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Advancing from SEO to CRO: Using AB Testing to Maximize Conversions

Nick-Eubanks_SEO

This entry is a guest post by Nick Eubanks, the VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook and Associates, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter: @nick_eubanks

SEO moves fast.

I realize this contradicts the fact that SEO is a marathon and not a sprint, however I’m not talking about the process or the results, but the industry…

In a recent post by Matt Beswick he compares SEO to “trying to build a house in a fault zone,” and specifically that “by the time you have laid down the foundation, the gound underneath may have shifted.”

I know often times SEO’s focus on the on-page factors before jumping into link building, but there is usually a lot of money conversion left on the table.

Even when you have maxed out your on-page optimization efforts, there is always room to improve the experience and the focus of your content to drive more conversions.

As I showed in my post last week, in many cases non-branded search (earned organic traffic) often accounts for more transactions and drives significantly more revenue. Which means if you are acquiring the organic visitor and not converting them, you just missed a layup.

Optimizing For Conversion

I have always been a firm believer that the job of the SEO is to acquire targeted traffic to the right pages via search engines. In this same vein the job of the CRO is to constantly analyze page analytics and user heuristics to gather data use to inform changes that will increase conversion rates.

There is a lot of overlap between SEO and CRO.

I realize I sound like a broken record, but for a campaign to be successful it needs to close the loop from query to conversion, meeting user expectations and conversion requirements to nurture each prospect all the way through the funnel.

Once on-page SEO has been maxed out, optimization doesn’t stop, but moves into the next stage of the lifecycle; conversion rate optimization. Now that you know how to acquire new visitors (and hopefully are diversifying your inbound traffic channels) it’s time to find out what triggers the emotions that will drive conversion.

The Power of Split Testing

Even if you start small, you need to begin thinking about all the known unknowns.

The fact of the matter is that you may know your customer profile; their pain points, their business cycles, and what they need, but this isn’t enough. You need to accept that 1) you are not your customer, and 2) you don’t know what resonates with them personally.

This is the true power of testing for conversions… it takes the guesswork out of identifying the emotional triggers needed to generate your target conversions, and it all starts with a simple hypothesis.

For example, on one of my projects our target conversion was to have users submit content in the form of a review. We were getting decent traffic to the conversion form page but our conversion rate was abysmal… around 8.25% when we first started.

This may not seem like a low conversion rate, however, our traffic is so highly targeted and qualified that by the time they get to the conversion page there is really no reason for them not to convert; there is no sign-up, cost, or any other impedance that should cause them to bounce, or so we thought.

One of the greatest challenges was to think of what we might be doing wrong, and how we could test these ideas to confirm or deny if any of them were impeding our conversions…

Hello reference cases.

Thanks in huge part to one of the investors on the project for being savvy at, well, being an investor; he knew that re-inventing the wheel would cost more money and worse off, more time, with the opportunity cost being the content we were so desperately after.

What he recommended was that we look at commercially successful websites not necessarily within our industry but that had similar target conversions or conversion paths. He wanted my team and I to scrutinize these reference cases to discern any nuances, no matter how slight.

Here is one of the reference case boards:

The result was a laundry list of items to test.

One of the first differences I noticed was that on one of the major review websites who used a dedicated form like we did to gather user-generated content, they removed all additional page elements that may cause the user to be distracted or leave the page without converting…

So we decided to test this, very simply, by removing all page elements that were not required to create the conversion, including the main navigation.

AB Testing Results

This test resulted in a 63% increase in conversion rate, taking it to 13.44%.

I immediately realized the power of small tests and taking nothing for granted; I was never so happy to begin identifying elements of the site that maybe were sub-par…

The next observation we noticed and decided to test was the addition of social proof, so we added in some recent reviews from other users…

Again, we saw a massive increase in our conversion rate, to the tune of 105%; we were now converting 28.25% of visitors to our conversion form. For more details on recent split tests I have worked on and their actual results, check out my June presentation for Shame On UX.

If you are beginning to salivate at the opportunities that are probably sitting right in front of you take some time and go check out recent results from other people splits tests over at abtests.com

Size Matters

In a very useful study by EricGraham, he looks at a number of major conversion elements when it comes to links and buttons.

