Think Content First

When customers start telling you that it’s time to update your website, you’ve waited too long. That’s the position that Chris George, CEO of Think First, was in when he emailed us asking to be considered for this edition of By Design Makeover.

“We established our website (http://www.thinkfirst.us) in 2005. We have grown tremendously since that time and have not updated the design or content of our website. We receive comments all the time from prospective clients that tell us that our website does not have a lot of information about our company. We are in desperate need of a makeover,” George wrote.

Well, you came to the right place. It just so happens that makeovers are what we do here. As many of you know from past issues, the first step to a successful makeover is to review what your current page has to offer.

In reviewing ThinkFirst.us, my first thought is that the logo is nice and professional looking, but a bit generic. This leads me to look around for a tagline or some other element that will tell me what this company does. Before I get to that, the animating center section catches my attention. It starts off with, “Copernicus didn’t start the earth revolving around the sun.” Next frame, “Isaac Newton didn’t make the apple fall.” That’s clever. I see where they’re going, but I’m still not sure what they do. I see some buttons (or what appear to be buttons) under that section: Technology, Process, People, Innovation. I try to click on those, but they aren’t clickable.

Finally, I get to a tagline of sorts: “Unlike consultants, we’re experts who create and implement IT strategies that allow physician practice groups to meet their business objectives.” That’s quite a mouthful, and still doesn’t tell me much about their services.

Unfortunately, besides a clever marketing animation, this home page doesn’t have anything that leads me to believe that these guys have the expertise to take my company (or healthcare organization, since that is their primary market) to the next level. How come there’s no real content about the company or what they offer? In order to create a site that is useful for visitors and potential clients, this home page should include a company overview, their services, consultants’ bios, testimonials and company news.

This is where website makeovers can be tricky. In most cases, many of the content pieces are already there – they just need to be rearranged and given the right visual priority. But when the content on an existing site is so far off from what it should be – it’s better to start the process with a wireframe.

According to Webopedia, a wireframe is “a visualization tool for presenting proposed functions, structure and content of a Web page or Web site. A wireframe separates the graphic elements of a Web site from the functional elements in such a way that Web teams can easily explain how users will interact with the Web site.” As we discovered, the graphics are not the problem for Think First. Instead, they need a wireframe that illustrates the what, where and how much for each new content component they want to add.

The great thing about wireframes is that anyone can create one using simple tools like Microsoft Word. And presenting a well-thought-out wireframe to your Web team will most certainly result in a better end product.

First, let’s go back and create a wireframe for the existing site – so we can compare apples to apples. The first thing I notice is that the site is designed for an 800×600 browser resolution. In 2005, when the site was designed, this was considered a best practice. But now that monitors and resolutions have gotten larger, it just means we’re not making the best use of our available space. Next, I see that the marketing message takes almost 45 percent of the page. While it is a nice marketing message, it’s just taking up way too much page real estate. Finally, and the real reason this page is not successful, is there is just no real content.

Our new wireframe seems to iron out all the issues. First, it’s designed for a 1024×768 browser resolution, which is the standard size on the Web today. Next, we have made the marketing message much smaller – now it’s a little over 10 percent of total real estate. And last, but certainly not least, we added lots and lots of vital content.

Wireframes are a great way to eliminate the graphical element so you can focus on which content components are most important and how best to arrange them. With news, case studies, a featured consultant and a list of services, users are sure to understand exactly what Think First offers, and they are much better equipped to make the decision to hire them.

When designing any site, it’s best to put the content first. I’m not going to go into a rant about the evils of template websites, but I do want to mention that this is exactly why most template sites are ineffective. They offer you a pretty-looking, pre-designed website, and then ask you to squish all your content into it. That is not the ideal situation when you’re looking to create a website that performs for your business.

Now, I know that you hardcore By Design readers are wondering where we ended up with the makeover for my design firm, Sostre & Associates. Not to worry; we’ve got a final follow- up column coming soon – complete with analytics data and some post-launch thoughts – but you’ll have to wait until the next issue of Revenue (Issue 23).

Until then – would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

Passing the Test

In the May/June Affiliate’s Corner column, I wrote about the ways super-affiliates prefer to be approached by affiliate program managers and merchants for the purpose of program recruitment.

Wooing a super-affiliate over drinks and dinner with offers of exclusive landing pages, significantly higher-than-advertised commission rates, or showering them with free product samples will certainly get their attention, but it does not guarantee that you will get the heavy hitters to join your program, however.

Even if your product is a fabulous fit for the affiliate’s audience and your commission rates are more generous than your competitors’, no super-affiliate will send copious amounts of targeted traffic (read: their highly valued subscribers with whom they’ve worked hard to develop loyal and lasting relationships) to your site unless it first passes an affiliate’s Merchant Site Test.

This test evaluates many aspects of the site from both the affiliate’s and a visitor’s perspective. I personally start with factors that will affect a visitor’s experience, and keep the following questions in mind as I peruse a merchant’s site for the first time.

Does the site load quickly or does the server bog down under graphic-laden pages? If there is a Flash home page, is there an obvious “skip intro” link or am I forced to watch the video to the bitter end? Is the site attractive and professional in appearance or are there broken links, graphics and scripting errors? Is the sales page comprehensive and well written, or is it fraught with spelling and grammatical errors or “holes” in the sales copy?

I also check to see whether the site uses excessive newsletter sign-up popups or advertising fly-ins. Do site preview pop-ups such as Snap Shots block my view of the text each time I cursor over a link? Does a new window open every time I click a link? Although I may understand a merchant’s motivation for using such tactics, I am more concerned that visitors to the site will find such intrusions confusing and/or annoying to the point that they are likely to exit the site and kill any chance of a sale.

Appearance, functionality and copy rarely pose problems with professionally designed and maintained sites. Nor are they an issue for ClickBank affiliates who can code links to send traffic directly to the order form. However, having to bypass a merchant’s home page means that pay-per-click arbitrage isn’t an option for some affiliates, while others will have to write sales copy rather than a product review. Although some affiliates may be willing to make that effort to promote one exceptional product, most will pass on the program if the merchant offers a diverse or large selection of goods.

Another significant factor that I will evaluate is search functionality. Visitors must be able to search for and find what they want quickly and easily. For example, does a clothing site let visitors drill down to choose between designers, color and function, or does a click on the “Dresses” link slowly load a page that displays 50 thumbnails of cocktail, evening and wedding dresses?

