Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Where does CRO fit in?

Conversion optimization (CRO) is on the upswing.  Everyday, more people are exposed to CRO and it is quickly being recognized as its own discipline and even its own industry.  With all the other "web" stuff out there under the hat of advertising, marketing, and sales, where does CRO fit in?

Marketing and Advertising are aimed at increasing awareness and bringing [potential] customers in [to your website or business].  The goal of Sales, is to nurture a lead through the sales processes.  CRO is the missing piece where potential customers become customers.

Let's imagine your website is a grocery store.  Your advertisements and other marketing campaigns will help bring people to your store.  Once you have people in the store, you hope they will find what they need.  When they are ready to checkout or need help finding something, your sales associates are ready and willing.

It's the second sentence in this narrative, "Once you have people in the store, you hope..." where the CRO magic happens.  

A consumer's guide in 2010 reported that 60-70% of all purchases made at the grocery store are impulse buys (meaning they weren't on your list).  It wasn't always this way.  Grocery stores use to just "hope" you were able to find what you needed or that you would be willing to ask the sales associate for help.

Today, grocery stores pay top dollar for consultants who know how to layout a grocery store in order to maximize sales.  From general layout, to product placement on the shelves, and even the aisle end-caps, everything has been carefully placed with revenue in mind.  The results?  A 230% increase in sales.

Marketing and advertising brings visitors.  CRO turns those visitors into customers.

Not convinced?  How many extra items do you buy at the grocery store?

Ready to get started with CRO?
Let's talk: Jared Smith, jsmith@contourthis.com

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The least optimized page on your site

e-commerce conversion flow

Most e-commerce websites have a "Sign in or Register to continue" page as part of their checkout process.  Many companies only even have this page because everyone else does.  This page can be a conversion killer and is often overlooked when trying to improve your conversion rate.

First, let's look at the purpose and opportunities of keeping this page.

Getting someone's email address before they begin the checkout process allows you to re-market to them via email.  If they don't finish the checkout process, you can send them an email that encourages them to come back and finish, a coupon, or even a survey to find out why they didn't complete their order.  

Getting your visitors to identify themselves before they become customers can also help you with visitor profiling.  Many successful companies, such as Amazon, base their entire business model on visitor profiling.  Analytics solutions like KISSmetrics can help you see and track what each visitor is doing.

The final good thing about this page is that is creates an early commitment of trust.  By registering an account with you, your visitors are indicating a high level of trust (not tied to money).  If they don't buy from you today, it is likely an issue of confidence, not trust.

There are some drawbacks to having this page as well.

Asking your visitors to create an account before they can checkout creates a barrier to completing the checkout process.  There are many times I'm willing to do business with a company but don't like the idea of maintaining an account with them.  Despite the trust required to create an account, this page also represents a barrier because it forces your visitors to make yet another decision, register or leave [or checkout as a guest].

On one website we worked on, this barrier blocked 60% of their potential customers from seeing the checkout page.

You can work to optimize this page, but the checkout and landing pages generally represent a far greater opportunity.  For this reason, few companies optimize their Sign in page.

How to test:
How do you decide whether or not to keep this page?

Start by A/B testing your site with and without the page.  This test will tell you exactly how much your "Sign in or Register" page helps/hurts your overall conversions.

Next, create an email re-marketing campaign aimed at getting abandoners back to your site.  Then, turn the register page back on and measure the return from your email re-marketing campaign.

If your email campaign has a higher return than simply sending all of your traffic directly to the checkout page, you should keep your Sign in page.

If you don't have the resources to create and optimize a full blown email re-marketing campaign, remove the Sign in page from your checkout process and send all of your potential customers directly to the checkout page.  You can always ask them to create an account after they have finished their transaction.

Have you tested your "Sign in or Register" page?
[Share your results in the comments.]

Need help testing?
Let's talk: jsmith@contourthis.com

Friday, August 16, 2013

11 ways to increase customer confidence

Trust is required to do business.  Confidence is required to close the deal.  While there is some overlap between the elements of a website that increase trust and those that increase confidence, you can't assume that your visitors are confident enough to become customers... even if they trust you.  Check out the following list for a few examples of how to build customer confidence on your site.

