In the world of marketing and campaign measurement, the web has been a goldmine. Almost every conceivable metric can be measured online. But of all the things you can track, measure, weigh and analyze, the only metric that truly matters is conversions. Click through rates, page views, time spent on site, number of pages read, entrance and exit points, abandonment; all of these metrics are fantastic, but if you're not using them to improve your conversion rates, then why bother?

Most people look at their website as a whole but in reality it is a collection of many parts. These parts (web pages) are essentially individual steps on a path that should lead your visitors to a specific goal: the conversion. If your site as a whole, and web pages individually, are working properly, you should see an increase in conversion rates and sales. If anything is broken along the way your visitors are led the wrong way at the wrong time and you open the door to having them leave before they've reached the conversion goal.

Each entry point of your site (wherever the visitor lands first, not just the home page) needs to be treated as the starting point that will lead your visitors step by step toward the conversion goal. In order to guide your visitors from this starting point to the end point, you need to make sure each step along the way is aligned with the next; in sync and unbroken.

The seven steps to strong conversions

Step 1: Build the path to the conversion point

Stepping Stones

Just like good book needs to have a beginning, middle and an end, your site should be no different. All the steps, from start to finish, need to work together to bring the visitor toward the ultimate goal. However, with a website the start isn't always the home page. In fact, a website is more like a choose-your-own-adventure book than a traditional novel. The visitor starts at different points; wherever the search engine dropped them. This could be the home page, product page, testimonial page, informational page, an article, or anywhere else.

This makes building the path to the conversion a bit more challenging, but it can be done. Each page must be able to act independently from the previous, having a beginning and a middle while guiding the visitor to the end. Essentially, every web page of your site needs to be able to be the very first step in the process, provide a link to or act as the middle step, and lead the visitor to the last step, which is the conversion.

Step 2: Create alternate paths to the conversion point

Not every visitor has the same wants, needs or desires as the next. If you plan only a single path to the conversion point, you will ultimately lead much of your audience down a path that isn't meant for them.

Twenty visitors can land on the same page and take 20 different paths to the conversion. Some want to read about your company, others want to see your testimonials, while another group wants guarantee or warranty information. Yet still others want to read more about your products or services before learning more about you and then getting some testimonials for confirmation. And of course there are always those who are ready to buy now with very little persuasion having to be done..

A path to the conversion should be created to provide each of your users precisely what they need in order to take the next step. Every visitor has different needs, desires, and temperaments from the next. Their needs vary at any given time in the process. Keep your visitor's options open but also be aware that too many options can create confusion or inhibit your visitors from choosing any path at all. Don't try to be all things to all people, but instead try to narrow the options down to the most common and significant so you can be sure to meet the vast majority of your visitor's needs.

Step 3: Inspect your conversion paths

Once you have created your paths you then need to inspect them. Put yourself in the mind of your visitors and follow through as many paths as possible. This is where you'll find out if any steps are missing or broken, or if there are too many steps in the process.

Take notes of obstacles that may disengage the visitor or may be an impediment to them reaching the conversion goal. Look for missing information, errors on the pages, broken links and calls to action. You want to make sure that the visitor finds no hindrances to getting to the destination and are able to find all the information they need to make a confident purchase decision.

Step 4: Fix broken steps along the paths

This is pretty self-explanatory. Once you've uncovered any problems with your conversion paths, fix them. Patch holes, fill cracks or otherwise improve the performance of each step along the way. Use your analytics to identify problem areas and test different versions to see which performs better.

Step 5: Add or remove steps to create the most efficient path

Again, using your analytics, determine if there are places where steps need to be added or removed in order to make the conversion process more efficient. Your goal is to make the site as streamlined as possible. Add no more steps than are needed and no fewer than what it takes to get the job done.

Remember, each set of visitors is different. Some paths may be long, others short but you need to have the options there for each segment of your audience.

