Conversions vs. Traffic: Have Your Cake and Eat it Too!

If you’re selling something online, then one of your ongoing goals is almost certainly to sell more product. Too often, when we try to sell more, the first thing we do is try to get more visitors on our site. After all, more visitors = more customers, right? Right. Except…

Eventually you may see your conversion rates drop. Sure, you might have a higher number of net customers, but the percentage of casual visitors who are turning into customers is down. The issue here is that there are only so many users online who are interested in whatever it is you have to sell. In a big niche, you may never run out of potential customers. But in a smaller niche, you may only be talking about a few hundred thousand people worldwide.

If you only focus on raising your visitor numbers, you’re eventually going to hit a ceiling, where you just can’t bring in any more visitors, either because you’ve reached the vast majority of people in your niche or because your niche is so large that you can’t afford to reach any more of them.

What can you do to prevent hitting this ceiling? It’s simple: focus on your conversions first.

If you can double the number of visitors who come to your site who actually purchase something, you can basically quadruple the effectiveness of any increase in your visitor numbers. And that increased customer base and revenue opens up more marketing opportunities for you.

Small, Inexpensive Modifications To Your Website Can Make Great Gains

There are a ton of small modifications you can make to your website and your online marketing that can yield surprising results. The key is to try these things one at a time, use the ones that work for you, and disregard the ones that don’t. Not every modification is going to work on every site and for every business.

One of the first things you can look at is any search marketing you’re doing. Make sure the traffic you’re getting from those visitors are actually converting. If you have keywords that are sending you traffic but those visitors aren’t turning into customers, then drop the keywords and refocus your efforts on the keywords that are sending you customers.

Changing the wording on your site is another potential way to increase conversions. The copy on your site needs to be phrased in such a way that it eliminates concerns your customers might have.

Pay attention to the funnel your visitors go through between arriving on your site and making a purchase. Extra or unnecessary steps can cost your millions. One major retailer, according to Fast Company, saw an increase in sales of 45% ($300 million in this case) after they made signing up for an account an optional part of the checkout process. Make sure your customers have the most direct route possible to actually complete their purchase. Ask them if they want to sign up for an account after the transaction is complete, rather than halfway through.

Certain types of content also often have a bigger impact on conversion. Video content, for example, leads to higher conversion numbers than text. Don’t just put up a video advertisement, though. Instead, create useful video content for your visitors, like a tutorial or explanation of some aspect of your product. Think about what parts of your text content could be better served as video, and then work on creating that content.

Even simple things like changing the size, shape or color of buttons on your site can have a huge impact on the number of people who end up clicking. A test on EnviroGadget showed that using red buttons rather than green had a three-fold increase in the number of users who clicked through. CareLogger saw even more impressive results, with a switch from green to red resulting in a 34% improvement.

Another small change that can make a huge difference is not to rush your visitors. It can sound counter-intuitive. After all, don’t we always talk about minimizing the number of steps between deciding to make a purchase and completing that purchase? But that only applies once the visitor has decided to purchase. Prior to that, it’s important not to make them feel like they’re being pressured.

Take 37signals, for example. On the homepages for their products, you’ll see prominent green buttons that say “See Plans and Pricing” rather than more commonly-seen “Free trial” or similar buttons. That simple phrase resulted in 200% more signups than previous wording. The main reason is likely that people on the homepage were still interested in getting more information; they hadn’t made up their mind to make a purchase yet. The old signup button was intimidating, even though it was touting a free trial.

Make sure that you don’t have any buttons or things that resemble calls to action on your site that aren’t getting your visitors any closer to converting. Things like “reset form” buttons right next to submit buttons can be inadvertantly clicked by users who aren’t paying close attention to what they’re doing. How many will just walk away if faced with filling out a form all over again? Or what about an empty cart button? (Do you ever really want to give your visitor the chance to take every item out of their shopping cart simultaneously? How often is that going to be necessary and helpful to a customer?) Conversion Rate Experts has more great examples of these kinds of mistakes in their article Conversion Killers – Does Your Site Contain any “Nuke Buttons”?.

