SEO Step Nine Of Ten: Conversion Optimization

Welcome to step nine in this ten part SEO series. The ten parts of the SEO process we will be covering are:

  1. Keyword Research & Selection
  2. Competition Analysis
  3. Site Structure
  4. Content Optimization
  5. Link Building
  6. Social Media
  7. PPC
  8. Statistics Analysis
  9. Conversion Optimization
  10. Keeping It Up

Give them Direction, then give them choice.

Marketing online doesn’t have to be terribly complicated or flashy in order to be successful.

I do a lot of market research for big corporations and smaller start-ups, all of which come to me with the same problems:

  1. They aren’t getting the right traffic to convert on their website.
  2. They aren’t getting return traffic to their website.
  3. Their abandonments are high and their website has no stickiness.
  4. Leads and/or sales are falling off.

Really, what they are all failing to do is build a real “brand relationship” with their market, and they cannot seem to figure out why.

But what is interesting is that the reason why is pretty much the same across the board – they never took the time to really consider the behavior of their current users and those users that they want to attract.

I know it is the oldest marketing tenant, but it’s so old because it is absolutely true.

If you really want to succeed and get more online conversions, you have to:

  1. Look first to your market
  2. Seek to understand your market
  3. Identify what your market needs

Here’s the trick though…

  1. Give it to them in a way that seems natural, specific to them
  2. Coach them along the way

More often than not, whether it is B2B or B2C, most companies fail to give the audience what they want – because they don’t do it in the way the audience wants to hear it. Instead they use flash or messaging that is constructed around the way the business sells and not the way its customers buy.

Let me tell you a story.

Fifty years ago my grandfather opened a small butcher shop in the east end. He was an immigrant with some scraped together savings from working on the docks in the day and a family meat shop downtown during the nights. He would grind up sausages all night, cut porterhouses, and then break his back unloading booze and everything else off the boats.

I’m sure he kept a little for himself – a sort of cheap steaks on the waterfront and cheap booze from the butcher kind of thing – but he had a dream of making his own way and he did what he had to in order to make it happen.

I didn’t know him then, but he would tell me stories sometimes about how he worked for everything he had and how nothing came easy.

The things I remember most was that he told me it took him 2 years to find his storefront; had to be on the corner with windows shining light in from both sides; had to be able to have two 12 foot long displays on the inside walls; had to be able to have a register in the middle.

Location was the key for his success.

What’s more, he also made sure that it was the on the cross of the two bus routes – one that went to the downtown offices, the other coming up from the waterfront. It also happened to be surrounded by two bedroom family apartments.

He said he always put the right cuts of meat in each display, so there was a path for the bankers and a path for the workers.

By the time I knew him, he had over a dozen butcher shops in five cities.

The story may seem like a bit of a distraction, but I think that the same design my grandfather brought to his butcher shop is what is lacking in a lot of website design.

You see, my grandfather knew that his location would make stopping at the butcher a very natural extension of his customers walk home. He also knew that the guy coming in the center door from the right side would look through the window as he marched to the door and follow that direct path to the register.

In his shop, nobody had to crisscross the store – the two displays were tailored to either the cuts favored by banker or the cuts favored by longshoremen – the money at the register was the same – and everybody chose their distinct route, but they were definitely coached along the way.

Barrier Scanning in Websites

A few weeks ago we published a little whitepaper about a trend that we were starting to see more and more through some of our eye tracking studies. ( (Link removed – no longer available) – it’s free to download) We started calling it barrier scanning in-house, and eventually we started seeing it so frequently that we thought maybe we should write about it.

Barrier Scanning happens on all types of websites, from e-commerce to lead generation microsites, and is the act of some on the page element – be it a large graphic, whitespace, video, or even the page fold – being perceived as a natural barrier to a user’s scan pattern. In essence, it interrupts the natural scan activity and either redirects, fences, or funnels a user’s natural flow on the page.

Think of it like rocks in a stream… if the rocks are large enough, or there happens to be too many of them, the water will change its natural course.

The image (Figure 1) above is a perfect illustration of how graphic elements can alter a user’s scan pattern. (The red to blue spectrum overlay indicates the area and concentration of a user’s fixations.) See how the user’s scanning is funneled to the text links in the right rail by the two large display ads.

However, the size of an image can also determine whether or not it is perceived as a barrier and blocks the scanning of the page (see figure 2 as an example). In fact, larger graphics, without text, are easier for a user to ignore because they are not part of the fovial fixations (people use their peripheral vision to look at pictures).

Like a large graphic, video or Flash can also act as barriers, driving users around the multimedia portion of the page.

Think about getting Conversions

Now imagine that your website has a large graphic call to action… is there a good chance that it is being perceived as a natural barrier and actually pushing user’s scan patterns away instead of attracting eyeballs?

Now imagine that you have embedded your conversion trigger into your Flash file – right at the end of it… is there a good chance that user’s are scanning around the media looking for a clear navigation path?

The answer to both questions is “yes.”

Let me first give this caveat though – just because your website has this type of layout doesn’t mean this is definitely happening, but if you aren’t leaving enough natural information scent on the page, more than likely your page is failing you as a result.

What do I mean?

Think of your page like a treasure map, you can’t just place your conversion trigger and hope a user will find it… even if you make it larger than life with flashing neon. User’s scan a page so quickly and make relevance and navigation decisions within fractions of a second… for those reasons, you have to lay clues or clear a path for the user’s scanning.

There isn’t necessarily a simple design rule of thumb other than making a strong paradigm shift. Rather than focus on trying to be engaging, try to engage your particular customer. There is a difference there; often designers confuse “engaging” with salesy or entertaining – these are not synonyms. When I say “engage your particular customer,” I mean that you have to look at coaching your customer to a conversion trigger rather than directing them to it.

Try the following steps:

  1. Look at your page the way your customer sees it… if you can’t do eye tracking, asking them questions is usually a pretty good alternative.
  2. Look at your page and see if there are barriers in the way of your customer reaching your conversion trigger – if so, remove them and find better alternatives.
  3. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake, the worst mistake would be to stick with something that isn’t working – make some changes and test them.
  4. Remember that layout and design are only a part of the equation, making sure that you make every decision with your customer at the center is the best marketing practice. In order for any conversion trigger or process to really work, not only does the page design have to naturally coach the user to the conversion trigger, but so does the messaging and the overall resonance of the website or else none of your problems will be solved.
  5. Worst case, give me a call… I’m always willing to make myself available to talk about your website or more about how barriers can impact conversions, especially how we need to start looking at online as a coaching medium and not a driving medium. In fact, we will be starting up a recurring webinar in the near future that has a rotating panel of industry experts take a look at audience suggested websites and dissect what is working and what isn’t; while suggesting some best practices for the industry as a whole.

In the end

Like my grandfather said, “it takes work to make a success” – mind you my father said it took an inheritance, but I think he had a different perspective.

My grandfather was no fool though, he spent his time understanding how his customers walked and talked before he built his butcher shop, and that made all the difference …

About The Author

Rick Tobin is the Director of Research at Enquiro Research and widely regarded as an authority on conversion optimization and study.

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