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The path to sale

Your website can be your strongest sales force, or the nemesis of your bottom line. Our copywriter, Rachel, takes a look at the pitfalls and possibilities of the path to sale.

Online sales are massive. As the high street declines, the web has surged forward, offering a speedy, easy and convenient way to shop with businesses that get it right. But how do you get it right?

Planning your route

As with any journey, it’s a good idea to plan your route. Taking time to map out the possible directions your customers may take will help you avoid dead ends and wrong turnings.

For a website the best way to do this is with wireframes. These are mock ups of your web pages which can be made to show the intended routes and different options. By putting them in the order you plan to use them and following the journey you can test the path to sale before a single line of code gets written.

Unlike a website, wireframes are easy to edit and reorder, so it’s best to make sure you’re happy with them before the developers start their work.
 You could even try them with a group of test users.

The shop window

Every web page can act as a shop window, enticing customers with good pictures, calls to action and strong copy.

Like a physical shop, the display should include the products you sell arranged neatly, showing how they can be used with clear price labels and some white space in between.

Sometimes these shop windows go bad – very bad.

A classic example of a bad shop window is Yvette’s Bridal Formal. The bright colours and cluttered design may attract attention but they’re unlikely to make a good impression. I would be scared to place an order with Yvette’s.

Managing expectations

Part of your window dressing involves managing customer expectations. What do they need to know? What are they likely to want to do on your site?
Clear navigation and sensible page names will help your customers avoid the frustration of not finding what they need. Try to think about it from your customers’ point of view, rather than using jargon or internal processes to shape the structure. Again, it’s a really good idea to test this with a select user group.

This hair and beauty site ( is an example of how this can go wrong. If I select the Hair or Beauty page I don’t get a full menu with prices, which is what most customers would want to know. Instead I must go to the separate Hair Selection or Beauty Selection pages to find that information. What is the point of having four pages when two would be better?

Things that work

It may seem obvious but customers like websites that actually do what they’re supposed to. If a link is broken, or takes me to the homepage instead of the product or contact page as promised, I won’t be impressed and the sale will be lost.

Extensive testing is required using different browsers and devices to make sure silly errors don’t deprive your business of sales.

If there is a technical flaw in the sales process, a perfect site structure and attractive design will not save you.

Being accessible

Contact details can appear in multiple places and don’t necessarily need to be relegated to a single page. If you have a ‘contact’ link in your navigation make sure it goes to a full list of your contact details with your preferred option listed first.

A link that opens an email is less likely to be what your customer is actually searching for. If you want to include the auto email option on your contact page, or elsewhere on your site, make sure it’s obvious that this is what the link does. An address, telephone number, and contact form are useful to support your online sales or booking system.

Smart copy

If I’m buying a pair of jeans, the pictures can do the talking and I don’t need a load of long copy explaining what a pair of jeans is or describing the shade of blue. I can see the colour and I’m familiar with the concept of jeans.

When it comes to less familiar purchases, such as a spa treatment, I’d like to understand exactly what’s involved and why I should spend my money with one spa over another. The wrong tone of voice, typos and a lack of relevant information will be a big turn off for potential customers.

Think about what you’re selling and imagine what your customers might want to know. Then make sure it’s written and proofread carefully.

Tracking and measuring

Everyone can have an opinion about what makes a good sales path or call to action. Thankfully you can use tracking and measuring tools to find out what’s good for customers so you don’t have to rely on what the boss or your shareholders think.

Use different URLs for tracking purposes, add your site to Google Analytics, and check your data carefully to see how people are using your site and what attracts them to it.


The sales path is not as simple as it sounds. Doing the right research and having the right team on board can make a big difference to your company’s growth. You may be an expert in your business but how much do you understand about what drives internet sales? A good web team and copywriter are essential to getting the best from your ecommerce.

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Easy content management with Umbraco

Rachel, our copywriter, explains why you don’t have to be a technical whizz to update web copy and add new pages to a site.

Imagine if every little change had to be made by a developer or designer at an external company – correcting a simple typo could take a lot longer, and cost a lot more, than if that typo could be quickly changed by someone within the same company.

