You have probably heard about the two most important metrics for the success of a website: traffic and conversions. No one will dispute that the more traffic you receive, and the better that traffic converts, the more sales/profits you are going to make. Entire professions are dedicated to driving traffic to your website and to improving your landing pages’ conversion rates. The general wisdom is that these two important fields need to be treated separately. But in this post I am going to explain why the two are more tightly related than they initially seem.
Going Back to the Source
Certainly you can do all sorts of things to your site to “improve” the likelihood that the visitor will stay around longer and perhaps take action eventually. But I think that too much effort and thought is put into driving traffic from as many sources and keywords as possible and in trying to optimize everything that can be optimized on a website. Yet little thought is put into something as obvious as trying to understand clearly what each visitor is expecting when they see your landing page.
Think about it. Visitors land on your website all the time, but the path of clicks they followed to get there, and their expectations once they arrive, are often completely different from visitor to visitor. One visitor may arrive after reading a favorable review of your services from a reputable blog site or online magazine. Another may arrive directly from your Google AdWords ad that promised a discount on purchases “today only.” This is what I call the visitor’s frame of mind. It is a very important concept for conversion: the source of your traffic preconditions your visitor to take (or not to take) action on your content.
Once you really understand how much the visitor frame of mind changes from one traffic source to another, you will place more emphasis and effort in the sources that provide the most valuable visitors. You will conclude, like I did, that the conversion from online advertising is abysmal compared with the quality traffic you get from editorial pieces. Incidentally, the editorial frame of mind is also why I’m a big fan of affiliate marketing: you have third-party sellers endorsing your product and services.
I consider search engine marketing the most powerful way to get clicks that are likely to take action. Remember, high-ranking organic search listings are also perceived as a form of editorial content and endorsement. If Google ranked your site as number 1, people believe it’s worth a try. Ads, on the other hand, are not seen as endorsements, but rather “try at your own risk” advice. Think about your own experience searching. Do you trust the PPC ads on the side of the screen, or do you jump to Google’s “recommendations” first?
Opening day madness
These days, the keywords that convert best are usually the most expensive or the hardest to rank for organically. Savvy advertisers have identified these keywords and start bidding wars that increase the overall cost of acquiring clicks. But you do not necessarily need to get the most expensive ones — you just need to get the cheap ones and lure people back to you a few more times. It’s similar to the way we shop for movies. Sometimes we’re willing to pay more money to see a movie on its opening day at the theater, while in many cases we prefer to pay less and wait for the film to come out on DVD so we can see it a few more times for less money. You too can get cheap clicks if you are willing to wait for people who are not ready to buy right away.
How? In order to get the action you expect — a purchase, a signup, a download, etc. — the visitor needs to feel like your content presents the ultimate solution to his/her problem. If you solve specific problems affecting many users and gain the credibility and visibility to be a recommended resource, the traffic and the conversions will pour in. This is why I say that conversion rates are affected by the source of the traffic more than you might expect.
The stream of clicks that got the visitor to your site in the first place can tell you what that problem might be. If you select the right keywords to map the problems/needs your potential visitors are expressing, you can better serve them with the content that is going to address those particular needs when they land on the website. That will boost your conversion rate — and your profits.
Another important tactic is to build a relationship over time. Offer a free e-zine subscription, for example, and you can share useful tips with these visitors until you get the person into the right frame of mind. People are primarily looking for content/information, and you can provide that info while slowing building up their desire to purchase from you at a later date. The idea is to trade your time in creating valuable content, tips and advice in exchange for traffic and sales down the line. The visitors will come back to your site with the right frame of mind. This is the approach I’ve taken on this blog and it is working out very well.
Now, I just need to find more time to write/share more useful content! Please let me know what you think of this concept in the comments.
October 4, 2008 at 5:01 am
This is an important observation, and one I think anybody doing search engine marketing needs to keep in mind. So many of the clients I have worked with as an SEO consultant have a hard time grasping the idea that user intent and expectations should be a prime focus when analyzing traffic and conversions. When a pattern emerges and you can identify what traffic sources (both referring sites and keywords) are sending the richest traffic with the highest conversion rate, that information is gold. It should inform the next steps you take in optimizing both your content and your advertising methods. Thanks for a great post, Hamlet.