…”

Then I went to get a pen.

I took off the protective seal for him and handed him back the bottle.  “Enjoy your breakfast!”

“Thank you,” he said.  “Thank you very much.  You can always count on women to know such things.”

Great.  It’s amazing to be a girl.  If things don’t work in internet marketing for me, I can always stalk the room service staff at ritzy hotels offering to open old geezers’ ketchup.  Just call me the Condiment Prostitute.

He left and I went back to work.

Six minutes later, he was back.

“I can’t get it out.  The ketchup.  I can’t get it out of the bottle.  Can you help me?” He asked as he handed the bottle back to me.  He continued: “The knife.  It doesn’t fit in the bottle.  I tried the fork and the spoon too.  I thought about using my pen but…”

“Of course” I replied not wanting to know what kind of killer viruses pens have (they must be far worse than carpets).  I grabbed my key and headed out the door and across the hall to his room without even thinking.  (Hey, Dexter this guy was not.  Plus, didn’t you know?  I’m strong… ESPECIALLY for a girl.)

I showed him precisely how to tilt the bottle and then smack it hard on the bottom to get the ketchup out.  (Yes, I am aware that this whole story sounds like a giant euphemism – let me assure you it was not.  If I was interested in magazine publisher look-alikes, Rupert Murdoch is far more my type.)

And then I left. (Well, after we had a lengthy discussion about the Presidential Debate but that’s all together a different topic.)

That morning I told the story to the crowd at my speech.  There were about 800 people in the room and there were a lot of nods.  Perhaps the nods were the nice nods we give to people who are clearly one French Fry short of a Happy Meal but if I had to bet it’s because most of us have our very own ketchup story.  (Not a story about where we knock on random doors in our tighty-whiteys but where we can’t do something simple – like open a bottle of Heinz for our hashbrowns.)

Our websites are chock-full of things that appear super simple yet are annoying, impossible or annoyingly impossible.  Here are the top 8 that I see most often as well as ideas on how you can fix them.

Poor navigation.  This is BY FAR the biggest for users.  I’ve written about it ad nauseam.  The rule of thumb is to remember that navigation is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You get what I give you.  If I don’t give it to you, you don’t get it and you are forced to use the text search which brings me to…

Bad text search.  Look, even Google and Bing don’t get text search right.  If they did, they wouldn’t need to show you over 70,000,000 results for women’s shirts. The key with text search is to remember that the presentation of the results is more important than the results themselves.  Make sure that you’d bet your house on the first result the user sees.  You should be able to bet your car on the second.  Your phone on your third.  (Okay, for most of you reading this blog the order is likely phone, house, car.  Or maybe just first phone, second phone, tablet.)

Impossible Capchas.  The person who invented these little suckers should be known as the Modern Day Stalin and executed like Mussolini.  My feeling is that if you use these, you are lazy and need to be subjected to 24 hours of Oogielove.  (I saw it once – ironically for love of the terrorists-in-training — and I will never be the same.)  If you employ capchas it means that your IT department wants the user to solve your technical issues.  (Clue: there’s a reason why IT guys aren’t in charge of marketing.)

Useless double opt-ins.  See capchas above and multiply the number of bullets and hours used before the kill shot by six.  You know who uses the most double opt-ins?  Spammers, mailers who get high SPAM complaints and the services who attract spammers and those who get high SPAM complaints.  If you’re a legit mailer, send out a series of introductory welcome emails (with a clear way to unsubscribe) instead.  While you’re at it, develop a solid preferences center.  They are worth their weight in gold.

Slow sites.  I know.  I know. People are tired of hearing me talk about speed even more so now that your SEO says that speed doesn’t matter to Google.  Speed matters to users most in the cart, the checkout, and the search function.  It also matters a lot in chat (live and instigated), video, and mobile.  Especially mobile.

Having to search for the Buy Now/Add To Cart/Sign-Up Now buttons.  Rule of thumb: at least one BIG, BOLD, in-your-face action directive on every view.  At least two perpetual carts – preferably three – on every website page.

Hiding the D&A information.  Delivery and Availability (D&A) information should be near the pricing.  Headline, subhead, reviews, in-stock information and the pricing?  They should all be together in one neat little package.

Improper use of cookies.  Look folks, when someone puts something in their shopping cart on your site (or starts to fill out a lead form if you’re not an ecommerce site) and they come back in two hours, two days, two weeks, two months – it should still be there.  If the product is out-of-stock, use the opportunity to sell something else but whatever you do, don’t clear the carts.  The information is valuable for profiling and for sales.

Have other things you’d like to add?  Send me an email to and I’ll add it to the follow-up list of things that stress folks out in my next newsletter.  Right now, I clearly need to find someone to open my Xanax.


UPDATE: My buddy, Debra Ellis, added this one which is too appropriate to wait for the newsletter.  She says ”I would add ‘having to search for contact information’. People make it hard to find the contact information because they mistakenly think that customers want to talk to them and will make random calls or spam them with email. You and I know that customers want to place their orders and solve their problems as quickly as possible. If the site is set up to do this, few will call. If not, the calls help identify the problems.”  True that.



Faking Orgasms

The woman in Room #837 is faking an orgasm.

I know this because I’m five feet outside her door in this “luxury” Sydney hotel listening to her.  (The only thing “luxury” about this place is the amount they charge to access the internet.)

If my phone had any sort of signal, I’d find the YouTube link to the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally and play it as loudly as possible so she’d know how it was done.

But alas, I don’t have any signal.

Nor do I have any energy.

It’s at least 110 degrees in here and I’m literally melting.   (Think Wicked Witch scene at the end of Wizard of Oz but 100 times more dramatic.)

I pound on the door four more times and beg:  “Please.  Please. Open. This. Door.”  Whimper.  “Please…”

I think about offering to participate in a threesome if they’d just let me out of here but I’m not quite that desperate.   I’m still deciding if death would be better than joining the awful sex they are having.  Yes, I know.  Sex is like Chinese food.  Even if it’s bad, you still want it again anyway.  But this sounds like food-poisoning-bad sex and I’ve already lost at least six pounds from this stifling heat.

