Are These Trust-Killers On Your Website?

Imagine you’re in a new city on a business trip. You’re hungry, but you aren’t sure where to go (and let’s pretend you don’t have access to Yelp).

 

You walk into a restaurant in a strip mall, where you’re greeted by passé decor and the smell of something burning. It’s empty of guests.

 

Do you sit down to order? Or, do you head right back out the door?

Read More

9 Signs It’s Time to Update Your Website (and How to Fix It)

CIO Magazine recently published some great tips on how to tell if your website could use some updating, featuring input from yours truly. There are several relatively quick and inexpensive improvements you can make to improve the overall performance of your site, while others require more in-depth planning and development. Let’s sum up the nine signs that the article points out along with some added points from me:

  1. Your Traffic Isn’t Converting Into Sales – Or leads. If your website isn’t achieving your intended goals, you need to address it or you are wasting money and effort. Try split-testing to find updates that improve your website performance.
  2. Your Site Has High Bounce Rates – Customers aren’t finding what they are looking for. Your site may be hard to navigate, but you should also look at the sources of traffic and make sure you’re not advertising in places that don’t drive interested visitors.
  3. Your Site Takes Forever to Load – People are impatient and no one likes waiting around for pages to appear. Additionally, search engines take page load speed into consideration when ranking your site.
  4. It’s Difficult to Add Content or Update Your Site — Without Having to Pay Someone a Lot of Money to Do it for You- Content management systems such as WordPress or various ecommerce platforms should make it easy enough for someone non-technical to make basic updates to your site content if necessary. You shouldn’t need to pay a software engineer to change 3 words on a page.
  5. Your Website Isn’t Mobile Friendly – A responsive design allows your website to automatically resize to fit the device the user is on. With the drastic increase in mobile browsing, tablets, and other devices, you’re missing out if your site isn’t mobile friendly.
  6. No Way to Opt In/Sign Up to Receive News or Promotions – The vast majority of visitors leave your site without taking the intended action. You did the hard work of getting them there in the first place. Be sure to make every effort to capture their email address so you can continue to engage with them.
  7. Your Content is Stale – A store doesn’t carry the same products forever. Keep your products and your content fresh. Both your customers and search engines will find you more relevant.
  8. No Social Media Links – If you want people talking about your brand and products, include social following and sharing buttons to help get the conversation started.
  9. Your Buttons Look Dated – A quick and easy way to improve the overall look and performance of your page. Test more eye-catching colors or include graphical cues that help identify your conversion path to your customers and monitor your analytics to see how it impacts your goal conversion rates.

If you’ve got any more signs, be sure to leave a comment below!

Split Testing

What is Split Testing?

Split Testing Overview

Split testing (also referred to as A/B testing or multivariate testing) is a method of conducting automated and random experiments with the goal of improving a predetermined website metric, such as number of clicks on a specific element (I.E. add to cart button, register button, play a video, click for more info), form completions (I.E. registrations, opt-ins, contact requests), or purchases. Incoming traffic to the website is distributed between the original (control) and one or more variations. This is transparent to the visitor, who does not know they are part of an experiment. You, the tester, waits for a statistically significant difference in behavior to emerge. The more traffic the page gets, the faster you can obtain statistically relevant results. The results from each variation are then compared to determine which version showed the greatest improvement. If it is determined that there is a clear winner, you would likely update your site to incorporate the elements from your winning experiment. (And then start a new experiment to improve it further!)

What Types of Elements Can Be Split Tested?

