More Businesses Realize that Conversion is the Key to Lowering Search Costs

The folks at PubCon are smart, and I’m talking about the attendees. They’re good at what they do because, well, they go to PubCon. Brett Tabke’s organization, which has several conferences around the country has a loyal following.
And they get that conversion math make search math work better.
I’m pleased to be an active part of the organization. I am supporting the cause with a workshop and two panels this year at PubCon South.

Masters Training: PPC/SEM/Conversion Track

We start off with a full-day workshop on Pay-per-click advertising (PPC), a subset of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Conversion Optimization. I am humbled to be in the company of Austin’s own Kate Morris and the no-holds-barred style of Tim Ash. I’ll be talking about understanding your audience by “Killing Brad Pitt.”

Conversion Optimization Panel

On Thursday, its the Conversion Optimization Panel with Wider Funnel’s Chris Goward, Tim Ash and Khalid Saleh.
For my part, I’ll be presenting the case study of, examining how an online news site can invest $4,000,000 in a redesign, and yield only 35 paid subscribers in three months.

Über Advanced PPC

Right after the Conversion Optimization Panel, I’ll be joining Christine Churchill, Wister Walcott, and David Szetela to discuss advanced tactics and tools for PPC advertising.

Smart People. Great Topics

I hope to see you at PubCon and hope you’ll come to my sessions for two totally new presentations.
If you can’t make it, I’ll let you know where to get the slides if you’ll give me your email address right here:

“Is 2010 the year of conversion rate optimization?”

2010 is indeed the year for website optimization. Exciting things are happening. First we have the first ever conversion conference happening in May. Now there are more resources for marketers than ever, including Google analytics and similar programs. The library of books that are now available emphasizing the importance of conversion is steadily growing. These include Avinash Kaushik, Tim Ash, and Brad Geddes are some of the best.
Still we have to remember that website optimization is at the top of the conversion stack. First you have truly know your visitor. You have to create a content platform to answer questions. You have to identify the best media strategies and channels to reach your target audience. And most importantly, you have to have the content your customers want. And then you’re ready for optimization.

“What advice do you give marketers who are just getting started with conversion optimization?”

First, consider a content conversion strategy. Educate your customer about different aspect of your product and see what that can do for conversion.
Then look at what I call the “Bad boys of Conversion.” These are the experts that know how to phrase, emphasize, and structure their copy to really draw in visitors. They realize the value of imaginative copy. Study the tricks and tools that they use and apply them yourself.
Take a look at your confirmation pages and notification emails. Each of these are opportunities to get customers back to the site to finalize the purchase or to make another purchase.

“What are the biggest opportunities for conversion optimization that marketers aren’t taking enough advantage of yet?”

Marketers need to remember to test all their communication efforts to see if they are actually effective. Whether its serial testing or split testing.
Celebrate if your favorite page fails a test. Be like the The Cheerios Guy who runs around telling everyone he lowered his cholesteral. Let people know you increased your conversion rate. Be competitive and always try to improve your results.
And finally, don’t depend on IT. Set up a lab on the side utilizing the wealth of free or inexpensive tools available where you can do some basic tests.
Once you’ve proven the usefulness of these preliminary tests, it’ll be amazing how IT’s schedule for bigger testing projects seems to magically open up.

“What are the top 3 reasons optimization programs fail?”

1) Resources to champion and implement the program. You need someone to really focus on optimization.
2) The program doesn’t have momentum. You need to learn from each test, to understand why you got the results you did, and then draw conclusions regarding the next test that needs to be run. And then actually conduct these new tests, and DON”T WAIT to do it. You’ll lose momentum. In other words, use your data to take action.
3) Really emphasize making analytics and conversion as part of company culture.

Conversion analysis reveals some missed opportunities

The New York Observer paints a pretty stunning picture of one attempt to launch an online newspaper Web site. Was it to be expected, or is this an online sales conversion problem?
The article states that, after a $4 million overhaul and redesign,, the online arm of the Long Island daily Newsday had attracted only 35 subscribers in three months.
Author John Koblin also writes that, since moving the site content behind a “pay wall,” traffic has dropped from 2.2 million monthly unique visits to 1.5 million in just three months. This may not be surprising, since there is little free content available from the online newspaper.

Does Content Want to be Free?

