online sales conversion

This is the last in this series of core conversion marketing strategies: The Site as a Service Pattern. Get visitors into a trial from your home page, use email notifications to keep them interested and engaged, and you will get more and more customers from your online marketing efforts.

You can do almost anything on the Internet now. You can monitor your finances, socialize, organize ideas,manage your job search, broadcast your travels, and recruit college students.

The core conversion marketing pattern that these sites should adopt is the “Site as a Service Pattern.” This is the fifth and last of the core conversion strategies in this series.

Explore other site patterns in The Five Core Patterns Of Conversion Marketing and The E-commerce Pattern.

These sites are delivering a service that is consumed online. Typically, the primary conversion is “join” or “subscribe.” However, many of these sites’ business models rely on return visits, so “login” is also an important conversion beacon even though it appeals to existing customers.

You don’t have to have a savvy Web 2.0 application to adopt the Site as a Service pattern. In fact, if more sites using “E-commerce” or “Considered Purchase” patterns would see their sites as an online service, they might find themselves being more successful.

In general, you should select the site-as-a-service pattern if:

  • You are providing a service that is consumed online
  • Your prospects can make a decision to buy relatively quickly
  • You charge a fee to use the application, or rely on advertiser revenues

How is this different pattern from the Portal Pattern discussed in a previous column? The portal pattern is focused on content-oriented businesses while the site-as-a-service pattern assumes an application-driven service. However, if you believe you should build a portal pattern website, look closely at site-as-a-service. You might find these strategies more effective.

My goal with this post is to explore three strategies that are conversion deal-breakers for sites that deliver an online service. Get these strategies right, and you should be able to optimize your way to higher conversion rates. Get any of these wrong, and you will find yourself struggling to improve.

The trial for The Site as a Service

Online applications have an amazing advantage over the other sites I’ve discussed: you can try the product right there on your computer. Therefore, I consider a trial strategy the first key conversion strategy.

A trial strategy has these primary advantages:

  • It requires minimal commitment from the visitor
  • It let’s you start the sales conversation via email
  • It lets the visitor experience the product first hand

How much should you charge for the trial?

Beware the free trial. By offering a free trial, you may be delaying the purchase for those who would buy on the spot. Good conversion copy will remove risk from the purchase decision, so a free trial is often a sign that you don’t know how to communicate the value of your service.

Free trials deliver less-qualified prospects, and your conversion from trier to buyer will probably be low. Consider a free trial only if you rely on word-of-mouth as a core marketing strategy and you have built sharing features into your sales process.

Almost any nominal fee will increase the likelihood that a visitor will use the service during the trial. Furthermore, the conversion from trier to buyer becomes much easier, since you don’t have to ask them for a credit card at this critical juncture.

Even if you offer a free trial, evidence suggests that taking the credit card at the start of the trial will result in more paying customers, even though it will significantly reduce the number of triers you have.

The extreme version of this strategy is the “freemium” model, in which a portion of the service is given away for free, and more advanced features require payment. This strategy begs the question, “If your service is free, how valuable can it really be?”

For more on the psychology of “free,” please read Dan Ariely’s book and blog, Predictably Irrational.

How long should the trial last?

This is a question for which I don’t have any research to point to. I would like to hear your findings in the comments.

From a business perspective, the shorter the trial, the sooner the business can begin charging full fare for the service. Length of trial can be made irrelevant if you see the trial period as a time for educating, engaging and cajoling trial customers to use the application.

For example, an aggressive (daily) email auto-responder series delivering “how to” instructions and “did you know” tips will on its own move triers to buyers regardless of the trial period. Get this right, and you only need your trial to last long enough to support your email auto-responder schedule.

The home page for The Site as a Service

If a trial is your first key conversion strategy, then your home page is your trial landing page.

The home page must convert visitors to buyers or triers. While it is important to communicate the primary value proposition and key benefits, it is the application itself that ultimately communicates its value.

Many sites-as-a-service provide services that we already have solutions for. The value proposition is often that you can do something better, cheaper or easier.

I recommend making the home page the first step in using the application. The most extreme example of this is the Google home page. For years, it’s basically been one blank, two buttons; type, click, instant gratification.

