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by Tara West on 7th August 2012
Conversion rate optimisation might be seen as a separate specialism from SEO, but it’s clear that CRO is fundamental for a truly successful SEO project. It’s all very well bringing in shed-loads of relevant traffic but if that traffic isn’t resulting in conversions and making some mulah, your client will soon be questioning the ROI you’re bringing them.
This post is going to share some actionable tips which should be applicable to almost all websites, so at the end of it you’ll be armed with some ideas for improving the conversion rate of your site without even having to do any testing of your own! I’ve broken it down by elements of a site and the kind of conversions which are most common, so you can easily find the tips that are relevant to you.
Often overlooked, content is actually one of the most powerful ways to increase the likelihood of a conversion on your site.
Use a strong headline that conveys the main benefit of your product or service, and ensure it includes the keyword you are optimising the page for. This is not for SEO benefit (although it will help), but rather to ensure there is continuity when the user lands on your page (organically or via referral or PPC) so they know the page contains what they are looking for.
Ensure your content clearly describes the benefit of your product or service (don’t simply describe the product or service). For example, if you were offering an educational course, don’t simply state what the course will cover, but say that it will prepare participants to be successful in a career within that field. You might want to summarise the key benefits in a few bullet points at the bottom of the page for those visitors who skim content.
Include testimonials in your content. This can work nicely if you use them as stand-out boxes which break up the other content on the page. Video testimonials can also work really well for certain industries, such as medical or health services. If you don’t have testimonials yet, state examples of your success; so if the service was career consultancy you may state that you have helped over 300 people improve their career prospects. Statistics can be particularly powerful for some industries, especially in B2B propositions where decisions are made almost completely on logic. Press mentions also build trust with the visitor so include these if you have any.
The tone of your content should suit the nature of your product or service. For example a clear professional tone works well in health industries, but a more colloquial tone works well on fashion retail websites. As well as capturing the right tone for your industry, the tone must be confident that your service will benefit the user. In many industries, asking questions at the start of your content works well to engage with the reader. Think about a classic pay day loans site; “Car broken down? Unexpected bills this month? You can always turn to Ficticious-Company-Name-Lend-Me-Money-at-Ridiculous-Interest-Rates for help.”
Keep a note of all the questions visitors regularly contact you to ask. If there are certain things that come up time and time again, include the information in your content. You might also want to create an FAQ page. Give the visitor the answers before they even ask the questions so they have fewer steps between reading your content and deciding to purchase.
Having said that, there is such a thing as too much information. Bombarding visitors with loads of great content (as useful as you think it is) may just make reading the page seem like a lot of effort and could result in them deciding to visit another day when they can spend more time on the site. Instead, try a progressive disclosure strategy. This basically means give them information on a need-to-know basis. So don’t include information about your postage and packaging service on your category page (unless it’s a particularly magnificent service and is one of your USPs). Save it for your product page, and feature it lower down in the content. A lot of fashion ecommerce sites have got this spot-on by including a box with a mini navigation of its own where visitors can clearly locate the information easily without having it on display all the time. Topshop is one example:
Make sure your content ends with a clear call to action, for example ‘sign up today’. You might experience success by repeating this call to action within the content at other stages as well. Avoid putting links to contact forms or other page right at the start of your content though, as you may lose visitors early on before they have read the rest of your page and learnt what the benefits are.
Most sites have a contact form, which might get used by visitors for many different reasons like enquiring about the availability of a product, the dates of a service, or a returns question. Think of the primary purposes you want visitors to use your contact form for. Make sure the text on the page suggests these reasons, for example ‘Get in touch if you have any questions about our courses’. This reassures the visitor they are on the right track by using the form to contact you.
If you can feature your contact form on every page of your site either in its entirety of at the very least with a link to it, you will notice an increase in conversions . Set up Goal Funnels in Google Analytics to track exactly which pages best lead to contact form submissions and then optimise your other pages in the same way.
Your contact form should always be above the fold-of-the-page. I’m not sure if we are lazy as web-users, or if we just still haven’t worked out that there might be more stuff on the page if we scroll down, but this is a golden rule you shouldn’t break if you want to increase conversions.
Make sure your contact form is ‘boxed’ in a different colour or designed to stand out from the rest of the page. You should also make the ‘submit’ button stand out from the form itself.
Often replacing the word ‘submit’ on your submit button to another term which relates to the benefit the visitor is seeking can help increase conversions, for example; ‘enquire now’.
Use autosuggest functions rather than long clumsy drop-down menus. It’s neater and nicer and visitors tend to prefer it.
Including your telephone number and postal address on your contact form can also increase submissions, as visitors often take an address and telephone number as a signal of trustworthiness.
If you have an email address on your site and think this is just as good – it’s not. Visitors who use browser based email clients such as Googlemail often can’t simply click your email link and start an email like those who use Outlook can. Besides that, visitors are more likely to convert if you have a nicely optimised contact form.
