Archive for April, 2011

Building a site that converts

Posted: April 18, 2011 in Business 2.0

Converting Customers

I’ve talked about conversion pipelines before, market testing your ideas online and maximizing online profit. A critical part of your success in all of these areas is your ability to create a site which converts. There are many pretty sites online which are totally ineffective. Many companies charge you for a flash design, then walk away and leave you floundering. It is quite something else to create a site which consistently converts visitors to paid customers.

I’ve created many sites selling complex products which convert as high as 10% of visitors to software trials, enquires or product sales. There are a few tricks to this which I’ve put into a short lesson which should get you converting traffic to sales in no time. I will focus on creating a killer home since this is where all the action happens.

If you want to look at the example site it is Centeros a dcim product.

Good Design
Good design is a critical starting point for any successful site. The design is the only thing which tells a potential customer if your company is a two man shop in Bangalore or a multi-national. Customers will decide what they think of your company within a couple of seconds of hitting your home page and the design will play a big part in this.

Web trends change like clothing fashions. A site which looked great in 2005 is going to look like brown flared pants today. So get a professional designer to do the design then keep it current.

The Journey
Putting a good design in place is common sense, the next bit is the magic. You need to hook your potential customer in within 10 seconds. This means organising your home page perfectly. To do this you need to understand the way your customer thinks and take them on a journey.

We order the page in a way which takes our viewer’s eye past everything they need to know to make the decision that we are indeed what they are looking for. The following diagram shows the journey and what we show them on the way.
1. Name – Tag Line
Our customer eyeballs the middle of the page then searches for a starting point. The question we are answering is “What company is this?”. That is why the company’s name should always be top left. Associated with the name should be a tag line. The tag line is a way of conveying in a glace what your company does. “Centeros – data center operating system”. Now your customer knows the company name and what the product is. Your customer is not interested yet, but we made it easy for them to determine they are in the right place.

2. Elevator Pitch
The next stop for your customer’s eyeballs is an elevator pitch. Your customer now wants to understand exactly what you do, but will only spend a few precious seconds on this. I’ve been to plenty of sites where it takes longer than 10 seconds to establish what their product does. Most often I give up.

Your Elevator Pitch should be clear, crisp and precise. Describe exactly what your product or service is, no more. Your customer should read the pitch and want to know more.

3. Something Flash
We now need to hit the customer with some eye candy. Show them something flash and sexy, showcasing your product. This is going to excite and leave them wanting more.

4. Credibility
As the customers eye balls browse lazily across your page you need to pop items in front of them which reinforce credibility. How do they know you are a real company? Someone they will willingly trust with their data and probably even credit card details. If you have some major customers, make sure you pop their logos on the front page.

5. Core Messages
If we don’t do the previous steps to warm a customer up they probably won’t read any details. If we did our job well, the previous five steps left them wanting more. This is the time to provide a summary of our key value areas. Keep this simple, something the customer can scan in ten seconds which allows them to understand your product will fulfil their needs. I generally break this up into core messages, each with a title.

6. Some life
A good reason for having your blog posts, or twitter syndicated to the home page is to show some life. Make sure they know there is action happening here, things being released, people buying.

7. A Crowd
Point 6 & 7 are important, people buy where other people are buying. Imagine one evening you are walking down a street with your other half looking to select a restaurant for dinner. You peek in each window checking how they look. You read the menu for sure, but the thing which leaves the biggest impression is the number of other people in the restaurant. I’m sure we have all walked away from a restaurant with no one in it. Point 6 & 7 aim to provide the feeling of a crowd of people buying from you. I often stick pictures of happy customers, quotes etc on the home page. This alleviates the customer’s fear that they are your only customer.

8. Call to Action
Some place high up on each page you also need a call to action. A big bold button with your goal often works, like “Free Trial” or “Free Evaluation”. Once you have the customer hooked you want to lead them quickly in the right direction. The call to action is the first part of this process.

If you follow these steps and design a nice looking page you are on the path to making your site successful. You should get people interested, get them excited about your product, show them credibility and give them an easy way to buy from you. Put it all together and your site will convert.


I'm a Steve Ballmer

General lack of coolness
Microsoft have always been uncool, but it never used to matter. Why? Because back when Windows 95 came out computers were still not really domestic devices. The Internet was still made up of pictures of Anna Nicole Smith, tech articles and university sites. Kids might have played computer games but that was probably about it.

Scroll forward to today and the whole scene has changed. Computers are now true consumer devices and that consumer is the notorious Gen-Y. The same Gen that spends leisure time on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, sharing photos of themselves and listening to MP3s is also deeply concerned about what is cool.

It all starts at the top. Go check out some videos of Steve Balmer, then Steve Jobs. The difference couldn’t be clearer. When Balmer talks about photo or music sharing you know he does about as much of that as your dad. They have tried so hard to market cool to the photo sharing public, but are being so outpaced by Apple it’s embarrassing. Meanwhile the Gen-Y’s are out in force pimping their Macbooks in cafes, flaunting their white headphones and ipads.

This will create two serious problems for Microsoft. Firstly Gen-Y is taking over the world, while the Bill Gates generation are retiring. But worse is an old secret Microsoft knew well, that business computing is driven by home computing. In the 90s business users had CD Roms, sound cards and Windows 95 at home. Anything we have at home eventually gets dragged into the office. The same thing is starting to happen for Apple. Innovation at home drives adoption in the office.

Lack of Innovation & Hardware
The best example to demonstrate the way Microsoft innovates is the touch mouse. I remember seeing a video tour of Microsoft labs last year, where nerdy looking guys demonstrated possible future mice designs. There was lots of cutting edge but blatantly awkward R&D efforts showing different designs. Among the pack they showed off several ugly looking prototype multi touch mice they had in development. Apparently at some time in the distant future this technology might make it to production.

Several months later Apple released their multi touch mouse. An elegant curve of translucent plastic containing all the flash goodies Microsoft had predicted for the future. I could only imagine the disappointment back at Microsoft labs.

As another example, Microsoft had the handheld market for 10 years and the best they could do was that horrible cut down Windows Mobile OS. The same OS made damn sure no one was dreaming about having the latest Microsoft mobile device. Apple came into the market and killed them with their first iPhone release.

MS also had a monopoly on tablets, where, like mobile, they simply added some new features to their standard OS. Remember those laptops with the fold over screen and the stylus. Once again blown away by Apples first release of the iPad.

Part of this is lack of control over hardware of course. If the best your hardware partners can come up with is a Compaq iPaq you’re pretty much f@cked no matter what you do.

For Apple innovation is business as usual. Every year they hold Macworld and show off a game changing device, that’s just what they do as a company. The company is tuned to turn out killer new devices and big leaps forward. Microsoft as a company seems to be the opposite, an organisation which stumbles around spending billions on innovation with little to show. Some light was thrown on this last year by Dick Brass, a former Microsoft exec, who released an article blasting the way the internal bureaucracy deliberately gets in the way of innovation.

Do you think Steve Jobs would put up with this? No way. He’s a maniacal dictator, but one with a clear vision who gets what he wants. If he sniffed any of this behaviour at Apple there would be mass firings (without a second thought).

It shows once again that innovation isn’t a lab off to the side of a business, it’s the way a good business is setup to work. There is always a competitor coming from behind, if we don’t leap forward each year we loose our audiences attention and someone else will get it. Apple makes sure every year legions of fans are waiting for the next big thing and Apple always delivers this to them.