Guide on Search Engine Optimization, Landing Pages Optimization and Web Conversion

Apr 1, 2012 by Yuriy Sklyar

This post briefly touches on a number of items from our monthly checklist that we use for our regular clients. These methods will help you convert more users into customers, gain more positive brand experiences, and help you rank better in search engines.

In most cases all of these techniques have been proven to have a positive effect, however I advise you to always test in order to determine whether the change has the same positive effect on your business as it varies.

Use this as your pre-launch checklist and contribute to it in the comments at the end of this post – I will update the post with more techniques as we research and test them.

I hope you enjoy it.

Call-to-Action Buttons

Regardless of what your website does for your business (sells products, gets leads, etc) you want people to easily see the call-to-action buttons. These can be anything from “Buy Now”, to “Sign Me Up”, to “Upload”.

It has been proven that the slightest changes to these can have a significant impact on your conversion rate. Anything from basic size/color changes, to more complex, graphically interesting buttons – test to see what works best for you.

Keep in mind that the call to action has to say exactly what happens after the user clicks the button – this builds trust and reduces uncertainty.

Physical Address

Similar to the 1-800 number, a physical address creates more reassurance about your business. Make it easier for your users to see your location online by including a link to Bing/Google Maps.

Don’t lie about your location and make sure that people at that particular address know that you are running your business from there.

Paragraphs

Keep your paragraphs short and to the point. 2.5–4.5 lines per paragraph is the optimal length.

Present only one thought per paragraph because it makes it easier for users to make a conclusion.

Learn more about writing techniques.

Checkout Product Thumbnails

Product thumbnails in the checkout page increase conversion rates. I m assuming this is due to the fact that people can actually see a visual reference of what they are buying.

Test this out on your website and see if you notice any difference in conversion. Play around with thumbnail sizes to make them more legible.

Follow Up With Potential Customers

This is the easiest method of figuring out what s wrong with your website.

If you own an eCommerce website, get in touch with people that have left their contact info, but have abandoned the cart – you never know, it might have been a glitch with your website and they are still willing to buy.

While you re at it, offer them a discount code just for coming back and shopping with you again (if you have a coupon code module installed).

Email Signatures

Just like your website, your signature needs to be branded too. Not only will this look more professional but it will also prevent the person from wondering whether they’ve received an email from the correct website.

Email signatures shouldn’t have to be static and boring.

For example, we’re running an experiment right now where our signature is updated 2-4 times a month with latest news or projects that we’re currently working on. The news part of the signature always stays consistent with everyone’s at the studio.

This shows that we’re staying current and gives our friends/clients more insight into what we’re up to. It’s almost like a mini-newsletter, except you get to send it a lot more than once a month. I’ll post our research results in a month or two when we have enough data.

Social Integration

First off, a few eye-opening facts:

  • Nearly 2/3 of US Internet users regularly use a social network.
  • 93% of US adult internet users are on Facebook.
  • Facebook is now the most preferred way of sharing content – second only to email.
  • US Internet users spend 3× more time on blogs and social networks than on email.
  • Companies that use Twitter average 2× more leads per month than those that do not.
  • Companies with 1000+ Twitter followers get 6× more traffic on their websites than those with fewer Twitter followers.
  • 39% of B2B companies using Twitter have acquired new customers from it.
  • 79% of US Twitter users are more likely to recommend the brands that they follow.
  • More than 1/2 of active Twitter users follow companies, brands, or products on social networks.

A business that heavily relies on social marketing should at least have a Facebook page (among many others like: YouTube, Twitter, Google+, etc which might be required depending on what kind of business you run).

A lot of people make the mistake of using a personal profile instead of a Facebook page. This is wrong. Don’t do it.

Find out which networks will be the most beneficial for your business by closely monitoring the response rate for each one – only include social networks that are being managed on daily basis.

For example, we found that AllFacebook Stats by German developers over at SMT Social.Media.Tracking GmbH, does a much better job than the default Facebook Insights. You can use it for free (tracking up to 3 Facebook pages).

