Conversion Rate Optimization

The term CRO (conversion rate optimization) is relatively a new one – but the idea behind it is not. How do we get more sales from the website? How do we better convert the website traffic we are getting? These are the type questions most website owners will ask at some point along the way.

The thing to realize about CRO is that no one has the exact answer for every website because there are simply too many variables. So a good first step is to study the “best practices” about how to convert website traffic, and then implement them into your website. Doing things like:

  • having a good call to action button (CTA), and good placement
  • having dedicated landing pages
  • having a good offer or incentive
  • good website content
  • adding trust symbols to the page

All of the above will help, no doubt, but it only works so far. At some point you will simply have to test it, whatever “it” is. What do I mean? I mean set your website up to do some A/B testing of the supposed improvement. Google Experiments works pretty good, and is easy enough for anyone to use. Basically you set up 2 webpages, the only difference between the two pages being your hopeful improvement idea.  You let it run for a couple weeks, and you see which version of the page converts best. Presto – we have a winner! Sometimes the improvement might be something as simple as the color of the button being used – and you will see improvement.

A key point is to think long-term about CRO.  You will rarely see large improvements in the conversion rates unless your page really sucked when you started – so you should be shooting for incremental improvement. Try to improve the conversion rate one-tenth of a percent this month – for each month this year – so that by the end of the year you have solid improvement.

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PPC Strategies

So you want to do better with your PPC campaign, but you are not sure what to do, or how to do it. There are lots of different strategies you can try, if you find the current one isn’t working. Some work best in certain industries, while others don’t, you just have to try them out and see what works for you. And these work in either Google Adwords or Microsoft AdCenter.

So here are some helpful suggestions for what you might try in your PPC campaigns before walking away in disgust:

  1. The most common strategy to follow is probably a position strategy, in that you increase or decrease your bid to achieve a specific average position. So if your target position is 3 and the average position for the keyword is higher than 3, then you increase the bid, but if it is lower than 3 you decrease it.
  2. Another strategy is what I call the ‘long tail’ strategy, in that you use the more obscure phrase and exact keywords, and then bid low on them.
  3. Try using a ‘geo strategy’ when you want to keep your business local, so you screen out any clicks from outside your target area.
  4. If you know all your conversions occur during working hours, usually with a B2B business, set the campaign to shut off after hours.
  5. Try using the display network. I know I know, it almost never works, but sometimes it does. Make sure you set it up in its own campaign for better tracking.
  6. Test using all 3 versions of the keyword; broad, phrase, and exact. You will find that some will convert while others don’t, and the conversions occur at different bid levels. You can keep them separate ad groups for better tracking.
  7. How are your ads? The keyword and its bid is where it all starts, but look at improving the ads on a continual basis. Always have at least 2 ads running in any ad group, and every couple weeks throw away the loser and try and come up with a new one that can then beat the winner.
  8. How about the landing pages? If you are sending your traffic to your website homepage, this is almost always a mistake. Just like with the ads, always try to keep improving your landing pages since that is where the conversion is taking place.

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How to Increase Traffic to Your Website

The question that inevitably comes up is how to increase the number of website visitors you have coming into your website. Especially now with this struggling economy. So what can you do about it? First understand that all website traffic can be placed in one of four categories;

  1. Search traffic – otherwise known as SEO traffic. This is the free traffic coming from the search engines (Google) and what is most sought after by people. If you don’t already have a SEO plan, then this is the first place you probably should look to fix.
  2. Direct traffic – this is traffic coming from book marks, or they are typing your web address into the browser. They probably know you already, or maybe they found your web address in the newspaper or a flyer, etc.
  3. Referral traffic – this is website traffic coming from another website. This could sometimes be more SEO traffic, since it is traffic coming from the backlinks you have been getting.
  4. Paid traffic – this is traffic that you get from pay-per-click advertising, from banner ads you purchased, from email campaigns you ran, etc.

Here is what you should do:

This is a list of things I have found to be effective in increasing website traffic that results in sales. Read further down for methods that will increase traffic WITHOUT sales.

