We have written several guides on various elements of online marketing, helping businesses plan their strategies, and execute different elements of an ongoing campaign. But so far, most of my work has focused on generating new traffic for a site or improving a brand’s reputation.
These are both important elements to any brand’s marketing campaign; if you want to generate any kind of meaningful customer interaction, you need a substantial amount of traffic coming to your site and ample brand visibility to support your reputation. But ultimately, these steps are only half the equation.
How does your traffic behave when it actually gets to your site? What steps do they take? And most importantly, how is that traffic translating into meaningful revenue for your business? Without this key step, you can generate all the traffic you like—and it won’t matter to your bottom line.
What you need is another step of the process: a way to convert your inbound traffic into paying customers (or at least get them further down the line in the buying cycle). Earning more “conversions” is vital for your brand to stay afloat, but conversions come in dozens of different varieties, and the process is somewhat complicated. I’m here to walk you through everything you need to know about conversion optimization, from what qualifies as a conversion to ongoing best practices for success.
+ A Brief Conversion Overview
+ Types of Conversions
+ Causes of Low Conversion Rates
+ Best Practices for Higher Conversion Rates
+ Tips for Writing Content that Converts
+ Design Best Practices for Enhanced Conversions
+ How to Improve Landing Page Conversions
+ Using Content as a Conversion Optimization Tool
+ Audience Optimization and Peripheral Factors
+ AB Tests and Experimentation
+ Parting Thoughts
First, we need to talk about what conversions are, why they’re important, and some general points to keep in mind when optimizing your site for conversions. This is going to serve as the basic framework on which we’ll build your direction and key strategies in the future.
You’ve probably “converted” or been a conversion before—and recently, too. Have you bought anything online recently? Your purchase technically qualifies as a conversion. Have you downloaded any free content in exchange for some personal information? This is a conversion too. Conversions aren’t just about getting people to pay you money; they’re about getting your users to make a meaningful interaction with your brand. SEO.co uses conversion optimization tactics, just like you should, even on our home page:
Conversion optimization is important because without any conversions, your traffic will pass through your site like water leaking out of a bucket. Once it’s gone, it can’t bring any value to your brand.
Conversion optimization itself is important because most of the time, conversions don’t happen on their own. Let’s say you have the “perfect” product; it’s cheap, it’s something everyone needs, and it’s something that generates mass appeal. You get plenty of traffic, but you never worked on your conversion strategy.
You’ll run into a number of potential problems:
The list goes on. On some level, conversion optimization is about making people want to buy your product (or engage with your brand), but even more importantly, it’s about giving them the power and opportunity to actually do it.
Before you get started in a conversion optimization campaign, you need to understand what your core goals are. Yes, you’ll obviously want to “increase conversions,” but there are some other important elements to bear in mind here.
Next, I want to explain the importance of relying on data. Throughout your conversion optimization process, from the beginning of your strategizing through the ongoing process of refinement and development, you’ll need to rely on the scientific method and objective data to guide your actions.
(Image Source: Investopedia)
Before you get involved with a campaign, you’ll be conducting significant research to ground your campaign direction in an objective vision. There are many types of research you’ll need to consider:
With some of the basics out of the way, let’s focus on some of the main types of conversions, and how you can use them for your site. Different brands in different industries will need to rely on different types of conversions; for example, an online retailer will rely on more direct product purchases, while a B2B service-oriented company will need to generate more leads from contact forms. Understanding the strategic and logistical differences between these conversions is the first step to building an effective campaign.
Product purchases are one of the easiest and most straightforward types of conversion; essentially, when someone buys a product, or multiple products, a conversion has taken place. These are ideal for eCommerce platforms, or for businesses that focus on selling tangible goods, whether you have a vast library of different novelties or you’re just trying to sell your eBook.
There are a few different angles you can take to improve your ability to sell products.
(Image Source: Amazon)
(Image Source: Kickstarter)
Conversions based around lead generation differ significantly from those focused on purchasing a product. The idea here is to get a user to express some significant level of interest in your brand, handing over their contact information so that your sales team can contact them and hopefully sell them on your products and/or services. In many cases, these eventual sales are much more significant, either in price or in commitment; for example, rather than purchasing a $20 lawnmower part, they might be signing up for a $10,000, 6-month contract. Lead generation is frequently used by B2B companies, but this isn’t exclusive.
Lead generation conversion optimization is a bit trickier, since you won’t be able to tie a direct value to your conversions, the strength of a conversion is variable, and asking for personal information is much different from asking for money.
(Image Source: Hubspot)
Another type of conversion is the email subscribership, which for all intents and purposes is just a simplified version of the lead generation conversion. Instead of asking for lots of personal information like a name, title, and a reason for contact, all you’ll look for here is a name and an email address. You’ll collect this information to be used in your future email marketing campaigns, so every name you collect has a value—just not as much value as a direct lead or a purchase.
The flip side to this is, of course, that email subscribers are easier to get than leads. The process requires less of a commitment, and people are more willing to submit their personal information as a result. Furthermore, email subscribership can be a peripheral goal for almost any business, even if you have other conversion strategies in place. If email marketing is a central focus or value for your brand, you’ll need to prioritize this.