If the visitor can find a product that she wants to buy, good affiliates will check to see whether the order process is functional, intuitive and secure. Does the site post a “Hacker-Safe” logo and a privacy policy? Are shipping policies and prices easy to locate, or does a customer have to go through the entire order process to determine the cost to ship to Canada or if GST and PST will be added to her order? Can the customer ship to an address different from the billing address and can she have that dress gift wrapped for her cousin in Amsterdam?

What happens if our customer has questions about either the product or her order? Is there a sizing guide or a customer FAQ? Does the site offer order tracking? Is there a contact link, Live Help badge or telephone number displayed on every page for support?

I’d be thrilled to see all but the last item on that list, as a prominently posted telephone number that encourages phone orders means that potential commissions will be lost through traffic leakage.

Traffic leakage occurs at any point on a site that allows visitors to leave the site without making a purchase through the affiliate’s link. Affiliates that pay for their traffic are particularly sensitive to this problem, and most affiliates will not join a merchant’s affiliate program if there is any leakage at all.

Phone orders must therefore be tracked to the referring affiliate – which does not mean asking your customers from which site they originated. Merchants who aren’t equipped with the technical wizardry to track phone orders should allow affiliates to send their traffic to a version of the site that does not post a phone number, and trust that their super-affiliates’ promotional efforts will more than make up for any sales that may be lost by doing so.

Most traffic leaks occur when merchants link to other sites that may be of interest to their visitors, or to partner sites with which they have reciprocal link agreements. Traffic leakage also occurs when a merchant with two or more online stores links to those other sites without compensating affiliates for sales from any and all of their stores.

The most offensive type of outbound link traffic leaks are affiliate or contextual advertising links (i.e., Google Adwords ads) from which the merchant hopes to profit. Most affiliates consider this practice more “traffic theft” than traffic leakage and will not only not join the program, they will also warn other affiliates of the merchant’s commission-stealing practices.

That’s not to say that as a merchant you shouldn’t promote other merchants’ products. You should. But do it on the back end or from within the secure area of your site, only after your own affiliates have had a fair chance to earn a commission for sending traffic to your site.

As you can see, the Merchant Site Test is comprehensive and super-affiliates are picky to the nth degree! If any aspect of the site misses the bar, most super-affiliates will go on to consider your competitor’s offer and promote their products without so much as a TYBNTY (thank-you-but-no-thank-you) note for your time and treats.

If you’re lucky enough to have a super- affiliate take time from her busy promotional schedule (or lounge chair) to explain why she’s chosen not to join your program, consider implementing her recommendations as soon as possible – and let her know as soon as the changes have been made.

Don’t stop there

Visit a Web developer’s forum and ask for feedback about your site. Ask your site visitors for their comments and suggestions as well. Check the affiliate networks for clues about what your competitors are doing right. For example, ask yourself how a merchant that pays only 8 percent commissions has an EPC that is triple that of the merchant who pays 12 percent. Do your own Merchant Site Test to find out why affiliates love to promote their program.

Getting just one super-affiliate on board can substantially increase a program’s earnings. The first super-affiliate in a program will generally use this advantage to heavily advertise the site or product using pay per click.

As other super-affiliates join the program and competition between affiliates increases, most will rise to the challenge and step up their promotional efforts using a diverse array of creative methods. Exposure to both the product and the affiliate program tend to increase exponentially at that point – which makes for very happy merchants and managers.

When you design your site with a view to building long-term relationships with visitors and potential super- affiliates, you too can get that kind of happy – perhaps even rich.

Rosalind Gardner is a super-affiliate who’s been in the business since 1998. She’s also the author of The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 in One Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online. Her best-selling book is available on Amazon and www.SuperAffiliateHandbook.com.

Question Then Convert

I talk to website owners all the time who are looking to design or redesign their websites. Most tell me what colors they like and what other websites appeal to them. Next they discuss features like animation or video. Some will go so far as to send long, prepared documents that include detailed color choices, font selections and so on. The concept of Web design is still largely looked at as a visual beautification of their website.

What I rarely find are website owners who have looked at their design in the context of Internet business. Once you’ve decided to redesign, there is a certain process you must go through to ensure your new website offers more than just a pretty face. You need the right information to provide a context for the redesign process.

This is why most of the website templates that are available for purchase do not help online businesses. They often look very nice, but force you to tailor your information to the design. Successful conversion design depends on a design that is specifically created for your information.

Please don’t confuse information with content. You don’t need to have every article and tagline written before starting the design process. However, you do need to have a very clear understanding of the message you want to convey to users and what goals you want to reach.

I encourage all website owners to answer the following questions before starting a redesign.

What type of website do you need?

Almost all websites can be grouped into a handful of categories: informational, lead generation, e-commerce and support. The type of website required for each is very different. To determine what type of website you need, you first just need to answer the question, how does your site make money?

If your business makes money by selling advertising or sponsorships it probably falls into the category of informational websites. Informational sites want to attract lots of visitors and get those users to come back regularly. The more pages users visit, the better it is for business. Examples of information websites include news portals, most blogs and many community-based sites.

If your site drives revenue by generating leads which are later converted to sales or sold to another organization – you need a lead generation site. Lead generation sites need to convert users to leads as effectively as possible. Lead generation sites can take many forms but some examples include service companies, mortgage comparison companies, etc.

E-commerce sites make their money by selling products. They need to establish trust because customers usually need to enter a credit card to complete the transaction.

Support sites help their owners by helping users find answers themselves, thereby reducing the need for support staff. These sites succeed when they make it very easy for users to find specific information.

Because the goals of these websites are very different, the design needs to be different. A one-size-fits-all approach will limit the success of the site.

What do you want to say to your users?

Every company has a voice. Is your business fun and quirky or staid and serious? Established off-line businesses often have a brand manager who helps to define this voice. The idea is to convey a consistent message to people exposed to the brand. Many website owners neglect this vital part of business. At the very least, your site needs to communicate the following points:

  • What makes your company different from the competition?
  • Why should users trust you?

Think of your website as an extended sales team. Great salespeople have to say the right words at the right time to help customers realize how great your products and services are. Your website needs to do the same thing.

Who are your users?

Defining a target market is business 101. One of your first steps should be to settle on the basics of who your customers are with metrics like age range, gender and income. Once the basics are defined, your next step is to identify any niche markets that would fit well with your service or product. Being able to cater parts of your website to specific niche markets can present huge opportunities for growth.

