Improve Web Sales Figures Forever And Ever Amen!

"How do I improve web site sales figures?" The CEO roared at the web developer. The web developer looked at his boss a little confused and mumbled something about it not being his core competence with him being a programmer and all. So next the CEO went to his marketing department and bellowed "How do I improve our web site sales conversion rates?" A few mouths opened as if to speak but nothing came out until finally exasperated the CEO tearing at his hair in frustration turned to a guy painting the wall and said, "Can you answer this question? How do I increase my web site sales figures?"

The painter smiled knowingly, winked, dipped his brush into his paint tin, before evenly applying more paint to the wall in calm considered strokes. Then without looking away from his work he continued, "When you asked me to paint this wall, you knew why you wanted it painted. Yes, I told you what it was going to cost you and I told you why it was going to cost you what it's costing you. But you knew what the problem was, you knew you had a crack appearing in the paint. What I would do is calm down, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself the same questions. First you need to know exactly what it is that isn't working, find the cracks in your wall."

The CEO laughed, slapped his head and went back to his office to consider this gem of wisdom. This article explains what the CEO should've done before asking impossible questions of his staff and what I've learned from our own failures and successes.

You Need To Know, Not Guess.

It's easy to bawl at people when things don't work out and you don't sell what you expected to sell through your web site. It's easy to blame the programmer who talks about missing include files and something called 'pee h pee' or 'asp' not working properly, as if a venomous snake could help you.

What will help is finding out what the problem is so you can learn how to put it right. When it comes to web site sales, we've learned that it could be any number of a great many things that you're doing wrong. So first you need to diagnose the problem.

1) Get Web Analytics

Start measuring the website traffic. This is the only surefire way you can learn about how people do or don't do what you want them to do. Now people keep telling me that web analytics is a science all to itself. I find it easy now because I know what to look for given a particular problem. I used to get things wrong all the time, but practice makes perfect. Getting things wrong is a pain in the rear, especially if it costs money, but I put it down to research and development. Simply put if you make a mistake put it back to the way it was before the mistake. Now I just watch out for trends which I think are good and trends which I think are bad.

For instance, one trend I look for are pages where people enter your site and leave those pages without doing anything. This is called a bounce rate. If you have lots of bounces you have a problem. Once for example, I released an article which was re-printed in a very popular newsletter. I got about 6000 free visitors from a very on target newsletter, so with our good monthly conversion rate you would expect I would get lots of subscriptions to my site.

Wrong! My analytics program told me that I was getting a 90% bounce rate, which in all honesty infuriated me. So I went to the article in question and compared it to another article which had a low bounce rate of about 38%. The one with the better bounce rate had four related links within the article content (often referred to as embedded links). Had I simply put embedded links in the other article I might have reduced bounce by 50% or more which would then transpose to 3000 more people getting deeper into my site.

Had 3000 more people got deeper into my site (and further into the persuasive process), I know that more of them would have subscribed than before. It's just a statistical fact that when people read more than one page they subscribe with greater frequency. I checked, only 9% of my visitors subscribed immediately last month from arriving at our site, the other 91% took more than 2 pages before giving me their email address. In fact since we added embedded links to all our pages we have reduced overall bounce considerably and subscriptions have improved as a whole.

The same thing happens with sales. Reduce bounce to your landing pages by comparing the ones that sell well to the ones that don't. It's a method that's more scientific than guessing and it will improve sales if you gradually improve bounce rates site wide. If you don't have any good bounce rates on sales pages, test something, which brings me nicely onto the next way to know what the problems are.

2) Test things.

You can't test anything until you have got web analytics. So if you haven't already done so, do not pass go, do not collect $200 just go and get a good web analytics system. There are plenty to choose from. IRIS Metrics, HitBox, WebTrends are three we'd recommend but there are now plenty of others on the market that allow you to follow what people are doing on your site.

Once you have a system then you can learn to test. For instance if you haven't got any sales pages that are selling then you have an easy time of it. Any improvement is good. So take the worst page (the one with the highest bounce rate) and change maybe the headline to imply a unique customer benefit. Measure this. If bounce improves keep it. If it gets worse change it again until it gets better.

Some variables you might want to test;

- Headlines. (We improved bounce by 36% on one page with a better headline).

- Scan Proofing (Bold benefits so that the reader gets the point without having to read ? 33% improvement in bounce).

- Bullet point benefits versus long copy. On one site last year we actually improved sales from nearly zero conversion to 2.4% sales conversion on a landing page by changing long copy to bulleted psychological benefits.

- Testimonials and other social evidence. Add these to pages where you can, we increased conversion of one lead generation system to 1.5% overall from nothing simply by adding client testimonials to a page with the registration form on it.

- Calls to action. It sounds stupid but if you don't have a way to capture the sale or the lead then really please don't expect to be inundated with phone calls. It doesn't work like that. Put calls to action in different places and test which method works best.

- Graphics. Test how to use them. All communication should lead to change and graphics are no exception, use them to persuade, inform, brand or intrude. Don't use them for the sake of using them.

3) Target your market

If you're going to optimize for search engines make sure you get the target market right by selecting the right keywords to optimize for. Basically you want the highest levels of traffic you can attain which also converts highly. PPC traffic, or other traffic you have to pay for should be negatively targeted with factors like price and location for big ticket items. You don't want to pay thousands for people only mildly interested, you want to pay hundreds for the few who have their wallets open.

Think about the market you have, what makes them tick? What is it about the product that they want? What about the extras and bonus benefits you can offer? Are you telling them everything? Remember above all else that different people have different wants and needs. One of our customers sells amongst other things nebulizers (an asthmatic product). A young mother with children might be closed to the sale by being told the fact that the nebulizer fits in her purse so it's convenient for her, whereas a guy whose old nebulizer just broke might need a new one shipped pretty quickly so shipping time is more important to him. What you have to do is tell your audience all of these needs are catered for so that you have optimum chance of a sale. Tell your audience the whole story.

The good thing about search marketing is that it's all possible to measure, so you can see where exactly people have arrived from. It makes it easy for you to concentrate your best time and effort on what works and forget about what doesn't and it's a cheaper form of marketing than say sticking an ad in the news paper.

Summary

Had the CEO looked through his web analytics package (or paid someone else to do it) he might have found that his bounce rates were very high on his product pages. He might have seen that the traffic directed to his offers were largely from the wrong kind of target audience. He might have realized that his content and copy was poorly organized and that his information architecture needed improvement. He might have figured out that by changing the size of a graphic on a page he could better influence the outcome of a call to action.

Improving web site sales happens with lots of testing, time and patience, but eventually it comes. It's about learning how to sell to your online target audience by testing and optimizing pages through observation. Once you have learned the basics of doing this it becomes easy to continue your testing so that you continuously improve. Forever and ever!

Steve Jackson is CEO of Aboavista, editor of The Conversion Chronicles and a published writer. You can get a free copy of his e-book sent to you upon subscription to the Chronicles web site (http://www.conversionchronicles.com).

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