While the art of the sale is ages old, digital tools have done quite a bit to innovate the entire process from start to finish. One of the most fundamental updates for marketing through these tools has been website conversion optimization and the resulting metric called “conversion rate” used to denote those individuals who actually following through with a goal achievement–such as a sale–over the number of total browsers, or those just looking around.
As you can imagine, there are many many people simply “looking around” on any given website, and what a company like ours specializes in is getting those looky-loos to follow through with a positive outcome or goal achievement. All of the SEO, external advertising, or link-building in the world can send tons of traffic to a page, but how can you best ensure a sale once they arrive? This is the art of conversion optimization.
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Defining “conversion optimization” for small businesses
As you might expect, a “conversion” can involve a lot of different things for many different businesses. The one consistent factor is a goal achievement or positive outcome, small or large, for every successful conversion. While large goal achievements like a newly closed sale or a purchase of any kind online or off are best, smaller conversions such as a new email subscriber or social follower can be highly valuable as well. Sometimes these smaller conversions can lead to larger conversions later on, all acting as part of a “conversion funnel” throughout the digital sales process. At a minimum, it’s essential that your website enables some form of initial connection between the visitor and your brand.
While there are many robust solutions that control and segment the entire customer relationship after first contact known as CRM or customer relationship management systems for salesmen to continue following up with clients (our favorites are our favorites Infusionsoft or Streak), what we’re discussing today is more specific to the initial exposure a visitor has with your brand through your digital properties and the immediate outcome. What we want to do with great conversion optimization is not only get your visitors in the front door, but to the metaphorical cash register line–such as a contact form submission or e-commerce sale–as well.
Key #1: The importance of solid analytics in conversion optimization
What makes conversion optimization both fun and fascinating is the fact that statistics and analytics play such a major role throughout the entire process. While Google Analytics is–somewhat–free, we feel there are a host of other, higher quality systems out there at great value as well. While every business’ needs are different, we really love KISSMetrics right now starting at $49/month for our clients. It offers the most user friendly setup and customization we’ve seen yet, plus their API lets engineers (like ours!) create tracking for almost any kind of digital event–such as a click on a button, or a view on a contact form or shopping page–very easily.
Once you have tracking like this setup, here’s why solid analytics are the first key in conversion optimization for small business:
- Tracking how your users are entering your website and what their resulting actions are is essential. Users can arrive from a special Facebook campaign, a display advertisement, or any host of places on the ‘net, but unless you’re tracking this with an analytics system, all of that data is dropped into a black hole.
- Analytics can tell you exactly where you’re “bleeding” potential customers, and point you in a direction as to why. Did you have any idea that 80% of your users were viewing your contact form, but clearly failed to click “submit?” You can even track how far they get in the form before they quit as well.
- The star of the analytics show: find out what works and what just doesn’t. As soon as you can identify the symptoms (such as users dropping off at an important page), you can diagnose the issue and fix the design much more precisely and cheaply.
- You can “battle” two variables in a page to see which comes out best with A/B testing. Want to get real nerdy and figure out which colored button your viewers will respond to best? You’ll be amazed with what A/B or comparative testing can do in just a week or less. Who knew that green (not blue, not yellow, not orange!) buttons seem to just be the winning option for most websites. We really like Optimizely for it’s easy, fast, and innovative A/B testing services for our clients.
- Advanced analytics let you focus on people, not page views. Bad news: if you’ve still got a “view” counter on your website, you’re definitely stuck in 1999. The good news? Installing an advanced analytics system like KISSMetrics can help you to start treating your potential customers like people–not page views–by isolating each visit down to the individual, even when they return after a few hours or even days.
- Identifying the usage patterns that yield the best or quickest customers is easy to do with analytics, and is the best way to increase your bottom line. Find what works on your website, and then run with it. Get rid of the excess fluff and focus on the streamlining of sales through the route your users seem to “like” most. Is that ad campaign you’ve been running on a network of health food blogs killing it while your Facebook ad budget is just wasting away on a few measly visitors? Is Pinterest bringing in a surprising majority of organic new visits while you’re still focusing on huge Twitter budgets? Cut the budgetary fat.
