I couldn't agree more with the headline of this article, and it's one I'm afraid I can't take credit for. I found this line in Paco Underhill's book, Why We Buy—The Science of Shopping, and found myself comparing many of the things he has measured in the retail world to the tests I've done with online, visitor-based activity.
The conversion rate on a Web site is easy to measure. Unfortunately, businesses too busy concentrating on their bottom line most often overlook it. The point of this article is to define what a conversion rate is and show you how you can begin to start improving your own Web site's conversion rate, and therefore your bottom line. At the same time, I will relate my observations to Paco's on offline retailing.
No One Can Hear You Shop
According to Paco, the main problem with Web sites is that owing to media attention and the love of technology retailers went online without knowing why.
It's true that in the late '90s businesses were going online because their competition had, or because they feared that they would be left behind by not embracing the new technology. Not great reasons to spend time, money and resources on a Web site.
The painful thing is that since going online most of these Web sites have not changed much for the better. Yes, they look nicer now, but the number of glorified poster sites I still see never ceases to amaze me. To combat this lack of purpose, I propose you look at four goals and adapt them to your own business requirements.
One of these four goals should be the primary focus of your entire Web site design:
- Prospect acquisition: To deliver qualified leads and prospects through the Web site
- Sales/e-commerce: To sell products and services online directly through an e-store
- In-house cost saving: To cut costs, usually resources such as printed material or time, by automating in-house processes online, such as timekeeping systems and human resource procedures
- Customer service: To improve customer service by providing answers to queries and complaints online automatically where possible
With the goal clearly defined, it is easier to measure the effectiveness of your site because you know what to look for. Conversion is defined in relation to the goal you've chosen.
So measure prospect acquisition as the percentage of visitors who give you their details out of the total number of visitors to your Web site. Measure conversion on sales as the percentage of people buying a product against the total number of Web site visitors.
Conversion on in-house cost saving is simply the number of people using the system as a percentage of the number of people supposed to be using the system. A good internal policy here will mean this is a 100% conversion rate. The number of people using the resources and systems you have put in place as a percentage of total visitors to the support Web pages can give you your customer service conversion.
So why measure conversion?
Because it allows you to accurately measure the impact of changes you make by measuring the performance of your Web site before and after the change. With that valuable information in hand, you can make adjustments accordingly.
The Butt Brush Factor
In many instances in his book, Paco refers to the “Butt Brush Factor”— the way people don't like enclosed spaces where other people constantly bump into them from behind. It usually leads to the prospective shopper feeling frustrated or feeling uncomfortable and leaving the store or going somewhere else.
You might be thinking, “Well, how does that relate to an online experience?” It is true that no one usually bumps into you from behind while you're sitting in front of a computer, but how many times are you made to feel irritated, uncomfortable or just downright frustrated by a Web site? How often do you leave one and look at another because the first one doesn't have what you're looking for?
This Butt Brush Factor is incredibly relevant to Web sites, more so I think than even in ordinary retail. Here are some examples of common online Butt Brush Factors that you will see in many business Web sites.
1. Latest News
The landing page has links to the latest news about the company. What exactly is the point of having a bunch of latest-news links on your landing page? What good is that to a browser arriving at your landing page knowing and caring little about your company?
A browser wants to know what you can do for him right there and then, not how your company stock is doing. An About Us section is a much more reasonable place to put these links.
A landing page with awards screams, “Look at us, look at what we've achieved, aren't we clever?” It also completely wastes space on the most important page of your Web site. It can be compared to what Paco says when he talks about going into a car showroom and seeing manufacturer awards. That is unlikely to make much of an impression on the average shopper.
3. Poor Headlines
“Welcome to [Company Name]” is the most common waste of a headline I ever see. Probably the company is unknown to the visitor, so you're wasting his or her time. A headline that communicates the need of the target audience and how you can solve that need improves reading and click through by up to 35% in recent tests we made.
4. Submit Buttons
Why tell the visitor to “submit?” Submit actually means “to yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another” according to dictionary.com, so why ask innocent Web browsers to do that in order to read your monthly newsletter? “Subscribe to our newsletter” is much more friendly, I would say.
5. Bad Use of Flash
This is a common problem with media companies in particular. I understand why they do these all-singing all-dancing interactive flash Web sites, which often are works of art and showcase their ability. However, “skip intro” is a common link on the majority of these Web sites. That is because a lot of people find them a waste of time.
Why have an intro at all? Why not just have a showcase of what you can do on a normal, fast, efficient Web site that tells me what I need to know quickly? If I decide I have the time to look at flash animations, I will.
