Do you remember your first website? I can. For me it was a renegade solution that lacked any design aspirations at all but achieved the task of finally getting the company I worked for online. The site was built in Microsoft Front Page but really more in frustration and boy was it an ugly thing. But after waiting months for the technology department to first agree that we needed one and then allocate some resource to create it, I decided to take matters into my own hands and finally get “something” online.

 

My creation lasted a month, maybe two. Just enough time for word to get out about how bad it looked and how it needed to be replaced asap. This led to a Wellington design agency being appointed to create a replacement and kaboom, we had a shiny, new, what was then called a “brochure style” website. I quickly took my version down – it had achieved its goal.

These days there should be very few people who experience the frustration I did of having to justify the existence of a website let alone wait months for one to be built. Having a website is just part and parcel of doing business and if you want something simple then it’s a short step to get something reasonably credible online.

What form this takes depends on who you talk to. Unfortunately, most web developers still persist in presenting business owners with the limited choice of just two options – a brochure or an e-commerce website. Both names reflect the limited vision they have of their craft. One talks to the act of converting what was printed into something online – just as it was done back in 1997 with my experience. The other to the rather bland, nebulous description of selling something / anything really through mouse clicks and page views. You would think that things would have moved on from there – and fortunately they have.

This month I want to replace these two very boring and very limiting web categories with five that go a lot further to reflect the true range of possibilities that a new website can reveal. Here they are:

I have purposefully made them all sound like people because that’s how a good website should be. It is not just a bland collection of text and words – there needs to be a good dollop of human personality to ensure the message gets through.

Now, some websites will pull from the pot of more than one category. So the “local artisan retailer” could well incorporate a section delivered by the “story teller” part of the site – more on this later. But to start let’s work our way through each of them, describing how they operate and how similar they are to their real world namesakes.

A Salesperson

Now this sounds a lot more accountable for results than a “brochure” website doesn’t it? Yep, you can hand out expensive brochures willy nilly hoping they may do some good but from a salesperson you should expect call reports, the use of scripted presentations and, all going well, some consistent results.

In the real world, good salespeople build rapport, listen to what prospects want and then explain what they offer in carefully crafted benefit-laden words. Then it’s about having the gumption to ask for the order, handle any objections / questions and, hopefully, close the sale.

Now I realise that in the majority of instances a website will struggle to perform all of these tasks. The steps at the end of the sales process (handling objections / closing the sale) are usually best done by people talking to people. Nevertheless, a well tuned website can do a great job in those early parts, paving the way for humans to take over once the rapport has been built and the early benefit-laden “conversations” have occurred.

By conducting some online research through your “salesperson” website you can discover the “hot” questions prospects need answering. It could be the level of experience of your staff, the technology being used, the price of the solution and even the speed with which it can be implemented. Somewhere within this there are a few points that matter most to most prospects. These are primers for rich content areas for a “salesperson” website to cover in words, pictures, audio and video. Then credibility-building case studies or customer testimonials can be included to gradually move the prospect along the persuasive process.

This usually ends up with the “salesperson” website asking for a commitment to continue this discussion in the “real world” of people talking to people. This could be an appointment request form, a contact us page or a simple report download page. Each requires the prospect to complete their details and move from being an unknown website visitor to a fully formed and named sales prospect. That simple act of conversion is the core role of a “salesperson” website – converting anonymous website browsers into known website prospects.

Sales “stars” in this category will convert at a rate of 25% plus, i.e. over a quarter of those visiting will be turned into quality prospects for humans to talk to. Other sites will struggle to get into double figures. The good news is that the process of doubling and even tripling the performance of these struggling sales sites is possible. You simply need to employ the services of a website salesperson trainer – just like us :).

A Mega Mall Shop

Wander aimlessly through any mall and you will come across shops like these. Bright lights, stocked shelves, loud announcements and usually very few people available to help you decide what you want. Prices are easy to find for each product and, due to the competitive nature of these shops, are probably the reason why you ended up here in the first place.

Here the experience is all about items being in stock, a full range and being able to quickly get in, put it in your cart and get out. Very fast, very reasonable and very easy. (Man shopping at its best.)

The simplicity of the real world mega mall shop experience does a very good job at hiding the super smarts that the retail geniuses have applied to make this system work so well. They have figured out what products to place where in the shop and at what height on the shelves. The lighting is the type that best suits a shopper experience. The colours of the walls and the shelves are too. So are the signage, the width of the aisles, the shape of the checkout and what else is presented at the checkout. And even those announcements are there because they are proven to move sales further ahead. The mega mall shop retail experience is a science experiment from start to finish, all carefully tuned to extract the maximum amount of profit from the minimum amount of space. And you thought it was just about keeping the shelves well stocked by teenagers and counting the money at the end of the day!

So the novice e-commerce store owner thinks it’s as simple as this and buys a cheap web store that will stock thousands of products but provide little if any ability for them to analyse accurately how their pages are being used. They load up images, content and prices and hope all will go well. And when it doesn’t they find it a struggle to locate where the real problem lies. Is it product selection, product price, lack of product content or a shopping cart that wants your life story before accepting your money? Maybe that last button should be blue and not red? It could be all or some of these but without any ability to track and test their visitor pathways through their site there’s no way to find out.

The smart ones realise that the “forever learning – forever testing” mantra of retail managers transfers very nicely to the e-commerce world and have picked a platform that suits this style of ongoing work. So product navigation is tested, the home page layout is constantly reviewed, and the shape and style of the shopping cart is pored over in painstaking detail.

A Local Artisan Retailer

With all its magic there’s one thing a mega mall shop struggles to provide its shoppers – informed advice. Yep, you will see a wide range of what you want in all shapes and colours but just try to get someone to explain which of these is best suited to your needs and why – well, frequently, you are plum out of luck.

Your best choice is to leave the mall and walk across the road and down the local suburban high street to find a specialist artisan retailer who sells products in the same category. The range will probably be half the size, the price probably a good 20% more but the advice will be there for the asking and lots of it too.

This is a place where you can “learn” about your purchase. What makes it work. How to get the most out of your investment and if there are any bits that, when bought with it, make the whole solution so much easier. This is the place where you will walk in looking for A and leave with A,B,C and possibly D. Not because these were forced onto you but because you now know that without them A would have never worked properly for your situation.

And that’s the core difference. In this retail environment the owner takes the time to learn what you want to do and then translates this to what they offer. A process that is forever missing from the mega mall shop due to the inability to scale this system reliably across a national retail footprint.

A website operating in this space works in a very similar way. It organises its product selection based on what people want to do rather than on what the company supplies. Knowledge is scattered around the site to make the buying process easier. This could be in the form of articles, videos or customer reviews. Anything and everything that helps to translate what the product does to what exactly the prospect wants to do with it.

A Story Teller

This is a style of website that fits well within some of the other categories I have mentioned before. Both the local artisan retailer and the salesperson can do well with a section like this. Here they can expand on areas such as the history of the business and its people. Or the views that define how the company operates, what it believes in and what it finds important.

Blog content management systems are a great way to present this type of content. There are millions of websites that are just ongoing stories in the form of a blog growing by a few inches of content each day. Someone’s life being progressively documented each and every month for everyone to pore over.

