The below information applies equally well to service providers as it does to product vendors. Feel free to consider either word interchangeable with the other.
1) Understand the Search “Continuum” – How People Buy Online
According to Forrester Research Inc, 81% of internet users start their purchase journeys using [a] search [engine], so that’s a MASSIVE chunk of your potential customers going to Google BEFORE they go shopping for specific products & services.
Extensive studies have shown that consumers tend to follow a standard pattern when using the internet to help facilitate a purchase. I call that the “Search Continuum” and have written about it on this site before.
They almost always start out doing product research (via a search engine), trying to get the “lay of the land” so far as products, brands, suppliers & options go in the market they’re wanting to purchase from. In some cases, this can take hours or even days of ongoing research, depending on the product or service they want to ultimately purchase. This is called the “Research” stage.
The next step – once they have decided on roughly what they want – is to look for potential vendors or suppliers they can actually buy from, and get a clearer feel for the price/options/availability, etc. This tends to be a quicker process than the Research stage, because they are clearer on what they want now. This stage is called “Shop,” where they narrow their choices down to a short list.
The last stage is to choose the business they wish to make their purchase from, which is the business end of the entire process. The last stage is called “Buy.”
The decision to actually buy from a specific business has many factors involved in it, not just the price. This is where you need to really put that extra 10% of effort in to close the deal compared to your competitors.
So, the “Continuum” is often called the “Research – Shop – Buy” process, and if you build your website to cater to this process, you will see a definite increase in sales over time. The rest of this report gives tips for doing this, but you should also discuss this with your web designer as well.
ROPO stands for “Research Online, Purchase Offline” and is a fairly common way potential clients use the internet. Most sites are NOT e-commerce enabled and don’t sell their products or services online. In fact, most sites simply function as a lead generation tool, designed to get a prospective client to ring you or send an email requesting more information on your offerings. That sales lead is then engaged by an in-house sales person who can take the enquiry to the next stage.
If your business fits into this kind of model, then your website is your most important online tool when it comes to finding and pre-qualifying leads. Ask your Web Designer what strategies they can implement on your new site to improve response from the ROPO crowd.
3) Plenty of great product information
When building a website, people often forget what it’s like to buy offline, where you can often handle the physical product, ask questions of a sales person, and see the product in action.
Then they set up a website and decide to provide minimal product or service information, assuming that “less is more” (a lie sold by advertising firms mostly).
How many websites have you encountered before, trying to sell you a $100 – $200 – even $1000 product or service, and it had 2 lines of product description, a small thumbnail image and an Add to Cart button?
Seriously, did you buy? Or, did you think “Hey, how about some more information BEFORE I make a decision!” and click away to another site?
It’s vital that you provide as MUCH useful information about your products &/or services as possible for visitors to your site, including high quality large photographs (where appropriate). How else can they decide whether it’s right for them or not, if you don’t give them all the information they need to make an informed decision?
As a side bonus, websites which contain plenty of unique high quality information (text in particular) tend to perform much more strongly in the search engines from an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) point of view, so by not skimping on the product information, you not only improve your sales/lead conversion rate, but you also increase your traffic from the search engines, which is ALWAYS a good thing. More on this subject later.
4) Strong Guarantee
When selling &/or generating leads online, companies forget to reduce the risk for their potential clients. They forget that in the eyes of the visitor on their site, it’s a risk to buy from an online business. They (often) don’t know you, your business or your products/services, and yet you’re asking them to trust you & buy.
One of the most effective ways to overcome skepticism online is to offer a STRONG guarantee.
A money back guarantee is one very popular type of guarantee. Another one is to guarantee a specific result or you’ll give them ‘x’ or do ‘y’. Whichever choice you run with, make it powerful, because if it reduces risk, it will increase sales.
A variant on a traditional guarantee is to provide a free trial of your product or service upfront – BEFORE they buy. That way, they get to test drive it first before making a final decision, and you get to engage them in a selling conversation rather than have them just leave your site without contacting you at all. Free trials tend to increase sales results over time, so if you can offer this option, it’s well worth considering.
5) Trust Factors
Following on from the discussion of a strong guarantee is the issue of creating trust via your website.
Trust is a HUGE factor in any business arrangement of significance, and it’s harder to generate trust online than offline, because people can’t see you in person, handle your products and easily ask you questions. So, it’s vital to remember than you need to do everything possible to add as many “Trust Factors” to your website as possible.
Some examples include:
- Complete business contact information (address, phone number, email address, etc.);
- Photos of your staff & office and even a profile of key staff members helps put a human face on any online business;
- Display industry qualification logos (where appropriate) &/or scanned copies of appropriate licenses to conduct business on your website;
All these things and many more can go a long way to help site visitors feel they can trust you enough to buy from you.
6) Professional Design
While a professional stylish-looking website is no guarantee that it can actually sell people on buying from you, it certainly goes a LONG way towards developing that initial trust required.
