The holidays are fast approaching and with them the short window of vast opportunity for many online retailers. As an SEO we get inundated with panicked requests for rankings before the holidays. Of course that's not going to happen at this point (at least – I wouldn't start organic SEO campaigns now for the holiday season) so what can you do to make the most of what you've got this holiday season? Improve your conversions.
There are of course ways you can increase your traffic flow using PPC and other, more instant traffic strategies (eBay, shopping engine inclusion and placement, etc.) but in this article I'm going to touch on a few very simple resources and tools to help you make the most of your current traffic. Some will cost you – some are free but all these strategies, tools and resources are ones I've used myself or on client sites with great success. So let's begin with the conversion-enhancing tools first and then we'll get into resources:
Trust Symbols & Testimonials
Everyone from conversion expert Tim Ash to your aunt will tell you one of the things they base a buying decision on is trust. Would you buy your new iPhone from the guy standing on the corner? Why not? Trust – that's why. The web is the same – only more-so as the assumption is generally that you are the guy on the corner and it's up to you to prove otherwise. Trust symbols and testimonials can go a long way to helping people feel comfortable with giving you their credit card number, sight unseen.
A common mistake is to place the trust symbols and testimonials below the fold. Let's face facts – you have about 5 seconds to grab somebody's attention when they first visit your site. You have 5 seconds to gain enough trust that they're willing to spend time looking through your site. We're all busy – if you don't have my trust quickly – I'm gone. Place your trust symbols and testimonials where they can be quickly seen. Trust symbols can range from the logos of major brands who've used your services or shopped at your store to the symbols of your security certificate provider, organizations or security seals. Here are some of my favorite trust symbols:
I started using the seal back when it was HackerSafe (who was purchased by McAfee) and I, along with a number of clients, have seen double digit percentage increases in conversions after adding it to our sites. The interesting part is that it's even useful with non-ecommerce sites. Our site for example is not an ecommerce site but our forms filled goes up when the seal is there and the phone rings more often. It's just a matter of trust. Our ecommerce clients have more dramatic results obviously.
If you're a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau or other well-known organization why not show the world? These seals imply an ethics and commitment to certain standards and also give the visitor a feeling that there is a recourse if you treat them incorrectly.
We all recognize the major credit cards, we all recognize Verisign and the other major security certificate providers and we all recognize PayPal. People may not know why these things matter – but they know they do. People may not know what encryption is but they know they don't want to enter their credit card without it. Make sure that at the very least you have these seals clearly on the purchase pages.
Hearing about experiences from past clients can go a long way towards bridging the gap between you as a website and you as a client-conscious human-run business that happens to have a website. So much of the online world is faceless and cold – let your visitors read about the experience of people “just like them” and how you helped those people.
Just Some Other Tips From The Water Cooler
Before we move into some helpful tools and resources you can use to help increase your conversions here are a few other very simple steps I've found can instantly improve conversion rates:
- Put your phone number in your header. Call volumes will increase your sales significantly but your non-call in sales will increase too. Your phone number is a sign of trust. It is a sign that people CAN call you – even if they don't. Even when I'm building affiliate sites I'll often put in the product manufacturers phone number. Yes I'm losing sales from direct call-in orders but I gain more in online sales than I lose. At the end of the day I'm ahead – imagine what happens with sites where you're answering the phone.
- Make it a toll-free number. At Beanstalk we used to have a standard telephone number and had it up on the site. The week we switched to a toll free number the call volumes increased significantly. It's funny as people were about to spend hundreds and thousands on our services and a long distance call these days would have cost them a whopping 50 cents or some such thing but the switch made a sizable impact on inquiries.
- Put links in your copy and draw the eye to them. If you're talking about blue widgets on your site, link to your blue widgets page where they can enter the buying cycle. Sure it's an SEO strategy as well (2 birds, 1 stone … excellent) but more to the point here is to help your visitors get into the buying cycle before they realize they can look elsewhere. “Oh heck, I'm already here and how much could I save looking around really?”
- Don't put up barriers. I've been on a number of sites (and even had a client with one) that have a warning on their shopping pages to the affect, “If you don't trust online shopping give us a call!” Well, they probably trusted online shopping until you told them not to.
- Build information into your site. One of the worst things that can happen is that you have an excellent site, you've displayed your products wonderfully and got the person ready to buy. Unfortunately they just don't know what some term or another means or what they might need to go with it and since you don't have the info on your site – well they're just going to quickly Google it. Oh, there's the info – oh, and that site offers free shipping !!! Ouch.
I don't want to give you too much to work with. Do that and of course one runs the risk of becoming paralyzed with information. If you get through this set and are looking for more little tweaks I recommend reading Tim Ash's “Landing Page Optimization”. To reinforce my earlier point – notice the McAfee logo to the top right of their site.
Widgets & Tools
As with virtually every area of Internet Marketing – developers have built tons of widgets and tools – many free – to help you. Generally they're to show you what they can do (sort of a “if we'll give you this free imagine what you can pay for” kind of angle. And sometimes it's just for links (which, since I'll link to them from this article – is working well for them).
Here are some of my favorites that can help you over a very short period of time:
Most of us can't afford to have full eyetracking studies done for our sites. To help us out the SiteTuners folks have created a heatmap system that will scan an image of your page and show you a heatmap version of it tracing what they believe the eye will do (based on an algorithm – not human interaction so it's not 100% accurate but it can give you a good idea of where some failing points may well be. They offer a free account so hey – can't beat the price.
As a note – the first time I used it I wasn't thinking and fed in an image of my whole page. The eye was drawn to the footer according to the heatmap. Make sure you only input an image of the portion visible on the most common resolutions of your visitors. If you don't know how make an image of your site – the easiest way is with the Firefox extension Screen Capture Elite.
A lot of people like to make changes to their website in hopes of increasing conversions but do they test the new pages? Google created Website Optimizer to allow webmasters to test 2 landing pages and get statistics on which page converts better. We tested a new services page and the one I liked most …. lost. Know what I like better than the losing services page? Conversions. If you're planning on applying any of the changes noted above (or others you find elsewhere or just dream up yourself) be sure to do some A/B testing. Website Optimizer is a simple way to do this.
There are tons more tools and resources out there but there isn't much time left before the holidays. Start now and get to work. And of course – once the holidays are over keep going, no matter how optimized your site is for conversions there's always a weakest point. Keep watching your stats and keep thinking about conversions.
Oh – and happy holidays.