Ask for the first piece of information in the registration process on the home page. Before you ask them to register for a trial, they’ve begun using the application, and have already had a win or two in the process. You can be creative with this step. A dog kennel might offer a simple form on the home page asking, “What is your dog’s name,” and that starts the process of scheduling a boarding.

The home page has to deliver a well thought out (and tested) value proposition and links to pages that discuss features and benefits for those that need more information. However, for those that are looking to solve an immediate problem, let them dive in.

Notification email

I have a theory for why Facebook beat Friendster in the online social network market. I think it was the “Poke” feature. In Facebook’s eyes, “Poke” had one purpose: to send an email to a user’s friend, reminding them to come back to the site. This email—and the many others that Facebook sends—came from a trusted source, and reminded users to come back to the site.

What excuses can you come up with to send an email to your triers and buyers?

It starts with the confirmation email, sent when a visitor registers for a trial or purchases the service. Was yours written by a developer? If so, it probably states something like “click here to confirm.” More socially capable engineers may throw in a “welcome” at the top.

The confirmation email is a chance to remind the user why they signed up, to educate them on how the application will make their life better, and to invite them back to the site.

Almost any excuse will do. I’ve subscribed to hundreds of online services and Web 2.0 applications. I rely on them to optimize my life. I’ve tried hundreds and pay for a handful.

You would think that I get a constant barrage of these notification emails, right? Wrong. The ones that I pay for did a good job of keeping me on the hook via email. Those that I just won’t use, I opt-out of.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re a spammer if you send email to your buyers and triers. Here are some examples of trier emails from my personal experience:

  • Mint.com sends an email every 30 days telling me they miss me if I don’t login. I use their bill alerts, so I like the monthly reminder to go back and make sure nothing has changed with my banks.
  • PageOnce.com did an amazing thing for me: they told me when the minutes on my phone plan were out. That email alone prompted me to renegotiate my mobile phone plan, and has made me spend time with this personal online assistant service.
  • VolunteerSpot.com missed an opportunity by not sending me an email when my volunteers signed up for a job on the site. The CEO has assured me that this will be corrected, but I don’t use the application today as a result.

Slideshare.net sent me this:

We’ve noticed that your slideshow on SlideShare has been getting a LOT of views in the last 24 hours. Great job … you must be doing something right. ;-)

Why don’t you tweet or blog this? Use the hashtag #bestofslideshare so we can track the conversation.

I don’t know that any of my presentations had been particularly active, but I did tweet one of them.

My point is this: when someone has signed up to try or buy your application you are an email marketer—not a spammer. If you send them email you are going to struggle if you don’t aggressively work to get them back to your site. Always give them the option to opt-out.

If you’ve been following this series, you may be wondering why I didn’t choose the purchase process as a key conversion strategy for this pattern. I was pretty vociferous about not losing a customer with a bad shopping cart experience.

The truth is I feel strongly about the effectiveness of the strategies I’ve discussed, that I believe a prospect will get through the worst registration process if you get them right. Get visitors into a trial from your home page, use email notifications to keep them interested and engaged, and you will get more and more customers from your online marketing efforts.

Finally, I hope one day that all websites will see themselves as a service, an application. One day, the idea of a web “page” will be quaint. Each site we come to should take us by the hand and help us solve whatever problem is on our plate, even if the only thing we’re looking for is information.

Is your website a service? How would it change if you decided to put up an application instead of a bunch of pages? Please put your thoughts and examples in the comments.

We’re going to make people love your business through your Web site at Conversion Sciences. There is plenty you can do to increase online sales conversions, and we share it all. Learn what that you can do to convert more of your visitors into leads and sales.

Originally published in Search Engine Land.

Conversion analysis reveals missed opportunities. What is the proper way to charge for online content and increase the number of subscribers?

The New York Observer paints a pretty stunning picture of one attempt to launch an online newspaper website. Was it to be expected, or is this an online sales conversion problem?

The article states that, after a $4 million overhaul and redesign, newsday.com, 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.

Is Newsday.com the Titanic of Online Newspapers?

What online newspapers can learn from New York Newsday

We can learn a lot from big disasters.

We can’t help but watch — self-conscious but riveted – when great endeavors come to a disastrous end. Myriad books and movies have been produced round the sinking of the Titanic, and after almost a century it still resonates in our collective memories.

