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Providing tailored product recommendations is a proven way of boosting online sales, with two-thirds of companies (66%) stating that personalisation improves both customer experience and business performance.

Speaking at a Screen Pages ecommerce event recently, Emailvision personalisation director Neil Hamilton ran through some best practice tips for how to create effective homepage product recommendation banners.

The effectiveness of these blocks can be improved using personalisation, whereby the products shown are specifically tailored to the customer based on their past on-site behaviour.

Our new Realities of Personalisation Report, published in association with Monetate, found that just 30% of businesses currently personalise their websites based on a visitor’s previous behaviour, so a majority of businesses are yet to implement the technology.

But even if you don’t yet have the capability to personalise product banners, you can still improve your chances of converting visitors by following these best practices...

Provide ‘add to basket’ capability

An eye-catching call-to-action is a vital ingredient for improving conversions, as customers aren’t going to buy something if they can’t work out how to add it to their basket.

By adding a CTA to your product banners you give yourself the opportunity to convert the customer before they’ve even navigated to the product page, which makes it convenient for the shopper and makes it more likely that you’ll capture a few extra impulse purchases.

There are no hard and fast rules as to which colours and wording are most effective, but ideally you need to grab the customer’s attention and create a sense of urgency.

This means that it should be large enough to be seen; bright so it stands out from other icons and images; and left uncluttered by other content.

This example from online butcher Donald Russell leaves the customer in no doubt what they should do next, though it could be argued that the page is a bit too busy...

Ideally show six or fewer products

Despite the fact that common sense would suggest that offering the consumer as many options as possible is a sensible strategy, Hamilton said that ecommerce sites shouldn’t include more than six items in their banners.

Scientific evidence has proven that four to six products are the optimum number acceptable to our brains, as too much choice is actually demotivating.

More than this and it’s too much for people to take in, so the impact is lost. That said, it’s a good idea to test the optimum number of products that work for your own site.

Try to show above the fold

Depending on the layout of your homepage it’s normally a good idea to try and include the banner above the fold.

This means that all customers should see the different recommendations as it doesn’t require any scrolling to view them.

According to Hamilton:

You're making it convenient for the customer as it’s one less task for them to conduct in order to view hopefully the most compelling product.

The main aim of product blocks on the homepage is to capture additional sales by upselling particular items, so you’re hindering your chances of converting if customers aren’t automatically exposed to the recommendations.

Use emotive wording

The standard text for product recommendations is probably “You may also like,” but there is the freedom to be far more creative which may in turn help drive more conversions.

The copywriting needs to fit with the brand identity and it’s also important to strike an emotive chord and pique the customer’s interest.

I recently highlighted 11 interesting examples of copywriting for product recommendations, which demonstrates the range of different approaches that retailers can adopt.

For example, Ted Baker says that the items are ‘Handpicked for you’’:

While Timmy Hilfiger knows you’ll love these looks:

Show star ratings

Customer reviews are a huge factor in driving conversions with research showing that not only do a majority of customers (61%) consult online reviews, but they produce an 18% increase in sales on average.

Reviews are now a common feature on ecommerce product pages so there’s no reason why star ratings shouldn’t also be included in homepage banners.

Halfords does a good job of this by including star ratings next to all homepage product recommendations.

Split test against an existing block

Ultimately the only way to know which combination of factors has the greatest impact on conversions is by testing against an existing block.

By running an A/B test you can track how different changes influence sales and conversions, which will enable you to work out which format works best for your site.

David Moth

Published 15 May, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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