Nearly any element can be varied for a split test. For example:

  • Visual elements: pictures, videos, and colors (Does a photo of a smiling man help convert better than a serious man? Does an orange button convert better than a green one?)
  • Text: headlines, calls to action, and page copy (Does “Get Your Free Quote” convert better than “Receive an Instant Quote?” Do bullet points convert better than a paragraph? Does adding a customer testimonial help increase conversions?)
  • Layout: arrangement and size of buttons, menus, and forms (Does a form with 3 fields convert better than one with 5? Does a register button on the left convert better than having it on the right?)
  • Traffic flow: how a user gets from point A to B (Does a 2 page checkout convert better than a 3 page checkout? Do more people sign up for a free trial on page 3 after visiting page 1, then 2, then 3? Or Page 1, then 4, then 3?)

ab split testing

Split Testing Email

Split testing isn’t only used for testing webpages. It can be very useful for testing your emails as well. You can answer questions such as, What’s the best day to send your email marketing campaign?  What time? What kind of subject line works best? Something promotional? (Save 10% on Widgets Today Only!) Or something more subtle and informative? (Find Out How Our New Widget Can Save You Time.) You can set goals such as opens, clicks, or ROI for each email variation. First, make sure you integrated analytics into your emails. Many email service providers such as Mailchimp and Aweber can do this for you automatically and also offer certain reporting capabilities such as the number of opens and clicks directly in their system. You can then set up segments of your email list, perhaps sending one version of an email to 10% of your list and then 10% to another version (or the same version, but at a different time.) You can then see which performed better and send the remaining 80% out using the winning version, or at the winning time.

A/B Split Testing

(Courtesy: Mailchimp.com)

Some Split Testing Best Practices

  • Simplify: generally, fewer page elements create less distractions from the conversion goal.
  • Don’t forget about the overall business goals: test with the overarching goal of the website in mind, not just the goals of individual pages. For example, one page might generate more clicks, but fewer checkout completions. Or, one version of an email might generate more opens, but less sales.
  • Test one element at a time: Testing one element at a time is called A/B testing, while testing multiple elements on a single page is called multivariate testing. Unless you have a testing tool capable of interpreting more complex multivariate results, it’s important to test one element at a time (although you can have multiple variations of this one element.) For example, just change the call to action, or an image on the page, or the position of your testimonials. Otherwise you can’t be sure which element had an impact, and by how much. If you test two elements and one results in an increase on performance of 10%, while the other results in a decrease of 10%, you might assume that the net benefit of your changes is zero; that there was no difference in page performance. In reality, if you only added the positive performing element, you would have seen a 10% increase which could be a big win.
  • It’s not all about drastic changes: Don’t be seduced by the idea that all variations in an A/B test have to be huge, obvious transformations. Even subtle changes can have a demonstrable effect, such as slightly editing a list of product features to persuade users to request more information, or phrasing a call to action differently to drive user engagement. It’s a gradual, granular process. Keep iterating until your conversion rate for that page is maxed out.
  • Don’t make assumptions: Just like a scientist tests a hypothesis, that should be your approach to split testing. Use hard A/B test data to make informed business decisions – no matter how much it surprises you.
  • Resist the temptation to jump to a conclusion: Even if you’re getting strong initial results, let the test run it’s course.  Economists and data scientists rely on a principle known as statistical significance to ensure that the data has a high probability of accuracy and this relies on a large data sample. Without it, you run the risk of making business decisions based on bad data.

Split testing doesn’t have to be complicated. Services such as Visual Website Optimizer, AB Tasty and Optimizely offer interfaces that allow you to create page variations without touching your website code. Conversion Rate Experts has a great breakdownof the numerous split testing tools and platforms that are available. With easy ways to do split testing of your website and emails, there is no excuse for settling for the status quo. There is always room for improvement throughout your site. So once you find improvements, don’t stop there. Keep testing!

What is Conversion Rate?

conversion rate

Conversion rate is simply the percentage of visitors to your website that achieve a certain goal that you set as your objective.

Your objective might be making a purchase of a product, filling out a contact form, signing up for a mailing list, registering for your site, or whatever else you are trying to achieve.

If you are spending time and money to draw visitors to your website, increasing your conversion rate may be the single most important metric to focus on to grow your business and improve ROI.

