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Dear CMO: Complexity does not equal engagement



It’s the latest beaten-to-death marketing term. Truth is, though, there’s a genuine need to ‘engage’ with your customer. I get it: You want to stand out. You want your customers to like you. You want them to remember you.

But do you really have to over-complicate your web sites, and your marketing campaigns, to get it?

It seems like every site I go to now has a sign in and register at the top of the page. Most also throw in ‘wish lists’ or ‘favorite articles’ or ‘personal journals’ or some kind of site-based bookmarking tool.

Adding ‘register’, ‘login’, ‘save for later’, ‘create my memory book’, ‘create wish list’, ‘build my custom collection of every page on this site that I like and whatever else we need to do to get you to like us’ buttons to the top of your web site won’t win you any friends.

All you’re doing is complicating things, and I’m already hassled, confused and multitasked to death. I’m trying to just make a damned purchase, or read an article. Get that right, and maybe I’ll bookmark your site, or subscribe.

Repeat after me:

Complexity does not equal engagement.
Complexity does not equal engagement.
Complexity does not equal engagement.

Sears is stalking me

Check out Sears.com, who I think has an otherwise clean site:

sears engagement goes nuts
Sears: Sorry, I'm not going to register

Why have all that crap up there? Keep the cart. Keep the Facebook sign-in. But…

My Profile?

Really? Sorry, but I’m not going to set up a profile so I can lovingly relive my past purchases with Sears. Nor am I going to create yet another list of things I’d like so that my relatives can ignore it and buy me socks instead.

But Sears keeps pleading with me: Register. Register. Register.

It’s like they’re hanging out on my front lawn, asking me to invite them in every time I head to work in the morning.

I’ve got a crazy idea: Remove a couple buttons. Focus on social media (which is where I’m going to bookmark and store stuff anyway) and the shopping cart. Suddenly, the page opens up. Compare the actual page (left) with the simplified version (right):

Simplified page = more whitespace = easier on the eyes

It’s like I can breathe again!

And check out Safeway, the west coast grocery store chain:

Safeway wants a long-term relationship. I want toothpaste.

You want me to register? I just want to buy some eggs.

Why you must simplify

A simpler site:

  • Has fewer links per page, which makes it a better SEO platform.
  • Converts better. I’ve never seen a site lose sales because someone removed the ‘register’ link. Just the opposite: A simpler site lets visitors zero in on the task at hand.
  • Is more agile. You can’t modify a site if every square inch is occupied by buttons and ‘features’.
  • Accelerates build-and-launch. You know the 4 weeks set aside for that custom wishlist functionality? You can chop that right out of the schedule.
  • Helps the business stay focused. How much time does your development team have to spend maintaining the registration feature?

A few easy ways to simplify without hurting ‘engagement’

  • Run a test. How many sales do you get from folks who register before checkout? Uh-huh. That’s what I thought. Remove the @#)(*[email protected] register button.
  • Only show registration when folks will use it: At checkout, or when they must register to see special content.
  • Remove any feature used by less than 5% of your users. If fewer than 5% use it, chances are it’s just clutter.
  • Trade onsite personalization for social media connection. Use Facebook Connect, Twitter sharing and other features to let folks share and bookmark content their own way.
  • Require a test and justification for any new features. That’s the opposite of most organizations, where you have to run a 10-week test to prove that no one’s registering.
  • On your next marketing campaign, don’t require customers to fill out a form to get a special deal. They’re spending money and trying your product. If that’s not enough, something’s wrong.
  • Send the web design committee on a long vacation. Build the site while they’re away.

It’s hard, I know

I know there’s nothing harder, or more scary, than removing a feature. Especially when your competitors all have the same stuff on their sites.

But you don’t beat competitors by imitating them. Look around. Listen to your customers. What do they all talk about? Information overload. Fast pace. Too many things to do at once. Too many choices.

Don’t use complexity as an engagement tactic. Try focus, simplicity and clarity. I bet you’ll come out ahead.

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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  1. Ian, I had to put my name, email and website to make this comment 🙂 Oh, well…
    At any rate, I agree. I have frequently abandoned a website when they have tried this tactic. When all I want to do is take a look, I don’t want to have to go through hoops and ladders to get there. And those times when I have taken the time to register, by the time I am done, I have lost the page I was on that required me to register. How stupid is that?
    I have no issue with registering when I want to make an actual purchase.
    The CMO should realize that the goal is to qualify a customer as actual being yours. A purchase or wish list AFTER the visitor decides on product is a far better measure of your target demographic than evaluation of every random visitor that has no use to stay. Research in visitor usage demographics would be FAR more accurate based on legitimate usage (based on repeat or committed visitors, etc). than on every visitor.
    A similar issue bugs me – Support and FAQ! http://wp.me/pWYJp-Cu
    Thanks for the good read!

  2. You are absolutely right. It’s what I call the “breathless strategy” – tell the prospect everything you could want him to know, no matter how garbled your central message becomes and make sure you drag every bit of information out of him. Companies forget that social media, web sites, and blogs are only as useful to them as they are useful to the customers/users/prospeccts. It only takes one click to leave…

  3. The problem with ecommerce sites in particular is that they are usually based on software that comes with all this fluff as standard. It actually takes MORE time and money to remove and simplify the checkout, customer creation process etc. which is why I think we see so much of it.
    I am going through this process right now in fact with an otherwise brilliant out of the box ecommerce package and have so far:
    – turned wish list off
    – removed register and gift certificate links
    – hidden all customer profile links behind a login dialogue
    – automated customer account creation by using the email address as login and generating an easy to remember customer specific password AT checkout. (this was custom development $$$)
    etc. etc.
    I really truly wonder sometimes if ecommerce developers have actually ever shopped online before.

  4. Send the web design committee on a long vacation. Build the site while they’re away.
    Spot on. When web design committee has seen so many websites that they know everything about web 2.0 – their vision is often clouded by irrational design practices. For example the register button is definitely a mood killer for eggs worth 1.99.
    There is a very thin line between necessary call to action and forcing a call to action. Sometimes we just loose track of what we really want to achieve and solely rely on how to fill this page up with everything we have got.

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