What has the Conversion Scientist been reading lately?

AdExchanger: Why Do Mobile Users Not Buy On Mobile?

We believe that mobile traffic is every bit as important as desktop traffic. Many businesses walk away from their mobile traffic because it doesn’t convert well. This is a mistake.
Two points found in this article drive the point home:

  • App and Mobile Functionality (sucks)
  • Mobile Represents a Different Type of user

Spend some time on your mobile site. Don’t just create a responsive version of your desktop website.
Read more.

Marketizator: 25+ Tools That Conversion Rate Optimization Pros Can’t Ignore

I often say we’re living in a golden age of marketing, in which we can find data to answer almost any question we have. And these tools aren’t expensive. Every marketer can benefit from these tools with a little curiosity and patience.

Nielsen Norman Group: Long-Term Exposure to Flat Design: How the Trend Slowly Decreases User Efficiency

I reviewed 47 wordpress templates for a competition earlier this year. 98% of them used a “flat” design approach. Of course, we’re seeing this style of design pervade websites.
Is this a good thing? Nielsen Norman Group says we can use flat designs if we follow some smart guidelines.
Read more.
Got suggestions for what we should be reading? Share them with us!

Search engine algorithms are evolving at higher paces than ever before. The frequent updates to these algorithms – especially Google’s search algorithm updates – have made it harder to “game” the system using Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This has forced companies to bring at least one SEO specialist on board in order to gain and keep high rankings for their websites in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

At the same time, advances in data-collection tools has made conversion rate optimization (CRO) one of the highest returns on the marketing investment (ROI). Ironically, CRO is one of the most underused activities in the marketing department.

This paradox becomes apparent once you consider that obtaining the click that brings someone to your website is only the first step toward converting the visitor into a paying customer. From this perspective, CRO carries the burden of managing the entire user interaction, as opposed to SEO, which arguably only brings the visitor to the “front door.”

SEO and CRO Are Meant to Work Hand-in-Hand

With SEO, the basic point of focus is the webpage. In conversion optimization, the central concept is a PPC ad and a matched landing page. Nevertheless, the principles of search engine and conversion rate optimization are undeniably compatible. In fact, here are a few fundamentals that apply to both SEO and CRO:

  • A conversion optimized page will prove user friendly and more likely to receive inbound links and referrals, thus improving SEO.
  • Having clear and relevant headlines, as opposed to excessively creative ones, will improve both SEO and CRO.
  • Using clear content hierarchy with proper heading tags will help with SEO and keep focus on the progression of the message, which will help with conversion.
  • A conversion optimized page should be using plenty of relevant keywords that match what visitors are searching for.
  • Replacing complex presentations with digestible pieces of content will improve your SEO and conversion rate.
  • Search engines will favor pages that are updated frequently. Keeping layouts and content fresh will prove beneficial for both SEO and CRO.
  • Pages that focus on a single topic or product achieve better search engine rankings and improve conversion rate.

SEO Factors Inform CRO Efforts

The SEO field has been revolving around the standards imposed by search engines, especially Google’s ranking factors. Some of these are documented by Google, some are relatively obvious, others are not confirmed, and some sit at the brink of speculation or wishful thinking.
Since SEO revolves around ranking factors, which basically dictate the actions and tools needed in this field, it’s only natural that the SEO insights most relevant to CRO are rooted in these ranking factors.

1. Focus on User Behavior

Conversion optimization is data-driven, much like SEO. Web analytics are your greatest asset, but you will need to do additional research into user behavior. Segmentation analysis becomes quite important. Ask yourself this: “How do different segments interact with your website, and how can you optimize their particular experiences?”
The user interaction factors most likely to be useful in CRO and impact on conversion optimization are:

  • Dwell time and click backs focus on how long people spend on your page before returning to the original SERP. Session duration is also important. It measures the amount of time people spend on your site and may be used as a quality signal by Google.
    Average session duration in Google Analytics

    Average session duration in Google Analytics

    If you’re having trouble differentiating dwell time, session duration, and bounce rate, read this article published by Neil Patel on Search Engine Journal. It will clarify the topic.

  • Bounce rate is used to calculate the percentage of users who navigate away from your site after viewing a single page. Bounce rate probably cannot be a ranking factor by itself. Metrics that can’t be applied broadly, with the objective of identifying relevant and quality content, usually are not Google algorithm factors. However, bounce rate will surely influence the way you strategize for conversion, especially in creating the A/B tests fundamental to CRO.
  • Direct and repeat traffic are powerful indicators of quality for Google. They use data collected through Chrome to determine how often users visit any particular site. Pages with a lot of direct traffic are favored in SERPs, because they are much more likely to contain quality and engaging content.

