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This guide is designed to help you better understand the value that your website and online presence brings to your business.  It will also demonstrate how your website and online presence can help grow your business, not only in theory, but will also include several practical examples with case studies.

While I’m not suggesting this guide as a replacement for professional web design, development and digital marketing services, it should at the very least inform and educate you on the basics of online marketing and help you make informed decisions moving forward with your business.

B2B and B2C businesses can benefit from this guide as most of what is covered will be applicable to both types of businesses.

Why Your Business Needs a Website

The fact that your business needs a website may seem obvious, however I still encourage you to read this section.  

Your website is likely your business’s most valuable marketing tool and it is imperative that you understand its full value and potential so it can be realised.

According to a report released in 2016 by B2B research firm Clutch, 46% of small businesses still don’t have a website.  The reasons behind this range from they’re too expensive to they’re too time intensive to maintain.  The most popular justification however is that having a website isn’t necessary for their business or industry.

Is it Really too Expensive?

The question isn’t, is it too expensive to have a website built and maintained, but is it too expensive not to have a website?

If you provide local goods and/or services, for example, and people are searching for your goods and/or services in your area, how will you reach these people if your website isn’t on the first page of the search results?  You won’t!  Guess who will though.  Your competitors.

Let’s use the search term “catering Vancouver” as an example.  A quick query using the Google Keyword Planner shows around 720 searches per month for that keyphrase.

catering-vancouver-keyword-planner

This example doesn’t take into account other similar keywords such as “Vancouver catering” which has about 390 searches per month or other terms like “catering company Vancouver”.

The top result for the search term “catering Vancouver” will have a click through rate (CTR) of about 30%, so would send about 216 visitors to the website that ranks for the #1 position for the search term “catering Vancouver.”  That’s 216 highly targeted visitors each month, some of which will turn into customers and repeat customers.  This could be worth thousands of dollars each month to a catering company in Vancouver.

If you knew someone with a catering company in Vancouver and they said to you, “I don’t think I need a website,” what would your response be now?  Not having a website and not being on the first page of Google for relevant searches could mean the difference between their success and failure.

Is it Really too Time Intensive to Maintain?

Absolutely not!  Modern content management systems such as WordPress make updates, maintenance and backups fairly simple.  Most agencies also offer maintenance plans for a low monthly fee for businesses that would rather focus on more important business matters.

Is it Really Necessary to Have a Website?

It’s funny that in this day and age this question still needs to be answered.  

81% of customers do online research before making a purchasing decision.  This should tell you, especially if you are selling a product where you need to make sure your customers are finding the right information about your products online.

If you’re a B2B business, a staggering 94% of your customers will do online research before making a decision.

  • 77% use Google search
  • 84.3% check business websites
  • 34% percent visit 3rd party websites
  • 41% percent read user reviews

Yes, 84.3% check business websites before making a decision!  

Hopefully, by now you should understand that your business absolutely needs a website.  If you do not have a website you are guaranteed to lose a lot of potential customers, clients and money.

How to Most Effectively Use Your Website and Leverage Your Online Presence

Now that we’ve established unequivocally that your business needs a website, let’s outline how your business can get the most out of it and what you should be focusing on as a business owner.

What Your Website Can Do For Your Business

  • Generate new leads
  • Make sales (products, courses, consulting services, memberships)
  • Educate potential buyers
  • Reduce workloads
  • Generate brand exposure

Notice how I don’t list things like your website can show fancy animations, slideshows, etc?  That’s because to a business, those things don’t matter.  Customers don’t care about them either.  They add no value and often just serve as distractions.  When’s the last time you heard someone say, “you should check out this site, it has such a cool slideshow and when you hover over a product there’s this really cool animation!”?

I’m always surprised when I start working with some business owners and they focus on and want to invest in these types of things that frankly don’t matter.  They’re under the impression that flashy graphics and logos attract customers and give them an edge over their competitors.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  

Your customers want great service, good pricing, value, ease of use, straightforward navigation and fast load times.  These are the things that generate recommendations, referrals and contribute to business growth.

That being said, it is still important to have a professionally designed site as it lends credibility to your business and brand.  In fact, a poorly designed website can actually hurt your business!  9% of customers in a recent survey done by brightlocal.com in 2016 said a bad or ugly website can put them off using a local business.  34% said a “clear & smart” website gives a business credibility.

What Business Owners Should Be Focusing On

As a business owner, you should be focusing on growing your business.  Here are some examples of what you should be focusing on:

  • Generating high quality traffic to your website
  • Generating new leads from your website
  • Better qualifying leads through your website
  • ROI from your online presence and digital marketing campaigns
  • Search rankings for valuable keywords
  • Clear and concise copy and messaging
  • Conversion rate optimization (CRO)
  • Usability and navigation
  • Content and content marketing
  • Customer service
  • Pricing
  • Value provided

Now that you understand where it’s important to focus your attention on your website, it’s time to begin looking at how this all works and how these points can be used to grow your business.