At Firehoop we often use Umbraco to create websites that are easy for our clients to update with fresh content, such as blog posts, new product pages and special offers.

The basics of using Umbraco for content updates

Umbraco is separated into different sections for technical and non-technical purposes. This means a non-technical person can update the content without worrying about how it might affect the function or look of the site.
Text can be pasted directly from Word and edited in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) screen.

Images and files, such as PDFs, can be stored in the media section, and easily inserted or linked to within the content.

New pages can be added by selecting the correct section and template type. As long as your development team have created the templates you want, it’s simple to put in news, blog posts, or even new product pages.

Securing permissions

Umbraco allows us to set different permissions for users. This ensures your HR department can’t fiddle with the code and it can also guarantee your accountant won’t accidentally post something on the sales team intranet section.

This keeps your site secure and can avert some embarrassing errors.

Freedom of choice

Using Umbraco doesn’t limit you to a pre-determined design or template. Your site can still look exactly how you want. It’s also handy that Umbraco is an open source product, which means it can be supported by a range of web companies so you won’t be forced to stay with the same team if it no longer suits.

Our CMS of choice

Umbraco is our preferred CMS and we’ve used it a lot to give our clients good value. Its flexibility and simplicity for non-technical users are powerful plus points.

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Keeping up with the internet evolution

Our copywriter, Rachel, discusses the need for a fresh look at older websites.

What’s almost as bad as having no website? It’s having an out of date website with opening hours from 2011, styling from 2005, and a contact or booking form that doesn’t work on mobile devices.

At one time it was enough to have any old web page. Nobody expected anything fancy and mobile access wasn’t an issue because there were no smartphones or tablets. Even out of date content could be excused because, hey, websites were harder to update back then.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the web has come a long way since its inception and you can no longer claim to be modern simply because you have a page there. If your site hasn’t moved with the times you’re not making the best use of the internet’s marketing potential either.

My internet usage is not unusual. I use it to plan holiday itineraries, book accommodation, purchase books, clothes and vouchers, make hairdresser appointments, locate good cafés and restaurants to visit... In fact, most of my time on the internet involves spending money or planning to spend money. If I’m at home (which is most of the time now that I have a baby to look after and only work two afternoons a week) then I’m browsing from my iPhone or iPad.

In 2013 I don’t want to plan my holiday based on 2011 opening hours and prices. I don’t want to wait for 9am so I can call my hairdresser to book an appointment either – I want to do it online, on the sofa, while I feed my daughter or watch Endeavour. I also don’t want to come across a site that was designed before anyone had even heard of ‘user experience’. I want to be able to find information quickly and easily.

Your website is a reflection of your business. It should accurately depict what you offer with the grace and elegance that assures visitors of your professionalism and quality.

Most businesses grow and change overtime. If your business has continued to evolve since your website was created, did your website evolve to match?
I have seen so many websites that look old and tired, or that simply haven’t kept up with new information and technology, and it’s a shame because they’re missing out. They should be useful and beautiful marketing tools but they become jokes instead.

When I worked in a bank we were told to ask customers with old or basic accounts if they would like a review. The idea was that their lifestyles may have changed and they might benefit from a different type of account, such as an ISA or specialised current account. The same process is necessary with websites. If yours is a few years old then a review might be helpful.
How easy is it to update your content?

Older sites are often managed by the web company that built them, leaving the owner company at a disadvantage if content updates are needed. It’s usually quicker and easier to make your own changes to the content, as long as the website is built using a content management system (CMS) that’s easy to understand, such as Umbraco.

Out of date information will always have a negative impact on your public image and it can affect your sales too. How can I possibly buy those jeans if they’re not listed on your site?

If content updates are a nightmare, ask your web team to give you more control. This may mean a rebuild but then you’ll have the opportunity to make lots of other improvements too.

Does your site work with mobile devices?

Tablets and smartphones are continuing their market penetration and if your website doesn’t work, or looks wonky on anything other than my desktop then I’ll be much less likely to enjoy the experience. Even worse, I might not be able to place an order or make a booking. If that happens I’ll go to one of your competitors.

You don’t need a site specific to each device. A responsive design will fit the many different screen sizes and a good web designer can figure out the best way to do this for you. That way, when you come to make content updates, you only need to do it in one place.