For the most part, any type of conversion that works in the “lead generation” category can work for the email subscribership category. For example, you could use side bars or popups to encourage new email subscribers, or use a blog callout to forward them to a particular area to sign up.
You can also earn value and gauge consumer interest with “micro” conversions. These are meaningful forms of user interaction that don’t necessarily translate to direct revenue (or a significantly increased chance of direct revenue). Instead, these are indications of user interest, which is valuable in terms of brand visibility and loyalty.
There are a handful of types of micro conversions you’ll want to pay attention to:
These aren’t the only types of micro conversions out there, but they are some of the most common. They won’t help you figure out your new revenue or your ROI, but they can lend some significant insight into the value and appeal of your brand, and give you direction on improvements you can make to your conversion strategy.
I’ve listed four different types of conversion to pay attention to: product conversions, lead generation conversions, email subscribership, and micro conversions. Each of these is best suited to a different type of business, and most businesses will stand to benefit from paying attention to some of these forms of conversion more than others. However, all of these modes of conversion can be useful in some way. It’s up to your individual goals and desires to decide which of these modes are the most important, and how you’re going to balance your strategy. I encourage you to decide which of these types of conversion you’re going to focus on before planning the rest of your strategy.
Though you could argue that conversion optimization is a science (as it relies on rounds of postulation and experimentation), there’s no single set of rules that any site can follow to achieve more conversions. For example, one particular layout might see more conversions by turning its green call-to-action red, while another layout might see more conversions by turning its red call-to-action green. There’s no surefire way to get the right placement, the right copy, and the right formatting all at once.
That being said, there are common root causes of low conversion rates. No matter what kind of fix is necessary—whether it’s a color change or the inclusion of more bullet points—you can almost always trace the root of the problem back to one of these three main sources:
If lack of attention is your problem, it means your users simply aren’t able to focus on the site of conversion. This can manifest in a number of ways; for example, your call-to-action might be so hidden on your site that your customers aren’t able to find it. They may not even be aware that it exists. As a contrasting example, if your landing page is so dense with design elements and words, your users might be so distracted they can’t focus on the eventual site of conversion.
There are three common categories of fixes you can apply to this lack of attention. The first is minimization. In this strategy, you’ll be minimizing (or eliminating) anything on the page that isn’t a call-to-action. This means cutting some of the fluff content, pulling away any banner ads or links away from the site, and possible adding more white space to the design.
The second is ease optimization. You have to make the call-to-action easy to see and use. For example, if you’re using a traditional checkout, make the “add to cart” button prominent and intuitive to click. If you’re using forms, try reducing the number of fields to make things simpler.
The third is heightened contrast. Make your call-to-action stand out from the rest of the material on the page by using bright colors, and possibly other cues that lead users’ eyes to the eventual destination, like arrows or eyelines of people in a background image.
The second major affliction in conversion optimization is a lack of value. If people don’t see any value in the act of converting, they aren’t going to convert. It’s a very simple concept from a high level, but it can get complicated when you try to evaluate what “value” you have to offer.
For example, if you’re running an ecommerce site, your customers need to know that the products you’re offering are worth the money you’re asking from them to pay for it. You can increase this perceived value by including an indication of a discount (showing suggested price versus actual price), adding more bullet points or a video that showcase the product’s strengths, including testimonials from actual customers, comparing your price to your competitors’ or even lowering the price altogether. Convince your reader that this is worth the transaction.
B2B companies and other service-based businesses that don’t have a one-to-one exchange for conversion also need to demonstrate value. For example, you can’t just offer an email form and hope that people will hand over their information. Make it worth their while by offering a valuable email newsletter, or a free download of a whitepaper, or some other tangible exchange.
Finally, it’s possible that your visitors don’t have enough trust in your brand or your product. Trust is a subjective measure, so you may find this more difficult to detect than a problem with value or user attention. Still, if you can rule out the latter two, you can assume there isn’t enough trust in your organization to warrant a conversion.
There are a number of inclusions that can increase user trust in your offer. First, include contact information for your company, including a website, the name of your business, a physical address (if possible), and a phone number. This gives people reassurance that you’re a legitimate business. Including user testimonials is almost always a surefire way to increase user trust as well—include these in either written or video form, with an emphasis on the visuals if possible. Include the faces of the people giving the testimonials if you can.
Beyond that, offer plenty of resources, content, and communication options for anyone undecided. This not only reassures potentially skeptical customers, it also provides more information that could help them make a final decision. For example, you could offer a tutorial video, a link to your company blog, or even a live chat window (provided you have someone waiting to answer those inquiries on the other side). As your reputation grows, so will your average visitor’s trust.
Now that we’ve covered most of the basics, we can move on to focus specifically on getting higher conversion rates. This section of the guide will explain how to increase the number of people who end up taking meaningful action—whether that’s buying a product, filling out a form, or micro converting, as most of these different types can benefit from the same best practices.
I’ll be covering a number of different sections here, each with examples of their effective use.
Your first step is to make your call-to-action more visible. This should be obvious; after all, how are people going to convert if they’re never given the direct opportunity? Yet many marketers and webmasters end up with CTAs that don’t stand out in any meaningful way. This often represents a huge loss in potential conversions.