Building Your Website and Online Presence

If you’re now considering having a website built for your business or having your existing website updated, it’s important that you find the right person or agency to work with.  

When looking for the right person or agency to work with, make sure they’re asking the right questions.  They should be asking and helping answer questions like:

  • What business goals do you want to achieve online
  • The value you’re looking for your website to bring to your business
  • How you’re going to attract targeted visitors to your website
  • Who your ideal customers are
  • What your business does
  • What differentiates your business from it’s competitors

If you don’t have clear answers for all of these questions, that’s OK.  Whoever you are speaking with should be able to help you answer these questions.  If they’re not asking these questions or don’t have good answers that should be a red flag.

Answers to these questions will help formulate a solid plan for helping your business establish a strong online presence and will also help contribute to meaningful design choices.

Design is About Communication

Good design choices should facilitate clear and simple communication about your business, its products, its services and how it can provide your customers with the solutions they’re looking for.

Some things to consider

  • A professionally done design conveys credibility.
  • Colour can communicate many different things very quickly.
    • Pink will have a greater appeal to women than men.
    • Banks, investment brokers, green companies use the color green to quickly communicate what they do.
    • Red can be used to communicate passion, love, intensity, horror and much more.
    • Colour combinations are also great communication tools.  Red and green (Christmas, holiday season), yellow and violet (Easter), orange and black (halloween) , red and black (scary, bold, intense), pink and light blue (baby), red and orange and yellow (Fall), green and brown (environmentally friendly).
  • Images can be processed 60,000 faster than text according to some studies.  What does this mean?  If you can replace text with an image, do it!
  • People expect certain elements to be in certain places.  For example, logins are often in the top right as well as shopping carts.  Moving these to a different location will only result in frustrated and confused visitors and lost revenue.

If you’re working with a web designer and asking for revisions, first ask yourself if what you’re asking for has a clear business reasoning.  Will it help your customers better find what they’re looking for?  Will it lead to more sales?  Will it make your site easier to use?  Does it help better communicate what your business does?

“I think it would look cool” is not a good reason and you should expect pushback from your designer if they know what they’re doing.

Generating Traffic

Let’s assume now that you have a great website.  It’s professional, it clearly communicates what your business offers and it’s easy to use.  This is a great first step!

The question now though is how to get eyes on your site.  It’s very similar to launching a new business or product.

There are several different channels you can target, each of which is unique.  These channels include search engines, paid search, social media, display ads, referral traffic and direct traffic.

In this guide we’re going to give a fairly in-depth overview of both search traffic and paid search traffic as these are two areas that Stratosphere Digital specializes in.

Not All Traffic is Created Equal

First, it’s important to understand that not all traffic is created equal.  Some traffic will drive qualified leads and sales, while other traffic will result in nothing more than wasted bandwidth.

Imagine that you place an ad for a high-end watch on a website with funny cat videos.  It will generate traffic to your website, but will it make sales?  Probably not.  The ad probably won’t even pay for itself.  The targeting is all wrong and users are not in buying mode.

Now imagine that you place the same ad on a website about stocks and investments.  Do you think the likelihood of sales coming from that website is greater than traffic from the funny cat video website generating sales?  Absolutely!

Finally imagine you place the same ad on a website about high-end watches.  Now the targeting is great and you’ll likely have users who are further along the sales cycle.

When you are defining a traffic generation strategy you want to make sure you are targeting the right kind of traffic.

Searches are no different.  Each search term carries different intent.  Search terms with words like “buy,” “comparison,” “best,” and so on will drive more valuable traffic as the person searching is in buying mode or close to making a decision as to which product to buy.

Search Traffic

Many businesses expect traffic to start coming from search engines immediately.  You may get some searches for your business name, but that’s about it unless you invest in search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).  

Google uses over 200 ranking factors to decide how a website and web page should rank.  If you’re looking for an exhaustive list, there’s none better than the one compiled by Brian Dean.

In this guide we are going to cover the most important ranking factors.

Keywords

“Keywords” are one or more words used for a search.  For example “shoes,” “best shoes,” “best red shoes.” These are all keywords and every keyword is unique.

Each keyword has different:

  • Search volume
  • Intent
  • Competition
Search Volume

The more search volume a keyword has, the more traffic it could potentially bring to your site if you were to rank for it.  However, more is not always better.  More search volume usually means more competition.  

Competition

Remember, you’re not the only one who wants to rank on the first page for certain keywords and there are only 10 spots on the first page.