Another important step in understanding your audience is to determine how they are finding your site. Is your traffic coming from natural search engine listings, pay-per-click listings or word of mouth? Hopefully you’re attracting users from all three, in which case you need to think about what each type of user is looking to get from your site. Different traffic sources often indicate that users are at different stages in the buying cycle; for example, word-of-mouth traffic may only be interested in checking out the site, whereas pay-per-click visitors may already have their wallet out ready to make a purchase.

Having a thorough understanding of who visits your site and where they are coming from is the only way to create experiences that are appropriate for your audience.

So before you start shopping around for Web designers and writing content for your site, make sure you’ve given thought to the three major questions in this article. Design is more than just making your site look good – it’s about creating a website that accomplishes solid business goals that add to the bottom line.

Would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company name, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

PEDRO SOSTRE is pioneering Conversion Design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He is the co-author of Web Analytics for Dummies and serves as CEO of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.sostreassoc.com to learn more.

The Ingredients That Go Into Spam

“Never watch sausage being made,” folks say, lest you would find the process so unappetizing that you’d never eat it again. Regardless of how you feel about Spam®, the venerable luncheon meat, all search marketers must understand the ingredients that comprise search spam.

In our last column, we explored the dangers of spam, which include bad publicity and getting banned from the search engines. We also looked at a spam technique called cloaking, in which spammers feed a different page to the search spider than what they show to real people.

This time around, let’s look at stupid content tricks. The goal isn’t to teach you how to use spam techniques, but rather to help you spot them on your site (oh no!) or on your competitors’ (so you can report them). Content spammers generally employ two kinds of tricks: page stuffing and doorway pages. Let’s look at each one in turn.

Page Stuffing

Content spammers treat their Web pages like a Thanksgiving turkey. They stuff as much extra content into each page as possible, hoping they’ll include something that search engines like. Let’s look at the three major types of content spamming tricks:

Hidden text

Don’t use tricky techniques to show the search spider text that is not seen when a reader looks at your page. In the old days (two years ago), content spammers tried displaying text with the same font color as the background color. Today the trendy spammer uses style sheets to write keywords on the page that are then overlaid by graphics or other page elements. Whatever the technique, if the search spider sees your words but people never do, that’s spam. The only exception to that rule is HTML comments, which are ignored by both the spider and the browser.

Duplicate tags

In times past, the use of multiple title tags (and other meta tags) was rumored to boost rankings. Although few search engines fall for that trick nowadays, spammers have adjusted. The same style sheet approach that can hide text can also overlay text on top of itself, so it is shown once on the screen but listed multiple times in the HTML file, adding emphasis for the repeated keywords.

Keyword stuffing

Also known as keyword loading, this technique is really just an overuse of sound content optimization practices. Do emphasize your target keywords on your search landing pages, but don’t overuse them. Dumping out-of-context keywords into an <img> tag’s alternate text attribute, or into <noscript> or <noframes> tags, are variations of this same unethical technique.

Search engines have gotten much better at detecting page stuffing in recent years, but the cat-and-mouse game continues. Each year, spammers develop new content tricks and search engines try to catch them.

Some extremely clever and hardworking people really can fool the search engines with advanced versions of these tricks. Most of the time, however, spam techniques are like stock tips: Once you hear the tip, it is probably too late; the stock price has already gone up and the search engines are already implementing countermeasures.

What should you do instead of page stuffing? Write your pages for your readers. Yes, use the popular keywords on your pages, but don’t repeat them endlessly like mindless drivel. Write engaging and informative pages that use the right keywords and you’ll attract the search engines. Moreover, when a reader gets to the page, your copy will persuade them to take the next step and buy something.

Doorway Pages

A few years ago, doorway pages were all the rage. Every search marketing “expert” was explaining how to create pages whose sole purpose is to appeal to search engines. The idea was that searchers came from the search engine to your site through a “doorway.” Some called them entry pages, others gateway pages, but the idea was the same. If your page exists only to get search rankings, it’s probably a doorway page.

In a sense, doorway pages are doors that only open “in” because they are not part of the mainstream navigation of your website. Doorway pages link to other pages within your website, but none of your other pages link to them.

Spammers use various techniques to get high search rankings for doorway pages, such as cloaking (which we discussed in our last column), page stuffing, and link spam (which we’ll tackle in our next column). Search engines have tightened up their detection mechanisms to avoid high rankings for doorway pages, but a smart spammer can still slip them through.

What should you do instead of doorway pages? Create search landing pages that are optimized for both search engines and people. Like doorway pages, search landing pages are designed to be the first page a searcher sees on your site when coming from a search engine. Unlike doorway pages, search landing pages are legitimate pages intrinsic to your navigation that are linked both to and from many other pages on your site. In fact, they are designed for people first and for search engines second.

Some paid search landing pages can be legitimately designed to be closer to doorway pages. Because you may want to target many more keywords for paid search than you can optimize for organic search, you can create paid-placement landing pages that are not part of the mainline site navigation – with links leading into the site only. The difference between these pages and doorway pages is they are not being used for organic search at all. (In fact, you should use a robots tag or robots .txt file to block them from organic search.) Because you are not fooling the organic engines with these pages, they are not spam.

For any pages that you want to optimize for organic search, just make sure they are heavily linked into the main navigation path of your site. That will ensure that the search engines treat them as landing pages rather than doorway pages.

Comedian Buddy Hackett joked that his mother’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it. The search engines’ terms of service (their rules for you to follow) are similar. Search engines decide which techniques are spam and there’s no higher court for an appeal.

Those who engage in content spam run a grave risk of having their sites banned by the search engines. So don’t be reckless. Stick to writing for readers and you won’t go wrong.

That’s it for content spam. In the last part of the three-part series, you’ll bone up on link spam, so that you’ll recognize the tricky link techniques that might fool the search engines.

Mike Moran is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and product manager for IBM’s OmniFind search product. His books (Search Engine Marketing, Inc. and Do It Wrong Quickly) and his Biznology blog are found at MikeMoran.com.

Improving Conversions

Kimberly Griffiths knows all too well what it feels like to be drowning in a sea of debt. Like many Americans, she’s faced credit card charges totaling tens of thousands of dollars. The difference between Griffiths and the average credit-card-toting American is that she conquered the interest-accruing beasts.

