Every website owner wants their website to perform well, whether that means getting more sales, sign-ups or RSS subscribers. The question is, how do you convert a new visitor into a loyal customer? This chapter looks at the theory of how to sell effectively and lists practical techniques to help you boost conversion rates.
Most websites are not works of art or things made to be appreciated solely for their beauty or expression. Websites are functional interfaces that serve a specific purpose. If you run an online store, the purpose of your website is to sell goods. If you run a Web application, your website is there to get people to sign up. Whatever industry you operate in and whatever type of business, organization or community you run, you want your website to perform by getting those sales, sign-ups, subscribers or clicks.
“Conversion” is an online marketing term that describes an instance of a visitor to your website performing an action that you deem to be desirable. For example, if you run an online store, one likely conversion would be the sale of a product; in the case of a blog, a conversion might a subscription to your RSS feed. Conversions are tracked using a conversion rate: the ratio of all visitors to your website to the number of visitors who perform the desired action.
Most website owners want a high conversion rate. The question is, how do you turn a new visitor of your website into a loyal customer? To answer this, let’s look at what it takes to sell effectively.
To sell effectively, you have to sell solutions, not products. You also have to sell benefits, not features. Your customers aren’t looking for products, services or features: they’re looking for solutions to their specific problems.
Features are just the things that make up your product or service, but benefits are what people get from using your product; they are the reason for choosing your product. For example, saying that the iPod Nano has 16 gigabytes of space tells me a lot about its technical specifications and little about its benefits; but saying that it holds 4,000 songs clearly highlights the benefit that storage capacity gives me. This in turn solves my need to carry my entire music library in my pocket.
Once you know what you’re selling (that is, your product’s solutions and benefits) you need to break down the barriers that customers will put up when evaluating how valuable your product is to them. These barriers are their reasons why they shouldn’t buy your product. These barriers will range from the really strong (they may simply hate your product or don’t have nearly the budget to buy it) to the weak (maybe they don’t see the feature they need or think it’s expensive or don’t like the color).
These barriers can be tackled directly and hopefully broken down. For example, if the product seems expensive to potential customers, highlight the value it will give them by pointing out the amount of money, time or stress they’ll save by using it.
Lack of features can often be tackled by talking about simple workarounds; after all, your customers are looking not for features but for solutions to their problems, and so if you can tell them how they can solve their problem using your product (perhaps by using different features than the ones they had in mind), you can break down those barriers.
One very popular approach to sales is called AIDA, which stands for “Attention, Interest, Desire, Action”. AIDA is a guide to structuring your sales pitch. In any sales pitch, the goal is to close the sale, and your approach should maximize the effectiveness of the pitch so that when you get to the end, the prospective buyer wants the product enough to say “Yes”. Just like with a standard sales pitch, AIDA can be used in a conversion funnel on the Web, where the website, instead of the salesperson, plays the key role in selling.
The first stage in the AIDA pitch is “Attention”. This is especially important for websites because of the speed with which potential customers could navigate away from your website. You have just a brief moment to grab their attention, and you have to keep it long enough to close the sale. That first moment is absolutely critical because the rest of the pitch will be useless if your potential customer leaves now. Grab attention by making a strong claim that your solution will clearly improve the lives of your visitors. Make it concise and punchy, and make it clear why your visitors should care.
The Highrise website from 37signals uses the AIDA approach to maximize conversions. First, they grab your attention with a very concise product summary and benefit claim: “The smarter way to keep track of the people you do business with”. Interest is built with a list of benefits. Videos of clients talking about how Highrise helps them run their business help generate desire. Finally, a large call-to-action button invites you to see the pricing plans.
The next two stages, “Interest” and “Desire”, are the part that sells the product. If you’ve made a claim in the “Attention” stage, now is the time to back it up. Clearly and concisely explain what your product does and how it will give your visitors real value. Create desire by talking about the benefits your product will bring to customers. If you can paint a vivid picture so that visitors can imagine using your product and enjoying its benefits, their desire for your product will grow.
The final step is a call to “Action”. If you’re selling a tangible product, invite the customer to buy it and tell them how they can pay for it. If the product is a Web app or service, invite the visitor to sign up. At this stage, you have to close the sale, so the call to action is absolutely vital. People who are willing to buy just need that last bit of direction on how to pay or sign up, and people who are sitting on the fence need that last little push.
The AIDA sales funnel.
Recently, the letter “S”, which stands for “Satisfaction”, was added to AIDA, forming AIDAS. Getting customers is great, but getting those customers to return or tell their friends about your product is even better. You do this by making sure they are satisfied with the service. It doesn’t mean your service or product needs to be perfect; it does mean you should provide great customer service. Solving customer service problems is a great way to build loyal customers because it shows that your company can be relied on even when things don’t go as planned.