This test identifies that conversion rates increase when link behavior provides not only primary link feedback (color change or cursor change) but secondary link feedback (having both color change and cursor change).. he then took this a step further and tested the size of the text.

I found this very interesting because for a long time now I wondered why Woot.com used such a “stupidly large button,” (see image below) but based on these findings and the fact that woot.com is in the Alexa Top 1,000, I imagine this was exhaustively tested.

The Shift From SEO to CRO

If you are a pure-play SEO the idea of using data to design, implement, and analyze tests may seem like a big shift but consider the following:

  1. You most likely already use data to drive your SEO strategies
  2. You’re already using analytics to measure the impact of your optimization campaigns, you have the data you need to measure lift in conversions
  3. Using test results allows you to better inform personas and keyword targeting
  4. You are already an analyst; you are already doing this kind of analysis.

Here’s your action plan to begin shifting your thinking, and more importantly, your doing:

  1. Find a place that you have to look at everyday while you work; a whiteboard, your cube wall, or a whole wall in your office (that’s what we did).
  2. Segment your business or website into categories, starting at the highest level. For example if you sell phone accessories for cars your taxonomy would look like this: automotive > automotive accessories > electronic accessories > mobile phone > accessories.
  3. Identify 10 websites within each category and subcategory that represent the ‘best in class,’ both in terms of revenue (where available) and visitors
  4. Spend time on these sites and take a screenshot of each interface that drives toward conversion starting either with a top-level landing page or the homepage
  5. Take an hour out of every day and glance over your reference cases, look for patterns. After time you will begin to notice things like colors, white space, placement of call to action, supporting content, etc.
  6. Keep a list on a whiteboard, notebook, or your phone of ideas for tests as they come to you.
  7. Try to rank these tests based on your gut-feeling for which may have the greatest impact on conversions.
  8. Start testing. To get started for free you should take a look at Google Content Experiments.

If this post meant something to you… if it inspired you, please send me a quick note on twitter. I am also happy to help you get started and answer any questions you may have, at absolutely no cost, just because I love testing – and can’t get enough of it.

Thanks for reading.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed (Kaiserthesage) and follow Nick on Twitter and Google+.

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How to Develop Conversion-Oriented Link Building Strategies using Google Analytics

Sherlock HolmesAnalysis is a thought-process that has been widely used in SEO. This aspect of the practice allows many of us to outsmart competitors as well as the ever evolving field itself, including the drastic game-changing events/updates that Google continuously employ to its search algorithm.

That’s one reason why Google Analytics has been tremendously useful to SEOs (and it’s great that the tool is free), as it supplies its users with their site’s usage data which can help them improve its performance.

One of the main goals of many web-based businesses is to generate more revenue, conversions and/or transactions to their sites, and many of them invest on link building to serve as a 2nd tier to attain this goal (to mainly support the SEO process to achieve better search rankings).

That mantra for link building could be dead any time soon, seriously, seeing that links that can drive you conversions are the ones that will most likely impact your search rankings.

So instead of pushing your way to obtain higher search rankings through link building, why not use your link building efforts to hit two birds with one stone – to improve both rankings and conversions – by building two strong channels where you can generate conversions (via search and referrals).

In this post, I’ll be sharing a few tips on how you can utilize Google Analytics to mine better insights to develop more targeted and conversion-oriented link building strategies.

Set up Goals in Analytics

To start off, you’ll first need to identify your overall campaign’s objectives and to set up your goals in Google Analytics, to be able to measure and determine the areas where your campaign can work on improving.

There are 4 types of goals that you can set on Analytics (URL destination, visit duration, page/visit and event), but in this case we’ll just focus on URL destination to measure site transactions (product sales, services, subscriptions, downloads, etc…).

The first step is to go to your Google Analytics’ admin panel:

And then go to “Goals”:

Start creating a new Goal by inputting necessary information and details. You’ll also need to set up a “thank you” page on your site, which will serve as the “Goal URL” for the campaign to ensure that the visitors you’ll be measuring have completed a transaction.

You can also choose to add a value for your Goals, like for instance, I added $500 as the value of my thank you page when visited through my SEO services page, since it’s the minimum rate of our team’s consultation services.

