Prioritizing Between Clicks and Brand-Building

January 3, 2010

There actually was a brief time in the early days of the Web when all you had to do was be there, you could buy a URL like “store.com”, and you would be found.  This made marketing decisions very easy, and resulted in both a great brand and tons of business. Those days are long gone. Unlike Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” we’ve all learned that the old adage “if you build it, they will come” just doesn’t work anymore for ecommerce.  In the bricks and mortar world, we can often leverage location, in addition to both offline and online efforts to drive people into our stores.  On the web, location, in the traditional sense doesn’t matter. Location in the search engines and media does, but there are too many search engines and media outlets to know which one counts.  So how do we drive customers and business to the site?

Brand vs. ClicksI like to view marketing and advertising efforts in a continuum between brand building investments and click generation initiatives.  It is interesting how they reinforce each other, but don’t be fooled into thinking that they are the same.   A known brand makes it easier to drive clicks, by providing credibility (or Whuffie!), thus making your lead gen ads much more likely to be clicked on, and conversely, clicks drive brand recognition.  Click generation is the priority for the short term, and should always be your core goal.  Over time though, investment in your brand makes it easier and cheaper to drive clicks.  The good news is that, if you’re just starting out, you can “borrow” a brand, by advertising a known product that you sell on your site, or a celebrity brand endorsement (Tiger Woods—NOT).  This may not get you the sale, since these popular brands will most likely be also promoted by your competitors, but will at least get you the credibility to encourage someone to click on your ads.  From there it’s up to you to convert the visitor to a buyer.

You can spend a fortune experimenting for results. So the challenge becomes, how do you find the time and expertise to effectively run and manage an online campaign to be in the right place at the right time?  What’s the mix between banners, contextual ads, Facebook, social media, paid placement on Google, Yahoo and other search engines, and how do you drive towards that elusive goal of organic optimization.  (And even more so, does your marketing organization understand all these terms?) The good news is that, unlike the offline world, we can measure our efforts, pay for performance, and, if we use our analytics well, maximize our return on our advertising and marketing efforts on the fly.

If you have the expertise, and the time to experiment, you can do this yourself, discovering your own keywords, managing a Google Adsense program, and tracking and optimizing around word choice, time, date, and competitive pressure.  You can also manage your own social network campaign, as long as you have the time to Tweet, Digg, and Blog.  Unfortunately, this effort requires constant attention for cost-effective results. You also need to keep a pulse on the latest trends for your particular audience:  Gen X’ers and older still search on Google, while many Gen Y’s find what they need through Facebook and Youtube.  Unless you can dedicate yourself or a knowledgeable staff to constant optimization, you probably are best off with external help to start.

Help comes in many forms.  You could hire a traditional ad agency.  Most of these firms can manage a web effort. But be careful!  Traditional agencies are modeled around brand building, not lead generation.  They also tend to bill based on time, not results.  Hopefully, you will eventually get to the point of needed their brand building expertise, but I don’t believe that’s the place to start.  The best way to drive traffic is with a firm that focuses strictly on lead generation and SEO optimization.  A firm such as Overdrive Interactive, who provides this service for a fee, is a viable option.  Ideally, you should consider a firm that that has already learned the competitive landscape in your niche, and provides lead generation service on a full pay-for-performance basis.   This may be a double-edge sword, as anyone who is already successful in your market runs the risk of competing with themselves to drive advertising costs up.  But if you can “steal” this service from your competitor, it minimizes your risk, and gives you a partner who is fully committed to the same goals as you:  If they can’t drive business they don’t get paid.  With aligned goals, and focused energy, your risk is minimized, and you are certain of successful growth.

Happy New YearBest wishes to all of my readers for a happy, healthy, and optimized 2010!


I Got Them to My Site – Now How Do I Keep Them? – 10 Primary Obstacles to Conversion

December 6, 2009

Most of my blog entries have been about marketing and driving traffic to your sites.    Clearly the topic of conversion requires lots of in-depth discussion.  But here, as succinctly as I can, is a laundry list of the top 10 no-brainer audits that you should do on your site to keep people from abandoning the cart and leaving before they buy.  Look at your site, and think about these challenges.  It’s a shame to lose a customer after all that you invest in bringing them there!

1: Pay attention to design

Once they’re on your home page or in your store, design and usability are crucial!  Not only must your site be attractive, but calls to action need to be obvious (or more than obvious if possible), so visitors:

  • See your site as credible
  • Understand your offerings
  • Know how to buy
  • Can see where to click
  • Are not overwhelmed with too many choices on the home page or any sub-page.

2:  Don’t ask for too much information too quickly.

Some people would love to be on your mailing list, others just want to buy.  Don’t require registration.  It should be just an option after they checkout. Don’t worry, you can always email them and ask them to register later.   Offer some value, even if it’s just discount offers or a chance to win a prize, to get them on your list.

3:  Write for humans.

Yes, you need to have SEO terms for our friends at Google.  But first and foremost, the customer who visits needs to understand what you are talking about.  Good content first, SEO optimization second.

4:  Fill your categories with product, and remove items when they are out of stock

Abandoned shopping CardNo one wants to look at a category page with less than 5 items.  Keep your category pages broad enough to include 10-30 items.  And unless you are the only seller of an item, if it’s out of stock remove it!  Sell them something you have.  Otherwise they will just go find that out of stock item somewhere else, thanks to your excellent merchandising.

5:  Save cross marketing and recommendations until after the cart entry.

Keep the sales goal in mind.  Get the first item sale into the cart before you send the customer off looking at accessories.  Otherwise, you might lose the whole sale!

6:  Keep the checkout simple.

Cut out unnecessary questions.  Eliminate the VISA/MC/AMEX question, you can figure out what kind of credit card they’re using from the number.   Consider filling in the town/city from the zip code.  Remember me (if I opt-in) for my next order.  If you asked my zipcode for shipping, don’t ask again at checkout. And avoid Captcha image phrases, unless you enjoy frustrating your customers.

7:  Explain shipping time and shipping cost up front.

If the customer needs to pay shipping, tell them how much, and how long shipping will take, right up front.  Don’t make them click around to find the choices, and certainly avoid surprising them at that end, unless the surprise can be a lowered cost.  (It never hurts to delight the customer).

8: Make it easy to contact you.

Don’t hide your contact information, offer a number, email, chat, and any other means for them to talk to a person and get answers quickly – ideally while they are still shopping!

9:  Offer customer reviews, and don’t be afraid of negative ones.

Customers appreciate both the positive and negative reviews.  Don’t be afraid of the bad ones, and don’t edit them out (other than the occasional angry ranter and raver).  If the reviewer’s concerns resonate with the buyer, better we all find out now.  Returns that could have been avoided eat into profit, and don’t build loyalty.

10:  Make sure your product search tool is refreshed often and effective:

If someone is searching for an item, and you have it, it’s an absolute sin to turn them away.  Implement a search tool that pre-fills, accepts miss-spellings, and is as effective as possible in finding the customer what they need.

This list is far from all-inclusive.  But if you start here, I guarantee you can increase conversions, customer satisfaction, and a better return on the investments you keep making to bring new customers to your site.