  • Set up an account with Google Adwords (paid traffic). If you need traffic now, this is one of the more attractive options because it is so immediate. If you are selling doohickeys, then Google can place your ad in front of people searching for them.
  • Optimize your website for SEO (search traffic). Everyone should already be doing this, because it is for free website traffic. This is a long-term option, because it takes time to build up.
  • Get other websites to link to you (referral traffic, or search traffic). This is easier said than done, unless you are paying someone. Not only will it bring you website traffic, but it can also help you with your SEO (backlinks).
  • Email campaigns (direct traffic). You can send emails to potential customers if you have an email list. If you don’t have a list, you can sometimes purchase them.

Here is what you should avoid:

  • Social media (referral traffic). Social media is such a crock when it comes to selling stuff for your business, I recommend against wasting your time. If you don’t care about selling anything, it works great though! You can get Facebook pay-per-click ads and get lots of traffic that won’t sell product.
  • Links in directories (referral traffic). There are some directories you want to be included in, but that is for their SEO value.  Basically, no one looks in a directory, and I am not aware of a single one that is worth the time, effort, or money.

If I can think of others, I’ll add to the list later…

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Backlink Strategies

Once you create a website, one of the most important things you can do to market your site is to get some backlinks (someone linking to your website, from their website). Why? Because Google cares, that is why.  Google uses the number of backlinks that you have (among others) as a method of measuring your ranking. And the higher you are ranked, the more web traffic you should get.

But getting backlinks can be difficult if you don’t have a strategy. So with that in mind, I recommend you get out pen and paper and read The Complete List of Link Building Strategies that was created by Point Blank SEO. And remember, getting one good backlink will outweigh a hundred lousy ones – so think ‘quality’ and ‘relevancy’.

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Long Tail Keywords

The importance of optimizing your website for long tail keywords cannot be overestimated. Because while the top searched keyword might individually get you the most traffic, it is the sum of all the long tails that gets you the big traffic levels. You can see this to be true just by looking at your website traffic statistics, where you maybe get 50 visitors from your top keyword – but you get a thousand from the sum of all the others.

How do you pursue a strategy to get more long tail keywords to your site? It is easy – you make sure you use keyword ‘themes’ when you optimize your page. Don’t get hung up on just a single keyword, too narrowly defined. Don’t just use the one keyword, you use it plus all the other similar meaning keywords.  You group your keywords into ‘themes’ and then you use lots of them in the content, tags, and links.

I read a nice article on the subject that explains well – it is recommended reading.

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How to Monitor Your SEO

So maybe you have been trying to improve the SEO values of your website, and you now want to check to see if you are being effective.  Or even better maybe you are paying someone else to do your SEO for you, and you want to get an unbiased status of how they are doing. What to do?

Some people simply open Google and do a search using their main keywords, to get a feel for how they are doing. But this is a bad idea since Google is giving you skewed results because your setting say you are living in Idaho. Doh!  So you turn the location setting off, and now you get better search results, but then you can’t remember what your ranking was last time you checked.

So what you really need is a tool that will 1) check the keyword ranking for all the search keywords you need, and 2) keep a history of it all over time, showing you the trend lines.

But wait, there’s more!  You also need to know something about your backlinks coming into your site. 1) How many do you have, 2) what are they, and 3) are the backlinks any good.

Anyways, the point I wanted to make is that you need a good SEO ranking tool – and I just happen to have one. The service is online so you can check your keywords any time of the day. And here is the price list for the service, click to get more information:

ranking-price-list

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Good Website Content

What makes a website stand apart from other websites? The first answer that comes to my mind is the website design, right? But what is often overlooked is the content of the website: meaning what the website is saying, and how it is saying it.

Now personally I’m not really a “content guy” – I tend to cut and paste content into the website that I’m making or maintaining, so I’m not a real good person to ask to do that sort of thing. But even though I can’t ‘do’, like most everyone you know good content when you see it.

So that is why I recommend you read this article about content marketing. By Smashing Magazine, it breaks the whole idea down into understandable parts, and makes even me think I might be able to right great website content (smile).

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Reciprocal Linking

Is reciprocal linking bad? This is the practice where you place a link on your site, in exchange for someone else doing the same back to you from theirs.  I think the answer to this question depends on your site, how well known it is already.  Because if you have a new website with few or no backlinks coming to it, then getting reciprocal links can help you to get started, to help you create your ‘web presence’.

On the other hand if you have an older established website that is already decently ranked by the search engines, then reciprocal linking can be bad. By linking to other sites, you lend your good credibility to them and can thus dilute what you have.  So as your site moves up the ranking ladder, you don’t want to be linking to sites of lesser or questionable value.