More pounding.  I feel – and look — like Fred Flintstone yelling at Wilma.

It’s 3:30 in the morning and I don’t particularly care who I wake up.  I would pull the Fire Alarm if there was one.   Hell, I’d start a fire if I could.  Anything to get me out of this flipping place.

It’s hot.  It’s dusty.  It smells like mold.   There are cigarettes strewn all over.  I’m convinced I’d see human bones of the people who’ve gotten stuck in here before me if I actually looked.  But I have neither the time nor the energy to dig for dead bodies, so I start kicking at the door with my feet instead of pounding it with my fists.


The only sounds of life are the grunts of the Neanderthal and the woman who thinks his name is God. Or Joe.  She can’t seem to decide.

I glance down at the stairs and realize what an idiot I was to take the stairs.   WHO TAKES THE STAIRS?

If I hadn’t taken the stairs, I wouldn’t be stuck.

Of course, when I hurriedly left my room and took the stairs I didn’t know that there was a difference between FIRE STAIRS and regular stairs and that ALL OF THE FIRE STAIRS WOULD BE LOCKED.

Every single level – every single exit – even the street level — locked tightly shut – just like something out of Sartre.

I didn’t know I’d be locked in the stairwell and I certainly didn’t realize I’d be stuck in Hell listening to God.  Or Joe.  Or whatever his damn name is.

I think about taking off my clothes.  By the time anyone finds me, I’ll be all bones anyway…

If I was MacGyver I could do something with my shirt and the battery of my cellphone.  Hmmm…  If only I was MacGyver or my friend, James, who is even handier than MacGyver.

I glance down at my signal-less phone to check the time.  (When I was more lucid, I calculated how long the sex would last – I even figured out a scenario if Caveboy had taken Viagra, one if he’d read the 15 minute orgasm chapter in Four Hour Body, and one if he’d done both.)

I’ve been trapped in here FOREVER.

FOREVER meaning exactly twenty one minutes.

People say time flies.  And it does.  Except when it doesn’t.  When you’re a kid waiting for Santa or when you’re an adult trying to do something – anything — that needs to be done quickly — like escaping from a stairwell or getting in and out of a lead form or checkout as fast as possible.  Then time is slower than death.

I did a seminar for Target Marketing Magazine last week and one of the things I got the most comments about afterwards is why I think user session is so important.  Over a dozen people wrote and said “nobody else seems to think it’s important like you do – who is wrong?  You or them?”   (Them.  Obviously.)

The time spent on your site has a huge influence on your success.


Because for every site there is a MAGIC amount.

There’s a time where you’re ok to be there – and then there’s that moment where everything immediately becomes not ok – and you feel like you’re trapped.

When I first walked out the fire stairwell door, everything was great.  I bounced from my floor (#6) down to the floor where the gym was (#2.)   I was looking forward to my workout (well, as much as one can look forward to a workout) and getting a jump on my morning.

Then I tried to open the door and it was locked.  I was mildly irritated but I thought “no worries, I’ll just go to floor #1 and go up the ballroom stairs instead.”

Down to #1.  Also locked.  “It’s ok, they probably lock the street level doors so no vagrants come in.” (Bad logic since the street would be a better place than this God-er-Joe-forsaken hotel.)

Up to #3. “WTF? This is really irritating.”

Up to #4. “This is beyond irritating.”

Up to #5.  “I’m going to sue someone.”

Up to #6 — the door I orginally exited from.  “I’m going to kill someone.”

Up to #7.  “I’m going to sue MANY PEOPLE and then I’m going to kill MANY MORE PEOPLE.“

Up to #8. The top floor of the hotel.  “Oh my GodJoeGod, I AM GOING TO DIE IN THIS HOTEL and I still have two hours and $25 left of Internet!  No wait.  That’s not funny.  I am REALLY GOING TO DIE HERE – alone – and nobody will find me for months – maybe years.  And it’s going to be painful and I will go crazy and I will try to eat my own body parts to survive and nobody will even watch my movie on Lifetime and oh-my-Joe, PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE. PLLLLLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEEASSSSSEEEE.”

You can laugh – but the same thing happens when people struggle with your internal text search or get trapped in your lead form captchas and wackass checkouts.

We nicely warm and then all of a sudden – POOF!  We boil!

Here’s the takeaway.  (You didn’t think you were going to get sex tips did you?)

Active User Session – the length of time someone spends on your site.  The general rule is the more they stay the more they pay.  However, there is a right amount.  So figure out how long it takes for your average transaction.

Active Average User Session – take your average user session and divide it by the number of drills.  (If you can’t track drills, look at page views.)  This will show you the average length of time the user spends per page on your site.  You’ll know in an instant if people are looking at too many pages per minute or too few based on your conversion levels.

Knowing your user session (the length of time that someone spends on your site) and your average active user session (the length of time that someone stays on your site actively), can help you figure out exactly where your boiling point is.   Once you know, you can figure out how to prevent it using triggered emails, pop-ups, instigated chat, and even telemarketing.

I’ll talk more about these metrics in a future post – but first things first, right now, if you haven’t already, you should just start tracking them.  Ok?  Ok.


P.S.  In case you’re wondering, God (aka Joe) and his chiquita never opened the door for me.   I forgive them because I’d be embarrassed about their bad sex too.  The guy on Floor #7 – whom I woke up with all my “*&^%$#@ screaming” answered the door 33 minutes later.  He was naked and let me tell you, I was way more traumatized from that particular incident than the sounds of bad sex.  Thankfully for you, there are some things that even I can’t write about.



Trespassing on Private Property….

I ignored the cruiser lights flashing behind me.

I knew why the cop was trying to pull me over but I was more interested in PR’ing the hill.  According to my Garmin I was 33 seconds ahead of my previous best time and I wanted to keep that.  It’s not often you see a blue moon.

He could wait another 2.5 minutes.

And if he couldn’t, he could get out of his damn car and chase me.  That would certainly make me run faster.

About thirty seconds later, he put the sirens on.

Not even 6 o’clock in the morning and he’s got the sirens blaring.  Luckily there were no neighbors.

