While reading an article about the future of journalism, an interesting topic indeed, I found this gem of an insight:

What is the nature and purpose of a website when most of the inbound traffic comes from search and social? Four years ago, many news sites saw half their traffic come to the home page. By traffic I mean inbound uniques, not page views, not the returning visits of loyal users. Today, due to continued growth in traffic from search and social, home page traffic is typically 25 percent of inbound audience. That means 75 percent of inbound traffic is going to story pages.

The person who said that is Richard Gingras, director of news and social products at Google.

Following my own and customer site stats closely I know that a lot of web visitors bypass the start page, but that in some cases as much as 75% head straight for a specific page is mindboggling.

Have you checked the statistics on your website to see which pages people actually see first? Is the majority of visitors really arriving at your start page, or do they jump from Twitter, Facebook and search engines straight to a sub page on a specific topic or about a certain popular product? Do they from there ever go to your start page at all?

Perhaps you’ll even find that one or a few specific blog posts attract almost all of the traffic from search engines, and if the visitor land directly on that page and then immediately leave… …did you really leave a lasting impression on that visitor? Did they even realise what you sell?

In physical terms, this is a little bit like people entering a super market through the side entrance, picking up what they need and then cleverly bypassing the tempting aisles and displays next to the cash registers as they leave, again using the side door. This is not what the supermarket wants, they want you to get a good look at the displays they so carefully designed to make you spend a few extra pounds on candy, magazines, offers and bargains!

Obviously, the learning from this is to spend a good deal of time designing your website sub pages in such a way that wherever a visitor enters, links to your top products, your email marketing signup form or booking form are readily visible. Don’t just focus all your attention on the home page.

As an example, take a look at the website me and David Knight from Euged built for Jessica’s Recipe Bag. The main purpose of the first version of the site was to act as an informative website explaining the concept, and collect email addresses from interested people while we were working towards launching the “real” website with the online ordering functionality.

With social media and shared links to blog posts written with search engine traffic in mind being the main sources of visitors it is incredibly important that every single page in the website clearly shows the key benefits of joining Jessica’s Recipe Bag, and has the ability to collect the visitor’s contact details.

To ensure this we put the email sign up form right at the top in the sidebar of every page, where it is hard to miss, allowing people to leave their contact details on every page of the site:

So here’s an exercise for you: Go take a look at your website. Click through the start page and go a few pages away. Is it instantly obvious who you are and what you can do for the visitor? Every single blog post you write should make this clear, it needs to be a part of the basic page template. If you sell something online, a strong call to action to learn more about your product or service is a no brainer.

Before you start spending time and money changing your website though, check the data. Take a look at your website statistics and see where people actually enter your site. Are they using the front door, or entering through the side entrance?

Tip: If you use Google Analytics, the easiest way to review this is the “Landing Pages” report under the tab “Content” in the left hand navigation:

The above screenshot shows the stats from my food blog Tummyrumble. As you can see, the sub page about benefits from following a Low Carb High Fat diet gets more than 5 times as much traffic as the blog start page!

I would venture that this isn’t uncommon for blogs in general. When it comes to a business website the picture may be entirely different. Do go take a look!

Why do businesses have websites? Sounds like a dumb question, perhaps. The answer I’d like to propose is:

To attract people from the relevant target groups, and contribute directly or indirectly to sales.

I can sum that up really succinctly: make more money.

As obvious as that sounds, quite often when I look at a business’ digital presence (website, social media, mobile app etc) it seems like nobody ever bothered to thoroughly answer that simple question, “why”.

Without defining the reasons for being on the web, it is impossible to set goals. Without goals it is impossible to measure progress. Without measuring progress it is impossible to know whether or not your efforts online are contributing to your bottom-line.

Converting traffic to business

Before talking a bit more about goals, and measuring progress, let’s define how a website actually drives business.

What makes the web unique compared to old forms of marketing is first and foremost that it’s interactive. People don’t just read, they perform activities. Ideally when that activity is completed you gain something of value:

  • an item sale (cash in the bank, great!), 
  • a reservation (soon to be cash in the bank, nice!), 
  • an email address that you can market to (potential future cash in the bank!).

