My SEO firm has been spending a good deal of time analyzing conversion and usability aspects for our clients over the past year. While there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of things that can be changed to help improve conversion rates, we've created a short list of things that are both quick and easy to change or add to your site. These are in no particular order.

1. Blue and underlined links

I almost made each of these their own item but decided to combine them into one because both can be fixed with a simple CSS change. Let's attack the underlining first.

There are many ways to make your links stand out, you can bold them, italicize them, make them bigger or change color, etc. But none of these changes will intuitively let your visitors know they are looking at a link. That's why underlining your links is so important. Underlined text on a web page is the universal sign of a hyperlink to another page or area of the site. This is also why you should not underline any text other than links, it causes confusion!

While most people want websites that stand out, there are still things that we all must do in order to ensure our audience isn't confused. In other words, we have to conform to what are typical web development practices. If we don't we lose our ability to communicate to our audience. Underlining links creates clarity making navigating from page to page easier for your audience. If it's underlined, they know it's a link.

As for the blue; again this goes back to perceptions. From the early days of the web all hyperlinks were blue by default. Only later did we begin to style the links in various colors to fit with our site themes. When visitors see blue underlined text, they instinctively know it's a clickable link. If your link is a different color they may not be so sure or may have to test it to be sure. What you want to accomplish is making your site's navigation as though-free as possible. You want to drive the audience easily without making them think about how to get from page to page.

Of these two rules the underlining is the most important. Because many sites have begun using CSS to change the colors of their links users are getting more used to links not always being blue. But if you can make them blue then do it. If you absolutely can't work in the color blue with your scheme, that's OK, but you absolutely need those links underlined.

2. Custom 404-redirect

Have you ever navigated to a site or were clicking links within a site and were brought to a white screen with black text telling you the page can't be found? What's your first response. For most, they would simply to move on and find another site to go to. You can prevent many of those exits simply by customizing your 404 page. Take a look at this one here. Anyone getting a broken link on our site will remain on our site with all of our navigation options to choose from. Instead of bolting for the next site they will likely keep browsing the current site.

The difference between a custom 404 page and the white page not found screen is like this: Say you're in a large store and you can't find a particular item. You find an employee to ask. The generic page-not-found employee would simply say "I'm not sure, sorry, I can't help you," and then returns to his business. T custom 404 employee would tell you "I know just where that is, follow me and I'll show you." It's a big difference.

Broken links are (or should be) rare, but they do happen, especially coming from external sites. While you have full control over internal links (more on this later) with external links to your site you have little, or no, control over. This makes it even more important to implement a custom 404 page. This is your best option to not lose that traffic that comes from an old or outdated link.

3. Links in body content

I once have a version of my site where almost 100% of my internal links were via the navigation panes. It's always smart to have good navigation in your site, but this should not be your only source of linking to important pages. In fact, your body content should be littered with links to various pages of your site.

If you talk about your team, link to your about us page. If you talk about your successes, link to your testimonials. If you talk about your services or specific products, link to them as well. The web is an interactive place and visitors want to click as they read something that interests them. If you rely solely on navigation links you are forcing your visitors to have to think about where they want to go next. Don't leave it up to them, tell them where they should go, give them various options, and provide the links so they can go there now.

4. Visible phone number

There are still a number of web users out there who prefer traditional forms of communication like the phone. While the web is interactive, it can often seem less personal. Especially if you don't know how long it will take for an email to get answered. When I want answers, I want them now. Placing your phone number visibly on your pages sends the message that you are available for your customers. They may not need to call you, but just knowing they can gives visitors that extra bit of confidence in your business.

5. Fix typos and grammatical errors

Nothing says amateur more than constant spelling and grammatical errors. Your words are a representation of who you are and how well your company will be able to fulfill the needs of your visitors. If your website has an overwhelming number of spelling and grammatical errors you're signaling to your visitors that you simply can't be bothered with the small things. But it's those small things that are so very important. Sales are won and lost on what is seemingly inconsequential.

Spelling and grammar errors simply lack professionalism which supports credibility. Take the time to fix spelling errors and present a more professional appearance.

6. Fix broken links

We talked about using the 404 page to keep visitors on your site if they hit a bad link. While you can't always control external links to your site you should have 100% control of your site's internal links. Like spelling and grammar errors, broken links are simply unprofessional. Not only that, but what better way to force customers out the door than by clicking to a dead page? Run a regular broken link check on your site regularly especially if you regularly edit your site, add products, move pages, etc.

7. Show prices and shipping info

I can't stand sites that bury their pricing information. While the price isn't the only factor when making a decision to purchase it is a significant one. If your visitors can't find product or service prices easily enough they'll likely move on to another site that does display them. Pricing should be considered part of the specifications for the product or service. Its just one additional piece of information that helps users determine quality, affordability and whether what you have is right for them.

People don't want to be kept in the dark or have to click to every product individually just to get this information. If you have a product category page showing pictures of what you offer, give the pricing as well, it helps them to find for the right item. In your product pages you also want to include shipping information. This is another sticking point for many and if they see that shipping is cheap enough (before they add the product to the cart) then that can help you make the sale.

8. About us page

Not only do you need an about us page but you also need to fill it with good information. Telling about your company is good, but your visitors also want to know about the people involved in the company. Adding this information provides a personal touch and lets people see the faces behind the screen.

Use this space to let employees or managers to tell about their skills, experience and their interests. All of that plays a role in building confidence in your visitors. Giving potential customers the background of your team can ensure them that your team is capable of providing service or choosing the best quality products to sell. This reassurance is important.

9. Calls to action

Every page on your site needs to have at least one call to action. A call to action is simply a line of text or an image (and a link) that tells the visitors what they should do next. Typical calls to action are "Read more about...," "Add to cart," "Buy Now," "Read more testimonials," "See why we're #1," "Sign up," etc. Calls to action should drive the visitor from page to page or from page to checkout, depending on the situation. Visitors like to be told what to do, as long as they have the choice to do it or not. Calls to action give them both.

10. Answer emails and phones

I am often surprised by how often I get told by prospective clients that I was the only company who followed up with an email or phone call. You would think being in business this would be a given, but it's not.

Too many companies let their phone calls go to voice mail and don't return email messages in a timely manner. This is especially true with small businesses operating on the web. While these businesses are struggling to make ends meet they fail to realize that their inability to return messages or pick up the phone is one of the primary barriers to success. Even if success isn't a factor, many people are turned off by companies that simply don't get back to them or answer incoming calls. This is a negative impression that can easily be avoided.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 6, 2007

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.

Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > 10 Quick Ways to Increase Conversions