You don’t have a website just because everybody else does. Your business’s online hub should actively help you make money. It’s great to have people coming to visit you, but if they aren’t buying anything, what’s the point?
“When I ask small-business owners, ‘Is your website helping or hurting you?’ a lot don’t know the answer,” says Derek Halpern, founder of SocialTriggers.com and an online sales conversion expert. “That is a problem. People spend $10,000 to get a website up but don’t even know why they have it.”
One aspect of using your website to grow your business is a conversion system—a procedure for turning website visitors into paying customers—even if they don’t sell a product online. “If done well, a website can be your greatest sales tool, 24/7,” Halpern says.
According to Halpern, every business website should have these things:
Basic information: Of course you need to include your business’s name, contact information and an “About” page that makes it perfectly clear what you do and sell. Halpern was recently frustrated by his own dentist’s site, which did not have an office address.
Social proof: To build rapport with new customers, establish that you are trustworthy. Prominently display testimonials from happy customers, praise from experts in your industry, press mentions, social media followings (such as the number of Twitter followers) or awards.
An email sign-up form with a promise of something in return: This can be a discount code, free e-book or video related to your business, access to a free consultation or another giveaway. Not every business should sell directly online, but every business website should at least generate sales leads. “Not all first-time visitors will trust you enough to buy from you right away,” Halpern says.
An email follow-up strategy: Digital marketing expert Nathalie Lussier recommends at least a month’s worth of emails, paced every three to five days. These emails might first include thanks for signing up, then a welcome to your business, followed by relevant case studies, sales letters and promotional information. A weekly or monthly newsletter sent to your entire list is another excellent way to stay in touch with potential customers.
A way to track the effectiveness of your site: Lussier suggests the free tool Google Analytics to track the effectiveness of your opt-in efforts. “Keep trying new ways to connect with potential customers, and test what works and what doesn’t,” Lussier says.
Email Opt-In ideas
When deciding how to tempt potential customers to opt into your newsletter, find a reward “so good they can’t believe it is free,” says Lussier.
Offer something enticing while also positioning yourself as an expert in your industry. Look for concrete, actionable information with a tangible benefit. Pop-up invitations to your newsletter have proved to increase opt-ins by 300%, Lussier says, but keep the number of fields the prospective client fills in to the absolute minimum—just a first name and email address if possible.
Here are seven ideas for opt-in success:
• E-guide: A wedding photographer might offer an article titled “What I Learned from Attending 105 Weddings.” Offering insights through this method speaks to your target audience while also showing your vast experience.
• Checklist: People love lists. A travel agent could suggest “Six Things You Must Do Before Traveling to Africa.”
• Insider info: A local pizza chain promises the recipe for its most popular sauce.
• Quiz: Help customers pinpoint their needs. A financial planner’s online tool asks, “Are you saving enough for retirement?”
• Webinar: A public relations consultant might offer access to a free 30-minute seminar on how to attract media attention.
• Resource guide: A dietitian provides a list of where to buy top supplements and nutritional products.
• Buyer’s guide: A real estate agent could give away a lesson on what every parent must ask before buying a home.
Jonathan Kaplan, M.D.
Business: Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery in San Francisco
Tactic: Improved pricing software in order to give potential clients a clearer idea of what they could expect to pay before consultations.
Results: The move increased consultation-to-procedure conversions and helped increase contact information to be used in later marketing efforts.
In many medical practices where patients pay out-of-pocket for elective procedures like plastic surgery and dermatology, the price of the service is a huge consideration. Often the interested patient has to make an appointment for a consultation just to learn the fee. This annoys the patient and takes up valuable time for the practice, because only a small portion of these people become paying patients.
It does not make sense to simply post a menu with static fees on your website: This is not information most physicians want to broadcast, and the pricing can be complex. For example, when two or more procedures are combined, the fee is usually less than if they are priced separately.
I created a program called BuildMyBod.com that offers a dynamic pricing system doctors can integrate on their websites. All procedures are listed, and the potential patient can create a “wish list” of procedures. To receive prices, people must submit their email and other contact information, which the physician can later use for marketing efforts.
In my practice, I have brought in $93,000 in new business thanks to this service. In the first year, 208 people created wish lists, and 36 booked consultations. Of those, a higher percentage followed through by booking procedures than before. That is huge, because each consultation that doesn’t result in a surgery represents 45 minutes of lost time.
This software’s success speaks to the importance of price transparency: People want to know the bottom line as they’re shopping around, whether it’s for a house, a car or a Brazilian butt lift.
Co-Founder and COO
Business: BloomNation.com, a platform for 2,500 local florists to sell their products online
Tactic: Adding a live chat function to each florist’s website
Results: Conversions increased 11-fold.
BloomNation.com is a marketplace for local florists which offers them website designs that are already highly optimized for conversions. Several years ago we tried something that none of our competitors had: a 24/7 live-chat box in the lower-right corner of the florists’ sites.
Customers really like their questions to be answered quickly, without having to get on the phone to call the florist or open a new browser tab to send an email. The best time to interact with the customers is when they’re already actively shopping.
The live-chat function also fits with our brand: We support artisan small businesses owned by members of the customers’ communities. While the customer chats with a service rep, they see a photo of that rep—a part of the BloomNation.com team—and often interact directly with the florists themselves.
We are constantly engaging in A/B testing to increase conversions. For example, we recently tested whether prices ending in a “9” actually convert better, and we found that it is indeed true. Improvement really is a never-ending process.
Tactic: Testing every part of the sales funnels in an effort to increase conversions
Results: Sales increased 50% in less than one year.
We’re constantly doing A/B testing on all our site’s features: Like a scientific experiment, we show some users one page, and other users see something different. The goal is to obtain the visitor’s trust and improve engagement by finding the perfect colors, images and headlines to show that we can fulfill their needs.
In November 2013 we wanted to improve our bounce rate—the number of visitors who leave the site after viewing just one webpage. So we started A/B testing various homepage features. When we changed the featured image from screenshots of our software to images of a woman, bounce rates improved by 30% within the first six months. These results taught us the ugly truth: There was a difference between what we thought customers wanted and what they actually wanted.
After that we tested every part of our sales funnel. As a result we changed the call-to-action button from red to green, changed the headline to “Make a Résumé in Minutes,” and swapped the text on the call-to-action button from “Start Now” to “Write my Résumé Now.” We also made some changes to the product and checkout pages and added logos from known media outlets. Over eight months, conversion rates increased by 50%.
The lesson is to never try to educate your customers in an effort to change their minds. Instead, look to A/B testing to learn what customers want. Then listen.
This article was published in October 2014 and has been updated. Photo by CrispyPork/Shutterstock
Emma Johnson is a business journalist, gender-equality activist, and founder of the world's largest community of single moms, WealthySingleMommy.com. Emma and her best-selling book, The Kickass Single Mom, and her organization, Moms for Shared Parenting, have been featured in hundreds of national and international media outlets.