At Stratosphere Digital we use several tools to gauge competition for keywords including the MozBar and Ahrefs.

Let’s take a simplified look at how we use the MozBar to gauge the competition for any given keyword.

The MozBar is an extension for both Firefox and Chrome.  An extension is basically an app for your browser.

The MozBar presents two metrics, domain authority (DA) and page authority (PA).  Each is given a score from 1 to 100.  1 being the worst and 100 being the best.

Domain authority is a metric which correlates to how well a website should rank in search engines overall.

Page authority is a metric which correlates to how well a specific web page should rank in search results.

DA tends to have a higher correlation with better search rankings.  Look at how Wikipedia articles with a PA of 1 will show above other pages with a higher PA, but lower DA.

So, simplistically speaking, to gauge the competition for any given keyword we’d first visit the page on your website you’d like to rank on the first page of Google. We’d then make sure the MozBar is active then take note of the page’s DA and PA.  

We’d then go to Google, type in the keyword and look at the results with the MozBar active.  We’d look at the DA and PA of each result and see if your DA and PA are close to any of those results.  If it’s close, it may be simply be a matter of on-page optimization (more on that soon).  If not, we’d have to start building links to your site (more on that soon as well).

If this isn’t quite making sense yet, don’t worry, we’ll cover an example shortly.

Intent

Keywords with intent are more valuable than keywords without intent.  Words like “buy,” “shop,” “comparison,” “best,” “guide,” and so on, demonstrate intent.  These words show that the person searching is in buying mode.

Another way to gauge intent is to log into the Google Keyword Planner and under “get search volume data and trends” enter your keyword.  It will return the search volume for that keyword along with how much people are paying for a single click using Google Adwords.  The higher the price, the more valuable the keyword, generally speaking.

When we look for keywords to target, we try to find keywords with intent.

An Example

Let’s take the keyword “shoes” as an example.

shoes-keyword-planner

Traffic

Wow!  About 1.5 million searches per month!  The traffic is definitely there.

Intent

Is there any sort of intent inferred from this search term though?  No.  “Shoes” is incredibly vague.  What kind of shoes?  Mens, womens, blue, green, boots, heels, leather, cheap?  Is the searcher even looking for shoes to buy?

Some of this traffic will convert into sales, but users aren’t going to easily find exactly what they’re looking for.

That being said, because the traffic is so high, it would be worth ranking for this term depending upon the competition.

Competition

Here’s what the MozBar shows.

shoes-competition

You can see that every website that ranks for the search term “shoes” on the first page has a high domain authority and usually a high page authority.

Unless you are a business with very deep pockets and have millions of dollars to invest in your SEO efforts, you will likely never rank for such a broad term like “shoes”.

Introducing Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords are keywords that contain at least three words.  These keywords usually have less traffic than broader terms, but they are easier to rank for and usually include clearer search intent.

Let’s now look at the keyword “shoes for plantar fasciitis”.

Traffic

planter-fasciitis-keyword-planner

Wow!  This is more than I expected.  We can see there’s very good search volume.  About 15,000 per month.

Intent

I wouldn’t say the intent here is perfectly clear, but the keyword is quite specific and it’s going to be easy to match users searching for this with what they’re looking for.  We still don’t know what they’re looking for exactly, but we have a good idea.

It’s also worth noting that the suggested bid for this keyword is $1.68 vs. under $1 for the keyword shoes.  This suggests that this keyword is more valuable.

Competition

Now I wish I had a shoe business and sold shoes for people with plantar fasciitis.  Some of these results have low DA and PA and are just waiting to be bumped out.

Have a look below at the search results with the MozBar active.  Some of these websites have a DA of only 16!

shoes-for-planter-fasciitis-serps

Now we’ve found a keyword with traffic, intent and low competition.  So how exactly do we go about ranking for this term?

Website Optimizations with SEO Benefits

First, your website needs to be humming along.  It should load quickly, be secure, work well on mobile devices and Google should know it exists.

  • Your website should load in under 3 seconds.  Google rewards faster loading sites with better search positions.  Enable caching, minimize scripts etc.
  • Consider switching to https protocol instead of http as it is more secure and can correlate with better search rankings.
  • Your website should be run through Google PageSpeed Insights and each recommendation should be worked through and implemented.
  • All of your website’s images should be optimized.
  • Your domain should be registered for as long as possible.  This tells Google you’re in it for the long haul.
  • Use a content delivery network (CDN) like CloudFlare to deliver scripts, images and other files from locations close to your users.  This helps increase site speed.
  • Submit your sitemap to Google and Bing.  This helps your website and web pages show up in Google and Bing faster if it’s new and also helps both search engines understand your site structure.