You can actually increase the visibility of your CTAs in a number of distinct ways:
(Image Source: Unbounce)
The truth is, there’s no “right” or “wrong” place for your CTA, as long as it stands out and catches your users’ attention. This can be hard to discover, and you probably won’t get it quite right the first time, so play around with different locations and see how it affects your results.
(Image Source: Hubspot)
There’s no question that these results are real. However, the cause of this can be a bit misleading. It’s not the red coloration that made this CTA more effective, but rather the fact that the color stood out more in contrast with the rest of the page. When experimenting with color, your goal shouldn’t be to find that one, specific, magical color that will increase your conversions; instead, you just need to stand out better.
The core of any conversion is an exchange of value. Your users are going to give you something, and in return, they expect to get something. For product purchases, this system is obvious and straightforward; your customers are giving you money in exchange for a product they believe to be worth at least that much. But the value exchange is present when users hand over their personal information, too, such as in an email signup or form submission. That’s because personal information has a value, and users know this.
Users aren’t going to convert unless your exchange is valuable. Therefore, you need to offer a stronger value if you’re going to see more conversions.
(Image Source: Pebble)
You’ve made your CTA visible, and you’ve proven your worth. The next thing you should think about is the actual process of conversion. Though in principle, a conversion is often as simple as clicking a button, the reality is, you can make the process as simple or as complicated as you want it. Unfortunately, many marketers opt to make it more complicated than it has to be, often with logical intentions.
For example, they may produce form fields that demand a lot of input from the user; when trying to earn more leads, the more information you can get, the better. Getting information like previous purchase history, current interests, and background can help your salespeople close more deals (and can give you more information to work with from a market research perspective). However, as a general rule, people are impatient and will greatly prefer forms with fewer fields to fill out. Whatever you can do to simplify your form, do it. Believe it or not, shaving off just a few extra seconds of effort can make the difference to a prospective lead.
In a similar vein, you’ll want to make sure your checkout process is simple as well. Most eCommerce platforms these days are able to offer one-click purchasing, or something analogous, to make the online shopping process simpler. You don’t have to do this, but you should reduce the number of steps it takes to check out to the bare minimum.
This is another piece of advice that should go without saying, but make sure your forms and shopping carts are working properly! Do a test run of your form to make sure the fields can be filled out easily and submitted without error, and make sure you get an email notification as well—I’ve worked with clients in the past who simply weren’t getting notification of their conversions, and they’ve missed a lot of opportunities as a result.
Beyond that, you’ll want to use a platform like Mobiletest.me to test how your CTAs, forms, and products look on various mobile devices and browsers. Take note of any significant differences that could bear an impact on your potential visitors, and correct them proactively. The most important things to worry about here are content loading issues—make sure all your content and visuals are loading properly, and in a way that’s accessible to the user.
I already mentioned the importance of being brief when it comes to selling the value of your offer, but now let’s focus on some of the bigger stars of your CTAs—your headlines, taglines, and filler copy. Headlines are what will grab your users’ attention immediately, and it’s responsible for forming the first impression they’ll get of your brand, so take some extra time to craft the perfect, attention-grabbing, reputation building message.
Easier said than done, right? Here are a few tips to help you through the process.
(Image Source: VWO)
Written content alone isn’t enough; not all of your users will want to read to understand the benefits of your exchange. It’s also valuable to include images and video to influence more conversions, especially on a landing page. However, as you might imagine, not just any images and videos will work. Here are some tips to help you use images and video effectively:
(Image Source: KissMetrics)
Marketing Experiments has a great example of how changing a stock image to an original image can boost your conversion rates immediately.
(Image Source: Marketing Experiments)
Most people have an inherent distrust for corporations and brands, or at the very least, they tend to trust their peers more than organizations that are clearly out to make a profit. About 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews submitted by their peers as much as they’d trust a personal recommendation from a friend or family member—which is somewhat surprising, if you think about it. But the bottom line here is that most people need some kind of social proof, some evidence that you’ve been making exchanges with other users satisfactorily, before they’ll commit to your brand in any way.
Social proof, therefore, should be one of your top priorities. There are a couple of easy ways to instill more social proof in your CTA or landing page: reviews and testimonials. Though related, these are two distinct forms of content submitted by your past customers. Reviews are generally short, descriptive analyses of a past purchase or interaction, often based on a product or service. Testimonials, on the other hand, are generally longer, serving as a pitch for a company or organization as a whole.
As you can see in this example by VWO, simply adding a handful of reviews to your product page (or testimonials to your lead generation page) can have a substantial impact on your conversion rate.
(Image Source: VWO)
Social proof can go a long way in cultivating more trust from your new user base, but you’ll usually have to go a step or two further if you really want to earn your users’ dedication. One of the simplest ways to do this is to add “trust badges” to the bottom of your site. These small icons, usually located in the footer of a page, show users your affiliations and accreditations, demonstrating your authority (and possibly your security). VWO found that adding trust badges can increase your conversion rates by more than 70 percent.
(Image Source: The New Media Co)
You can also build trust by showing off your expertise. For example, you can list all the major publications you and your brand have been featured in. You could also show off how long you’ve been in business, how much growth you’ve experienced over the years, or list some of your most noteworthy clients (assuming they’ve given you the permission to mention them).