I kept pounding away and glanced quickly at my watch.  I was now about 48 seconds ahead.

Ha!  The song Disrespectful randomly came on my iPod.  So appropriate.

I kept chugging away.  If the guy really wanted me to pull over he should have pulled ahead of me.  He was in the car, and I was on foot so it’s not like that move would have been all that tough.  Not to mention I’m not exactly FloJo.

I heard a muffled voice calling out over some loudspeaker thing to stop IMMEDIATELY.  For the love of all things holy, this is where my tax dollars go to?

I got to the fence – my finishing point – and stopped.  I hit the button on my watch to seal in my best-time-yet and started walking around – huffing and puffing – in a circle.

The cop got out of his car – and saddled on over.  “You’ll be deaf before you’re 30 with that music on so loud.”

Before I am 30?  Apparently he needs his vision checked.  I am hardly 20-something, I thought.

Officer Friendly went on.  “You know why I’m pulling you over?”

I wanted to say “Because you have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning?” but I bit my tongue and instead said nothing.

“You are trespassing on private property.”

Last week, I pissed off my sister-in-law, Homeland Security and some VERY VOCAL jackass at what will likely be the future Circuit City.  This week it’s a small-town cop with nothing better to do.  Reason #1235 I could never be a public servant in a small town – I’d have to go where the action is – investigating a grisly murder, not a faux-runner on a private estate.

I thought about taking him to the place where they used to grow pot plants on the property – and still do – all these years later – but instead I just smiled, remembering all the cough-illegal-cough things we used to do here and how much fun it was back in the day.

I had taken my headphones out of my ears but I hadn’t turned the music off so it was blaring at my knees.   After hearing what was playing, I realized why he thought I was fresh out of college.  My running playlist wasn’t exactly sophisticated.

“You are trespassing on private property.”   He repeated this time a bit more emphatically.  “And I will need to ticket you.”

The whole situation reminded me of watching people shop online.

When people hit lead forms and checkouts, they just want to do what they need to do and then get the Hell out.  They don’t want to pull over for anything – or anyone.  Period.

Our brains are designed for survival – to keep us alive – and lead forms and checkouts are still a little dicey in most of our heads.  You can debate this all you want but you know in your heart that we evolved to figure out what deep, dark caves not to go into and what poisonous flowers to avoid, we didn’t really evolve to figure out how to fill out forms.

So when people go online, they do just what I did with the cop – they ignore all the blaring blue lights, the sirens and the bullhorn calls of “Miss, you need to pull over.”

At some point, they get stuck – or stopped – and then it’s over.   But it’s on their terms.  Not anybody else’s.

How do you make it easier for your barreling-straight-ahead user?  Here are twelve proven things you can do:

Put the phone number (and other alternative methods to contact you) all over the place.  Don’t bury it.  No, I don’t care that Amazon doesn’t have a phone number.  You are not Amazon and you can’t afford to lose a quarter to a third of your leads/sales.  Make sure your contact information is at the top of the pages, the bottom and most importantly, in the righthand column of all forms/checkout.

Ask for the email address first.  You’re going to lose people.  It’s a fact.  People shouldn’t be shopping for Vibrams while at work.  (Hell, some people think you shouldn’t be shopping for Vibrams at all.)  When the phone rings or the boss comes in and they close the browser and pretend they’re working on a spreadsheet, you’re history.  Unless you have the email address.  Then you can email them.

Don’t ask any irrelevant questions.  I know you want to find out where they heard from you but the user?  She could not care less.  She also doesn’t want to tell you how many hours a week she spends in the garden or what her purchasing authority is.  You want to know those things, you should ask after you’ve gotten the order (on a confirmation page or in an email) or through profiling.

Make forms quick and easy to fill out.   Make them look like they are one screen.  Use lots of big action directives.  (Make sure there is one action directive on every view.)  Put the fields in vertical order.  Use temperature bars if you have more than one page.  If you know something (like the user’s email address), consider prefilling it.  You know the drill.

Lose or reduce the navigation.   If you’re an ecommerce company, chances are you shouldn’t have any navigation in the checkout.  You can (and should) test this but the majority of time, navigation is a distraction and hurts you.

Speaking of distractions, eliminate steps and/or pages that may take the user off course.  Your goal is to get a lead/order.  If you’re an ecommerce company, you may not need a View Cart page.  (Some do, some don’t, so you should test it, especially if you only sell 1-2 items per order.)  If you’re capturing inquiries, don’t put a bunch of superfluous information on the pages and stay the Hell away from Capchas.  If you have a problem with SPAM, figure it out.  Don’t make the user do your dirty work.

Use pop-ups on exit.  They’re leaving anyway.  You may as well give it one last college try.  (Hint: you should use entrance pop-ups for collecting email addresses, too.)

Make abandoned programs – for lead forms and for shopping carts – part of the program.  (There’s a lot more on abandoned carts here.)

Consider instigated chat.   It works.

Keep your cookies open indefinitely.  They’ll thank you when they come back and see that you’ve recognized them.

Minimize the legalese and disclaimers.  I don’t need to know what will happen if I order 25 of your product if I am only ordering 1.  I also don’t need to know how you handle international inquiries if you and I are both in the US.

Make the process as fast as possible.    A lot of times, companies have performance issues on things like search and checkout.  Sadly, these are the WORST places to have hang-ups.  Put more power to the areas where your users are giving you data/information.  And if you’re not good at this, use server calls (or similar techniques.)

Bottom line: if you wouldn’t bet your house on the value of something, don’t ask for it and don’t do it.



P.S. About the ticket, I’ll save the rest of the story for later.  Right now, I need to put down my phone and deal with TSA.  I guess we know what next week’s post will be about.  Heh.


My Brother Saved Obama’s Life…

So, the other day Obama did something that completely sent me over the edge.

And frankly, it made me want to kill the guy.

This isn’t a political blog and before you start yapping about whatever devil candidate you believe in, let me be clear that the party or the person isn’t the issue here – at one time or another I’ve wanted to murder people from both parties. Hell, I’ve even wanted to off people without a party. I guess you could say I’m an equal opportunity assassin. Well, potential assassin anyway. I’m still hoping to find a Slovenian to do my wet work for me.