Once this list has been worked through, you should have a site that search engines are starting to like.

On-Page Optimization

On-page optimizations are page optimizations that can be made to specific pages that are within the webmasters control.

  • If you want to rank for a keyword, it needs to be included in your page.  It should be in your page’s title, in your header 1, in the body of your text somewhere (if it makes sense), in your meta descriptions and your alternate image descriptions.
  • If possible and if it makes sense, your page should contain at least 1,500 words.  Google likes in depth articles and pages.
  • Try not to use more than one header 1 per page.

Google is much smarter than it used to be and can discern the meaning behind certain keywords.  Google understands that phrases like “How to,” “how do I,” and “best way to” are all similar.  So keywords don’t necessarily need to be exact.  The meaning should be the same or similar however.

Local Search

Many businesses don’t need to rank for international searches.  Many businesses only do business locally and Google knows this and presents different results based on the geographical region.

For example, a barber in Tacoma doesn’t care if people in Tokyo find his business.  He wants to people to find him who are located in Tacoma.  It would also be a waste of time for him to put articles targeting search terms like “top hairstyles 2016” as it’s not going to attract local website visitors.

For this barber there will be very few search terms he will want to target.  “Barber Tacoma,” “Tacoma Barber,” etc., would be good targets.

Optimize Your Homepage

For local businesses there are several necessary steps we take in order to help a local business rank for local searches.

First, we make sure the business’s homepage is optimized for these local searches by including these keyword throughout your homepage.

If you do business in more than one area, we will create a new page for each area targeting one local keyword on each page.

Submit Your Google Business Listing

Next, we submit your Google Business Listing.  This has several benefits.

  • It tells Google that your business is real.
  • It can give your business extra exposure through the Google Business Listings in both the search results and through Google Maps.
  • It confirms that your business operates within a certain geographical region thus boosting your local search results.
  • Customers can leave reviews thus creating social proof.
  • Mobile users can phone your business with one click right from the search results.
Other Directories

It’s also a good idea to submit your business to a handful of legitimate directories.  Yelp, Yellow Pages and Chamber of Commerce are all great.

Backlink Building and Why Backlinks Matter

A backlink is a link from another site to your site.

Sometimes after explaining what a backlink is to a business owner they get it backwards.  They say “Great, I’ll just make thousands of links from my website to other websites.”   But that’s backwards, they have to link to you.  Then they say “how do I get people to link to my website and why does it matter?”.

Why Backlinks Matter

Links to your site are the biggest deciding factor in how search engines determine how your website and web pages should rank in search results.  They are essentially votes for your website and web page they link to.

The thing is though, not every backlink is created equal.  Remember when we were discussing domain authority (DA) and page authority (PA)?  Basically speaking, the higher these are on the linking site, the more “link juice” they’ll pass, or in other words, the more weight their vote carries.  These links from other sites will boost your DA and will boost the PA of the page they are linking to.

Something else to be aware of is the website’s relevancy.  If you’re an auto parts dealer and you get a link from a website about baking it won’t pass as much link juice as a website that’s related to auto parts.

Building backlinks can range from simple to complex. I’m not going to go into great detail, but I will provide a few methods and examples.

Low Hanging Fruit
  • You probably know some people with websites.  Ask them for a link to your website.  These probably won’t be great links, but they should pass some value.
  • Chamber of Commerce.
  • If you carry products and your suppliers have a list of businesses that sell their products, make sure you’re in that list.
  • Relevant directories.
Some Other Backlink Building Ideas
  • Start a scholarship and reach out to schools and universities.  Ask that they list your scholarship on their scholarship pages and link to your website.
  • Broken link building.  We use this technique quite often at Stratosphere Digital.  We find broken links to similar pieces of content then contact the webmaster and ask if they’d consider replacing the broken link with a link to your content.  It’s a bit technical and does require good content, but this technique can be incredibly effective.
  • Write testimonials for products or services you’ve used.
  • Guest blogging.  This can be quite time intensive, but it can get you some very high quality links.
  • Have and create content worth linking to.  If you don’t have great content, link building will be incredibly difficult.
  • Send your products to influential bloggers and ask for a review with a link to the product on your website.

There are literally hundreds of link building methods.  For an exhaustive list, visit http://pointblankseo.com/link-building-strategies.

How Not to Build Links

You may be thinking something along the lines of why not just go comment on a bunch of blogs and spam some links?

Link building has changed a lot over the years and spammy link building tactics no longer work.  Dropping a link to your website in a comments section and spamming forums with links to your website for example are bad practices.  In fact, do this too much and Google will likely penalize your site as they will view your site as low quality and spammy.