2. It’s Not Just the Landing Page, It’s Also the Website

Conversion optimization extends beyond single pages, creating what we call conversion paths throughout the website. SEO dictates that breaking up content into multiple steps is usually a bad idea. CRO specialists tell us that multiple-step landing pages can convert better, by engaging respondents in a mutually productive dialogue and facilitating proper segmentation. For this reason, some form of consensus needs to be achieved in order to allow both SEO and CRO specialists to reach successful results.
Some of the site-level SEO factors most likely to influence CRO are:

  • Site Architecture and Sitemap improve your site’s relationship with Google, since they allow the engine to index your pages and more thoroughly organize your content. Make sure your website can accommodate conversion paths without messing up its logic.
  • Domain TrustRank is a very important ranking factor. TrustRank is a link analysis technique described in the famous paper Combating Web Spam with TrustRank by researchers Zoltan Gyongyi, Hector Garcia-Molina of Stanford University, and Jan Pedersen of Yahoo!. SEO by the Sea tells us more about TrustRank.
  • Google indexes SSL certificates and uses HTTPS as a ranking signal. People are reluctant when offering credit card details and other personal data over the Internet. Obtaining an SSL certificate is crucial to offering assurance to customers and letting Google know that you are running a legitimate business.
  • Mobile friendly sites rank better with Google. Even before the April 2015 “Mobile Friendly” Google algorithm update, it was not unthinkable to assume that mobile friendly sites had an advantage in searches from mobile devices. Google actually displays “Mobile friendly” tags next to mobile search results.
    Google's mobile friendly tags

    Google’s mobile friendly tags

    Also, keep in mind that Google has precise standards for evaluating what constitutes mobile friendly design. Google WebMaster Central offers details about mobile friendly requirements. To assess your website’s current mobile performance, check out this Mobile Friendly Test.

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks to Skyrocket Conversions

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
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

3. If Content Is King, the Webpage Is Its Kingdom

In both SEO and CRO, content is king. In SEO, this wins you links. In conversion optimization, it wins you customers. You should never allow technical aspects to eclipse what is truly important: compelling value propositions and meaningful brand experiences.

Page-level SEO factors that will prove crucial for conversion

Using keywords correctly throughout webpages is critical when trying to improve your search engine ranking and your conversion rates as part of your online marketing strategy. Keywords must be used in:

  • URLs.
  • Title tags. Place top-performing keywords in descending order and make sure that the title tag reflects the most important keywords used on that particular page. Here are 9 best practices for optimized < title > tags (Search Engine Land).
  • Description tags. This MOZ article states, “While not important to search engine rankings, [Meta Description Tags] are extremely important in gaining user click-through from SERPs.”
  • Heading tags. The heading tag is useful in outlining whole sections of content. It impacts both the SEO and usability of websites. For information on how to use these tags, consult this article from
  • The body text. Fairly distributing the keywords throughout the content is crucial. You may want your keywords to be the most frequently used elements on the page. However, do not overstuff content with keywords. Use them intelligently and always favor usability. A link or review from an established source – thanks to the quality of your content – will weigh much more than keyword density. On the other hand, keyword prominence might be an important relevancy signal. Make sure to include your keywords in snippets and in the first 100 words of your content.

A great page layout influences rankings and conversion, if not directly as a quality signal, at least by scoring in the “user friendly category.” This keeps readers coming back for more. The page layout on highest quality pages makes the main content immediately visible.
Content length. While life on- and off-line speeds up and our attention span keeps narrowing, you would expect content to get shorter in order to efficiently catch the attention of users. On the contrary, long articles rank and convert better than short ones. Review the results of an A/B testing experiment conducted by Neil Patel, demonstrating the superior efficiency of long copy.

4. Build Links, Build Trust, Build Rapport

One of the driving goals of SEO is link building. Conversion optimization deals with links mostly in terms of conversion paths. Landing pages usually do not contain links themselves other than for the call to action (CTA). However, many SEO factors concerning link building can apply to CRO in crucial ways. Here are some examples:

  • The quality and word-count of the linking content make a big difference in link value. For example, receiving a link from a 2,000+ word well-written article weighs in much more than a link from a short comment or a poorly written blog post.
  • “Poisonous” anchor text pointed toward your site may be a sign of spam or a hacked site. Either way, it can hurt your ranking and your conversion rates, particularly when the anchor texts in question are stuffed with pharmaceutical keywords.
  • If there are low-quality links pointing to your landing pages, or you receive unnatural links warnings from Webmaster Tools, you can always use the Disavow Tool. It will not remove the harmful links themselves, but at least it will eliminate them from Google’s assessment of your site.

    You have the option to disavow links

    You have the option to disavow links

  • Contextual links – links placed within the content of pages – are more valuable than links found in sidebars, footers, or anywhere else on the page. So on top of the PPC ads, try getting your landing pages mentioned in relevant content on relevant websites.