As I went over the strategy in my head to rid the world of Evil, I thought of how I’d do it and what my defense would be. If you’ve spent more than 30 minutes with me, you probably know I have a foolproof strategy AND that unlike I’m-A-Dinner-Jacket (aka President of Iran) and his idle threats against America, my plan would work.

Then, I thought of the tiny terrorists.

The fact that the little monsters share my last name, which in cases like these is unfortunately not Smith or Brown, means their lives would be terribly impacted by a crazy auntie* who {somehow murdered} the President of the United States. So as much as, in that moment, I wanted to kill the guy, I knew I couldn’t do it because of them, which effectively means by having children who share the same last name as I do…

My brother saved Obama’s life.

Do you agree with that statement?

Yes or no?

Or do you think who/what really saved Obama’s life was…

The Secret Service? (Newsflash: they’re too busy with Colombian hookers.)

The thought of imprisonment. (I promise you flying 500,000+ miles a year, private or not, is worse than a SuperMax prison .)

Conscience? (Robert Hare’s bestseller is based on my personality type. Hint: The word “without” is in front of conscience in the title.)

Something else?

As you are contemplate your navel about the above, you’ll probably ask yourself: “What exactly is the point of all this yammering?”

Best Buy.

More irritating than Obama’s latest constitutional breach is all this talk about how Amazon is putting Best Buy out of business. Allegedly (cough, choke, cough) folks are getting in their cars and driving to Best Buy in record numbers (cough, choke, cough) only to find what they want and then come home and buy it on the internet.

We can go through all the reasons why this logic is about as likely as Biden taking a bullet for Obama (unless it’s to put it into his own gun) but suffice it to say:

The only thing putting Best Buy out of business is Best Buy.

I don’t profess to be a retail expert nor do I play one on TV so, I’m not going to wax eloquently as to why a better, more aggressive salesforce (or maybe just one that doesn’t bolt in the other direction when you walk up) would change the shape of Best Buy’s business. (Incidentally, Amazon has grown sales by 41%, 40% and 28% the past years. Best Buy’s fiscal sales growth rates have been 2%, 0% and 10%.)

What I will say is that the Best Buy website is circa 2005. (Yes, I’m being generous.)

And there are a lot (a lot a lot) of ways that it could be improved. (As an aside, this year, Best Buy hopes to grow online revenue by 15% whereas Wall Street expects Amazon to grow 30%.)

For example:

More robust entry pages. My mother, whom I’m convinced is having a torrid affair with her Geek Squad guy, gets the same entry page as I do. (To put this into perspective, my mother thinks you need scissors to cut and paste something on the computer.) Even though neither of us are gamers we both got an entry page with Max Payne today. If Best Buy was using their data (including our respective Rewards programs) they’d know exactly what to show us. Hint: it would not be Max Payne.

Better use of email, especially triggers. It’s no secret that Amazon has a VERY successful email program. Granted, they have one of the lamest abandoned cart emails I’ve ever seen but at least they mail something consistently. Instead of depending on random thrust (aka batch and blast) emails Best Buy could have an arsenal of serial triggers: EBOPP’s (emails based on past purchases), EBOSI’s (emails based on selected interest), and so on. Best Buy has all sorts of interesting information, they should do a better job of using it. It’d also be nice if they actually collected email sign-ups but that’s likely far too “aggressive” for a company that’s shutting down stores and impacting thousands.

More aggressive use of mobile. When I use the store locator on my mobile device, send (SMS/email) me coupons I can use on my next visit. The coupons should have deadlines as deadlines create urgency and cause people to focus.

Emphasize urgency. One of the BIGGEST and best advantages that a retail store has is that you can walk away with the product that very minute. You can touch it, feel it, sniff it, steal it. You don’t have to wait a day, two, or even ten. You leave with it that VERY SAME DAY. Best Buy handles the whole delivery issue in a somewhat dicey way. They are very clear – in red text (oy!) of all things – when SHIPPING IS NOT AVAILABLE. They also show you what stores have the product (great) but they’re not clickable so if you don’t actually know where the store is or it doesn’t make sense (i.e. Southcenter in Tukwila, WA doesn’t have the product I want but Tukwila, WA does – WTF?), you can’t look it up.

Be clear that users are easily confused. You know what Best Buy does when all the appropriate information hasn’t been filled in? They fade out the button. Yeah. Brilliant idea that is, she said sarcastically. Look at their mobile phone pages and figure out how you’d buy. Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you’re a marketer, which means you have a way bigger advantage over this stuff than the average bear. Can you imagine how someone who doesn’t shop online maneuvers this minefield? Me neither.

If you offer live chat, be speedy, direct and above all, collect email addresses. The only thing urgent about Best Buy’s chat now button, is the word “now” in the button itself. Plus, don’t ask me why when you click on the button (on a traditional computer) you get MOBILE CHAT but it’s sort of interesting that they only collect first name, last name and phone number. They also offer the chat button when their chat is closed. (Frustrating at best from a user perspective.)

Work your search. Search for “handheld” on the Best Buy site. Is that what you expected? A wireless internet ratio with an alarm clock? It says there are (2) handheld things on the left but there are 335 things listed at the top. Hmmmm…. How exactly does that work? In any case, I’m clear that’s probably not one of their more popular searches but go on, look up stuff on the Best Buy site. I’ll wait. You’ll find that the search results are inconsistent and often seem to lack any sort of logical prioritization. Their navigation forces you to use the text search (it’s not complete enough to find much, if anything) so the things it returns had better be good. Sadly, they’re not.

I could go on and on about things they should change but the point is that I realize that it’s sexier for folks to blame Amazon for stealing Best Buy’s business. Just like “my brother saved Obama’s life” is way more of an interesting headline than “7 things Best Buy can do to improve their business.”

The bottom line is that Best Buy really is the only thing that can save Best Buy’s business.

Blaming Amazon won’t save Best Buy’s business.

With the amount The First Lady likes to shop, it could very well be the death of Obama however.