In addition to all the factors I listed above, there are a handful of other variables you should keep in mind when planning, executing, and evaluating the success of your conversion optimization strategy:
There are countless variables to consider in a conversion optimization plan, but for the most part, it’s best to stay out of the weeds. Keep your attention high-level, on your actions and your measurable results.
Throughout this section, I’ve been listing a number of different considerations for increasing your conversion rate—the best practices for conversion optimization. I have one more best practice to share with you, and it’s a little bit counterintuitive: ignore best practices (at least some of the time).
What do I mean by this? Why did I waste my time writing out and showing examples of all these best practices if I’m now encouraging you to deliberately ignore them? It’s because every business is going to be unique. Your brand, your voice, your audience, and your goals will all be different from everyone else’s. The “best practices” for conversion optimization are rules that work well for most brands—but not all the time. If you stick too closely to norms and conventional practices, not only will you miss out on some great improvement opportunities, your conversion attempts will end up looking like everyone else’s—and that’s definitely something you don’t want.
Go against the grain by defying some of the standard conventions, as long as you have a good idea to substitute for the original best practice. As you’ll see, the more you experiment, the closer you can get to perfection.
Design, placement, and functionality can all affect your conversion rate, but few factors matter as much as the strength of your copy. A good headline can mean the difference between an interested customer and just another bouncer, but finding that “perfect” headline can be a headache even for the most seasoned copywriters.
If you’re struggling, consult these seven tips for writing better conversion-optimized copy:
Remember that you can’t market to everybody. Doing so might seem beneficial because it maximizes your potential audience, but it also decreases the relevance of that audience. Instead, it’s wiser to restrict your audience to only the demographics that matter the most—and write copy that speaks directly to those users. Think about what’s most valuable or most important to those users. Think about what they feel, and what they relate to. Would they respond well to a formal argument or a casual suggestion? Would they prefer an emotional incentive or a logical one? Know your demographics inside and out, and let that knowledge appear in your writing.
Flat copy won’t get you anywhere. Use your space effectively to call upon user emotions, and inject your words with personality. Write from the heart if you can—instead of thinking how your company should write to its customers, think about how you would speak to someone you know. Use your own voice to add an emotional and personal inflection to your copy, and choose words that inspire emotions within your users. Happiness, excitement, curiosity, and fear are all strong candidates—as long as you don’t go over the top and make your writing seem insincere or manipulative.
Conversions are the result of a decision. When a user confronts a call to action, he/she can either decide to engage with your brand or decide to walk away. Your goal is to encourage a decision to engage with your brand, so focus on that critical moment. What information does your user need to make that decision wisely? What possible considerations could prevent him/her from making that decision? How might one line settle the internal argument holding up that decision from being made? These are the questions you’ll need to ask to write compelling copy.
This isn’t always the case, but as a general rule, the fewer words you have on the screen, the better. There’s almost always a shorter, more concise way to say what you’re already saying, and it’s your job to find it. Users have little patience, and can smell an advertisement a mile away. The fewer words you have staring at your users, the fewer opportunities they’ll have to hesitate and second guess themselves. Writing fewer words also forces your mind to choose only the most important words for your message, leaving you with the highest quality copy you can muster.
It’s tempting to get creative with your words, searching for that all-important golden phrase that will entice your users to convert in almost any situation. Unfortunately, those creative golden phrases are extremely rare—almost mythical. Instead, the more practical alternative is to focus on copy that succinctly and clearly describes your product (or goal). Instead of trying to win awards for your writing, just describe what you’re offering in the simplest possible terms. You’ll be amazed how much better it works out in the end.
Your users are only going to convert if they trust your brand and your intentions. There are a number of design elements that can help build this trust, such as including more faces of users and adding testimonials from other users, but you’ll also have to use your copy to convey it. Write sincerely, and instead of overselling your material, be transparent. Mention the basic advantages of converting, explain your expertise, and let your users make the decision for themselves.
This is the most important tip, because it can be paired with all the others. There are case studies that indicate certain words and certain phrasings performing better than others, but there’s still no guarantee that any chain of words will be effective (or will be the most effective for a specific purpose). If you want to maximize results, you have to experiment, comparing new variations of your themes and ideas against a control group and using the results to guide your next iterations. User preferences aren’t always rational or predictable, so experimentation is the only tool at your disposal that can practically guarantee some measure of improvement.
If you’re trying to get the most conversions from your audience, try implementing these eight design tweaks:
If your call to action is just another seamless part of your blog, users aren’t going to notice it. Including a call to action in the background or as another feature in an endless row of features is a surefire way for your call to action to go unnoticed. Instead, make it stand out. Set it aside from the rest of your page by surrounding it in a distinguished bubble or container. Treat it as a completely separate component of your blog, and readers’ eyes will naturally go to it the moment they start to wander.
It isn’t enough to set your call to action off to the side in many cases. For a reader engrossed in your written material, that distinguished bubble won’t be enough to draw their attention. You’ll need an arrow or a marker as the final push to get your readers’ eyes to your call to action. In some cases, a simple arrow is plenty—it might seem obnoxious, but heat maps show that calls to action with arrows tend to get more attention than those without. You can also use more subtle markers to draw attention to a specific area of the page, such as a person’s eyes leading to the call to action.
