iStock_000002044862XSmallConversion funnels are paths that your prospective customers take before they turn paying clients. A conversion funnel can be as short as two steps (offer display -> purchase) or as long-winded as dozens of mini-conversions following one another.

The task of an Internet marketer (or a conversion optimization manager) is to make sure that, whenever the prospect is ready to convert, they can actually do it at ease, regardless of the part of the conversion funnel they’re at.

Hence, on the one hand, it’s important to make sure conversion is facilitated at each step of the process. And, on the other hand, one should see to it that there are no breaches in their conversion funnel and people are not leaving their website or abandoning shopping carts for whatever reason that may be.

Examples of Broken Conversion Funnels

Before getting into more detail regarding the classical conversion funnel, I’d like to give you an example of how one business almost messed up big time.

A friend of mine got hired as advertising manager for one small retailer, and the retailer was located at a shopping mall that was well-known in the city. The retailer had prepared an off-line display ad to be placed all around the place. Everything was fine with the ad but for one oversight – it did not contain the address of the mall in which the retailer was located. Good thing they hired my friend right before the ad went live, and she fixed that.

What was wrong with that conversion funnel? Well, imagine that I’ve never been to the city. How do I find the mall mentioned in the ad? I’d need to perform an online search for it, but then who knows if I’ll find it fast. And, should I rather look for the mall or for the retailer? After all, I might just give up on this – that’s it, conversion funnel broken.

A similar conversion funnel breach may occur if a prospect looks up your business on the go just to double-check something, but can’t find it quickly, because your site is not optimized for mobile. As you see there are many possible breaches, but most of them can be diagnosed and dealt with.

Conversion Funnel, the Comprehensive Model

Depending on the niche, the actual conversion funnels you use may differ. But it’s still possible to outline a comprehensive model that applies to most businesses:

B2C conversion F 1

* RC stands for return customer

Stage 1: Meeting the Brand

People may hear about your company in many different ways. This could happen via search, in social media, via online or off-line ads, through online links, through affiliate links, on comparison and review sites, etc.

At this stage, it’s not always easy to control the game, because it is not happening on your part of the playing field. Still there are certain things one can do to reinforce this element of the conversion funnel.

Potential problems and fixes:

– Sometimes, your company may get presented in the media in unfavorable light. So, it pays to monitor your brand’s online and offline reputation at the advertising venues that matters the most.

– Your website may be rankings high in the search engines, but you get very little traffic. Now, this could be because (A) you see your page at a higher position due to your searcher context (search history, IP address, browser language, Google’s Search plus Your World, etc.) or (B) your page title or description is not appealing enough or looks spammy.

If it’s (A), you could re-check your rankings using a proxy, log out of your Google account or clear your browser cookies. If it’s (B), then test different versions of the title and the meta description. Just remember that, if you’re ranking high enough, you would want to be careful when changing your meta tags: avoid touching important keywords in particular.

Stage 2: Making the 1st Step

If a prospect likes what he/she sees or hears about your brand, they are likely to take a step to get to know it better. They do this by clicking on a search result or an ad, making a phone call, clicking the link, scanning the QR code, etc.

Potential problems and fixes:

Sometimes, right upon landing on your page or Internet store, visitors simply bounce back and move on to some other result. This could be happening for a number of reasons. First, the keywords people use to come to your site could be a bad match for your site’s topic. Do you want traffic coming via these keywords? Why not save yourself bandwidth and pick the words that describe your biz more accurately.

Another reason for people leaving your site immediately could be that they don’t like what they see on it – as simple as that. This could happen because of excessive use of Flash or advertising or, on the contrary, because you have virtually no content above the fold. For instance, this website really makes me want to hit “Back”.

Stage 3: Granting the 1st permission

I bet you heard of permission marketing. The idea made popular by Seth Godin has become so rooted in modern-day sales that it seems to have existed forever. So, before you try to proactively sell anything to a prospect, the prospect has to express his/her permissions for you to proceed.

In the online world, the prospect expresses their permission by signing up to your news and updates, by following you on social networks, by requesting a quote, etc.

