Digital Marketing, Social Media Measurement

Actions not Words: Most web sites can’t get visitors to do much of anything. How about yours?

In comparison to their human counterparts, Web sites have certain advantages as sales representatives for your company. They work 24×7, don’t complain about the commission structure, and don’t expense $273 for dinner with “Paul” the imaginary new business prospect. But otherwise, Web sites are generally terrible salespeople.

Nearly all Web sites have (or should have) visitor action as a central goal. Whether that action is a purchase, filling out a lead form, signing up for an email newsletter, or a combination of these or other activities, enticing visitors to ACT not just READ, is the end game of online marketing – and one at which most sites consistently fail.

The percentage of your site’s total visitors that actually take a desired action during their visit is called the site’s conversion rate, and a multitude of Internet research pegs average conversion rates at 2-5%.

Just imagine what would happen if your sales force closed only 2% of the calls they made. In most companies, a close ratio in that neighborhood would result in a humiliating verbal flogging at an early morning sales meeting, followed closely by a strong hint manifesting itself in the form of a $5 off coupon to Harriet’s House of Resume Polishing.

Even more damning is the fact that the people visiting your Web site are there for a reason. By their very presence, they have indicated their interest in your product or service. They didn’t enter a random set of characters into their browser to see what might happen. Consequently, your Web site’s pool of prospects might actually be MORE pre-qualified than your sales team’s. So what gives? Why can’t most sites close more than 5% of their prospects?

There are three primary culprits.

First, despite the excessive use of hair products and occasional personality disorders, professional salespeople have one critical skill that most Web sites lack entirely – listening. In a conversation with a prospect, salespeople are trained to listen to what the prospect says and probe for need. Only when needs have been identified do well trained salespeople offer solutions to meet them.

Web sites are often exactly the opposite. The entire “conversation” is not a conversation at all, but a monologue. “This is what our company does. These are the services we offer. These are the benefits of those services.” No acknowledgement of customer need. People act because they have a problem or need, and believe you can solve it. Frame the issue from their perspective, and you’ll be able to more succinctly and directly explain why you’re the solution.

The second problem is that Web site owners dramatically overestimate depth of visit. A March, 2004 study of thousands of sites from Web site analytics company Onestat.com found that more than 80% of all Web site visitors view three pages or fewer. This has massive implications for home page design and content organization. To increase conversion rates it’s imperative that your site diagnose visitor need, deliver evidence of being able to meet that need, and encourage action within the first two pages. Don’t waste your most valuable real estate – your home page – by including on it a worthless animated sequence or other corporate welcome statement that doesn’t address need or encourage action.

If the primary objective of your site is to get people to request your free brochure about your new weed killing spray, include a large button on your home page that says “Overrun by weeds? A weed-free yard is within your reach. Click here to see how your weeds could be singing the blues by this weekend.” Corny? Yes. Effective in getting prospects to request the brochure? Yes.

The third problem is a fundamental lack of understanding that unlike in-laws and Supreme Court Justices, you’re not stuck with your conversion rate. Now that Internet advertising is hot again, companies are constantly looking for ways to increase their Web site traffic, not realizing that the least expensive way to improve results is to re-architect the site itself to boost conversion rates. If you better your conversion rate by 100% – a very achievable objective in many scenarios – you’ve effectively doubled your marketing budget.

Certainly, there are principles that are universally true, including those included here. However, when you’re ready to get serious about conversion rate improvement, the only way to do so is to test your theories. Work with your team or a consultant to create several versions of your home page. Try new navigation labels. Build multiple lead generation forms. The only way to truly optimize results is to test until you’ve found the Web site recipe that makes the tastiest casserole for your company.

Is it easy to optimize conversion rates? It’s not too difficult to improve them by ridding your site of obvious problems. But a complete optimization strategy and tactical plan can indeed be tricky. But, unless you have a large unused cubicle farm and a platinum account at monster.com, it’s a lot simpler to test new Web site options than to try a fleet of new salespeople.