Converting first time website visitors – Online Funnel Part III

Posted by in Conversion Analysis, Online Marketing

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    Leading website visitors down the path to conversion.

    Leading website visitors down the path to conversion.

    They are on your site, now what?

    At this point in online conversion analysis, the objectives and their corresponding metrics start to diverge based on what the site does. There are at least as many different conversion goals for site visitors as there are business models or probably many times more. Some product or commerce businesses are immediately focused on a sale.  Their intent is to convert that site visitor into a paying customer during that visit or at least during the visitor’s current web session. Others have a long sales cycle and their focus is some indication of interest, like downloading a whitepaper. Still others rely on a longer communication stream to make a sale, so their principal goal is to drive a registration with an email address and permission to talk to the visitor.

    Whatever your objective, there is a common need is to create the landing page to serve that goal.  It is amazing to me that so many people and businesses still point their paid traffic to their site’s home page. The index page needs to serve a variety of audiences, first time visitors, returning visitors, current customers, press, partners, etc. By definition, there will be a whole bunch of “stuff” on an index page that is of no use to first time users, and often confuses and distracts them from your conversion goal. That does not mean, by the way, that you shouldn’t optimize your index page to convert first time visitors, or even dynamically display different content to first time and return visitors. But a focused landing page will often outperform a more generalist page.

    Of course, as we saw in funnel post II, driving traffic to your website comes from a huge variety of sources and programs and each has its own characteristics, objectives, and different types of conversion.  Affiliate traffic, for example, might be highly sale focused so it’s primary conversion metric might be adding a product to cart. 

    Natural search traffic, which often comes from ranking for content within your site, presents multiple challenges and objectives. First, the content needs to serve the reason the user was searching for it. If a user was searching for content on how to sand house clapboards and landed on a product page for a sander, while s/he might be more apt to be interested in the sander than any random web surfer, s/he is likely to move on quickly (or “bounce”) from the page and site if the content doesn’t deliver to the intent.  Once the content serves the intent of the visitor, THEN the marketer gets to try and convert the visitor to the next step in the funnel.  That goal could be to get the user to click on an ad for a sander or it could be to get the visitor to subscribe to the site newsletter or rss feed.

    Other models or other businesses early in a “build a userbase” phase might have very different objectives with first time visitors when compared with commerce focused businesses. Ad-supported content sites might want to convert by tempting the visitor into reading multiple articles. Community based sites might be focused on getting the visitor to create a profile. Unless your business is highly focused on single commerce transactions, focusing on converting a “visitor” into a “relationship” usually pays the greatest return.

    Usually focusing a page on one type of conversion is best, but, as in everything in online marketing, you should test your approach for the best overall results. If removing ads from a page and simply focusing on email signup gives the best results of attributable revenue over time per visit, then do that. Again, as with analyzing your traffic driving metrics, you need to be able to follow conversions all the way through the funnel to be able to assign a value to each type of action. How much is a newsletter subscriber worth to you in future revenues?  More precisely, how much is a newsletter subscriber who came from a natural search visit to a deep content page worth? How often can you get the visitor to convert to a subscriber?  How often can you get someone to click on an ad for a product that aims down a purchase path?

    The more precisely you try to measure these things the more difficult it is to achieve with standard analytics packages. We will look at more precisely measuring values over time in a later post, but the core concepts are that you need to measure the value of different segments defined by their SOURCE as well as the value of segments defined by the ACTION that prompted their purchase or otherwise drove their value.  Many systems only measure the later, but in determining which programs are profitable and how to approach converting that traffic, tracking the original source of the customer all the way through to deferred revenue is important.

    Once you have your measurements properly in place, testing different approaches to conversion is a fun creative exercise.  This is what I always refer to as needing both left and right brain skills.  You need to be creative enough to visualize and communicate value AND you need to be analytical enough to hear what your customers tell you and weed through the data to see what works.  The only sure thing in testing different approaches to conversion is that many of your hypotheses will be wrong and many will not match best practices.  What works for most people will not always work for your site visitors.  Short bulleted copy works best for most?  Yours might very well react better to long narrative copy.  The most important  thing is to TEST as many variants as you can come up with.

    Assuming your model is one that does not do best when jumping right to a sales pitch, the next step in the conversion funnel (and the next post in this series) will take us past converting the first time visitors into a multi-touch relationships and gets into moving relationships into “purchase consideration” mode.

    Photo by kierkier

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