When Small Changes Just Aren’t Enough

So many marketers focus purely on small changes to their website in an effort to increase conversions. And sure, some of those small changes can have big results (as we covered above). But what if you’ve made and tested all the small changes you can think of? What if you’re starting out from a point that’s so low that even those 200% increases are still leaving your sales severely lacking?

Sometimes big changes are necessary. Despite optimizing your current design to the best of your (and your designer’s) abilities, you may not ever be able to reach the numbers you want with that design. Sometimes you just have to start from scratch and make some big changes. If you’re not getting the results you want from your current design, then try testing two completely different page designs and see what your results are.

You know what your conversion rate is for your current site, so use that as a control. Keep testing new page designs until you find one that shows significant improvement over your current site. Change everything about the page: the layout, the color scheme, the headline, the main copy, the call to action, everything. Once you find one that converts much better, then you can try additional tests to see if you can refine that page to work even better.

If you aren’t ready to make that kind of change, then at least try changing the content (headline, call to action, body copy and/or images) of your landing page. Performable, for instance, saw an 80% increase in conversions by removing the video they were originally using on their landing page with a more traditional landing page that featured a strong headline and call to action with a list of features. If they’d only stuck with small changes, like changing the color of the “sign up” button, they likely never would have seen gains like that.

KISSmetrics has A/B testing tools you can use to not only test variations on different elements on your pages, but also for testing two entirely different pages.

Get Your Business As A Whole In The Experimenting Groove

The main thing you’ll find with increasing conversions and traffic is that experimenting and trying out new techniques are a necessary part of the process. If you don’t try new things, you won’t see any improved results.

Sometimes the best ideas come from those who aren’t tightly involved in your website. Seek ideas from employees who aren’t in your web marketing department. Ask what they’ve seen on other websites that might work, or if they have any original ideas for how to increase either traffic or conversions. Be open to ideas, whether they come from the head of your IT department or your receptionist or your accounting intern. Distance from a project often lets us step outside of conventions and come up with brilliant, unique ideas.

To foster ideas and experimentation across your company, make sure employees have a way to submit ideas that doesn’t require them to speak up at staff meetings. If you create a culture where everyone’s ideas are valued and they’re all given equal consideration, regardless of whether they end up being used or not, you’re likely to see wider participation and a wealth of ideas to choose from.

Make sure that you’re running solid A/B or multivariate tests whenever you implement a change, and make sure you share those results with your employees. While A/B testing is fairly common in the world of online marketing, it’s often overlooked in other areas of marketing and promotion. If you can show results, other departments within your company may also get involved with A/B testing for their own projects.

Focus on Getting New Visitors Later

Once you get your conversion rate up where you want it to be (or have done absolutely everything you can think of to do so), then it’s time to focus on getting new visitors. At this point, investing in new traffic is wise, because you’ll be converting the maximum number of those visitors into customers. If you’d focused on traffic first, a lot of those visitors would end up leaving without ever making a purchase, and would be a whole lot less likely to come back.

Landing more traffic can be done through a mix of advertising and unpaid promotion. Put more money into search engine advertising, focusing on your best-converting keywords. With higher conversion rates, you can afford to spend a bit more per visitor to get them on your site.

The same goes for any other kind of advertising. With higher conversion numbers, you can justify spending a bit more getting traffic on your site.

And don’t forget word-of-mouth. Now that more visitors are converting, you have more customers who can potentially share your website and your products with their friends. Make it easy for them to do so by including social media sharing options on every page.

Before Conversion: Getting Repeat Visitors

Not every visitor to your website is going to purchase something on their first visit. So the goal then becomes to get them to keep coming back to your site until they eventually do make a purchase.