Most of the points in the contact form section of this post also relate to newsletter sign-ups (such as only requesting minimum info at the sign up stage – if you don’t need their name and aren’t going to use it then don’t ask for it!). You might also want to offer an incentive such as discount of your first order or a chance to win vouchers. You could also ask the visitor to add your email address to their address book so that you’re less likely to get caught by any spam filters.
If one of your conversion goals is social interaction, you should make sure your social sharing buttons are prominent on the page and are located next to what you think the visitor is going to be drawn to share (for example if it’s a product page make sure it’s clearly displayed next to the product images and description, not half way down the page near your postage and packaging info!). There’s a bit of a trend by many big brands at the moment to put their social sharing buttons on the ‘Thank You’ page of their checkout process or contact form. This makes a lot of sense as visitors generally like to share what they’ve just bought online, so I’d give it a go especially with ecommerce websites.
Downloads (eg white papers, product information white papers, e-books ect)
Make sure the content on the page containing the link to download clearly talks about what the benefit of reading the content is (eg learn how to increase the conversions on your site). Don’t fall into the trap of pasting a snippet of content from the download on the page and leaving it at that, as this is not enough! The user needs to be persuaded of the benefits, although a snippet of the content can also help. If you have reviews or ratings for the downloadable content you should mention them on the page. On a functionality note, make sure these downloads open in a new tab so that you don’t lose the visitor if they download and then decide this particular download isn’t what they were looking for.
Lots has been written about optimising checkout processes for conversions, so I’m only going to cover this briefly. Make sure as soon as you start asking users for their details (even just their postal address) that this is held on a secure HTTPS connection. You should also display an SSL certificate as this reassures the user that their information is safe.
Make sure your postal address and telephone number is present on all checkout pages. I recently found that having the Registered Company Number on these pages also helped to increase conversions greatly.
Lower down the page you should link to your T&C’s and returns policy. Avoid having lots of other links on the page as this can often distract visitors and they may abandon the checkout process before completion.
Similar to your contact form, make sure you don’t ask for any more information than you actually need.
If your site uses a third party payment system such as Paypal or Sagepay, make sure there is a clear link back to your own site after the transaction has been completed (if it doesn’t already automatically redirect). This reassures the customer that the transaction is genuine and brings them back to your site where they may make further purchases.
If you can, make sure any third party payment system pages in your transaction process are skinned to match the design of your site. This makes a huge difference to visitors as often the only way a visitor realises they’ve been transferred to another site is by the visual change (not the address bar!).
CRO doesn’t stop once the conversion has been completed. We all know it’s much easier to convert an existing customer than it is to make a new one, so while you’ve got their captive attention straight after purchase you should make the most of it. Make like Amazon and show products that other customers who bought the same thing have also purchased. Offer a discount on their next order, or when they email to recommend a friend. You’ve gained their trust by this point so you might also want to ask them to join your mailing list or complete other such secondary conversions. Ask them to review their order later down the line so you can gain more testimonial type content which can be used in your CRO strategy.
Much like content, images can play a big part in conversions but are often overlooked. Is your product is particularly visual (eg holidays) then make sure you use lots of images. If you offer a service that’s not too visual, try showing images of happy enriched customers (stock photo services can provide these relatively cheaply). If you use product images (such as on ecommerce sites) make sure they are ‘clickable’ and can be zoomed in if relevant.
If you have awards or accreditations, include the logos of these clearly and ensure they link through to the relevant award body so the visitor can see your creditability.
These factors fit better into Usability but they can make a huge difference to your conversion rate so I’m going to talk about them anyway.
Use Google Analytics to see how much traffic you get from mobile devices and tablets. Is it converting? If not, why? Does your site render properly on mobiles? Does your checkout process work easily? Depending on what level of traffic is coming from these kinds of devices you might want to consider a mobile version of your site or at least ensuring your current site works properly on mobile devices. You’re already getting the traffic from them, so why not turn that into conversions! Work smarter not harder
Having a reliable site search function can help users find what they are looking for even if your navigation doesn’t clearly point them in the right direction. Make sure you fill in the keywords area of your pages as this data is often used to determine search results from site searches.
This is another factor that probably better belongs under usability, but site speed is something which can dramatically affect your conversion rate. If your site is a bit slow try compressing your images and externalising your CSS and other excess script.
Plan, Test & Analyse your CRO
Conversion Rate Optimisation should be an ongoing activity for your site, so keep analysing the data from your conversions and keep track of any changes you make to your site (try annotating them on Google Analytics). Although these tips are meant to be quite generic so you can apply them to most sites, not all industries get the same results so it’s always good to do some testing and keep an eye on any changes you make. You might also want to consider some more advanced CRO techniques further down the line such as AB testing.
If you have lots of different conversion goals, remember to only aim for optimising for one type of conversion per page (two at most if one can be featured lower down the page). The more decisions you ask a visitor to make (for example whether to contact you, purchase, or sign up to your newsletter), the less likely they are to do any of them!
This post should have outlined some nice actionable CRO tips that you can apply to your own site whatever your conversion goals are! If you have any other tips or feedback please put your comments below.