Step 6: Create and test new paths

Once you have tested, fixed and retested your original paths and everything is functioning as it should, it's time to start building and testing new paths. Consider your users carefully here. The first pass at creating paths should have been designed to hit the majority of your target audience. Now it's time to accommodate the rest. While the broader target is easier to hit, the smaller target is no less important. Build paths specifically for these users as they can be the source of many additional sales, and often result in higher conversion rates.

Step 7: Test new stepping stones

By this time your conversion process should be going strong and you have pretty solid conversion rates. Well, if it ain't broke... fix it anyway. Never stop looking for new opportunities to improve your conversion process. Test, test, and test some more. Sometimes adding new steps in the process can help improve conversions with certain audiences. Just be careful to keep an eye out for any negative effects as well. The goal here is improvement, not to add clutter.

Building a cohesive path from your visitor's landing point to the conversion goal isn't easy. What makes it even more difficult is that you never know what any individual's preference or needs will be. But by taking the time to know and understand your audience you can find ways to build and improve upon the conversion paths that will satisfy the majority of your visitors.

Follow these seven steps and there is no doubt that you'll find ways to improve your conversions rates. It may be incremental or you may find huge gains all at once, but every gain is a good gain.

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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.





Comments(5)

I agree on most of the points and I think we should also define the milestone for conversion rates.

Hi Stoney,

Well written article, I enjoyed reading it. I agree with your points about optimising the conversion path by using testing and analytics. Too often landing pages go unloved and without measurement and if conversion is low, people give up. It is impossible to design the perfect page given the diversity of an audience - testing, customer surveys and analytics can help you optimise and improve performance.

However, I don't agree that conversion is the only goal to target. Metrics like open rate, click through rate, average transaction value, return on ad spend etc can be equally as valuable. If I have a static conversion rate and increase my click through, I'm going to see a higher total number of conversions (whatever that conversion might be). I can then also optimise the process to drive the conversion rate. If you ignore open/click through then you ignore the impact of your upfront marketing. If click through is low there is a problem with the relevancy/impact of the message.

Optimisation should take into account all metrics that reflect customer interest and satisfaction. I've worked with clients where ROI is the target and they don't care what happens to increase it - if it is achieved by increasing click through and average order value, they are happy. If we optimise landing pages to drive conversion they are happy. I think a sensible strategy is to optimise each metric one step at a time with the end goal of an optimised marketing campaign, not just an optimised conversion funnel.

I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Thanks
james

Hi James,

You are absolutely right. I think I over-simplified things a bit too much. The goal is to get more conversions in total and that can be done by increasing traffic, increasing click-thrus, etc. But I think it's important to note that increasing traffic to get more conversions is good, but not so good if you have a poor conversion rate that can be improved. In that case, you're just throwing money away. Optimize your conversion rate first then work on the other things that bring in more traffic that can be converted.

Good post. I have always heard that there should be a call to action on every page of your website. Now, that may be different on each page - it could be to buy a product, sign up for your newsletter, click on adsense ads, go to an affiliate site, etc. But each page needs to have its own purpose, and it needs to be clear as to what that is.

Stoney,

Excellent post. I'd like to add a few more layers to your article because your steps provide a nice guideline that most marketers should be doing in the first place. However, the current conversion tools that exist for free (i.e. Google Analytics, Google Website Optimizer, etc.) are too homogenized in scope. Take for example Google Analytics...It provides a lot of aggregate-level information, most of which is lagging data over a period of one month. Marketers are still left wondering how to fix the problems they uncover with analytics tools. This is where the guessing game begins and marketers get caught in an endless spiral looking for the right weapons to tackle the problems they are detecting. Google Website Optimizer is a nice starting point but it doesn't allow marketers to get very "granular" with experiments. Other conversion programs (i.e. Omniure, Mybuys, Sitebrand, etc.) are somewhat difficult to manage and were never designed to play nicely with each other, and quite honestly, most marketers don't have the time to "test, test, test" as you suggested. We came up with a solution that addresses all of these logistical hurdles. Feel free to visit the URL I included and let us know your thoughts!

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