customer-funnel-illustration

Anyone who has sat through a marketing or business 101 class will know how much of it is taught using marketing models and theories. Whether it is St Elmo Lewis’s AIDA Theory (which has recently celebrated it’s 116th birthday) or more modern academia like McCarthy’s PPPP marketing mix, local businesses and international marketing professionals alike have been making decisions using these models as their guide for years.

The beauty of these models lay in their applicability to a variety of situations. As the manager of an ecommerce store, they point the way towards some simple changes on your website that can have a huge impact on the way your customers perceive your brand and the number of customers you are getting through the checkout.

One great example of this is the online marketing funnel. This is, as you can imagine, a relatively modern theory, but it is a spin on existing academia as opposed to a whole new concept. This theory argues that a customer’s online journey can be divided into five unique stages and in each stage what motivates and incentivises a customer changes. These stages progress from initial awareness and consideration, all the way to transaction, loyalty and advocacy.

What’s useful about models like this is it can give you a unique perspective from which to make changes to the way your business operates online without the usual “try everything and see what sticks” approach to conversion optimisation. Making considered and thought out changes in this way allow you to produce a result that your users want, rather than a result that you think they want.

In this guide we look at the awareness, consideration and transaction stages (the three that are easiest and most lucrative for online businesses to optimise), focusing on changes that are easily implemented by those who aren’t necessarily “technically minded” and offer immediate results.

Awareness

Marketing and strategy

It goes without saying, but before you can start making any money at all from your online business, you will need to let people know that it exists. Even if you already have an established brand or product, expanding your customer base should be an ongoing priority.

For any online business, major search engines like Google and Bing are one of the main sources of customers coming through the digital front door. Your business’s position on these search engines will have a significant impact on the amount of business coming your way, so it is not an element that should be ignored.

The process of adjusting your website to make it more likely to rank well on search engines is known as search engine optimization (SEO) and these adjustments take place on your own website as well as on the wider web.

SEO is one of those “easy to learn and hard to master” skill sets, so while it always pays to have a professional audit and carry out your SEO if you can afford it, the real foundations of a solid SEO campaign can be set up by just about anyone with the help of a few tools.

One of these tools, one that should be in every single website owner’s arsenal, is the Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress. This free plugin analyses every single page of your site and offers you suggestions on improving each pages optimization in a handy colour coded list of actionable tips. The plugin recognises when you have made the changes and will mark the appropriate point on the list as yellow if it could still do with improvement, or green if it is satisfied that the element is fully optimised. It’s like a having a tiny nagging SEO consultant living in the back end of your site!

Yoast also comes with a range of other tools that allow you to make site wide changes to your SEO. This includes tools to set site or category wide meta descriptions (the snippet text that could be displayed on search engine results pages) and a noindex tool that prevents search engines from listing certain parts of your site (great for content is repeated in multiple places).

Not using WordPress? Not to worry, there are many similar alternatives available for content management and ecommerce systems like Drupal, Joomla and Shopify.

However, it is worth noting that a heavy dependence on search engine traffic could very well be the downfall of a business. If Google makes a change to their algorithm that knocks your sites rankings down or, even more distressingly, slaps your site with a manual penalty, your organic traffic could half (or disappear completely) overnight.

To ensure that you are prepared for such a disaster, focus on other parts of your awareness strategy as well.

Although it might seem like the traffic you are getting from social networks, local directories and other types of referrals are small potatoes compared to your organic visitors, at least you know that this traffic won’t dry up overnight. It might even be a consistent (or in the case of social media, ever growing) source of income for you through thick and thin.

It is also highly advisable to use Google AdWords to promote your business on search engine results pages (SERPS). The beauty of AdWords is that it can be as expensive or as cheap as you like, and you only pay for genuine clicks from engaged users.

If you are working on a tight budget, it is best to only bid on keywords that you know are driving conversions on your site. For example, if you are a store selling custom running shoes for little girls, bidding on keywords like “shoes” and “running shoes” will be a waste of your hard earned cash. Instead, focus on specifics like “kids running shoes.”

