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Conversion: Roundtable Discussion

Posted on 7.31.2013

By Allison Howen, Associate Editor & Amberly Dressler, Managing Editor

In business, both in the real and digital world, we are all selling something — whether it be products, services or content. Getting the public to buy, however, is where it gets tricky.

Even for enterprises with sophisticated advertising campaigns and large, existing customer bases, getting traffic to online properties (see Website Magazine’s July cover story, “Fishing for Leads — More, Better, Faster”) is just the beginning of moving visitors through sales funnels for the purpose of obtaining conversions. Yet, despite all their efforts, 79 percent of marketing leads will never convert into sales, according to a MarketingSherpa study.

The issue only intensifies with the endless supply of technologies, and the glut of companies found on the Web claiming (and sometimes clamoring) to help enterprises capture conversions. It can be difficult for ‘Net professionals, including merchants, information publishers and service providers, to know what or who to trust. Not to mention that the variety of channels available to acquire customers through (think mobile, social, search, etc.) make it even more complicated for professionals to focus on their true goals of obtaining sign-ups, sales, appointments, subscriptions or downloads.

To assist our readers in their ongoing quest for conversions, Website Magazine has assembled an expert group of CEOs, CTOs, creative directors and marketers to share their insights about today’s state of obtaining more and better conversions on the ‘Net. Each expert will focus on their areas of expertise, whether it be social, mobile, email, design or search. The interviews were grouped into three categories: e-commerce, information publishers and B2B service providers, so that regardless of industry, you can discover pointed and practical advice on how to get customers to buy what you’re selling. Be sure also to visit us on the Web for additional guidance from our roundtable participants.

E-COMMERCE

QUESTION: There is an array of digital channels, each with their own benefits and drawbacks of use. What are the biggest conversion challenges facing e-commerce merchants today?

Rama Ramakrishnan, CQuotient: The biggest conversion challenge is getting your existing shoppers to shop with you again. A lot of attention is currently placed on converting consumers already on your site, but the fact that they are on is already half the battle. For many retailers, their average consumer only shops 2-3 times per year. If you can move that to 3-4 times, then this creates tremendous operational leverage. This is where email comes in. Nine times out of 10, email is the main way retailers are speaking to their existing customers between purchases.

Carin van Vuuren, Usablenet: The main challenge is unrealistic expectations about conversions on mobile devices. It is important to recognize that conversion on mobile will lag behind the desktop for some time, since the use case for mobile is less about buying and more about browsing and searching. Instead, expectations for tablet conversions being as good as or higher than desktop are more realistic, and in step with what many of our clients are experiencing.

Another major challenge is eliminating the barriers or obstacles to task completion on mobile devices. This means that brands need to pay more attention to UX design and streamlining critical user journeys. Adding new elements, like mobile payments, that streamline the path to purchase can help brands overcome these conversion challenges.

Darnell Holloway, Yelp: One of the biggest challenges facing SMBs today is closing the loop between consumers discovering them online and conversions taking place offline. This is exactly why we released our Revenue Estimate tool to help business owners determine the value of Yelp for their companies by connecting customer leads on Yelp with their estimated revenue potential. We also recently introduced Yelp’s Call to Action feature, which helps convert consumers from “browsers” to “buyers”.

 

QUESTION: Consumers are increasingly sophisticated in their digital decision-making. What marketing obstacles can deter consumers from generating conversions on an e-commerce site?

Rama Ramakrishnan, CQuotient: Presenting shoppers with irrelevant products and offers will surely deter them. Many retailers unsuccessfully try to personalize marketing communications (e.g. emails) using the same technology they use to personalize their site.

Site personalization essentially reacts to what the consumer does on the site, while email personalization requires a retailer to predict what a customer wants in advance. To do this, you need to incorporate everything you know about that customer (product tastes, purchase frequencies, seasonality and price sensitivity), not just react to their browse path.

Kim Ann King, SiteSpect: The plethora of choices in an omnichannel world can make it difficult for merchants to ascertain where best to invest for conversions. This affects the consumer as well. Should they take advantage of that mobile coupon from the e-commerce merchant or the free shipping offer on the site? This can lead to too many choices, leading to no conversion at all.

Raj Kadam, Viralheat: Content is a major vehicle to drive conversion, so getting the right content to consumers is key as it is no longer possible to keep users loyal and engaged with sales alone. Social is the way to go for e-commerce companies looking to distribute their content. We are increasingly seeing e-commerce brands distribute their content across different social platforms.

 

QUESTION: There’s more competition than ever for those promoting their businesses on the Web. What strategies can retailers use to increase their brand and product visibility?

Skip Besthoff, InboundWriter: A highly effective strategy is to create unique product descriptions. Recent changes by the search engines, notably Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, penalize “duplicate content”, meaning content that resides multiple places on the Web. Given that most retailers normally borrow product descriptions from manufacturers, these changes will adversely impact a retailer’s ability to get found. The inverse, however, is also true. By writing unique product descriptions, retailers can distinguish themselves and rise above the competition.

