In a recent teleconference, I was asked several questions about specific problems people were having converting clicks to customers.

In the first article of this series, we defined conversion, including what you should look for and what factors have the biggest impact on conversion rates. The second article covered measurement, including measurement tools, the differences between log- and browser-based measurement, average conversion rates and why it helps to track how people use your Web site.

In this final part of this series, we'll be looking at where traffic arrives from and how that affects conversion, specific search engine queries, PPC issues and other general topics.

How do keywords affect your conversion rate in terms of search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM)?

Keywords are important for two reasons.

First, by using the keywords that relate to your reader you will be listed by search engines—which means that people can find you. Notice that I phrased the last sentence carefully. I said, "keywords that relate to your reader." It's important to understand that what you consider keywords might not be the keywords your visitors are using to reach you.

Second, and more important, keywords help to qualify your audience after they have arrived at your Web site. If you click through from a search engine to a Web site and the headline or first paragraph does not strike you as relevant to what you're looking for, you're likely to "bounce" (leave the site). The keywords that you use help to assure your visitors that they are in the right place.

Good use of keywords embedded in your copy and content will help you to attract the right kind of people. Second, they will help to effectively qualify them as being in the right place. If you manage to both attract and qualify, the readers are then more likely to click through to find out more about what your Web site is about. If they do that, there is a much higher chance that they will convert to your desired goal.

A good SEO or SEM company is one that understands that it's about answering the visitors' needs, not simply packing the Web site with related key words and phrases.

What Is pay-per-click (PPC)? Is it worth the money? Does PPC affect conversion?

PPC is when you set up an account with a search engine (Google or Overture, for instance) and run ads that appear when a visitor to the search engine requests a certain keyword. If a visitor clicks on your ad, you pay a predefined fee to the search engine. Done correctly, PPC is a good way to drive people interested in your product or services to your Web site. Well-executed PPC marketing should positively affect conversion.

One of our clients recently asked about a PPC campaign (run by another company) that was converting poorly. The reason was that the ad was optimized to be clicked-through, but not optimized to qualify the reader. The product in the ad was a mobility scooter priced at $1,850. The ad explained that you could get great discounts on mobility scooters, and therefore the click-through on the ad was high. So it was an expensive campaign for our client. But it didn't convert into sales.

Why? The ad should have tried to qualify the reader more by including the price and location in the ad. A fair percentage of visitors who are interested in purchasing an expensive item like a mobility scooter will want to see it first. Therefore, a good way to actually sell this product is to tell the reader the price and location so that they know without going to the Web site whether the product is for them.

Furthermore, mentioning price in the ad prequalifies that they have the money. So if they have the money, are in the market and are in the same city—there is a much higher chance of a purchase.

Another thing to remember in PPC campaigns is the relevance of the ad to your landing page. It's a frequently overlooked problem. Often, the PPC ad doesn't relate directly to the landing page. Our client did this correctly by linking the Google ads directly to the page about mobility scooters. But it's a common mistaketo link the ads to a home page—an approach that expects the visitor to do the work of finding the item.

Too many PPC companies work on click-through as their gauge of success. They see it as their job to drive the traffic rather than convert it. The idea of successful PPC marketing is simple economics. You spend less than what you earn from the visitors' arrival, and so you make a profit.

However, ads that use the shotgun approach aren't doing you any favors. Ads that you're paying for should bring in very interested and pre-qualified visitors who convert at a higher level.

When visitors arrive at our Web site, they are a mixed crowd with different expectations. How do we cater to them all?

You can't please everyone, and it's fatal to try. You have to figure out your best chance of business and cater to the appropriate clientele. If you have a large, varied audience or are running some kind of portal, then you should have a clear strategy to attract people to dedicated sections of your Web site.

For instance, small businesses have thousands of individual, varying wants, needs and requirements. Your landing page (home or index page) is going to have a very hard time catering to all of those small-business customers effectively.

So don't try. Figure out how people find you, discern the biggest segment of traffic, and cater to that group. Then take the second-biggest segment of traffic and develop a different landing page for them using content (and embedded keywords) more relevant to their wants and needs.

It's possible to develop layered Web sites that cater to a variety of audiences.

For instance, a small business owner in need of a sample contract of employment isn't immediately going to be interested in accountancy services. He might, instead, be interested in a resources section that has sample documents for download and listings of lawyers who cater to small businesses. If this visitor arrives to find a Web site with a plethora of choices (when all he wants is a sample contract), he is likely to leave.

But if a section of your Web site were dedicated solely to business documents and sample downloads for small businesses, and the visitor clicks through to this page from a search engine, there is a much-higher chance that he will browse to find what he is looking for.

If then he sees that you have more resources (like an accountancy portal link), then he may even bookmark your site before leaving for future reference.

I know about testing. But how much traffic do you need to determine that something is not working?

Again the focus is from where your visitors arrive. If you have well-targeted traffic arriving at your pages via PPC or strategic links, then 1,000 visitors to the site (or test page) is a fair sample size.

When traffic is less targeted and bounce rates are higher, then you have to make a decision based on larger numbers. If, for instance, one week 500 visitors arrived at your Web site who weren't from your target audience, it's fair to say that you should discount them from your testing.

Is it really the "holy grail" to be listed at the top of the search engines? What are the other alternatives that clients should consider?

Being at the top of the search engines is not entirely necessary, but it certainly helps. You should try to get a listing on the first page of results for your chosen keywords. If potential visitors have to wade through to link number 8,074 on Google to find your products and services, then you're pretty much invisible.

For example, if you do a Google search for "improving Web site conversion," our site appears in the top position, as we've optimized for that key phrase. We hoped that this is what our potential visitor will key in when doing a search. However, although this was part of our strategy it was only a very small part. You cannot rely on search engine algorithms to pay your bills.

The alternative is to find strategic partners who like what you do and want to reference your information.

Strategic linking, while it's more difficult work, works very well. The subscription conversion rate average from our top strategic partners is 31%. By that I mean that nearly a third of the visits coming from the partners subscribe. Because the partners we're working with are well known and highly respected, they are a great means of qualification.

The added benefit is that the more outbound links you have pointing to you, the higher your ranking gets on many of the search engines. Another benefit is that even if you can't get listed on search engines directly for all your keywords, some of the partner sites will do so due to their own visibility, so more paths flow to you. This is a far more effective strategy than SEO/SEM alone.

* * *

This article has been about one subject—relevance. You begin with keywords that relate to and qualify your readers. This helps with search engine visibility and means that your visitors feel as though they are in the right place when they arrive at your Web site.

PPC campaigns should qualify your audience initially and land them at a highly relevant and specific landing page. This means that your advertisements are working for you and not simply driving less-targeted traffic.

Your Web site message should not try to cater to everyone. It should be specific and relevant to a particular target market. This means that you can focus your message in relation to what your visitor wants.

Finally, you should find strategic partners who work in related industries with audiences similar to yours. This means that you improve your visibility to your target audience.

In simple terms, being relevant means putting the right offer in front of the right people. By getting more of the right people to your Web site, you improve your conversion rates considerably.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Jackson (steve@conversionchronicles.com) is editor of the Conversion Chronicles and CEO of Aboavista, a Finnish company that improves Web conversion rates.