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Market Strategy versus Website Conversion
By Kevin Gold, Managing Partner, Enhanced Concepts, Inc.

Improving website conversion is a highly effective strategy for combating the escalating costs and competitiveness of online marketing.

Improving website conversion is a highly effective strategy for combating the escalating costs and competitiveness of online marketing. It provides a web business the opportunity to increase sales without spending a single penny more on advertising.

Improving leads and sales conversion typically involves enhancing or modifying a website's design and copy. However, through my company's experience helping clients plan, measure and implement website conversion strategies, modifying design and copy barely skims the surface for improving online sales. For some businesses, what is required to increase website sales is a new approach for their market strategy.

A business' market strategy is a plan that integrates its organization's major goals, policies, and actions into a competitive position. The strategies focus on optimizing the four "Ps" including product, pricing, promotion, and placement (some marketers consider "people" as a fifth one.)  A market strategy is designed within the context of consumer, competitive and market analyses and developed to stake out a competitive advantage.

Recently I had an eye-opening experience on how market strategy plays a more crucial role in improving website sales than design and copy. The client's website was average in terms of design and copy. Although it was using turnkey shopping cart technology which had some structural limitations, overall the website was converting within industry standards.

Upon initial assessment, I found some violations of usability best practices much of which were caused by the structural limitations of the shopping cart technology. A good reason why web businesses should evaluate their shopping cart technology against usability and conversion best practices as well as the ability to customize its programming code.

The client's web analytics showed that most visitors were navigating effectively, their entry page bounce rates were within industry benchmarks and visitors were browsing on average 5.7 pages deep into the site. However, exits rates were high on many product pages indicating that although people were finding the products, a large majority weren't satisfied.

Further analysis of the product pages revealed a number of potential barriers. The product descriptions were nondescript, many policies including the holy grail of e-commerce, shipping, were missing and the layout was not well-organized. These issues were corrected and the pages were tested and measured again. Although a very slight improvement occurred, overall visitors were still not purchasing.

Overall the metrics were telling me to dig deeper into the client's market strategy - something was wrong with the four "Ps."  If people were finding the products why were they hesitating to buy?

First, I analyzed the client's pricing against the findings from a competitive analysis and discovered that they were competitive. This was a good sign that price was not a major issue.

Second, I focused on promotion. "Bingo."  I uncovered a few potential issues. The client's shipping costs were high and with some product combinations, the shipping fees actually exceeded the product price. Due to the product type, the shipping costs charged were internally justifiable; however, a majority of online buyers claim that high shipping costs are a major barrier to purchasing.

Research has shown that by implementing a free shipping offer with conditions (e.g. free shipping on orders over $30) increases sales fairly significantly. An eHoliday Mood Study by Shop.org and BizRate.com reported that free shipping with conditions is one of the most successful tools in driving business. Over 40% of retailers listed it as their most effective marketing promotion. In addition. consumers ranked free shipping with conditions as one of the most effective buying incentives.

Of course, a free shipping promotional strategy involves financial considerations prior to its implementation. The client had to evaluate whether the cost / benefit was worthwhile. Changes of this magnitude requires a proper planning and development time-table - so they are not quick turnaround strategies.

I also discovered that the high-quality and relevant banner images on the home page were not being tracked effectively. The client added tracking codes to each banner and quickly discovered that a few were significantly underperforming. With performance insight, the client was able to promote products more aligned with market demand and created a new merchandising strategy to leverage the new measurement process.

Third, I analyzed the product strategies using a more in-depth client interview and competitive analysis. The client wanted to focus effort on increasing the sales of their product bundles which happened to be the product category experiencing the highest exit rates.

Even though the client was offering a bundle discount, many customers were buying the individual products separate from the bundle. By interviewing the client's customer service team. we discovered that these customers were contacted and asked why they bought the individual items versus the discounted bundle. The overwhelming customer response was that the bundles contained a number of unnecessary items and they perceived those items as the highest cost components of the bundle price!

With new insight in hand, the client reorganized their product bundle strategy enabling customers to "pick and choose" the individual products to form a bundle. This personalization paid off well.

Placement was the final area for review. The client was generating visitors from multiple sources including natural and paid search, affiliate programs, email and keyword-targeted micro-sites. All of these marketing channels created a hodge-podge of challenges and produce varying levels of visitor quality.  One specific issue was that many of their affiliates were not being tracked correctly. The client instituted a professional affiliate management program to take over the time-consuming task of effectively managing affiliate relationships.

At times, improving website conversion falls deeper than design and copy. Instead, it involves a thorough assessment of your market strategy - price, promotion, product, placement. Take some time to perform a comprehensive market, consumer and competitive analysis and see where your business fits within this context. A redesigned website and new copy may help but a reinvigorated market strategy may accelerate your growth beyond your wildest dreams.

Kevin Gold is Managing Partner of Enhanced Concepts helping businesses increase their online leads and sales through improving conversions and gaining greater visibility. Download "20 Surefire Ways to Increase Your Website

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