And if you do create a link page on your site, here are a few rules to follow:

  1. Give it a good name like “Partners” or “Sites We Recommend”.  Don’t call it your backlink page.
  2. Place links on the page that really will be helpful to your website visitors.
  3. The links should be helpful to your customers, relevant to your industry, and be quality sites
  4. Include not only sites that are linking to you – also link to sites that don’t. Magazine sites about your industry, trade groups, and any other sites people might consider ‘helpful’ to them.

Having nothing but a bunch of links to bogus sites is bad, it identifies your site as nothing but a spammer site engaged in a linking scheme. Google says this about it:

“some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites… and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results”

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Do you really need backlinks?

I’ve worked SEO for some years now, and remember fondly (not) how I would put my websites into various directories, lists, blogs and phone books.  Spent quite a bit of time doing it, and today find that it means next to nothing.

So I saw the image below recently on Wikipedia, under Page Rank, which clearly shows that 1 good backlink will trump a hundred lesser backlinks every time, (the orange website C).  Even though website B (red) has lots more backlinks, website C is almost as high with just the single link coming into its site from a highly ranked site.

So the point I would make here is this: stop wasting your time on getting lots of poor back links. Instead concentrate on getting authority backlinks – backlinks that are from “quality” websites relevant to your own.  I’ll write a another post on this, because it is important enough to deserve its own space.

And to be clear on one point. For a new website just starting out, the lesser known backlinks can and do help to get your site discovered around the web.

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Website Analytics

So which website statistics are most important to look at when evaluating the performance of your website? The easy answer is to say the traffic levels – and you would be dead wrong. A high traffic website can still fail if it is not converting the traffic into sales or leads.

So for someone like me who gets hired to improve the performance of a website, the website analytics are crucial to the cause.  Knowing which statistics to look at, understanding what they mean, as well as making them understandable to the client is what it is all about. The first order of business is to get a good snapshot of how the site is performing right now, then second is to figure out how to make things better.

If you are selling stuff, or gathering leads from the site – a good performer is usually pretty easy to spot. With a good performer you don’t need to look at the statistics to know – you look in the cash register (smile).  But wait a second, even with a so-called good performing website – don’t you want to improve it even more, make even more money?  Of course you do!

And you don’t want to just look at the current statistics for the site – what is important is to know the trends. You put the statistics into a spreadsheet if you have to each week, and that way you can tell if you are improving or not. You can take an action on the site and then watch and see if it results in the desired way.

When I first work on a site, I can usually get some significant improvements made because the site is usually missing some fundamental stuff – this is the low hanging fruit. But as you continue, it gets harder and harder to improve things, and at that point you have to look for incremental improvements over time – which is only identified by using trend data.

Anyways, sorry for being so long-winded with this. But with that in mind, here is a breakdown of some stats I tend to watch close. The most important ones are #1 – #3, the others are helpful indicators for your site.

  1. Traffic level breakdown – knowing who it is coming into your site, broken down into 4 main areas.
    1. SEO traffic. Your ‘seo traffic’ is coming in from the search engines, and can be improved by implementing some SEO tactics and strategies. This traffic is highly valued because it is free, and typically represents the level of new customers you are attracting.
    2. Referral traffic. This is traffic coming to you from other websites. Also helps with your SEO efforts because these are the holy backlinks everyone talks about.
    3. Direct traffic. This is the traffic coming from bookmarks, or otherwise from people who already know you.
    4. SEM traffic. This is your paid traffic like PPC, banner ads, or what have you.  A larger company probably has this broken down further by source.
  2. Keyword ranking is important because you will want to increase your SEO traffic into the site. Find a tool that will check the ranking of your desired keywords, and measure them each week.
  3. Goals achieved tells you if the website visitor is doing what you want, buying something, submitting a lead, funneling to certain information, etc.
  4. Bounce rate will show you if people are actually viewing your site, or coming to it by accident.
  5. Pages per visit will show how interested people are in your site and what you are offering.
  6. Unique visitors will tell you how many new visitors are coming into the site, instead of returning visitors.
  7. Top content will give a list of pages that are most visited on your site.
  8. Site navigation will tell you the most often traveled paths thru your site.

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