And therein, you know part of my plan.

*I mean, according to She Who Must Not Be Named (aka my sister-in-law) their lives ARE constantly being endangered by her husband’s wackass sister, but I’ll save those stories for my personal blog.

Note: I realize that there are real people with real feelings behind Best Buy’s site. I’ve met several of them and there are a couple I’d help find jobs for tomorrow if they asked. From my perspective, the downfalls of this site are a management issue. You go to eMetrics and you see them yapping away about how good their analytics system is. Data means jack if you don’t use it to better your business.


De Da De Da De Da Do Do.

When I was first starting out in usability (walking uphill both ways to work in raging blizzards with only cardboard scraps taped to my bare feet), there weren’t any best practices or proven methods for ecommerce or lead generation sites.  Sure, there were a couple folks who professed that designing the perfect toaster was exactly the same as building the ideal website but there wasn’t anyone that I’d go all Koresh over, that’s for sure.

So, we had to figure things out for ourselves.

We got a lot of things wrong but the things we got right, we got REALLY right.  So right, in fact, that they made up for all our mistakes, errors, and just plain idiotic pontifications.  (Yes, I’ve had many.  Many being a gross understatement.)

In the early days, we’d give folks $500 to watch them shop online.  Now you have to give away free cars, luxury trips and 11 days of being married to Kim Kardashian but at the beginning — back in the Dinosaur Days – $500 was a lot of money.

Each person would have their own area — which simulated their home or office environment, depending on where we thought they did most of their browsing/shopping.

We’d give them the credit cards and let them go wild.  They could look at porn (which people seem to have no qualms of doing in public – and on videotape — I might add); buy stuff; bid on an auction; or do whatever they wanted to do with the $500.  If they didn’t spend it, they didn’t leave with it.  So if you spent $100 out of the $500, you didn’t leave with $400 in cash.  There was an incentive — and a hard deadline — to spend the money.

A high percentage of people sent free ecards.

Yes, you read that right.

Folks sent free ecards.

People would come in and instead of doing what I’d do (which is spend all the money IMMEDIATELY so I could be assured I’d get every last cent of it!), they’d go online and start sending their friends ecards about the experience.  “I’m doing this great thing!  We get $500 FREE MONEY to spend!  I wish you were here.”

After they wrote everyone, their brother, and their pug that they knew, they’d move on to something of greater importance.

They’d do things like watch HamsterDance.

De Da De Da De Da Do Do.

Over and over and over.  Like a lovesick teenager listening to a break-up song.

Fifteen minutes before the end, we’d give a signal that the time was almost up and then, and only then, would people make a mad dash to spend whatever they could of their $500.

Over sixty percent of the people had money on their credit cards when they left.  (Note to self: It was in those final moments — in the deepest, darkest hours of my career — that I lost all faith in humanity.)

Folks tell me all the time how much better the internet has gotten – and how much more evolved we are – but the truth is, things are pretty much the same.

People still abandon their carts in much-too-large percentages.

Our traffic still bounces way more than it should.

Open and clickthrough rates are still at embarrassingly low numbers.

Folks still bail immediately or a couple pages after they’ve used search, even if the search has been deemed “successful”.

Sure, we’ve gotten a little bit better about keeping people or getting them to come back but in the end, our numbers haven’t varied all that much.


Perhaps it’s because we still aren’t asking ourselves the right questions.

Are we asking for a first kiss or a f*&k?  If I don’t want to sleep with you the first time I meet you, are you asking for my number (read: email address or mobile number)?  Or are you an all-or-nothing proposition?  (Hint: if the only place you are asking a user for their email address is along the bottom of your site, your odds are as good as picking up a California Dime for a one night stand.)

Or maybe it’s because we’re still not doing the right things.

Yes, I know, Pinterest is sexy and putting up your last 10 years of catalog covers is way easier than setting up the rules to dynamically merchandise your home page but in the end what’s going to bring you the most money?  Amazon’s been dynamically changing their home page for years, what are YOU doing on yours?

Are you connecting with your customers and prospects on your terms or theirs?  Most marketers think this means “are you emailing enough?”  That’s only part of it.  (And I’m willing to bet you’re not emailing even close to the amount you should be.)  It also means… do you personalize your site to MY specific needs?  Do you show MY recently viewed items?  Do you leave MY items in the cart indefinitely?  Do you offer me suggestions on what I should buy based on things that I’ve bought before or have looked at?   Is your site designed to appease the CEO of your company or is it customized for me?   Do you use deadlines to create urgency and cause me to focus?  Do you clearly delineate your bestsellers and customer favorites or do the merchandisers use your most valuable selling space to get rid of clearance and overstock items or to push new items that they don’t even know will sell?

You get the drill.

Years later, the questions really haven’t changed.  Sadly, nor have we.

De Da De Da De Da Do Do.




Malcolm X Lied To Me….

When I was nine, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

In the book, Malcolm X gets high by taking nutmeg.

Innovative, right?

Yeah. Not. So.Much.

Malcolm X is a liar.

Nutmeg, especially ingested in very large quantities, does JACK except to make you want to vomit.Violently.

If, after adding several heaping teaspoons of nutmeg to your daily coffee, or you know, mixing it with water in a stolen shaker from your parents liquor cabinet, you feel like you are having hallucinations, it’s either the placebo effect or extreme nausea.It’s no great high.  Period.

What does this mean?

It means you can’t believe everything you read.  (And yes, Geezer, I realize I’m giving you an easy out to stop reading this and/or mock me.  So be it.)

Besides Malcolm X, who else is lying to you?  Sadly, I can’t speak about your wife, mistress or teenager but I can tell you about the top eightPinocchiosI’ve seen hanging out in the ecommerce world lately.

Deluders who tell you that conversion is the be-all and end-all of internet marketing. Conversion is a great metric when used sparingly.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I can double your conversion overnight by blocking/eliminating all your garbage traffic.  Your conversion rate will skyrocket.  Your revenues?  Not likely.  Hell, they often drop.  Conversion rates are not the primary indicator of a successful site or campaign.  