Now Griffiths is passionate about helping others conquer it too. She figures she’s got plenty of work to do, with over $1 trillion of consumer debt in America alone. That’s why she invested her time and money into building a system designed to set others free from the bondage of minimum monthly payments that never seem to make a dent in the grand total. She dubbed her online reduction strategy “One Paycheck at a Time.” It includes a book and online tools to help consumers reduce their debt, well, one paycheck at a time.

A debt-free Griffiths, though, still has one problem. Her own need to earn weekly paychecks to remain in the black keeps her from pursuing her passion to help others on a full-time basis. Her goal is to transform the lackluster OnePayCheckAtATime.com site into a revenue-generating machine that will allow her to quit her day job and focus all of her efforts on helping the millions of Americans who are stressed out over swelling credit card bills.

Meeting that goal means making some changes to her site. It seems despite her best efforts over the past 12 months to optimize her landing page, Griffiths still isn’t getting a high rate of sales. She’s tried just about everything she knows to do, from paying search engines for traffic to working with affiliates to arranging link agreements with partner sites. She has succeeded on one note – the traffic is fairly healthy. Unfortunately the conversion rate has never climbed above 1 percent. A frustrated Griffiths is left wondering what she is doing wrong. At first glance the site is pretty enough. The colors are eye-pleasing and the design is clean and up to date. Of course, anyone reading this column for any length of time knows that a pretty site with nice colors isn’t what we’re all about.

By Design Makeover - Before and After Going Beyond Pretty

Despite passing the “pretty” test, I identified a major problem before even completing the second glance. I couldn’t figure out what the site was selling. I understood the idea. It’s spelled out in the main image: “Create the life you want by becoming debt free.” Great! I’m all for that. But how, exactly, does this site help me to become debt free? Moving on, I look to the tagline for some clarification. Apparently the site offers “a no-nonsense strategy for becoming debt free.” Okay, so I am buying a strategy. But what does that mean exactly? I’m not sure.

Next I see a long form that’s asking for all sorts of information – including my credit card number. Now I’m really getting uncomfortable. I’d like to know exactly what it is I’m buying before handing over this sensitive information. And on top of that, I don’t even know how much this vaguely defined “strategy” is going to cost me. Finally my brain moves to all those words in the middle of the page – the “benefits” list. But like most users I’m just not going to take the time to read all those words. At this point, I would rather just click the “back” button on my browser and find another quick fix to my debt problem.

Here’s my point. This site fails to answer a fundamental question: What is it selling? Also, since it’s asking for credit card information: How much does it cost? The good news is that these two questions can be answered with some design tweaks, as opposed to a full visual overhaul. So let’s get to work.

To more clearly illustrate what the site is selling, I took three steps. First I changed the message in the main graphic. I wanted to incorporate the words “online system” so that people could immediately see what the site is selling. Next I updated the tagline to read: “The online budgeting system for becoming debt free.” Last I moved the screenshots above the fold so users would see them without having to scroll down, and added “View Larger” links so users could easily preview the interface for these tools without squinting.

I then brought in a highly targeted focus group to see if I had accomplished my goal. Enter Anthony Sostre, my 10-year-old son. I believe a good website should communicate its most basic message so plainly that even a preteen can figure it out. I showed him the original site and asked the million-dollar question: What is this site selling? After about 10 seconds of ums and uhs, he responded with an unsure, “Something about debt?” Next I showed him the redesigned site and asked the same question. Before I have time to start counting down the seconds, he boldly declared, “An online system for debt” and walked away. (Apparently I had used up enough of his short attention span.) The new design had passed the test. The new message is the main focal point and people should know immediately what the site sells.

Now to address the pricing issue” I have a theory: If you can avoid a problem, you should by all means do so. So in this case, I recommended that we shorten the form and not ask for credit card info right on the home page. Instead we made signing up for the program a two-step process and ask for payment in the second step. Additionally I added “Pricing” as a main navigation item so that anyone who’s interested can find it easily. No last-minute surprises.

On a macro level, I took out all that text that no one reads. (We can save lengthy text for the “About” page or some other lower-level page.) This made the landing page much shorter. I also made the form a little wider. The idea was to clear out a little more real estate on the page to allow the form more prominent positioning. I also highlighted the free bonus materials, which were always there but nearly impossible to see in the original design. Oh, and I also put a photo of Griffiths at the bottom of the page with a link to her full story so those who are struggling with debt would know that Griffiths knows what she’s talking about. She’s been there. This adds the personal touch that will make a certain percentage of users more comfortable with the product. At the end of the day, Griffiths will increase her sales one conversion at a time, and with a redesigned home page, she is well-positioned to help many consumers understand how she can help them get out of debt.

Would you like your website to be the focus of a future edition of a By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

PEDRO SOSTRE is pioneering Conversion Design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He serves as president of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.SostreAssoc.com to learn more.

You’ve Got Content, Now What?

I find that many website owners are divided into two camps. One camp is very good at developing unique content and garnering tons of search engine traffic, but they have a hard time turning that traffic into dollars. The other camp is great at monetizing traffic, but they can never generate very much traffic. In both cases the individuals involved eventually become discouraged with their site’s lackluster performance and move on to something else.

This issue’s makeover recipient, HomeWA.com, is in the first camp. The site’s creator, Gabe Hoggarth, spent months working on HomeWA.com, a real estate information site focused on the state of Washington. He’s crafted articles full of quality information that both users and search engines love, but despite his content-building efforts, the site just isn’t making the kind of money he’d expected.

The bottom line is, how can we turn HomeWA.com’s existing traffic into a solid revenue stream? As you know, we have always chosen a home page to make over in this column. However, the HomeWA.com home page really wasn’t that bad. I don’t evaluate a home page or landing page based on how pretty the page looks. Instead I focus on the elements that will determine how effectively it communicates with users.

The home page should communicate three basic things:

What does the site offer? The site features a clear tagline, “Washington Real Estate Information,” which makes it clear what the site is about. Also, the simple navigation options and highlighted articles really drive that point home.

Why should I use this site as opposed to a competitor? HomeWA.com, like many affiliate sites, isn’t selling anything directly. Instead, it attracts a niche audience and hopes to make money when the readers sign up for or purchase the services and goods they link to. The only product that HomeWA.com directly provides is information, and Hoggarth has done a good job developing strong articles with appealing titles like “Top Home Buyer Turnoffs” which visitors seem to like. Having unique, high-demand information, while focusing in on a tight niche (Washington state home buyers and sellers) gives users a compelling reason to use this site.