Stories are powerful things. All the great story tellers have achieved their success by presenting narratives that their audience finds compelling because somehow it reflects part of who they are or who they see themselves as.

This part is getting a bit deep but bear with me – I think its going to be worth it.

Most of the successful business people I have met have a great story behind their achievements. It could be their deep desire to give their customers an experience they never had. Or to carry on the legacy that their father started. Or to break up an industry that created too much wealth for too many doing too little – and by doing so providing the consumer with so much more. Stories like these can be shared and hence provide context to the reason why the business exists.

Don’t discount the value of sharing the story behind your business – used well it can become an extremely potent part of the reason why people choose you over your competitors.

A News Reader

Like the “story teller” category mentioned above, the “news reader” option can be used in conjunction with other types. Yes, a picture can tell a thousand words but a one minute, properly crafted video can triple this level of comprehension when compared with plain text and pictures. Artisan retail shops, with all their personality, can use video with great benefit.

Perhaps it’s the story they can add to that set of pans that would take pages to explain but can be covered in mere minutes of video, which is enough to convince you that they are worth the 20% extra on top of what you were willing to pay. A few minutes of video explaining how a complicated product works could be enough for a prospect to gain sufficient trust to complete a $500 online sale from a company they have never shopped with before.

Fortunately, the You Tube experience has helped make the “news reader” option viable for many more websites than it used to be. First, it offers a very simple and very cost-effective place (free) to store video content without clogging up a website’s hosting package. And secondly, it has reset our expectation of the balance between production quality versus content quality. We now don’t mind if the camera is a bit shaky or that the presenters are not actors – that doesn’t matter. It’s the way they take apart the product and show us exactly how it all works that makes this 2 minute video segment really rock.

Here are three tasks to work on this month to apply this content to improve your website:

  1. Review your existing website and pick a category that best reflects either what your website is now or what it should be in the near future.
  2. Match this with my notes on your chosen category and list what your site does well and, conversely, what it could improve on.
  3. From this list just pick one and add this to your task list for January to get sorted.

Have fun.

To start, just take some time and review the image below. It’s a screen capture from a client’s recently completed split test experiment from their Google Website Optimiser account. If you look closely you will see Variation 1 of their home page achieved a 50% improvement in conversion compared with the original. Google’s tool is quite confident this experiment reflects the new page’s long-term ability, giving it a 96% chance to beat the original.

Hands up who else would like to implement a revised home page that could produce gains like this.

There are numerous detail “things” that were done by both the client and us to get to this stage. However, when I look back on the sequence these followed, I see some very simple principles that anyone can work through. Neither time nor space allows me to share them all; nevertheless, here’s five principles that, when applied, can deliver an unfair share of their responsibility for the probable success you will achieve.

Principle One – a Client with a Willingness to Test

We were fortunate to engage a client who valued their website not on how it looked but how it performed. They also had a technology partner who, whilst they were responsible for the existing website, were client focused enough to want to provide any assistance they could. So, when we floated the idea of split testing home page versions to improve the overall website’s performance, both the client and their technology partner were all for it. Without this approval, none of the gains from these changes would have been realised.

Principle Two – Knowing what you Don’t Know

I’ve written before on the power of knowing what you don’t know – here’s the prior article for those that missed it. This client wasn’t afraid to freely admit that there were some gaps in their understanding of the profile of their ideal prospect.

So we worked with them to bridge this gap by surveying their prospect audience with two very simple but nevertheless very powerful questions. (We have asked these same questions before to achieve the same goal for customers from a wide range of divergent industries from home cleaning to wardrobe manufacture to immigration consultancy.)

Principle Three – Quickly Applying this New-Found Knowledge

Once over 500 responses to these questions had been collated we went to work classifying and prioritising them. Then we re-wrote the key messages of their home page to better match the desires of their audience. We probably changed about 125 words of a 1250-word homepage. The images needed work too – but again not many, there were less than 10 that had some re-design efforts by Ben here.

Principle Four – High-Volume Pages Produce High-Speed Test Results

This client operates with an online sales process that spans four pages. As per usual the amount of traffic drops as visitors work through the stages. Nevertheless, the faster we could run each test the more we could fit into a month. So we applied the reworked copy and images of our initial tests to the first two stages of the sales process where the visitor count was at its highest. This reduced the cycle time between tests and helped us deliver improvements quickly.

Final Principle – Principle Five – Knowing there’s Always More to be Gained

The results shown in the image above were actually taken from the second test we ran on this page. The first gave a sizable improvement when compared with their original page – from memory the gains were similar again – but we could see there was more to be squeezed out.

On a review call, the client shared with us some new content that was ideal to use to create our second variation. There’s always more to achieve. As I’m writing this, one of the guys is working with the client on version 3, which we hope will push them through the 20% conversion barrier for this stage of their sales process.

So there you have it. Just five simple principles that you can apply when deciding which tactics to implement. These relatively simple steps, when followed, can produce some relatively sizable improvements.

“Conversions, Conversions, Conversions – don’t give me more traffic, Permission – I need more Conversions.”

How often do you think we hear this line? Well, nowhere near as often as this one: “My traffic has dropped off and I’m worried.” Or perhaps, “whatever you can do to increase our traffic then do it quite quickly please.”

Now, we are not alone here. It’s an industry wide-issue. For example, just go to Google and type in “SEO” (Search En­gine Optimisation) and you will see a whole bunch of advertised results. It’s a high volume search term. Now try again with the keyword “website conversion optimisation” and the results are very different, as is the search volume – it’s a lot lower.

 

I don’t want to get all meta-physical here but perhaps this is just a simple reflection of our desire to favour solutions to our problems that rely on changes outside rather than inside our business. So we look to places like Google for the op­portunity of more traffic, when the real long-term change needs to occur with what we do with the traffic we already get. Then we can be in the situation that this happy customer is faced with in the images that follow. Site visits are down 10% but conversions are up 48% and the overall site conversion rate is rocketing up by 81%. That’s quite a big smile.

You see, online traffic will wax and wane in tune with the changing desires of the market. But steady improvements in conversions will add sustainable strength to your business.

So what are the fundamentals of success in the website conversion process? Well, here are just five to ponder when heading off into this area.

Fundamental #1: The more you tell – the more you sell

Imagine you are walking through a sports goods store on the hunt for some new running shoes. It’s been a while since you purchased a pair and you need help. It’s a mammoth store, so now you are hunting not for some shoes but some help. Eventually you find someone. Unfortunately, they started yesterday and are very little help. So you leave. In a huff. Shopping was never your favourite pastime. It ranks just above jogging.

Nevertheless, just by luck you find another store close by and in it someone who is also a “leisure” runner like you. Now things are very different. They tell you what to avoid and what to pay attention to. You spend a good few minutes chatting and end up walking out with your ideal pair. They probably cost more than at the first store but that didn’t matter. The job is done.

Most people would love to replicate every part of this happy shopping experience in their own e-commerce store. But that’s a bit hard to achieve. Nevertheless, the theory of telling more and more through the content you provide is one you can follow. So lots of great pictures please, from all angles in as high a quality as possible. Even short videos pre­senting the product could be an idea, too. (Refer to my previous article on Zappos and their use of quick fire product intro video notes.)

