Last month I finally took the plunge and upgraded my mountain bike. The maintenance bills were starting to add up plus my aging body was struggling to cope with the bike’s rather agricultural suspension system. So after some serious pondering I settled on a Specialised Stumpjumper. A name with some irony because, being a rather conservative rider, I rarely jump tree roots let alone stumps.

Anyway, my new steed is a thing of mountain biking beauty. I opted for some “clown” sized wheels (going from 26 to 29 inch) and decided on a large frame rather than the medium one of its replacement. Oh what a difference this and its other goodies all made.

I won’t bore you with the final details but suffice to say I can now finish a few hours of riding and not hobble around the car park grimacing as I stretch out my suffering back. All I need now is for it to automatically climb hills on its own and I’m sorted.  I wished I had done the upgrade years ago – mountain biking hasn’t been this easy before.All this got me thinking about online marketing. Specifically, about how some businesses we consult with just seem to have an easier time making it work than the rest.

These fortunate souls take on Google and win, plus their conversion rates are leaps ahead of others in their market. So what do they do that gives them this advantage?And, like my recent bike purchase, what havethey “upgraded” in their marketing to make this so easy when compared with the rest?

I came up with these three points,in order of priority and starting with possibly the hardest to implement first.

Upgrade #1: Marketing to an obvious and measurable point of difference

Online visitors are a fickle and ruthless bunch. They enter your website, scan your content and promptly leave in mere seconds if there’s nothing of interest.

Just imagine these same people doing this in an actual store – it would seem manic. People rushing in, racing around the isles and then rushing back out. But that’s exactly their behaviour online. Just look at your Google Analytics logs to see the average time they spend and the number of pages they look at. You may be surprised how low both counts are.

Web visitors bolt for the door when a) they can’t find what they are looking for and/or b) what they find is no different from what they have seen before. This is one reason why we delve into a customer’s point of difference during our strategy planning stage.

Earlier this month we had a client who was looking for advice to promote a part of their business that had fallen away over the last few years. For privacy sake I’ll change the category, so let’s say it was in the Party Hire area. They used to sell a lot in this space but priorities had changed and other lines had grabbed more marketing focus, so now it represented less than 20% of what it used to.

Our job was to reverse this trend. So the first question was –what makes your Party Hire service so different from everyone else in Auckland?

That got everyone thinking as nothing immediately sprang to mind, other than the usual statements of “quality product” and “great service”, both of which were plastered across most of their competitor’s websites. After a bit of a group brain storm we settled on two points that were unique to them.

Let’s say they were the types of events that were best suited to the products they had to hire and the speed at which the items were dropped off and picked up. By combining both of these differences together we created a nice marketing niche market that was a) big enough for them to market to, and b) could be found through the keywords prospects used in Google.

Now we had something to work with. The website content could be re-written to explain why this client was so good at servicing this group. Plus we didn’t need to battle it out with the rest of the market who were struggling to attract and convert those using the very generic search term “party hire”.

Upgrade #2: Knowing your website numbers

For many business owners, website marketing is a part of marketing that involves a fair bit of learning. Some find this too daunting, while others dive headlong in and reap the rewards of their new found knowledge later on.

I remember receiving my first set of accounts and having exactly no idea what it all meant. It took me four years and two accountants before I stopped asking what I thought were “dumb” questions just so I knew what had happened last financial year. It took me another two years and one more accountant before I got the answers I needed to predict,with a reasonable level of accuracy, what was likely to happen next year.

Some people struggle through the “dumb question” stage. Claire, my wife, is such a soul. Asking again and again until it is clear in her mind is not fun – it’s just frustrating. Thankfully, running a website is nowhere near as complex as understanding a balance sheet but still it requires some learning time.

All this doesn’t have to take too long. I remember chatting with one prospect who didn’t know any stats of their website. That in itself wasn’t surprising because it had no analytics running on it. Nevertheless,we got that sorted and took them through the tool. Then, after many questions over a two-month period, they had it sorted. Now they know their conversion rate to two decimal places and can tell you how much revenue they make each month from each stream of traffic their website receives. They are in total control.

Upgrade #3: Unleashing a testing mindset

This can be the secret sauce that makes all the difference. That last customer I mentioned – the two decimal place person – went ballistic when we tried to run a test on their home page using an imagethat, in their view, wasn’t part of their brand message.

I went onto explain that while I understood their concerns, if this small change increased their conversion rate by an extra 10% then they would make an extra gazillion dollars in profit. Plus, it’s really not how they think it looks, or even whatour team thinks, it’s how their own prospects think it looks. Now if they like it there, in that colour and written that way, then that’s what matters.

Begrudgingly they let the test run and no, it didn’t bring absolutely super-duper amazing results, but there was enough data to prove it helped conversions – so the change stayed.

This brings me back to my idea of a motorized mountain bike just zooming up hills without any effort on my part. Effort is still required. Yes, even with implementing these three business upgrades I mention here there’s still some focused work ahead. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. It’s just that bit more comfortable with them than without them