Long Island daily New York Newsday launched a grand ship in their online newspaper at newsday.com. At a reported cost of $4 million they launched a designer’s site and placed their content behind a pay wall. After the passing of three months, they had garnered only 35 paying subscribers. The acquisition cost is staggering.

But it wasn’t a single iceberg that struck the hull of newsday.com. Instead, they got mired in the ice flows off the coast of bad choices.

No disaster is the result of one mistake. It is the culmination of a series of poor decisions with a dose of misfortune.

You’re making the same mistakes on your Web site.

I completed an in-depth review of the newsday.com site in my fast-paced presentation from PubCon South.

Does Content Want to be Free or Behind a Pay Wall?

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 Newsday.com 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 Newsday.com has done is put a price on it’s content.

How to Charge for Online Content

What Newsday’s designers and developers failed to tell management is that newsday.com 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, newsday.com 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.

Key Page Review-Free consultation.

Key Page Review-Free consultation

Newsday.com Reacts

Blog BobBlitz.com posted a chart showing four possible layouts for the Newsday.com site. It appears that newsday.com 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.

I believe Newsday has worked to prevent subscribers from completing a transaction on their site.

Would you like an analysis of your site? Request a Conversion Sciences Free Page Review.

Brian Massey Conversion Marketing

Playing it safe will keep you from getting hurt — and from getting customers

Fast Company columnist Sam Ford offers an insightful and entertaining treatise on how Corporations — and brands and small businesses – can take a page from the world of “professional” wresting.

In short, Ford follows his own advice with this column.

His assertions are well-suited to illustrating what it takes to communicate online; to communicate in a way that gets visitors to stick around and take action.

Pro wrestling marketing lessons.

Pro wrestling marketing lessons.

“An Appropriate Level of Spectacle Is Crucial”

The outrageous costumes, the drama, the crowd: all contribute to an air of excitement that inevitably makes you stop for a moment while channel surfing. This will also stop the visitor that is surfing the Web.

On your site, you need a hook to draw your visitor in. To assume that they are visiting because they know they want to learn about your company is naive. You’ve got to hook them first.

“Humor and Charisma Always Make a Connection”

It is especially true in the B2B world that humor and charisma seem to have no place. “After all, we’re all serious business people here.” If this is your attitude, kiss the customers goodbye.

“Create a Serialized Connection with Your Audience”

Conversion happens around great content. Great content happens more than once.

There are so many ways to send serial content – email, social media, news wires, blogs – that you should be frothing from the mouth to crank out the articles, posts, papers, audio and video to feed the monster. This monster poops business.

You can even serialize an article. For instance, there are 10 tweets in this post alone. Can you guess what they are?

“Shiny New Objects” Don’t Last

This is a corollary to the last item: Big ideas may carry the day, but what about the next day and the day after that?

Marketers need an editorial calendar for your communications. Get the budget and the resources to be a content machine.

“Your Audience Uses You as an Excuse to Build Community”

Facebook groups can work. LinkedIn groups can become vibrant. When this happens, it is because you have found a seed group of fans who love the product and the opportunity to associate themselves with it.

This doesn’t happen because of price discounts. It happens when you join the conversation.
Wrestlers throw each other into the crowd. What are you throwing in to your crowd?

“Your Audience Is Always Performing”

The other thing that works in Social Media is giving your “crowd” a stage on which to become a performer. Blogs offer comment sections, for example. Let them post, upload, rate, review and comment. Give them a stage.

Brian Massey

Photo courtesy Flickr

Design your website around the strategies that drive leads and sales and avoid the marketing strategies that don’t convert.

I had one of those meetings this week; a meeting with a company that has really come to understand the significance of online conversion in their business. I predict good things for them.

They’d taken advantage of a Conversion Sciences home page review, and had attended my workshops. It’s a good feeling to know that I’m making a difference.

They wanted to be sure spent their Web budget on the things that were going to help their business grow faster.

This is going to sound obvious, but take a good look at your own site before you dismiss this statement: They decided that focusing on strategies that would generate leads would alleviate the need to invest in things that didn’t. They would save money and sell more.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?

So what should you be investing in?