5. Your Brand Needs a Social Identity to Attract and Convert

In terms of the decision to purchase, user behavior has been shifting toward a multi-source, multiple stage process over the last few years. Regardless of how persuasive your landing pages are and how well they bring customers to the realization that you have the answer to their specific needs, your brand needs to back up its claims with a healthy social media presence and an SEO effort that encompasses social factors. Here are a few of the factors that can inform CRO specialists on what needs to be done:

  • Google officially favors real brands and real businesses, with real offices and real people, so it only makes sense they would verify businesses and brands by their website and social media location data. MOZ goes even further and suggests that Google looks at whether a website is associated with a tax-paying business.
  • Brands have Facebook pages with many likes and Twitter profiles with many followers. Moreover, serious businesses have proper company Linkedin pages. Interestingly, Rand Fishkin, co-founder of MOZ, states that having many Linkedin profiles that list working for your company will improve your rankings and might actually constitute a brand signal.
  • Social media account authority weighs considerably in SERPs, especially since social media has become a major influencer of consumer behavior. An infographic published by Social Media Today shows how social media influences consumers, the types of content that deliver the most impact, and more.
A link shared on multiple accounts will be more valuable than the same link shared multiple times on one account.

A link shared on multiple accounts will be more valuable than the same link shared multiple times on one account.

Wrapping It Up

Looking ahead, experts predict a major detachment from traditional ranking factors to a much deeper analysis of perceived site value, authority, structured data, and social signals. Automation is transforming digital marketing, turning SEO and CRO into much more precise and effective fields in the process. Ideally, within this decade Google’s services and search algorithm will evolve to a level that will allow us to fully customize our proposals according to our customers’ buying cycles.

Feature image licensed by Bgubitz through Creative Commons and adapted for this post.

I am one of the many people obsessed with increasing conversion rates.  Were you to wake me up in the middle of the night with the word ‘conversion,’ I would probably respond with a long, haunting sigh, “…raaaates.”
That’s how much I’ve been possessed by the topic.
I’ve seen lots of unsuccessful attempts at increasing conversion rates based on conventional wisdom that isn’t necessarily backed up with data. Make your calls-to-action (CTAs) big! Change your layout!  Make it scroll horizontally and design it in Adobe Flash!  One funeral home changed all their colors to blacks, and it proved to be successful in increasing conversion rates: it is bound to work for you, even if you sell lollipops!
The lists are endless, and sometimes they are just empty promises.

What you really need is data: tangible, real-life data which is related directly to you, your website and your customers’ needs.
What you really need is data: tangible, real-life data which is related directly to you, your website and your customers’ needs.
Click tracking is one of the methods for gathering real data about what your website’s visitors do. It is a good start when optimizing your design and understanding how your customers behave and why.

What is Click Tracking?

By using a click tracking tool, you can see where your users place their cursor and press the mouse button, usually in the form of a convenient heat map.  The studies are qualitative and allow you to have tons of participants.
You can learn a lot from these studies such as where people focus their clicks the most, whether they react to the buttons placed on the website, whether they navigate the website properly, is something distracting them and so on. You figure out the questions, and click tracking will provide the answers.
What are the benefits?  First of all, the study is incredibly cheap – you don’t have to gather tons of participants in a lab and pay them; you can do it remotely and even without your users’ knowledge. Secondly, because the study is not overt, visitors on your site behave normally rather than exhibiting the unnatural behaviors inherent in those being observed.  They simply react to visuals like they usually would because they are in their natural environment.
Armed with this knowledge, you are well on your way to optimizing your website’s design and increasing conversions.

Case Studies

The North Face & ClickTale
ClickTale is one of the services offering click tracking, and one of their clients, The North Face, wanted to increase the conversion rate of their shopping cart, but their own tools had been inadequate in accomplishing that goal.
With the heat maps provided by ClickTale, The North Face saw that many users didn’t pay attention to the checkout button on the shopping cart page. Instead, they were focused on the promotional banner above the button, which invited everybody to become a rewards member.
While attracting more rewards members was one of the goals for The North Face, the placement of the banner resulted in the loss of potential conversions in the shopping cart.
In order to fix that problem, they ran an A/B test which tested a different position of the checkout button. The results were much better:

Click tracking heat map

Mouse-move heatmaps revealed that visitors interacted more with the checkout button when it was moved above the banner (B) with a 21% increase in clicks

Optimal Energy & UsabilityTools
Optimal Energy – one of the largest price comparison systems for energy distributors in Europe – had a big takeaway from a study with click tracking service UsabilityTools.
Optimal Energy’s website had a slider with images that appeared to be clickable CTAs, containing words like ‘Start’; these images were only samples, however, so they were not clickable.  Click tracking data showed that up to 24% of clicks on the website as a whole were on unclickable elements and about half of them on these false CTAs.
Click tracking tools will reveal where visitors are clicking. These "start buttons" aren't clickable.

Click tracking tools will reveal where visitors are clicking. These “start buttons” aren’t clickable.

In order to solve this problem, Optimal Energy immediately made these elements clickable, leading the user to a submission form. Thanks to this change, the effectiveness of CTAs increased by 66.2%, and the conversion rate increased by 122.6%.