Once you’ve filled up the information needed for your goal, you can then choose to use funnels, which is usually needed to determine how many visitors are abandoning your preferred landing pages or to help you monitor and improve the steps taken before a visitor completes a transaction.

Setting up a funnel can also give you a better view of how visitors flow within your site (from other pages of your site) before actually getting to your Goal URL.

As soon as you’re done setting up your goals, it’ll be much easier to devise link building strategies that will complement your conversion optimization efforts.

Conversion Link Building by Demographics/Location

Identify which locations have brought highly converted traffic to your site, and improve on this area to maximize growth in terms of lead and revenue generation. It’s best to track your site’s visitor demographics from the past 2 – 3 months to generate more precise results.

You can first start by going to Audience > Demographics > Location: On the top left corner of the map overlay, choose Goal Set:

After choosing the Goal Set, the data available below the map overlay will display conversion related metrics, which will make it easier for you to distinguish locations where you have strong market.

Click on the transactional goal that you have set up, and see which locations have high converting traffic but you haven’t really optimized your site for.

If you have highly interested audiences/market/potential customers from places you never expected to generate leads/sales from, then trying to increase the traffic you’re getting from these locations might just mean improving your site’s ability to convert more visitors as well.

So how would you increase referred traffic from these areas?

Find prospects by Location

Search for link opportunities from locations where your potential customers are from and build links from them (like offering guest blogs). You can also try requesting links to direct to your site’s linkable content from your prospected sites, since people from their location do find your content useful and relevant (based on Analytics).

Offer your content to be translated

For non-English speaking countries that still find your website’s content/products/services useful, you can choose to find content partners (high-traffic blogs based or hosted on that certain location) and offer your high-quality content to be translated and published on their sites. But make sure that the links you’ve placed within the original content will be kept intact and that they’ll give credit to your site as the original source of the content.

Improving internal linking and anchor text targeting through Top Landing Pages

There are 2 ways to strengthen your link building campaign through Google Analytics’ Site Content feature:

  • Internal linking the pages that constantly bring highly-engaged traffic to the site to the site’s money pages for maximum conversions.
  • Identifying the secondary keywords that yield search traffic to these high performing pages, and using them as variations for anchor texts to continuously improve their traffic generation capability.

Let’s start with how to determine strong pages to use for internal linking.

Go to Content > Site Content > Landing Pages:

Distinguish the top landing pages (aside from your homepage) of your site that have constantly brought traffic to the site from the past month(s), particularly the old ones that are still getting huge traffic.

You can then assess and decide to internally/contextually link some of these pages to your transactional pages (you can also enhance their calls-to-action to convert more of its incoming new visitors).

There’s also an advanced method to extract more accurate data from your top landing pages. On the top left part of the Landing Pages’ graph report, click on “Goal Set”:

Below the graph, the report will display a slightly different set of data, which are more on conversion-related metrics. Click on the transactional Goal conversion rate to show the results in order of pages that have generated higher conversions:

You can filter the results to exclude irrelevant pages by clicking on the advanced filters:

Choose “exclude” from the first drop-down option, and choose the “Goal Conversion Rate” you want to extract (services in my case). The second drop-down option will automatically show “Greater than”, you’ll have to enter the most realistic number that you’ve seen from your data (which in my case is below 12% is realistic). Lastly, click on “Apply”.

The presented data will show a more realistic standing of your top landing pages in terms of meeting your business’ objectives.

With these figures, you’ll have greater idea of what pages to enhance and build more links to (to increase the traffic they’re receiving as well as to improve their search rankings), since these pages are helping you drive more sales/conversions.

The next step would be is to identify the keywords that your top landing pages are ranking for and send highly-engaged visitors to them as well (based on % of new visits and % of bounce rates).

You can first start by choosing a landing page from the list of your top performing landing pages:

Add a secondary dimension, and choose Traffic Sources > Keyword

It will then show all the keywords sending search traffic to the landing page you chose.

You can filter this result further to remove the (not provided) and (not set) keywords, which you can also use when extracting keywords from multiple landing pages or all of your site’s top landing pages. Here’s how:

Click on the advanced filters, choose “Exclude” from the first drop-down option, and on the second drop-down option, choose “Begins with” and then key in “(“ – to exclude all the (not provided) and (not set) keywords from the list. Then click on “Apply”.