Yet many businesses don’t focus on this and instead just spend more time and money trying to attract new customers, when they aren’t maximizing the customers they already have at their site!

Imagine you own a retail clothing store…

Customers are walking in on their own and browsing the racks. But instead of your sales staff tending to them, making suggestions, trying to convince them that they would look great in that new dress they are eyeing, and helping them check out, they are all standing outside holding up posters asking random strangers on the street to come inside the store. How many of those customers who were just a small step away from becoming a paying customer might instead walk out empty-handed?

It’s easy to see a similar impact in nurturing the customers on your website.

As a website operator, you might spend 5 hours writing a newsletter for your company or you spend $500 on a banner advertisement on a relevant website with the objective of acquiring new customers.  If you double your conversion rate, that very same 5 hours you spent or the same $500 would actually generate twice as many new customers.  And it’s not a one time thing, either. When you improve your overall site conversion rate, every piece of marketing that you do will provide a better ROI, forever! Because every newsletter you send, every advertisement you run, every visitor is now being driven to a better performing website that achieves more of your goals with the exact same amount of effort.

Ok, what else can conversion rate optimization do for me?

Conversion rate optimization doesn’t just help increase the ROI of your existing traffic, it creates great new opportunities for increased marketing to really accelerate your growth.

All businesses should have a target cost per acquisition (CPA) which is the amount it costs you to get a visitor to achieve your goal.

If you get 100 new registrations for your website from an advertisement that costs $1000, your cost per acquisition is $10. If you spend $12 on pay per click search ads to get one new customer, your cost is – you guessed right – $12. Your target cost per acquisition is influenced by your margin, overhead and lifetime customer value.

A simple example would be if you’re selling dresses for $100 and your cost is $50, perhaps you’re willing to pay up to $25 to obtain a new customer, leaving $25 in gross profit to cover your other business expenses and have some profit left over. As your conversion rate increases, your cost per acquisition decreases. Doubling your conversion rate means the $1000 that used to get you 100 new registrations now gets you 200. The PPC ads that used to require $12 to get a new customer now only cost you $6. With PPC bidding getting more and more competitive, conversion rate optimization can be absolutely critical in maintaining profitability.

But wait, there’s more!

Think about how many new keywords you wanted to bid on or other ad campaigns you wanted to run to acquire more customers, but they were just too darn expensive. You’re thinking, “I’d love to be there, but there’s just no way I can justify the cost of that ad if I’m only getting 1% of my site visitors to convert.”  When you increase your conversion rate, all of a sudden ad campaigns that were once unable to produce a sufficient ROI now are affordable, helping you to grow your revenue and scale your business faster.

How do I improve my conversion rate?

Renown Venture Capitalist Bill Gurley, who writes at Abovethecrowd.com, makes an important point: “Unfortunately, conversion improvements typically are the aggregate gain of 100 tiny improvements, not one silver bullet. Rarely will you find one single change that is going to have a 5% lift in conversion (you might if you have never tried, but this type of win will go away quickly). Rather you will find 30 things on a page that all have a tiny impact, and the overall impact, after months of work might be 5%. You have to be willing to toil in the minutia knowing that the impact on the overall system will be the combined result of many tiny little changes.”

Don’t get discouraged. These small incremental changes really start to build over time and have an exponential impact. Stay tuned for new posts on some great ways to test and find ways to perform conversion rate optimization or contact ME to help you with your conversion rate optimization.
[button size=”extra-large” color=”mystic-red” url=”http://www.getonlinewithme.com/contact/”]Improve My Conversion Rate![/button]
[googleplusauthor]
Conversion Rate Optimization Funnel for Healthcare.gov

Healtcare.gov Could Use Massive Conversion Rate Optimization!