Tell, tell and more tell – load it up and see how this improves your site’s ability to sell.

Fundamental #2: Shopping carts need obvious directions

Online shopping is a fickle environment. A good website will covert 4% of its traffic into orders – leaving 96% to visit, look and leave. Any real-world store would quickly go bust with conversion rates like this. Therefore, any visitor that packs their shopping cart with product and then heads to your online check-out process deserves a slick and easy pro­cess to complete the sale. This is not the place for forms that confuse rather than clarify or pages that distract rather than focus attention.

And we are not talking about large, wholesale alterations here to fix a clunky check-out process. Just small tweaks can make a very large difference. For example, the conversion rate increases we delivered for the customer whose data was in the earlier graphic were achieved by us re-writing just two pages of a shopping cart process. Less than 35 words were changed.

Fundamental #3 : Even “Contact us” forms need some selling

When you are next in your Google Analytics account go and look at the number of unique visits your “Contact us” page receives. Now think back to the number of actual contacts – both phone and form – that came from your website. Even allowing for a few just wanting your contact details, I’m sure there will be a reasonably large discrepancy.

A month or so ago we had a client who lived with a sub 2% conversion rate for this type of page. In other words, of the 100 people who visited their “Contact us” page, only two actually did. Not good.

There were a number of issues at fault here. Firstly, they were asking for too much detail – from memory the form requested up to 8 fields to be completed. And secondly, there were no words of “selling” on the page to convince visi­tors to part with their information.

Again, it doesn’t have to be much. Just a few words on what occurs for those interested in learning more. Your busi­ness may offer a complimentary consulting session, a free “measure and quote” or perhaps a short phone review. Whatever it is, it will no doubt be packed full of benefits to make the first engagement a good one.

You don’t offer anything for the first time contact? Well, perhaps it’s time you did. Permission offers a comprehensive online marketing review for all new clients. Now, this is a paid-for service but comes with a rebate for a sizable chunk of the cost for those who decide to proceed further. For some businesses, a “paid-for” introduction service wouldn’t work, but there needs to be something that can be sold from your “Contact us” page.

Fundamental #4: Both the top and bottom of the sales funnel need attention

In very general terms, there are usually two types of prospects that your website will attract. There will be those that have a problem and need to solve it quite quickly – and then there are the visitors who are interested but not ready to decide just yet. The latter is the larger sized group.

Nearly all websites have a “Contact us” page with our without any selling on it, whereas very few also offer content to those who are interested but not yet decided. This is a problem. These people are ripe for influencing. They are in the early stages of gathering information together and are hungry for content to make their job easier.

Buying guides, free reports, and any prospect education content pieces all go a long way to correctly position your company during this early research phase. Yes, it will need some focused email follow-up, but done properly it is a powerful conversion improving strategy.

Fundamental #5: The website visitor chooses the winner

I’ve mentioned this before in previous newsletters but it deserves repeating here again. It is nigh on impossible to deliver a website that achieves the maximum conversion rate for your prospect audience. There’s always room for improvement. Therefore, split-testing your pages against test versions is a process that should be part of every month’s work. The person who decides what test will or will not work is not you, your boss or your marketing advisor – it’s your website visitor. After a statistically valid series of events have passed they will let you know which of the three outcomes your test has achieved – no change, improved change or, possibly, worsening change.

So there you have it. These five short points make up some of the fundamental parts of improving a website’s ability to convert the traffic it receives. Traffic will go up and down but positive conversion choices will live with your website forever more.

Permission delivers a Website Conversion service module that runs for 6 months and is focused on exactly this type of work. It comes with a guaranteed conversion rate improvement. Contact us today if you would like to learn more.

For some reason, this would seem to be the month for prospects to contact Permission seeking help with  their Google AdWords Campaign Management. In nearly all cases they have arrived after having had someone manage it before and do a less than perfect job. So much so that they are quite motivated to make a change.

Usually these motivations are driven by things going bad financially. Either they have ended up paying too much per click or their monthly budget has been sucked up with high management fees that they struggle to see the value in.

There’s a strong element of trust when you engage someone to take on the management of a solution you may know little about. It’s like dropping your car in for its annual service and not understanding a jot of what the mechanic tells you has been done – except that it cost you a lot more than you thought and took longer than expected.

Fortunately, there are some attributes of the poor set up of a Google AdWords account that are easy to spot for the new marketer. Here are a few that should be easy for the business owner to pick out and see if things are going awry.

Firstly, all the ‘optimizing’ work should be done on Your Google AdWords account. This is something I thought was pretty obvious until I realized that some management companies used their own Google AdWords account to manage campaigns for their clients. This may suit them but is a big problem for you.

Your account contains all your advertising history with Google. Do things properly by them and this history can help you reap some strong rewards in how Google treats your advertising spend, which would be hidden from those competitors who open their account years or even months after you.

Plus there are the benefits that accrue when you link your own Google AdWords account with your Google Analytics account (assuming you use this as your website’s analytics tool). Once the two accounts are linked you can receive click cost data, which makes it a relative breeze to produce your AdWords ROI down to a single keyword level.

Following on from the theme of tracking, I for one never like spending money without knowing what I will receive in return. Therefore, setting up your AdWords account without spending the 5 to 10 minutes to install its built-in Conversion tags on your website is as bad as sending Google a cheque each month with no idea what they are providing for your money. You should know how much Google ‘charges’ you per sale, newsletter registration, or webinar download – whatever the conversion options your AdWords traffic can deliver on.

The likelihood of you receiving any conversions is usually predicated on your account being established with the view of the searcher in mind. For example, let’s say you sold widgets. Blue, green, white and black were all available. As were fast, slow and medium speeds. Big and small were options you carried, too. Then along comes a Google searcher looking for a Big, Fast Black one. They type in that term and are met with your advertisement that says “Widgets for Sale” and a link that takes them to the home page of your website.

Now selling widgets is a competitive market. So with this ad they also see around it other ads – some say “Black Widgets for Sale” – then there is a “Big Widgets for Sale” ad. And then, near the top, is the one that captures their attention – “Big Fast Black Widgets” – exactly what they are looking for and ‘click’, they are gone from the page and directly onto the exact page that sells Big Fast Black Widgets. Bingo! Moments later a new widget is purchased.

A well set up Google AdWords account ‘wins’ this click by offering the advertiser the most relevant ad for the keyword they type in (Big Fast Black Widget). It achieves this by containing just the right number of AdGroups that in themselves contain the smallest number of keywords for the ad text(s) they can. This could be as simple as one keyword phrase (Big Fast Black Widget) per each ad text.

In contrast, a poorly established account has one AdGroup containing all possible keyword choices and just the one ad text. This single ad text has to account for all the different keywords being used to ‘fire it up’ so it does what it can and sends the visitor to the home page. On the other hand, the targeted ad text only has to allow for one keyword option so it can send the visitor to the most relevant page for that keyword.

Therefore, if you look at your account and see just one AdGroup chocker block with keywords then you have problems. But that’s nothing new – you probably already knew this from the low click volumes and high costs that this account structure frequently delivers.