Closing Thoughts

Click tracking provides actual, real data instead of relying on hunches or unfounded hypotheses.  The success of optimization projects on one website doesn’t necessarily generalize to other websites because every company has a unique set of clients, so you need study the behaviors of your clients to inform design changes.
In addition to ClickTale and UsabilityTools, other click tracking tools include Mouseflow, CrazyEgg, EyeQuant, and Inspectlet.
Sezgin Hergül is the marketing manager at UsabilityTools. He specializes in content marketing and website growth. Besides his love for marketing, he enjoys good design and music.
Image of mouse licensed through Creative Commons by Erin Kohlenberg & adapted for this post.

High shopping cart abandonment rates are frustrating. So, we rounded up 10 eCommerce checkout usability techniques to charm your visitors into shopping on your site again and again!

There are many good reasons for shopping online rather than in person. But, even for those who regularly navigate the pitfalls of the Internet rather than the crowds at the malls, there are some frustrations that send customers screaming into another room, vowing to never again push the “Proceed to Checkout” button.

Well, maybe not really, but there are frustrations for online buyers that are better avoided if your intent is to maintain a healthy conversion rate. Statistics show that online shopping carts are often abandoned. Frequently cited complaints from regular shoppers include the following:

  • Unexpected add-on charges during checkout
  • High shipping charges
  • Complicated checkout procedures
  • Inefficient or time-consuming processing
  • Excessive security checks or, conversely, concerns about security
  • Unacceptable delivery options

If you suspect that your conversion rate should be higher, but you are unsure how to boost your sales figures, there are some relatively simple strategies you can try.

A usability study of the top 100 e-commerce sites produced the following statistics: There were an average of 5.08 steps required for checking out, and 24% of the sites required previous account registration.

Logical and not surprising, right? Other findings, however, were a bit surprising. Two-fifths of the sites asked for validation of addresses, half requested the same information twice or more, and even the top 100 sites violate eCommerce checkout usability techniques and guidelines about one-third of the time.

So, what’s a customer to do? Mutter a few angry words and flee the site seem to be common reactions.

“Keep It Simple” tops all eCommerce Checkout Usability Techniques

The KISS principle was a catchword for all sorts of business advice back in pre-Internet days, but it applies very well to online checkout. Your customers are busy people, and they want to run into your virtual store and be on to other pursuits in a minimum amount of time. It’s your merchant responsibility to help them do that. Your return? Their money and their eternal gratitude. And, likely, return visits!

Consider the following improvements to your site and your checkout procedures if your conversion rate is slipping. Monitor the results, and see what works for you. Think like your busy customers, and seek to make checkout as simple, as user-friendly, and as efficient as it should be.

The Effect of Language

A key skill most face-to-face salespeople have to master is “asking for the sale.” The way you direct your customers through your checkout process can make a difference.

Make it clear: Rather than a “Submit” or a “Next” button, consider a “Payment Options” icon or a “Pay Now” button. Having clear calls to action gives the user no reason to think and also gives them clear instruction on what to do next and also what to expect.

Consider a Single-Page Checkout for your eCommerce Site

A single page checkout may seem more complicated than breaking it down into several steps and pages. However, this simple move into a single page checkout may improve purchases greatly. UX Magazine reported that a French e-commerce site changed from a multi-page checkout to a single page checkout and conversions increased by 67%!

An example of a one page eCommerce checkout.

An example of a one page checkout.

Editor’s Note: We find that your audience may have a different preference when it comes to single-step checkout. Try both on your visitors before committing to one or the other.

Provide Several Payment Options

The kinds of payment available will depend on the price of your product line and your buyer profile. But offering choices is good and is likely to increase your customer base. So consider them carefully. Having options for credit cards and services similar to PayPal, for example offer the user more diverse payment options.

The key here is to let your visitors pay in the way they trust most= by offering payment choices. eCommerce checkout usability techniques.

The key here is to let your visitors pay in the way they trust most= by offering payment choices. eCommerce checkout usability techniques.

Make it Easy for First-time Buyers and for One-time Buyers

While requiring an account in order to purchase makes sense from your side of the fence, it can be an unnecessary bother for the customer who simply wants to order an item and move on. If you require a lengthy account set-up, you may lose a quick sale, whereas from a quick sale there is a good possibility that you might gain a repeat customer.

After issuing the sales confirmation, ask if the customer would like to open an account, you will be surprised how often the answer is yes at that point. After all, they are already invested into your company if they feel that the level of service that they have received is good and timely, this increases dramatically.

Keep buyers on your site, and be consistent with your branding

If you direct customers away from your site in order to register check out or complete the payment procedure, you may lose them. Just don’t do it!

Third-party shopping carts can make a visitor feel like they’re getting scammed. They often suffer from limited customizability as well.

Only Request Essential Information

Don’t raise suspicions by asking for anything that is unrelated to this specific sale. You can collect background information at another time, in another place — or not. But, the business at hand is completing a transaction, and anything that distracts from that goal has no place on the checkout page.

