Conversion narrative: why your website storytelling needs to be done right

Aline Roux
Head of Optimisation

Conversion narrative: why your website storytelling needs to be done right

In an ideal world, no website should contain any hurdles that could discourage visitors from converting. A visitor should land on the website and browse around a little to see if what’s on offer matches their needs. Then they should proceed with whatever action can be considered a conversion (e.g.: a purchase, a donation, a form submission…).

But reality is often in stark contrast with those ideal plans. Visitors might land on your website and bounce. They might get side-tracked visiting obscure pages that you might not even remember existed. They might stall on the website and phone your customer support to get a question answered. All these potential scenarios can play a significant part when online conversion rate is lower than expected.

Why do these situations occur in the first place? They are often the result of a miscommunication between your website and its visitors. For visitors to achieve your conversion goals, you will have to pay attention to your website’s conversion narrative.

What is the conversion narrative?

The conversion narrative refers to the overall messaging conveyed by your website to trigger conversion. In other words, its overall storytelling. This encompasses what you say, at what time you say it and how you say it. The narrative relates to the story your website needs to tell, and runs in parallel to the conversion flow (which covers the journey visitors undertake on the website before they convert).  

The conversion narrative is most definitely not restricted to copy: layout and UX have as much to do with messaging as words do. Sometimes even more so when you consider that a lot of visitors actually don’t read, but rather rely on their instincts to interact with websites. For example, in a situation where there are two buttons next to each other, one for Reject and one for Accept, which one do you think should go on the left, and which one on the right? Many a time have I rejected cookies that I did not mind accepting because the Reject button was on the right, where I would have expected the Accept action to be.

It is crucial to remember that the conversion narrative always starts offsite: before visitors land on your website, something had to stir their decision to visit in the first place. Most of the time, this decision will then lead to a web search, which in turn leads to a search result or PPC ad being displayed. This whole process triggers expectations in these future visitors, and it is your website’s job to fulfil these expectations as fast and seamlessly as possible.

Why care?

If you pay no heed to your website storytelling, it is very likely your conversion rate will be low and bounce rates high. Whilst there are many factors at play in convincing a visitor to convert (e.g.: conversion flow, pricing…), failed purchases are often linked to narrative issues.

This is because the whole raison d’être of the conversion narrative is to handle visitors’ objections in the first place. The messages conveyed by your website must help visitors justify to themselves why it’s the right decision for them to be requesting something from you.

Where the journey starts: offsite

Remember that the conversion narrative starts offsite, which is why it’s important to understand where your top traffic comes from, so you can adapt your landing page messages in consequence. For example, visitors who came from a search (organic or paid) will have been presented with a snippet of copy about your website. This search result messaging must relate to what follows on the landing page.

In the example below, there is a clear narrative mismatch between the ad and the landing page: whilst the ad features a “50% off” offer, the landing page offer talks about “Buy 1, Get 1 Free”. Not quite the same thing.

In this scenario, the landing page is unlikely to match PPC visitors’ expectations, because they won’t find the offer that hooked them in the first place. This is likely to result in a high bounce rate on the page, which is wasting not only an opportunity to get a conversion, but also money on a PPC ad that is likely rendered ineffective by the landing page it links to.

I’m on the site: now what?

Once visitors have reached your website, it is crucial to make your value proposition immediately clear. Ever heard of the Squint Test? Squint your eyes and see what elements stand out on the page and in what order you notice them. Your primary messaging should ideally be located in the place(s) you noticed first. The goal of this primary messaging is to get visitors into the conversion funnel and to keep them progressing in it.

Other places on the page can be used for secondary messaging. This secondary messaging is also important, because not all visitors follow well-trodden paths. Some people need more detailed information, buying guides, social proofing, or even just to get familiar with your website overall to confirm its trustworthiness. Whilst primary messaging should be aimed at taking visitors down the fastest route to conversion, secondary messaging should address the needs of those who go sideways in their conversion journey.