Find out which conversion strategies you should be building your web marketing programs around and avoid marketing strategies that don’t convert.

Design your website around the strategies that drive leads and sales and avoid the marketing strategies that don't convert.

Design your website around the strategies that drive leads and sales and avoid the marketing strategies that don’t convert.

The Five Core Patterns Of Conversion Marketing

How many basic web patterns are there? If you were to boil every web site down to a set of core species, how many would you list? Would there be 500 basic types? 100? 50? How about five?

Conversion scientists require some categorization and classification to do their job well. This allows us to simplify rather complex concepts, easing communication with each other and with you. It gives us a common vocabulary with which to work.

For example, if you can tell me which of five patterns your web site fits into, I can tell you with some accuracy which three strategies you should implement first to maximize your conversion rates. From one word springs an entire online marketing plan. That is the power of classification.

Over my next five posts for Conversion Sciences, I’m going to help you identify your core web site pattern and tell you what disciplines you can’t get wrong if you want to turn visitors into leads and sales.

The ground rules

Before I define the five web site patterns, let’s lay some ground rules for the ensuing debate.

  • We are focused on business-oriented web sites designed to increase sales for a business, no matter how indirect the effect.
  • A web site pattern is distinct from its implementation. A blog is not a web site pattern, since many patterns could be implemented using a blog structure.
  • A new pattern is defined as a type of web site that requires a set of online strategies substantially different from the existing patterns to be successful.

I welcome your input on new web species that may exist in the wild. Here is the first of the five basic patterns which I look for when advising a client.

The Brochure pattern

Also known as the “sales support” pattern, the brochure web site is modeled after the glossy print publications that have been created by businesses for decades, and ignored by 99.99% of those who have received them.

Often presented in tri-fold fashion, the brochure is the appetizer of marketing. Its sole purpose is to provide enough information to whet the desire of a prospective customer and tell them how to get more information.

Likewise, its online counterpart is designed to provide little truly valuable information, but to make the sponsoring company look like it has its act together. In this sense, the primary quality of a brochure site is safety.

You have, or desire a brochure site if you answer yes to the following statements:

  • When you decided to create or refresh your web site, you called a web designer first.
  • You spent a great deal of time huddled over a tree-like map of your future web site. This is called an “information architecture.”
  • The copy for the site was reviewed and edited by several people, most of whom were not professional writers. This copy inevitably declares you as the “leader” in something or espouses the ethereal “difference” you offer.
  • Your site contains at least one stock photo of a very happy or very serious person, whom your designer thinks your visitors will admire.
  • Your site avoids the words “you” or “your,” but talks incessantly about what your company and products do. This feature culminates in the ever-popular “News” section of the home page with more information about you.
  • You get your sales leads from anyplace but the web and you have no need to change this.

Don’t be fooled by my snootiness. The Brochure pattern is an important pattern for many businesses. Just because everyone uses the web doesn’t mean that every business should be trying to generate leads and sales there.

The Brochure site has only to make the visitor feel comfortable sharing the site with their boss and with others who are a part of the any purchase decision. No controversy should ever enter into a brochure site. It has to look good. It has to present benefits and features. It has to provide contact information. That’s about it.

The primary goal of the brochure site is to make sure the prospect can find you when they are ready to make a decision. A “conversion” is a phone call or an email.

The three “must get right” conversion strategies for a Brochure business are:

  • The design must be what the visitors want to see. Your design must be professional for people who ware suits to work. It must be fun for creative businesses. It must look unprofessional if you sell hand-crafted products. It must be exciting for adventure-oriented businesses. This is why you call the designer first.
  • It should feature logical tree-like navigation. Since your visitors aren’t really trying to solve a pressing problem, and since they really don’t care that much about what they’re reading, you should organize the content in as logical a manner as possible, so you don’t look sloppy. Those irritating menus that “fly-out” when your cursor accidentally rolls over them are also fine on a brochure site.
  • The contact information must be easy to find. The primary role of a brochure site is to support a sale after the salesperson has been contacted. Think of it as a “leave behind.” Put your phone number on each page and have a simple, clear “Contact Us” page.

The Brochure site is the primary pattern found among business web sites. This is unfortunate, because too many businesses put up brochure sites when they really are counting on the web for sales leads. The result is a site that isn’t a good brochure site, and isn’t a good lead-generation site either.

