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Raise Your Conversion Rate

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by Bryan Heathman, President, Made for Success Publishing

Photo of Bryan Heathman

Bryan Heathman

Did you know that fewer than 2 percent of typical website visitors complete a transaction? Did you also know that the average website receives only 10 visitors a day? When you do the math, this translates to six online transactions per month, hardly a compelling number.

Fortunately, you can take steps to increase traffic to your website and increase your rate of conversion from visitor to buyer.

With these two primary goals in mind, simple math helps illuminate the process. Judging by my experience working with a range of website owners, first-time visitors to a site can cost the owner anywhere from 30 cents to $20 per visit. Let’s assume $2 per visit, considering all the costs associated with driving traffic—your time, design, advertising, promotion, overhead, and anything else related to attracting visitors. Then let’s assume that 12 visitors come in a day. If you are getting a 2 percent conversion rate for those 12, then each new customer you acquire is costing $100 per transaction.

Here’s why:

  • $2 per visitor × 100 visitors = $200
  • 100 visitors × 2% = 2 conversions
  • $200/2 = $100 cost/conversion

It does not take a mathematical wizard to understand the need to lower the cost per visitor, increase the conversion rate, or increase the average purchase volume.

The good news is that once someone starts interacting with your products and/or services, the opportunity to close the sale is within your grasp. Here’s what you need to focus on to move visitors from the fact-finding mode to the Gotta have it mode.

Abandonment Rate

The abandonment rate is the rate at which people leave your website in the middle of a transaction.

Have you ever watched someone standing in a long line at the grocery store? Picture the well-dressed young man I saw last week as he walked up to the express line with his two items—a bunch of bananas and a half-gallon of Rocky Road ice cream. He’s not using a cart because he’s sure the line’s going to be quick. Five minutes later, the line hasn’t budged. The freezing-cold ice cream carton is making his hands tingle. A banana falls off the bunch and lands on the floor. The grumbling starts, the sighing, the craning of the neck, looking for the obstruction at the front of the line. What do you think he’ll do next? He’ll head for the nearest exit as fast as possible. He’s mad about the time he wasted and disappointed that he didn’t get to enjoy his dessert.

Minimizing the number of clicks between your product pages and checkout is at least as important as a ensuring fast checkout on the express line at the store. The rule of thumb says you should expect a 50 percent dropout rate each time a buyer is required to view an additional page while checking out.

If two clicks are necessary for the visitor to get from your product landing page to checkout, and if there’s a 50 percent dropout rate between each click, then six out of twelve visitors will drop out on the first click, while three of the remaining six will drop out on click number two. This leaves three buyers, who still need to enter payment information. Reducing the number of clicks from two to one will double that number of buyers. .

Data Capture and Permission to Engage

Once people become aware of what you do and what you offer on your site, you can get their permission to engage. When people opt in to get e-mail from your company, they elect to receive information from you and become “interested visitors.”

After you’ve obtained opt-in/permission to engage, you should capture data from visitors. Ask for enough information so that you can target your marketing, but not so much that it intimidates them. People are often glad to give you their first names and e-mail addresses, but they may feel that personal or lifestyle questions are invasive, in which case participation drops off and there’s a sharp decline in traffic.

Here are a few questions it’s okay to ask in an online survey:

  • first name
  • e-mail address
  • ZIP code
  • gender
  • preferences (such as product or content likes and dislikes)


You’ve attracted people to your website. You’ve narrowed your prospects to include only interested visitors, the ones who have given permission to engage. Next comes confirmation, also called repetition.

Establishing a bond of trust takes a series of exposures to your messages, brand, or products. Your interested visitors have to get used to the idea of owning your product. The prospect of owning it has to feel comfortable. In fact, it has to feel downright cozy before they’ll part with their hard-earned cash.

Traditional branding studies show that brand trust requires three to seven exposures. Odds are your interested visitors won’t make those exposures happen on their own. You need to confirm with them. You need to engage them again and again. And you can, because you have their permission to be in touch.