There are many elements you can use to weave the story your website will tell, amongst which:

  • Copy: keep it snappy, unambiguous and ensure font formatting is used to the best highlighting effect. If copy has to be lengthy, make sure it’s easy for visitors to scan for the most salient points.
  • Layout: key messaging about your value proposition must be easily spottable on the page. Make good use of the space above the fold (desktop) or immediately visible prior to scrolling (mobile).
  • Navigation: particularly if you have a wide range of products/services on offer, a well-organised navigation feature will help you talk about areas of the site that are harder to reach from the landing page. To that regards, this area works well to display secondary messaging.
  • Imagery: choose images that are relatable to your products/services and visitors. Images must always support copy, but they also bring value of their own as visual anchors to make certain parts of the layout stand out.
  • CTAs: make visitors want to interact with these with enticing copy, colour and positioning. Bear in mind that multiple CTAs on a given page call for a thought-out hierarchy so primary CTAs stand out more than secondary CTAs.

No matter how you present your conversion narrative, the messaging should always remain consistent with user progress and avoid unnecessary repetition. There is nothing more frustrating for a visitor than to be asked to do the same thing twice in a row, or to be shown the same information throughout their conversion journey without any element of contextual personalisation added in.

A few examples in action

DO: In the example below, we have a Homepage that allows visitors to visualise the products on offer via a hero carousel whilst giving the opportunity to order via several CTAs: a generic Order Online button in the header, a contextual Order Now button on most carousel slides… The primary message focuses on ordering food, but there is a clear secondary message around loyalty with the newsletter subscription (and further down that same page, the rewards programme). Note how the newsletter CTA is hierarchised to look less prominent than the primary CTAs (different colour scheme, no copy, smaller in size). The secondary goal is present, but it’s not distracting visitors from the primary goal, which is to start ordering.

On this page, visitors can achieve this key goal of ordering food without having to scroll, because the images, simple copy and layout make the value proposition immediately clear.

DON’T: In the example below, there are serious bounce rate issues with the landing page from a social competition ad.

What’s at the root of the high bounce rate? Very likely a combination of simple factors which, put together, create a perfect storm of confusion.

First of all, the company’s logo shown in the original ad is not present at the top of the landing page. Add to this the fact that the URL used in the ad did not obviously link to a recognisable domain path for this company, the lack of logo visibility could trigger a red flag in visitors who might be scam-wary.

Another potential problem is the fact that the time-limited incentive to fill out the form currently sits out of view when the page initially loads on mobile, which somewhat dampens the impact of the urgency messaging and countdown.

Finally, the social proofing aspect of the competition is the last item on the page. Unless visitors scroll all the way down, they might not see it at all. This is a lost opportunity to convey the relatability of the competition: other people have won this before, and so could you!

The ultimate goal is objection-handling

At its most effective, a website’s conversion narrative should combat barriers to conversion even before they are being erected. If your website storytelling is done right, there should not be any doubt in the visitor’s mind that they are making the right decision in converting. Whilst remaining objective (because you want to be truthful), the narrative often needs to appeal to visitors’ subjective, emotional side (because you want to convince them).

A good conversion narrative should aid decision-making by presenting useful information at the right time and without the visitor having to look for it. This is particularly potent when it comes to objection-handling, because you are showing your visitors that you can empathise with their doubts and give them good reasons to leave those concerns behind.

Here are a few examples of objections with the corresponding narrative features that may help combat them:

How do I know I’ve succeeded?

When a majority of visitors do what you expect them to do on the website, you know that you are telling the story right. The gold standard would be for all your top traffic sources to be the best-converting whilst your landing page bounce rates decrease on these sources. This all may sound obvious, but it is not always easy to achieve if you don’t have a clear narrative strategy.

There is always a conversion narrative on any website, whether you have thought about it or not. By specifically devising a strategy for this narrative so the messages never look irrelevant or disjointed, you will help your website resonate with visitors and unlock their trust.