Is Your Site Foreign To Visitors? How To Present A Tourist-Friendly Experience

You’re being tested. Right now. You’re being probed and compared and measured and documented. Would you like to know your results?

Like visitors to a foreign city, your Web visitors are looking for something familiar.

Like visitors to a foreign city, your Web visitors are looking for something familiar.

Having spent the past week in two foreign (to me, at least) cities — Frankfurt and Stockholm — I’ve tackled the challenges they presented with a mix of science and creative abandon. I’ve been finding my way through these marvelous cities alone, most of the time.

I needed very much the same sorts of things in both places — food, travel and novelty items for my kids. However, one city was “easier” than the other when it came to accomplishing these tasks.

The people of Stockholm spoke amazing English with an American accent. (I’m told this is because the Swedes grew up on American cop shows of the 70s and 80s. Thanks, Kojak, Baretta and Magnum.) Additionally, most signs throughout the city were in both Swedish and English. In other words, one city tested better than the other for me.

Visitors coming to your website may not be coming from another culture, but they do approach new websites similarly. They, like all of us, are natural scientists. They start with a goal, develop a hypothesis and test that hypothesis.

Their lab is your website. How are you doing in their tests? This has important implications for the success of the strange little city you call your website. Let’s look at the hypotheses people develop when visiting your unique cultural experience.

Hypothesis 1: Things Work Here Like Other Places I’ve Been

After arriving in Frankfurt, I traveled to my hotel and checked in. I was directed to the elevators and began looking for the traditional up down buttons usually located between elevator doors. They weren’t there. So I began testing.

Option 1: Press buttons on the keypad located near the elevators. Your visitors are often going to test your site with a “hunt until defeated” approach. If you offer novel navigation tools, like icons, rotating banners or fly-out menus, you may not be doing your visitors a favor. For me, pressing buttons on the keypad didn’t work. It turned out that I needed to swipe my card across it to activate the keypad.

Is your navigation drivng visitors to "take the stairs?"

Is your navigation driving visitors to “take the stairs”?

Option 2: Find the stairway. If your visitors are using your site search box or visiting your sitemap page, you may be seeing this “try the stairs” behavior. I was going up 22 floors, so this wasn’t an option. The stairs proved to be the right option for my hotel in Stockholm, however, as I was only on the sixth floor.

Option 3: Check out and find another hotel. This wasn’t really an option for me, but on your website, it is an easy choice to make.

Option 4: Stand there until someone else comes along and watch what they do. This worked for me, though I was impatient to get up to my room. This is a common option on e-commerce websites and is usually implemented as ratings and reviews. Asking someone for help was the last thing I was going to do because I didn’t speak the language and don’t want Frankfurters to think all Americans are stupid — just me.

This is the great fear of your visitors, too. “Will I feel stupid if I try something or make a call?” If you make us feel stupid, we will run away. You know you’re not passing the test if you have a high abandonment rate on your forms and shopping cart. It means you’re not giving the visitors the experience they want.

Hypothesis 2: The Cost Of Trying Things Is Worth The Potential Gain

Every test has its cost. I know that I can get around most easily by simply taking the cab. However, I like the “game” of getting around inexpensively, though there is a cost of trying the subway, especially if I’m due for a meeting or presentation.

Option 1: Take the proven way and lose all chances of saving time or money. The proven way is often to go to the site you know has the product you want. is the great default purchase location. For you to keep me on your site, you must provide a real benefit. Can you save me money or promise me something more quickly? For me, the proven option (taking a cab) will most likely guarantee my arrival on time.

Option 2: Take a different way and perhaps save time and money. The train or subway will save me the most in actual fare, and I’ll gain a new freedom to move about the city. If your website seeks to offer an alternative, “being unique” is simply introducing risk — it isn’t enough of a benefit in itself. You have to offer a strong value proposition beyond just saving money.

Option 3: Walk. Walking means seeing more of the city. It means finding places where I may want to eat or shop. You may find people willing to walk around on your site if you make it an experience.