Colors are powerful, and you’ll need to use them to your advantage if you want to increase the conversion rate of your blog. The easiest way to do this is to use strongly contrasting colors on the bulk of your blog and call to action, respectively. For example, if the majority of your blog is a deep blue, you can use bright orange as a contrasting color for your call to action. Additionally, different colors have different connotations—for example, red tends to stimulate a sense of urgency or energy, blue tends to increase feelings of trust, purple tends to be calming, and black evokes a sense of luxury or class. Choose your colors carefully.
Everything comes down to your conversions, so your call to action should be the most important feature of your blog. Everything else can fall by the wayside. As such, you should minimize or eliminate any additional features or designs that could interfere with your user’s attention. For example, splitting your user’s attention amongst ten potential objects is less effective than splitting their attention amongst two. Do a thorough review of every visible facet of your blog page, or use a heat map to determine where your users’ eyes are drifting. Take out anything that isn’t immediately advancing your goal of achieving conversion.
White space is an important design element that should come about as a result of your efforts for design change number four—and it doesn’t have to be white. White space is any amount of solid-colored space that doesn’t contain any other design elements and thus doesn’t distract readers to any focal points. Making good use of that white space is key to guiding your users’ lines of sight. For example, if you place your conversion bubble between the main part of your blog page and the white space left on the edge, your readers will be far more likely to notice it. You can also increase the amount of white space you have to increase the relative value of everything that isn’t white space.
This is a simple principle that can sometimes get lost. It might make some sense to include a call to action at the bottom of a blog post—after all, a reader who has just finished reading a highly detailed post is probably more likely to convert than someone just visiting the blog for the first time. However, calls to action above the fold—visible before a reader scrolls—tend to be more successful than ones below it. As a soft alternative, you could have a floating call to action that remains on screen in the same position no matter where your readers scroll.
Sometimes, an interruption is the perfect opportunity to facilitate a conversion. It draws the reader’s attention away just long enough to get a call to action in front of them. On your blog page, set up a feature that initiates a small, unobtrusive window appearing in front of the blog, obscuring the content and presenting the call to action. A minority of your readers might find the feature annoying and leave, but your conversion ratio should generally increase as a result.
If you’re worried about preserving the visual consistency of your blog but you still want to optimize for conversions, you could simply set up a separate landing page for whatever it is you want to sell. For example, instead of using a call to action to gather information like a name and email address, you could use a call to action to link to an external landing page and sell your users there. This is also beneficial because you can use your blog in unique ways to lead your users to this new landing page. For instance, you could use the body of your text to link to it when relevant, or mention the product by name in your blogs. You can also create multiple landing pages for multiple unique products, maximizing your ability to target specific demographics.
These eight design changes may not seem like much on their own, but when working together in conjunction with an air-tight content program and an engaging brand, they can significantly elevate your conversion ratio. Be sure to take a snapshot of your traffic and conversion metrics before you apply these changes, so you can compare them to after and objectively measure the impact your changes had.
If you’re stuck with a landing page that just won’t convert, or if you’re looking for new ways to maximize your conversion rate, try any one (or more) of these 20 ideas for more conversions:
Users generally want to do as little as possible. If you have too many fields, it will turn people off right away, so try decreasing the number of fields you require. As a simple example, you could combine “first name” and “last name” into a simple “name” field (in some situations).
Directional features draw a user’s eyes to a certain place. For example, you could use drawn arrows or the eyeline of a person in your image to point to the call-to-action. Add more to see if they increase your conversion rate.
Simple changes in color can make a substantial difference in your total conversions—experiment with different tones and contrasts.
Bulleted lists of benefits are always a sure way to earn trust and show value. Try expanding the list with more benefits of your product (or the benefits of signing up).
You might only have one headline, but it’s going to attract a lot of attention. One weird word could be stopping your users from converting, so experiment with lots of different headlines to see what works best.
Seemingly innocuous, the size and shape of your “submit” or “buy” button can make a big difference. Try a circle instead of a triangle, or increase the size.
Action words are strong verbs that imply some form of initiative. For example, “try it for yourself” implies action whereas “you’ll see for yourself” does not.
Users trust other users more than corporations or brands. Include real testimonials from people who have bought from you in the past, and use real names and faces if you can.
Oftentimes, people fail to convert simply because they aren’t ready for the risk of not being satisfied with the order. Prevent this by adding a satisfaction guarantee.
If your landing page is too busy, it can distract users from the call-to-action. Minimize what a user sees at any given point in time by allowing more white space in your design.
Today’s users want as much visual imagery as possible, and that means including videos if you want to show off your product or service. If you already have a video, experiment with a few different ones to see if you can get any better results.
It’s natural to want to include sharp-sounding buzzwords in your copy, like “ROI” or “out-of-the-box” because they sound impressive, but to most users they register as empty white noise. Scrap these buzzwords and shoot for more sincere language.
Use surveys or past experiences to find and document common objections to your product or service, then address them directly on your landing page. It’s your chance to quell your visitors’ concerns before they prevent a conversion from happening.
Stories are a powerful mode of communication, so if you haven’t already included one in your landing page (even if it’s in a short form, like a bulleted list or a short testimonial) try one. If you’re already using one, try a different one or make small tweaks to the one you have.
