E-Commerce Link: Keepin’ It Optimized
Last October, Google brought Web site testing to the masses with the launch of Google Website Optimizer, a free tool that enables marketers to test and optimize their online campaigns. If you haven’t started testing your site already, it’s time to take advantage of this no-cost option. To get you off to a successful beginning, I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned over the past nine years.
In particular, the factors that determine your online success fall into three categories: confidence and intent; the personal experience factor (PEF); and environmental and conditional factors.
Confidence and Intent
This group of factors comes into play before a visitor lands on your site and measures the confidence buildup that occurs prior to that event. They can be characterized as:
Customer intent: What are your customers’ intentions toward your site and products? Will they buy today? Or do they intend to research a product online, then purchase it offline? Keyword research can help determine intent. Caveat: A percentage of your traffic will be unqualified. Some of the traffic on your site is the result of a visitor arriving by mistake. Other visitors need a product or service you don’t offer.
Brand confidence: How much confidence do visitors have in your products or brand before they arrive at your site? This, in a nutshell, is customers’ prior knowledge of your brand. It’s learned through word of mouth and the potency of your marketing efforts.
Personal Experience Factor (PEF)
This refers to the experience a customer or prospect has during and after a visit to your site. The following factors contribute to a site’s PEF:
Planning. Is there a comprehensive, focused understanding of target-visitor buying models? How well do you communicate your unique value proposition, with regard to what’s in the visitor’s heart?
Structure. Do the design, information architecture and technology aspects of the site support the requirements of the buying and selling process? Does the visitor lose interest due to site flaws?
Momentum. Does each page engage the buyer and persuade him to take action? Can you capitalize on upsell and cross-sell opportunities?
Communications. Does your site content convey your message effectively, and is the copy persuasive? Is it clear where visitors are within your site, and why, based on their goals?
Value. Does the Web site not only communicate the value of your products and services, but also of doing business with you?
Service after the sale. How do you support customers after the transaction? Can customers easily find their shipping and product questions on the site?
Environmental and Conditional Factors
These factors exist largely outside of a company’s immediate control:
Product relevance. Do your products deliver on the promise made to the customer? How relevant is your offering?
Conversion type. Is your site’s objective to sell products or services, sell content, or generate leads? A significant percentage of all traffic won’t convert, regardless of how well a marketer optimizes its site.
Product buy-in and buying cycle. How complex is the sales process? Does your product require endorsement from another person before a purchase decision is made? How much time is a visitor willing to devote to the conversion process?
Market potential. This is the total dollars available in a product or service category. Keyword research can help determine this figure.
Competitive environment. What are your competitors doing, and how does it affect your sales?
Each of these factors can be taken into account, and each factor also can affect the others. For example, all factors being equal, a Web site with strong brand confidence might expect the same online performance as a lesser-known site with a stronger PEF score.
Using These Factors to Build Tests
These factors can be used to help narrow your testing choices and focus on known trouble spots.
You also can use these factors to maintain the integrity of your test and to prevent overlap. For example, if you are testing the momentum of a series of pages, it would be unwise to tinker with overall site structure as it would produce test results that are not comparable to the metrics obtained from prior tests against the control structure.
I’ll give you an example of a test recently conducted for a client that improved conversion by 20 percent with one simple change.
Livesouth.com is a lead-generation site for retirement communities that just began using Google Website Optimizer. Together, we set up a couple of different tests, and this is the first one that was implemented:
Problem: Livesouth.com has tons of high-quality pictures of retirement community properties on its site, but they aren’t being viewed. If the pictures on property pages are clicked, a slideshow pops up, displaying multiple pictures. Visitors lose persuasive momentum by not seeing the additional images, but they don’t always realize they can click on the property pictures.
Test: We decided to add text that reads, “Click Image to View Larger Images” under the property pictures.
Results: The conversion rate for the site improved by more than 20 percent, just by showing visitors an easy way to find and see multiple images.
While this is a simple example, testing quickly can become a complicated venture. There are many options, but don’t be intimidated. Just get started.
Jeffrey Eisenberg is co-founder and CEO of Future Now Inc., a New York-based consultancy that specializes in online conversion strategies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.