Consistency is Key
Consistency of color, layout, style, and messaging all help visitors know that they are in the right place and on the right path.  If your shopping cart doesn't match your website, or your landing page doesn't match your banner ad, it can be a red flag that kills your visitors' confidence.

Both of the ads above take you to the same Facebook game page, but only one gives you the confidence that you ended up in the right place.

Show Product and Company Reviews
Your visitors are trying to make 2 decisions.  Do they want to buy what you're offering, and do they want to buy it from you?  In the moment of decision, without a strong personal urge to continue (mental or emotional), they will look to the masses for confirmation of their opinion.  This is where social proof including reviews, testimonials, star ratings, and even FB likes come in.

It's not easy for social proof to change someone's mind to purchase something that they weren't planning to, but if they were considering a purchase and social proof backs their opinion, it can give them the extra confidence they need to pull the trigger.

Give Instant Feedback
Nobody likes failing, but worse, nobody likes painstakingly filling out a form only to have to wait 5 seconds for the page to reload and tell them they did it wrong.  Your visitors need instant feedback.  Not giving them enough feedback or forcing them to wait to get it, can kill your conversions.

Give them a Roadmap
Most shopping carts and surveys are spread across multiple pages.  If you've ever found yourself in the middle of a long survey or checkout process, I'm sure you asked yourself, "How much more is there?"  This question is spawned by a feeling of being lost, overwhelmed, and frustrated.  In short, it is a confidence killer.  You should always have a progress bar or other form of visual indicator that helps orient your visitors.  The more specific you get (just 3 more questions) the more likely they are to remain confident.

Tell them what you're doing
Bounce rates, the number of people who don't hang around to play with your site, double when a page takes more than 3 seconds to load.  If you have an intense process like a flight search, 3rd party query, or extensive database upsert, your visitors get worried that you aren't responding.  A spinning wheel helps, but a progress bar and explanation of your process is even better.  This additional information gives your visitors the confidence to wait.

Show the Cart Contents (Always)
Just because your visitors get to select the exact product, color, and quantity they want, doesn't mean they won't make a mistake.  We are all human and are constantly making mistakes.  I once left my car unlocked at the airport while I went on vacation for 2 weeks!  Luck was on my side and nothing was taken, but now I lock my car 4 or 5 times just so that I can remember I locked it.  

Many of your visitors have buyers anxiety.  They can't remember if they chose the right color or size.  Travel reservations are even worse.  There are so many details to get right.  You should put the contents of your shopping cart (details included) on every page of your checkout.  This lets your visitors check their selection as often as they need.

Give your visitors control
You can try to think of all the doubts your visitors will have and try to address them at every step of the way, but the truth is, you will never catch them all.  Give your visitors a back button.  A way to return to a previous step and edit/update something they have already done.  ProTip: The best sites don't forget any information when you move back and forth through the funnel.

The MGM Resorts Job Application process consists of 9 sections you have to fill in that includes 7 years of past job and housing history.  At step 6, it asks you to give permission [to all sorts of agencies] to verify that everything you've entered is accurate.  The catch is, you don't get to review what you've entered, and there is no way to go back and edit anything.

Don't use a "Discount Code" box
In grade school, you learn that if you don't have enough to share with the entire class (or don't want to), you shouldn't bring it to school.  Having a box for a discount code makes all of us "normal" visitors feel like we missed out on something (like being the only kid in class without a lolly pop).  The determined visitors will abandon their shopping cart in hopes of finding a recent forum that has an active coupon or code.  (That's me :)  If you need to have a discount code box, make sure to offer at least a small discount for everyone.  

Clearly state your return policy
Most return policies require a PhD to decipher.  If your legal department requires that you have a convoluted policy, be sure to write a synopsis in plain English too (even if it is that you don't allow returns).  If you have a great / liberal policy, advertising it on your checkout page can increase customer confidence.

Confirmation Success
I bought a flight online the other day and after I completed all the forms with my personal and credit card information, I was redirected to the home page!  WTF?  Did I get the flight?  Did something go wrong?  I spent the next 45 minutes on the phone with customer service [waiting] to see if my order had in fact gone through.  Your visitors need confirmation that they have succeeded, no matter how small the conversion.  Whether it is a simple newsletter signup or an order completion, be sure to show a thank you page and send a confirmation email.