Deceivers who say that the 200% lift in conversion you’ll get from their button test will “rock your world.”  Unless you’re reading the results at the same time there’s an earthquake, this is very unlikely.Granted, a 200% lift sounds sexy until you put it into perspective and realize that the difference may only be 2 orders.   (Which from an online perspective isn’t statistically significant anyway.)  Yes, there are times when the numbers are real – and amazing – but do some digging before you don a hardhat.

Prevaricators who yap that the only reason why people abandon their carts is because they want to look for a discount coupon.  Yes, there are people who do this – especially if you give your promotion code box/field a lot of prominence.  However, it’s not the majority or primary reason.  In fact, it’s usually on par with the “I-was-shopping-at-work-and-my-boss-walked-in-so-I-quickly-closed-my-browser” rate.

Falsifiers who report that the majority of sales from your remarketing campaign are incremental. I am a big fan of remarketing and if you have an aggressive email capture system and a solid abandoned program you’ll be able to pluck off a lot of the leads, without paying someone a commission.  

Misleaders who try to convince you that you should only email your customers once a week because people hate email.  (These are usually the same folks who say that you shouldn’t use pop-ups because users hate them too.)  Internet marketing is a numbers game.  Get your ego out of the equation and do what’s right for your business.

Fibbers who tell you that mobile marketing is difficult and expensive.  Yes, there are many consultants/agencies making boatloads of cash off of mobile.  However, that doesn’t mean you need to spend that much.  Right now, there are three keys to mobile: just showing up, speed and navigation.   Not to mention you simply must have mobile-friendly emails.  Do you need to spend $100k and $5k a month for service to get good mobile results?   Only if you can’t find some swampland in Florida.

Trickster ESP’s who tell you their delivery rate is 96%.  Unless you count delivering to SPAM and trash folders as “delivered.” As an aside, these are often the same folks who tell you to split your list into openers, non-openers, clickers and non-clickers.   You know what that does?  Puts all the garbage names into one bucket so they’re easiest for the hosts to delete!

Snake oil salesmen who repeatedly ask you “what the ROI of your mother is” when you ask how much money you can expect to make from social media. You’re right to ask.  They’re not liars for saying this, they’re just idiots.  Or maybe they’ve just pounded back too much nutmeg.

The #1 thing you need to measure that nobody ever tells you about…

Last week I wrote about my inability to put together a piece of IKEA furniture.

Turns out that, based on the post, many readers had strong opinions about my intelligence (or lack thereof.)

According to exactly 38 emails, I am about as “skillful as a surgeon with the tremors. “  (And that was one of the nicer of the comments I received.  You’ve got to love those Southerners.)

What does that mean?


I got over 567 emails from that post.

So 7% of the people who wrote think I am three French fries short of a Happy Meal.

Or, to put a more positive spin on it, I’m kid-tested and mother-approved (if only) by more than 9 out of 10 of my readers.

In my book, that’s fantastic.

Perhaps I think a 93% satisfaction rate is because I have a traditional (read: offline) direct marketing background) where we’re elated with pretty much any number over 2%. 

Maybe it’s because I am just grateful for any response – good or bad. 

More likely, it’s because I know that whether or not 9 out of 10 people like me and/or my stuff doesn’t really matter if they don’t buy, quote, inquire or take some other action that will make me money at some point.

I know.  I know.  That sounds very harsh.  What about people who recommend me?  What about the journalists who subscribe and sometimes even comment.  Don’t I care about them?

A little but not as much as I care about the people who have the highest propensity to buy.

Whether you are trying to generate leads or sales, you need to measure what matters.

I’ve been doing this internet thing since before Al Gore invented it.  I’ve made many mistakes and I’ve had many scores.  Two things that I know for sure are:

  1. In most cases…  Your boss/owner will only really care about the home page.  People obsess over what their home page (and sometimes emails) look like but after that?  Not. So. Interested.
  2. In almost all cases, you’ll look at all kinds of statistics and do all kinds of reports that won’t tell you a damn thing about whether what you’re doing is right or wrong.

Measuring what matters on the web is critical.  Too often we get caught up in the wrong things – we get obsessed with social media mentions or our bounce rate, when we should be looking at our adoption to action.

What is adoption to action?  Any time a user completes a predetermined goal on your website.  (Your goal, not theirs.) 

Let’s take ecommerce for example.  Right now, everyone and their brother talks about abandoned carts.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been talking about them for over fifteen years, I get the appeal.  Abandoned cart programs are sexy and they can make you a boatload,  yachtload, fleetload, of money.   However, if you don’t get enough adoption-to-cart – meaning not enough people add stuff to their carts/baskets – isn’t that a much bigger problem?

Yeah.  It certainly is.

Adoption to action as a percentage is one of, if not THE, most telling metric you have.

Yet very few people talk about it.


Because when it comes down to it, it’s a really depressing number.   We can spin conversion numbers ten ways to Sunday to make ourselves look good but adoption to action numbers are a bit different as they’re at a more qualified root level.

How do you determine your adoption to action number(s)?

First, figure out what action(s) you want.  What your end game is.  Again, if you’re an ecommerce site, you want an order.  If you’re a service site, you likely want an inquiry/lead.  If you’re a blogger, you may want something else — people to buy your ebook…. to use your consulting services…  to +1 you in Google?  Hopefully you have more of a strategy than just being liked or plussed but… whatever you want, put that in a big box at the top of your paper.

Then figure out what you need to measure to get whatever actions you need.  If you’re an ecommerce site, you want sales/orders/revenue, thus checkouts.  So the main action you want is for people to go through your checkout.  The only reason why people would checkout is because they add something in their cart.  So, to get checkouts (or to close sales/orders), you need to get someone to adopt-to-basket.  (In other words, put something in their cart.)  So, the things you will focus on most are things that will impact a user’s ability to add something to their cart or perhaps to sign up for your emails because that’s a long-term way of getting them to adopt to cart.  (This is especially true of triggers.)

If you’re selling a service, you’ll likely want leads/inquiries.  To do that, you’ve got to get people to give you their information – whether it’s an email address or full-blown contact information.  The action you want is A LEAD.  You get leads by offering something of value to the user.  From a user perspective, when they give you their information, a “sale” is completed because there is market value to their information.  They have it.  You want it.  You give something to them to get it.

