I Learned About Web Marketing From Gas Stations

    January 4, 2005

From time-to-time, our expert staff find the time to write some fantastic articles. We try to suppress this by giving them more work, but they sometimes slip through. 😉

How Everything I Know About Web Marketing I Learned from Your Local Gas Station

By: Jeremy Swiller

During my holiday travels, it occurred to me how few people leave a gas station without buying anything. Whether it’s a package of Pop Rocks or a full tank of gas for a Hummer, gas stations drive sales at high double-digit conversions versus an average e-commerce conversion rate of around 1.8%. What are we missing?

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Of course their conversions are better! Our visitors can go somewhere else with one click. If you don’t like what you experience at a gas station, you have to get back into your car, buckle up, pull out into traffic again and find somewhere else to go.” Admittedly, leaving the gas station and finding another is a hassle, however, these conversions are rooted in a fundamental design to lure the right customer and meet specific needs.

When you pull off the exit ramp, whether you realize it or not, you have a preconceived idea of what you need from that gas station. Maybe you drive a gas-guzzler and low priced gas is most important to you. Are you looking for a clean restroom for the kids; a grassy area for traveling with pets; a restaurant to stop for lunch; a service station for repairs; or a large convenience store to satisfy your hankering for Corn Nuts, Doritos, Beef Jerky and a Red Bull to wash it all down? All of these facets play out in our minds to ensure we get what we need, and ultimately decide whether we make a right or a left. So how does this relate to website conversions?

We buy when we believe our needs are being met, and the only way to meet the needs of your customers-and, thus, produce sales-is to know your audience and what they’re interested in. Who is your target? How are you meeting their needs when they reach your landing page, your category page, and/or your home page? How easy can your visitor change directions on your site and search for another product? How enticing is your product description? Why should they buy from you? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then you should reevaluate your approach.

Regular, Super or Premium?

On the highway, the search term is usually an empty gas tank. But do your search terms accurately represent your product online? If your product is more expensive than the average, then brand that product through search. A visitor searching through organic listings for “premium chocolates” may be willing to pay $50-$100 when you provide the inherent value of the product. However, conversions will not be as favorable on the more generic term “chocolates” when you drive visitors to the same page. And “discount chocolates” will create frustration for the visitor once they see the high price tag.

Descriptions are key in paid listings as well. Our gas station displays the prices on your way in, but how does this translate to the web?

American Crew Hair Gel
Best Hair Gel Selection & Expert Advice
American Crew $7-$20 plus free shipping

This helps meet a visitor’s need to determine price range before wasting their time (and your money). Was this what they planned on spending? What can they expect when they click through?

Paying at the Pump?

When was the last time you were forced to go into the gas station versus paying at the pump? It’s a convenience that we take for granted. However, we often forget those crucial 30-60 seconds when the customer pulls out their credit card to buy something on our websites. With up to 75% of shopping carts being abandoned, the extra effort we put into being a friendly interactive host can go a long way.

I have yet to see a customer fill up their tank with gas and then change his/her mind. It’s probably because there really aren’t any surprises. “I want gasoline. I’m pumping it. Now I’m paying for it.” Why should your website be any different?

Shipping costs are a huge cause of cart abandonment, as is comparison-shopping, and an intrusive and/or long, confusing check-out processes. Is your shipping competitive both in cost and service level to your competitors? Is it easy to add items to the cart, and once you add them, is it abundantly clear that the item has been added? Is the “Checkout” button prominent for a smooth transition to payment? Have you kept the customers’ efforts to a minimum and streamlined their process? Does your FAQ page answer questions (delivery options, schedules, etc.) in a concise matter, and is the page available to consumers during the checkout process? Are you offering customers a new reason to stay and buy from you (free gift, additional discount, etc.)? These are all tactics that should be considered in order to provide your customer with a rich and rewarding shopping experience.

Would You Like a 48oz Slushie With That?

What do three candy bars for $1 have to do with filling your gas tank up? The advertisements on top of the gas pumps help drive traffic into the convenience stores. You may not have planned to buy a candy bar on your drive in, but you also may not be able to resist that Zagnut staring you in the face. When searching for a “Gas Grill” there is an excellent chance you will also require new grill cover, a grilling thermometer and a “Kiss the Cook” apron. Since you’re already buying the grill, why shouldn’t you buy the accessories with one stop (especially if the site is offering free shipping on these items)?

Before your customers confirm check-out, are there related products that will benefit them? How can you show the benefit of this product, and why should they buy that product from you? Companies such as Amazon will proudly display what other shoppers purchase based on your search selection. Allowing a customer to quickly “add-on” to their order saves them time and can increase your sales significantly.

1 Gallon of Gas = 3.7854118 Liters of Petrol

When customers land on your website, are you speaking their language? Specifically, do visitors really feel like you’re speaking to them and understanding their particular needs? Your local fill-up station understands this concept in the form of easy to use pumps, and instructions (just in case you grew up in New Jersey-where they pump for you-or have been living under a rock).

How do we do this online? Proper keyword targeting based on product and associated keyword-dense content help us speak directly to the needs of our market. The website is your salesperson, and addressing needs in a familiar manner is a necessity.

Let’s take, for example, carbonated soft drinks (i.e. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc.). In much of the country, this is referred to as “soda.” However if you order a “soda” in Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and countless other cities in the mid-west, you might receive what we Northeasterners refer to as “an ice cream soda” or an “egg cream.” In the Deep South, asking for a “Coke” will often breed a response of “what kind of coke?” A “garage sale” in Connecticut is the same as a “yard sale” in North Carolina.

Take advantage of regional terminology and investigate your keywords closely. Travel sites could better suit the needs of our friends across the pond by providing separate pages with keyword dense content on “family holidays” versus “family vacations.” By addressing the needs specific to UK travelers, this type of page would help the website be a friendly and familiar vendor.

As our customers become more web-savvy, we have to adjust our usability and traffic driving strategies accordingly. Gas stations are high-volume, high revenue operations that are truly designed to sell. Plus, they make it very easy. Meeting needs, communicating value appropriately and making it convenient for customers is what marketing is all about. It turns out my wife was right-if you lose your way, a gas station isn’t a bad place to stop for directions.

Who is Jeremy Swiller?
Jeremy Swiller has over 10 years of advertising/branding experience. As a marketing manager with KeywordRanking (a division of Websourced, Inc.), Jeremy helps clients develop effective search engine marketing programs designed to increase brand awareness and drive revenue. Prior to KeywordRanking, Jeremy was the Manager of Client Operations at TMP Worldwide, the advertising agency division of Monster.com. Jeremy can be reached at jswiller AT keywordranking.com.

Andy Beal is an internet marketing consultant and considered one of the world’s most respected and interactive search engine marketing experts. Andy has worked with many Fortune 1000 companies such as Motorola, CitiFinancial, Lowes, Alaska Air, DeWALT, NBC and Experian.

You can read his internet marketing blog at Marketing Pilgrim and reach him at andy.beal@gmail.com.