Take Your Visitors by the Hand
No matter how clean and pretty your website, no matter how much traffic you successfully direct its way, if your readers don’t know what to do once they’re finished reading a page, you will lose them. If your only mission is to edify or entertain, great – but most people who want to search-optimize their web pages also want something from their readers. What is it you want? “Buy my product.” “Order my catalog.” “Send me your email address and phone number if you are interested in my service.” “Request a free estimate.” “Sign up for a subscription.” “Kick back and read more so I get display-ad revenue.” Even if your only goal is to get readers’ feedback and opinions, you have to encourage them – and make it a natural and easy step – or it won’t happen.
Where Conversion Comes In
Conversion is, in its broadest sense, simply getting visitors to do the right thing after coming to your page. If 1,000 visitors click over from a Google AdSense ad, and 10 of those follow up in the way you hope – buy something, create an account, give you their email address, whatever – then you have a 1 percent conversion rate from that source. All the search engine optimization in the world won’t help if your site isn’t also conversion-rate optimized.
On any page in your website, it should be easier for readers to do what you want than to do something else. This is called the “funnel.” If you have a retail website, it should be easier to click on the “buy” link than to click on another product, or – worst of all – click away to another site.
Don’t get me wrong: Readers shouldn’t feel trapped. It’s okay to provide helpful external links (especially if they are set to open in a new tab), and in fact this can bolster your site’s credibility. But at any moment on any page, if a reader’s choice of what do to next matches your ideal choice for them, they should feel empowered to act – and it should only take a single click, on the most obvious spot on the page.
See Through Your Reader’s Eyes
Look at your own homepage from a reader’s point of view. Where do your eyes go? After each frame of text, where do they go next? Is there a single, prominent option to do something at the bottom of each of those frames, and is that option relevant to the material you’ve just finished reading?
On a side frame, this may mean providing a conspicuous “Contact Us” link underneath your location and contact information. On the central frame, it could be a link to the remainder of a blog post, the next post, or a related article. It could be a link to a fill-in form for a free consultation. It could be a way of adding the current product to a buyer’s shopping cart. Websites serve many purposes; no matter what yours is, at every point where a reader stops to make a decision, you have a chance to steer them where you want them – and where they may very well want to go. Don’t turn down a single one of these opportunities. Each of them should steer visitors down a funnel that matches their target profile, toward a conversion that will make them – and you – happy.
A Page for Every Visitor – and Vice Versa
Readers should also know your goal. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse game. In the world of marketing, if your audience is highly targeted, their goals are, by definition, your goals. And let’s just be clear: If you have a website, you are in the marketing business, even if the only thing you are marketing for is eyeball time.
Speaking of highly targeted: Are you sending all your search traffic to your homepage? If you have more than one thing to offer (and most people do), your homepage is trying to be everything to everybody. It has to. And that’s fine, but if you already know what a visitor wants based on the ad they clicked or the search terms they entered, try to send them to the appropriate page. Don’t make them hunt. Have appropriate titles and descriptions on every page in your website – and more to the point, have a page that caters to the interests of every type of visitor you hope to lure in. Have that be their landing page. Draw them there, where you can nudge them toward your mutual interests, instead of to your homepage, where they might get lost among your whole catalog of options. If you sell clothing accessories, don’t optimize your homepage for scarves; optimize your scarves page for scarves. People looking for scarves shouldn’t have to wade through watches and belts, gradually exhausting their attention span.
When creating these new pages, every page should have a purpose. If that purpose is to sell something, make it something specific, and make it easy – one-click easy – to start the purchase process. If that purpose is information, what would your ideal reader then do with that information? Seek more details on other topics? Leave a comment? Call you?
Get Rid of the Hiccups
Let’s just stop there for a minute. Calling you takes the reader off your website. You should certainly provide an easy-to-find contact phone number if it suits your goals. But it should rarely be the first resort to which you steer a reader. Too many people will think to themselves, “Maybe I should call. I’ll consider it while I finish exploring this and a dozen other webpages.” By the time they get off the computer, that phone number and their reasons for wanting it are long forgotten. A contact form or live chat option are far more desirable alternatives to a phone number because they require a less momentous, direction-changing decision. They don’t interrupt the user experience. Even email is better – although a form is vastly preferable to a “mailto” link. Don’t bow to variables outside your control, such as a reader’s own email software. The theme here is making it easy: Nudge your reader toward simple solutions with no hitches.
Every time visitors face a decision – they have reached the bottom of the page, they have been asked to contact you, they have finished reading a product description – there should be a sense of fluidity in following through the way you want them to. It should be the logical, natural next step. Anything that interrupts the flow of the user experience will spill some of your potential conversions outside the funnel.
Don’t Forget to Say What You Want
So you’ve presented a case for yourself. You’ve convinced your readers that what you want from them is also what they want from themselves.
But there are things we all want, passively, wistfully, and do nothing about. So your reader, who has always wanted to go to Italy, go skydiving, and learn to paint, now has one more fantasy. Bully for you.
Making your readers want what you want isn’t enough. To convert them, you have to make them act. Until the moment your webpage calls a visitor to action, your pitch is all potential. You must ask your readers to consider doing something, right now. You don’t have to be insistent or pushy – but you do have to plant in their minds that it’s time to make a decision with all the information they’ve just soaked up. It’s time to get in or out. If your traffic is highly targeted and you’ve made your case, the answer will be “In!” And for those who want out – they were never truly yours anyway.
Go Forth and Convert!
If this advice seems obvious, congratulations and welcome to the future! But all it takes is a quick spin around the Internet to realize how many websites are mired in the past. The nuances of website design and conversion-rate optimization may seem intuitive, but how people navigate the Web has changed and grown over time, and understanding the modern reader’s attention style is more of an art than a science.