Why less is more when it comes to your business website

The most consistent mistake we see small business owners make when it comes to their websites - and the one we spend most energy encouraging our clients to avoid - is when they make them too complicated.

If you’re an expert in your field, or you have a big range of fantastic products, or there are a dozen edge cases of how people come to give you money - the temptation is always to cover them all off.

After all, if you present lots of choice, then you’ll get more customers because there’s more chance they’ll see the thing that appeals most to them in amongst all the other things. Right?

As it turns out, precisely wrong.

If we are faced with too much choice, the studies suggest we tend to choose nothing. We get choice paralysis. Think that by including every possible variation of what you do on one page, your potential customer will spot the one that’s just right for them? More likely, they will scan the page and see much less of it at all, and then they’ll leave. And just think about your own behaviour when you’re on somebody else’s site because you have a casual interest, rather than a predefined desperate need for something. Is that how you behave? Really?

The principle has been shown time and time again. The seminal study with varieties of jam, that showed that when only 6 varieties were offered, 10 times more people bought jam at all than when they were offered 24 varieties.

And it’s a key part of Apple’s history that when Apple was failing its customers, having lost its way, and was offering multiple computers with large numbers of options, Steve Jobs turned it around by scrapping most of those products and offering just four. An entry-level computer, and a pro-level computer, an entry-level laptop and a pro-level laptop. And that suddenly made it so much simpler for customers to understand what it was they needed.

When it comes to your website (and, by the way, your marketing emails) simplicity pays.

Every page should have precisely one call to action. Lots of companies don’t have even one on their home page - they clutter them with lots of bits of information and there is no clue as to what the desired next action from the visitor actually is. If you can be clear about the action you want your visitor to take, you can then be clear about what information to strip from the page because it is distracting and irrelevant to the process of encouraging that next action.

Small business find this tricky for a number of reasons:

  1. They can’t bring themselves to focus on one call to action, because they are taken up with all the edge-use cases that they have in their customer base, and they think it will be more effective to cater for all of them. But it’s really not if by adding in all the possible variations on edge use cases, you substantially weaken the power of your call to action to the 80% majority that constitute your core customer base.
  2. They believe people are paying close attention, so if you can mention their specific interest somewhere in a lengthy text, towards the end if it’s just an edge use case, then “at least it’s there and people will know”. No, they won’t know. The vast majority won’t ready your lengthy tome. They’re too busy. They’re scanning to see what they want to know. And your edge use cases gave up long before they got to the bottom, because what they saw wasn’t aimed at them. 
  3. They can’t step out of their specialist knowledge and write copy that simplifies the choices in terms that will appeal to the visitor. This applies to small business websites as much as it does other types of websites, for instance those that are aimed at encouraging people to get involved in a charity or a cause. People who live with the detail, who know that the detail matters at one level, won’t be easily persuadable that the precision of complex language should be given up at the earliest stages of creating a powerful emotional connection.
  4. They ignore what we already know about what persuades people. Why do the sophisticated companies, the ones that do lots of testing on responses to variants of their design and copy, consistently come up with simpler designs, and tricks and techniques to make decisions easier? Do they have lots of categories? Well, maybe they make things simpler by having a “people who looked at this, bought these” type section. They know that we’re very influenced by the social proof of what others do. So they pull those choices out, and make them immediately visible. Just to present the most relevant options, and provide them in a framework we find really persuasive. And remember, we make far more decisions based on emotional responses than we do based on analytical data - eg. on the mix of features and prices. 
  5. They create visual clutter, thinking that this makes the page more interesting and engaging. Having one or two powerful images can make a difference. They can engage the visitor, illustrate a concept, even build trust. But have too many and your calls to action simply get lost.
  6. Bigger organisations design their website around their organisational structure, rather than the interests of their customers. Every department needs “its” part of the website. Needless to say, this is a huge fail unless your organisational structure so precisely maps to your customer’s brain that there is no difference. And, no - that’s not the case. Stop kidding yourself.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that will solve itself any time soon. People will look at a professional web design and then begin the process of adding - more words, more menu options, more choices. They can’t help themselves.

That’s an opportunity for you. Create your website with clear calls to action, just enough compelling copy and visuals to support those, and with a tight email marketing strategy on the same principles - and you will likely stand out from the rest and make your digital presence work that much harder for you.

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