Is your site easy to use?

This is a tough one to answer when you don’t have the perspective of someone exterior to your business. Like an author who cannot spot their own typos, a business stakeholder may fail to realise that customers can’t find what they’re looking for.

This issue concerns the content as well as the layout, font, images and colour scheme.

It’s a good idea to check with someone who understands usability, such as a good web designer. You could also commission a usability testing session.

All about the money

It’s a shame to see web maintenance ignored or given a tight budget in deference to print or TV marketing which has such limited appeal by comparison. No one should create a website only to forget about it. With a little nurturing they can give you great returns and create the right public image for your brand.

Don’t be associated with something that’s old and tired – unless that really does reflect your business?

How to make a better impression with your published content

Rachel considers the difference a good proofreader can make.

Why do we write? We write because we have a message to convey. We write to be read. We write to win business, to share market research, to get our company noticed...

In each case we need to make a good impression and we need to be understood. So why do so many people write business documents and articles without getting them professionally proofread? It’s like turning up for a job interview with a stained shirt and only one shoe. Your perceived lack of attention to detail automatically lowers everyone’s opinion of you and whatever it is you have to say. When you write and get published on behalf of your company, it’s not just your name and reputation that gets damaged.

Being clear

Writing something that can’t be understood is a waste of time. It wastes your time when you’re writing it and it wastes the time of whoever has to read it and work out what you’re talking about.
Sometimes sentences just don’t make sense. It may be that you’ve accidentally added a contradiction or used a cliché in the wrong context.
The following example is from a regional magazine.

“This treatment not only dramatically improves the appearance of stretch marks and scars but it reduces the fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, uneven skin tone and the overall skin appearance.”

Hmm, do they actually mean it ‘reduces the overall skin appearance’? I suspect not.

I understand that authors may struggle to spot these problems. For them the message is already clear in their minds but this is not the case for their readers.

Common errors that affect clarity

Bad spelling

Most writing is done on computers where we have automatic spell checkers, and yet, people are still making basic spelling errors and not correcting them.

You may have to click a button to make your writing program work its magic with the spell checker, or it might highlight mistakes without any prompting.
Take a moment to check what’s been highlighted and look at the suggested spellings if you think it’s a genuine error. It will help you avoid publishing things like this as part of a large, error-filled article on a prominent website.

“I mean work for it in a more profund sense”

If you know you struggle with spelling, or it’s a particularly important email or document, have a colleague check it for you.

Typos and cut and paste errors

I’m sure we’ve all written ‘you’ instead of ‘your’ or left in a word that no longer makes sense after some cut and paste editing. The words may be correctly spelled but if they’re out of place it’ll create a jarring point in your text that will disrupt the reader’s flow and distract them from what you’re trying to say. These mistakes are easy to make and easy to miss if you only rely on your software’s spell check facility to review your work.

Mixed up homophones

These are words that sound the same or very similar but have different spellings. Examples include ‘illicit’ and ‘elicit’, ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’, ‘to’, ‘two’, and ‘too’.

Once again, your spell checker won’t necessarily come to the rescue. With homophones it should be possible for the reader to work out what you mean, but wouldn’t it be better if you wrote it correctly in the first place?
How these errors occur

Sometimes people make mistakes because they’re typing in a hurry or they’ve forgotten what they learned in their English classes. Sometimes there are other problems.


If you have dyslexia it’s going to be hard to proofread your own work. The trouble is anyone else who reads what you write won’t necessarily know why your writing contains errors. They might make the mistake of thinking you’re uneducated or aren’t conscientious. Getting important documents checked by a proofreader is the best way to avoid this misapprehension.
English isn’t your first language

If English isn’t your mother tongue it will be easy for you to give the same mistaken impression as dyslexic writers. The English language and its usage isn’t always straight forward so it’s no surprise that non-native speakers will make spelling mistakes, choose the wrong words and miss those errors when checking their own work. Again, a professional proofreader is a good idea for those important documents and articles.
Eyes down

The answer to all these problems is careful proofreading. In many cases the author will not be the best person to review their work so it pays to get a professional to help. For work that you want to publish, or important documents that will be sent to customers, it is essential to have them proofed by someone competent.
A little extra care with your written communications could make a big difference to your company’s reputation and bottom line. Isn’t it worth a few extra pounds to protect your brand?