According to the latest statistics released yesterday, there is indeed significant interest from users in the new government healthcare exchange portal, Healthcare.gov, with almost 27 million visitors, or 8% of the population. However, here’s where things go south. While there are around 900K users either starting or completing the application for healthcare plans (around 3%), which would be an important “goal” to track on any website, actual “conversions,”  people who selected a plan from the exchange are only just over 100K, or less than .4%. Yikes! That represents only about 1/5 of the Congressional Budget Office was projecting by this point. Another fail.

That is a pretty ugly looking conversion funnel (I posted a graphic showing stats from the first week,) with massive drop-off at every stage of the process. Imagine you just made a huge investment of resources, financial and time (in the case of Healtcare.gov, the most recent reports quote the tab at $174 million), to get people to your ecommerce site and 97% of them never even added a single item to their cart. And of those that did, almost 90% of them never completed checkout. Obviously there is a big disconnect and you’ve got your work cut out for you to bring up those conversion rates. That’s where conversion rate optimization comes in.

Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion rate optimization is the process of identifying and testing changes to the website by utilizing tactics such as surveys or split/testing changes that increase the amount of users on your site who are actually achieving what you have defined as your goals (I.E. submitting a request, signing up for a service, purchasing a product, etc.) Clearly there are big issues with users likely not finding what they are looking for, confused about how to go through the process, feeling overwhelmed and not getting the reinforcement or answers they need to proceed, and surely more hurdles that they are unable to overcome to convert.

Now that the site appears to at least be more technically stable, I sure hope they have a team of conversion rate optimization specialists analyzing the data and deploying simple, effective tools and testing to improve performance. We’ll talk about these conversion rate tools and tests in more detail in future posts, but you can see how important this is as you start investing time and money to drive traffic to your site.

[googleplusauthor]

 

 

SEO vs PPC

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) vs PPC (Pay Per Click) – What’s Right for My Business?

You just built a beautiful website for your business. Now, how do you get anyone to actually find it? This is probably the most common question I get asked by friends and clients and, while there are many more great ways to drive traffic to your site, usually the initial question I get asked comes down to focusing efforts on search engine marketing through either search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click (PPC).

Search engine optimization is the process of attempting to get your website to show up towards the top of the organic (aka FREE) search results on Google and other search engines for a variety of keywords related to your business. For example, if you sell athletic shoes, you’d be in pretty great shape if your website showed up in the top few results when someone searched for “running shoes” or “Nike shoes.” You cannot pay to influence where you appear in these results and best of all, every click your website receives costs you absolutely zip.

Pay per click in the context of search engine marketing refers to the sponsored results that appear on the top and side of search result pages (SERPS) as well as on other websites that display targeted ads served by the search engine. For example, if someone created a blog talking about the latest and greatest running shoes, perhaps they would choose to allow Google to display ads on their website related to running shoes in exchange for a share of the revenue generated from the ads. With PPC search engine marketing, you have the ability to pay to show up in the search results, or on these targeted third party websites. More on how to determine how much this costs and where you appear later.

Ideally, you should be working on a dual-strategy that incorporates both approaches. However, if you are a small business with limited time and resources, it’s understandable that you may need to pick one or the other, at least at first. The main factors to consider are:

Time Requirements – SEO vs PPC

Both search engine marketing strategies strategies require an investment of time, especially initially. Both require you to identify the types of keywords that your customers would be seeking. As a side-note, you’ll want to focus on “long-tail keywords” which are more specific, niche phrases because they will generally be easier to achieve rankings for in SEO and less costly for PPC. For example, don’t expect to get the #1 ranking on Google for the word “marketing software” and furthermore, bidding on the word “marketing software” is not only going to likely be expensive, but generate an enormous amount of less-than-ideally targeted paid clicks that will burn through your budget and likely not convert well for you. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can help you identify keywords and estimate costs.

After you identify some good keywords to focus on, you’ll have to incorporate these into the pages of your site for SEO, or build a structured, scalable PPC campaign to target these keywords. (More on creating efficient, manageable campaigns in a future post.) Note – if you’ve already built your website before considering a SEO strategy, you’re already late to the dance! Take the time now to go back and ensure your existing pages are optimized for keyword-rich content.