Raj Kadam, Viralheat: Retailers should be active on today’s most popular social networks because that is where they will find their desired audiences. Consumers are constantly browsing Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Yelp, etc. and, more importantly, look to these networks when they are in the process of making purchasing decisions, as they seek their peers’ opinions. However, retailers need to understand how to use each network properly, as each has its own unique features and social etiquette.

Darnell Holloway, Yelp: Merchants should advertise where consumers are most likely to find them. According to a study conducted by Nielsen, a whopping 85 percent of consumers find local business information online, where reviews, store hours, deals and maps are just a click away. Currently, 97 percent of SMB advertising is still offline, so we definitely foresee a shift resulting in more SMBs turning to online advertising.

 

QUESTION: Consumers make decisions on whether to shop with a brand in milliseconds, proving image truly is everything. What website design elements prevent conversions in the e-commerce space?

Barry Harley, EYCH2: Unclear buy-now buttons prevent conversions. Make your calls-to-action highly visible. What would you like your audience to do? Call you or subscribe to your newsletter? Other obstacles include too many colors in the palette and the absence of hierarchy in the size and weight of the fonts.

Kim Ann King, SiteSpect: An e-commerce site must illustrate why consumers should purchase from them and not their competitors, remove any elements creating friction in the process (too many steps, too many calls-to-action, cluttered pages, too many form fields), and eliminate uncertainty about entering personal information by displaying a privacy policy or security icon.


EXTRA Helpful Apps: Discover 10 applications that are fueling conversions for local businesses.


 

QUESTION: Shoppers are seeking more intimate and individualized buying experiences. What personalization strategies exist and how can they help retailers increase conversions?

Marcel Munoz, Thanx Media: For e-commerce merchants, there is a race to process as much information as possible to gain insights into their customers. Consumer demographics, order history, clickstream and even browser information all combine to build out dynamic personas that can drive a finer level of personalization.

Rama Ramakrishnan, CQuotient: Consumers today not only want more personalized shopping experiences, but they also expect it. It’s imperative to have customized messages throughout the entire shopping process. By understanding a shopper’s tastes and preferences, a retailer can recommend the right products, at the right time, through the right marketing channel. The most effective strategy is harnessing big data to find nuanced signals about their tastes, predispositions and interests and then to incorporate that into 1:1 marketing.

Kim Ann King, SiteSpect: E-tailers are able to personalize visits based on any number of criteria, and getting the combination right, at the right time, is key to conversion. These criteria include, but are not limited to, specific actions taken during a visit, RFM, origin of visit (such as an organic search or PPC click), day and time parting, language, device and geography.

Barry Harley, EYCH2: The number one strategy is recommendations. Seeing what other users bought and tailoring the recommendations based on previous purchases allows merchants to devise optimum multipackage options.

 

QUESTION: Both consumers and brands are participating in the content economy and it’s shifting the way buyers interact with retailers. What can online merchants do to adapt successfully?

Darnell Holloway, Yelp: User-generated content is changing business’s marketing strategies and how they are discovered. According to a recent Nielsen survey, 70 percent of consumers said that they trust consumer opinions posted online. This means that SMBs now need to focus on earning and maintaining great reputations by providing value as well as excellent customer experiences. We recently conducted an internal study, which found that if a Yelp user mentions “good customer service” in a review, that it was five times as likely to be a 5-star review versus a 1-star review. While online reputations should be built organically (rather than by soliciting reviews), search advertising is a great way to get more eyes on earned reputations.

Carin van Vuuren, Usablenet: Consumers trust their social networks and their peers more than what brands are telling them, pointing to a credibility gap. Product recommendations and peer reviews are a powerful way that brands can connect with the “wisdom of the crowd” and bring authenticity to the shopping experience. User-generated content increases buyer confidence in the product, and therefore has the potential to impact conversions.

Raj Kadam, Viralheat: User-generated content allows e-commerce merchants to see what consumers are saying in real time. Social networks allow consumers to publicly voice their opinions (positive, negative, etc.) to a larger audience than previous feedback methods (e.g. 1-800 number). Social also allows this content to spread quickly through sharing so millions can potentially see it. Online merchants need to directly jump into these conversations and engage with the consumers by answering questions, settling issues, or providing perks and discounts.

 


BONUS: The Future of Information Publishing


 

QUESTION: Consumers are not always ready to buy when retailers want to sell. How does producing content for different buying cycle stages aid in conversions for online merchants?