Copy is great for convincing users of the value of your product (and using specific words to prompt them to take action), but too much of it can get in the way of your efforts. Try eliminating some.
Use a chat pop-up window to help indecisive users find reassuranceor information and potentially move forward.
Users feel more secure when they see a landing page that offers contact information—preferably in multiple forms. Your company name, address, and phone number should all be visible.
Hopefully, you’re using at least one image on your landing page. If so, swap it out for something different. Subtle cues from a different visual could lead to very different results.
Add more language that conveys a sense of urgency, or use a timer counting down to prompt more users to convert. If they feel like they can wait, they’ll probably never buy.
“Conversions” are often loosely defined, and you’ll encounter some writers who will say a conversion has taken place when someone clicks through a different article, or socially shares your piece of content. For the purposes of this guide, however, we’ll focus on harder, more measurably valuable conversions—usually either securing a purchase or donation, or collecting some meaningful bits of personal information from a user. This guide’s intention is to teach you how to use content to get more of these hardline conversions for your site.
First, I need to acknowledge an important distinction between content writing and copywriting. Though similar, copywriting is typically short-form, and focused on persuading an audience to take a specific action. You’ll find this type of writing in advertisements frequently. See Trello’s ad as an example:
(Image Source: Trello)
Here, you have a catchy headline, a short description, and a CTA button. This is a fine example of copywriting, but it doesn’t have enough meat to be qualified as “content” in this sense. We’ll touch on elements of copywriting when we get to the section on in-content calls-to-action, but for the most part, everything in this guide will focus on actual content marketing.
There are three main areas where content can affect your conversion rates, and I’m going to explore each of them in turn:
Without further ado, let’s find out exactly how content can secure you the conversion rates you’ve always wanted.
Let’s assume that you have a steady conversion rate. You’re happy with it, but you need more inbound traffic to scale your total number of conversions to a desirable level. The best thing to do here is focus on generating traffic—and even if your conversion rate leaves something to be desired, more traffic is going to help you eventually, so you might as well get started here.
Content is your greatest tool for long-term traffic generation, because it can be used in three interrelated ways.
Understand that every new piece of content you create on your site is another page for Google to crawl and another opportunity for an average searcher to encounter your brand. My quick search for “SEO news” turned up three articles before even getting to the organic results, and this certainly isn’t the only way to get more search visibility.
Writing more content gives your site more text for Google to crawl, giving it a better understanding of your site. Each new piece is also an opportunity to rank for a relevant user query. Accordingly, all your pieces should be:
Be aware that it takes time to develop your domain authority to the point where your content earns a substantial rank.
Offsite content has two main purposes. The first is for SEO and organic visibility. Google sees inbound links as a form of third-party approval of a site; a link from a high-authority domain will “pass” authority to its intended destination, increasing its authority by proxy. This occurs on both a domain and page level, and is necessary if you want to earn any ranking momentum.
The second is for referral traffic. Any link you build using an offsite piece of content will be clickable, and if the content is good enough, it will generate a substantial stream of traffic to your site.
You can take advantage of both these benefits as long as you have a solid offsite content marketing campaign. Typically, this involves getting your content featured on sources of increasing authority, from local news sites and forums to major national publishers. Again, I’ll stay out of the weeds on this, but I’ll leave you with a handful of important takeaways on how offsite content can best increase traffic ready to convert:
(Image Source: WaveApps)
You can also use your content as the “meat” for your social media campaign. Rather than constantly trying to goad your followers into visiting your site or buying your products, you’ll supply them with a near-constant stream of valuable content, which they can use to inform their decisions and build trust in your brand. Click-through rates on content are higher than for sales (typically), so use your content as a bridge to get your social users to your site, and sell them once they’ve crossed that bridge.
Of course, you’ll also have to work on building up your social audiences—the more dedicated, active followers you have, the higher impact your content syndication will have on your bottom line. Remember to engage with your users, leverage the power of influencers to tap new markets, and remain as personal and active as possible.
Conversions are always an opportunity of exchange; in conventional B2C settings, this involves a customer handing over money in exchange for a physical product. The more valuable this product is, the more likely it is that the consumer will partake in the exchange, giving you a critical opportunity to secure more conversions.
There are two scenarios in which content may be used as the “other half” of this exchange as a standalone value. The first is in a B2B setting, where your company is only after personal information of potential leads. Personal information is valuable, if only mildly, and people won’t part with it unless they know they’re getting something out of the deal. Content, a digital good with infinite replicability, serves the role of exchange here quite well.
Take HubSpot’s usual eBook offer as an example:
(Image Source: Hubspot)
The other scenario is one in which content is offered as the product in exchange for money, though an even higher standard of quality is demanded here. Still, both scenarios share much in common and can be used to the same ends.
There are a handful of “must have” features for content you’re using as an exchange for conversion value:
This is a tough consideration, since you won’t be dealing with any absolute values, but it’s an important one. Remember, a conversion is all about exchange, so you need to know how valuable each side of the exchange is to maximize the potential payoff.