So if you are not sure if your Google AdWords account is being managed the right way, then ask yourself these questions:

A ‘No’ answer to any of these questions points to some problems that warrant a bit more digging.

One of my early roles in direct selling had me selling business form printing. Back then, it was all dot matrix, tractor-fed invoices with holes either side, all with multiple copies that were ‘bash printed’ on loud machines that sat inside noise-proofed rooms. Remember that? Well, selling boxes and boxes of that type of printing was my life for nearly 3 years.

The business I worked for was based in South Auckland. It was a reasonably sized operation, with three equal-share directors, half a dozen production staff, the same number of sales and customer services staff, and a new Japanese printer that had an insatiable appetite for printing that us sales people had to ‘feed’ with new work.

The owners’ ideas of marketing weren’t that complex. Give them a golf course, a new prospect and half a day walking the greens and they usually ended up with a nice, fat, juicy, new order. They schmoozed their way into owning nice new Daimlers and were very comfortably off, thank you very much. However, for us lowly ranked sales people, our marketing process was somewhat different.

We didn’t have the freedom of an expense account. No, we were tossed out of the office each morning at 8.30am sharp and told to “bring in some orders – fast.” Our prior sales training was equally succinct – “Go knock on some doors.”

So, being the young and enthusiastic sales people that we were, that’s what we did. We would park ourselves in the middle of our part of Auckland, grab our binder of samples and walk the streets looking for someone willing to listen to us. Occasionally luck would have it and we would meet with the actual person responsible for purchasing business forms. Then we had a couple of minutes to put forward our case before being turfed back onto the street. Very, very occasionally we found someone who had just run out of forms and needed an urgent quote. And there were the ‘blue moon’ experiences when all the planets aligned and you actually walked away with an order.

Once one of the directors back at base learnt of your success you were usually met with them beaming by our desk telling you “See – I told you it works – just knock on enough doors and the orders will flow in.” Well, Clive was right – sort of.

It was just that there wasn’t enough time in the working week for me to knock on all the doors I needed to make the sales budget they had set to keep that Ninja printing machine fully satiated. But I was not lacking in enthusiasm, so out I would go again. It took me a few years before I sat down, did the numbers and realized the hopelessness of the situation.

Looking back, it was all a lesson in having unrealistic expectations of your market. Our methods of targeting were not that bad. Back then, nearly all the businesses that we approached would have had a printer in the back room somewhere churning through the forms we provided. Nevertheless, expecting to talk to the purchasing person and convince them to place an order at the exact time we turned up unannounced was asking too much.

You would imagine that most businesses would have moved on from such door-to-door, cold-marketing promotion like this. Those ‘No Hawkers’ signs you see pasted on the windows of offices must have put paid to this a long time ago. However, while it may have become a thing of the past for direct selling, it is still a method we frequently see people use when looking at ways of promoting their website.

For instance, their web pages may be full of great content on their product or service. There may even be the occasional case study or two and details of the type of customers they work best with. But the only way prospects can register their interest in learning more is the regular form hiding on the Contact Us page, just sitting there ready for what the website owner hopes will be a multitude of visitors filling it in. But they don’t.

Again, it’s another example of an unrealistic expectation. Yes, there may be the very occasional person who completes the form – just like that purchasing person who needed business forms at exactly the same time I walked into their reception. But, as a proportion of the total number of valid prospects visiting your website, the amount will be very low. That’s why a website set up for optimal lead generation activities will have a multitude of ways prospects can show their interest – reports, newsletters, free reviews – all built to match whichever stage of interest the prospect may be in.

Deciding what to offer can be a challenge. However, reviewing the information requirements a prospect may have as they track through your sales funnel can provide a few prompts. For instance, it is useful to understand the core problems that drive prospects to start their search for your service and then the factors they consider when reviewing any competing alternatives.

Being able to capture their attention and then successfully influence prospects at the early stages of the buying process can prove to be a real competitive advantage for any business. Obviously there are more buyers at this stage and, by enticing them to join your lead nurturing system instead of your competitors and if you can create a close bond with them, then they can effectively be ‘removed’ from the market.

Recently, I have been working with a few clients who want to increase their marketing focus here. And, just by chance, in each case our ability to attract prospects into the top of their lead generation funnel relies on our ability to persuade prospects to change their point of view. This is never an easy task.

Most marketing material will point you towards growing and emphasizing an existing view a prospect has rather than taking the hard road of trying to get them to change their view. However, while it is hard, it is not impossible. And if you are successful and end up being the one who ‘helped’ them realise the advantages that come from this change of view then you can be well positioned to capitalize on the commercial benefits that may flow on.

Just to prove a point that it is not an impossible task, here are a few situations where I see a prospect viewpoint either in the process of altering or having already been altered. Take the purchase of domestic airline travel in New Zealand for example. I would hazard a guess that a year ago the key parameters people used to establish value when purchasing domestic flights were the cost of the ticket and the convenience of the flight time. I for one used to load up both the Air New Zealand and Qantas websites within my web browser and see which met the sweet spot to get me down and back for my next trip to Wellington. Frequently, I would fly down with one airline and back with the other – or, if I was fortunate, one took me on the complete journey. It was a simple method that I used for years. Then Jetstar came along.

I flew with them for the first time this month. Before I flew, I did the usual and brought their site up with Air New Zealand’s and used the same parameters. This time Air New Zealand’s pricing made the difference between the two just too big for me NOT to try the new airline.

So, other than having to drive to the airport in the dark of the early morning to get the flight, all was fine and I made it to my first early meeting in a less than tropical capital. Then I arrived back at Wellington airport an hour before my 6.45pm departure time to see on the screens that my flight was delayed to 8.00pm.

They had sent me four text messages to ensure I made it to the gate on time going down and coming back but nothing to tell me of the delay. I was not a happy camper.

So I walked up to the Pacific Blue counter, whose flight was leaving at 6.40pm, and asked if they could get me back to Auckland before my children went to sleep. Yes, they could, for a price that was probably twice what Jetstar was going to charge – but I went. On the way, I handed in my ticket to the Jetstar counter just to help them out; there were no apologies for the late flight, I might add.

Now, I really want Jetstar to succeed – more competition on the Auckland-Wellington service can only be a good thing. So, being the good consumer I am, I filled in a complaint form on the website to see what they had to say. An email came back a week later telling me they had received my note. Nothing else since.

This has now meant that my (and I imagine a few other domestic travelers) buying parameters have changed. Yes there’s price and there’s also schedule timing, but now it’s about making that schedule too. The problem is that there is no ‘information’ that I can find that will help me gauge whether this will happen. So what do I do? Well, because I don’t like random events I can’t control – see the later article on pancake making – I will pay the premium and fly Air New Zealand.

The advent of Jetstar is obviously recent and the ramifications of them entering the market and possibly altering people’s buying thinking in the process are just early suppositions by me. But what about a multimillion dollar market that was created – and by chance is now in slow decline – just by prospects changing their views on how to buy a service? I think the home mortgage market is a good example of this.

It used to be that you went to your Bank Manager and asked for a home loan – please. I remember doing this exact thing at the Countrywide Bank branch (remember them?) in Remuera when Claire and I were looking to buy our first house. Interest rates were in the mid twenties and we had just managed to get together our 20% deposit to fund our $107,000 unit – and they still turned us down!

