When it comes to optimizing your Web site, don't forget to test the obvious first

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We've been told this a million times: Complicated questions require complicated answers. The seemingly obvious answers are only there to misguide us. They are there to trick us into picking them, and they should be eliminated right off the bat.

This is not always the case. Web site optimization is different. Shed the habit of not testing things that seem too good to be true. With the ability to create limitless versions of your pages, you must always test the seemingly obvious. Here are some guidelines to follow:

Visitors only see things that are noticeable and stand out

Stop signs are red for a reason. They are also octagonal for a reason. Not only can they be easily seen by drivers driving towards them, but drivers facing the back of the sign can also identify that oncoming drivers have a stop sign. This prevents confusion.

There's a great lesson to learn here. On your page, make your submit buttons noticeable enough so that if visitors are preoccupied they will still be able to identify the submit and click. If visitors can't easily see the submit button, they won't click it. People are lazy. And, no, they won't search for it.

Make the button larger, more visible. Maybe even make it a unique shape. Turn a text link into a button. Try changing the button into a brighter color.

In a recent study for a large financial institution, it was found that simply changing the submit button from blue to a more noticeable bright orange made a difference. Conversion increased by 8.1 percent.

Visitors like being happy

We all want to feel like we got a good deal. It makes us smile. Our endorphins start flowing. We add the site to our favorites and convince our friends to do the same. When people come to your page, make them feel good about their decision to make a purchase on your site.

How? Highlight how much money they saved. Wave it in their face. Give them a badge: "Great Savings, Mr. Smith!"

Emphasize the important, good-feeling-inducing things by de-emphasizing aspects of your page that are not as exciting. Try removing noise and clutter around the area that has the benefit you want to highlight for your buyers.

For one popular e-commerce site, emphasizing a low shipping price by graying the surrounding area appeared to have a positive effect. The version that more clearly showcased it seemed to do the best.

Some sites are clogged up with so many "benefits" they hide the true differentiator between them and their competition. Be sure to choose a feature that will set your product or service apart from your competition. Make that offer the most prominent on the page.

Visitors like predictability

Everyone likes predictability. On the Web, predictability is thankfully an easy thing to establish, particularly in a sign-up form, join form or any similar process. Simply tell visitors what to expect. Spell it out right there on the page.

For instance, adding "in two minutes" to "Get your free profile" increased conversion to the thank-you page in a recent experiment by 5.2 percent.

Visitors like to know how much time they will be committing to the process. In this example, they knew that they would need to put in only two minutes to get their profile created and start online dating. The more predictability and transparency built in to the process the easier it is for users to commit their time.

In another study with eBates, a leading source for finding discounts online, stating a 15-second enrollment time in the form header resulted in a significant improvement of visitors submitting the form. Of course, the super speedy sign-up time also works in the site's favor. However, it's the predictability of the process that is bringing the positive effect.

If you deal with a Web site, testing should be at the forefront of your mind. It's the only way to know for sure what will work and what won't. Don't get overwhelmed. Start out with the basics. Then take it from there. You'd be surprised how much you learn from testing simple things.

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