Also make sure that your users have access to your social networks from each page of your website. Give them 2 options of accessing your page. For example, some people like to check out the actual Facebook page before they "like" it (most likely to see how frequently it’s updated and what kind of content they can expect to see), while others should be able to "like" it with just a single click.

Don’t forget to have an attractive image preview for pages that your users are liking. Visit Facebook Debugger Tool to see how your pages are seen by Facebook.

Contact us if you need help with any of the above.

Blog

This should be one of the most important sections of your website.

Besides the fact that having a blog will help your SEO in the long run, it will also get people coming back to your website (unless your content is boring).

Start interesting topics, ask questions and spark conversations – make your users feel like they are a part of something good.

Check out some interesting facts about Blogs:

  • 65% of daily internet users read a blog.
  • About 46% of daily internet users read more than one blog every day.
  • 36% of daily internet users read 5 to 10 blog posts per day.
  • Companies that blog get 55% more web traffic and 70% more leads than those that don’t.
  • B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those that do not.
  • Businesses that blog at least 20 times per month generate 5× more traffic and 4× more leads than those that only blog a few times per month.
  • Blog posts that were shared on Twitter and Facebook got 149% more inbound links than those that weren’t shared on social media at all.
  • Blog posts shared on Twitter get 113% more inbound links than those that weren’t shared on social media at all.

Customer Feedback

Knowing what your customers have to say about your product or service is very important.

For this reason, we’ve developed an extremely light and easy-to-use feedback module for Drupal websites. Just like Drupal itself, the “Site Ideas” module also happens to be free.

The more we use it, the more we realize that this is an invaluable tool for ourselves as well! When we have ideas and no pen and paper to write them down: just fill out the idea field, and submit it for further review – anywhere you have internet.

Reviews

Build an easy-to-use form where users can submit their product reviews. This will create more reassurance in shoppers, and if the reviews are mostly positive, will get more people buying.

Keep the form short and to the point. Create an easy to way for yourself to manage all the submission as well since you will have to deal with a lot of spam – do not complicate the process for your users with CAPTCHAs.

Backlinks are very important for SEO. The more quality links you have pointing to your website from other websites, the higher you rank online. Links from educational websites (.edu extension) are weighted more than other extensions (.com, .net.).

Check out a great article by Google, that takes a more in-depth look at inbound links.

A/B Testing (Split Testing)

Split testing will help you optimize your website. A base idea is compared to several samples (ideas) that eventually help you determine which is the best performing. After you select the best candidate, you start optimizing it again to get even higher conversion rates – possibilities are endless.

If you’re not sure of what I’m talking about, and you’re wondering why you should invest in this type of research, check out a great article from 37 Signals on their experiences of optimizing their Highrise website.

Filters

Try and imagine your store as if it was a blog – you’re selling content. In order to find a certain post you either search for it or you use categories or blog tags.

Experiment with implementing these tags on your product pages – pay attention to your pages/visit as they will most likely go up because of this change.

If it’s possible, include a graphical representation for categories to go along with the text description – this will provide a better visual reference of what the category is about.

eBay also has a nice way to filter its automotive section, check it out.

Cross-Selling

Suggesting more items to users might get them to buy more from you, however do not make the mistake of suggesting items that are completely unrelated to what your users are looking for.

For example, you shouldn’t offer a calculator to someone who has just purchased a TV, instead offer them some accessories like cables or batteries. They might need these in order to get everything set up, which in the end will result in a more positive opinion of your brand.

Toll Free Support Phone Number

It’s been proven that having a visible support number on every page of your website (top of the website usually works best) instills trust in users and reassures them that your business is willing to assist them at any time – all they have to do is phone.

Tip: this might seem like a no-brainer, but you should always be there to answer your phone, especially if you do business globally.

In case you can only answer the phone during certain hours, make sure that the user knows what time zone you are located in and make it easy for them to convert it to their time (e.g.: offer a link to a time zone conversion website).

Google Analytics

First thing we do as a bonus to our clients after an initial project launch is install and configure their new Google Analytics account.