Back then nobody talked about the interest cost of the loan – it was something hidden away in those big, scary loan documents you had to sign. So while Countrywide said no, ASB Bank said yes (we’ve been with them ever since) and we took the advice of the Bank Manager on what type of mortgage we needed and how long the loan should go for.

Then Mortgage Brokers came along. They told us that it perhaps wasn’t a good idea to have as your only source of advice the person who would lose the most from any reduction you made to the rather massive interest costs associated with your loan. And that maybe there were more options available to you than the two or fewer mortgage structures that the Bank Manager had told you were available. Hey – and even this very complicated fix – perhaps you could save tens of thousands of dollars simply by PAYING THIS LOAN OFF EVERY OTHER WEEK INSTEAD OF MONTHLY.

All that made people change their thinking on who was best to manage their mortgage purchase and the Mortgage Broker industry was started and made many a person very wealthy. That was while the banks allowed reasonably sizable loan commissions to flow through and the lending market remained quite liquid.

As I mentioned before, we have a few ‘prospect mind-changing’ projects we are working with customers on, too. One of them relates to the commonly held belief that the Best Before dates printed on foodstuffs are an accurate gauge of the quality degradation the food will go through over time. Now, some food product does decline quite quickly after a certain date – but that’s usually shown with a Use By date on the product – something quite different from a Best Before date. In a lot of cases, product that has passed its Best Before date is still good enough for consumption. But people still look at the Best Before date on the foods in their pantry shelves and throw it out, thinking it is not in a fit state for consumption. But that is changing.

The promotion of foodstuffs that have passed their Best Before date is a multi-million dollar industry in the UK and US markets. Our recent new client, Reduced to Clear, is the local leader in this space (www.reducedtoclear.co.nz) . We started working together last month. Just visit either of their shops in Auckland or Wellington and you will see they are full of dated product as well as people of all demographics enjoying the savings this brings.

Another example is the work we are doing with a long-standing client (they have the claim to fame of being Permission’s first ever client) Assess Systems (www.assess.co.nz). Rob and his team help companies put in place a reliable method of hiring the best people from all those looking during the timeframe the vacancy is open. Part of their work hinges on the need to run personality style assessments to ensure that candidates are the best fit for the job on offer.

Talk to any employer who has hired a ‘horror’ employee and they are usually already pre-sold on any pre-screening methods just so they don’t experience it all again. Unfortunately, the rest believe that they are good enough managers to be able to pick the duds from the stars. Well, it’s a clinically proven fact that this is impossible to do with any level of reliability. So Rob’s task is to gently persuade prospects through the adept use of information that there are a bundle of character traits that they will NEVER pick up with the usual ‘across the desk’ discussion.

How Rob does this is by showing the prospect ‘new information’. It’s a nice way to help people give themselves a reason to change their view without feeling too threatened in the process. That’s why any mortgage broker worth their salt would present a range of colourful graphs that exposed the massive interest savings their clients had made through using them for the better buying of mortgage debt. And for Reduced to Clear, once you have tasted a Best Before dated piece of Cadbury’s chocolate and realized there is no difference – well, your pantry will be forever stocked with all the nice but nutritionally wrong types of food.

Now, while samples of chocolate are quite difficult to distribute from a collection of HTML web pages, new information in the form of reports, interviews and case studies is a breeze. Have them all sitting behind a prospect registration form that allows you to ‘drip nurture’ them with a sequence of email messages and you are set.

So, to wrap this up. Walking the streets of East Tamaki looking for new business form printing work was a great example of having unrealistic expectations of promotional activity. Likewise, owning a website that comes with just a Contact Us page is also a problem. Yes, it will get the occasional person filling it in who wants exactly what you offer when they arrive. But it misses out on those who are interested but not yet ready to buy.

By adding a selection of information pieces for prospects to register for, or even just download, you broaden out your prospect audience. If this is done properly then you are able to ‘remove’ prospects from the buying market. However, in some more complex buying situations the prospect has to change their previous thinking before you can get them to move down your sales funnel. This requires some subtle manoeuvring to keep all egos intact. If this is the case, then being the provider of ‘new information’ is a good way to gently nurture this change in thinking and to get the prospect to move forward all without having you leave your office and go door knocking.

For some strange reason, memories of my old physics classes seem to crop up on a regular basis within these pages. I’ve prattled on about how explosive the experiments were and how all this work was underpinned with some solid ‘problem busting’ scientific thought. Both of which I have then gone on to apply as possible solutions to the problems businesses may be facing in a down economy.

From all this you could assume – quite incorrectly I might add – that I was a bit of swot when it came to science. But I wasn’t. I struggled like the rest of them and just managed to scrape through with a B pass for my Cambridge O Level end-of-year exams. Nevertheless, I fall back to this time for content because of the most basic of reasons – I enjoyed it. You see, as a lad I was probably the same weight I am now but a good half the height. A bit of a porker was I. So sports were never my thing, English was a struggle, languages were even worse, so science was for me.

So while I found it hard work it was the certainty of the results that really appealed. Complete the experiment in the right way – mix blue powder with hot water and ba boom – one large bright and very messy explosion for all to see. Follow the same steps and the same results occurred – every time for everyone that followed the same process. Repeatable results – yep, that seemed quite cool to me.

I thought engineering contained the same type of thinking, so on leaving school I joined up to be an apprentice technician engineer at a local factory. Then, after a fair bit of travel, a few career changes and a dabble with redundancy, I started this company in 2002. There’s been quite a bit of change along the way but the theme that underpins Permission – delivering repeatable results – is the same one that interested me as student while I worked through those experiments. Thankfully, there are no unexpected explosions this time.

Nevertheless, there are some areas we work within that create a bigger economic ‘bang’ for our client’s buck than others. However, ensuring our clients allow us to focus their efforts in this space can be a challenge. For example, while our customers come in various personality styles, they all seem to have a core desire to want more traffic to their website. It’s like an obsession for some. These people pour over their Google Analytics reports each Monday morning to see how far their traffic has risen since the week before. And if it hasn’t, then in comes an email to ask what is happening. We answer all these politely, but at the same time try to avert their laser-like focus onto another part of their site that could return them more for their consulting spend.

And what is that ideal focus point?

Website conversion.

Yes, I have talked about this before in the newsletter but this time I’m going back to one of my old physics lectures to illustrate my point about how improvements in this space can be so lucrative. Remember fulcrums and levers?

I think it was Archimedes who said “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth with a lever”. Well, I don’t think we need to move a planet, just a website’s performance, so this should be a doddle in comparison.

To help me out here, please find to follow a simple image of a classic lever / fulcrum set-up – it has a rather skinny guy trying to lift a very heavy rock.

I’m going to add in two ingredients of any website – traffic and conversions – and then a nice expected outcome – cash. Now things are getting a bit more interesting.

Hopefully, most of you have your eyes transfixed on the rock, which represents a nice heavy pile of cash. This is good. If nothing else, it has distracted you from the hard work of the person with the cap – forcing down on the pole (creating website traffic). Things are a bit blurry but I’m sure he is grimacing as he struggles away. Now the amount of swearing that is going on with Mr Lifter will depend on how effective his fulcrum is – which in my little diagram is the conversion rate of the site.

