Whether or not you know how to optimize the customer-meets-business interaction, the simple truth is that conversion – and the optimization of your conversion rate – is the most fundamental element of a successful online business. (Disagree? Jump to the comments and let’s discuss).
Conversion’s purpose is to provide the maximum return on your marketing spend. A concept rooted in common sense, yet shrouded in the mysteries of behavioral psychology.
To click or not to click. That is the question.
Conversion is the mechanism and process of pouring targeted consumers into, through, and out the other side of the marketing funnel. Persuasion is not a dirty word, when spoken in the right way, at the right time, to the right person. This is the essence of “Clicking Me Softly”. Convince, don’t coerce. Guide, don’t deceive. And remember that sustainable marketing success is only achievable when you help people get what they want.
For the next five days we’ll explore the ideas, tools and methodology necessary to maximize the efficacy of your customer’s life on the page. In doing so we’ll make your pages better, more focused, more persuasive and ultimately more successful.
Each day contains a concept coupled with a short task designed to turn you into a conversion expert, including:
Let’s get started…
Most people know that it’s cheaper to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one. Similarly, it makes sense to get the most from your existing flow of inbound traffic by improving the conversion rate. Sounds blindingly obvious right? But many businesses are either too content or too lazy to invest in conversion improvements.
There are two options when it comes to driving traffic to increase business:
If you are in any doubt about which of these options makes more sense, I’ll make it easy for you – it’s the second one.
If you have a marketing budget of $1,000/month dedicated to driving traffic to your site, you may observe the following scenario. Note: these numbers are based on some average Google AdWords pay-per-click stats.
|Traffic Budget||Conversion Investment||Cost Per Click (CPC)||Visitors||Conversion Rate||New Customers||Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)|
Now if we use strategy #1 to buy more traffic – doubling the budget.
|Traffic Budget||Conversion Investment||Cost Per Click (CPC)||Visitors||Conversion Rate||New Customers||Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)|
Notice how the cost of acquiring a customer remains the same and your budget stretches in a predictable manner. This is why many companies just thrown more money at their marketing. More cash = more customers. It’s predictable, but it’s lazy.
For strategy #2 we’re going to take some of the budget and spend it on optimizing the destination page to increase it’s conversion rate. Remember that you goal should be to reduce the cost of acquiring a new customer.
|Month||Traffic Budget||Conversion Investment||Cost Per Click (CPC)||Visitors||Conversion Rate||New Customers||Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)|
What this shows us is that as we increase the investment in conversion optimization, our traffic spend decreases resulting in fewer visitors, but the improved conversion rate more than makes up for this by bringing in more customers and ultimately reducing the cost per acquisition (CPA).
By month 3, the effect of pausing the conversion investment produces a further drop in CPA.
The beauty of conversion optimization is that once your page is converting better it stays that way indefinitely.
Alternatively, you may choose not to use your traffic budget and instead invest a few hours of your (or an employee’s) time on optimization.
If you are just getting started with conversion optimization, you’d be smart to get a free expert review by a company specializing in optimization to uncover some initial opportunities for improvement – with no impact to your traffic budget – a win win. See the resources below for companies that offer this service.
Check out the book Web Design for ROI for extended discussion of optimization investment vs. traffic spend.
Check in with Naomi Niles from ShiftFwd for optimization services.
Optimization experts, Wider Funnel are offering a free landing page evaluation for qualified businesses.
Brian Massey, The Conversion Scientist – offers a free 45min consultation.
If you have a marketing budget, plug your own numbers into the tables above to see the effect it could have. Then use this ammunition to convince your boss (or yourself) that conversion matters.
How do people convert? In simple terms they interact at a designated conversion point. They do this – and are triggered to do this – by a call to action.
A call to action (CTA) is an interactive instructional device intended to solicit an action from your visitors. There are four main components to a CTA:
As Mick Jagger said so eloquently: “You can’t always get what you want.” But if you don’t ask for what you want, you won’t get anything. For this reason, any page you create is a wasted opportunity if it doesn’t specifically make a request of your visitor.
Every page needs a purpose and every page needs a call to action.
Consider the following scenario:
Employee #1: “Nobody is signing up for our newsletter!”
Employee #2: “What newsletter?”
Employee #1: “We have a Feedburner email update that’s sent out when we write a blog post.”
Employee #2: “How do people sign up for that?”
Employee #1: “Ummm, they have to click on the RSS icon and then select email as the delivery mechanism and such.”
Can you see what’s wrong with this conversation? The goal is to have their customers read a blog post and then register to receive the blog newsletter. It’s configured so that it’s technically possible, but there is no instruction to persuade the visitor to take the desired action, and the working solution is so convoluted as to not be obvious or useful (both of which are conversion faux pas).
In this situation, it would be smart to place a CTA at the end of each blog post to engage the blog readers at their point of highest interest (assuming fairly that if they read to the end of the post, then they most likely enjoyed it).
For example (taken from the end of this post – and inspired by our friends over at KISSmetrics.:
The headline encourages the user to respond by leading with a hook into their emotional reaction (“if you enjoyed this post”), and makes a direct request for them to subscribe. Also note how The Call describes succinctly what will happen when you click it.
Tip: The word “Submit” on a button is like the inbred cousin of good Call’s as it tells you nothing about the Outcome. Avoid at all cost.
Here are some examples of calls to action that can be considered for other ares of your site.
There’s a great showcase of CTA examples, along with design theory, in a classic post by Smashing Magazine on CTA best practices.