These are the kinds of services being offered that you receive in your junk folder.  “We’ll build 100 backlinks for $50,” “best SEO services $100/mo.”  These are all a waste of money and will actually hurt your website.  These types of services will spam comments on low quality websites, hack websites to inject links and all sorts of other nasty stuff.  The second Google detects this (and they will) your site will be de-indexed and blacklisted and you may as well call it quits.

Follow and NoFollow Links

Another thing to be aware of are dofollow and nofollow links.  Nofollow links provide no value for search engine rankings.  Nofollow links are generally found wherever someone can post content on a site other than their own.  The reasoning behind this is to prevent people from spamming comment sections and the like in order to boost their search engine rankings.

You can only tell by inspecting the HTML if a link is follow or nofollow.  If a link is nofollow it will look something like:

<a href=”signin.php” rel=”nofollow”>sign in</a>

Notice where it says rel=”nofollow”.

If it is a dofollow link it will look something like:

<a href=”signin.php”>sign in</a>

The rel attribute isn’t set.

This is getting pretty technical.  The main thing to remember is if you can easily get the link by posting the content yourself on another site, it’s probably a nofollow link.

And finally, you should have some nofollow links pointing to your site.  Having no nofollow links looks unnatural in Google’s eyes and in fact could throw up a red flag.

As long as you’re not spamming you’re fine.

Paid Search

This section is not meant to be a “how to,” but rather an introduction to how AdWords can help drive traffic to your website as well as some core concepts on how AdWords can be used most effectively.

AdWords can send traffic to your website on demand.  If you want your website to show up in the search results for certain keywords, you can simply bid on them.  Look at the image below for the search “shoes”.

You can see there are four ads that show before the organic search results show.  Ads have the word “Ad” beside them with a green background.

Businesses are paying for these spots because the traffic for the search term “shoes” does turn into sales.

How Successful Adwords Campaigns are Run

Setting up and running an AdWords campaign is simple enough, but running a successful campaign is a different matter.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee a successful AdWords campaign but there are steps that can be taken to maximize chances for success.

Make Sure You’re Selling Something People Want

First, it’s important that you’re offering a product or service that people actually want.  It doesn’t matter how clever your marketing is or how well targeted your ads are.  If people don’t see any value in what you’re offering you won’t make sales.

Understand Your Sales Cycle

This can take trial and error, but experience can help a lot.

If you’re selling a high ticket item like luxury yachts, you may not want to send visitors to a page filled with yachts and add to cart buttons below them.  They probably don’t trust your organization yet enough to make a multi-million dollar purchase right off the bat.

In this case it would be a better idea to offer something like a white paper, ebook or something similar where you capture their email address and/or phone number then slowly work these leads through your sales funnel.

With low ticket items like a Lego set or Swiffer Sweeper, you may be able to go straight for the sale.  You will have a higher chance of success though if the person visiting your site is already familiar with your brand.

If a campaign isn’t working it’s possible that it’s due to skipping ahead through the sales cycle.

The best way to remedy and diagnose the problem is through experience and testing.  More on testing later.

Keyword Targeting

Remember that different keywords carry different intent and different value.  

A good and simple way to gauge the intent of a keyword is to simply type it into Google and see if any ads show for that keyword.  If ads are showing, that means businesses are bidding on that keyword and making sales from it.  If no ads show, it likely means no one has been able to successfully make more than they’re spending on that keyword.  It could also be that it simply hasn’t been discovered, but that isn’t likely.

Demographic Targeting

Google AdWords has powerful targeting options.  The better your targeting the more success your campaign will have.

If you’re selling skateboards for example, you’ll probably want to target teenaged males or their parents.  You can even narrow down your targeting even further to interests, geographical regions and more.

Failing to target the right audience will cost your business a lot of money and targeting the right audience will save a lot in ad spend.

It often takes time to fine-tune targeting as campaigns will produce data and insights into how its targeting can be improved.  

Remarketing

Remarketing is one of the most powerful tools available to digital marketers.  It allows them to target only users who have visited your website or certain pages on your website.

Most of your visitors will not make a purchase or leave you any way of contacting them again in the future.  Remarketing however, allows you to display ads to past website visitors on other websites and even video ads on YouTube.

Google AdWords allows you to set up a “remarketing tag” which will essentially start capturing a list of your website visitors which you can start remarketing to in the future.

Although we’re not going to address social media marketing in this guide, you can also set up something similar using Facebook.  You can show ads only to people who have visited your site to them on Facebook.

The average click-through rates on remarketing ads is about 10x greater than non-remarketing ads.  This should tell you that implementing a retargeting campaign is a no-brainer .

Ad Copy

Writing good ad copy is part art and part science.  Ad copy that catches your audience’s attention and resonates with them will give ads a much higher click through rate (CTR) than ads that don’t.