This basic physics principle highlights a few very important things. Firstly, for those obsessed with just generating traffic to their website, you will notice that without any fulcrum in place no cash will be raised. Yep, absolutely nothing – nadda. Send progressively more traffic to a website that doesn’t convert and your results remain the same – zilch.

Secondly, the work of Mr Lifter would be a lot easier if he had a better fulcrum. He could in fact use less force (need less traffic) and still lift more (generate more cash) when compared with someone who had more traffic BUT a weaker fulcrum (poorer conversion rate). Hmm, do less work and achieve more. Sound like a plan?

So how does all this semi-theoretical physics mumbo jumbo translate into tasks you can put on your to-do list next week? Well, here’s a few to consider.

First off, let’s get stuck into the hard one – changing your mindset from focusing on traffic to driving up conversions. With some luck the image of the pile of cash being lifted upwards by Mr Lifter with relative ease should help. However, I realise that making the right changes to your website to improve conversion rates is anything but easy.

It takes time to set up experiments, even with Google’s free Website Optimiser product, and then patience to let enough conversions pile up so the results are valid. All this relies on a bit of methodical thinking and a strong self-image to know that, even with all this work, your changes could be proven to either have no positive impact or to actually reduce the conversion rate of your site.

But there is always a bright side. Doesn’t knowing what doesn’t work take you one step closer to knowing what does? (I think it was Thomas Edison who mentioned this after conducting thousands of failed experiments before he settled on the winning one.) And, like Edison, once you know what works well you can mine this success for ages. More on the economic power these results can provide you later.

Nevertheless, there is sometimes a short cut to conversion rate improvement. This has you looking out for other conversion choices – think other fulcrums – for your website to lever more cash from your visitors. For instance, an e-commerce website that achieves a credible 3.5% conversion rate still has 96.5% of its visitors leaving without buying. Now, I would guess that not all of this group are totally disinterested in what the website offers – it’s just that they weren’t ready to buy just when they visited.

But 15% could be keen enough to join a newsletter list. And a further 5% may well be in love with the brand so much that they would join the site’s fan page on Facebook. So to 3.5% of core sales conversions we can now add another 20% of additional ‘contact conversions’, realising that not all of those will buy now, but a high percentage could be persuaded to buy later.

A recent conversation I had with a prospect during one of our introductory online marketing performance review sessions highlighted this exact same issue. Their website offered a small range of products via a very simple e-commerce offer. Buying these items and contacting them for assistance were the only two conversion options the site offered. What’s more, their target market was proven to devour any information they were offered on the subject area. Add to this the fact that their product offered a novel twist to solve this very common problem, coupled with a great story behind it – and there were opportunities abound to offer an email newsletter of sorts and gather many more conversions from the traffic that was currently leaving the site.

Offering information is a great option to backfill a website’s conversion choices. Some industries / products make this strategy an easy one to exploit. But even for those that may struggle there are occasionally opportunities that arise to turn a relatively dry subject into something that many are keen to learn more about. For instance, if you run an accountancy practice, the latest changes to New Zealand’s GST and PAYE rates are an actual goldmine of opportunity. Used properly, information on these subject areas is an ideal way to engage with both prospects and existing clients. I recently sat in on a presentation from one practice that took us through the GST changes from start to end in a very practical and informative manner. I had never heard of this business before I was invited, but now if I was looking for a new accountant then they would be close to the top of my list. But have I seen dozens of accountants offering complimentary courses on the changes to reap the value of this opportunity? Nope – hardly any.

Which leads me nicely back to the subject of seizing every opportunity to make your conversion rate fulcrum work as hard as it can. The numbers can be very compelling – e-commerce websites especially can reap huge gains from relatively small improvements. For instance, say you own an e-commerce website that receives 8000 unique visitors per month and converts 2.5% of this traffic with an average sale value of $80. All you need to do is move this up 0.5% and your revenue per month increases by over $3000 – for every month going forward. That’s over $100,000 in extra revenue over three years.

Getting to grips with numbers like these can be a good way to help galvanise yourself into action. This month’s customer conference call included a section where I presented an interactive PDF document that should help many. By using this you can manipulate your own visitor numbers and conversion rates to see how sensitive each of them is to your overall financial results. As a customer you would have received a copy of this document.

I suggest you spend a few moments plugging in your own details to see what they show. You should be pleasantly surprised how much extra cash your website can raise just by applying some small changes to your fulcrum of conversion. Now that should replace any grimace with a nice smile.

This week I was amazed to read that the US Air force has more pilots training to fly Drones than regular piloted aircraft. Over the last 10 years they have gone from flying less than 50 unmanned aircraft to now having over 700 Drones in service.

Earlier in the month I picked up on the video of our own Kiwi Drone in action. This time it was a $500 device purchased from a High Street store that, when properly configured, was flown into a bent and buckled Christchurch church building to assess its damage. (If you’re interested in seeing the footage, you can find the link here: www.tinyurl.com/parrot-drone-chch)

Here at Permission we’ve been testing out some Drone-like technology ourselves. No, don’t fret. There’s no need to look skyward. This is not something that will hover overhead in a menacing way. Nope, it’s sitting nicely and quietly and innocently on a few customer websites we manage – just checking what their visitors do when they next drop by.

It’s part of our “Grow Conversions – Website Optimisation” module. This module is there to do one thing and one thing only – to increase the conversion rate of your website. In its current form it has been running for a few years now and has produced some sizable jumps in performance for those that have opted to “take it on”.

And I don’t use the term “taking it on” lightly. Because, when it comes to the number and types of changes that will need to be made to your website as a result of the findings from this module, there is no stone left unturned. Altered images, re-written content, restructured navigation, complete new landing pages, and even the grandaddy of them all – replacing a whole site design. Some or all of these together have been foisted upon clients.

Imagine if you could sit behind your prospect and peer over their shoulder as they move through your website, page by page. And by doing so, notice along the way what they click on, how far they scroll down your page or even which parts of your form they have trouble completing. Well, our small but very smart Drone does all this and captures the results, replaying them to us in a series of online recordings. It works just like magic.

One of the really smart things is that there’s nothing the visitor needs to download and install for all this to happen. Clients need to make a quick update to the HTML code on our their website and bingo, the recordings begin. Then all that’s left for us to do is sit back and try not to look at the recordings before we have enough to draw some sensible conclusions. That’s the hard bit. It can get a bit addictive – looking at what the last visitor did. Nevertheless, once a week or so has passed then we can dig in and see what we have.

Here’s just a few of the things that we frequently pick up during this stage.

People clicking on things that you didn’t expect them to. The technology tracks every mouse click and boy do some people click a lot. Fortunately, there’s a way we can look at this data in an aggregate form. Then we see the trends of people clicking on pictures, faces, headings and everything else that in most cases doesn’t have anything behind them. Pictures are a classic case. Small thumbnail photos that are repeatedly clicked on reveal the visitors’ simple attempts to make them bigger. So what do we do? We give them what they want and we make them bigger plus, if we are able to, we add a few more snaps in.

