Five Ways to Increase Your Website Conversion Rate

Though it's wonderful to get all those hits to your e-commerce web site, hits don't mean much unless you convert them into sales. This is especially true if you are paying for, and not converting, clicks.

If your website is suffering from the "Conversion Rate Blues", consider the following steps for improving sales and ultimately, profits:

1. Make sure your website is optimized to attract people with the highest potential to buy

When I first designed my log furniture website, Log Cabin Rustics, I unwittingly targeted an audience that wasn't the perfect one for my site. As things turned out, I didn't even rank for my two top key phrases, log furniture and log beds, in the search engines. I managed to get pretty high on the scale, however, for log cabin related searches.

People who build log cabins are a target market of mine, since many of them eventually purchase log furniture to go with their home. The most likely immediate customers, however, are those who actually searched for the term "log furniture" rather than "log cabin". When I re-optimized my site for the search terms I thought would bring the highest conversion rate, visitors to my site were more likely to buy because my site was selling what they were searching for. My efforts paid off, when my conversion rate (and sales) doubled in the month or two following my changes.

2. Add a personal, trustworthy touch to your site

I don't personally care to have my picture posted on the front of my website, although many people do. I do have my name prominently on the site, together with information about why I sell log furniture and my business background as a CPA. I have found that a personal touch goes a long way towards selling log furniture. Many of my customers spend $2,000, $3,000 or even $4,000 on their log furniture order, and some of them have waited years to get the furniture they want.

They didn't find what they wanted in their local area (they must not have many white cedar trees in Texas), but they found it on my site. There's just one problem, however. They wish they could touch the furniture, slide the drawers in and out, look for drips in the finish, and generally evaluate the quality before the drop that kind of money. I have had people drive 4-6 hours on more than one occasion for that very reason, and frankly, I don't blame them. I'm pretty picky about my furniture too. This is where I can help my customers. I use primarily local suppliers, and finished furniture that I sell is finished right in our building. I can and do inspect much of the furniture before it goes out. Our finishing department does a pretty good job, but if I see something I don't like, I have them sand it down and get it right.

Some people I sell furniture to place their order online or with one phone call, but many of them talk to me several times before they place their order. They start to feel like they know me, and I start to feel like they are my friends. The last thing I want to do is ship a suite of log furniture from Michigan to Caifornia and have it come back because the customer isn't happy. And I don't want to let down my friends. When customers understand this, they trust me to deliver what my site promises, and that translates into sales.

There are many ways you can build trust in your website. When I realized my conversion rate was not what it could or should be, I went out and researched the topic on the web. By reading a number of SEO articles on the topic, I came up with a checklist of things to do on my site. My list included:

? giving name and contact information for the owner of the site

? telling a personal history of the business

? showing pictures of your factory, office, semi-truck or anything else that makes your business real. If possible, give an online office or factory tour.

? getting a secure security certificate and posting it on your site, and

? posting a privacy policy, warranty information, and product testimonials

3. Include a detailed FAQ on your site

A detailed FAQ that answers just about every conceivable question can do much to improve customer confidence in your site. Many people are quite methodical in their product research. They may be looking at my site at 3 in the morning, have a question, and want an answer NOW. Otherwise they will migrate on to a competitor who has both the information and product they are looking for.

I am continually tracking the questions people ask and modifying my site to make sure it answers those questions. That way people can get answers to the most common questions right away, and I don't spend time answering the same questions over and over again.

While a good FAQ is a great time-saver for the person who has to answer those questions, it also gives site users the impression that your site is well-thought-out, that you care about their questions and will take time to answer them thoroughly. You can build trust in your website by having relevant product-related content throughout the site as well, but there's nothing like a well-planned FAQ to assist in answering questions.

4. Make Your Shopping Cart Easy to Use

I've had a little trouble with my shopping cart from time to time. It seems that if I modify the header for my site, and put in a link that says "http:" instead of "https:", the secure part of my shopping cart pops up an error message with every click of the mouse. Take it from the voice of experience-this is not conducive to sales.

If your sales are clicking right along, then suddenly drop into the abyss, it's a good idea to go out and place a test order. I'm embarrassed to say that in my busy-ness, I've had to have a customer inform me of how very difficult it was for them to place an order. Upon investigation, I have found several times that something had gone wrong on my site.

In addition to making sure your shopping cart is fully functional and doesn't return error messages, it pays to have a shopping cart that is easy to use. I am not an affiliate for Clickbank, but whenever I buy an e-book from someone who is using their service, I am always impressed with how smooth and quick the online transaction is. There have been other times when I really wanted to purchase something, but some little glitch in the shopping cart wouldn't let me proceed with the order, and nearly drove me to distraction. As a customer I always think to myself, "if these people can't get their website to work, how do I know they can ship me an order?" As a webmaster or mistress, you certainly don't want to be on the receiving end of such thoughts-and you can prevent it by making sure your website shopping cart is easy to use, and testing it every now and again to make sure it's working properly.

5. Give Free Shipping or Make a special offer

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it really does work. I used to give away a free rocking chair to anyone who bought a suite of log bedroom furniture, and you'd be surprised how many customers I had say to me "I just love the idea of getting something free!" At the moment, I give a 5% discount for the purchase of multiple items. That might not sound like much, but its $100 on a $2000 order and many people are glad to have it. I also include free shipping in the continental 48 states. This makes it much easier for people to know the exact cost of the furniture. I used to have people people contact me to see how much shipping would be, then I would estimate the cost of the furniture they wanted, contact several freight companies for a quote, re-contact the customer, etc. Free shipping makes everything so much easier, and it really seems to appeal to my customers too.

In conclusion

I'm sure there are other quality ways to build people's confidence in your site-thereby increasing both conversion rate and sales. Some of my friends have Better Business Bureau seal on their sites, or participate in BizRate or other rating services. I haven't tried any of these yet, so I can't speak for them. But I have learned from experience that people want to know you are a real person with a real business. They want to know that you care enough to answer their questions, they want a smooth shopping process, and they really do like special offers.

In these days of security breaches and privacy concerns, many customers will need extra reassurance about the care you take in such matters. You can accomplish much in that direction by spelling out company policies on your site.

If you think the conversion rate on your site could be better, why not make a to-do list of items mentioned in this article that might not be all they could be on your site. And oh yes, if you have a website selling "widgets" but the only people finding your site are those who are searching for "bridges", you really should change your keywords.

Cari Haus has been successfully selling rustic log furniture and log beds on the Internet since 1997.

Copyright 2003 by Cari Haus, website http://www.logcabinrustics.com/

Permission is granted to reprint this article, either online or in written publications, as long as the copyright information, this paragraph, and a link address or a link to the Log Cabin Rustics website is attached at the end of the article.

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