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The mobile web is dead

Emily discusses the myth of the mobile web and how we need to move away from the concept of devices.

‘The Mobile Web’ is an outdated concept. It was born out of bygone days when our devices were slow and we maintained separate versions of our websites.

Nowadays our mobile devices are often as speedy as our desktop computers at rendering websites and the browsers are just as capable. What is a computer anyway? Now we access the internet through our TV, phone, tablet, games console and laptop.

The new Windows phone comes with IE10 which uses the same rendering engine as desktops. So, it’s just a matter of your connection, and 4G is faster than a lot of home broadband.

So, the mobile web is just the web, right? Do you think of it as anything else just because you’re not sat behind a desk?

There is no mobile internet

Marek Wolski wrote There is No Mobile Internet! where he tells us to stop thinking about the internet in the context of devices. He goes on to explain that we need to create communications that work everywhere, requesting a ‘One Web’ experience.

The article quotes some interesting stats which show that the majority of smartphone browsing is now done at home. So, that dispels the myth that mobile web is all about quick, snack-sized, location-based digests. People aren’t necessarily on the move when they’re browsing on mobile devices - indeed they may not even be out at all. 

I do my weekly online shop on my mobile. That’s not using an app, or even a mobile optimized version of the site. It’s just the desktop version on my phone.

This is probably a lengthier, more painful experience, but that’s not enough to put me off. It’s my choice because it’s the device closest to me and therefore more convenient for me.

As consumers we will persevere to get to the information we want. How often have you clicked out of a mobile version of a site back to full desktop because you know the information is being hidden from you?

So, from a web design point of view, should we really still be scaling down to mobile? Or should we start here and scale up? If we can laser off the superfluous stuff for smaller screens, why clutter the larger ones?

Boil, simmer, reduce...

Minimalist design theories have been around for some time.  Back in 2010, I heard Brendan Dawes talk at dConstruct about his three step process: Boil, Simmer, Reduce.This is a process that strips away the unnecessary fluff until you’re left with what’s purely functional (save for the odd thing to surprise and delight).

If we apply this thinking to web design today, there’s a compelling reason to start with mobile and scale up. The necessary time is put in upfront into considering all the possibilities and information before removing things to the point where there’s nothing left to take away. Isn't that what we do for mobile, only in reverse?

Here’s an audio of Brendan’s talk which is well worth downloading:

In summary

With the responsive web, there’s now no excuse to provide mobile users with a lesser experience. Really, any new site should be built this way by default. Yes, there’s more up-front development time but in the long run, you don’t have to maintain multiple websites for different sized screens.

You can’t determine what device people will use. And you can’t predict how people will find you. You also can't use an older audience as an excuse to discount mobile. My mum is retired and spends more time on her Nexus 7 and iPod than I do. She’s also not app shy. She uses Skype, Pinterest, Facebook, Words with Friends, even Hill Climb Racing! You name it, she’s got it.

If you are using offline media to push traffic to your site, ensure you use appropriate tracking. Vanity URLs or unique QR codes are a good idea. But keep in mind that users don’t always take the cow path, and will find you in a multitude of ways – some of which will probably surprise you.

People will use whatever device is closest and most convenient to them to access your content. And, you can’t predict the journey of how they’ll get there. It’s likely not to be as simple as ‘leaflet drop to desktop’. 

Most people will start in a search engine or from a shared link. Even if someone has seen your offline media, the chances are it wasn't natural for them to make the leap to online at that particular moment. 

If you’re lucky, they’ll remember you and then search for you later (on whatever device is closest to hand).

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Content Marketing done correctly should increase your sales. Great article by +Thomas Baekdal ^Emily

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We are all insanely jealous of the #wholefoodsmarket  hamper that's just arrived for +Joe Sergeant ^Emily

Many congratulations to +Chris Roberts and +Rachel Pictor Roberts who are proud parents to a beautiful baby girl. ^The Team
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