Potential problems and fixed:

– At this point, your task is to inspire trust in your prospect. You do this by telling them you will not use their email address for any purpose other than stated in the subscription form. It’s also good to include a link to your privacy policy or to promise that you will never share the person’s email with any third-party service.

By the way, try to keep the form as short as possible – short forms work best. For instance, here is one of the forms we use at Link-Assistant.Com:

B2C conversion F 2

Some people provide junk email addresses to sign up for products or services, and they never check those email boxes afterwards. Hence, explain why it is important to give one’s legit email address, or you could make the service available only after one clicks the confirmation link in the email.

Stage 4: Engagement

After you’ve been granted permission to approach the prospect with your offer, make sure you don’t start bombarding them with sales propositions right away. For instance, when one follows you on Twitter, an “express” DM with a buy-from-me link in it just leaves a bad impression.

How does one engage with their customers? Engagement is fostered through email marketing, social media marketing, blogging or a combination of these.

Potential problems and fixed:

– The general problem that often occurs at this point is that some people unfollow you/unsubscribe from your services. This could be either because you’re being too salesy while communicating with potential clients, or because you demand their attention too often, or for other reasons.

One thing to remember in this respect – it should never be about you, it should always be about your customer. When breaking any offer, say what’s in it for your customers upfront. Besides, to find out why the clients are leaving, use an unsubscribe survey.

– Another problem some marketers experience is poor engagement, that is, not too many people actually open the emails you send or interact with you in social media. First off, make sure your emails are not getting affected by spam filters – try sending them to a few different emails (by different providers) before sending them to your clients. Another reason for poor engagement could be that your content doesn’t look, well… engaging. Invest some time into creating compelling titles for your posts as well as pick images that grab attention to go with your posts.

Stage 5: Conversion

A conversion is not necessarily a purchase. A conversion is any action a prospect takes in regards to your brand that has a positive outcome. For instance, different engagement activities can be considered mini conversions.

Potential problems and fixes:

Sometimes, people are reluctant to purchase, because

– the price is quite high and there is no guarantee they will get what they expect;

– they have security and privacy concerns;

– they’re experiencing technical problems.

To overcome the fear of the unknown marketers have come up with a solution – the refund policy. So, if you think your prospect may be reluctant to part with a pretty hefty sum of money, offer them a money-back guarantee.

Also, make sure your shopping cart or ecommerce service is functioning correctly. It’s also recommended to offer free shipping rather than calculate it separately in each case.

Stage 6: Client retention

After a client has purchased from you, what do you do next? It may seem that you should just go on engaging with them the same way you were engaging with them before they made the purchase. Yet you also need to keep in mind that your older clients have already see your standard set of freebies, don’t need another copy of the item they already have, but they need a reason to stay with you – and this is what you should provide.

Potential problems and fixes:

– The mistake some marketers make is they don’t tell their customers what they should do right after the purchase. A follow-up email/phone call is a must. Besides, the page the person sees right after the purchase should be optimized for further relationship building. Include “also check out ___” or “you might also like __” links.

– Another mistake is excluding existing clients from your discount campaign. This is when, during a promo campaign, you offer discounts and/or freebies for new clients, but nothing for existing ones.

– You could also create a loyalty program, in which your clients will be getting points and growing their authority by taking certain action. When people feel you appreciate their staying with you – they actually stay.

Stage 7: Return customer

It’s not that super-simple to make a client come back or purchase from you again. It’s not enough for your service to be OK for you to achieve that – it should be exceptional.

Potential problems and fixes:

– Customers may not be making more purchases, because they would like to try something new. If you can, offer this new experience to them by revamping your product/service, giving it a new look-and-feel, etc.

– Sometimes, one negative experience after a hundred instances of exceptional service puts the client off and they don’t come back. So, make sure your service level is consistent and do monitor your company’s reputation on a regular basis.

Have just found a breach in your conversion funnel? Take the first step to fixing it right now!

Image credit: agentry  via iStockPhoto