Ad copy should also align with the landing page visitors are sent to.  If users are landing on a page that isn’t closely related to what’s been advertized, they will quickly leave the page and ad spend will have been wasted.

Split Testing

Google AdWords allows several similar ads to be run at the same time.  This provides the opportunity to gauge each ads performance, then only leave the best performing ads running.  This is called split testing.

The results of split testing are often surprising and can lead to much cheaper ads and thus a much better ROI.

Here’s a case study:

An apartment community that put the suburb instead of the city in their headline saw a nearly 45% boost in their click through rate.

Headline 1: New Polaris Apartments = 14.80% CTR

Headline 2: Top Columbus Apartments = 8.55% CTR

It’s a good idea to try testing only one different element with each test.  Several tests can be run at the same time, but generally speaking, only one element should be changed with each split test such as the header or copy.  The header and the copy should not be changed in a single test as it will be impossible to tell if the header or the copy is helping or hindering.

Aside from split testing ad copy, different demographics can also be split tested.

Sometimes it can be a good idea to run broader targeting.  This will return valuable data on who is clicking through your ads and who is converting into leads and sales.  You can then refine your targeting based on this data knowing for certain you’re making the right targeting decisions.

It’s always a good idea to start small.  The top performing ads and the right targeting first need to be found through testing.  Only then should the campaign be scaled.

Even after a campaign is working, split tests should still be run as it will only continue to increase the return on ad spend.

Adwords Conclusion

Many successful businesses have been built and scaled using Google AdWords.  AdWords isn’t right for every business, but if it looks like a good fit for yours it definitely deserves serious consideration.

The Conversion Process and Your Funnel

You may not realise it, but if your website has a newsletter signup, a contact form, sells products or has any sort of form that captures visitor information, it has a conversion funnel.

First, let’s define what a conversion is.  A conversion can be any action your user takes.  Filling out a form, downloading a file, purchasing a product or calling your business.

So, what is a conversion funnel?

A conversion funnel is a way of visualising the process your customers go through before becoming paying customers.  If you can understand and analyze this process, you can improve each part of the process and thus increase conversions and sales.

Here’s a very simple funnel visualization.

funnel-1

  • The top of your funnel is about building awareness.  You’re making sure people know your business, products and services exist.
  • Next you’re building interest in what you’re offering.  Notice how this part of the funnel is smaller?  Not everyone who is aware of your business, product or services is interested.
  • The funnel is getting even smaller now because not everyone who has expressed interested is necessarily going to desire what you’re offering.
  • And finally action.  The action could be to make a purchase or sign up for an email list.

Every funnel will convert differently.  What is certain however is that not everyone will make it from top to bottom or even from each stage to the next.  In fact it’s common for funnels that see only 2% to 3% of people make it from top to bottom. Most ecommerce stores see about 2% to 3% of their visitors actually make a purchase.

Here’s an example of a typical lead generation funnel on a website.  The offer is a free ebook.

  • First, it creates awareness for the free ebook.  The offer for the free ebook is put in the sidebar or in a popup.  The popup will likely create more awareness as it’s going to be in everyone’s face.
  • If there’s a compelling headline and the ebook looks interesting, the visitor may click the “learn more” or “download now” button.  This brings them to a page with more information and a form where they can enter their email address and download the ebook.
  • If the page with more information describes something the visitor is looking for they should move to the desire stage.
  • The action stage is where they’d fill in the form and download the ebook.

Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the process or running split tests in order to improve the conversion rates of a page on your website.

For example, if we wanted to increase the number of visitors to our website that contact our business from 1% to 2% we’d start doing CRO.

You can’t optimize what you can’t measure.  There are many ways of collecting data about your website’s visitors and one of the best is Google Analytics.  At Stratosphere Digital we set up Google Analytics on every new site we build.

Something Google Analytics can help measure are conversions.  Google Analytics can help track how many users make it through each stage of your funnel so optimization on your funnel can take place.

Let’s say we have a funnel for an ebook like the one outlined above and it converts like so:

funnel-2

In this scenario we have to drive a lot of traffic to get only 4 people to download the ebook.  Now let’s say we double the traffic.

funnel-2-increase-awareness

The outcome is pretty obvious.  Another way we could increase awareness would be by moving the offer of the free ebook from the sidebar to a popup if it hasn’t been already.  This would increase awareness by getting the offer in front of more people’s eyes.

What if you could increase interest from 10% to 20%?

funnel-2-increase-interest

That’s right, you’ll have the same outcome as if you had doubled your traffic.

Some ideas for generating more interest would be testing different headlines, covers, copy, images, etc. one at a time.  The performance would then be measured using goals in Google Analytics.