People struggling to fill in forms. It’s well known that the more information you ask people to provide the lower your conversion rate will be. But what bits can you leave out? To you every field is really necessary and none can be dropped off. Nevertheless, looking at the way people complete the form can provide some insight into the problems they grapple with here.

I’ve seen recordings where people struggle with an email address, or a time to call or even a phone number. As you watch their session you can almost hear them think, “Now which one is the best one to give them?” or “ What was our personal email address again?”. They type some details, then back space across it, then type some more in, backspace a bit more and then move away from the form – never to come back. So it pays to keep the fields you want down to a minimum.

Long pages with not enough emotional momentum gained at the top. One-page sales forms can be very effective. You take your visitor from the headline, right through to capturing the lead, without them having to leave your page. That’s the theory. For it to work you need to (a) capture your visitor’s attention with the headline, (b) transfer this attention into the early stages of your copy and finally, (c) have enough emotional pulling points in your words to ensure their attention moves through the complete length of your page. There’s a lot here that can go wrong.

The most common problem is the obvious one – people deciding not to scroll. I’ve seen recordings where the % of visitor attention plummets from 100% of visitor viewing at the top of the page to barely 10% after just one scroll length down. This points to a very poor connection between the headline and early copy. Even when the connection works you still see a drop – but nowhere as severe; plus, in the recordings you see people taking time to move down and back up the form as they read through in detail what you have written.

That’s just a few of the insights we have picked up over the last few months using this Drone-like technology. Yes, it takes some time to interpret the recordings. But the additional insight you gain from walking with your visitor as they move from page to page is truly something else.

Have a chat with us today if you would like to know more about this module.

I must admit to really enjoying what I do. I think it’s the combination of melding technology with selling, all the while helping our own clients achieve more.

Most of the technology required is quite detailed – think Google Analytics tagging codes, optimised Google AdWords ad groups and multiple search engine rankings.

For the first-time website owner all this can look like one confusing mass of Google technospeak. This means that when we kick off with someone new we avoid all this stuff like the plague and start them on something quite manageable – them completing a short survey. Yep, a dreaded survey! Most visibly shudder when I ask them to fill it in, but then go on to thank me once they have answered the questions it poses. These are questions not about technology but about their prospects and how they sell to them.

Once their response has arrived at our offices I hand parts of it over to Tom for him to tackle the detailed online marketing stuff. Bits like pulling apart their site’s analytics, paid advertising and search rankings. All the necessary side of assessing how well they are performing online when compared with their competitors. Once Tom’s results are in, we schedule to meet up so I can present to them what we have found and pose them a small selection of additional questions that they would never have answered if they were included in any prior survey.

These are the answers that really matter. There’s nothing deeply personal I’m digging to uncover here, no severe psychoanalysis underway – it’s just like I’m holding up a mirror and asking them to show me what I would see when first a prospect and then their best salesperson stared into it.

Mirror, mirror on the wall – show me who my customers are

First, we talk about the reflections of their customers. Are they all the same type of people or are there easily recognisable different groups? In most cases, the former is presented when the latter better reflects reality. Very few businesses have the luxury of serving just one type of customer segment.

So for these customer groups I ask about ages, genders, and even the states of mind when buying (stressed, excited) – everything and anything I can find out about them so I can form a mental picture of the types of people who visit their pages. Then I look at their current website to see if this also acts like a mirror to this audience. For instance, does it show any images or words that “reflect” the people in these segments?

Frequently, I reference the website that the Auckland team Select Cleaning use to present their business. (You can find the site here www.selectcleaningauckland.com.) The image at the top and the intro text were all crafted with some great help by the site’s owners, Graeme and Sylvia Norton.

Currently, the image at the top is of a stressed woman wanting to pass the responsibility of cleaning her home onto someone else. When we began working with Graeme and Sylvia this image was a picture of a happy, smiling franchise owner in front of his van. We ran our tests and a stressed-looking woman was clearly the winner. All this while their competitors continue to show pictures of happy franchise people and even vacuum cleaners. (Personally I’ve never seen a household appliance browse the web let alone buy home services.)

Anyway, your business may have multiple groups you sell to so one picture may be too hard to achieve. But you can still place groups of images that reflect back the main customer profiles you sell to, which then take them to the parts of your site that are just for them.

Mirror mirror on the wall – show me my best salesperson please

OK, so next up we need to bring their best salesperson into the room and place my Permission Mirror in front of them so they can tell their story. Questions I pose to them include:

Then I look at their website again and see how the content reflects this discussion. A business that has been in operation for 32 years and doesn’t show any reference to this on their home page is missing the mark. Likewise, one that works with well known brands like Rolls Royce and Gucci but doesn’t talk about this anywhere on their home page – well, another opportunity goes begging.

Then the task is to fix the gaps that each of these two “website reflections” reveal. In the process, we are gradually optimising the client’s website for greater conversions. The time this takes depends on a number of factors. One of the main ones is the clarity the client can offer to the visions of their customers and the most effective sales process they follow. By knowing the attributes of these in very precise details then they are able to see what is missing on their website. However, fuzzy knowledge in these two areas just translates into fuzzy results later on.

The soccer season is well underway and my Saturdays until early afternoon are spent ferrying both girls (11 and 14 years old) to their respective grounds and shouting “encouragement” from the sidelines. Both are fortunate this season to have a great bunch of girls to play with and a coach who is keen and able to help them develop.

And so, with the super mild May weather we have been experiencing in Auckland, it’s been a very pleasant start to the weekend. Even better that it extracts both of them from whatever screen is capturing their attention so I can get them out onto the green playing fields of Auckland’s inner city suburbs.

Neither of them is at the stage where their positions on the field are locked in for the season. So they alternate between goal keeper, defender and the occasional flurry at the front as a striker. Ah, the front of the pack. The place where glory can be captured with the deft touch of the ball in the right direction. I must admit that girls’ soccer has a certain grace to it when compared with boys’.

Purposeful runs down the sidelines, which are then capitalised on by team mates being in the right place at the right time. Yes, they all love playing in these forward positions and positively grimace when asked to swap to be a defender, let alone the worst of it all – playing in goal. Now there’s an “opportunity” that requires some sterling selling by the coach.

Nevertheless, even I, with my limited soccer skills, can see that the games they win are nearly always won by the hard work that occurs from the back half of the field. Hard work put in by the goal keeper, defenders and mid-field players – all build to make the task of being a striker so much easier with an increased opportunity for basking in some future forward glory.

Yep, it’s those mucky, hard and rarely recognised positions that, when working well, make the rest of the field hum along quite nicely. And guess what – the reason why I bring all this up in your newsletter this month is that the content on your website works in a very similar way.

Just replace the vision of the football “strikers” with those of the glory pages on your website that are responsible for holding the last smidgen of attention of your visitor before they convert into a lead. Commonly referred to as landing pages – pages and pages of content has been written on how to improve these parts of your website to ensure they perform to the very best of their ability.

Nevertheless, before your visitors arrive on these pages they usually visit pages that represent the “mid-field”, “defenders”, and even “goal keeper” of your site. Those pages that all need to do some solid work to ensure your visitors actually decide to journey onwards to the site’s final landing page. Pages that cover topics such as “About Us”, “Our Services”, “Our Story” and even “Customer Successes”. Places like these that come up again and again in the tracking paths that Google Analytics tells us people follow before they end up converting into a lead.