Make Contact Easy
You need to provide your customers with a phone number or other contact info.  If you don't want to talk to potential customers and random solicitors, you can limit this information to your confirmation pages/emails.  But, it is too easy to make a mistake and not realize it until you have completed the process.  It is also possible that there will be an error in the delivery of an order.  It gives your customers confidence when they know they can call on you.  Amazon, by the way, is terrible at this.  I paid for and downloaded an e-book that turned out to be nothing more than the title page and cover.  It took 20 minutes to find the number to call and get the order reviewed.

Confidence is driven by consistency, feedback, and control.  If you provide a consistent experience, constant feedback to your users, and give them a sense of control, your conversion rate will benefit.

How do you promote confidence on your site?

Monday, August 12, 2013

3 ways to build visitor trust on the web

Trust is a tricky thing.  You can't touch it and it isn't easy to quantify, but without it, your website is going nowhere.  Every interaction on the web is an exchange of value.  Whether your asking for someone's attention, email address, or credit card, trust is required for the transaction to be completed.

There are 2 main categories that most businesses fall into.  Those that are well known and those that are not.  For business that are well known, trust is easier.  For the rest of us, it is imperative that we know how to build visitor trust on the web.

Just like with all decisions, when we are not sure of the correct answer we look for clues and shortcuts.

Anyone can tell you that design, testimonials, and security badges increase trust, but how?

A trustworthy design is 2 things: consistent and happy.

A consistent design just means that there is an obvious correlation to the company and what your visitors were expecting to find.  Can you imagine going to the Coca-Cola website and the main color being green?  There are loads of little details that go into a "great" web design, but the most important one is consistency.  If you are working with a template, use colors, fonts, and layouts that will be consistent with your brand and advertising.

What is a happy design?  You can think of a "happy design" as a sort of Feng Shui.  We naturally gravitate toward and trust happy people (as opposed to angry people).  And so it stands to reason we would trust a happy design over an angry one.  This is why it is so hard to create a high converting site with a black background.  Also, a neutral site is just that, neutral.  To make your site design happy, give people places to rest, and use colors and pictures that evoke happy thoughts.

Testimonials are just 1 form of social proof.  You can use Facebook likes, Tweets, case studies, or third party reviews as social proof too.  Five Guys is a master of social proof.

If you see a restaurant with a line out into the parking lot you automatically assume it's great.  We humans have succeeded in advancing to our present state by relying on the experience and advice of others.  No single person has the time to experience everything, so when we are unfamiliar with a solution, we look for the advice of others.

Security badges are a form of borrowed trust.  Your visitors may not know who you are but they know the security badge.  Security badges work best for adding trust during the purchase process when you are collecting sensitive information.  If you want to build trust in other parts of your funnel, you can use the logos from high profile customers or partners.  

Borrowed trust works for the same reason your mom never wanted you hanging out with the bad kids.  You may not have been a bad kid, but when you hang out with them, others will see you as a delinquent.  If you pick high profile customers that you are proud to be associated with, borrowed trust will work in your favor.

The bonus solution here is a gimme: Honesty.  If you want people to trust you, you have to be honest, but what isn't so obvious is that you have to go out of your way to honest.  This means clearly detailing your purchase and return policies.  Explaining any caveats in your contracts up front and helping your customers navigate potential land mines.  You should even let people know why you need to collect certain types of information on your forms (such as birthdate or email) and what you intend to do with it.

Trust is a tricky thing, but being honest and having a good design goes a long way toward a fruitful relationship with your visitors.  If your conversions still aren't where you want them, consider borrowing some trust from other companies' logos and the testimonials of the masses.

How do you build trust on your website?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Obstacles to conversion

Conversion optimization is not about persuading your visitors to buy.  My father likes to say, "You can't make a content cow move."  If your visitors aren't ready to buy, you shouldn't try to force them to.

Assuming you have highly qualified visitors on your site, who are ready to buy, what are the main obstacles to conversion?

First, just because your visitors are ready to buy, doesn't mean they are going to buy from you.  In today's global economy, the choice of vendor is almost limitless.  The main obstacle you have to overcome is: convince your visitors you are the best option.