How do I get what I want from this site? HomeWA.com has a simple navigational structure and provides several entry points on the home page that take users directly to the content they seek. This makes it easy for users to move on to additional pages from the home page.

Since the HomeWA.com home page answers all three of my main questions fairly effectively, I started to wonder if this really was the right site to make over. Then I remembered that despite the effective home page, Hoggarth still had a problem – his site was not generating boatloads of money.

It was obvious that a bigger-picture approach was needed. To help understand why the site isn’t generating the type of income it should, we need to look at its traffic. HomeWA.com gets most of its traffic from natural search. This means most users enter the site at the specific article that had the information they were looking for, not at the home page. We needed to start thinking about each article page as a landing page for the site, since that’s where most users got their first glimpse of what the site had to offer.

With this new perspective, I turned my sights to the article pages, and a quick review of these pages gave me all the answers I needed. First of all, there are no links to additional articles. Although the site offers loads of content, there is no simple way to get to additional content from an article page. Since related content is not visible, users are not encouraged to click through to other pages on the site. Next, there are no links to advertisers. That means there is currently no way to generate income from someone reading an article.

Without a little help, HomeWA.com will never reach its full potential. Here are three things we did to try to rectify the problems.

  • Of course, we gave the site a visual makeover. This isn’t the most important part of the makeover – but it certainly didn’t hurt. We chose to use a nature shot of Washington as the backdrop for the site. Having a customized design helps to give the site a more credible feeling. The photo could be changed to a more iconic image – the Seattle skyline for example – to reiterate the site’s focus on the state of Washington. A particular photo may be better, but that can be done after some rudimentary testing.
  • A fairly simple, but hugely beneficial change was adding a column next to each article. The column facilitates sections for additional content. This is where we can put related articles, resources, special features and some advertiser links. The purpose of the content in this area is twofold: to get users to go beyond this article and realize that there is a whole host of information on the site that they might be interested in, and it’s also a great spot to promote advertisers that will help make the site more profitable so Hoggarth can continue to develop valuable content.
  • Finally, we added some standard advertising units within the article and at the bottom of the additional column. These ad units give Hoggarth another way to monetize the site and if he doesn’t have advertisers to put in the spots, they could be used to promote additional site features. These changes will increase page views across the site and should help make HomeWA.com more profitable.

Would you like your website to receive a By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Dont forget to include “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

PEDRO SOSTRE is pioneering conversion design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He serves as president of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.sostreassoc.com to learn more.

Redemption

It all started with Asa Candler, a “prescriptionist” in Atlanta 112 years ago. A modest pharmacist who dealt in tonics and medicines, he bought an unassuming recipe for a patent medicine called Coca-Cola. When he gave out handwritten slips of paper for customers to try the new drink for free, the coupon was born.

The simple yet brilliant marketing idea Candler conceived has, of course, become a staple of American shopping. During the Depression in the 1930s, grocers fell in love with coupons as a way to attract needy families into their stores. And when the supermarket took over and coupon redemption became easier in the 1960s, half of all Americans used coupons. With the advent of the freestanding insert, or FSI, in the early 1970s, reams of colorful and enticing coupons came with the country’s Sunday newspapers.

As expected, the coupon migrated to the Web and even with technology laying the pavement for better distribution and security – it is still a work in progress. Online coupons are busting out all over but they aren’t as big as you might think. The world of couponing has survived the digital age so far and has made some unique advancements, but there are still challenges ahead.

Coupon distribution continues to prevail. In 2005, U.S. coupons set a new record of 323 billion coupons distributed, the first year to pass the 300 billion mark and a nice jump of 9 percent over 2004, according to CMS, a coupon-processing firm. CMS also states that the redemption rates of Internet coupons rose from .59 percent in 2004 to .96 percent in 2005. That may seem like a small amount but it’s a big jump for a fledgling coupon vehicle. Overall coupon redemption rates hover between 1 and 3 percent year-over-year.

While some analysts have forecasted the death of the paper coupon in as short a span as five years, the trends don’t seem to reflect that. Yes, more people are using the Internet to gather coupon codes to buy from websites instead of clipping an FSI and walking into a store – but those numbers are a very small slice of the coupon pie. A resounding 88 percent of redeemed coupons are FSIs, snipped from the Sunday edition of your newspaper.

Still, some are confident that the paper coupon will disappear sooner than we think and that coupons delivered via email or to our cell phones will dominate. “Young marketers are leading the way toward eliminating the paper coupon,” says marketing strategist Peter Sealey, CEO of The Sausalito Group.

Precision Targeting

For now though, only a small percentage of redeemed coupons come from online. But the upside is that online couponing – whether via a coupon code, printable coupon or emailed coupon – is able to reach a more precise target than the traditional FSI. In fact, recent redemption studies have borne out that Hispanic coupon users redeem at higher-than-average rates. Therefore, coupon distributors are finding ways to hit the Hispanic market with coupons via cell phone (Hispanic households use more cell phones than the general population). Sealey says the benefit for marketers is that they “can target people who can actually afford to buy a Porsche.”

The efficiency that technology brings is seeing immediate results in the online coupon world. Coupon networks, for example, use technology to help with everything from RSS feeds of coupons to organizing all their expired online coupons. But even then, the technology doesn’t get in the way. “We like to call ourselves a document security company,” says Steven Boal, CEO of Coupons.com, a network enabling printable online coupons. He says that proclamations of the death of the paper coupon are greatly exaggerated “for a very important reason. Because I print paper coupons – a business that has been around a long time. Up until three years ago it hadn’t changed much. Does it change? Yes. Small percentage shifts in this business move huge dollars.”

His Coupon.com platform runs on more than 3,000 affiliate marketers’ coupon websites and some of the most high-profile coupon websites use his company’s back end, including Yahoo, Boodle.com, NBC.com, SmartSource.com and other coupon sites in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

It’s true that coupon redemption rates dropped 6 percent in 2005, but as mentioned, distribution rose sharply. What’s at issue isn’t that fewer people are using coupons but that products that wouldn’t otherwise be sold are selling, according to Matthew Tilley, director of marketing at CMS. “Consumers just aren’t responding to coupons at the same rate that they used to, but that hasn’t really dampened marketers’ enthusiasm for them.” He affirms that high redemption rates are not the goal, but that “moving more product than you would without promotion – but at an efficient cost – is really the goal.”