Not only can they follow how their new website is performing, but we can also learn from it and advise on ways to make it even better. This is a must-have tool for anyone who has a website.

Read more of our Google Analytics-related posts.

Alt Tags

Close your eyes while looking at a website that contains images and try to describe all of them. Difficult, isn’t it? This is exactly what happens when you are a visually impaired user and all the Alt tags are missing.

Never stuff your alt ernative tags with useless keywords because you will get penalized by search engines. Describe the images as if you had to describe them to someone over the phone.

Fix Your Policies

Do you enjoy reading 40-page contracts written in “lawyer”? No? Neither do your users. Keep it short, simple, and to the point.

Also test whether your website will have a higher conversion rate if you use a pop-up window for your short Privacy Policy, or better yet a LightBox type of pop-up. See an example (bottom of the website).

General Organic SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

  • 60% of all organic clicks go to the top three organic search results – check out the difference.
  • 75% of users never go further than the first page of search results. Compelling page descriptions can help you stand out.
  • 89% of US internet users search online before they make a purchase, even when the purchase is made at a local business.

Use Google Keyword Tool to determine what keywords you can potentially rank for. Pay attention to how high your competition rate is to see if it’s even worthwhile to invest in ranking high for certain keywords in your position.

Experiment with adding local keywords to your SEO efforts, for a more direct, high-quality local traffic.

For example, instead of “web design”, you will have a better chance of raking higher for a more local search result such as “web design edmonton” (see what I did there? ;))

Benefits VS Features

Always start off with the benefits first when selling a product or a service. People are better guided by benefits, rather than features. Avoid confusion with too many options and make sure that a single recognizable goal is present throughout.

Best way to present this type of content is in a bullet list – bullet lists are easier for people to comprehend.

Using green color for bullet points has more of a subconscious impact on your users as green is believed to be “the color of correct”, reassuring them that they are making the right decision.

Tip: try using green check marks instead of rounded bullet points and no more than 5 points per list.

Newsletter

Let’s face it, email is here to stay for a while. Every single online service is based off of emails, and chances are, once in a while a lot of you still use your first email address that you registered many years ago. These are just some of the reasons why email marketing has consistently proven itself as one of the best ways to engage with your current and future customers.

A few things to point out. I didn’t want to call this “email marketing” – that would make it look like you are trying to sell something – you need to avoid that. Truth is, most people hate being sold to. It’s in your own interest to include compelling content in your newsletter that will not make you look like a sleazy salesman trying to push a product/service onto his customers – make people genuinely interested in what you have to say.

You should also find out how often your users expect to receive updates from you, or consider giving them several subscription options: monthly, bi-monthly, weekly, daily, etc. Consider influencing your users’ selection by specifying which one is either “Recommended” or “Most Popular” out of your subscription options.

If you own an eCommerce store, try and implement a visible “Back to Shopping” link inside of the shopping cart. Chances are, some people will use it to purchase more products. Make sure you play around with positioning (e.g. closer to action buttons), colors and sizing.

Alternatively, if you already have this link present, remove it and test conversion rates with it gone. In some cases it might lead people away from completing the checkout process.

Google Webmaster Central

Heard of Google Webmaster Central? You should!

  • This powerful tool can tell you who added a link to your website (think collaboration, advertising opportunities, etc),
  • it gives you even more insight into your Google search data (things that are not shown in Google Analytics),
  • updates you in case there are issues indexing your website and,
  • lets you upload your custom sitemaps to guide Google along your website.

Be sure to check out a quick introduction video.

Landing Pages

  • Businesses with 31 to 40 landing pages get 7× more leads than those with only 1 to 5.
  • Businesses with more than 40 landing pages get 12× more leads than those with only a few landing pages.

Make sure that your landing page has resembling elements of the previous page the user was on.

A good way to achieve this is to have the consistent looking banners/graphics/branding – this will reassure the user that they’ve landed on the correct website.

Different Payment Gateways

Offering your clients more than one way to pay might increase your conversion rates. On the other hand, if you give them too many options, they might get confused and will abandon the shopping cart.

