How to turn website visitors into customers

Written on 26 March, 2008 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories E-commerceSmall BusinessWeb Design & Content

For many webmasters, the goal seems to be to attract as many visitors as possible. But if these visitors don’t turn into customers, the investment you made in attracting that traffic is wasted.

When considering whether your website is successful, you need to assess your return on investment based on the number of visitors balanced against the income generated from sales to this group.

But converting website visitors into customers is harder than attracting traffic in the first place. Time and again I come across websites that repeat common mistakes that can prevent visitors becoming customers and will inevitably lead to a costly failure.

Common Website Mistakes

1. Unclear Message

If I were to visit your website by chance today, would I be able to tell within the first few seconds what it is about? Are you a fashion store, a writing blog, a florist, an entertainment venue, a web community or something else?

You may think it is unfair to be expected to sell yourself in a few seconds, but web surfing works in exactly the same way as TV  channel surfing. If you have cable television with fifty channels to choose from, you will flick through with only the most cursory glance at each program before deciding on the show you want to watch.

If a quick glance of your home page doesn’t convey the concept behind the website and doesn’t contain the strongest sales pitch within the first heading and paragraph, you may find all your hard-earned traffic merely hits the back button on the browser and goes elsewhere.

2. No Call to Action

Every website should have a goal. It may be to generate sales or it may be to motivate more people to lodge a telephone or email enquiry. It could be that you want visitors to interact in a particular way with the resources on the website. Whatever the goal is, the copy and structure of the website should be set up to channel visitors towards that goal.

Each page of the website should have only one goal, so you can maximise your ability to funnel visitors where you want them to go. But to do this, each page needs a clear call to action – a phrase, slogan, tagline, special offer or something else that instills a motivation in the reader to act now. If the goal of your product page is to get the reader to buy your product, the page should have copy that finishes with a very strong reason why they should click the ‘Buy’ button right now. The best calls to action tie a firm time factor into the benefits to the reader if they do what you suggest. “Offer only available for a limited time” is a classic (if unoriginal) call to action as it creates a sense of urgency that compels the reader to take up the offer now rather than later.

3. Selling the Features, Not the Benefits

Too many product websites list lots of technical specifications or detailed features that leave a casual reader cold. To help the reader visualise how your product is the right one for them, you need to list the benefits, not the features. “This car is safer, more comfortable and has more space inside” says a lot more to the potential buyer than a list of measurements, component information and mechanical jargon.

There are always going to be interested people who want to know the specifications, because they understand their significance. But most customers are not highly educated about the intricacies of your industry and shouldn’t need to be to recognise your product as a good buy.

A good compromise would be to list features followed by the relevant benefit. “A steel roll cage provides extra protection for your family from on-road crashes.”

4. Putting Barriers in Front of the Sale

If you’ve encouraged the reader to buy your product, don’t place lots of barriers in the way. If your checkout process is too complicated, or if you require registration to complete the action or have a complex navigation that requires a lot of clicks to achieve the goal, the reader will probably give up. This is even more tragic than losing a customer to the previous mistakes as this reader was prepared to follow through before you lost them.

Most online stores list shopping cart abandonment as one of their greatest problems. If a lot of your potential customers start a transaction, but decide to leave before completion, you may need to address whether you are placing barriers between them and you.

Provide easy links. If you’ve suggested an action, place a button or link directly next to or beneath the statement. If you’ve encouraged telephone enquiries, ensure the phone service is suitably manned. If you’ve convinced a customer to buy but the item shows as sold out, provide a means for them to pre-order or to be notified when you have more stock.

5. Ignoring Your Competition

You are not the only online business in your industry. So why should the potential customer choose to buy from you instead of any of the hundreds of other results a Google search will present them with?

Most online shoppers will visit three or more websites before deciding on a purchase. The internet makes it far easier for someone to shop around for the best deal, so you need to be sure the best deal is yours when they visit you.

If you don’t know what your competition is offering, you cannot understand what is affecting your customer’s decision to buy.

6. Overpricing with Postage

When online shopping began to explode many years ago, there was a popular myth that the additional costs of postage and packing were a reasonable expense for the convenience of shopping from home. But most online customers do not agree.

Online customers factor in the cost of postage and packing into the overall price of an item before deciding whether it is a reasonable offer. Yet many online businesses hide the postage costs until the last stage of the transaction, ambushing the unwary customer with a sudden increase n price that can often turn them away and towards your competition.

Many online retailers understand that their price points – including postage – need to remain competitive with traditional high street stores. But high street stores don’t need to factor in postage. This creates a dilemma to the online business in how to maintain a profitable price point whilst keeping the customer happy.

Depending on the product and business model you have, the answer will be different to everyone. But be aware that customers list price and postage as their number one consideration when buying online. Ignoring this factor would dramatically affect your customer conversion.

Monitoring Your Investment

Some websites still do not monitor the essential statistics of their traffic and online sales. Without these figures, it is very hard to interpret the performance of your website. There are many free tools available to monitor traffic statistics, such as Google Analytics. These tools can tell you which links are clicked how often and which parts of a transaction produce the best response. This information is crucial in identifying how to improve your business and to understand customer behaviour within your website.

Is your website making you money or costing you in lost investment?