Key #2: Why expert design is the only way to truly optimize conversions
So we’ve covered how to optimize conversion through essential analytics systems, but the real meat of conversion optimization for any type of web property lies in expert design. You may think that prompts, pitches, and buttons are what drive great conversion optimization–and you’d be correct–but it’s the production of these elements in concert to create “calls to action” that require more conceptual and specialized skills in design.
You’ll notice from our and others’ examples of great conversion optimization that crisp, efficient, and professional design leads to more sales than a budget spent on any other marketing efforts. If your users aren’t immediately hit with what to do next in the first tenth of a second after they land on a page, you’ll loose them; this means that without great design in conversion optimization, all of your other budgets are worthless. Here’s how to ensure that doesn’t happen:
- You, your designer, and your entire marketing must be completely aware of your customer’s objectives for any given time or setting. If you’re a restaurant focusing on conversion optimization for mobile: are your reservations, phone number and map or directions immediately clear? You’d be surprised how often this is not the case! The examples here are endless.
- “Landing page,” “user experience,” “conversion points,” “calls to action,” and “information architecture” must be in your designer’s vocabulary if you want a website that pushes sales. In the field of information architecture and user experience design, we use the phrase “conversion points” or “calls to action” often to denote the key areas of a design that require a click or further action to produce favorable (most often sales-related) results, often times on key landing pages. These are the foundations of truly expert marketing design for digital, and their perfection will drive optimization deep from within each of your digital properties.
- Surprise! Users can tell when you’ve been using a pre-made template. Text can be clunky, watermarks crediting the original template maker are too obvious, and the entire experience is simply not customized. If you don’t want to spend a strategic budget for a great, streamlined experience for your visistors online, why should they spend anything on your product or services? Your visual identity must be professional, and it must be customized in order to build perceived value for your brand.
- Provide different experiences for different users. When we treat visitors to your digital properties like people and not “view-cattle,” we can then segment groups of visitors to further tailor the experience. For example, unique landing pages for arrivers via social media might have access to a special, Facebook-only coupon or experience, and so forth. This builds appreciation and perceived value for your brand.
- “Trust marks” & testimonials are your best friend. Have you done a great job for other notable companies or organizations? Share it! These types of graphics build trust that if you could do a great job for “X” company, then you’ll probably do a stellar job for theirs. If you’re more consumer focused, use testimonials, especially if you can get them from external or verifiable sources like Yelp or major tastemakers in your industry.
- Conversion optimization design is just as important for social, mobile, and other platforms, too. Don’t forget that every digital property with your name on it is a part of your overal conversion process. Make sure these guidelines apply for those areas, too. For example, require users to “like” a page before they can see a special tab on your Facebook page, or use retweets as an entry format for a contest.
- We’re repeating ourselves (for good reason): a crisp, efficient, and professional user experience leads to more efficient sales than a budget spent on any other marketing efforts. Let’s repeat that again: more than any other marketing budget. You can have all of the visitors in the world heading to your website thanks to a $1,000,000/month SEO budget, but if it’s even slightly unclear as to what visitors are supposed to do once they arrive, you can forget about them.
- Unless you’re the next Steve Jobs, you need an expert’s advice. Each of the tools needed to produce expert conversion optimization can cost thousands of dollars a month. Agencies are able to consolidate this kind of work, keeping costs much lower for their clients than if they were to go it alone. Conversion optimization designers and experts like our team can do many different things, like quickly syphon out the essentials for your information architecture: not everyone needs an “events” tab that sits dormant for 3 years just because you had that one fundraiser in 2007.
