How Many Holes Are in Your Bucket?

  |  October 8, 2001   |  Comments

At each step of the sales process, a site loses some users. We use the leaky bucket metaphor for a site that doesn't successfully convert visitors into buyers. Traffic fills the bucket but leaks out of holes. You need to plug as many holes as possible.

In a recent article, I explained how once a user arrives on a Web site, the conversion process becomes a "sales funnel." At each step of the sales process, a site loses users. We use the leaky bucket metaphor for a site that doesn't successfully convert visitors into buyers. Traffic fills the bucket but leaks out of holes. You need to plug as many of these holes as possible.

Unfortunately, most people measure conversion by the complete macro-action they want users to take (e.g., how many people made a purchase, subscribed, registered, etc.). Every one of these actions is composed of a series of smaller actions. Each micro-action, or omission of one, is a potential hole in the bucket.

Take Microsoft. Assume we need to get people to download Internet Explorer 6 -- the macro-action. At present, the top image in the center column of its home page has the following text: "Download Internet Explorer 6 now. Experience the latest in private, reliable and flexible Internet browsing." Our ultimate goal is to get Jane Consumer to download and install the browser on her PC. Here's an outline of the necessary micro-actions:

  1. She finds the link for IE 6 on the home page.

  2. She understands it.

  3. She clicks on it.

  4. From the main Internet Explorer page, she chooses to download immediately, order a CD, or learn more.

  5. If she chooses to learn more, the goal still is to get her back on track to download or order a CD.

  6. If she then chooses to download IE 6:

    1. Her first action is to select which language she wants.

    2. Then she must click on the link to start downloading the setup file.

  7. If she instead chooses to order a CD:

    1. She must decide which CD she wants to order (there are 2 options).

    2. Once the action of choosing the CD is complete, she is taken to step one of the form.

    3. From there, she must continue filling out the form till the order is complete.
That's a lot of micro-actions! Imagine measuring the drop-off of activity every step of the way. How do you plug the holes in the leaky bucket? First, understand and account for every step in the process. Second, design effective calls to action.

Every page on your site should focus on getting the visitor to take an action -- even if that action is simply to move on to the next step in the process. Conversion rates suffer when sites fail to drive customer micro-actions and maintain momentum through the sales path. Once the path is defined and each of the micro-actions described, you can work on optimizing the most effective call to action for each step.

Back to Microsoft. On the home page, there's a link: "Download Internet Explorer 6 now. Experience the latest in private, reliable and flexible Internet browsing." This call to action is done well. Why? Simple. The sentence contains an active verb ("download") plus an implied benefit ("private, reliable and flexible Internet browsing") Action-benefit interactions work quite effectively. That's why they've been used by marketers for over three decades. Take the Columbia House Music Club pitch: "Join the Music Club: 12 CDs for Free!" Action to benefit. Energetic. Engaging. Compelling. The technique works particularly well with people who scan information, namely, Web users. Using well-placed blue, underlined text links within the page attracts attention.

These rules apply equally when you want a visitor to fill out a form. Display the form (a call to action itself) and specify the benefits. And specify the benefits at the point of action. Finally, when visitors accept a call to action, their expectations must be satisfied. Deliver the benefits!

How well have you mapped the actions you want your prospect to take? How well is she guided, step by step? Are you letting her slip through any of those holes?

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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