Instill Trust

Gain your customer’s confidence by having an SSL Certificate; reassure your buyers that you do not share any personal information, and comply with the standards of the PCI Security Standards Council. Display your security badges proudly on your site.

Improve Site speed

Make sure your site is up to date, that the loading speed is fast and that operation is efficient. A savvy online buyer with money to spend will not tolerate wait time.

Even boutique sellers should have state-of-the-art Internet connectivity and be lightning-fast (as much as possible) around the world. It is a shrinking globe after all, and e-commerce is global.

The checkout page should be as attractive and as well-designed as the rest of your website.

Ask for Needed Information only Once

If your site requires a second set of address details for ‘Billing Address’ on your checkout form for example, auto-fill the form to save the customer time and effort.

You will gain a loyal fan base by making the procedure so unexpectedly efficient.

Try Free Shipping

Try free shipping to lower shopping cart abandonment.

Try free shipping to lower shopping cart abandonment.

This seems to be the best catalyst for increasing sales. It is, from all reports, more of an incentive to a buyer than special offers, price reductions or “bundling” offers. If you can’t offer free shipping to everyone all the time, try it on a limited basis. And always be upfront about your shipping charges: Don’t spring those charges only on the checkout page.

Finally, take a lesson from the old-timers: Ask for the sale. Issue a clear call to action on your website in the product descriptions or on an appropriate page. Take a lesson from sites like Amazon. Be unambiguous with buttons such as “Add to Basket,” “Continue Shopping,” or “Checkout Now.” For the success of your business, learn how to simplify your checkouts.

Author Bio: Owen Sondergaard is an avid blogger and data enthusiast. Owen writes for CAMO Software who provides multivariate analysis software solutions.

Brian Massey posed a great question to me the other day: If you could ask your site visitors only one question, what should it be? I love this question because it distills pre-conversion user research down to its essence: how can you best glean the “why” motivations behind what your users are thinking – and, equally importantly, the concerns they may be feeling – early in their experience? And how can you choose a question that, after you analyze user responses, will be actionable – will allow you to confidently make and test design updates that better address these concerns and improve your conversions?
In this article I’ll focus on what question to ask, and in a future article I’ll unpack where and how you should ask this question.

Start with the research end in mind

Start with the insights goal you’re trying to achieve by asking the question. Are you trying to expose the general concerns or questions (what marketers call “objections”) your visitors may have, or are you more interested in learning something more specific, such as whether your Product Detail page is missing any key information? If you’re new to user experience research, or your website hasn’t undergone any significant usability testing, you should typically start with the “general” goal and ask more open-ended questions.
In this article I’ll assume that you are asking the question of a person who doesn’t yet know and trust your brand and is early in her shopping experience (e.g. just arrived on your website or landing page). A different question – or set of questions – would apply for your converted customers.

First, avoid asking the wrong questions

First, let’s talk about questions you shouldn’t ask. The prospect is already on your site, so clearly your marketing has worked (at least partially). So early in the experience you should avoid asking marketing questions like:

  • How did you first hear about us?
  • What prompted you to start looking for this type of service?
  • What other competitors are you considering?

Instead, focus on the questions most tied to your research goals, and that uncover questions and concerns that would negatively affect your visitor engagement and conversion. Save the marketing questions for further down your sales funnel – for example, on order confirmation pages, in your social media channels, or on your email response pages.

Some possible questions

OK, let’s finally get to the question you should ask. Based on my experience leading research projects for six Fortune 500 clients, and my recent survey of the latest user feedback solicitation tools, here are my top 5 possible questions (in no particular order), along with some pros and cons for each:

Drumroll, please…

In my opinion, the #1 question I would ask is Question #5. Coming in a “Close 2nd” is Question #4.
The two questions are really variations on the same theme. By asking either of them you are communicating, “I value you as a potential customer and am truly interested in learning where our website is missing the mark relative to your needs, wants and expectations. This question is specifically not calling attention to your offer, it’s not “going for the close”, and it’s not asking your visitors to be designers; it’s simply saying “we care, we want to improve your experience, and we’re listening.”
A key thing to remember: for many shopping scenarios, “making a positive brand impression” or “building brand memory” is as important as closing a sale or generating a lead. Connect with the visitor first; sell to her later. Another thing to bear in mind: with the rapid growth of mobile devices usage, prospect experiences are often multi-touch:  the prospect hits your website on their iPad the evening of Day 1, briefly visits your site during lunch on Day 2, and again visits your site during an afternoon coffee break on Day 2. So, except in some small dollar amount, single widget sales cases, it’s not a “once and done” interaction (or if it is, it shouldn’t be).