In geek speak, this is called “conversion”. The website “converts” visitors browsing the website to value, or to actual customers. Not all conversion needs to be related to a transaction though. Coming back to the goal of your web presence, a conversion can be defined as anything that drives your business.

It then becomes apparent that you must continually work with your digital assets to optimise for conversion! As a business owner, you want to make it as easy as possible for people that find you online to “convert” to a customer.

Define your business driving goals

Unless you know what the business driving goals of your web presence are, you can’t optimise the process of completing them. Always start with defining the goals. They can be simple things, like:

  • Make a reservation
  • Order a product
  • Subscribe to our newsletter
  • Test post code to see if we deliver in visitor’s area

But they can also be less direct, such as:

  • Get re-tweets on Twitter
  • Build “likes” on Facebook
  • Website traffic from Google AdWords
  • Increase traffic to the charity section on our site

You want your goals to be quantifiable, measurable, and in a direct or indirect way linked to the success of your business. Review your goals continually, and revise the numbers you are working towards so you and your team know what must be achieved.

Make your desired goals obvious

Here’s the part that so many get wrong. Make it as simple as possible for those you are trying to reach to complete the activities contributing to your goals. 

A few simple examples:

  • If you want people to book your restaurant, don’t hide the booking tool on your “Contact Us” page. Place it on every page!
  • If you want to build “likes” on Facebook, make it obvious for people to find your Facebook Page and give them a good reason to “like” it!
  • If you are selling a product, make the price and the “order here” button as obvious as possible!
  • If you want to get more re-tweets of your blog posts, make the content useful, exciting or funny, and use relevant hash tags to get in front of people who care.

Introducing another geek term, the visual cues to start an activity that contributes to a business driving goal are called “Calls To Action” or CTA for short.

Your CTAs need to be obvious, clear, prompting the user to take action, and always front and center! As an example, look at the Freebookings website:

Freebookings website screenshot

There is one primary goal with the Freebookings website: get the visitor to sign up to the service. The way we achieve as high numbers as possible are:

  • Benefits clearly listed on the start page, right at the top.
  • Buttons to sign up right below the benefits, saying in the button text that it’s free.
  • An off colour and highly visible button to sign up at the top of every page.
  • Focused and relevant text and video content, explaining the functions and benefits of the service, and customer quotes supporting our claims.
  • A box and button to sign up in the right hand column of every sub page.
  • Links in text, driving people to the sign up page, and additional buttons on pages where it is likely the visitor has received enough information to make a decision.

I think usability expert Steve Krug put it best when he said “Don’t make me think!”

Track, analyse, improve

Once you know your goals and have defined how your web presence supports them, you must find ways to measure progress. This is where working in digital is amazing: data, data, data. There are ways to track and measure almost everything we do online. When it comes to your website the tool of choice for most is Google Analytics, for the simple reason that it’s free…

For other digital assets, such as social media profiles or mobile apps, there is usually some other form of tracking software. Sometimes, a simple spreadsheet and a daily or weekly tally of your performance indicator is all you need.

With good tracking in place, it is easy to see things like:

  • which of your blog posts are getting the most attention in social media,
  • where in your order process do people stop and leave your site,
  • which sections in your website get the most traffic,
  • where do inbound visitors to your website come from,
  • what time of day do you get the most engagement on Facebook,
  • which subject lines on your email newsletters get the highest open rate,
  • and so on…

Thus, when it for example comes to your blog content, with this information at your fingertips you can decide to create more content of the type that gets the most visits, “likes” and re-tweets. That’s obviously the stuff your potential customers want, so keep giving it to them!

What the data won’t readily tell you though, is why a certain piece of content performs better. Or why people drop off from your ordering process at the step where you ask for their age and weight. Or why so many people arrive from TripAdvisor compared with Qype…

This is where you must analyse the numbers and make theories as to why people behave the way they do. If you can, go out and ask a few of your customers questions that help you understand what’s going on.

Use the information to continually tweak and improve your web presence, and the way you communicate. The analytics data will tell you if your changes actually lead to an improvement: did conversion go up, or did it remain on the same level?

Tweaking and improving your digital assets is an art form in itself, and there are several techniques like A/B testing and multivariate testing that have developed over the years to stop you from “flying blind” when trying to optimise your digital assets for conversion. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

Got any questions, or a project you need help with? Get in touch!