Here are a dozen effective ways to get repeat visitors to your website:

  1. If you have a blog, make updates to it regularly. Those who are interested will come back for new content.
  2. Make sure your website is properly branded and that your business name and URL are easy to remember.
  3. Make it easy for people to bookmark your site not just with their browser, but also with sites like Delicious. Consider using a plugin or widget like ShareThis to make it easy for visitors to share or bookmark your site without having to implement any complicated code.
  4. Focus on getting email opt-ins, and then use that mailing list wisely! Just because people signed up doesn’t mean they still won’t view it as spam if you bombard their inbox with content they don’t care about.
  5. Have a well-designed site that’s user-friendly and easy to navigate. If your site is hard to use or the design is so bad it gives your visitors a headache, you can be sure they won’t come back.
  6. Make sure visitors can sign up for updates via RSS in addition to email.
  7. Run daily or weekly specials. If people know you offer a new deal every Monday or Friday (or ever day), they’ll visit on those days to find out what it is.
  8. Offer free content. People often bookmark resources for getting free downloads or information.
  9. Showcase new additions, whether they’re new products or new features for existing products. Again, people will come back to see what’s new since their last visit.
  10. Involve your customers. Make them a part of the development of new products by asking their opinion. You can use free tools like KISSinsights to gather customer and visitor feedback.
  11. Run regular contests. These can be fun contests with small prizes (even a badge for their blog or website can be an enticement) or bigger contests with bigger prizes like free products or subscriptions. Run regularly, they keep visitors coming back to see what new contests are being held.
  12. Make it easy for them to follow you on social media, whether that’s Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere. If they sign up to see updates on FB or Twitter, they’re more likely to click through and come back to your site later.

Track Your Progress

Regardless of whether you’re in the process of increasing conversions or increasing traffic, you need to track the results of what you’re doing. It’s not enough to just look at the overall visitor or page view numbers. You need to look at where they’re coming from, what they’re doing once they’re on your site, and where in the conversion funnel they’re leaving your site.

If you have detailed information about your visitors, you can better cater to what’s working and eliminate what’s not. KISSmetrics includes all sorts of tools for tracking what your visitors are doing on your site and where they’re getting hung up in the conversion process, as well as tools for A/B testing and email tracking.

About the Author: Cameron Chapman is a freelance designer, blogger, and the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.

  1. Hey Cameron,

    …and where in the conversion funnel they’re leaving your site.

    Exactly, as a clear understanding of your target audience helps.

    For example with mobile blogs that have large information graphics – and slow download speeds – you need to see how you can design the content to make it worth the readers time and where they are exiting the site.

    And is it worth the price of viewing!

    The package I have with my mobile provider is partly based on data volumes – the size of the web pages determines how much I pay per month.

    I’ve noticed I tend to go to mobile sites with simple designs that download fast. Cost is probably a factor in how/why I choose these sites.

    Make sense?

    Ivan

  2. Cameron Chapman Nov 04, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    That’s a good point. As more and more people access the web via mobile devices, bandwidth becomes more important. It’s almost like going back to the days of dial-up, though rather than speed, it’s overall size of files that matters.

  3. Can’t A/B and MVT testing confuse visitors who already made conversion and visit website repeatedly?

    For example im bank company, so my primary goal is get more accounts online, so i test registration form, but i also test homepage, because there are lets say 3-5 links for registration form. Current cliets use homepage for acccess to their self-care area and can be confusing if they see every month new version, yep? (sure i will not change completely homepage design every month). Or currenct clients can check repeatedly product page (for terms and conditions if they need it, or so).

  4. Split testing !I cannot emphasise it enough and also high quality videos are the way forward

  5. This is an awesome post and a great way to start a new year in marketing. It’s smart to do small tests and figuring out what works, before you spend a lot of money toward driving new traffic. Also, please consider ad retargeting as a method of bringing visitors back to your website. Check out http://www.ReTargeter.com/ for a great retargeting platform.

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