I spoke recently with the director of customer service for a national home improvement brand. She told me about how her team is evaluated on their use of both hard and soft skills. When I asked more about the difference between hard and soft customer service skills, she explained them like this:
Hard skills are a measure of our ability to give the right answer. Did we provide the customer the information and resources they were seeking? Was the information provided accurate?
Soft skills are defined by the manner in which that mandatory information is delivered. Was the customer service representative pleasant or rude? Did the customer’s experience with our representative leave a positive impression?
After speaking with her about hard and soft customer service skills, it occurred to me that the same approach can be applied to evaluating elements on a landing page. Specifically for web pages used to convert clicks to customers, marketers can alter both hard and soft elements for different audiences and for website testing programs.
Hard and Soft Page Elements
To provide additional clarity, here are some sample page elements that could be viewed as either hard or soft.
Again, these are provided to answer questions posed by visitors. Their presence or absence can have a definitive impact on the visitor’s decision to move forward or exit.
- Benefit Elements – How can this product/service help me or ease pain?
- Feature Elements – What exactly does this product/service offer?
- Physical Elements – In the case of a product, what does it look like? What is the product’s size, dimensions?
- Pricing Elements – How much does this product/service cost?
- Credibility Elements – Who else uses this product/service?
Page elements of the soft variety deal primarily with feel and positioning. While hard elements give the answers, soft elements impact the manner in which answers are delivered.
- Priority Elements – Which hard elements are placed at the top of the page? Which hard elements should be considered secondary?
- Aesthetic Elements – What combination of colors, styles, graphics and other design elements are utilized on the page?
- Verbiage Elements – What words are used for headlines, copy and supporting text to describe the product/service?
- Promotional Elements – What offers are attached to the product/service to entice visitors?
- Call to Action Elements – What action is the visitor encouraged to take to move forward? What are the requirements for contacting or requesting information from the brand?
Facts vs. Feel
The differences between the two are illustrated below with a landing page from Shopify. You will not that I have highlighted various facts, data and information relevant to the product. These are hard elements. Usage of headlines, copy, graphics, buttons, font treatments and other styles can be considered soft page elements, which I have surrounded with a green box. That actual placement of one fact, feature or data point over another can also be considered a soft page element (priority).
Note that highlighted elements on the page likely have to be there to answer common visitor questions: what does this product do? how much does it cost? what will it look like? how easy is it to deploy? etc. These are hard elements.
The relative position of those elements, how specifically they are described and demonstrated and the offers/calls to action tied to them are all fair game for potential alterations. We know that the facts and answers must be there. We don’t know how best to position them, however.
Vary Hard Elements for Segmentation
Depending upon the visitor’s familiarity with the product/service and how close she is to a final purchase decision, certain hard elements may play better than others. Use specific hard elements for potential customers in different stages of the purchase funnel.
- Awareness – Content that educates about the need for products/services to solve relevant issues.
- Evaluation – Information that positions your brand in a positive light compared to alternatives.
- Purchase – Resources and offers to persuade prospects to buy now.
Vary Soft Elements for Testing
No matter where your visitors are coming from or what their objectives are for a visit, certain hard elements must be present. The positioning and priority placed on those elements can impact the likelihood of a successful visitor interaction. Test different soft element variations to determine impact on conversion.
For example, you may choose to alter certain soft elements for testing purposes such as:
- Hard Element Priority (i.e. placement of one asset or resource higher on the page than another)
- Call to Action
- Page Layout & Aesthetics
Distinguishing hard and soft page elements can help make sense of what needs to be present on a page. They also help determine what liberties marketers can take with testing programs. Never sacrifice the ability to convey relevance to site visitors with hard elements, but take advantage of soft element variations to determine how best to position and communicate your message.