Once you have a core, keyword-dense site up and/or a basic PPC campaign built, both strategies require some ongoing time commitment. This is generally greater for SEO if you want to increase your likelihood of achieving good rankings. There are numerous methods and tactics to utilize to bolster your organic rankings that require their own posts to describe in detail, but generally one of the fundamental and most effective is the continued creation of unique relevant content within your site. This may include such things as a dedicated blog or other informational content pages such as how-to articles, announcements, additional product or service detail pages, and even videos. Creating this content regularly helps establish your site as a leader in the field and can improve how the search engines deem the importance and relevance of your site. (Additionally, this content is great for “inbound marketing” which I will elaborate on in another post.) Creating this content can be time consuming and you can determine how frequently you’re prepared to do it, but try and stay on a consistent schedule whether it’s a couple times a month or more so you don’t lose momentum. PPC does require monitoring to identify what is and is not working well for you and to optimize your ROI. However, very basic, small campaigns don’t typically require a large ongoing time commitment to make incremental tweaks  here and there.

Time should also be considered in the context of how urgently you need to start generating traffic. Many businesses want and need to start driving awareness of their site immediately. SEO is a long-term strategy. Top rankings may take a significant amount of time to develop and are not guaranteed, especially for keywords that drive significant traffic. PPC can be up and running almost immediately and you can jump right to the top if you’re willing to pay for the privilege.

In the long-term, however, SEO can be an excellent investment. These links continue working for you indefinitely, sending you free traffic. In analyzing our sources of revenue at my companies, I would constantly find very old pages still generating traffic and sales. PPC on the other hand is like a faucet. You simply turn it on or off, depending on your budget and ROI criteria.

Search Engine Marketing Budget

If you are developing and executing your SEO strategy yourself, your primary investment is time. Time to learn the search engine optimization methodology, time to implement it, and the continuous time investment in content and tactics to improve your ranking position.  To expedite the process, sites such as Scripted.com can help match you to freelance content writers in your industry, or service providers such as myself can assist in your overall strategy development and efforts.

For PPC, every click comes at a cost. Unlike SEO where the more clicks you generate, the better and even un-targeted clicks don’t do any harm, with PPC you actually want to eliminate as many clicks as possible from users who are unlikely to convert into leads or sales. Optimizing your PPC campaign allows you to achieve better ROI as well as expand your PPC efforts to as many keywords as you can find that meet your ROI requirements.  You can set an overall budget for the campaign per day (useful especially when you’re just getting started to ensure there are no surprises) and you can also control the maximum amount you’re willing to pay per click. There are also various filters to help you focus your budget on visitors likely to convert such as location, type of online browsing device, and “negative keywords” to block your ads from appearing on unwanted keyword variations. If you sell athletic shoes and your target cost per acquisition (the amount it costs you to generate the sale) is $10 or less, that means if 1 out of 10 people who click your PPC ad purchase the product, you can bid up to $1 per click to stay within your target cost per acquisition. (We’ll discuss ways to improve your site performance through conversion rate optimization in future posts and why conversion rate is so important.)

A great aspect of PPC is if you have such things working for you as a short sales cycle, good margins, and/or fast payment terms, you’re in a position to rapidly scale your PPC campaign budget provided it’s within your ROI target. Because unlike traditional advertising where you might pay a lot up front for an advertisement that appears and leads come in later and over time, with PPC you’re paying for the clicks that come in and are immediately generating revenue for you. If you’re getting paid quickly, the more you can grow your PPC campaign, the more revenue you’re generating.

