End the One-Page Site Visit

New information accentuates the importance of a customer’s past experience with your Web site and brand. According to WebSideStory’s StatMarket data published this week:

  • 74 percent of visitors reach sites by direct navigation (type the URL) or bookmarks.
  • 16 percent of visitors reach sites via links from other sites.
  • 11 percent of visitors reach sites via search engines.

WebSideStory’s CMO, Rand Schulman, observes, “The days of Web users randomly ‘surfing’ to sites is ending. Now more than ever, people know exactly where they want to go on the Web. This does not mean search sites or other Web links are now less important, because users still have to initially find a site before they can bookmark it. However, having a site worth returning to is becoming increasingly important to businesses.”

If thousands, even millions of unique visitors think of your site as the one that could meet their needs or solve their problems, why do most leave after the first page or two? Why do conversions continue at an anemic 2-5 percent? Do you offer a solution or product that could meet the needs of more than 5 percent of your market? Can visitors find that solution on your Web site? Do they understand your offer’s value? Was it made at the right time? Are you sure they’re coming back?

Finally and most important, if you had the opportunity to engage one on one with each of your visitors and each honestly expressed her needs or wants, what percentage would you be able to satisfy?

Internet Marketers Ineffectively Engage Visitors

If your call center employees only converted 2 percent of qualified prospects, you’d fire them all. So what makes that rate OK for your Web site? A OneStat.com study of typical metrics for a large sample of sites illustrates the number of pages a visitor sees:

  • 1 page view: 9.52 percent
  • 1-2 page views: 54.60 percent
  • 2-3 page views: 16.56 percent
  • 3-4 page views: 8.75 percent
  • 4-5 page views: 4.43 percent
  • 6-7 page views: 1.41 percent
  • 7-8 page views: 0.85 percent
  • 8-9 page views: 0.68 percent
  • 9-10 page views: 0.51 percent
  • More than 10 page views: 2.69 percent

This isn’t unique to the users in OneStat’s study. We consistently observe such behavior across hundreds of sites.

Perhaps it takes visitors two pages to figure out they’re in the wrong place… but I doubt it. Over half of visitors are interested enough to click one or two steps deeper before bailing. That’s a pretty clear indication sites fail to provide enough “scent” (motivation, persuasion, value) to the majority of their visitors to keep them going in the process. Web sites don’t meet needs.

Search Engine Marketing’s Role

Over a quarter of visitors reach sites via links or search engines. This emphasizes search engine marketing’s (SEM’s) value. SEM focuses on increasing link popularity and visibility in search engine and extends to advertising on search properties. Over 550 million searches are performed each day.

Typical behavior is to search a phrase, click on a search results link, view the page, and decide whether it’s worth investigating. If not, click back and go on to the next link in the results. Obviously, the first view of the landing page is incredibly important. If the visitor clicks back, no other site pages are viewed — a classic one-page visit.

Fredrick Marckini wrote this week that SEM is ass backward:

“Search engine marketing is elemental! It’s fundamental to your online marketing strategy! You must do it first!” I shouted. Finally, after four years, search is the driver of online marketing.

Today, I find myself in a familiar situation. Online marketers are so busy fiddling with PPC search advertising campaigns, they’ve lost sight of their bigger problem: Web sites with low conversion rates.

Usability Equals Use

Many marketers look to usability studies to answer marketing questions. Yet every usability study starts with a Web site as a given. If someone commissions a usability study, she wants her Web site studied.

Usability studies suffer from one major flaw: They never study the most important aspect of visitor behavior. What matters is the initial impression of the Web site relative to other available choices, that is, your competitors.

Online behavioral specialist Jim Novo says, “They only study committed behavior, once the visitor has decided, ‘OK, this is the Web site I’m going to drill down into.’ All they are studying is what happens after the most critical event — getting chosen relative to a list of other sites in a search engine.”

There’s nothing wrong with usability per se, but it only addresses a small portion of the entire picture. One option is to have a usability tester study a bunch of search listings, including the target site. The test may not even get past a quick view of the entry page. That’s the ultimate usability test, isn’t it? What if the user preferred other sites and never even “used” yours? What value is a usability test then?

The Issue Isn’t Traffic, It’s Navigation

Navigation is the biggest challenge Web sites face. What to do you do with traffic once it lands on your site? How do you get visitors to take the first action and click deeper? Once there, how do you induce them to click to get to the next step, and the next, and the next?

Dozens of books are dedicated to Web site navigation. Gurus lecture on information architecture. Usability wonks pontificate at conferences about how visitors can find your link.

None ever deals with what motivates visitors to click on a link that will guide them to the persuasive path you want them to take. That path takes visitors on a journey from the initial landing page through the pages they find most relevant to their needs to the thank-you-for-ordering page. At the very least, it creates a click-through experience evocative of your brand.

Persuasion architecture links a visitor’s buying experience to your company’s sales process. It bridges the buy/sell processes in a holistic, contextually sensitive, and measurable way. You must know how users behave to generate sales and maximize return on investment (ROI). If you can influence visitor behavior and empathize with visitor motivations, you can influence results to provide a better experience and more frequent, effective conversions.

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