Together, the ideas of relevance and clarity represent the cornerstone of successful communication between people. High-converting ecommerce stores need to have both to be effective.
Clarity means that you’re conveying your meaning in terms that can be understood by your conversation partner (or audience). Relevance simply means that what you are saying makes sense in the framework of conversation.
For example, if people around you are talking about politics, your remarks on gluten-free recipes may go unnoticed or–more likely–be seen as odd, off-putting, or out of place.
These two simple concepts, which we so easily apply to our everyday communication, are also critical in successful ecommerce messaging — and yet they’re often overlooked.
Getting your ecommerce website’s prospects and visitors to actually read and understand your offer requires that your messaging is spot-on in terms of clarity and relevance. Because if it’s not… you’re losing sales to confusion and irrelevance.
Let’s look at how to evaluate and improve your ecommerce website’s clarity and relevance, starting with a little more background on how these qualities affect conversion.
Together, clarity and relevance generate LIFT
According to WiderFunnel’s popular LIFT model, relevance and clarity are the two forces in conversion that generate lift.
The influence of relevance and clarity on the conversion process is best explained visually. Here’s how WiderFunnel founder Chris Goward represents it:
What does “clarity” mean in ecommerce?
In general, “clarity” means that that your site’s copy and content are easy to understand. This sounds like a pretty simple, easy goal, right? So easy that people frequently take clarity for granted — assuming that if they understand their own content, everyone will.
The result of such oversight is obvious to the people on the receiving end: readers/consumers.
Clarity is important because it enables your consumers to instantly grasp what you are talking about. And understanding is the key to keeping someone’s attention — which is what your website content needs to do.
You’re familiar with the “five second test,” right? Let’s do it now:
Which one of these sites passes the five second test?
One sure way to fail the five second test is to offer unclear content.
If your visitor can’t understand what your website is about the moment they arrive, they will leave, possibly never to return.
How to improve the clarity of your ecommerce website
Establish a visual hierarchy
The best way to ensure that your audience can instantly grasp your store’s concept and purpose is by employing design best practices, starting with creating a visual hierarchy.
The visual hierarchy communicates the order of importance of individual elements (e.g. images, copy, or calls to action) to the visitor immediately, without the need for explicit explanation.
For example, consider the following image:
The largest circle instantly seems more important due to its size. Manipulating the size or placement of a given element on a page can help draw visitors’ attention to that element, and increase the overall clarity of your message.
Plus, a properly established visual hierarchy requires less time and energy to understand, making it easier to maintain visitors’ attention.
To preserve the clarity of your website, aim to simplify its design. Like a properly structured visual hierarchy, simple design enables your visitors to concentrate on what matters. If your website is full of details and distractions, visitors will get lost trying to process all the stuff being thrown at them.
On the other hand, a simple website enables users to grasp a message more quickly. This is a consequence of how the brain works: the more disjointed the information, the more time it takes to process. This is why simpler sites are also naturally clearer and visually more attractive to visitors.
You can further improve your site’s clarity by using a “prototypical” design — one that matches the typical site in your category or industry. For example, if your site sells clothing, it makes sense to design it around common principles used in similar sites, since that is what visitors expect.
Appeal to the brain’s “System 1” with images
Another way to increase the clarity of your ecommerce site is to use imagery where possible. “A picture is worth 1,000 words” isn’t just a clever saying. It’s the truth, and that’s because of the way the human brain perceives reality.
According to dual process theory, the brain has two main systems of perception: System 1 and System 2.
The image above shows the difference between these two systems.
System 1 is faster and more reactive. Incidentally, it is the one that perceives images.
System 2 is the slower, more methodical, cognitive part of the brain that perceives and interprets text (also known as reading).
If something can be explained in images, people will grasp it faster and more readily than if the same thing were presented by text/copy.
Now, not everything can (or should) be presented with images. So when you do need to write copy, consider the following guidelines to keep it clear and relevant:
- Stick to the point to make sure readers stay engaged.