Having an ability to pay with various credit cards (without leaving your website), as well as PayPal and Google Checkout is probably your best choice. Keep in mind that you will have to consider other 3rd party payment merchants depending on the country you are targeting (e.g. AsiaPay for Asian clients, etc).

Better Hosting

Did you know that Google actually penalizes you for having a slow website? This makes perfect sense – do you really enjoy browsing a slow-loading website? I don’t think so – neither do your users.

Hosting is fairly inexpensive nowadays and the reason for that is because it s actually pretty low-grade.

If you expect your website to:

  • have good up-time (your current host goes down a lot more than you think, you just don’t know it),
  • good performance under high loads (a must for high traffic websites),
  • all while maintaining higher than usual speeds...

... then you should be budgeting around $200 – $400 per month on hosting. This is a very small investment that has a substantial positive impact on your business. Never cut down your costs on hosting.

For example, the website you’re currently using is running off of a fully-managed dedicated server. We’re going to be upgrading our hosting infrastructure to fully-managed dedicated cloud servers in the near future so stay tuned for a review.

The main difference between cloud servers and regular dedicated servers is that if one of the cloud servers goes down, there is another one containing the exact same information that is standing by to take over the traffic, resulting in virtually uninterrupted service. Normally there are up to 3 servers in 3 different locations.

Get in touch with us if you need help choosing an appropriate hosting package for your business.

Website Validation

Make sure you check your website for any errors and areas of improvement:

You should also stay updated on the latest W3C standards.

301 Redirect

Also known as “permanent”, or “hard” redirect.

Make sure that you point your “www.website.com” to go to “website.com” (or vice versa) as search engines see these as two separate websites containing identical content which in the end result in a penalty.

More on canonical domains.

Online Security (SSL Certificates)

Perhaps this should be your number one priority if you do money or valuable information transactions online.

This is a certificate that’s installed specifically on your server that makes all of the transactions encrypted (aka secure). Don’t get in trouble by having your website hacked and all the valuable customer info stolen – happens all the time!

There are several different kinds of these and most of them will cost you between $100 – $300 per year.

Forms

The threshold of filling out a form decreases with each field – keep your forms as short as possible.

Make your form fields only as long as the expected text will be, otherwise users might think that they didn’t enter all of the required information, or worse, they will think that the form will take them too long to fill out and will just abandon it.

Accepted Payment Types

Make your payment methods visible on all the pages of your website. This will make things easier for your potential customers.

Testimonials

Having testimonials on your website is very important, regardless of the type of business you are in, if you have clients – you should have testimonials.

Your customers see this is as an uninvolved third party input that will help them shape a better decision.

Tip: female testimonials sell about 20% better.

FAQ Pages

Help your potential customers with as much as you possibly can – including with some of the frequently asked questions.

Get your friends to go through your website and ask you any questions they might have. Questions that get asked the most, would obviously be the ones you would include in your FAQ section.

This technique will also help you determine any early-stage "flaws" you might have with your website that you didn’t realize even existed!

META Tags

This is a crucial step for the best search engine ranking. 3 of the most important META tags you must fill out are: the Title tag, the Description tag and the Keywords tag (though not as important as the first two).

Title tag is the shortest, most descriptive sentence you can come up with while describing what your page is about. Different pages should always have different titles. Never start your title tag with your company name first. Come up with meaningful titles because not only are they easier to understand, but also have higher conversion rates.

Description tag is a more descriptive, 150 characters or less explanation of the page. Make it too long, and it might get cut off in the search engine listing page.

It’s said that only a few search engines take these keywords into account – regardless, I always fill these in with very basic keywords that I could always use as tags for blog posts, and tags for services such as StumbleUpon.

Third Party Security Verification

At one point I was under impression that VeriSign Trust Seals were an absolute waste of money. Over the last few years they’ve become a necessity, and if you are not creating a sense of security online – you are not selling much.

At a tiny $30/month you can instill more trust in users by placing a VeriSign seal on all the pages of your website.

Numbers don’t lie, in some cases they boost your conversions by 600%! Check out their website for more info.