Search Competition

Think of PPC bidding as an auction for each keyword, happening in real-time, every time someone searches for that word. If your ad for athletic shoes gets clicked on 1 out of every 10 times someone searches for athletic shoes and you’re willing to pay up to $1 per click while another company is willing to pay up to 50 cents per click for the same keyword, if they also get clicked on 1 out of 10 times then you’ll only pay 51 cents to appear above them in the search results – the minimum amount over the next highest bidder to achieve a better placement. However, what if someone is willing to pay $3 a click for the same keyword? Can you still show up higher? Yes! If their ad gets clicked on 1 out of 50 times and yours gets clicked on 1 out of 10, you’re going to show up higher. Search engines obviously want to maximize their aggregate income, so if they know that they will make $10 off your ad for every 100 searches (10 clicks out of 100 searches at $1 each) or $6 off the other advertiser (2 out of 100 searches at $3 each) guess who shows up first? You! *Remember, you don’t necessarily want more clicks, you want more likely to convert  clicks. The big players in your industry can and will outbid you particularly on broader terms, not just because they have bigger budgets, but also due to factors such as a larger and more comprehensive product selection, more brand awareness, or higher margins,  this means they have more opportunities to monetize that customer, their maximum cost per acquisition criteria may be higher, and that customer represents a greater lifetime value to them. So again, the more targeted and specific the keyword (I.E. “pay per click bid management software” instead of “marketing software”) the more likely will it be available at a lower cost because there is less competition for it and the more likely it is to convert into a lead or sale for you, improving your ROI.

Competition has a similar effect on SEO efforts. Imagine competing with the likes of Zappos for the term “shoes” or Microsoft for “software” or even the thousands of other companies in any sizable industry that have been around for years, have hundreds or thousands of relevant pages, thousands of links pointing to them, and even teams focused on SEO. Banking on getting to the top of those rankings is probably an even worse idea than banking on your product getting named as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things. As a small business, break down your specific areas of expertise as narrowly defined possible and start developing content around that. Find the terms that are relevant to your business that aren’t already saturated with advertisers. Demonstrate how you are an authority on those subjects. You can always expand from there as your company expands. Granted the traffic you receive from these niche keywords is going to be lower, but there is a cumulative effect of putting out content that is always working for you and driving incremental traffic over time.

SEO vs PPC Conclusion

So who wins in the battle of SEO vs PPC when it comes to your search engine marketing strategy? While PPC is the fastest horse out of the gate, SEO is the one who hangs towards the back of the pack and then creeps up to go neck and neck down the home stretch and perhaps even winning by a nose at the end. Especially for a small business just starting out, a PPC strategy to start generating immediate traffic and data to analyze can be essential. But SEO should always be considered during the initial planning of your online presence and in all of the content you add going forward because it will start to work on your behalf without costing you anything. Take a look at some of your most popular pages right now and try and find some instances where you can replace a generic term – like “software” – with a search engine optimized keyword – like “hosted PPC bid management software”. Keep making those constant incremental improvements and watch the momentum start to build.

And no matter what, make sure you are tracking all of your site activity and conversions with Google Analytics or a similar product from the get-go. This data is pure gold and the more historical data you have, the more opportunities and insight it will provide for you in the future. Soon we’ll talk about how to optimize all of this new traffic you’re getting so you can potentially EXPONENTIALLY impact your revenue.

Do you do PPC, SEO, or both? I want to hear about your experiences, questions, and requests for more posts so leave a comment below!

All the best,

ME

P.S. – So I’m quickly discovering for myself  that each new blog post spurs numerous new ideas and opportunities for more posts. While I’m trying to stay on topic and keep things concise so you’re not overwhelmed, it’s hard to resist not to going off on a tangent when I get to an exciting new topic. I’ll continue posting more detailed explanations of various marketing strategies and cross-link previous articles to make it easy to stay broad or get into more detail on each topic.

[button size=”extra-large” color=”mystic-red” url=”http://www.getonlinewithme.com/contact”]Supercharge Your PPC & SEO[/button]

[googleplusauthor]