There’s a lot of truth to that old cliché about you not getting a 2nd chance to make a good first impression, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to your website. If it looks cheap, nasty & tacky, it’s going to make it extremely hard to persuade people that you operate a real, genuine business.
So, having a website professionally designed for you is definitely an important component to increasing sales & lead generation online, if only because it’s far less likely to scare people off than the cheapie site.
7) Confident prominent call to action
If you’ve ever sold in real life to customers (whether in person or on the phone), there always comes a point when you HAVE to ask for the order, since most people don’t willingly volunteer to buy unless they were already sold on the product before they spoke to you.
It’s no different online, except that you don’t have the luxury of being able to speak to them directly from your website. So, you need to ask for the order firmly (but still politely – we’re NOT talking about aggressive in-your-face pressure selling here), in order to get people to take action.
You’ve probably already see examples of this done on many websites in the form of an Add To Cart or Buy button on the product page. There are many examples of this online (just take a look at EBay and Amazon.com – 2 of the best online ecommerce sites), so make sure that when your web designer and you are planning your site, you have a prominently displayed CTA (call to action) in the appropriate place.
Even sites just doing lead generation for ROPO purposes should be doing this.
Invite site visitors to pick up the phone and call you now, or instruct them to fill in an enquiry form and click the submit button to send it to you for more information, or to print out the discount coupon on your site and bring it into your business to make their purchase.
There are many variations on a theme when it comes to creating an effective CTA, so once again, speak to your web design team about this.
8) Lead generation vs. Sales online
We’ve already discussed that websites can sell &/or generate a sales lead, but just knowing this and actually building your website to properly accomplish the desired goals is a different matter.
There are some differences when it comes to generating a lead online versus actually selling a product or service from your website. Most web designers don’t actually know about the differences, and it requires dealing with specialist web solution providers who have hands-on experience in this field.
However, you’re ultimately still trying to “sell” someone on taking a particular course of action, whether that is buying a product through your shopping cart, ringing you for more information, or filling out an enquiry form on your site to ask for help.
When you’re choosing a web design firm to build your new site, be sure to let them know which option you wish to target, and ask for their suggestions on how to best implement the solution that suits your situation. By the way, you can optimise a site for both options, but that doesn’t change the need to build it right in the first place…
9) SEO – Search Engine Optimisation
One of the most important components you need to consider with a website is how you’re going to get visitors (or traffic as it’s usually called) to your site.
Without prospective customers visiting your site, you’ll get no leads or sales, and that defeats the purpose of paying for – and building- a website in the first place.
Contrary to the famous line from the Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams,” Build it and they will come is NOT the case online! Just because you spent lots of money having a high quality website built, does not mean you will automatically get lots of visitors from Google – usually your site will stay buried deep in the Google results, never to see page 1. In order to achieve that goal, you need to engage the services of an SEO specialist (or a team of specialists).
SEO is the art & science (there’s a bit of both involved in it) of making your website “Google friendly,” so that Google understands what you’re selling, and which kinds of searches are most relevant to your site. Then, it’s a matter of improving your rankings in Google for the search terms most relevant to your business.
There’s no value in ranking at the top of Google for search terms that aren’t relevant to your business, much the same as there is no value in being found on page 10 (or 100) of Google for your most important & relevant search terms.
So, the question you’re probably now asking is: “What is SEO & how does it work?”
The very short version of a complex subject is that there are 2 sides to SEO for each website.
I call the first side “On-page factors,” which typically involve having modifications done to your website. The appropriate keywords (or search terms) have to be decided on, and then strategically placed on the appropriate pages on your website. This is the part where you make your site “Google friendly.” Statistics vary depending on who you talk to, but as a general rule, over 60% of all websites fail in this area, so it’s vital to your eventual online success that you do have an SEO specialist perform this work for your site.
Once your site has been made “Google friendly,” your SEO specialist will then move onto the 2nd side of SEO – the “Off-page factors.” Most of their time is then spent requesting links from external sites to point back at your site. A link is essentially seen as a “vote of popularity” by Google, and the more links your site has pointing at it from external sites, the greater are its chances of starting to rank well for your target search terms. This is typically called “link building.”
Most web design firms that offer SEO (often built into the site design package) are only referring to the “on-page factors” – and most of them don’t even do that very well. It’s rare to find a web designer who has specialist SEO marketers in-house who are fully focused on the subject, so don’t be fooled by the budget price & claims of quality service.
Ask about the link building services provided by the providers you are considering. Ask to see some real-world results (client success stories) and how many links you’ll get for your money. Also, ask how many SEO clients they have and how long they tend to stay as active paying SEO clients.
SEO is a long-term strategy (it typically takes 3-6 months minimum before you start to see any results, and competitive keywords can take 12 – 24 months to achieve), so any quality SEO provider will have clients renewing their SEO service for a year or more in most cases.
Lastly, ask the SEO provider to show you how competitive your target search terms are, and give you an idea of how competitive the top ranking sites are for those keywords. That way, you’ll have a clear idea of how tough the competition is and what sort of SEO service you’ll need to compete against those sites.