While the big online coupon networks can scale for brands, smaller affiliate marketers have also been able to take advantage of the interest in online coupons. Popular sites such as Amazing-Bargains.com, CleverMoms.com, Fabu.com, Shopping- Bargains.com and FlamingoWorld.com have all seen great success with their coupon sites.

Much like product affiliates, coupon affiliates must track the newest offers, post them, bring down expired offers and make sure the link goes to where it is supposed to – but do so on a fairly grand scale every day. Too often the monthly offers inundate the affiliate on the first of the month, so that (if he or she works the website alone) it could be two weeks before a coupon is posted.

“I don’t know how they do it,” Michael “Mikey” Yack, founder of FabulousSavings and Fabu.com, says. He built his coupon sites from the ground up, too, but now has 30 employees. He doesn’t do code anymore. “I’m on the phone with my merchants all day,” he says. That’s the only way he can up the value of his coupons. “Once [merchants] know you’re legit, they throw you more.”

Fabu.com is also a site that employs rather sophisticated methods to keep it all together. Yack says his team writes original product descriptions and uses automated software to take down expired links. Other technology involves automatic rotating codes to avoid inviting other affiliates to cut and paste Fabu links on to their sites. He says his exclusive link with Toys R Us changes every 18 hours so that a stolen link will no longer be good after a brief window of time. All his expired coupons switch themselves out automatically.

Technology: The Good and the Bad

Link stealing may be the biggest pet peeve of the online coupon affiliate community. And while it does occur, some affiliates and networks work with it as a nuisance. Others complain that merchants aren’t doing enough because for them it just means broader distribution. The other pet peeve is that some merchants tailor coupons just for affiliates and create other deals for all the other channels they sell in. Affiliates fear the better deals may be going to the other channels.

“There are many things low-quality coupon sites do that are deceptive,” wrote Michael Coley, founder of Amazing- Bargains.com, in a Web forum. “While these things may temporarily increase their [clickthrough rates] or sales, the long-term effect is that they lose customers. Who would go back to a site that they knew was deceptive, and what merchant would want to keep working with a site that was deceptive? Their antics backfire in the long run.”

For couponers who have been at it for a while – like any Web venture – adaptation is the watchword. “Technology is always changing and those who survive must change with it. Web services, RSS feeds, JavaScript, storefront generators, XML and other delivery tools are making it easier for coupon sites to maintain current content. However, much of the, heavy lifting remains manual for those who want to offer unique content and features,” Mike Allen, president of Shopping-Bargains.com, says.

The potential for technology to take more of the sting out of couponing online has generated more than a few companies ready to cash in on new platforms. RSS feeds for coupons have been a boon to companies that do it, such as CouponBar.com, DealoftheDay.com and PhatDeal.com. Couponing from cell phones is the next area of interest for some. Companies such as Cellfire, MoBull and Quickpons are startups that just deliver coupons via cell phones. And they are already getting buzz. Redemption rates for mobile coupons are very high – at about 23 percent – mostly because cell phone users opt in to receive the coupons or must register or download a piece of software to the phone to participate.

Allen thinks this will undoubtedly drive the mom and pop out of business. “Coupon sites,” he says, “have become mainstream businesses. All the major players have recently undergone extensive revisions, technology upgrades and aesthetic enhancements to better compete in what is now a very sophisticated and fast-moving marketplace.” He says that what was once “amateur or hobby categories” are now sites that can be called brands on their own. The larger the main players become the harder it will be for small affiliates to keep up, he says.

Boal of Coupons.com thinks the future is Web services and mobile. “We took our time with mobile,” he says. “We didn’t make it so difficult.” They waited until they figured out a way for everyone to use it instead of only customers with certain cell phone brands.

CMS’ Tilley outlines what keeps coupons hot. The face value of coupons has risen about 9 percent while product price inflation has risen only about 2 percent. Coupons that require multiple purchases are down, but their response rate is up. For nonfood products, shoppers are 30 percent more likely to use a buy-two coupon than a discount on a buy-one. For food, the buy-four is more popular than the discount on one item. And for both categories overall – food and nonfood – shoppers are 49 percent more inclined to use buy-four than a buy-three or a discount on one. And while coupons redeemed has slid from 3.9 billion coupons in 2001 to 3 billion in 2005, traditionally coupon redemption drops in a good economy.

What’s In Store?

The in-store coupon is also becoming very popular. About a third of redemptions now come from the in-store instant savings coupon or offer. Tilley says packaged goods marketers plan to migrate up to 20 percent of their coupon campaigns to online by the end of this year.

While some retail affiliates wouldn’t dream of dealing in coupons, some couponers like Allen simply think it’s harder to be a retail product affiliate. “General coupons are easier to deal with than many specific retail products,” he says. “Why essentially recreate the retailer’s website on your own? It’s not good for organic search and most affiliates don’t have the resources to do all the split tests and so forth needed to optimize product layouts for multiple retailers. Why compete with what they do best?”

Fabu.com’s Yack has a real simple and direct assessment. “We’ve been working on Fabu for nine months. I have ads in 180 newspapers; I have three publicists. A lot of these sites still look the same as if they came from the wayback machine. I built Fabu because times are changing ” and I’m getting paid for having a link on my site – how crazy is that?”

Insurance for Conversion Rates

Designing for conversions isn’t rocket science. It’s just the ability to design a website with particular ideas in mind. For this column we’re going to focus on some of the most powerful ways to make a site convert – emotion, unique value proposition and credibility. Master these three basic concepts and you’ll be rewarded with soaring conversion rates.

The life insurance lead generation site EFinancial.com came to us a few months ago with an all-too-common problem. Its site looked much like others in the same industry. While the generic domain name gave people some sense of name recognition, there was nothing else that differentiated the site from its competition. In the online world, that’s not a very good thing.

Combine that lackluster look with the fact that the company needs to collect good information from users to do business and you have a site in need of some conversion design magic. For EFinancial.com, our definition of a conversion is getting a user to fill out the form. And the goal, as always, is to get more people to convert.

Get Emotional

So how can we make this site stand out from the crowd? Or at least, how can we get people to submit their information before leaving to scope out the competition? How do we stop users in their tracks? By creating emotion.