- Use everyday language. As they say, write for humans.
- The text should be clearly formatted; use bullet points where you can, and stick with easy-to-read fonts.
(Want to know more about writing effective ecommerce copy? Try evoking emotion in your copy.)
How to evaluate the clarity of your ecommerce site
You can evaluate the clarity of your site by asking the following questions:
- What is this website about?
- How and why is it useful to me?
- Can I understand what’s being offered?
- Is there enough detailed information about the product?
- Is there enough detailed information about the offer?
- What do I do next?
If all of these questions can be answered quickly and unambiguously by any random visitor (or better yet, a tester), congratulations! Your site is clear.
If not, go back to the drawing board and improve on any issues your tester identified.
Let’s look at an example of a website with a clear message: Booking.com.
Booking.com has a very clear homepage. It offers a simple form with a visually emphasized call to action. It also helpfully provides you ideas for trips, based on your location.
The visual hierarchy is exquisite and the greatest portion of the screen is allocated to the call to action section. All of the copy is short and to the point, offering very clear benefits. It’s all calculated to make you want to go on that trip you’ve been thinking about.
Now let’s see an example of an unclear homepage:
This is a website called Doctors Supplement Store, which apparently sells dietary supplements. Spend five seconds looking at it and try to find the call to action.
There are three elements that stick out and could be considered calls to action. One is a button labeled “Login,” which is clearly for registered users. One is asking us to “Register” (for what?) and the final, floating CTA is “Email us” (why would we want to email them?).
The page lacks any attractive or informative value proposition. It has no product images or a hero image. And nothing in their copy makes you want to click anything on the site.
Now, compare it to the homepage of another company that sells supplements:
This is the above-the-fold portion of Vitamin Shoppe’s homepage. On the first screen, you are welcomed with a coupon for $10 off every order over $50, and free shipping.
Scrolling further down, you’ll find a call to action to sign up to receive information on health and exercise, along with exclusive promotions. By joining, you can schedule regular delivery of the supplements you every day. Each call to action explains what you’ll receive if you click it.
What does “relevance” mean in ecommerce?
If clarity is what makes people stay for more than five seconds on your website, relevance is what holds their attention over the long term.
Relevance means that the content your site presents is actually related to the problem or desire with which your visitors arrive. If your content lacks relevance, no matter how clear it is, it will never maintain your visitors’ attention.
The simplest and best illustration of relevance is this:
Relevance occurs at the intersection of your visitors’ interests and your website content. The highest-performing sites increase the surface area of this intersection, and decrease the outlying surfaces.
In the context of visitors who come to your website organically or directly, you can increase relevance using various methods. The first step should be to determine your target audience and try to address them. This will increase the perception of relevance as you address their problems and offer solutions to it.
The concept of relevance is often mentioned specifically in the context of landing pages. A landing page is a page created with the intention of driving traffic (paid or not) to it. If you create a landing page, you must always make sure that its context is relevant to the ad or link you placed on, for example, AdWords.
A similar messaging tactic is to borrow the existing words of your customers, which you can find in testimonials and reviews. All ecommerce sites should provide customers with a way to post reviews, and use this “swipe” method to increase the relevance of the site copy.
Take these concepts a step further
When you’re aiming to improve your site’s clarity and relevance, it’s not enough to merely focus on whether the language of the message is understandable, and the offer is related to the prospect.
Your entire website should convey one unified message or meaning, from the copy you choose to the product photography styling. That way, you’ll maximize the impact of your message and increase your credibility in visitors’ eyes.
Plus, by performing user research and employing personas and personalization, you can match the content your site offers with the known preferences of your target audience or segment. This means that you can provide content that’s incredibly relevant to a particular customer, and get your message across clearly by using language with which that customer identifies.
At the end of the day, clarity and relevance are linchpins of your ecommerce store’s ability to sell — and they can help you create a loyal following of users who understand and identify with your brand.