Key #3: Social business development is integral to optimized conversion online
Developing your online business into a more social, and innovative company is the third key to major optimization conversion. Here’s how:
- Word of mouth marketing is consistently the #1 contributor to B2B sales decisions, and is certainly #1 or 2 in most consumer industries. So how do we apply word of mouth online without the use of our… mouths? Just like we mentioned in Key #1, think people, not page views. Fold in the innovative application of new tools like Facebook’s new search feature into your business models as a new, digital form of word of mouth marketing. While email used to do an OK job at a 1 on 1 or even a 1 on 5 reccomendation, social search tools provide 1 on 2000 situations. Since human activity and buzz is what breaths value into a business online, make sure you’re visitors know that you’re human, and approachable. Would you walk into a Chinese food take-out restaurant that you’ve never seen a single soul enter or recommend? Be sure you’re taking advantage of each of the digital word of mouth tools out there right now such as Yelp, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and many others to brand yourself as a socially accessible business.
- Positive reviews and testimonials of your products and services on social networks are worth their weight in gold, and it’s essential that you develop strategy for your business to grow into these services. Again, think dingy Chinese no-name place vs. the great takeout spot down the street that all of your friends love on Yelp, Foursquare, or Facebook.
- Demonstrate authority in your field through a visibly maintained network of colleagues or tastemakers through social profiles and content marketing. Content marketing is the easiest way to not only demonstrate authority in your field, but make yourself approachable and add perceived value to your brand as well. Periodically post valuable content such as case-studies, white papers, or interesting bits of information of any type to achieve this, and then make sure that content is properly distributed and accessible via your social networks. Need some inspiring examples? Find them in our intro to link building post from last month.
- Stale content signifies a stale company. Never let content go stale on a website. Do you have event listings even a few weeks old? If you can’t take the time to update your website, what makes a potential customer think your company will pay any attention and update them?
Great goal achievement examples & industries
Many smaller goal achievements lead to larger ones later down the line. Here are a few examples of multiple goal achievements that lead to an eventual sale.
- A Facebook “Like” of a page by a potential customer (goal part 1) who enjoys the great DIY tips a home improvement company shares as a bonus to their followers later leads to an actual sale for a new can of paint at their store (goal part 2).
- A re-pin on Pinterest by an active pinner with a large following (goal part 1) leads to a compounding effect of 400% increase in sales from Pinterest alone (goal part 2) for an online clothing boutique.
- A potential client for a mid-size financial firm provides their email address in exchange for a free download of an informative, high-quality white paper (goal part 1). The client is so impressed, that they decide to follow through with a consultation ultimately leading to a favorable contract for the company (goal part 2).
- After falling in love with a new book, a reader decides to subscribe to the author’s blog via email (goal part 1). The release of the author’s new book the following year leads to a quick sale by the avid reader thanks to a special pre-sale to email subscribers on the blog (goal part 2).
An example of failure? A visitor to an interior design company’s website is so lost when they arrive, that they completely miss the “request a consultation” section buried into the website, and leave never to be seen or heard from again.
What not having a conversion strategy will co$t you
It’s easy to have tons of inbound traffic flowing from expensive SEO or link-building campaigns, but if users aren’t immediately hit with what to do next in the first tenth of a second, they’ll simply loose interest. We covered this problem in our post last week “7 Rookie Internet Marketing Mistakes for Small Businesses to Avoid” and we’re excitedly reiterating it here: not maintaining a strategy to achieve any of the conversion optimization keys mentioned above will not only cost your businesses untold piles of cash, but will make all other internet marketing efforts up to date useless as well.
So, if your web designer looks at you quizzically when you mention “conversion points” as a part of your design, you’ve got a problem. While web designers are often talented artists, they’re not always the most adept at understanding marketing techniques. In fact, only truly professional agencies will maintain experts that are skilled in information architecture, marketing design like we’ve explained here, creative direction, and more. This is the integrative approach you’ll need to adequately tackle conversion optimization. Think our agency might fit the bill? Give us a shout.