Tools you can use in the repetition process include:

  • an e-mail newsletter with reminders of who you are
  • special offers to entice repeat visits
  • compelling content relevant to interested visitors’ lifestyles or professions, such as articles, white papers, videos, and audio recordings

Although only a few people will buy the first time they visit a website, visitors do buy, especially when you create an emotional attachment to your company. Of course, creating an emotional attachment is a challenge even face to face, so how can you create it in an online environment?

Here are a few ideas:

Feature credit card logos. Studies have shown that products sell 25 percent better in terms of dollar value when a credit card logo appears near them at checkout, maybe because people know they can use their credit-card issuer to get credit for products that didn’t meet their expectations.

Use testimonials. Show pictures and statements from delighted customers. Visitors will gravitate to images and comments from people they feel they can relate to, people just like themselves who have had a need fulfilled by your product or service.

Provide security. Offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, a money-back policy, a 30-day return/no questions asked policy.

Offer tools that help your visitors see your product in relevant situations. Les Schwab features a tool on its website that lets visitors see particular makes and models of vehicles with a set of its high-margin chrome rims. Similarly, department stores picture clothing or cosmetics matched with customers’ color palettes.

Provide video images of your product in use. An effective video posted by a company that makes locking mailboxes shows an identity thief struggling—and failing—to pry a secure-locking mailbox open with a crowbar.

Communicate regularly, using nonpersonal data you have captured to craft and send personalized and relevant offers and messages.


Limited-time offers are one tool for moving the conversion process closer to completion. This proven conversion tactic motivates people to buy right away, because putting a time limit on the availability of your product creates fear of loss. Take a page from the eBay playbook, with its fixed time limits for products before the deal is gone for good. The fear of loss is often a more powerful purchase incentive than the positive benefit of ownership.

Trial closes can be effective tools, too. Used worldwide by highly paid sales executives, trial closes can come in the form of questions, such as “Do you like this cover design, or is that cover design more suited to your taste?”

Other trial close tools include:

Free trial offers. You might offer a limited-time, free trial of your product to move interested visitors closer to a buying decision, as subscription services and various other kinds of companies often do.

Low-cost trial products. Many highly successful direct marketers offer products worth $10 to $20 for 1 cent in order to establish a buying relationship.

Gift with purchase. This is an especially effective psychological tool. Publishers may offer downloadable incentives worth hundreds of dollars with the purchase of a book. Business-to-business marketers also use this tool effectively, especially when they tie a free gift to the personal desires of their clients.

Discounts. Discount offers are familiar tools, but all discount offers are not created equal, and the way you communicate your discount can have a dramatic impact on response rates. These are the top-performing discount offers, listed in terms of effectiveness:

  • Free (the most powerful word in the English language; it will motivate many people to act)
  • Buy One, Get One Free
  • Buy One, Get One Half Off
  • Buy Two, Get One Free
  • Coupons (redeemable with purchase)
  • Mail-in rebates (which you should always communicate in terms rounded up to full dollar amounts—for example, $10 off performs better than $9.97 off)

Free shipping. Some products purchased online are perceived as more expensive because of shipping costs. Free or very low-cost shipping is quite reliable for countering this obstacle to purchases.

Customer service. Highly responsive customer service creates value in any buying situation. If you can offer a toll-free number with a live person answering the phone, you’ll be way ahead of your competition.

Selection. Everyone loves options, and they will give your visitors a feeling of empowerment. Beware of too much choice, though; you don’t want your interested visitors to become victims of paralysis by analysis.

Bryan Heathman is president of Made for Success Publishing, which represents authors and speakers to leading bookstores. His Fortune 500 experience includes executive positions with Microsoft, Eastman Kodak, and Xerox. This article is derived from his book Conversion Marketing. To access a free preformatted Excel document designed to capture conversion data in an organized fashion, visit bryanheathman.com/resources.

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