I don’t think so. The price people will pay for content is determined in part by:

  1. The price placed on it – What do others think it is worth?
  2. Relevance – Should I care about it?
  3. Timeliness – Am I getting information when I need it?
  4. Uniqueness – Can I get the same thing somewhere else for free?

If your content wants to be free, then you haven’t branded it with at least one of these aspects.
Newsday’s content should pass the test with flying colors.

  1. Price: They’re pricing it at $5 a week.
  2. Relevance: It is certainly relevant to residents of Long Island.
  3. Timeliness: New stories every day and breaking news.
  4. Uniqueness: How many online news sources are there for Long Island?

As you will see in my Website review of (see video) they didn’t make the case. To some extent the content – stories, videos and applications – should make the case by itself. However, the site has the same categories, layout and value proposition of many news sites.
So far, all has done is put a price on it’s content.

The proper way to charge for online content

What Newsday’s designers and developers failed to tell management is that runs on computers, and computers can monitor the activities of those reading the online edition. This means you can test just about anything in the court of public opinion.
Instead of changing everything, should have tested their way into the new business model.
Test the variety of business models to be available: micropayments, donation strategies, “pay for everyone” strategies, as well as the “pay wall” approach.
Test how much “free” content is needed to keep site traffic up.
Test how to present pricing.
Test the price points that will deliver subscribers.
Of course, a testing strategy doesn’t deliver a $4 million pay day to an agency and development team. There are few incentives for patience. If management didn’t think they had the time for a measured rollout before, they certainly don’t now. Reacts

Key Page Review-Free consultationBlog posted a chart showing four possible layouts for the site. It appears that is “enhancing its website” by “updating its color scheme.”
I don’t believe this is going to help.
It’s great that they are asking their readers what they think, but Newsday’s problems are elsewhere when you look at it through the eyes of a Conversion Scientist.
Here is my Key Page Review of Watch to find out where I believe Newsday has gone worked to prevent subscribers from completing a transaction on their site.
Would you like a similar analysis of your site? Request a Conversion Sciences Key Page Review.
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Brian Combs, ionadas local This is a guest post by Brian Combs of ionadas local.

A Local SEO Horror Story

About eighteen months ago, the SEO agency of which I was then a member was hired by a company in the travel industry. Their websites were seeing a 20% drop in traffic from Google. Even more worrisome was the nearly 25% drop in sales from Google.
Meanwhile, their keyword monitoring tools were saying everything was fine. Their tools watched several thousand keywords on a monthly basis, and the rankings had not substantively changed. If a keyword was third last month, it was third again this month.
We were tasked with determining the cause of the drop and prescribing a remedy.
The culprit was the new Google Maps business listing. These are the seven (at that point ten) listings that come up with the Google Map on queries with locational intent.
Click to Enlarge
Sample Google Maps business listing. Click to Enlarge
Note: The example image is from a different industry than the client in order to protect the client’s identity.
These Google Maps had begun popping up for a large number of the client’s search terms. A keyword that was third in the organic listings was likely to be pushed below the fold. As a result, the traffic from Google was dropping precipitously.
And conversion was dropping at an even higher rate. Clearly, it was the best traffic that was being lost.
I would posit that this represents the biggest change to Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) since they began including paid listings above the natural listings.

Does Local SEO Matter for You?

If your business needs to generate Web site visitors, phone calls, or foot traffic from people in particular geographies, then local SEO is likely appropriate for you.
Do your keywords include a city (or neighborhood in them)? When you search on them, is the so-called 7-pack (or any Google Map) returned?
Google is constantly enlarging the universe of keywords that generate map results. So if the map is not returned today, it may begin doing so in the future.
Google is even assuming local intent when none is expressly stated.
For instance, if you search on [coffee shop], Google will determine your location from your IP address, and return you a list of coffee shops your area.

Impact on Conversion Rate

The impact of this change by Google can hardly by overstated. Even if you’ve worked your website to the top of the organic listings, the addition of the Google Map listings will have a substantial impact on Click Through Rate (CTR) and post-click conversion rate.
Which begs the question, what impact does placement within the 7-pack have on CTR?
While no studies have been published on this topic as yet, the assumption is that the curve of traffic decline within the seven maps listings is not as steep as it is for the ten organic listings.
Also, the company name within the Google Maps listing can have an effect. Known, branded companies certainly have an advantage. And those that are nothing but a list of keywords are likely at a conversion disadvantage.