The same conversion rate optimization process can be done to the desire and action stages.  Testing different copy, different offers and even colors can all impact conversion rates.

A Case Study

A client of Stratosphere Digital who’s had a small , but successful online store for many years wanted to grow their mailing list faster.  They were only seeing about 10 new subscribers each month.  They already had decent traffic, but were failing to capture many new leads.  They had a newsletter signup form at the top of the sidebar on their blog which was driving the newsletter subscriptions.

I suggested coming up with a better offer than a generic newsletter subscription.  After some brainstorming we came up with the idea of offering a “toolkit” in the form of a PDF.

Next we had to present the offer to visitors (create awareness) and what better way than a popup.  Yes, many people hate popups , but the fact is, they work.

The result?  Newsletter subscriptions went up 8 times!  So instead of adding 10 or so subscribers per month, they were now adding 80.  

After a single split test of the popup we managed to grow that an additional 50% to 120 subscribers a month.  This split test was designed to increase interest as well as desire.

Some of these subscribers will turn into paying customers over time as they receive regular emails containing sales, news and helpful information.

Conclusion

While I haven’t gone into great detail on funnels or CRO, you should now have a basic grasp of what a conversion funnel is, what conversion rate optimization is and why these are important.

Landing Pages

A landing page is any page on a website that is the first page a website visitor lands on.  

Visitors are typically sent to landing pages from digital marketing campaigns and not to the homepage.

For example, if a business sells computers and it’s running an ad for laptop computers, it would be best to send visitors to a landing page with laptop categories, not its homepage with all of its services, tablets, desktops and laptops.  It’s a best practice to send users to the most relevant page and content possible.  This will lead to more conversions and a much better user experience.

If a business is running an ad for a specific laptop model, it should link the ad to a page with information about that specific laptop.

Dell has over 1000 landing pages on their website and they saw up to a 300% boost in conversions vs. generic web pages according to Ion Interactive.

Landing Page Best Practices

There are several best practices which should increase landing page conversion rates.  These are only best practices and only split testing will provide definitive data.

Compelling Headline

Careful thought should be given to how your headline can address your customer or client’s pains and expectations.  

Take the following two examples:

“Shoes for People with Plantar Fasciitis”

“The Only Shoes that Eliminate Pain Caused by Plantar Fasciitis”

The first headline doesn’t address any sort of pain point and sets no expectations.

The second headline addresses the pain (literally), and sets the expectation that it will be eliminated if you use these shoes.

The only way to truly know if you’ve found the right headline is through split testing, but experience is a good start.

Value Proposition

You value proposition is a statement that explains with clarity:

  • How your product or service helps solve a customer or client’s problem
  • Specific benefits
  • Why your ideal customer should buy from you and not your competitors

Your value proposition should be the first thing your visitors see on your homepage, should be  present across all of your major pages, and should be easy to read and understand by anyone.

Your value proposition is about communication.  It’s not a slogan, it doesn’t have to be catchy.

For a more in-depth look at value propositions I encourage you to visit here.

Compelling Image – The Hero Shot

If you’re selling a product on this page, it should be shown at the top.  Better yet, it’s a great idea to show someone using the product as this can immediately help demonstrate how the product works and helps the visitor imagine themselves using it.

If you’re providing services, it may be a good idea to have a shot of your team, or a happy smiling customer.  

Only testing will reveal which hero shot is best, but experience is also a good guide.

Benefits vs. Features

Benefits will usually trump features unless you are selling a product to a very technical industry.

For example, it’s a good idea to describe how your service or product will help the customer or client solve their problem.  Benefits should address your customer’s pains.

For example, if you’re selling accounting software targeted at small businesses they may be experiencing the following pains:

  • Professional accountant is too expensive
  • Too much time being spent on bookkeeping
  • Too much paper

So, these should be addressed near the top of the landing page.

  • Saves time
  • Saves money on accountants
  • Paper-free

The last thing you want to do is lead with features as these don’t address any of the core reasons a customer would be searching for a solution.  Don’t lead with:

  • Saves multiple file types
  • 5 users per account
  • Integrates with other accounting software

Features are great and they are important, but they should be below the benefits generally speaking.

Video

If you have the budget and time, a video can have a dramatic impact on your conversion rates.  Your video should follow much of the same pattern as your landing page. Include benefits, social proof, and so on.

Social Proof

Unbounce.com defines social proof as “the positive influence that’s generated when people find out everybody’s doing it.”

In 1937, Sylvan Goldman introduced the first shopping cart at his Humpty Dumpty supermarket in Oklahoma City, but people were hesitant to use the.  Men found them effeminate as it reminded them of pushing around a baby buggy.  Women found them demeaning as they were used to carrying their groceries.