As your stereotypical guy, I’m not real emotional. I don’t do chick flicks and my monotone demeanor isn’t prone to outbursts. But as a marketer, I’ve learned to elicit, titillate and embrace my customers’ emotions. You see, if you can appeal to someone on an emotional level, the chances that they will engage with your product skyrocket. Remember, you don’t have much time to make your impression.

Here is something to keep in mind. Almost every new Web browser on the market offers some sort of tabbed browsing functionality. Now users can stay on one site while they open all their links in new tabs. What this means for marketers and website owners is that it’s now even easier for people to shop around online. I regularly watch users go to Google, perform a search and then open the top four or five results in new tabs. Then they quickly scan the results pages before picking which one they are going to use. This is a scary thought for many pay-per-click marketers because it means more clicks and potentially lower conversions. The call to differentiate or die has never been more compelling.

Show Me the Value

So let’s review the existing site. It’s easy to see that the form is the focal point of the EFinancial site, followed by the family photo and logo. While it’s good the form is front and center, the company is not taking the opportunity to talk about what makes it different from the competition. When designing on the Web, never forget to tell people what makes your organization better.

The EFinancial home page contains no real “about us” text and the main headline appears to be “Start Your Free Life Insurance Quote Here.” That’s hardly an argument for its service. In fact, besides the simplicity of the page, the site doesn’t do anything to sell itself.

I turned to Marty Weishaar, marketing director for EFinancial to find out what makes the company different. He explains that EFinancial definitely does offer some benefits such as being experts at closing tough cases. This is a great point because some people, because of their health, age, lifestyle, etc., have a hard time getting life insurance. This is an audience that should definitely consider working with EFinancial.

Highlight the Credibility

Next, it doesn’t operate on a bait-andswitch mentality, which is something that Marty tells me other companies are notorious for doing. According to Marty, EFinancial will really get you the rate they advertise. Again, this is a solid, unique value proposition and should be highlighted. And its technology automates many of the steps, which makes for a faster process from start to finish, thus satisfying the “let’s get this over with” life insurance shoppers.

Another thing I notice, and one of the points I consider to be low-hanging fruit in the conversion design process, is that the company has buried some strong credibility builders (VeriSign Secured, BBBOnLine, money-back guarantee and privacy notice) under the form and below the “fold” of the page. Study after study shows that having security seals in a prominent place really does boost conversions. While many of us in the online industry understand that these seals may not offer very much in terms of actually making a website more secure, their presence does make some percentage of users more comfortable with submitting their personal information.

Finally, if the goal is to get more users to fill out the form, lose the navigation. Assuming your traffic is fairly targeted, why distract them with links for home loans and auto insurance in the navigation? Getting rid of those will help keep users focused on the task at hand.

For the redesign, we’ve taken several steps to correct the issues identified above. First, we made the family photo larger, and selected a photo and headline that draws more attention to the child. Everyone knows that sex sells, but don’t forget the emotional impact of children as a sales tool. This new image is designed to grab the reader, as opposed to merely decorating the page. That covers the emotional aspect of the redesign.

Next we added bullet points that highlight the EFinancial value propositions and some basic “about us” text that was previously unavailable on the home page. Having and communicating a strong unique value proposition should be a priority for every Internet business owner. Next we moved all those credibility- building seals to the top of the page, where the space was being underutilized anyway, and we moved the carrier logos (AIG, Transamerica, etc.,) to a more prominent position. The security seals, privacy notice and familiar carrier logos should limit users questioning the site’s legitimacy.

Want your home page to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc. com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

PEDRO SOSTRE is pioneering conversion design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He serves as president of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.sostreassoc.com to learn more.

It’s Just Direct Marketing

As I go around the country teaching workshops on pay per click (PPC) I get asked many varied questions on search engine marketing (SEM), depending on which city I happen to be in. Larger marketers seem to have more sophisticated questions; smaller marketers tend to focus on subsistence tactics. However, one theme seems to reoccur frequently: the myth that SEM is some kind of rocket science.

Smaller businesses and many members of marketing departments at large and even Fortune 1000 companies have bought into the idea that SEM is something that can only be properly utilized by those who know the correct “voodoo” to make it work.

But really, SEM is just another form of direct response marketing and many of the same principles apply. Why else do you think those nasty 24-page sales letters work so well at driving conversions from search engine traffic? Personally, I hate those letters, but I am not their targeted audience.

The marketers who write long sales letters typically have years of experience in direct response marketing and have figured out how to use search to reach the same customers that they would target with any other marketing vehicle. They are successful because their message resonates with their intended customers (mostly Internet newbies) and they apply the same controls to their search marketing campaign as they do to any other campaign.

So how can you apply the same tactics? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating the use of long-winded sales letters with 15 calls to action set in strategically placed buttons. They may or may not work for your product – depending on your offer – whether your consumer is educated in your marketplace and your price point. What I am saying is that you too can adapt their techniques to reach your intended goal.

Here are some direct response marketing principles that should also apply to your SEM campaigns:

  • It takes work. In order to truly be successful at search engine marketing you have to constantly test your response rates. Those who throw up a campaign and expect to just sit and watch the dollars roll in without any labor investment are just wasting their time. Successful marketers test copy, keywords, placement, pricing, messages, landing pages, etc.
  • You have to test. In direct response marketing, testing rules is never-ending. Just like testing in direct mail, the cost of the campaign can be justified if the lift in the conversion rate is enough to offset the expense. To measure the effect, you have to A/B split-test your traffic, testing new landing pages against the old. For retail sites with thousands of products, you can minimize the expense by testing just the product pages driving the most sales. If the lift in conversion offsets the cost of optimizing the pages, keep testing and roll out new ones.
  • You have to track results. Just as savvy offline marketers can tell which piece of mail and from which specific message a customer converted, you have to be able to tell which keyword, message and referrer drove your sale. Tracking is easy to do on PPC, harder on search engine optimization, but critical on both.
  • Creative is key. Google rewards those with high click-through rates (CTR) on PPC by better placement, and the way to get high CTRs is to write great copy that resonates with your audience. A good copywriter can make the difference between a successful PPC campaign and one that bleeds cash. Similar to an offline campaign, online creative (i.e., your search listings) should be tested frequently because even a small lift in conversion can affect profitability.
  • It’s all about the benefit. Successful marketers remember that the customers’ needs are paramount at all times. They sell on benefits, not features, and look for the messages that play on their customers’ emotional responses to their product or service. Include in your creative the things that work best such as your unique sales proposition, calls to action, list of benefits, money-back guarantees, etc. Never test more than one element at a time, or you won’t know which one contributed to the lift or falloff. Over time, you will discover offers that work only online, but like offline marketing, it comes through the same test-and-learn discipline.
  • The “Lead to Sale” conversion rate is important. Just as in the offline world the key to conversions from search is providing the right hook in your listing at the right phase of the buying cycle, and then converting that lead into a paying customer with the right offer on your landing page.
  • Analysis is your friend. Like any good offline campaign, you learn a great deal from analyzing your testing and conversions. Sometimes, new search engine marketers make the mistake of analyzing all their online test campaigns as one big program. This can really skew your testing as the set of results from one search engine campaign can vary dramatically from another. Likewise one set of keywords can perform significantly better than the rest; but because even changing a keyword from singular to plural can have dramatically different results, you have to test and analyze each variable separately.
  • It’s all about CPA or CPL. All search engine marketing campaigns need to be analyzed in just the way you would analyze your efforts in the offline world. Cost per acquisition (CPA) or cost per lead (CPL) is your common denominator and the only number that really counts in the long term.
  • Create customer loyalty.Search engines are looking more and more at how many websites link to yours. But a bunch of links from high-traffic sites are worthless unless those links drive sales. Link campaigns are too time-consuming to do them just for the sake of getting higher search engine ranking. You need customer evangelists driving more sales, and links can provide that.

