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Maximising Author Website Checkout Conversions

So you've got customers on your website – here's how to maximise your conversion rate.

The other week, we discussed the rising popularity of selling “direct” through your website as an author. The benefits of selling on your site instead of through a retailer are abundant. As we established, you typically get:

  • A bigger slice of royalties
  • Immediate cash payments
  • Reader contact data
  • Control over the shopping experience
  • Total flexibility in terms of what and how you sell

Some authors might argue that you won’t benefit from organic sales using this method, but we debunked that argument in the same article. Creating sales pages that attract new readers and getting them to fill their shopping cart is possible when you learn to optimise your books for search engines instead of just e-retailers.

Once you’ve crafted such pages, however, getting readers to click “buy” is only half the battle. You see, mainstream ecommerce companies run a range of data collection and payment processing functions in the background that make transacting easier and builds their customer base over time. We don’t notice them as shoppers because they make these processes virtually frictionless. Make no mistake, though, they take great care, using art and science, to convert full shopping carts into processed payments at checkout… and so should you. If you want readers to use your site over big stores, you must create an experience that’s equally smooth.

Fortunately, that’s the goal of today’s article: to help you carry your readers over that final hurdle and trade their full carts for cash. Optimising your checkout will require a multi-leg approach and lots of testing. After all, every author’s audience has different preferences. Still, the following tactics are chosen for their broad ability to work for a large cross-section of authors. Indeed, many are data-backed and are generally effective for ecommerce entrepreneurs in lots of different industries. So, rest assured that at least some will help you get your readers to transact at the checkout stage. You simply have to find out which ones work for you.

Add Perceived Value

You’d be forgiven for thinking that writing books is fun, writing sales pages is necessary, and writing checkout copy is an activity so inconsequential it’s not worth doing. After all, if readers have already pressed “buy,” the checkout page copy doesn’t matter, right? Wrong. A good checkout will further improve your direct sales revenue, sometimes by over 100%. For the sake of a few dozen words, it’s worth optimising. What’s more, it can also be an interesting creative exercise. How? One way is to look beyond the traditional request for contact and bank details and, instead, ask yourself, “How can I add even more perceived value in an interesting way?”

Appealing to human psychology helps. Instead of displaying a full cart, for instance, you could “reserve” books, merch or course slots for a limited time. Word choice is key. Supermarkets “reserve” delivery slots and hotels do it with rooms all the time, implying customers will have to find another if they don’t transact fast enough. It adds no real value but convinces shoppers to stay focused and imagine winning back the cost of their time on top of their purchase. Conversely, you could advertise a discount on your sales pages as a percentage but only deduct it from the total at checkout, creating a sense of added value even though you already advertised it.

Test Your Form Fields

A “form” is any place on a webpage where users enter data — like bank details — to upload to a server. Entrepreneurs often suggest shorter ones convert better, but is that true? Not always. Marketing research reports agree that form conversion rates don’t always correlate with the number of fields. Sure, shoppers at some sites will fill in three fields more often than four but, in some cases, four outperforms three. And 10 beats both, given the right conditions. This is because shopper expectations also affect the preferred number of fields. Ask too few questions on a form they think should be longer and they’ll lose faith in the exercise’s thoroughness.

The only way to ensure you have the best possible field combination is to test your own, both in terms of the number and field content. For instance, try asking for email addresses, home addresses and phone numbers. Then try each field alone. Don’t worry if you can’t capture as many details as you want in one transaction. When it comes to ecommerce, it’s better to capture some data and get the sale. You can always use the one contact method you have to gather more once that reader is more familiar with your brand. These days, you can use in-email forms or even SMS to keep in touch. Asking for less upfront can often generate better long-term results.

Make Paying Easy

Chance indicates that you use one method to pay for most of the things you buy. If you’ve been on the planet for a while then you might remember using cash everywhere. Nowadays, average shoppers use debit cards, credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Stripe, Klarna and even crypto wallets. As a society, we’ve never had so much choice. The problem is that good retailers must now cater for that choice because, like you, most people only use one or two, and refuse to complicate life with a third option. If a store doesn’t cater to them, they just leave forever. Hence, if you want to convert most readers at the checkout phase, you need to make paying easy.

That doesn’t mean you have to cater for all payment methods. Typically, three major ones will cover most bases:

  • A credit card form
  • PayPal integration
  • Stripe integration

You might not think the latter types will have a noticeable impact if you always pay using your card but, according to Braintree, adding just PayPal can increase conversions by up to 60%. The more options, the better. And if that isn’t enough, also offer free shipping if it’s viable for you. Research from the marketing agency NP Digital states that free shipping can increase conversions by a further 55%. It simplifies the payment process and stops shoppers baulking at the finish line when a costly shipping fee suddenly appears on the page.

Offer Guest Checkout

Selling books and products directly to readers has lots of benefits, the best being that you get to keep their data. However, what should you do for those readers who consider handing over their contact details a deal breaker? After all, maybe some want to buy your books from you but they don’t want marketing emails. Seeing your social media posts is enough in their view. In that case, if it makes sense for you, cater for them. Sure, you might miss out on some readers’ info if you offer to sell books without requiring a newsletter sign-up, but that might be worth it once you’ve weighed the data loss against the benefits of a smooth store your readers will actually use.

How? Create a guest checkout. You’ve probably experienced one yourself if you’ve ever bought Christmas gifts from an unfamiliar website. Essentially, asking for neither a name nor password, the guest checkout option requires minimal data to facilitate a transaction — usually a home address and a PayPal email address — after which the site deletes them. No marketing emails. Ever. Is a guest checkout ideal for authors? No, but it also doesn’t mean the end for your re-marketing plan. Indeed, readers could still join your email list via your back matter call-to-action after buying a book from your site. As the proverb goes, “Slowly, slowly catchy monkey.”

Use Exit Popups

Sometimes you can optimise a checkout page perfectly and a reader will still opt to close the browser tab before paying. You can’t stop them. That said… you can stall them. Admittedly, this tactic is a last-ditch effort and some readers won’t take kindly to it, but lots of ecommerce experts justify it by saying that they would never get another chance with those readers anyway so they might as well try. The tactic: an exit popup. If you don’t know the term, it essentially describes a pop-up attached to an app that tracks mouse movement. It triggers as soon as the app registers “exit intention” — i.e. your reader reaching for the “X” on the checkout tab.

Will this tactic annoy some site visitors? Yes, but disguise it as a helpful message and you’ll minimise the intrusion. It could, for example, ask your reader, “Are you leaving? Just a heads-up; you’ll lose all progress if you close this tab.” While it’s an interruption, this message isn’t too salesy. All it does is point out their potential wasted time, which will make them more likely to reconsider their decision to leave. Similarly, you could have it ask them if they want their shopping list sent to them as a wish list. If so, you’ll need their email address to make that happen. In this latter case, you’ll lose the sale but at least you’ll keep them as a contact.

You don’t need to use all these deal-closing tactics when optimising your author website’s checkout page. Instead, choose only the tactics you think will be useful for you and test them for concrete data. It might seem like a fruitless task at first but try to optimise this page with a long-term view. After all, a 10% improvement when you only sell 20 books a year through your site means only two more sales. But each enhancement compounds on the last and your thirtieth 10% could mean hundreds of extra copies a year. The more books you sell, the more readers will enter your direct sales ecosystem and the more your results will snowball.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.