Consideration

Consideration

Getting eyeballs onto your webpage is the most difficult part of the internet marketing puzzle, and if you have a website that is getting regular traffic then give yourself a pat on the back, you deserve it. However, visitors alone will not make you much cash, you need them to actually purchase your products!

The first thing you should think about when refining your site and optimising it for conversions is your websites design. The golden rule of web design is that the most important parts of your site (ideally the entire site) should be accessible within only three clicks of your homepage. Not only does this have a positive impact on SEO, it also improves user experience and decreases frustration, all leading to more conversions.

Now that’s sorted, it’s time to be a little bit self-critical and ask yourself “Is my website better, or at least on par with, my competitors?” If you can’t honestly answer with a firm “yes” then you definitely still have work to do.

People on the internet are vain simply because they can be. After all, why spend more than a second on a site that you don’t like the “look” of when there are hundreds of other sites offering the same or similar services just a few clicks away?

A big part of this, especially in online retail, is effective use of images and sales copy that jumps out of the page. A fantastic example of great use of both image and text can be found at FireBox.com, an online retailer specialising in interesting or “geeky” gifts.

FireBox refuse to settle with uninteresting photography, instead showing their products in use in an artful and visually appealing way. This is backed up by sales copy written with amazing humour and insightful comment. Be sure to check them out for some quick inspiration.

Transaction

Transaction is the make or break moment in your customers journey. They have landed onto your website, browsed your products, find the site generally agreeable and are finally ready to hand over their money.

While getting a customer to this stage is an achievement in and of itself, it is also the time when said customer is most likely to abandon their shopping cart and never come back. For this reason, it is important that the transaction stage of your customer’s journey is as simple, distraction free and fast as possible.

One method for making this stage in the journey as simple and distraction free as possible is to use a “closed checkout” on your site. What this means is that the checkout part of you website should be using a dramatically stripped down version of your websites main theme. Takes away any distractions like suggested products, deals or any other promotion elements, removing the possibility of a customer clicking away from the checkout once they have already started paying.

Keep the form centred on the page on a clean white background and if you are stuck for design inspiration, check out how Amazon do it above. As the world biggest online retailer, you can bet your last dollar that they have spent a huge amount of time and resource split testing and researching to develop the highest converting checkout page possible and, luckily for you, this is wisdom which you can steal and use on your own site for free.

Another factor that will affect how well your site pushes customers though the conversion process is how well it adapts mobile devices. Recent research conducted by ResponseTap found that while a conversion rate of 1.4% is typical for a sites desktop users, the average e-commerce site can also expect 1.5% of tablet users and 0.4% of cell phone users will convert.

With nearly 2% of all visitors on portable devices making a purchase, not counting those who first find your site on a mobile device and later return to it from their desktop, you will be missing a trick if your site isn’t responsive.

Response Tap Research

Luckily, for WordPress users at least, making your site optimised for mobile devices has never been easier with apps like WPtouch. This app will detect when your users are browsing your site using a mobile device and move the content of your site into a stylish and user friendly mobile theme.

Although this won’t work 100% of the time, for simple sites or well optimised themes this is a “set it and forget it” solution. If this isn’t possible then it is highly recommended that you make the investment and have a responsive design built for your website. After all, mobile traffic made up 28% of all web traffic at the end of last year and this number is set to rise. Can you afford to turn off over a quarter of the web browsing public because of something so simple?

One last little trick for pushing your customers through the transaction phase of their journey is the use of social discounting. What this entails is offering your customers a discount on their purchase if they share your site on Twitter or Facebook. Because this is so easy for the user to do the discount doesn’t have to be large, between two and five percent is usually enough, but the impact that this could have on how your brand is perceived huge.

Not only will this further incentivise your customers to complete their transaction (because everyone loves a discount) but it also acts as a fantastic promotional tool for your business, bringing in new visitors and improving your brand’s presence on social media. This functionality is available as a plugin for all the top e-commerce platforms, so there really is no reason to delay.

Got any other top tips for acquiring new customers, winning your customers favour or pushing them towards a complete transaction? Share with the community and leave a comment below.