A good test is to print out some of your pages (a product page, blog page, homepage etc.), pin them to the wall and give them “the six foot test”. Standing 6ft away, can you see a clear and identifiable action on each page? If it’s not blindingly obvious what you want people to do on your page you’ll be losing conversions.
Conversion is about focus – slapping blinders on your customers and shuffling them toward the bright light that is your call to action. Every marketing campaign should have distinct conversion goals and metrics for measuring them, so that you can design experiences that maintain focus.
For most businesses, your homepage is simply not the most focused page on your website. Why?
Even if your website promotes a single product or service, there is the potential for message overload. Perhaps you are driving prospects from your email list, encouraging them to visit you for details of a new feature: If they arrive at your homepage – where there might be other features, seasonal promotions and special offers – they can get distracted and wander from your intended goal.
A common train of thought is, “well as long as they buy something then I don’t care where they go, or what they do.” The problem here is that the campaign you are running, measuring and paying for isn’t being given a fair opportunity to succeed (or fail). Marketing can only really be effective when it’s measurable and you are accountable.
Similarly, there are way too many links on your homepage for it to be a closely guided conversion experience.
As companies grow in size – adding departments and products – getting buy-in from different stakeholders to “test your new idea” can become fraught with political challenge. IT, software or QA personnel can create roadblocks due to the risks of changing your most frequently viewed page. Corporate infrastructural rules can also mean that updates to the site are only published to the production servers on a defined weekly schedule – by which point your campaign may have lost it’s timeliness.
Imagine if you made messaging changes on your homepage to improve SEO, or better align with an email or social media campaign. All of a sudden your pay-per-click quality score dives (due to decreased message match with your ads) and your cost of acquiring a customer via that channel rises. It could be that your SEO rank improves – great! But you can see where this is going: Change creates risk and monitoring the impacts of changes when you have multiple inbound marketing channels becomes overly complicated.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t change your homepage. On the contrary, you should be continuously optimizing to increase conversions. Rather, the problem lies in how you are driving the traffic to your site.
The solution to these problems is to use campaign or promotion specific landing pages that can be managed and optimized in controlled isolation.
Go to your homepage and count how many different messages, paths, links and CTA’s you have. These numbers will be a useful comparison when you get to day 4.
Technically speaking, a landing page is any page on your website that customers arrive at or “land” on. However, for the purposes of this crash course, when I say landing page, I’m referring to a page that is created as a standalone entity – a campaign or promotion specific page – designed to be free from the shackles of your homepage as identified on day 3.
Standalone landing pages have a few general characteristics:
A good example of a standalone, campaign specific landing page, can be seen below from Webtrends.
As I mentioned earlier, landing pages remove the restrictions and complexities of your homepage, and can improve your conversion rate in the following ways:
To help illustrate the points above, compare the Webtrends homepage (below) to the landing page shown earlier.
This is a beautifully designed page, but it’s also (very necessarily) focused on multiple things. There are five concepts presented in the main promo area (via the rotating banner), four supplementary messages below that, and a total of 25 interaction points. This is a great destination for branded organic search traffic, but not as good as the previous landing page when driving traffic targeted on a single topic.
Landing page creation tools: There are several online tools available for the purpose of creating (and testing) landing pages.
Check your message match. Take a look at your current marketing initiatives (PPC, email, banners, social media) and compare what they say when compared to the first thing you see when arriving at your homepage. Start thinking about how landing pages could allow you to have multiple simultaneous campaigns and still keep the messages aligned from ad to page.
Once you start walking down Conversion Avenue, you’ll probably find that it’s a one way street – there’s no turning around and the traffic flows much better in a single direction.
Optimizing your landing pages can become an addictive pursuit in search of the perfectly converting page. Like unicorns and fairies, this page doesn’t actually exist, and while there is no magical pixie dust to sprinkle on over your website, there are processes and techniques you can use to make the most of your conversion opportunities.
The best part? No matter what your page is for – it can always convert better.
The most obvious business reason to start a testing and optimization process is the economics – do it right and you’ll get a higher return on your marketing spend. A no-brainer.
Aside from the financial angle, other benefits include:
It’s time to realize that internal democracy, experience, and the HIPPO’s (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion) really don’t matter. Having a disagreement about a concept? Then test it. Let the crowd decide.
It’s true that you still need the expertise of your team in order to create a new version of the page to test, but instead of debating who’s right ahead of time, run an experiment and discuss the results. You’ll learn which message or design works best for the people who truly pay your salary.
The foundation of conversion rate optimization is what’s called an “experiment”. This is where you create competing page variants and simultaneously run traffic to each page to see which has the highest conversion rate.
Something to note is that you need to run enough traffic through the experiment and leave it running long enough to obtain statistically viable data – testing tools call this the confidence level. By allowing the test to run for at least a few weeks, you can remove daily variance from the statistics (perhaps people react differently to your weekend Vegas vacation ad during the week compared to a Saturday).
There are two primary testing methodologies:
Optimization is the process of iteratively repeating test experiments to improve their effectiveness.
This is a very common question and ultimately depends on the content and purpose of your page. However there are some basic elements that most people can test as a starting point.
Getting started: When deciding on what to test in your first (or any) experiment, it helps to have a checklist of common problems to rate your page in it’s current state. The 5-minute conversion scorecard can help you identify any major holes in your page. Pick a page on your site (ideally a standalone landing page, but you can try it on any page as an exercise) and see what score you get. Any items left unchecked can be used as a to-do list for your first experiment.