For example, marketers will optimize their brochure site for search, but see little positive effect because a brochure site is a terrible tool for cold visitors. What these marketers want is a site built on the considered purchase pattern, which we will discuss in part four of this series.

Brochure sites are efficient. Marketers only need to update them when their product lines change, when new news is published, or when they get a new VP of Marketing, who will inevitably want to refresh the site to show how quickly they’re making progress.

The four remaining web site patterns

I’ll next venture into the Portal pattern, a site in which the content takes center stage, and then explore the key conversion strategies for the eCommerce Pattern, the Considered Purchase Pattern and the Site as a Service Pattern. Read on in The Portal Pattern: Core Conversion Marketing Strategies.

I’ll be posting to the Conversion Science column every four weeks, so you should subscribe to the Conversion Science email.

Many of you are going to be surprised at which pattern you end up choosing for your business.

Summarizing

The first pattern is “The Brochure.” Most of the business sites on the Web are like an online brochure. But “The Brochure” is not designed to convert. It’s purpose is to support sales, often after the visitor has already spoken with a salesperson.

If you have a brochure site, you may discover that you really need a site based on one of the other four patterns: a Portal, an eCommerce site, a Considered Purchase site, or a Site as a Service.

Over the next four months, I’ll be digging into each, helping you choose the right pattern for your business, and highlighting the conversion strategies that you must get right for each.

The next installment is coming next week. I’ll send you an email when each of these go live if you subscribe to The Conversion Optimization Blog.

Originally Published: Five Core Patterns of Conversion Marketing for Search Engine Land’s new Conversion Science column.

Six mistakes that you can turn into opportunities

In a post on the American Marketing Association blog, I’ve presented my list of best practices for notification and clarification emails. These are golden opportunities to continue the conversation with an engaged prospect and move them closer to becoming a customer or a user of what you offer.

Notifications are sent when someone requests something from your web site. They can be triggered by a download, registration, demo, webinar, signup, contact inquiry, service request, or customer support call.

Each one should move your conversation with this person further along.

We see these as simply informational, but they should also provide additional value.

Using Notifications and Confirmations to Engage and Convert

Send early, send often, and make sure each one leads back to your Website.

The Top 6 Mistakes

Mistake #1: Not sending notifications and confirmations

What are you doing to continue a conversation with your trial prospects, new buyers and new Web leads? Do not miss a chance to experience amazing open, read and response rates.

Transactional email has more priority than promotional or educational email. The confirmation, verification and follow-up messages relate to a specific transaction initiated by the receiver. They pay more attention. Plus, these emails can be sent within 24 hours of the transaction, the time that a prospect is hottest.

Mistake #2: Not sending enough notifications

Consider this scenario: A visitor to your site completes a registration form and downloads your white paper. They receive a verification email and click to verify their email address. SCORE! What additional notifications and confirmations could be sent immediately without pestering them?

Get creative. What else could you be sending that is specifically tied to this otherwise innocuous lead generating transaction?

Mistake #3: Not helping new users get started

As we’ve begun to understand the complete marketing cycle, we’ve extended the standard marketing funnel — Awareness, Consideration and Action — to include a post purchase process: Use, Opinion and Talk. The implication here is that you have to convert a purchaser to a user.

Mistake #4: Not tracking the performance of your notification and confirmation e-mails

Notification and confirmation e-mails are measured the same way a newsletter or promotional e-mail is: deliverability, open rates, and click-through rates. However, your notifications are usually not sent via an email service provider (ESP). Most notification email will be sent by the IT department.

Consider taking your notification and confirmation emails away from IT and using your ESP to give you the metrics you need.

Mistake #5: Not sending quickly

Send early and send often.

These emails should be automated. Confirmation and verification emails should arrive within minutes. Follow up e-mail should arrive within 24 hours. After that, the transaction begins to take on a “so yesterday” feeling for the recipient.

Mistake #6: Not offering that next piece of information

Each transaction is just a step in the journey of your new customer or new lead. The new user needs to know how to best use their purchase. The new lead needs the next piece of information that will help them feel comfortable buying from you.

Show them their next step.

Originally published in the AMA blog.