For example, if you spent a year of your life doing the research and living the experiences that led you to write this eBook, asking for just a first name and an email address, or asking for $0.99 isn’t going to justify your work. On the other hand, if you invested a minimum in your original research, it isn’t fair to ask your customers for pages of personal information or $29.99.
There are two good ways to do this. The first is through research—take a look at your competition and see what they’re offering, and what they’re asking for in exchange. Use this comparatively to settle on the value of your own offers and requests.
The second is through experience. Experiment with different price levels and forms of content to see which prices and offers “stick.”
Most users won’t be satisfied with your promise that the content they’re about to receive is good enough to make the exchange. They need some kind of proof, or preview. At the same time, you don’t want to give away the secret sauce.
The solution is to give your users a tease—tell them what types of things they’re going to find in the body of your content, but don’t tell them the exact things they’re going to find. Take a look at how HubSpot handles this, identifying some of the quote contributors without giving away the actual quotes:
(Image Source: HubSpot)
The third pillar of content-conversion relationships is probably the most important, as it directly affects your conversion rate in any context, rather than affecting only your inbound traffic figures or being limited to one application. The goal here is to include CTAs within the body of your onsite content, which is already doubling as a means of increasing search visibility and generating inbound traffic.
In some ways, these CTAs are like any other; they need to be short, compelling, accurate, and persuasive. However, if you want to retain the value and appeal of your content as is, you can’t go the traditional advertising approach in total.
Take Crazy Egg’s traditional advertisement as an example:
(Image Source: Crazy Egg/Wordstream)
This is a good example of an effective CTA, but it’s still an advertisement. This makes the CTA almost confrontational—pinning a user down with a pitch, and forcing them to either convert or depart. Instead, content-based CTAs are softer, and hinge on trust that you’ve already built with the quality and usefulness of your material.
The first hurdle to overcome in maximizing the conversion potential of your content is to choose the right topics. At a glance, this means selecting content topics within your area of expertise that your target market would find useful. For example, if you sell skateboards, it wouldn’t make sense to write content about the best types of office furniture for a startup. It would instead cater to individuals who might be in the market for a new skateboard, covering topics like “how to repair a broken axle” or the even-more-blunt, “how to choose your next skateboard.”
Try not to make your topics too sales-y, or it will turn people away. Buyer’s guides and product comparison articles are helpful, but if that’s all you put out, people will gradually feel alienated from you. Provide helpful, original material that a prospective buyer might read. Know your sales cycle inside and out, and target people at multiple stages to nurture them to a conversion.
Once you’ve properly identified the right types of topics, you’re essentially halfway done with the battle. You’ll have a stream of optimal customer candidates reading your content. Now, your job is to guide them to a successful conversion. You can’t just stick a CTA in the middle of your article, so you have to use a subtler, more tactical approach.
There are three main approaches to in-content CTAs.
Since each of these approaches has distinct advantages and disadvantages, I encourage you to use all three of them in rotation to maximize your potential payoff. If you notice one style outperforming the others, don’t be afraid to switch. Remember, your main priority here is to provide excellent content—if you have a great CTA embedded in an iffy, poorly written article, it isn’t going to land.
Similarly, you can’t just post a link and hope people will click. Your wording needs to be sharp, concise, compelling, and accurate—like any CTA—if you want your readers to convert.
You don’t have to be satisfied with your traffic, or your conversion rates. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that your first-draft strategy isn’t going to earn you the best possible results. The only way to improve your campaign is to take careful measurements of your most important metrics, make iterative changes, and then evaluate to see whether or not your changes were effective. Just be careful how you measure and report the differences—you never know how your biases may be affecting how you perceive the results.
One of the best ways to do this is through ongoing A/B testing. The basic premise of an A/B test is to create nearly identical scenarios, with one small difference between them, to see if one scenario outperforms the other. For example, you might write two highly similar articles with very different CTAs to see if one CTA performs better than the other. You can use this information to maximize the return on your future pieces.
(Image Source: VWO)
You can change virtually anything and see a potential difference, but here’s a short list of ideas for your variables:
Think of your content-based conversion strategy as a constant, revolving experiment. The more ways you tinker with it, the more you’ll learn, and the better performance rate you’ll eventually earn.
In the last section, I walked you through the steps of creating an “optimal” conversion opportunity—essentially setting the stage for the average user to want to convert. But not all people behave the same, or have the same needs; in fact, we’re all pretty darn unique. That’s why one of the biggest factors in conversion optimization success isn’t the stage you set, but the people who come to that stage in the first place.
One of your biggest priorities should be making sure the right types of people make it to your conversion opportunities, and catering to them to maximize the potential for conversion.
Most of your online marketing efforts (other than conversion optimization) will focus on exploiting external platforms like search engines, advertising opportunities, and social media sites to funnel traffic to your site or landing page. Your first step should therefore be choosing the “right” platforms—the ones with the highest likelihood of sending appropriate traffic to your site.
(Image Source: Pew Research)
There’s a kind of “pre-party” that happens before the actual CTA, which can influence whether you’re successful in getting a conversion. You’ll have an advertisement, or a piece of syndicated content, or some other external post designed to get people to your site. How you frame this can influence whether or not a person clicks through, and once they get there, can influence whether or not they stick around to convert.