If you were shopping at a real bricks-and-mortar store, you would be able not only to see the products but to touch and try them. Seeing an actual product before buying it gives you a lot more information about it. You get a good feel for what you’re purchasing.
When shopping online, however, we’re limited by the amount and kind of information we can get, and so it’s surprising that some websites don’t even show what their products look like.
Even if you sell digital goods, such as desktop or Web applications, showing screenshots – or, even better, videos – is essential. When people see what a product looks like, they can begin to imagine using that product. This is important. If you can get your potential customer to imagine using your product, you will begin to create in them a desire to own it. What’s more, good-looking interfaces aren’t simply attractive, they are perceived as being more usable1.
Apple displays large screenshots of Numbers, its spreadsheet application, right at the top of the page.
Video is becoming a very popular medium to showcase products online, especially digital goods like desktop and Web applications. This is because you can usually show a lot more in a video in a shorter period of time than you can with screenshots and text. Video also takes less effort to digest because all you have to do is watch and listen.
A great way to use video to show off your product is by embedding it in a prominent position on your landing page. It may be helpful to prepare a script beforehand and then narrate over top of your previously recorded session to ensure that the audio is clear and without mistakes. Keep the script brief and to the point.
The AIDA structure may come in handy here, because you would first talk about what problem your product solves, how your product solves it and what benefits one gets from using your product, and then you would invite the viewer to sign up or continue browsing the website to learn more.
If you’re selling a product or service, you probably have a list of features to advertise. You want to get people to read and digest this list. The problem is, lists are boring, and they’re especially boring when they have a lot of text. People browsing your website certainly won’t put much effort into reading your ads – they’re there to browse, not work – so it’s up to you to make the list as easy to process as possible. Thankfully, there are a few easy things you can do to make that happen.
GoodBarry opens its landing page with a large embedded screencast video. The large play button and call to action (“watch the video”) invite visitors to click on it.
First of all, use icons or images. Icons beside feature descriptions in lists work like bullet points: they’re little anchors on the page on which our eyes can easily focus. Icons and images also look more interesting than text and so will more likely attract the eye than words.
Secondly, use short headings for each feature. These should be only a few words so that they’re as quick to process as the icons. Their contrast with the background should be stronger and their font larger than those of the description – again, to grab attention. Provide a more detailed description underneath each heading, set in a smaller font and with lighter contrast. This element must blend in; if the reader likes the heading, they’ll read the blurb, but the description shouldn’t get in the way of scanning the whole list. Lastly, make the list easy to scan by putting plenty of white space between each item.
Highrise makes the feature list on its website scannable by using icons, contrast and white space. Also, note the benefits stated in each heading
Another great sales technique to bring you closer to a sale or conversion is to give something for nothing. When you receive a gift, you feel a need to reciprocate, to give something back. Robert Cialdini, author of one of the greatest books about influence, “Influence: Science and Practice2”,shares a few examples of how gifts can help you sell. Receiving a small gift from a stranger made people twice as likely to buy raffle tickets from them. People were more inclined to fill out a survey if they were given a $5 gift check right away than if they were promised a $50 reward upon completion. Giving sweets with bills at restaurants increased the value of tips.
SEOmoz provides commercial tools for SEO professionals, but it also gives out a lot of smaller tools for free. This is a great way to attract traffic and capitalize on the reciprocation phenomenon.
So, what can you give away for free on your site that will make people want to reciprocate? If you sell software, how about giving away a 30-day trial? Maybe release a portion of your product completely free of charge through what’s called a “freemium” model, in which customers can use a basic version of your product for free but have to pay for additional features? Some website owners build small tools and release them free of charge to all visitors; for example, 37signals offers a couple of small applications called Tadalist and Writeboard, which complement its commercial offerings, free of charge. Giving those applications away for free makes people more likely to try out and buy its other offerings.
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people aren’t sure about the course of action they should take and so do what everyone else does. For example, an experiment was conducted in which several people would look up at the sky. Many bystanders noticed this and would also look up to see what the others were looking at. Indeed, it was so effective that the experiment had to be aborted at one point when it began to impede traffic.
People feel safer and more reassured following others. If they see others buying a product, they feel safer purchasing it because they know it’s popular. It must be pretty good, right? We can use social proof to help boost conversions for popular products and services by advertising that they’re popular or that others have approved of them. For example, user reviews are a great way to recommend products. Amazon does something similar with its “Customers who bought this item also bought these” section, which recommends items based on other people’s purchasing behavior.
Amazon recommends products that buyers of the same product also bought. Amazon also lets customers review products, making good use of the social proof phenomenon.
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