6. Poor Use of Imagery
I'm guilty of this myself. We used to have a picture of a squirrel flying through the air with “what's your objective” on our landing page. It might have worked had we been selling nuts or seed, but a company improving Web site conversion? Not really relevant!
It was more a result of my ego, pride and photographic luck in capturing said squirrel with my digital camera, and then thinking of a way I could use the picture rather than thinking of a good picture that was relevant to what we were trying to say.
This kind of thing is repeated on many Web sites—people with briefcases, bridges, animals and other general graphics that can be turned with words into anything you want the image to say. But on first glance they don't really show any relevance. All communication should be relevant and, ideally, persuade the user to do something.
Again, conversion is an important measurement here. It can be applied to all of the changes you make to your site as you eliminate these Butt Brush Factors. Later in this article, I'll explain how.
Attention All Shoppers…
“For the next fifteen minutes, in the frozen food section, free passion fruit sorbet for everyone!” is a perfect way to instill urgency in shoppers to go to that section of the store and get the freebie. They know they only have 15 minutes, and they know that after that time they won't get the lovely sorbet.
This was Paco's way of showing how stores could be more imaginative. The store knows that that section of the store is going to be jammed with people for that 15 minutes and can capitalize on impulse sales.
That's how it works in the retailing world, but what about online? Instilling urgency online is a major factor overlooked by many business Web sites. These are some examples of how you might want to start employing this technique online:
- Time-expiry offer. Just as in the above example, you could let your readers know they will miss out if they haven't subscribed or bought your product by a certain time.
- The first number. Your Web site could offer the first 50 subscribers a free e-book or could advertise that the first 50 items sold will be at a 30% discount. This could be combined with a counter showing the number of places/items left, so that the browser thinks, “I have to subscribe before those places are taken up.”
- The number competition. The Web site states that if you are subscriber number 1,000 you get a free Web site makeover, again combined with a visible counter of the current number of subscriptions. This could be tied into a referral deal so that if the subscriber is not the lucky number and does not get the deal at least he could be offered something for making the referral while his friend might still end up being the lucky number and win the prize.
So how does conversion relate to all these changes? The conversion rate should and can be measured in every instance.
The Science of Online Marketing
There are two incredibly significant lines in Why We Buy: “Science is by and large the study of very small differences,” and “When you change one thing, everything changes.”
The first “very small difference” and “changing one thing” situation I came across in my online marketing career was a complete mistake. I was working for a large press organization, and one day I had to change some HTML code on a sales form. By mistake, I removed a voucher entry field from the form. As a result, people could no longer enter their voucher number to get a cheaper deal. Conversion improved by three times.
I told our editor, who was amazed but instructed me to put the voucher field back on the form while they figured out what to do. There was a good reason for the voucher; in fact, it was the entire reason the page was there. However, putting the voucher entry field back resulted in a drop in conversion to almost the identical level that we had been getting before my mistake.
The voucher idea was eventually scrapped on that page, and sales skyrocketed again. The reason, we ascertained, was that visitors figured that they could get a cheaper deal with a voucher. The voucher could only be gotten by physically buying a newspaper, and that limited us to around 10% of the audience. Nine out of ten people visiting the Web site did so from a place where they couldn't buy the newspaper at that time, so it was obvious that the voucher idea could only be good for the local readers.
This experience was a catalyst for me personally, and from then on I began to understand the importance of measurement online. In particular, the measurement of conversion.
So in order to turn the online changes you make into a science, follow three simple rules:
- Measure conversion. Conversion is a percentage, a calculation of the number of people who take the action you desire as a percentage of the total number of visitors to the page. Using percentages makes the actual number of people arriving at a page irrelevant. It becomes possible to compare a busy week with a quiet week.
- Change one thing at a time. An average page has lots of variables: graphics, headlines, paragraphs, sentences, links, testimonials and probably a lot more. By only changing one thing and always measuring for the same period of time (30 days is good), you will get a fair result. So, for instance, if you change a headline, look at the page click-through and if possible the length of time an average visitor stayed on the page for 30 days before the change. Make the change and measure the results for the next 30 days. Then, if conversion is higher (more people reading or more people clicking through), keep the change. If it's lower, revert to what you had before.
- Experiment. Don't limit yourself to headlines. Copy, content, graphics, competitions, etc.—try them all. But remember the rule: change only one variable at a time.
I've desperately been trying to keep this article short; I think I could have written an epic on this subject. If I were in the same room as Paco Underhill, we would have an awful lot to talk about. However, what I'm trying to say is that businesses should start waking up to the fact that online marketing is as much a science as Paco demonstrates in the retailing world. Measuring conversion rates online is the beginning of making it a scientific endeavor.
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