July 22, 2005

Once they find your Web site, will they do what you want?

Much of my work these days is helping companies increase the amount of traffic they get from the search engines. However, I find that many ? most ? companies that are focusing on search-engine optimization are ignoring an incredibly important factor: conversions on their Web site.

Now, by ?conversion? I mean the process of converting someone from one stage to another. In particular, how do you get someone who has just arrived at your Web site to ?convert? to a lead or customer? It?s all very well spending time and effort to get ranked in the search engines or spend hard money to buy traffic using Pay Per Click, but once people get to your site, what happens then?

The whole conversions issue is ignored by most companies ? they simply don?t think about it. I?m working with a firm that spent a huge sum (around a quarter of a million dollars) building a Web site. Now that the site has been up and running for more than a year, the firm realizes that it wasted its money. The site doesn?t ?do? anything.

People arriving at the site are not very likely to do what the company wants them to do: pick up the phone and call, e-mail or fill in a request for information. They are getting very few conversions.

But it?s not surprising that conversions are low. After talking with the staff for a few minutes it became clear that before building the site, nobody bothered asking obvious questions. Basic questions, questions such as: What do you want people to do when they arrive at the site? How will you get them to take this action? On which two to four things do you want them to focus on the home page? When someone arrives at your home page, what do you want the eye to be drawn to?

If you?re not asking questions like this, you have no chance of building a site that converts well. Here?s how most companies build their sites. First, they think about all the different information they want on the site ? Product Information, Contact Us, About Us, The Team and so on. Then they design a navigation structure; they figure out where they will put each piece. Then they build.

What companies rarely do is to step back and look at the site from the perspective of a visitor. What is the visitor going to see? A clutter of different options? Or two or three, maybe four, clear choices? What is the visitor?s eye drawn to? Nothing in particular? The eye wanders around the page trying to figure out where you should go next? Or do you find the eye drawn to a particular area, to a single action or to two, three, or four choices?

Here?s an example I like: HomeGain.com. Visit that site, and what will you see? Your eye is instantly drawn to the center of the page, where you find four choices. It?s really obvious what HomeGain wants you to do. They want you to find a Realtor, check how much your home is worth, view homes for sale in your area or check mortgage rates. Those choices are how HomeGain begins the process of converting the visitor from merely a visitor to a customer.

If you visit this page, you?ll notice that there are many more choices on this page: Realtors Join Here, Login, Check Local Agent Commission Rates, Find Self Storage, Real Estate Library, Help, About HomeGain, Affiliate Program and a few dozen more. But this is all background information. Your eye registers that this information is there, that it?s available if you want it, but the eye is still drawn to the four main choices. Look at the page with these ideas in mind, and you really will find that your eye is drawn toward what HomeGain wants you to do.

(Here?s another example, you can peek in on the planning process for a client I?m working with now. Visit PeterKentConsulting.com/info/convert.htm to see three preliminary mockups ? I really like one, one is perhaps OK, and one just doesn?t work.)

Getting people to a Web site can be expensive. One company I spoke to recently budgets $10,000 per month for Pay Per Click. Others have budgets in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. And search-engine optimization can be expensive, too (though generally not as much as Pay Per Click). Yet most companies focus on spending money to get people to their site and very little effort in determining what these people will do once they get there. In effect, they are paying to bring window shoppers to their site without trying to get those people ?into the store.?

Peter Kent is a Web strategy consultant in Denver. He can be contacted at Peter@PeterKentConsulting.com.

Much of my work these days is helping companies increase the amount of traffic they get from the search engines. However, I find that many ? most ? companies that are focusing on search-engine optimization are ignoring an incredibly important factor: conversions on their Web site.

Now, by ?conversion? I mean the process of converting someone from one stage to another. In particular, how do you get someone who has just arrived at your Web site to ?convert? to a lead or customer? It?s all very well spending time and effort to get ranked in the search engines or spend hard…

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