One final but VITAL point to keep in mind is taken directly from Google’s Webmaster support site:
“No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google.”
10) Fast Targeted traffic via PPC
Once your new website has gone live, you’ll be wanting it to start earning its keep as quickly as possible, and that’s going to require traffic to your site.
As already mentioned in a previous post, SEO takes time to achieve results, and depending on how competitive your market is online, it can quite often take 6+ months before you start to get some decent traffic finding your sites via the Search Engines. Really competitive markets can take 12-24 months or more to reach page 1 on Google for the most important keywords.
Unless you’re willing to let your website sit idly by for 3 – 6 – even 12 months or more before it starts getting enough traffic to generate leads & sales, then you need to take action quickly and look at some form of online advertising.
The most popular form of online advertising is called PPC (pay per click) marketing, and the major providers of that service in the world are Google, followed by Yahoo & Bing.
PPC marketing (sometimes called SEM – Search Engine Marketing) allows any business with a credit card and a monthly budget to start driving targeted visitors to your website from day 1 of your site going live. This means your website can start paying for itself ASAP.
You bid on targeted keywords (relevant to your products & market place) and your ad shows when someone searches for those keywords. You only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad (hence pay per click!), not just to show your ad like print, radio or TV advertising.
This makes PPC advertising extremely targeted, since it only gets shown to people who are looking for information about products that you sell!
While it’s relatively easy to setup a basic PPC campaign with Google, it’s extremely difficult to achieve a successful result unless you’re a specialist PPC Marketer. Google makes it easy to get started, but very hard to succeed, and Yahoo & Bing are much the same with their service as well.
It’s much like comparing the level of expertise needed to treat an injury. If you cut your finger, you may just need a Band-Aid and some antiseptic cream (DIY) – OR – you might need a highly trained plastic surgeon (Specialist) to sew it back onto your hand! If it’s important to you that this is profitable, engage a specialist and save yourself the time and money wasted trying to do it yourself.
When considering using a service like this, you should definitely take into account the hands-on experience of the consultant/s managing your account, and how frequently they can optimise your campaign/s. Also, ask for phone call tracking as part of the package. If you can’t measure the number of enquiries that your campaign brought in via the phone, then you can’t easily determine the success of it overall. There’s no point in spending $1000 to get $500 in sales, as an example, and many successful PPC campaigns bring significant numbers of leads in via the phone, not via an email enquiry form on your website – hence the need to be able to properly measure what’s really happening with your PPC campaign/s.
Alternatively, why not consider getting an AdWords coach to bring your skills up to speed as fast as possible. One big advantage of managing your own AdWords campaign is that you know your business and your customers much more intimately than any external consultant, which gives you a great opportunity to maximise results.
Also, when you are running your own AdWords campaigns, you don’t have to pay any external digital agency, web design company or individual consultant the management fees they will charge for running your campaigns. All that additional cost can be invested into your own advertising budget, which makes a bid difference in your success.
You can learn more about my AdWords coaching options here.
11) Free tip – Publish your website address offline
While free tip #11 might be obvious to most, it’s surprising how many businesses don’t promote their website address (usually called a URL) offline.
If you have a website, you should prominently list your URL everywhere you can. Add it to your business cards, letterheads, fax cover sheet, all invoices, receipts and documentation that leaves your firm. Even look at adding it to your company vehicles (for as little as $10, Vistaprint offers a car door magnet printing service to get you up and running, without putting stickers on personal vehicles, etc.). Also consider adding your URL to your company external building signage, for the walk and drive-by traffic to see.
Any time you do any advertising, include your URL and a call to action (give them a reason to actually visit your site). This is another good reason for adding plenty of high quality product information to your site – so that people who see your advertising and go check your site out will find lots of great product information AND compelling reasons to consider doing business with you instead of your competitors.
Putting It All Together
Remember that your website has to sell because you’re not there to do it unless they contact you, and prospective clients won’t contact you in the first place if you don’t sell them on doing so.
While many businesses have websites, most of them don’t do a very good job of selling themselves, so by going that extra mile, you’ll be able to stand out in front of the crowd and put your best foot forward immediately. In the long run that will turn into more leads and sales than your lazy or uninformed competitors, which is what you really want, isn’t it?
If you’re serious about having your website really pay for itself with increased sales & lead generation, you need to put all the above components together into a package that actually works.
Successful websites are NOT just about looking pretty (contrary to popular opinion) – they MUST be effective at persuasion and also get as much quality targeted traffic as possible in order to maximise the opportunities available online.
While many web design firms produce great looking websites, they often don’t have the hands-on expertise to put all the above components together into a site so that it is a peak performer.
That’s why they sell cheap sites – because they’re built by graphic designers and/or techie programmer types – neither of whom tend to have any expertise in selling, marketing, SEO, PSA and copywriting (copywriting is “selling in print” – a very useful component of successful online business).
Remember, a pretty site at a cheap price that doesn’t make money is a waste of your time & money. If your website doesn’t make money for you, it’s really not worth buying, even if it was cheap.