A sample scenario

Let’s say that Judy, a middle-aged woman from Austin, is shopping for a place to board her dog Max while she’s on vacation. She’s willing to pay extra for a better facility and service. After doing a web search for “dog boarders austin,” she lands on

Camp Bow Wow

Judy’s main concerns are:

  • Pricing – how much will it cost for the week?
  • How much play time her dog will get
  • How clean the kennel is kept

Judy sees that these questions are not answered on the top half of the home page. After about 10 seconds of scanning, she’s a bit disappointed and clicks her browser’s Back button. End of experience – for now and perhaps forever.
If our “one question” were asked, she’d have the choice (and who doesn’t like choices?!) to express her questions and concerns. Even if Judy decides to go with another dog boarder this time, there’s a decent chance that a thought like, “Ah yes… Camp Bow Wow… they were the ones who asked for my input,” will get lodged in her longer-term memory. If she were not completely satisfied with the other boarder’s services or staff, a couple weeks before her next trip she might just give Camp Bow Wow a call.

Summing up

Whether or not you consider your organization “customer centric”, you need to start a dialog with your prospects. And the sooner you can do this, the better (both in the experience, and on your website release roadmap). By doing so you’ll discover expectations that your site is not meeting so that you can better address them through user experience and copy updates, and thereby grow your bottom line.

About the Author

Mark is the Owner and Research Director at Hallmark Experience, an agency that focuses on voice of prospect research, usability testing and expert design reviews. He’s had the privilege to work with top brands like Macys, Kaiser Permanente, American Express and AutoZone, as well as smaller, fast-growing companies in the San Diego area. You can reach him here.


I got to attend my first Conversion Conference in October of last year and I am pleased to have been invited to speak at this year’s San Francisco conference.

First of all, I learned a LOT at last year’s conference. And I study this stuff all day long.

I don’t pay to attend many conferences, but I think I’m pretty good at picking those that give me information I can use “on Monday.” Conversion Conference is definitely one of those. Just look at some of the agenda items:

Biggest Usability Mistakes That You’re Probably Making

The Science of Shopping Cart Abandonment (I will never look at cart abandonment the same)

Rapid Fire: Lessons Learned from 30,000 Conversion Tests (These kinds of presentations are gold)

Merging SEO & Usability to Drive Conversion (I say “YeSEO”)

Creating Killer Conversion Copy – Email, Landing Pages, PPC Ads and More (This is mine. Never bore your visitors again)

Getting Smart About Conversion on Mobile Devices (We’re all going to have to deal with mobile sooner or later)


Your conversion marketing practice is actually a “stack” of disciplines or online marketing strategy components each of which you will have to master or have some level of capability with.

Mastering all of these online marketing strategy components may sound like a tall order, and it is. However, if you are marketing online, you are involved with conversion issues by definition.

The Quintessential Guide to Online Marketing Strategy Components

You may be wondering if marketing automation is really worth the investment. But if you’re a performance-oriented marketer–focused on the science of turning prospects into future customers, always concerned about knowing exactly which of your marketing efforts worked and why – that’s like asking if you’re getting your money’s worth from Microsoft Word; it’s something you just can’t do your job without.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the modern online marketing strategy components – a strategy that cannot be implemented without automation.

To automate something, we must first understand it. Performance marketers are focused on turning their online channels into lead generation engines or revenue streams. They focus on conversion.

“Conversion” is the term given to a series of magical events in the life of a customer,in which a stranger becomes a suspect, a suspect becomes a prospect and a prospect becomes a customer.

In online marketing, a marketer focused on converting visitors to prospects or sales must embrace a set of capabilities, each enabled by and depending on its predecessor. These steps create a capability “stack” (see Fig. 1) that is helpful in planning the implementation of the efforts that make conversion marketing possible.

The online marketing strategy components for conversion you need to master.

Figure 1: The Conversion Marketing Components

The Online Marketing Strategy Components or Conversion Stack

Today, when one thinks of conversion marketing, one generally thinks of Website Optimization or Conversion Rate Optimization. These practices focus on measurement and optimization, and represent the top of the stack of capabilities that online marketers must master to outpace competitors online.

Before a business can begin measuring and optimizing a website or other online marketing strategy, the foundational issues of business goals, visitor profiles, content requirements, and delivery channels must be addressed.

Every business with a Web presence has invested at some level in the conversion stack. However, those companies that embrace these capabilities develop a momentum and velocity in their online strategy that allows them to accelerate past entrenched businesses.

These businesses use the conversion stack to leverage their marketing efforts, changing the math of marketing in their favor. The goal is to grow revenue while reducing real marketing costs.

Marketing automation helps marketers define and carry out each capability in the stack with a precision that would be difficult if not impossible to achieve otherwise, and therefore plays a crucial role in an organization committed to performance marketing.

Business Goals: The Base of the Marketing Strategy Components

Knowing exactly what you want your website to do for your business.

The digital space cannot meet all of the goals a business has for growth. However, your business can accomplish things online that are impossible or cost prohibitive through another channel, such as:

  • Improve the quality of leads, reducing sales costs and increasing close ratios.
  • Reduce inbound calls for information by moving interactions online.
  • Eliminate expensive marketing channels.
  • Reach prospects not found via other media.
  • Add online services that make your offering more valuable.
  • Increase cross-sells and up-sells.
  • Increase average sales price.
  • Steal market share and mind share from our competitors.

