A glut of algorithm changes (such as Google's Penguin & Panda) and an increasingly complex social landscape is making audience creation more difficult than ever. This means that the inherent value of those clients or customers that currently interact with your site has drastically increased.
User intent, trust, and a clear understanding of how close your visitors are to the "cash register moment" are key to creating a successful strategy. Understanding how all these factors influence each other is what I would call conversion rate optimization (CRO).
However, that’s not to say that adding a few percentage points to your conversion rate is easy. In many respects conversion rate optimization requires as much specialist skill as technical search engine optimization (SEO); with an acute understanding of buying psychology and data analysis at its core.
It’s a Two-Stage Process
Great CRO starts with understanding your visitor and their intent when visiting your site.
In order to understand their intent, we must first investigate the concept of “the buying cycle” and the psychology and motivation behind “wanting” something in the first place. Otherwise, without a clear and concise view on their motivations and the stage in the buying cycle in which your customer is at, converting them is simply guesswork – which, needless to say, isn't a strategy.
Stage 1: Understanding Intent
The psychology of buying is a subject that has attracted a lot of interest over recent years as marketers search for ways of fine tuning campaigns.
The first thing to understand when attempting to build a clear picture of your visitor is what influences affect their purchase decisions.
There are, of course, a plethora of different internal factors that affect our decision-making, but the key segment to understand is what types of consumers you're dealing with in the day-to-day running of your business.
In general we face four types of buying decisions:
- The Minor New Purchase: New but not important (a new disposable razor)
- Minor repurchase: Routine purchase (groceries)
- Major new purchase: The most difficult as we usually have no knowledge or experience to help guide us (new yacht anyone?!)
- Major repurchase: Important but come with a little experience (holiday)
The four types above isn't simply a reflection of their propensity to spend – or cut costs more than a low cost airline – but instead where they are in the buying process.
The Buying Process
Image credit: SEOmoz
The above classic conversion funnel explains how we move from stage to stage in the process. It's pretty self-explanatory, but it tells us that we begin the process by discovering a product or service before moving into the realization phase, when we learn that we need it in our lives.
Before we buy though we will consider and research that "thing" and here we use everything from friends’ advice to expert reviews to help understand what the "right" choice looks like.
This then leads us into conversion; where we’ll also research the best place to buy, based on trust signals, price, and other factors.
Purchases can often be swayed by many factors, such as the product being out of stock, a competitor offering an incentive at the point-of-purchase, the customer lacking the necessary funds (e.g., credit card not working), or members of the consumer’s reference group taking a negative view of the purchase (e.g., friend is critical of purchase).
It is for these reasons why your CRO project is so important. CRO makes that process as hiccup free and frictionless as possible.
Stage 2: Tactical Tips to Improve
I had always taken a "tick box" approach to CRO. One where you have either read the tips or had learned through personal experience what works and what may not.
It worked, too. To a point and clients had always seemed happy. Something was missing though and that something was the process; a way in which to structure CRO in a way that ensured I was not simply doing "the right things" but also in the right order with the conversion funnel at the center of the strategy.
Why was this so important? Simple: Because great marketing is about getting the right message to the right person at the right stage in the process.
The perfect tool to use as a base for this structure is of course the sale or conversion funnel as shared above.
Our job is to map the individual businesses’ needs against each of those stages, along with any objections the buyer may have and the content required to help them "get over it" and continue to the next stage.
The steps then are relatively simple to map out and will help you hugely in the battle to provide the best user journey once they hit the site.
Let's look at a fictional example to make it easy to understand how it works. The key is then to repeat this process for each stage in the funnel so you can create a strategy for each part. That way this becomes not just a CRO tool but also one for your entire marketing strategy.
For this example we’ll stick to the key conversion part of the funnel and we can assume that our buyer is on the site and is now close to the "cash register."
First, you must identify the motivations and stages that the visitor may be in when getting to you. Broadly they will fall into one of the following stages of the buying process (we are using climbing frame purchase as an example):
For each of the above the key next stage is then to note their motivations and possible concerns and fears. This will enable you to create content to alleviate those fears and break down the barriers in precisely the right place.
Motivations and Concerns
We are spending $500+ per year on visits to play centers for our children. We need to find a way of keeping our children entertained while we look after the garden
Concerns may be something like "we haven’t got time to put it together or collect it" or "I don’t know whom the best companies are in this space to buy from".
The longer the list here the better as these questions will supercharge your understanding of how you might go about structuring a world class CRO strategy for your site. Work through each stage and get other involved to really wring out every last drop of insight.
Armed with those questions your job now is to come up with answers and ensure those barriers are invisible. And that’s where the tactical stuff comes into its own.
You now need real, proven CRO tactics that will remove those fears and reinforce the motivations for the good. Below are my list of favorites to do just that in different niches and with various kinds of sites.
They are broken down as to fit with the buying process, to make it easier to find solutions for each constituent part:
"I Want a Climbing Frame"
The buyer here is establishing a need and will be surfing around looking for who the main players are and who should be "trusted." Play to those fears and ensure you're there when they look for answers.