Reviews and Their Impact on Conversion Rate

The Google Maps business listings very prominently list the reviews a company has received. These reviews may have been placed directly with Google, or may have been pulled into Google from third-party systems such as CitySearch.
Both the number and the quality of reviews within Google have an impact.
The number of reviews greatly impacts the ranking of the business listings. If all else is equal (which it never is, of course), the ranking with the greater number of reviews will be higher. A large number of reviews can overcome many other deficiencies in Google Maps optimization.
I have not seen any studies on the impact of the number of reviews on conversion, but I expect they are positively correlated. If there are two listings, one with twenty-five reviews and one with no reviews, people will tend to look at the business with reviews first.
And while the quality of reviews has little to no impact on rankings, it can certainly have a significant impact on conversions.
This is not to say that an occasional bad review is going to drive you out of business. We’ve all read reviews from clearly unreasonable people, and most people will give a company the benefit of the doubt.
But if the preponderance of reviews are negative, and the reviews seem reasonably written, you had better work to improve your product/service quality, and encourage happy customers to write reviews for you.

Brian Combs is the founder of ionadas local, a provider of Google Maps optimization in Austin, Texas. Request a copy of his new white paper, Avoid Local SEO Mistakes.
ionadas local 13359 N Hwy 183, #406-245, Austin, TX 78750, (512) 501-1875

The heartbreak of “bounce” and what to do about it.

That’s the sound of someone finding your site, but not finding what they wanted ON your site.
That’s the sound of Web site content that doesn’t match your marketing.
That’s the sound of a Web site that talks about the company instead of the visitors’ problems.
Technically, a “bounce” is a visitor that looks at only one page, or a visitor that spends an embarrassingly short time on the page.
A visitor bounces when they don’t find anything close to what they were looking for when they visit your site. Either you’re attracting the wrong visitors or you’re don’t know why they are visiting.
Bounce is the most extreme form of conversion problem. High bounce rates are an indication that you are throwing good marketing dollars down the tubes. Whatever you’re spending to get traffic to your site is being wasted.

The Campaign Culture

The conversion problem is one of culture. Most marketers and business owners have a campaign culture. This is a marketing department that creates programs with fixed goals over relatively short time periods.
It is the culture of marketing people focused on monthly and quarterly objectives.
It is the culture of limited marketing resources.
It is the culture of project-oriented agencies.
It is the culture of IT departments lording over online resources.

Curiosity and the Conversion Culture

A marketing department that has escaped the campaign culture is one that produces campaigns effortlessly. The primary attribute of a conversion culture is curiosity.
Just as great companies like Google and 3M have given their employees freedom to explore new ideas, a marketing department must have the time, budget and permission to learn from their efforts.
It is a culture of that knows why it has or hasn’t met objectives.
It is a culture in which every communication is a test.
It is a culture in which momentum carries it across project boundaries.
It is a culture that builds brand while it educates and persuades.

Are you a Curious Marketer?

You may be a curious marketer trapped in a campaign culture. I believe that curiosity is a basic human trait. Where can you start to instill curiosity in your organization?
Start with yourself. Exercise your curiosity muscle.
On October 8, a group of the most curious among us are gathering for a day of conversion tactics, strategy and culture in Austin, Texas.
I’ll be leading a workshop in which the entire conversion “stack” will be introduced and discussed. The goal is for everyone to leave with a new set of skills and a renewed curiosity.
We’re going to understand how to start asking, “why” in each of our communications. We are going to adopt some tools that will help us organize our work around the visitor.
I’ll be leading the workshop, and by the end of the day, will have covered almost everything I know about online conversion.
Will you be a part of this curious group?
You can also join me in San Diego for DMA 09. The Direct Marketing Association has invited me to present this material in a two-day pre-conference workshop, followed by four days of mingling with some of the brightest marketers on the planet. This is another place that curious marketers come to ask “why.”
Marketers that know how to apply curiosity will be writing their own ticket in the next five years. Join us in a place where curiosity is welcome and celebrated.

Marketing people aren’t important, so let’s call ourselves something else

What would the title on your business card be if it reflected reality?

What would the title on your business card be if it reflected reality?

Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg make the point in their book Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? that the average tenure of a marketing executive is less than the gestation period of an elephant. WiderFunnel has summarized some of the findings of an Ernst & Young study confirming that CMOs and VPs of Marketing don’t have a seat at the executive table.  Anecdotally, many of my friends in marketing roles found themselves to be among the first to go when layoffs became popular in 2008 and 2009.