I used the example of Betabrand in my presentations here in Frankfurt and Stockholm. They have found a voice for their online brand and offer new experiences as they sell their “Cordarounds,” “Pin-striped Hoodies,” and “Dress Pant Sweatpants.” Does it work? Well, it’s generated 432% growth over three years, 25 customer-submitted videos each day, and 220,000 backlinks to Betabrand’s “Bike to Work Pants” product page.

Does your site entice people to walk? You know you’re worth the cost if your buyers (or new leads) are spending time on the site before acting. How many pages do they visit on average? How much time do they spend? Pull these stats for your buyers — those that take action — to see if they are the “get it quick” type. You may be missing some experimenters and walkers.

Hypothesis 3: I Will Be Able To Communicate With These People

Each cab driver, every waitress and each store clerk participates in my communication test. I’ll tell you that for me, Stockholm wins over Frankfurt –though English is spoken by most people in both of these cities, the Swedish version is more natural and easier to understand. They often sound like Americans in Stockholm.

Are you speaking your language or the language of your visitors?

Are you speaking your language or the language of your visitors?

Option 1: Hover around and see if they speak English to others. The way you write on your website will tell your visitors if you speak their language (and if they can get past your “accent”). Your site speaks with an “accent” when:

  • You use industry jargon on your pages
  • You litter the top of your product pages with stock numbers, SKUs or model numbers
  • Your sentences exceed 15 words and your adjectives exceed 4 syllables
  • You talk about yourself incessantly

Think about the way you simplify your speech when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t speak your language natively. You make it easier for them to translate what you’re saying. Likewise, try simplicity when speaking to your website visitors. They are all non-native speakers, after all. And shouting doesn’t help.

Option 2: Assume they speak English. This only works because, in real life, I can see the faces of the people I’m talking to. We expect a smile and a nod and some form of “Hallo!” If I see a blank stare, my tendency is to excuse myself to find someone else to try. Your visitors are looking for clues that you speak their language as well. Captions on images can help. Labels on icons can help. Conversational copy may help. Not burying important information on the site is priceless.

Option 3: Only travel with someone who speaks both languages. This is a great way to explore a new city in a strange land. Your website visitors do it, too. We often find translators for us on social media. I can’t tell you how many times someone has shared a link to one of my stories on Twitter and made me wish that I had used that as my headline.

I’m a pretty good writer, but the social translators out there are kicking my ass. When I visit a city, I find myself returning to those stores, cafes and attractions where I know people will understand me. Your site visitors are going to act similarly. You know you’re speaking your visitors’ language when your bounce rates are dropping, when your content gets shared on social media, and when the percentage of return visitors is going up.

Let Them Have Their Options

Your visitors need to have options. Be ready for them.

  • Give them something to do when they arrive at your site. And make it sound valuable.
  • Don’t punish mistakes with snippy 404 pages and brusque error messages on forms.
  • Speak their language by having your own voice. It’s not imperative that you speak to everyone. It’s more imperative that you speak in your own voice.
  • Don’t offer too many options. Just because they test options doesn’t mean you should paralyze them with choices.
  • Do the translation for them. Calculate the shipping date. Give them the total with tax.
  • Give them someone to ask. Ratings, reviews and testimonials can be very helpful to new visitors to your site. Social media on your site is a double-edged sword. Use social opinion carefully lest they run away to Facebook.
  • Know your results. All of the things I talk about here are available from your analytics package. Get to know your reports.

Sources: San Francisco Business Times: Clothier Betabrand racks up sales with quirky apparel. Photo credit: Brian Massey. Thanks to @BartS for pointing.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Analytics & Marketing Column | Channel: Analytics | How To Guides | How To Guides: Marketing Analytics


About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

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  • Tom Bowen

    Great post Brian. And I agree that one of the great things about Stockholm (for an American anyway) is how well people there speak English. For a website, it’s critical that you put thought into who you expect, and want, coming to your site so that you can frame your copy toward them and their needs.


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