While getting people to enter your site through the home page of your Web site is ideal for conversion, occasionally visitors will enter through a sub-page, not designed for that same means.

Repeated entry through sub-pages (indexed within search engines or mentioned in message boards) can cause retention and conversion rates to plummet, even as traffic is growing, causing you to wonder what is going on.

Marketers need to be aware of this issue and regularly utilize Web site analytic tools to keep a watchful eye on pages, to make sure they are effectively converting visitors. Here's what marketers should know about the homepages they may not know about, and what they need to do to optimize their Web pages with this in mind.

Getting a grasp on the home pages you don't know about

Traffic spikes are welcomed by most marketers, but it is necessary to closely monitor entry points and Web site conversion rates during these periods. Most traffic spikes can be anticipated. But other times, traffic may be referred to alternate homepages, due to...

  • Natural search engine listings
  • Affiliate marketing programs
  • Online ad campaigns (banners and paid search)
  • Message boards
  • Product reviews
  • Corporate or partner press releases
  • Web sites that carry a link to your site

For these reasons, marketers should consistently monitor entry pages. This can be easily done by examining scheduled key performance indicator reports.

In addition, it's critical to pay attention to the audiences coming in through unanticipated entry points. By assessing who these users are and determining what content catches their interest, marketers can build pages that better drive conversions.

Assessing traffic spikes and conversion rates

When Sharp Systems of America sends out a press release announcing an upcoming product launch, the home page and other product-related pages receive a large increase in visitors. These new visitors do not typically fit into the mainstream demographic of Sharp prospects browsing for a new laptop or LCD monitor, as they are early adopters, shareholders/investors or those referred from a product review.

These visitors are interested in getting more information on the company or product at hand, and Sharp wants to make sure they get what they need, and, as a result, may pose questions such as Does the press release page provide ample links to direct users to their intended destination? Are these users enticed by what's on the page, or are they reading the press release and exiting the Web site? And so on. All of this information can be assessed by analyzing the retention of a page.

Examining page retention

Once the Web site's main entry points, or alternate homepages, have been identified, page retention—or the rate at which you successfully drive site visitors to other pages within your site—can be calculated. It is all too common for users to enter from an outside link, read a few sentences and immediately exit the site. Each Web site landing page has just seconds to capture the user's attention, and since the user entered on a sub page, not designed or written to keep that attention, it is common to witness a great loss in potential new customers.

Marketers should calculate page retention over a scheduled period of time—whether weekly, monthly or quarterly—to effectively monitor the success of changes. Web site analytic tools can pull system statistics such as "entry page visits" and "single access page visits" for the particular page in question over the same time period. Using these numbers, marketers can run a basic formula to calculate the%age of visitors that navigate past the entry page.

The formula is as follows: 1 minus (weekly single access visits to "Product A" page divided by weekly entry page visits to "Product A" page) equals retention rate.

In the formula, you are dividing the total number of visits that just come to the product page and immediately exited by the total number of people that entered the Web site on that page and may or may not have continued on in the Web.

Here's an example:

1-(2855/6242) = 54% retention rate (not good)

A retention rate of 54% means that just 54% of visitors to the "Product A" page navigated further into the Web site; the other 46% immediately exited the site without viewing any other pages. A 46% loss rate is a bad thing and could be damaging to the overall Web site conversion rate, since the company has not capitalized on converting the additional visitors into new customers. The "Product A" page lacks engaging content or callouts to drive users on a path towards conversion.

Improving entry page retention

To capitalize on conversion for each visitor, marketers must tune into their audiences. Using the information gathered when researching the source of the traffic spike (top search engine ranking, online campaigns, press releases, etc.), marketers can gain insight into whether users are interested in a specific product, need to be further educated or are equipped to convert.

Analytic tools can be used to create audience segments that monitor the group of users that navigate onward to determine factors such as what type of content they are viewing and how many and which pages they view prior to conversion.

The tools can also monitor the audiences that immediately exit the Web site: How long is their stay on the page before exiting? What was the referring Web site?

Marketers can apply this information to produce scenarios that illustrate what generates appeal. They can, subsequently, modify entry page content with teasers and call-outs that compel users to learn more and follow the navigational paths intended to result in conversion.

Additional best practice tactics include the following:

  • Make the company contact form a global link (include it on all pages of the Web site).

  • Hyperlink key terms within the content that push users deeper within the Web site.

  • If the entry page is a press release, always provide a call-out button or link for the product, person or company in mention. Consider adding a descriptive image that also poses as a link.

  • Revise the content to ensure that it engages the users to learn more/take the next steps to obtain the product or service

Ultimately, the optimization process that marketers should follow for entry pages is cyclical: Discover the pages, investigate them, change them, monitor them and repeat. However, once your pages are effectively retaining and converting visitors, it will develop into a course of maintenance to keep your site converting to its optimum.

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Julie Rosefsky is the site optimization specialist at Red Door Interactive (www.reddoor.biz).