Clearly, marketing people aren’t all that important.

And then there’s the family reunion blank stare. Your cousins, aunts, uncles and some-how-relateds ask, “what are you doing these days?” You say, “I’m in marketing.” Long pause. They want to respond positively, but suspect that you may have just revealed that you’re being treated for some sort of incurable skin disease.

So, they just smile and stare.

Clearly, if we’re good at communicating, we would pick a word that, well, communicated what we do.

So, let’s call ourselves something else, something that reflects the value we add.

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks to Skyrocket Conversions

FREE: Click to Download

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks

Keep these proven copywriting hacks in mind to make your copy convert.

  • 43 Pages with Examples
  • Assumptive Phrasing
  • "We" vs. "You"
  • Pattern Interrupts
  • The power of Three

I’m not a “Web Marketing Strategist”

If you were to look at my career, you would find the word “marketing” in most of my corporate titles. However, when given the opportunity to give myself a title, I always chose something that communicated what I did. When I was responsible for marketing at my own company, Soft Reality, I put “VP of Customers” on my cards.

Today, if you analyzed what I do for a living, you might call me a “Web Marketing Strategist” or “Internet Marketer” or “Online Marketing Strategist.” I do lots of marketing-ish things. But, I want my practice to survive the gestating elephant syndrome, so I call myself a “Conversion Scientist.”

Now, no-one knows what a Conversion Scientist is, but the word “scientist” delivers the message that I’m probably smart and most likely know a good deal that the listener doesn’t. That’s the truth. The lab coat seals the deal.

And I can explain what I do in one sentence. “Conversion is the science of turning Web traffic into leads and sales.”

Can you explain what you do without using words like “messaging,” “brand,” “demand generation,” or “campaigns?”

Send Me Your Business Card

If the title on your business card has the word “Marketing” in it, I want you to scratch it out, write in a better description of what you do, and post a picture or scan of it in the comments. I’ve added the ability to upload images to your comments.

Image courtesy

New presentation debuts at Innotech eMarketing Summit in Portland

After collaborating for a ClickZ article on Social Conversion with Dave Evans, I was pleased to get an opportunity to work with him to expand on the topic. I presented the topic at the eMarketing Summit during Innotech Portland 2009.
This is a topic that is moving quickly, and I suspect you will have something to say. Please do.
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You can connect with thousands of visitors to your site by understanding only four modes of persuasion.

imageCommunicating is connecting. If you’re communicating successfully, each of your readers will feel that you are writing directly to them.

I’m going to introduce you to a method of writing that will forge strong connections with your readers.

You will understand your readers when you understand the four “Modes of Persuasion.” Every visitor fits into one of four modes, and, as will see, each mode describes a different way of connecting. If you can master each of these modes, you can effectively draw anyone closer with your words.


The Four Modes of Persuasion

Each of your visitors will come in one of four modes: Competitive, Methodical, Humanist, or Spontaneous.

COMPETITIVE visitors are looking for information that will make them better, smarter or more cutting-edge. Use benefit statements and payoffs in your headings to draw them into your content.

METHODICALS like data and details. Include specifics and proof in your writing to connect with them.

HUMANISTS want information that supports their relationships. They will relate to your writing if you share the human element in your topic.

SPONTANEOUS visitors are the least patient. They need to know what’s in it for them and may not read your entire story. Provide short headings for them to scan so that they can get to the points that are important to them.

When you understand that every visitor consumes information differently, you can build empathy with more of your readers. In time, your content will appeal to a wider audience making your Web site more enjoyable and accessible.

You can learn more about these four Modes of Persuasion in the book Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg.

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks to Skyrocket Conversions

FREE: Click to Download

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks

Keep these proven copywriting hacks in mind to make your copy convert.

  • 43 Pages with Examples
  • Assumptive Phrasing
  • "We" vs. "You"
  • Pattern Interrupts
  • The power of Three

There are 10,000 online strategies to choose from in the marketing landscape. Will you try them all?




No matter how unique your product service or business is, your Web site follows a specific pattern. For each pattern. There are certain set of strategies that you must get it right or you will have difficulty converting traffic to leads or sales.


Listen to my presentation from the Innotech eMarketing Summit to learn what pattern your web site should follow, and the three strategies that you must case to make the Web work for your business.


Listen to Brian Massey’s Presentation

Download the audio