:: By Martin Greif, SiteTuners ::
There's a working model in the user experience (UX) field that states, roughly, "Your website is a time-delayed conversation between the site owner and the user."
The site owner provides potential answers in the site's pages - the user arrives, asks their questions and decides when the conversation ends. Exactly when that dialogue stops depends on several factors: Maybe the user has converted, and bought something from the site. Maybe the site just isn't right for a particular visitor.
BOTH HAPPEN ALL THE TIME
There is, however, a third possible outcome: a visitor who teeters in between those two states, neither converting nor wanting to end the conversation then and there. That can happen for a lot of reasons.
The user may like the website's offer, but still wants to compare prices. The visitor may almost be ready to buy, but will only decide after one last round of research. Most websites are unprepared for this in-between state, and basically give up on the sale.
If there was any doubt, that can't be you. If the visitor wants to have an extended conversation with a brand, it should have a game plan. An enterprise's delayed conversions effort should be as good as their overall conversions game - anything less is leaving money on the table.
DON'T BE THE ONE TO END IT
Before making sure a marketer is ready for extended conversations with users, they first must make sure they don't shoot themselves in the foot and end it too early. Likewise, brands need to ensure they know which types of conversations tend to do well for the company.
Have funnel-focused plans
Many sites lose out because they are built solely for people who are ready to convert. That's a terrible approach, and one that is likely to make the user want to leave if he or she is in the research phase. A site should have educational content for top-of-the-funnel visitors and sale-optimized pages for those in the bottom-of-the-funnel.
Know high-conversion terms
This is tougher to see now that Google blocks visibility into organic search engine traffic, but marketers need to check Google Webmaster Tools for very specific product searches and AdWords for sale-leaning terms that lead to their site. Not all conversations have the same shot at conversions, and brands need to be able to identify which conversations are likely to end in a win.
FIX LOW-HANGING "ENDERS"
If a marketer is ready for the different types of conversations and is collecting data about which ones tend to do better for their business, the next step is to make sure they do not make basic mistakes when talking to people who are ready to convert.
Shipping cost revealed too late
This is a conversion-killer, plain and simple. Brands must show shipping cost early in the process - say upfront how much they need to order for shipping to be free, and don't lose sales to this. A shipping calculator that shows costs even before the customer starts checkout helps considerably.
No phone number
Marketers cannot stand to lose credibility when trying to make a sale, and phone numbers are critical to establishing user trust. It assures customers that a site is a legitimate business, and that they can reach them if they hit a snag.
GATHER DATA ALONG THEIR VISIT
As a brand converses with the user, it needs to provide enough value to ask for permission to contact the visitor down the line.
Use progressive disclosure for forms
Instead of having very long forms on one page, brands will want to consider having multiple pages for the form, broken out into easy to fill fields. They will be less intimidating to the users, and after they've completed one page they are more likely to fill out the rest - that's the psychological value. On top of that, though, even if they don't complete the fields, they will have given marketers enough to potentially keep the conversation moving.
Ask for the user's email address when value has been shown.
Another reason progressive disclosure can increase conversions is if, after providing the user something of value, a marketer can get his or her email, then they'll have a shot at restarting the conversation with that user at some point. This is one of the things marketers need to get good at post-visit conversions.
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DON'T END THE CONVERSATION YOURSELF
Now let's say that a company's sales funnel isn't especially leaky, and it's converting at a decent rate. That still doesn't mean that brands can afford to give up on people who almost converted. There are a few ways to ensure that brands don't end the conversation with the user the moment they leave their site:
+ Save the user's cart state: Some users add things to their cart, then do not complete the checkout. What usually happens is they compare prices, or they just forget to come back and complete the purchase. Brands will want to do themselves a favor, and make sure they save the state of the cart - all the items users added to the cart should still be there if they come back.
If brands lose the cart state between visits, they're basically telling the user to go take his or her business elsewhere.
+ Use AdWords remarketing: After people leave the site, various sites consider the conversation ended but that does not necessarily have to be the case. Marketers can use AdWords retargeting to advertise to people who viewed an offer on the site. And because they have shown a deeper interest in the offer than the standard visitor, a brand's conversion rate with that crowd should be higher.
+ Use email special offers: That email they filled out from on a site's form? Marketers can use that to present visitors with special offers. Brands should be careful with this tactic and observe the data so that they don't overdo discounts. Essentially, someone who viewed a particular product is more likely to respond to special offers about that product. Marketers need to get the technology right and match the user to the product, and also, to not send the same email to people who viewed the product and bought it - that'll just be annoying.
+ Test emails: Needless to say, brands need to test their email open and click-through rates for special offers.
+ Test offer pages: Likewise, the page users get to when they click through need to be tested, and they can't be the same product page shown to everyone else.
WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
Visitors dictate the pace of the conversation with brands, and they ultimately decide when it's over. It is impossible to convert everyone - every site has a ceiling. That said, those that give themselves an opportunity at converting after the visitor has left the first time are more likely to increase overall conversions in the long run.
Martin Greif brings 25-plus years of sales and marketing experience to SiteTuners where he is responsible for driving revenue growth, establishing and nurturing partner relationships and creating value for its broad customer base.