There are bazillions of ways to get leads: free newsletters, webinars, podcasts, white papers, quotes, and ask the experts, to name a few.  So, on your paper, you’ll write lead.

After you figure out what action(s) you want, look at what you need to get those action(s).  Don’t look at anything else.  Just look at the action and how you’re getting it. 

Does this process sound too simplistic to be of interest?  Absolutely.  Try it anyway.  The internet is purely a numbers game and this exercise will give you an idea of where you’re missing the most opportunities, which for me, definitely aren’t the comments questioning my intelligence especially when they start out “YOUR AN IDIOT.”

Perhaps Jackass but at least I know when to use you’re.


Exit Strategies (or why I could never get a job at IKEA)

There’s a comedian who tells a story about getting lost in a forest which he had apparently mistaken for an IKEA.  “I thought the instructions just hadn’t been stapled on to the trees yet.”

Most people, especially those who know the difference between a Phillips and a whatever-one-of-those-other-screwdrivers is called, don’t really think this joke is all that funny.

I, however, find it hilarious.

I put together a piece of IKEA furniture once.

Well, technically that’s a lie.

I bought a piece of IKEA furniture once.

It never really got put together.

I carefully opened the box. 

I gently laid out all the pieces.

Next, I took off all the A-B-C-D labels that were dotting the furniture.

It was a hassle.  They really stick those suckers on.

Then, I looked at the directions.

“Put A into B.  It should latch tightly.”

Um yeah.  About those stickers.  I looked at the little pile of them in the garbage and remember distinctively thinking “you are not so smart.”

Yes, I tried matching up the pieces of wood to the little map inside.

For about 10 seconds.

Then I went and got a Hefty Cinch Sak.

There are some things that are not worth $99.

Specifically my heart.

So what exactly does my incompetence have to do with the web, ecommerce, mobile, email, and whatever else I occasionally (yes, I am being generous here) write about?

Web users – YOUR users – are much like me.

They may be Rocket Surgeon sharp, dumber than a box of rocks, or somewhere in between but when they come to your site, they’re going to do it their way.

Then, they’re going to ask for help.  Or, you know, they’ll just throw your crap in the trash and go with pre-built find a “better company to do business with.”

The difference between me and YOUR user is that you have a good chance of saving them.  IKEA had no chance of saving me – sitting on my floor contemplating whether or not I should start taking the short bus to work – but you have a good chance of saving your users from leaving when problems arise.

What’s the best way to do this?

Exit strategies.

There are lots of different types of exit strategies.  These are the best four:

Develop an instigated chat program.  It blows me away how few companies use instigated chat.  Sure, a lot of folks have regular chat (which incidentally is almost never on when I need it) but very few companies are using instigated chat to their advantage.  Where do you start with instigated chat?  Checkout/cart and search functions are usually the best.  (If you are not an ecommerce business, start with your forms: quotes, inquiries, etc.)  Help your user in the place(s) they  are struggling the most – not only will you reduce your abandons and increase your revenues but you’ll learn what works and more important, what doesn’t, on your site.  It takes about 9-12 months to get your instigated chat formula down pat, so don’t give up on it a minute before then.  Why does it take so long?  Usually it’s because it takes that amount of time to figure out who the best “chatters” are in your company.  (Hint: they’re typically not the best phone reps but instead the people who can text message, Tweet, and so on.)

Implement a usability program, even if you just use the Google tools that are available to you.  Yes, I am a big fan of TeaLeaf.   No, not everyone can afford it – and even if you have the money to buy it, you may not have the people resources to use it.  However, there are lots and lots of other user tools available to you – check out Bryan Eisenberg’s honking big list, er, site here which includes ClickTale and Crazy Egg, two very economical packages.  Heck, if you don’t want to spend the $350 a year, use the free one provided by Google.  None of them are perfect but they will give you a solid indication of what’s happening on your site: what people are clicking on, where they are stumbling, and so on.  Plus, they’ll really help your creative team (including your artists and your copywriters) by showing what messages and art styles are the most compelling for your users to click on.

Add the phone number to your top navigation, your righthand column and the bottom navigation.  Put it all over the place in the cart/checkout and internal text search results. I’m a huge proponent of putting the phone number at least once per view, especially on your top exit pages.  Many companies are allergic to this – they think that customers shouldn’t need to call – and they’re right.  Customers shouldn’t need to call.  The reason they do is because your site sucks and they are giving you one last chance to get the order.  If you’re like most, you will get a quarter of the people on the phone.  If you don’t get a quarter or more, your website is often either terribly efficient or just plain terrible.

Utilizing effective pops.  Pops are another one of those things that marketers avoid like the plague.  Their logic is “I hate pop-ups, they’re very distracting.”  Um yeah, you bonehead, that’s why you use them.  You want to distract the user from leaving.  Pops come in all shapes and sizes.  They don’t have to be anything like the ones you see on the adult content sites.  (We all know that’s what scares you – you can’t close those suckers fast enough and you freak.  Stop looking at things you shouldn’t at work or when your wife is 10 feet away.  You’ll like pops a lot more.)  Pops can pop up or pop under.  They can come in the form of midis, catfishes, or sidewinders.  The key to good pops is killer creative.  If your creative isn’t killer, thehe pops aren’t going to work. 