To solve this problem, most companies focus on themselves.  They offer a better product, with a faster delivery, at a lower price.  In an effort to stand out, they have chosen the same list of attributes as their competitors.  Margaret Mead said, "Always remember you are unique.  Just like everyone else."  This is exactly how your potential customers see you.

Conversion optimization focuses on the fact that these visitors are already on your website.  Why not help them make the decision to purchase from you?  

In most cases, people don't use direct logic to make a decision.  We use shortcuts so that we don't have to weigh all the "real" variables.

Short of becoming an expert in your line of work, it would be extremely hard for one of your visitors to compare the benefits of your solution with that of your competitors.  For example, try to explain the difference between a top of the line AA battery from Duracell and one from Energizer.  (I'm assuming that very few of you are battery experts. :)

Coming back to the fact that these visitors are already on your website, what are the shortcuts your visitors use to make the decision to purchase?

Trust and confidence.

Trust comes in many forms, but if your visitors don't trust you, they will look for another vendor.  They need to trust that you will give them what they need, when they need it.  They need to trust that you won't change the price at the last minute, or penalize them via an obscure part of your contract.  They need to trust that you won't mistreat their email, phone number, and credit card data.  In an exchange of value, trust is everything.

Confidence is what maintains the momentum of the sale.  Although confidence is related to trust, they are two different things.  One of the biggest mistakes e-commerce sites make is in assuming their visitors are confident in their purchase.  Being confident that you have chosen the right vendor, or even that you selected AA batteries and not AAA batteries.  Confidence is what lets customers finalize their purchase.

If your visitors trust you and you can make them confident in their purchase, your conversions will increase.  A high level of trust and confidence can even overcome a few inconveniences or possible red flags during the conversion process.

How do you build trust and confidence on your site?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

CRO ≠ Persuading your visitors to buy

I read an article today about persuading your visitors to buy.

Not all of your website visitors want or need to buy anything [today].  Just like when you go fishing, not every catch is a keeper, not all of your visitors are qualified buyers ready to buy.

It is a common misconception that conversion optimization is about persuading (forcing) people to buy, especially if they weren't looking or ready to make a purchase.

It is true many of the psychological techniques used for CRO can be used toward a nefarious end.  BUT those conversions are not "optimal".  When customers find out they have been tricked into buying, they are not happy people. 

White hat CRO focuses on clear communication, letting your potential customers know they are in the right place and redirecting visitors who aren't quite ready.  

During the purchasing process, CRO doesn't force or trick people into finalizing their purchase.  Conversion optimization merely removes all of the obstacles in making the decision to complete the process.

Next time, we'll look at what some of those obstacles are.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The win-win negotiation

The win-win negotiation is killing your business.  The ultimate goal of a successful negotiation is one where both sides end up getting what they need and want, but that's how a negotiation ends, not how it starts.

So much has been said and published about negotiating for a win-win outcome over the years that it has affected the way many people start a negotiation.  It has resulted in a desire to start with a position that you think the other side will like.  You have already made [mental] concessions in hopes the negotiation will be smooth and easy.

Unfortunately it doesn't work this way.  It all too often results in a lopsided or lose-lose agreement.  

It's no surprise that this same mentality of, "we can both win!" has spilled over into marketing.  Most websites and marketing efforts aim to please.  On the surface, even conversion rate optimization is all about reducing the friction of a sale.

Winning is what propels us to do better and supplies us with the appropriate resources.  If you truly want to win, you need to shake things up and push back.  It is a little counter intuitive, but the harder you push at the negotiating table, the better the deal will be for both sides.

Your website needs to push back on your visitors as well.  There is a psychological phenomenon where the harder you work for something, the more you like and appreciate it.  

A successful conversion optimization project will increase friction at the beginning of the sales cycle and decrease friction at the end, during the purchasing process.  Just like in a negotiation, this creates a positive friction at the beginning to make sure both sides are getting what the want.  In conversion terms, this increases the quality of your conversions.  

Once both sides are happy with the deal, you don't want to get bogged down in paper work.  For conversion optimization, this means reducing the friction to buy, which results in more sales.

Your website is having a conversation with your visitors.  Your visitors are looking for something and your website is trying to convince them to choose you.  You may not be aware, but this is a negotiation. 

Is your website losing the negotiation?