Conversion Rate Optimization

Most websites convert only a fraction of visitors into customers. According to Clickz, the average online conversion rate is around 2.3%, with the highest at approximately 9% (only a few websites go over the 10%-15% mark). In this article we focus on conversion rate optimization techniques and touch on the following topics: demographics, psychographics, unique selling proposition, performance gaps, website redesign, persuasion architecture, testing and conversion paths.

Knowing Your Customer

To sell better you must know your customers better.

Demographics:

  • Are your customers mostly females or males? Males tend to be highly logical and reason their decision with concrete facts. Women tend to be more emotional and rely on feelings for decisions, thus to influence males better your must have concrete facts and to influence females you must affect emotions.

  • What is their income/occupation? Obviously, the more your customers make the more you can charge them, especially if you’re in a position to command a higher price (think SONY vs unknown brand).

  • Education? Are they very intelligent?

  • Age?

  • Location?

Psychographics:

  • What are their personalities? Myers Briggs devised a psychological tool called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, with 4 main character types and 16 different personalities. These 16 personalities constitute the dominant human operating systems, each one with unique preferences for relationships, decision making, work etc. Knowing all personality types and predicting their responses takes a few years of study and practice, so start off with the four basic characters. Wikipedia  describes them, and you can also find out more here.

Customer Goals:

  • What do your customers want to achieve? If you don’t know what your customers want, how can you offer solutions?

  • What problem do they want to fix?

Other Questions:

  • What benefits are important to your customers? Knowing benefits allows you to advertise those benefits and spike interest in your prospects. Sometimes benefits can be below the surface and require some analysis. For example a person looking to lose weight wants to look good, but why? Perhaps to improve their ability to attract to potential partners.

  • What questions do your customers often ask? By knowing the questions your customer ask, you can address them right in the website copy or in the FAQ section. I found that having answers directly in the copy works better than putting them in the FAQ.

  • What are your customers’ objections? People are going to naturally resist your product and look for justifications to disqualify it. Some of these may include a lower price offered by competitors, quality concerns, shipping, returns, etc. Bring up objections yourself, admit them and offer responses in order to disarm the customer.

  • What are their main frustrations with the problem or other products? If customers are frustrated with a competitor’s service, quality or other factors, use these points to upsell your offer.

  • What are your guarantees? Sometimes an unconditional 100% refund guarantee is required to make the sale (depending on the product). If you offer services, things get more complex, but direct referral to past and present clients work well.

A unique selling proposition is what makes your brand stand out from the competition. A USP is a short, easy-to-remember sentence that punches your biggest benefit at customers and makes them instantaneously remember you. For example, Avis is “We’re number two, we try harder.”

The USP must be so compelling and so benefit-oriented that it alone can sell your products or services. It must stick in customers’ minds and make them say “yes… that company” or “bingo.”

Creating a Unique Selling Proposition

Creating a USP is tough work and requires at least one full day of undivided commitment. Large companies spend millions on USP development, thus one day is a relatively small investment.

First shut off all distraction and concentrate on the task. Start by writing all the features of your products/services. Then write all the benefits that you can think of that those products/services deliver. Line them up one after another.

The take each feature/benefit separately and ask yourself a question: “So what?” Then write an answer. Look at the answer and ask “So what?” one more time. Write down the answer. Look at the answer again and ask “So what?” and write it down. Go on until you cannot ask “So what?” and then switch to the next benefit/feature.

For example:

  • Our software helps small businesses automate accounting. – So what?

  • You spend less time on accounting./You spend less money on accounting. – So what?

  • You can use the extra time to grow your business./You can invest extra money in your business. – So what?

As you go on answering the “So what?” question, stay relevant to the topic. It’s very easy to drift away and end each series of answers with hyped, irrelevant benefits. In the example of accounting software we could go further:

  • You can use extra time to grow your business./You can invest extra money in your business. – So what?

  • As you spend more time and money on your business, you’re following the dream.

The “Spend more time and money on your dream” tagline sounds fishy for accounting automation software. Know when it’s time to stop and move on to the next benefit.

As you repeat this process for all features/benefits, you will find many good reasons for doing business with you. Select the best ones and think of a way of transforming them into a unique selling proposition. From the example above we can form a pretty good UPS: “Less time and money on accounting. More time and money on your business”

Industries have unfulfilled needs known as performance gaps. You can enter and virtually monopolize those gaps with a USP through automatic association. Whenever customers/companies run into the gap, a powerful USP make them remember your name. For example, M&Ms: "The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand"

Once you create unique selling proposition, incorporate it into your brand in all advertisements, copy, packages, brochures, flyers, signs, letters, postcards, and so forth. Let the world know.

Planning a Website Redesign

Future Now Inc devised a system of conversion optimization they call Persuasion Architecture. They wrote a book on this methodology and it proved effective for dozens of million-dollar websites and hundreds of small companies. The Persuasion Architecture methodology involves planning, from the earliest stages of marketing campaign to execution, and consistent improvement through testing.

Their website architecture planning stage consists of several elements:

  • Points of resolution – Depending on where they are in the buying decision process, your customers need answers to specific questions before they can make a decision. You must help them resolve these questions before you can proceed with the sale. Points of resolution are the hyperlinks that answer the customers’ questions. A customer is never required to click on a point of resolution to move through the sales process; these links simply let customers collect the information they need to feel confident making a decision.

  • Resolving doors – With resolving doors you can offer your customer the opportunity to ask another question, and you always offer a way for your customer to return to the sales process.

  • Calls to action.

I highly recommend their book Waiting for Your Cat to Bark if you want to learn this in depth.

There are no rules to website design (usability gurus eat me), but there are a few accepted standards. Here are some of the basics to follow:

  • Colors suited for the target market. Aggressive bright colors will work for teenagers but get a questionable response from IT professionals.

  • Keep navigation classic. Top + right/left navigation menus is a classic layout that has proved to be effective over many years.

  • Contact links in the upper corner and on the footer.

The point is to make navigation seamless, so test a few ideas.

Optimizing Conversion Paths

A conversion path is a series of steps visitors take on their way to a sale (think of a checkout). Many websites lose potential customers in that path, so it requires optimization. Analytics software offer sales funnel tracking so you can see how many customers are lost in the process and on what pages.

Conversion path optimization is purely a testing discipline. For example, to find out whether a long, one page form outperforms short forms that are spread over several pages, you must test both for equal periods of time and then measure results. Google offers free software that lets you run A/B tests and multivariate tests. All you have to do is paste some code into the pages, specify changes and let the test run for a few weeks. Come back and select the page with the best performance.

Once you hit an improvement, analyze further and test other aspects of the conversion process.

Testing

It costs nothing to test on the web. You can experiment with different headlines, button colors, calls to action, copy, images, layouts, navigation, designs, landing pages etc. Sometimes small changes such as button placements or call to action phrases can double and triple conversion rates, so test everything thoroughly.

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