Your new and returning visitors will likely behave differently, based on the type of business you run. For example, with an eCommerce platform, a returning visitor has likely already been through the ordering process once, from start to finish. Accordingly, they know they can trust you, so you’ll have less of a need to prove your trustworthiness through social proof, trust badges, and similar factors. For a B2B service, a returning visitor will likely be further along in the buy cycle than a new visitor, and they’ll want to see a different list of benefits. In almost any case, returning visitors are more likely to convert than new visitors.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to serve returning users differently than you serve new users, such as directing them to a different version of your website. What you can do, however, is set up a separate flow for your new visitors, creating specific landing pages for visitors you know to be unaware of your brand that work on building trust and awareness. You can also use the behavior flow chart in Google Analytics to better understand how your new and returning visitors behave differently once onsite, using this information to refine your optimization efforts.
Bounce and exit rates are distinct, but for our purposes, they mean the same thing; a user has become disinterested with your site, and leaves before converting. Bounce and exit rates are valuable pieces of information that help you understand where your users tend to leave your site, and possibly, why they tend to do it.
Why is this important for conversions? With so many conversion opportunities throughout your site, and a user population that’s likely going to explore your site somewhat thoroughly before converting, the longer the average user stays on your site, the likelier they’ll be to eventually convert (or at least walk away with a good impression of your brand). A high bounce and exit rate could mar an otherwise solid conversion optimization campaign, so it’s in your best interest to improve your site’s performance here.
I won’t spend much time digging into the logistics of improving your bounce rate, as this could be a topic worthy of its own guide, but KissMetrics does a pretty good job of outlining the basics here.
(Image Source: KissMetrics)
I want to end this section with one peripheral consideration—a variable that can influence your overall effectiveness in conversion optimization. It’s all about the value of your conversions. Not all conversions are equally valuable, and emphasizing an unprofitable conversion could cause you to spend too much money on an ineffective strategy.
Your greatest tool here is awareness—you need to understand exactly how valuable each of your conversion opportunities is. Combined with knowledge of your total number of conversions and traffic, you can make a good estimate for your marketing ROI—but I’ll get into that later. For now, let’s look at how to calculate the value of a given conversion in three dimensions:
By this point, you’ve got a solid start on your conversion optimization strategy. You’ve done your research, you’ve committed to all the standard best practices (or have strategically deviated from some of them), and you should be seeing some higher conversion rates accordingly.
But you’re not done yet. I’ve mentioned before in this guide that there’s an ongoing component to conversion optimization—you have to keep working to improve your conversion rates, or else your campaign will stagnate, and you’ll miss out on some extraordinary potential. This section will explain the importance of experimentation, testing, measurement, and analysis in your campaign for better long-term results.
It’s not enough to opt for an “optimized” conversion strategy. You have to put your changes to the test in a live environment—and more than that, you’ll have to commit new changes to gradually improve your results as a kind of ongoing experiment. There are many values to ongoing experimentation:
One of the most effective ways to experiment is the classic AB test, so named because you’ll be comparing two different versions of your website, landing page, or CTA—the “A” version and the “B” version. This test is effective because it boils down your results to a simple apples-to-apples comparison, allowing you to determine what it is, precisely, that does or doesn’t work.
(Image Source: Optimizely)
Essentially, you’re going to follow the scientific method here. you’ll come up with a hypothesis; for example, you might decide that a change in font could increase conversions, or that a new image is what your CTA needs to get better results. Then, you’ll design a test that puts that hypothesis to the test, keeping your “A” version the same and applying the desired change to your “B” version. You’ll put both into a live scenario, compare your results, and form a conclusion about the effects of your change—and then repeat this process indefinitely as you come up with more hypotheses for improvement.
Though simple in concept, there are a handful of best practices you’ll need to follow for your AB tests if you want to use them effectively:
Independent of your AB tests, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your conversion rates, which you can do by setting up Goals within Google Analytics. Getting good results in a test is a solid start, but it’s a good idea to pay attention to your long-term trends. Changes in competition, seasons, trends, demographics, and traffic sources can all have an effect on your conversion rates, so watch for these fluctuations and monitor your performance over time.
Occasionally, you’ll want to take a pulse of your overall marketing ROI. You can tap this metric easily once you have a good handle on your conversion rates:
There are a number of tools you can use to assist you in your conversion optimization efforts, including tools that analyze your current layout, ones that support you by automating experiments and AB tests, and ones that thoroughly measure your results.
These are just a few of my favorites:
(Image Source: Unbounce)
(Image Source: Hello Bar)
(Image Source: OptinMonster)
(Image Source: VWO)
(Image Source: Optimizely)
Most of these tools I’ve outlined have specific areas of expertise, and they all offer something different when it comes to user experience. Most of them offer free trials, so I encourage you to give each of them a try and see which ones will be the best fit for your brand—you may even end up using more than one.
Conversion optimization is one of the best marketing strategies you can pursue because it, by extension, can improve the return of all your other marketing strategies. As you bring in more traffic with tactics like SEO, social media marketing, or even paid advertising, conversion optimization will help you maximize the potential value of those visitors.
Everything in marketing comes down to revenue, and conversions are the final gateway in getting that revenue. Don’t underestimate the importance of this strategy, and remain committed to your ongoing improvements.