Not all traffic is created equal. Just as in the offline direct response world, the 80/20 rule applies. In that world we know that 80 percent of your profits come from 20 percent of your sales. The same thing applies in SEM: 20 percent of your keywords will drive 80 percent of your sales. Obviously those are the keywords you will focus 80 percent of your attention on but you can’t discover those drivers unless you test constantly. Some keywords will bring you more traffic, but fewer conversions on the back end. Other keywords may bring you no sales, but be effective in driving branding or eliminating a stumbling block in the buying cycle.

Direct response marketing skills and experience are some of the key drivers in SEM campaigns. There are some nuances of SEM that you can only learn by experience, but if you go into it with the mindset that these rules apply you will demystify the whole experience. Regardless of the source or channel this mindset is what makes the difference between success and failure.

MARY O’BRIEN is a partner at Telic Media. She was formerly senior director of sales at Yahoo Search Marketing and is currently presenting their advertiser workshops around the country.

Know Your Audience

When designing a Web site, you must take the intended audience into careful consideration. Whether the Web site is business-to-business or business-to-consumer, the design will require a format that caters to the desired type of visitor, and it must also guide them through the intended process as comfortably and efficiently as possible.

First, take into account whether the target demographic is business- or consumer-oriented. In the B2B arena, and particularly in the business service industry, the primary goal is to establish trust in the prospective client.

Business-to-business Web sites usually avoid the kind of hype and pizazz that a consumer Web site may have. A highly sales-oriented site promoting an immediate purchase is simply not appropriate for establishing trust to promote a sale that may require a large risk on the part of the purchaser. The prospective purchaser will perceive this risk as being higher when little information is given to back up any claims that have been made.

It is best in this case to provide easily accessible information to the visitor to make them feel more comfortable with the offer before presenting any extensive hype about the product or service. It is also advisable to make testimonials or case studies available to the visitor, as well as comparisons of the competition.

Instant Visual Clues

In addition, a more visual tactic for establishing trust would be to present the logos and names of well-known clients. These provide instant visual references for the visitor and can help keep their interest long enough to make the sale or establish contact. If the product or service is complex or the value is not immediately obvious, it may be advisable to lead the customer to call and talk to someone one on one. Highly specialized services and products are likely to raise a lot of questions in the customer’s mind. Most of these questions would be best answered over the phone rather than having the visitor perform a tedious search through FAQ pages.

In contrast to business-oriented sites, consumer-targeted sites offering low-risk purchases should make the process of buying as easy and straightforward as possible. Clear presentation of a good offer on the home page will help establish a different kind of trust in the visitor than that of a B2B site. This type of trust tells visitors that they are receiving a fair price and quality service. A simple two- or three-step sales process will encourage the customer to return to make more purchases. In consumer-based Web sites, ease of use and good value mean everything for customer retention, and customer retention means everything for robust profit margins.

Knowing how much information to present about the product or service is critical in working with the attention span of the consumer. First, take into consideration the financial risk that the product presents to the consumer. Obviously, a customer looking to purchase asset protection online, for example, would not jump into the purchase without knowing that he or she can trust the service. This scenario presents a huge financial risk on the part of the visitor. In this case, you would want to provide complete information about the service and comparative information regarding the competition. Presenting a low price point immediately in this case can actually break down any trust that has been established as it cheapens the offer and its reputability. The consumer may have many questions as well. For this reason, the entire emphasis would be to establish enough trust so that the visitor calls or acquires some form of consultation.

By contrast, a low-priced item such as a magazine subscription can be sold with very little information because it does not require a large financial risk on the part of the visitor. Also, if a product is well known due to extensive branding, the visitor may not need as much information before being pushed toward the purchase. In these cases, the emphasis should be put on the value of the offer and the price point.

Visual cues such as starbursts, arrows or bright red writing can capture the visitors’ attention just long enough to present the offer to them. Save these tactics for impulse buys, and use the information you acquire from the visitor to promote other offers on your site through auto responders or newsletters.

Purchase Price Is Key

You must also take into consideration the wealth of your average visitor. Most sites are aimed at a middle-income family. However, there are products and services that cater toward very high-end customers. If this is the case, price point is not nearly as important. In fact, wealthier visitors tend to directly correlate price with quality. Because of this, a low price may actually deter a wealthy visitor from the purchase. For wealthy visitors, don’t present the price immediately, but make it available, and pay much more attention to the style and artistic aspects of the site.

Designing for the proper demographic is one of the more difficult aspects of creating a site that converts well to sales. There is so much to take into account, including the audience, the industry, the financial risk of the visitor and more. These suggestions are just the beginning as far as special considerations that must be made to ensure high conversion rates. Be as aware as possible of the state of mind of your visitors. Jumping into the visitors’ shoes, so to speak, is the best way to really know what will work. In fact, a great way to do this is to simply research your competition from a visitor’s perspective.

GREG SHEPARD is CEO of NetTraction.com, an online marketing company found at GotRevenue.com. He has eight years of experience in online marketing and 16 in business development.