Josh Dreller, Kenshoo: Internet consumers don’t want ads. They want good content. In a sense, advertisers are becoming publishers by leveraging engaging content to attract their core audiences and using paid media to promote that content. This strategic shift has especially benefited brands that may historically have had trouble driving consumers to their sites. Take for example, Red Bull. Traditionally, it may have been difficult to engage with their customers publishing beverage related content. However, Red Bull has become effective at generating interesting and intriguing content that their core audience likes to consume. This strategy has lifted its brand presence on the Web and helped fuel the brand’s success.

Rama Ramakrishnan, CQuotient: Content marketing helps keep consumers “warm” even when they aren’t ready to buy, so that you are top-of-mind when they are. When done well, content marketing reinforces to the consumer that the retailer knows them, understands them and is relevant to them. Done poorly, however, it becomes an annoyance and risks the consumer no longer having you in their consideration set when they are ready to buy, even if you have the right product, offer or message.

Skip Besthoff, InboundWriter: The higher quality customer a retailer can attract, the more likely that customer is to convert. When content marketing is done right, merchants provide value to customers beyond the products they sell. By informing customers in a genuine manner, merchants build bonds that increase brand loyalty, site visits and social sharing. All these factors contribute to sticky customers and more sales/conversions.


BONUS: Identifying the B2B Funnel


 

QUESTION: The old adage, “If you are not moving, you are standing still” is as relevant on the Web as any other space. What trends do you see shaping the future of e-commerce?

Rama Ramakrishnan, CQuotient: The biggest trend we see right now is the sophistication of the shopper. Thanks to retail leaders like Amazon, which do a fantastic job with site personalization, consumers have come to expect this level of personalized interaction from every retailer they shop with and across all channels. Fair or not, Amazon is setting an expectation that all retailers have to compete with, and it is what consumers want. 

Carin van Vuuren, Usablenet: Usability and user-centered design will become more widely practiced as brands focus relentlessly on eliminating barriers that exist within the mobile path to purchase. This extends to mobile payments, which will continue to grow as consumers seek simplified mobile payment options. We will also see consolidation in commerce platforms, redrawing the landscape and enabling brands to deliver true multi-channel, commerce-enabled experiences. For example, eBay and its technology platforms like eBay Enterprise and PayPal, as well as a number of other adjacent technologies, deliver complete e-commerce solutions to clients.

Finally, the volume of data in the marketplace will lead to better insights about what customers want and need. As a result, the appeal of responsive design will be replaced by next-generation mobile experiences that deliver highly personalized experiences across all channels.

Kim Ann King, SiteSpect: More and more e-commerce companies are using optimization as a way to understand what their consumers prefer and target the kinds of experiences they are looking for. The more an e-commerce company can leverage the cycle of “optimize-learn-repeat,” the better their chances are of moving the needle when it comes to key performance indicators (KPIs). One trend we see is e-tailers moving beyond testing content to actually testing features and functionality; in other words, how a website works, not just how it looks.

INFORMATION PUBLISHERS

QUESTION: The content economy is in a state of flux and finding revenue is proving increasingly difficult for many, from bloggers and newspapers to magazines and books. What are the biggest conversions challenges affecting information publishers today?

Skip Besthoff, InboundWriter: A significant challenge in conversions is connecting with your target audience, developing strong and original content that audiences consume and return for. The Web today is inundated with “me too”, undifferentiated information; users are overwhelmed and unsatisfied. Delivering compelling, informative and unique content is a novelty that consumers value. This will significantly enhance engagement and conversions.

Barry Harley, EYCH2: One of the biggest challenges to overcome is the tendency for information publishers to place too many social icons on or near the content. My suggestion is to eliminate superfluous images or badges. You cannot be all things to all people.

 

SERVICE PROVIDERS

QUESTION: With higher order values and longer lifecycles, what are the biggest conversion challenges affecting business-to-business service providers today?

Josh Dreller, Kenshoo: B2B marketers face many of the same challenges as B2C brands, but they are magnified as the sales cycles are generally much longer and have many more touchpoints along the way. The options for B2B prospects to research your industry or service have grown exponentially in recent years and thus the measurement problem hits very hard here. It’s one thing to try to measure impact and influence over a nine-day B2C sales cycle, but trying to nail down what actually drove a customer to convert across a nine-month (or longer) B2B sales cycle, can be a tough challenge.

RajKadam, Viralheat: The biggest challenge is getting the right content to your audience. Even in B2B conversions, social has become part of the equation to providing the right content or establishing a relationship, as more frequently, businesses are connected with other businesses on social networks.


EXTRA: Content Marketing for B2C Service Providers

In order to target the “right” audience for your consumer-facing business (and hopefully increase conversions based on that audience’s relevance to your offerings), Shelly Towns, VP of Product for Angie’s List , says that B2C service providers must identify where their target audience spends most of their time. Once the “right” network is found, B2C service providers should create content around what their company knows is helpful to the reader, visitor or content consumer. “Finding what your company knows (and does) best will probably take some trial and error, so don’t be afraid to fail at an individual piece of content in a long-term content effort,” said Towns.

 

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