Now you’ll have a huge list of keywords that your landing page(s) are already ranking for, a list that you can use to vary the anchor texts of links that will direct to your strong pages.

Choose the keywords that sends high amount of new visits and have low bounce rates, because these visitors are finding your content relevant to the queries they’ve used to find your page.

Just imagine if you can rank higher for multiple keywords for a single landing page, that could easily translate to higher conversions. Plus it’s easier to achieve better rankings from these keywords, since they are already being served to search users.

Also, another way to see which keywords are converting well to your campaign’s goals is to use the “Goal Set” data (on the top left corner of the landing page graph):

Then the conversion-based data of keywords below the graph will be displayed, where you can see which keywords may drive more customers to your business.

How to build links using your newly found keyword variations for your top landing pages:

  • Build more internal links to your top landing pages using the keyword variations you’ve uncovered from your analytics data.
  • Use these keyword variations as anchor texts when building links to them through your external content distribution campaign such as guest blogging, columns, community-based discussions or press releases. You can also check out my guest post on Searchbrat on promoting and building links to great content.

Understanding and replicating high-powered links through Top Referring Websites/Sources

Understand the links that help you drive more leads/conversions by analyzing link placements/positions, context, source and type. Have a process or a formula that will enable you to replicate your site’s existing incoming links that have proven value in increasing your site’s conversion rate, as it will definitely influence your mindset on how to acquire highly-efficient links (not just for rankings and traffic, but for conversions as well).

There are 3 different ways that you can do within Google Analytics to assess high-performing links to your site.

1. Traffic Sources > Referrals

Go to Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals:

On the top left part of the referred traffic graph, click on the “Goal Set” data:

 The data displayed below that graph will then show the referring domains that have sent converted visitors to your site (click on your transactional goal’s conversion rate to categorize sites by conversion rate percentage).

You can also check on the domains individually to see which linking pages are driving easily-converted traffic to your site or to the page where they are linking to (by simply clicking on any website listed to see the referral path).

2. Assisted Conversions

Go to Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions

On the Basic Channel Grouping, choose “Referral”

Right from there, you’ll see the top referring domains that have driven possible leads/customers to your site:

3. Goal Flow

Go to Conversions > Goals > Goal Flow

From the Goal Flow map, click on the “Group Details”

A pop-up window will display, where you can choose “Top Segments” from the first dropdown option:

The window will display a list of referring domains that have eventually led a portion of the overall referred traffic to your transaction page (money page):

Once you have distinguished the sites and/or pages that are sending customers to your site, you can then start analyzing these links, particularly in understanding why/how they were able to directly help your site generate leads.

Here’s a quick sample:

97thfloor.com naturally linked to one of my recent posts last April (you can see the post here), and this link has sent 2 potential clients to me (4.44% conversion rate out of 45 visitors) these past 2 months.

By just observing this type of link, you can easily evaluate how the link was able to refer interested customers:

  • The link is very visible and was placed on the first sentence of the content
  • The content of the link’s destination page resonates with their audience
  • The context of the content that surrounds the link speaks positively about the destination page
  • It’s from an authority site that has its own readership/follower base

Once you fully understand how and why your existing links are sending you direct leads, you can easily build your own metrics to use in qualifying link prospects and methods (like the ones I’ve mentioned above).

Did that link influence the destination page’s search rankings? Yes. As far as I know, it’s the only authority link that’s linking to my “viral content ideas” post, and there are only few links pointing to it. Here’s a screenshot grabbed from a recent SEOmoz post about impact of authoritative links:

Methods that you can implement to amplify your link building based on your Top Referrers’ data:

2nd tier link building – help the pages linking to you that send high-value traffic to rank better on search engines, by building links to them and promoting them through social media. The more constant traffic these linking pages get, the more you can get good traffic and leads from them.