What other exit strategies do you use that work?  Share them in the comments below or send me an email at

17 Proven Tips for Improving Your Abandoned Cart Email Program…

  1. Focus on “outside the envelope”  There’s a reason this is first.  If your email isn’t opened, it’s not going to convert and it can’t get opened if it’s not delivered.   Outside of the envelope things that make a difference:  the “to” address, the “from” address, the subject line (you have 24-35 characters for traditional, 12-16 for mobile) and the format..
  2. Use a series of emails, not just one.  There’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t tell me that they have an abandoned cart program, when they only have ONE email.  One email does NOT make a program.  Many consultants think three emails works best.  I’ve found that most of the “3 is the magic number” take a cut/percentage of the profits so basically they’ve found 3 is the best way to cherry pick the good names.  Personally, I’ve found that more works better.  I like to start programs with a series of 5 and I prefer that the first two (sometimes three) go out without a discount.  (Sure, you can offer 10% off or free shipping right off but why give away the margin if you don’t need to?)  The goal of your series should be to work your user through an appeal-type process (much like a church would do.)  For example: #1: Did you forget something? #2 Your cart will be emptied soon.  #3 Here’s a special offer.  #4 Here’s an extension of that special offer just for you.  #5. Last chance.  You can also intersperse your series with low stock notices and/or holiday deadline notices.  (These can be very effective if used appropriately.)
  3. Employ a sense of urgency.  Deadlines create urgency and they cause people to focus.  Even if you don’t use an offer, you should have a deadline on your abandoned cart emails.   “Only 24 hours left!”  “Offer expires 9/14 at noon.”  “We need to put this item back in inventory at 11:30 am tomorrow.”
  4. Personalize the email.  Far too many companies are still using “Dear Valued Customer.”  If that’s the ONLY thing you can use, it IS better than nothing, but first name typically doubles (or more) your clickthrough rate.
  5. Be sure not to bounce.  Personalization is important but you don’t want to scare your customers away.  “Bouncing” (which is admittedly a poor word for it) is when you freak your customers out by using too much information.  For example, “Dear Debra, we noticed that you tried to use your VISA at 4:32 this morning and got stuck on the CID field.”  That’s bouncing and unlike Tigger, it’s neither cute nor friendly to your users.
  6. Work your timing.  Timing is one of the most important elements in any trigger email program.  Figuring out when you should mail is key.  The “secret sauce” is different for every company so I recommend you test different intervals thoroughly.  Don’t know where to start?  Send out the first email two hours after your open window.   Then 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, and 5 days respectively.
  7. You’ll also want to test sending at different times of day – and be sure to keep your triggers at least two hours away (either side) from your thrusts, at least at the beginning.
  8. Individual emails work better than batched emails.  This tip is similar to #4, if you can’t send out triggers individually, batching them is better than nothing.  However, they will work better (the timing and the deliverability improve) if you send them out on a person-by-person basis.
  9. Test your offer(s).  A lot of folks default to FREE Shipping or 10% off because they’re both best practice-type offers.  So, start with those if you wish but then test against them.  You don’t always need to give away money/discounts to get people to purchase.  A large specialty food company gives away a PDF booklet of free recipes as it works better for them than a discount or free shipping.  A drugstore chain gives away access to a 90-minute webinar by two famous weight loss consultants.  You won’t know what works best for you till you try it.  (Companies who can’t/won’t give offers, should play around with the timing of their deployment and inventory or shipping deadlines.)
  10. Limit the number of links.  The goal of an abandoned cart email is to get a user to place the order so the big focus should be on the RETURN TO CART NOW BUTTONS.  From a deliverability perspective, the fewer the links (under 5) the better.
  11. Put the phone number all over the place.   Every time I see an abandoned cart email without a phone number, I want to punch someone in the face.  (My yoga breathing techniques aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.)   Who should get the smack?  The dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks-consultants who tell people that folks primarily abandon because they want a discount.  Most customers abandon because they’re either not ready to make a purchase OR they get stuck in the purchasing process.  (Stuck could mean an issue on your end or on theirs.)  MOST customers are not marketers and they don’t even know you’ll offer them a deal.  For the users in the stuck group, it’s not going to help them to go back to the place they were when they first abandoned so pushing them to the phone (or live or v-chat) may be your best solution.  Put a special 1-800# in your abandoned cart emails – it will help you better track the orders and it will allow you to develop a special troubleshooting script, if necessary.
  12. Test taking the user directly to the cart.  This may or may not work for you but if it does work, chances are it will work like gangbusters.  If nothing else, make sure that it’s clear how the user gets back into their cart and that the item(s) that they abandoned are still there.   (Carts should NEVER be cleared.  NEVER as in not in a million years.  If you’re out of the inventory, offer a substitute.)
  13. Work the preview panel.  It’s appalling how few companies work the first two inches of their email. (This applies to thrusts/blasts and triggers.)  Remember, half your users will stop reading after the first two lines of your email so make them count.  Chances are, you’ll also want a big phone number and an action button in the first view.
  14. Show thumbnails of the item(s) the user has abandoned.  Showing picture(s) of what the user abandoned will increase your clickthrough and more than likely your overall conversion.  It also typically allows you to mail your series for longer periods of time.  (For example, if your close date is normally six months, you’ll probably be able to mail 10-12 months with pictures.)  Don’t have the ability to add thumbnails?  Send out your emails anyway.  It’s better to do something than nothing.
  15. Use larger-than-life action directives.  Big, bold RETURN TO CART NOW buttons.  Use ‘em.
  16. Sign the letter from a “real” person and use a P.S.  Trigger emails don’t need to be fancy.  In fact, the more one-to-one they look, the better they usually work.  The P.S. should remind the user of the offer (if you have one) and the deadline.  If you aren’t using an offer, you still want to use a deadline (“we can only reserve the inventory for one more day”.)  Deadlines create urgency and they cause people to focus.
  17. Develop a separate program for your mobile users.  Customers who abandoned their mobile carts often need a separate program.  Most important, they need to know that their cart is shadowed on your traditional site.  And, in most cases, your timing (schedule) should be different as well.

Have any other tips you’d like to add?  Please jot them in the comments below or email them to

P.S.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that abandoned cart email programs ONLY work if you have the user’s email address.  Ask for the email address as many places as you possibly can (perpetual cart, abandoned cart pop-ups, lefthand column, top action bar, righthand column, bottom footer, rotation in carousel, and so on.)   After you have the address, you can use that space for something else.  Till then though, ask and ask AGGRESSIVELY.

Image blatantly stolen from Larry Davis, one of the most brilliant marketing minds on the planet.

This is part 5 of a 5-part series.  Part 1 can be found here.  Part 2 can be found here.  Part 3 can be found here.  Part 4 can be found here.