What’s All the Fuss About Web Site Conversion?

When I sit down with companies to talk about their web site strategy, one of the first questions that I ask is “Why did you originally develop your site?” Often, there’s a moment of uncomfortable silence before someone replies, “because our competitors all had one”, or “our customers kept asking for our web address”, or one of my personal favorites “to get our name out there”.
In addition, some companies build a web site for branding purposes, or to provide information to potential clients, thinking that one-way communication is a valid goal. I’m afraid that I disagree. Using a web site merely to provide information is like using an airplane to drive around town without ever leaving the ground – you’re missing the real opportunity to help your business ‘take-off’ by creating leads and sales.
After all, a web site is a corporate resource, and like any other resource it should provide a return on investment. That return should be immediate and measurable, meaning that the bottom line for any website is – how specifically has the web site grown my business today/this week/this month, and so on. Enter the concept of ‘conversion’.

What is Conversion?
For a business web site, there are three primary goals:
– generating leads
– selling products via e-commerce
– generating referrals
The reason that I say this is because these are the only actions that lead to real dollars. So, they’re the only way for your web site to produce a return-on-investment. When a visitor takes one of these actions, that is counted as a ‘conversion’ (as in converting visitors into leads and customers).
I do understand that websites can accomplish other less-tangible benefits. I call these secondary goals. Typical secondary goals might include:
– building credibility
– supporting existing customers
– recruiting partners or affiliates (this may be a primary goal if your business is largely affiliate based)
I consider these goals secondary because if this was ALL that your site did, then you’re probably missing the real potential of a company website.

Conversion Aids Site Development and Management
Deciding that you want/need a conversion web site is actually a tremendously empowering moment. For example, your new goals can actually help you to determine what should or shouldn’t be included on your site (removing much of the politics of website development). In a sense you build your site backwards – start with your site goals and then flesh out the structure and content from there. As you use your goals document as a set of criteria for determining site content, there’s much less room for disagreement.
Secondly, having specific web conversion goals allows you to measure the effectiveness of your site after it’s completed and live. That’s key because if you can’t measure web site performance, then improving it becomes much more problematic. So you’ll find that measurement and improvement are the keys to that ROI you’re looking for.

Tips for Improving Conversion Rate
Here are few tips to increase your conversion rate:
1. Give Direction
To build interest in a product or service, consider structuring your website as a logical sequence of information, rather than a maze of optional navigation. The way to accomplish this is to reduce the number of links, and identify the best next click for each page. Then provide a specific link which is essentially a signpost pointing where you want your visitor to click once they’ve read the page they’re currently on.
2. Trade Value for Value
For lead generation sites, collecting visitors contact information in exchange for something is the desired outcome. The exchange should be high perceived value to the recipient, low cost to the provider, and have a low perception of commitment. Typical on-line exchanges of this sort include free-trials, product demos, and whitepapers. Be careful not to ask for too much information in the exchange (this raises the perceived commitment level). Ask only for information that’s essential to you.
3. The Work’s Not Over
Once your web site is up and running, the work isn’t over! Pay careful attention to the results you’re getting. Establish a baseline of results and then begin making changes to impact your conversion rate. Make sure you allow enough time for changes to show an impact, if your site gets only a few visitors, each test element might be in place for a month or even longer.

About the Author
Mat Greenfield is the founder of Conversion Results, and has been in marketing since 1996. He is recognized as a website conversion expert by a number of industry organizations including Inside Sales, Register.com, and Constant Contact. He is a regular contributor to a number of print and e-magazines, and is a monthly columnist for Practical e-Commerce Magazine.
Visit www.conversionresults.com for a free eGuide to Improving Website Conversion Rates.