Find similar prospects – find sites that have the same audience as those that have linked to you (which send easily converted visitors). Try to acquire the same kind of link placements, exposure and visibility from them (whether through guest blogs, resource link requests, coverage, blogroll links, etc…). Here’s a good way to find related websites:

Pitch your site’s most linkable content (or accidental link baits) to related websites – since you know that your site’s linkable pieces have earned other reputable sites’ trust, you’ll have better chances of acquiring links from your other prospects.

Build more links from sites that are already sending you leads/customers– try to absorb more traffic from them by contributing more useful content on their sites (like guest blogs, regular column or helpful forum posts if you’re generating leads from forum websites). Replicate the position of links that have allowed you to increase your site’s conversions (highly visible links from high traffic pages).

If you liked this post, you should subscribe to my feed and follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.

Image Credit: Amanda Tolleson

Conversion Killers: How to Plug Website Holes That Leak Money

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This entry is a guest post by Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics – a custom analytics platform. You can follow him on Twitter @neilpatel.

If you are like most marketing bloggers, then you are after one thing…making money online.

That’s why you crank out content, work the social web and optimize your site. You want higher and higher amounts of traffic flowing to your site.

The only problem is…if you are making one of the following conversion mistakes…then you are losing serious revenue.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to correct any one of these mistakes and plug up any holes in your blog or website.  Your first step is to find the holes. Let’s take a look.

Reduce the clutter on your sidebar

In a Which Test One case study, Anne Holland demonstrated that sidebars without clutter outperformed sidebars with clutter by 26%.

I’ve seen this evidence bear out in tests on my own blog.

But you can’t strip everything off of your sidebar and expect to keep revenue coming into your site. You do need about three things:

  • Popular post links – Options to drive them deeper through your site. The longer they stay on your site, the more likely they will buy.

  • Opt-in form – An option to subscribe to your email newsletter or download a free report can boost conversions as high as 100%.

  • Promotion box – And don’t forget to drive them to the flagship product you are promoting.

Anything more than that and your conversions will plummet.

And keep in mind, if you run ads on your website, it’s important that you limit the real estate you give to ads…otherwise you will erode your credibility, mess with your SEO efforts and kill conversions.

Improve your page speed

Slow page speed is another conversion killer. If you have a hard time believing that, check out this page speed chart:

According to web performance optimization company Strange Loop, just a one-second delay in page speed can cost you 7% percent of sales!

What’s interesting are the sort of things that can reduce page speed.

Matthew Ogborne tested his site speed to see how much his Facebook Like button impacted the page load…and he was stunned.

He discovered that that button on the right side of his website was downloading 83.4Kb of data…which amounted to 1.340 seconds of load time.

As you can imagine, he pulled that button immediately.

Last year Joshua Bixby wrote Are Third-Party Apps Conversion Killers? He wrote the article in response to the +1 button when it was new…explaining that it was taking 2 seconds to download.

Two seconds!

Google has since optimized the button so it’s not such a drag on page speed, but it’s a great reminder of how much you need to worry about all the things you are loading on to your site, which includes ads. Slow loading ads are a major cause of high-bounce rates.

There are also applications and browsers that are not compatible. Take Chrome and Shockwave Flash:

Every time I go to Tim Ferriss’ blog using Chrome it stalls and eventually freezes. That is a sure conversion killer. The lesson is to test your site’s performance across browsers.

Your first step to improving your page load is to measure it. Run your site through Google Analytics Site Speed Analytics Report and then follow the recommendations that it spits out.

Create a cool 404 error page

You can do everything in your power to keep from serving up a 404 server error page…but it will eventually happen…

And when it does, it needs to make the user trust you.

A bad 404 error page will drive people away from your site. This is what you want to avoid:

A good error page will reward your user for actually having “broke” something. Think creatively like this:

Or this:

It’s almost like they’ve discovered something cool and now want to share it with others. And this will also encourage them to continue on their site in spite of having landed on an error page.

If they are getting too many 404 error pages, however, and no matter how cool the page is…people will get sick of it and leave.

Increase your site’s social proof

You can also kill conversions by failing to show potential customers that you are a credible expert. This is where social proof comes in.

For instance, Ramit Sethi lets you know that big media endorses him:

His credibility is not in question, is it?

The same is true for Hugh MacLeod, especially when you see he’s done work for TechCrunch, Purina and Microsoft:

Adding social proof to your site can be as easy as embedding the logos for all of the organizations that have endorsed you.