Unfortunately, most website owners ignore these areas of their website. Perhaps they see them as just showing filler content. Something to complete the story but not necessarily tasked to convert the visitor. How wrong they are. Just imagine meeting a prospect for the first time and starting your conversation by asking for an order, opportunity to quote or receive your bid. Not a good look.

So we kick off by showing interest and then slowly but gradually covering bits and pieces of the back story on the company and what it does. Basic things like what the company does, and for whom, and the types of staff it employs. It’s the back story content like this, when it is on your website and working well, that can make the task of those star landing pages so much easier to achieve.

Better educated visitors are more likely to convert when compared with those who are unsure what you do, why you do it and what makes you so different from others in your category. So it makes sense for this content to be there. Now, how do you go about judging its effectiveness and then move to improve it? Especially when any conversions – think goals – are not going to occur directly on the page but possibly a few pages forward of them.

Here’s a few pointers to help get you going.

Pick the right stats to measure their effectiveness.

This month’s customer call was all about website analytics and what it takes to use this knowledge to push your website into the top 10% of conversion capability. During this session I covered the different levels of competence a website owner can achieve through their understanding of this part of online marketing strategy.

During the first level I mentioned a site’s bounce rate and the visitor’s time on site. Both of these measures – especially the first one – are great to track the effectiveness of your “back field” website pages. During the early part of the call I went through both of these in detail so everyone was aware of what they meant and how valuable they are.

For instance, it pays to track the percentage of visitors who exit your website directly from your “About Us” page instead of moving forward to the “Contact us” section of the site. This stat is the bounce rate of this page. Now, some basic tricks to reduce this stat (with bounce rate the lower the number the better) include things like: a) making the next step an easy and obvious one for visitors to take; and/or b) even including content within the page’s copy to drive them forward to take the next step. For example, “you can learn more about who we have worked with by visiting our testimonials page here”.

Keep all the good stuff above the fold.

Our customer conference calls cover a fair bit. One a few month’s ago explained the importance of placing your good content above the virtual fold of your web page. That is the part they see BEFORE they have to scroll their browser to see more. Google has a great tool to help you here – it was covered during the April Conference call – contact the office if you need more details. By using this handy tool you can see what proportion of your page 90% of the browsing audience will see and if this actually includes the bits you want them to see. Basic I know but very, very worthwhile to test.

For example, last month we worked with a customer to tweak a few of their “back field” pages with the view of just moving the content further up the page. They had all the good stuff – nice images, great content, good information – all just below the fold. Simply by taking our advice and restructuring their content upwards they experienced a 44% drop in bounce rate and a 29% increase in time on the page. More importantly, their conversion rates really kicked upwards as their “striker” landing pages started to receive some more educated visitors.

Map out your preferred content pathways.

For most of us the ideal website visitor is one who arrives after finding us in Google, then heads straight for the contact us page and quickly completes the form so our sales team can start “working” on them. And this may happen. But not that often. The majority will skip wildly from page to page around your site before deciding if they should even look for your contact page, let alone complete it.

Now this wild path will be wild if you don’t try and provide clear directions for them to follow. However, you need to realise that even with these in operation people will still go where they want to. Still, some will take your advice and follow the paths you suggest. Which makes it worthwhile to invest some time and energy to map out the ideal paths that site visitors should follow and then endeavour to present your words in the best way possible to ensure a high proportion remain on track.

For instance, you may want to place your “About Us” page next to the “Customer Testimonials” section in your site’s navigation options. And perhaps at the bottom of each page you include either some clear directions on where to locate your “Contact Us” page or, even better, a quick contact form they can complete there and then.

There’s a great report in Google Analytics that can help you see if these virtual paths are being used. It reveals the pages visitors travel through before ending up on your final landing pages. You can also set up goal tracking that includes a funnel that incorporates these “back field” pages to see how many people go through them in the order you planned.

So there you have it. Like most good teams it’s a complete effort from everyone on the field that ensures the right result in the end. And while the ones that touch the ball – or the visitor – just before they score – or convert – are frequently seen as the ones solely responsible for the achievement, rarely is this the case.

Way back at the start of the play – or the visitor session – is where you will locate some quality achievements by others that made that final result almost a formality. And for you as a website owner it’s those “back field” pages that can make all the difference. So this month give them their own focus and see how well the whole website performs as a result.

I have never come across a business that has achieved that nirvana moment of reliably converting 100% of their prospects into clients. Some have come close – a few I have met are in the high 80’s – but none have hit that magic 100%. It’s probably a near impossible act to reliably achieve.

Which makes it very surprising when I come across clients who fail to operate a prospect follow-up process in even the most basic of forms. For them the ones that don’t say “yes” are never followed up and fall into a big bag of lost opportunities.

I covered this during our monthly conference call, in which I mentioned how improving your follow-up processes is one of the five fixes to implement when turning around a low converting website. Yes, this was a fix that needed to take place away from the HTML and super nice graphics and to occur AFTER the sales lead had arrived by email.

Some view all this follow-up work as just too hard and complicated to set up, as well as being filled with what they see as nothing less than “pestering” their prospects to buy. On both counts they are far from the truth. The tools you need to build a credible follow-up process are not complicated at all and you are not “pestering” – you are showing “polite persistence”.

Now, this last point will require some explanation. To help, how about I list some of the many reasons prospects could decide not to say “yes” during the time frame you would normally expect?

Now, I realise that this isn’t a complete list but in nearly all of these cases some polite dialog is required between you and your prospect to move things ahead. When this is done properly, it adds value to your proposition. Like me, you have probably been on the receiving end of the few sales people that do this. Perhaps a phone call – or an email – or even a short note in the mail. All small details that show that they are keeping in touch after the quote has gone through. Only a really pushy sales person could make the act of practicing great follow-up into something that could actually reduce the likelihood of them making the sale.

So it needs to occur. Let’s work through the tools required to operate the most basic of follow-up systems. First, you need a place to store all your customers’ details. I’m a big advocate of using online-based CRM systems – I have written about them in previous newsletters. Permission uses Highrise from 37 Signals – some of our clients use Zoho or Sugar CRM – they all do a very similar thing and allow you to rent for a pittance all the functionality to store and manage your sales leads.

How you decide to follow them up depends on the length and complexity of the decision cycle your prospects go through. Usually a mix of phone, print and email is enough to keep the decision moving ahead. Obviously, the phone is the most direct of the options and email is the slight gentle nudge in comparison. If you are uncomfortable doing the direct work yourself then why not outsource it to others? There’s a mass of highly experienced telemarketers out there looking for work who would love the chance to follow up people on your behalf. Just find one that suits your needs.

When I’m describing the task of effective sales follow-up the image I use to illustrate my point is a big fat leaking bucket. Now I don’t expect you to plug all the holes and achieve that 100% conversion rate I mentioned at the start. Nevertheless, taking it from a struggling 50% to a credible 85% could just involve the judicious use of some smart lead collection methods and a series of carefully worded and implemented follow-up messages.