At this stage, we seek to define the integration points of our marketing automation system, and to establish our baselines performance metrics.

Defining Your Marketing Automation Integration Points

While we can measure many things with sophisticated marketing automation tools, it is critical that we focus on those capabilities that are necessary to our business goals, and ignore (or defer) those that are not.

If our business has a long sales cycle involving direct sales efforts, integration with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is crucial; it is how we track our leads through the sales process.

If we are tasked with reducing the sales cycle, we will want a two-way integration between our CRM and our marketing automation system so that we can monitor our success over time. Otherwise, a simple one-way integration may be sufficient.

Likewise, if we seek to increase the average sales price of new customers, we will need to integrate with our financial system to retrieve and measure that goal.

Choosing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

There is a metric that we can use to either define our success for each goal, or approximate it. For example, “reducing sales costs” means that the sales efforts are converting more leads into customers.

However, there is no off-the-shelf metric for “sales cost” reported by our marketing automation systems.

Instead, the close ratio – the number of leads converted divided by leads generated – would be a reasonable proxy for reducing sales costs.

Likewise, the success of cross-sells or up-sells may be measured by the frequency of repeat purchases or by the average lifetime value of existing customers.

There should be a small set of KPIs that define your top-level online business goals. All other metrics help you answer the question of “why.”

Don’t let the metrics drive your curiosity. Let the business goals drive the choice of metrics.

Defining Your Baselines

There are lies, damn lies and analytics, to paraphrase author Mark Twain. Analytics are rarely accurate.

You must instead measure changes in your KPIs. To measure changes, you must first establish baselines for each.

In most industries, a year’s worth of analytics data is necessary to fully account for seasonal changes in the marketplace, but don’t let this stop you. Implement your analytics tools and let them begin collecting data. In the mean time, estimate your KPIs manually, by gathering data wherever you can. Eventually, your analytics will determine your baselines.

The goal is for the current performance of any KPI to exceed its baseline. Proper reporting is done in terms of percentage increase or decrease. If a KPI consistently rests above its baseline, you have established a new baseline to beat in the coming weeks and months.

These baselined KPIs define your “dashboard.”

However, as you will soon find out, dashboards are unsatisfying because they don’t answer the question, “Why is this KPI changing.” We’ll talk about understanding “why” a little later.

Visitor Profiling: Aligning Your Business Goals with Visitor Buying Habits

Let’s review the second of the online marketing strategy components. Understanding the best visitors needs, the reason they are visiting today and the information they need to feel comfortable taking action. Traditionally, there has been a disconnect between the websites and the needs of visitors. Most business sites follow a “brochure” style approach, in which the site talks about the company and its products.

This is not what your visitors want.

They want you to talk about them and their problems.

Touchpoint Personas differ from traditional customer segments in one significant way: We are only interested in what they need at the moment they are interacting with our measurable online communications. This singular focus allows us to zero in on those things that a visitor needs. Touchpoint Personas are the important tool at this stage and you can click on the link to read my article on touchpoint personas and points of resolution.

These become the content that you will use on your website, in your outbound marketing and throughout your channels. As you will see, content allows us to answer the question “why” when our performance changes, for the better or worse.

Content Strategy: We are No Longer Marketers

What content will you create for these important visitors? Will it be articles, video, or audio? These are important considerations made easy from your touchpoint personas.

We are no longer marketers, but publishers. In almost any industry, any market, it is absolutely necessary that we provide information, guidance, education and entertainment to the marketplace. The Internet has turned our prospects into researchers, and we must provide them with the content that answers their questions.

Our personas give us a complete picture of those visitors that will move our business forward. We know why they are visiting and how they like to receive information. Their demographic profile will tell us which technologies they use and this helps us select the proper format for our content. The points of resolution tell us exactly what our content should cover.

At this point, our content strategy should unfold like the board game “Clue.” In the popular board game, we use a process of elimination to understand who committed a murder, which weapon was used, and where the deed was done.

In our game of “persona clue”, we create a list of similar actions. We deduce who we are targeting, which point of resolution we are addressing, and where this information will be delivered.

We might say, “Darla Decider will download ‘Ten Reasons Projects Fail’ as a white paper on our website.” What we have done with this step is change the conversation from, “Which landing pages do we need to develop?” to, “How can we make this important content available to our best prospects?” Content is the coal that will stoke the furnaces of your marketing automation system and one key ingredient of the online marketing strategy components you need to master.

Media and Channels: Mixing Media in the Right Proportions

How do your visitors want to hear from you? Where can your visitors be reached? Your choice of channels may include webinars, email, social media, blog posts and more.

If our content strategy is about giving prospects what they need, our media strategy is about placing content where our prospects can find it.