Keep in mind that there are several other companies that offer a similar online trust services (TRUSTe, McAfee Secure Trustmark, GeoTrust, Trustwave, BBB, etc) so it would be best to have your website verified by a few of these, without it looking too overwhelming. Also make sure to try different placement.

Contact us if you need help installing these on your website.

Product Photography

Photography sells.

Make sure that your photos are of consistent high quality.

Show product details – this will increase confidence in your products’ quality.

Avoid using thumbnails that are too small in size – no one likes those.

No-Registration Checkout

Avoid creating an extra road block for your users, unless there is a good reason for having this (Gilt, Jetsetter, etc).

Set up your cart in a way that automatically creates a user account upon email/order submission, and make sure to let your customers know about this after they’ve checked out – on the website and by sending them an email with account details.

List VS Grid

Experiment with alternating your product listing pages. In certain cases listing your items in a list format as opposed to the grid format increased conversion rates.

Free Shipping Offers

It’s a fact that most of the people will go with a merchant that offers free shipping. Any business should be able to offer free shipping regardless of their business model, however if you must charge something, try the following techniques:

  • Offer free shipping after xx.xx dollars;
  • Offer a smaller flat shipping rate, regardless of how much your customer purchases.

A lot of stores take the risk of offering free return shipping as well (Zappos.com), which seems to be working out quite well for them.

Mobile Website

Some facts on mobile usage:

  • In 2012 over 50% of Americans will own a smartphone.
  • 86% of C-level executives use a smartphone.
  • 74% of smartphone users have made a purchase from their smartphone.

There are 2 main ways your mobile website can be built, both have cons and pros.

One of the ways is to build your website so it adapts to different devices and resolutions – it’s called adaptive/responsive design. We’re using this method on the website you’re currently on – try and resize your browser window horizontally and see what it will do.

Pros:

  • Only have to maintain a single website.
  • Website will work on most of the mobile devices.

Cons:

  • It’s difficult to control exactly how it adapts to different devices and their screen resolutions – I’ve yet to see a perfect adaptive design.

Another way would be to actually build a custom mobile website that gets called in once it detects that it’s being viewed on a mobile device.

Pros:

  • Much more optimized website that is meant specifically for mobile devices (faster download times, etc).

Cons:

  • Have to maintain several websites.

Research

If you are not constantly doing research, you are not improving.

  • Usability testing
  • Eye-tracking
  • Market research

View some of our recommended reads.

Animation

There’s much debate about whether animation increases conversion rates, so in order to be 100% sure you need to test this.

Don’t go overboard with animation and only use subtle changes/movements – no one wants to get a seizure.

You would normally apply animation to CTA (call to action) buttons and elements that are important for people to notice – do not use it just because “it looks cool”.

Title Attribute

Similar to Alt tags, the Title attribute is used to describe what the link is about before the user clicks it.

Describe your links only when the actual link text could be made more descriptive and/or beneficial for your users – do not repeat the same text as the link.

Example:
Learn more about the Title attribute.

Would look like this:

<a href="http://www.w3.org/TR/html401/struct/global.html#adef-title" title="Link to W3C documentation on the &quot;title&quot; attribute" target="_blank">Learn more about the Title attribute</a>

rel="nofollow"

If applicable make use of rel="nofollow" on links/pages throught your website. Learn more about rel="nofollow".

Notes

  • Keep in mind that at the end of the day you’re after a nice-looking, usable website. Once you’ve implemented and tested all of the above features, your goal is to make sure that all the info is presented in a very clean, easy-to-understand manner – without this you will not get the same effect.
  • In case some of you are wondering, 95% of the screenshots in this post are of our personal and client projects. We do practice what we preach, though by no means we are perfect – there’s always room to improve.
  • Data in this post was collected over the past several years and implemented into it over a period of 2 months.
  • In case you need to link to a particular part of this post, simply click on one of the headings that you wish to link to and copy the address from the address bar of your browser.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment at the end of the post.

Yuriy Sklyar - Principal, Threefifty

I'm responsible for UX and UI (among other things) of all projects that come through the doors of Threefifty.

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