Here is Men with Pens footer:

Social proof is also seen when you display the number of shares your content has gotten across the social web and the number of subscribers you have

I’d say Michael Hyatt is doing pretty good, wouldn’t you?

And finally, providing testimonials is another way to improve conversions on your website. Here’s a sample from Tim Ferriss’ blog:

Not too shabby, eh?

Up your persuasion game

In the end, you might have a fast-loading site, a clutter-free side-bar, a great 404 error page and decent social proof…but if you don’t have persuasive sales copy…you will not convert.

Words are what will convince your potential customer to buy from you. You do that by getting them into a position where they can’t resist.

Here are the three most powerful ways to do that.

Scarcity

This principle works on the idea that there is a limited amount of something left. If used right, it’s one of the most potent copy techniques out there.

How should you use it?

  • Advertise that you have 14 seats left for your conference.
  • Or it could mean that you are running a two day sale…or an intro price. What’s scarce there is time…namely how little time the customer has to buy at a discount.

  • If you are a consultant, you could promote that you are only taking on 4 clients.
  • You are only creating 100 Bentley’s in this model this year.

The point is to weave a sense of limited supply in what you are selling that motivates people to pull the trigger now.

Urgency

Often people want what you have to sell and have the money…but they simply don’t want to spend the money at that moment.

Use urgency to get them to act. Here are some examples:

  • Black Friday – You can get crazy good deals on products the day after Christmas if you are willing to wake up at 3 in the morning. Or earlier.
  • Somebody is going to die – You see this with non-profits fighting starvation and malnutrition. They’ll put a malnourished child on the landing page with the title, “Every X seconds a child dies from starvation.”

Exclusivity

This copywriting persuasion technique is also known as the ”velvet rope,” which is used to keep “average” people from entering a certain club or restaurant.

What’s nice about using exclusivity is you don’t have to have a great product. Just build that sense of exclusion…and you can sell out.

Here are some examples:

  • The club that is only open to movie stars.
  • The golf course that is by invitation only.
  • The credit card that is only for people in a certain high-income bracket.

One last thing on persuasion: like good blog post writing, your sales copy must be clear and concise. It must also be easy to read.

For example, when you use white space between paragraphs and margins appropriately, you can increase reader comprehension by nearly 20%.

Spacing also allows the reader to fly through the copy. This guides the reader through the copy to the call to action.

Create a compelling call to action button

In the end, it should be really clear what you want your reader to do. Give them too many options and you will drive them away.

In the e-commerce world, this is known as “choice paralysis.” Tests have actually been shown that if a consumer is given 24 choices of a product…only 3% will buy.

But if you reduced that count to 6 items…30% of consumers bought!

So, make your call-to-action simple. And use these other best practices.

  • Your call-to-action button should be larger than other elements on the page:
  • Use white space to separate call to action:
  • Float important call-to-action above the page elements:
  • And don’t forget to put it at the top of the page:

By the way, don’t just settle on one call-to-action button. Test the heck out of different variations of it like Optimizely did to boost conversions.

Conclusion

Listen: if making money from your blog is important to you, then you can never stop trying to improve your conversion rate. See, the highest converting blogs got there because they relentlessly tested and tweaked their sites.

Fortunately, with just a little time and skill you can turn any leaky site into a high-powered revenue generating machine. You just have to be willing to find and plug the holes.

What other critical conversion-killing mistakes do you see blogs making?

If you liked this guest post, you should subscribe to my feed and follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.

The Anatomy of a Perfect Landing Page – Infograph

I have been planning to shift my learning mojos to Conversion Rate Optimization these past few months, since I started to get addicted in testing pages and in striving to get better results from those tests before last year had ended. There’s a lot to learn in SEO as it is constantly evolving as well as being integrated with other web marketing channels – and converting the traffic that we are able to generate through deadly marketing skills is certainly a part of it.

I may write more about CRO in the future (I remember telling this myself a few months back), but to start off with a good bang, I’ll first share a cool infographic, which I think ignited and led me to delving much deeper to this area of online marketing few months ago (yeah, this is sort of old, but definitely a classic!).

By: Formstack

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