- Build Authority via Content: This is absolutely critical to building an audience and brand. Become a thought leader in your space by creating an awesome quality blog. And give it prominence across the site.
- Social Engagement: Once you're creating content worth reading build your social audience. Twitter and Facebook are key with Google+ growing in importance from a Google perspective.
- Thought Leadership and Guest Posting: Don’t only write for your site. Build relationships and write for them too. Leverage your reach.
"I Should Buy a Climbing Frame"
The decision to buy has already been made in stage two. Your job now is to stand out from the crowd as a thought leader and trusted expert to help them decide which frame is best for them.
- Rich Snippets in SERPs: Create great uplift in click-through rates from SERPs and can also engender trust. Think reviews, rel=author, etc.
- Use Emotion: Logical persuasion is good for proving authority and knowledge, but emotive selling can create better conversion. In the case of our climbing frame example use the sell around safety and peace of mind to win hearts and minds.
- Create a Sense of Urgency: This one sits between this and the next stage but can be used to push people into the next stage of the funnel. Use time limited offers, low stock, etc., to force home a decision to buy.
- Social Commerce: Integrate an element of social commerce where you can so people can see what their peers, or how many others may have bought the same item.
"It Should be a KL800 Climbing Frame"
The buyer has researched the "what," they now need to decide on the "where," which means that your thoughts need to be on hand holding and engendering trust.
- Rich Snippets in SERPs: Mentioned again for the standout you can achieve if the visitor is now searching for longer tail product level results. It’s a killer addition.
- Live Chat: Much overlooked but definitely effective. Just have a tone of voice and communication plan for whoever ‘mans it’. Ensure you get across your brand essence. And that someone is always online!
- Reviews: Reviews are great, third party review platforms like TrustPilot are excellent but video is best. Retailers like kiddicare.com have produced spectacular results by creating simple product review videos for hundreds of products.
- Inform How Many are in Stock: Use scarcity to sell. It works. It can also be a tool to steer customers to more profitable lines!
- Use the Human Face: A favorite of mine and proved by many leading companies, including 37Signals to boost conversion. Show a human face at key points in the process and you will sell more.
- Explain your Value Proposition Clearly: Know why you're the best place to buy from and explain it crisply and clearly in no more than three steps prominently. Confidence in your value proposition will inspire buyer confidence.
- What Happens Next: Obvious but few think about it. Explain, succinctly, where the buyer goes next to complete the purchase and how long it will take.
- Expert Opinion: An obvious one but sign up, or employ, a blogger or expert in the field and feature their reviews, rel=author, etc., prominently.
- Inform about Delivery Clearly: Delivery is one of the biggest factors in conversion. Pay attention to clearly signing it and work on offering it free if humanly possible.
- Show a Phone Number: People want to know if you're real and often need a human voice to close the deal. Make sure you make a big deal of this.
"I Want to Buy a KL800 Climbing Frame"
You’re close now to that sale. The key here is to ensure they do not escape and complete the purchase by making it as easy and comfortable as possible.
- Mouse Heatmaps: Info around how we navigate around pages is well documented. Use this info to place critical content in the right place.
- Color Pyschology: It’s a well-known fact that color tweaks can make big percentage differences to conversion. Test across your site.
- Remove Choice: Less is more when it comes to conversion. Once the buyer is at that critical "I’m about to pay" stage strip down your template and ensure there is one single story being told.
- Call to Action: Absolutely uber-critical is the colour, placement and message on your conversion buttons. Test right vs. left, color variations, and the text used, such as "Get a Quote" vs. "Order" vs. "Instant Quote".
- Load Baskets Correctly: So many retail sites get this wrong. Make it easy to add remove and navigate between basket and products. In the UK johnlewis.com does it well.
- Include CTA Button on Expanded Images: If you have expandable images on your site make sure customers can click to buy right there and then when they are lusting most.
- Sign Clearly the Process: Simple but effective; make it obvious how many steps your checkout has and make it clear throughout which one they are in.
- Make Back as Easy as Forward: A lot of checkouts "break" if you press the back button in the browser (as many do). Make sure you make it as easy for people to edit as add.
- Don’t Require Registration: It isn't necessary and is a huge barrier. Think about using Facebook/Twitter log-ins if you really need them logged in. Just take the details at the last moment.
- Forget A/B Testing – Go Multivariate: Multivariate is the big brother of A/B testing and it’s an essential process to master for any serious site.
- Page Load Speed: It’s boring and done to death but make sure you know how your site is performing. Google’s PageSpeed tools are great, as is Pingdom’s for working out what may be causing a slowdown.
- Feedback Tools Work: Ask for feedback. It can improve customer retention and strengthen brand association.
- Email List is your Friend: And this is not just about newsletters. One of the best uses of the data you collect is to email customers that never quite completed their purchase. Get in touch and find out why or remind them what they’re missing!
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!