Why Your Web Site Sucks

Ship Wreck, Fraser Island by NeilsPhotography

Ship Wreck, Fraser Island by NeilsPhotography

A web site without a goal is like a rudderless ship. You have no idea how to improve the site, you have no clear vision of the site’s purpose and you wind up throwing money into a hole that adds no value to your business. Your small business website needs a goal – preferably one in line with your company’s goal. And, what is your company’s goal? I’ll go out on a limb and guess “to make money.”

Most small business websites don’t achieve this goal. In the rush to get a site live, make it attractive and fit the needs and desires of the business owner, the whole purpose of the site can get lost. When planning your small business website – whether you’re launching it for the first time or working through a redesign – you need to start with this goal, figure out how to measure it and plan all improvements and tweaks to your site with the purpose of achieving this goal. Being able to measure how well your site is achieving its goal is the most important indicator of the success of your site.

This measurement is called the “conversion rate”. You can calculate the conversion rate by dividing the number of people who have converted into customers because of your site by it’s total unique visitors.

But how can you tell if someone has converted?

Measuring Success

The secret to a truly successful website is identifying the conversion actions a customer can take and optimizing everything else around them. The conversion action is simply the action a visitor takes that meets the goal of your site (i.e. when a customer is in a position to pay you).

For online stores, paid online magazines and any other site that accepts payment online, the conversion action is easy – it’s the point at which the credit card is successfully accepted and charged. The typical purchase process looks like this:

  1. Customer adds one or more items to their shopping cart
  2. Customer clicks on the “Checkout” button
  3. Customer enters their payment and shipping information
  4. Payment information is sent to the payment processor (Authorize.net, PayPal, etc.)
  5. Once the payment is accepted, the customer sees a “Thank You” confirmation page.

You can track every one of these steps, but which one counts as the conversion action? Step 4 seems right – it’s the point when the customer actually hits the “buy” button. But what happens if the card gets declined? They didn’t accomplish the site’s goal – giving you their money – so, no, you’d better not count them as goal complete. The right conversion point is step 5, after the credit card has been charged and the money is on its way to your bank.

Converting Leads

What if you don’t accept payment online? What if you run a lead generation site? The obvious conversion action is the confirmation page after the visitor has filled out your lead form and you’ve successfully captured their information. If filling out the lead form is all you care about, then measuring those completions may be all you need. To measure the true value of those leads, though, you’ll need to do a little offline tracking.

Tools like Salesforce, SugarCRM, BatchBlue and other Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications can help you track your leads through the entire sales process. You can track your customers’ actions anonymously on your site, then take the data from your lead form and import it into one of these systems – making sure you marked the website as the source of the lead – and track them through the rest of the sales process. Your site may tell you how many visitors filled out your form, but your CRM can tell you how many of those visitors actually became customers by – you guessed it – giving you their money. This information not only allows you calculate your conversion rate, it can also provide valuable insight into why some prospects become customers while others drop out, allowing you to optimize your sales process.

What’s the point of all this tracking? Is it worth the effort? If you know how well your site is converting – or how poorly – you can start focusing on how to increase your total number of new customers. To get even more useful numbers, you can segment this data and figure out the effectiveness of individual pages, marketing campaigns, offers, etc. You can use that information to duplicate successes, trim out the efforts that aren’t working and get a far greater holistic vision of just how well you’re performing at achieving your company’s ultimate goal. You remember what that is, right?

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