Touchpoint personas will be immensely helpful in identifying the right mix of channels through which to deliver and advertise content. Demographics will give you some idea of your prospects’ media preferences.

For example, prospects over 55 are still best reached through email.

Media selection is an evolving process, especially in a world in which so many new channels are appearing every year. In a few short years, we’ve moved from Web pages, email, and banner ads, to search marketing, social networks, RSS feeds, blogs, microblogs, and mobile applications.

It’s an exciting time to be a marketer.

This is where marketing automation becomes indispensable. It is your publishing and distribution system. It must help you manage a stream of content delivered through a variety of channels and track results along the way. Your investment in publishing automation will also allow you to test multiple versions of your content to see which affects your KPIs most positively.

Your System Should Be Easy to Use

You should be able to intuitively setup a variety of content campaigns and see the results. The days of the “launch and watch” website are over. In most industries changes must now come weekly or daily.

Your System Should Not Be a Silo

Producers will need appropriate access to create and stage new content. It should be easy for members of the team to check content and settings to ensure the campaign will launch successfully.

Your System Should Offer a Variety of Metrics

Each content format and channel will be measured differently. You must be able to track downloads of whitepapers. You must be able to track the conversion rates of email-based content. You must be aware of how often a link is shared on social networks.

Needless to say, you will need some help coordinating all of this activity and measuring the results. And this leads us to the another one of the online marketing strategy components. If you aren’t intimate with your marketing automation tool, you’re not doing performance marketing.

Online Marketing Strategy Components: Measuring and Optimizing

Putting the analytics and processes in place to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. This often means designing your online presence differently to enable tracking of visitor behavior. Testing your assumptions is the only way to achieve the high conversion rates that make you seem invincible to your competitors. This is how you reduce the cost of all online marketing efforts.

At the pinnacle of the online marketing strategy components is optimization.

Optimization involves making changes based on the metrics you’ve captured.

Every communication is a test.

Each time you send a communication, you are testing a set of assumptions – assumptions about what your prospects want and need in their buying process, about the format of the content, and about the places they want to consume it.

Every communication can tell us the “why” of our success or failure.

For each communication, you must devise a strategy to measure the effectiveness of the content. Each communication will have a set of primary KPIs.

An email newsletter may invite readers to purchase a new line of shoes, and to join your Facebook page as well. If the primary goal is to sell shoes, you must be able to measure the conversion rate of the email.

It isn’t sufficient to increase sales of the shoe. You must have a strategy to know how many sales were generated by this email.

Watch the Results

The final step of each communication – the step too often overlooked – is reviewing your results. When the communication has run its course, you simply look at the KPIs to learn the secrets desires of your audience.

  • Which articles are read most?
  • Which subject lines convert well?
  • Which discounts generate sales?
  • Which tweets draw the most visits?

Your marketing automation system should provide easy drill-down to the metrics that define the success of each effort.

The Online Marketing Strategy Components You Need to Master: Conclusions

You are sitting in the monthly executive meeting. You have created a slide deck with your top-level KPIs as reported by your marketing automation system. They are a summary of how your individual efforts have affected the bottom line.

When the questions come, you know the “why” and the “what’s next” for your marketing efforts. “Why did our conversion rates go down, but our revenue go up?” the VP of Sales asks.

You know the answer. You tick off the four or five programs that delivered solid results, and then list those that drew unqualified traffic to the site, stating that they will be modified or discontinued.

You’re a performance marketer.

The Business that Knows Grows

Each item of content you produce will have different versions, be available through multiple channels, and will be measured differently. Today’s online businesses won’t function without a useful marketing automation system, a tool that be used by many members of the team.

The Online Marketing Strategy Components aren’t linear, and businesses can expand their capabilities in any of these areas.

However, those businesses that dominate in their industry through online marketing will be proficient in all of the capabilities presented here.

Online Marketing Strategy Components Resources

For an explanation of KPIs read “Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity” by Avinash Kaushik.

To develop touchpoint personas, read “Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?: Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing” by Bryan Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eisenberg and Lisa T. Davis.

For designing measurable social media campaigns, read “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day” by Dave Evans

Online Marketing Strategy Components: Don’t Worry

The good news is that the folks at, lead by the always brilliant Tim Ash have put together the Conversion Conference.

The attendees will be leading the online charge in each of their industries.

I can think of no better way to get up the many learning curves that your conversion practice needs than this two day conference.

Topics at Conversion Conference include:

You’ve likely read books written by some of the Conversion Conference Speakers, like Landing Page Optimization and Web Design for ROI. There’s no question that the speakers at this conference are the folks you want to be learning from. Check it out. You can even save $250 if you use promo code CCE650 when you register on the Conversion Conference website.

If you won’t be there, I pray that your competitors won’t be either.

P. S. I do a complete writeup of the Online Marketing Strategy Components in The Quintessential  Marketing Automation Guidebook, Conversion  Stack: Marketing Automation for Performance Marketers. It is free and you should find it enlightening.