Mr. Goldman’s solution to this problem was ingenious.  He hired people to push shopping carts around his supermarket for 2 years.  What happened?  People started using them!

This is a perfect illustration of the power of social proof.

So how can we include social proof on your website?

  • Testimonials
  • Good reviews
  • Client list
  • Number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers if the numbers are high enough
  • Number of subscribers to your mailing list if the numbers are high enough

Your social proof should be relevant.  Testimonials, for example, should describe how your products or services have helped your customers or clients succeed.

Ultimately what you’re trying to convey is that other people have used your products or services and they’ve had good outcomes.

Call to Action

If you want your website visitors to take action you have to ask them to.  You also have to be very direct.

Above the Fold

Above the fold is a term that comes from print media.  It is the upper half area of the front page of a newspaper where an important news story or photograph is located.

The term is also often used by web marketers to describe the portion of a webpage that is visible before scrolling.

Your most important elements need to be above the fold including your headlines, hero shot, value proposition and call to action.

Email Marketing

There’s a proverb in online business and that is “the money is in the list”.

If you’re sending people to your website with pay-per-click ads from AdWords or Facebook for example, it’s extremely important that you capture their email address.  Capturing their email address gives you a free way of contacting these leads as many times as you’d like in the future.

Capturing an email address with a free lead magnet like an ebook or course is almost always better than trying to go straight for the sale as it gives you the opportunity to nurture these leads and for them to become familiar with your products or services.

There’s a lot of debate on the number of times someone needs to be exposed to your ads and brand before making a purchase and it will depend upon the industry your business is in.  Some marketers say three times will work, others believe the “rule of seven” applies.  Microsoft studied the optimal number of exposures for audio messages and concluded that six to 20 was best.

The only way to definitively discover the optimal number will be to test.

Automated Email Campaigns

Once you’ve captured a new lead it needs to be “nurtured.”  You can nurture these leads through automated email campaigns using services like MailChimp.

Automated lead nurturing campaigns are a great opportunity to introduce your company, its products and/or services.

We’re going to cover a very basic example in this guide as automated lead nurturing can get very complex and involved.  For example, leads can be segmented and sent different automated campaigns depending upon how hot or cold that lead is, which can lead to complex branching campaigns which are triggered by certain events.

A simple automated lead nurturing campaign might look something like this:

  • Day 1 – Thank You/Welcome email
  • Day 4 – Links to helpful resources you offer
  • Day 7 – Helpful video
  • Day 10 – Free Webinar
  • Day 14 – Offer for a sales call

This isn’t going to be the most effective lead nurturing campaign, but does serve as a good simple example.

Services like MailChimp provide valuable data on open rates, clicks and unsubscribes.  This data needs to be carefully looked at.  If certain emails aren’t being opened, there’s something wrong with the offer and/or the headline.  If people are unsubscribing in droves, maybe the frequency of emails is too high or you’re not sending relevant emails.

The best way to optimize your email campaigns is going to be through testing and speaking with your leads and customers.

Email Subject Lines

47% of email recipients open emails based on their subject line alone and 69% mark them as spam based on the subject line alone according to http://www.invespcro.com.  

Here are a few more interesting statistics to consider:

  • Personalizing a subject line boosts open rates by 22%.
  • The word “free” can boost open rates by 10%.
  • Creating a sense of urgency or exclusivity can increase open rates by 22% or higher.

Subject lines are arguably the most important part of any successful email campaign and the first thing that should be tested.

Putting it All Together

Now you should have a good understanding of all of the components of a typical successful digital marketing campaign.  Let’s recap the entire process.

From Prospect to Lead to Sale

    • Prospecting – Drive targeted traffic through paid advertising.
    • Lead Generation – Send that traffic to a landing page with a lead magnet.  The lead magnet has to align with your advertizing and target audience.
    • Retargeting – Remarket to any traffic that doesn’t convert to a lead.
    • Lead Nurturing – Start sending an automated email campaign to start nurturing these leads.
    • Make The Sale – Your lead nurturing campaign should include or conclude with emails with a strong CTA.  If you’re selling a high ticket item, your CTA should probably be to set up either an in-person or phone meeting where you’d then close the deal or even nurture you leads even further offline.  If you’re selling low ticket items your CTA could probably be something like “buy now.”

This is by no means the only way to go about making sales online, but is a very good general example designed to introduce you to several online marketing concepts.

Conclusion

You should now have a good grasp on how important your web presence is.  You should also have a better understanding of how successful websites and online strategies are made.

If you are looking for help with your online presence and digital marketing efforts, visit http://stratospheredigital.ca and let us know.  We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks so much for reading and let me know if you have any questions in the comments section.