August 30, 2004, 12:00 AM

Right This Way

(Page 2 of 3)

Persuading consumers

Search marketing company iProspect also has gotten deeper into the site conversion business with Web Conversion Enhancement, a service offering it’s wrapped around a methodology it licenses from technology developer Future Now’s subsidiary, Persuasion Architecture. The goal of Persuasion Architecture-the methodology’s underlying concept as well as the subsidiary’s corporate name-is to create different paths that propel different types of web site visitors towards conversion. To accomplish that, through its Web Conversion Enhancement offering, iProsepct gets involved in research-based page redesign including graphics, language, content and page architecture itself, depending on the design and architecture its client site already has in place.

The process is geared to customer segments based on personas, tied to Myers-Briggs profile types, that iProspect develops through extensive interviews with the e-retailer and its customers. The resulting “persuasive path” through the site is actually several paths, each designed with navigation, language, and other page elements to support the different needs of different visitor groups. Sage Peterson, vice president of new products at iProspect, offers an example: “If a headline on a site is, ‘You’ll love our superior service,’ we know ‘love’ is expressive, a relationship word,” she says. “That customer might be looking next for testimonials or incentives. The words ‘superior service’ are more analytical and business-oriented. The next thing the customer looking at those words might want to find is a timeline or financial information.”

For two different visitor types traveling two different paths through the site, the headline for the more expressive persona could be changed to say “You will love our attentive account management; all our customers do.” For the analytical visitor, the headline to lead them down the persuasive path might say, “You’ll count on our superior service and never waste another day,” Peterson says. “If we can understand how different people communicate, a click at a time, we’ll have a better chance of not losing them,” she adds.

Incorporating persuasion earlier in the buying process allows e-commerce sites to reach beyond visitors who arrive at the site ready to buy into the larger pool of visitors who are not yet ready to buy, but could be persuaded to with the right communication, in the right sequence. The upshot? A higher conversion rate that exceeds the lift which might be expected by just improving the checkout process or the shopping cart at the back end, Marckini argues.

A tenfold jump in conversions

IProspect has been offering Web Conversion Enhancement for about a year. While its clients include retail sites as well as those from other industry segments, none of its retailer clients has publicly disclosed results. However, as an example Marckini cites one client whose conversion rate went from 2% to 22%. “You don’t get that kind of increase with usability strategies,” he says.

Genesco’s Inc.’s HatWorld.com -the URL for its Lids brand, Lids.com, leads to the same site-has been working with iProspect on Web Conversion Enhancement since early this year to incorporate persuasion architecture into the new site planned for rollout this fall. The planning process involves months of customer and company research that even Future Now CEO Jeff Eisenberg calls “the sort of tedious work that no one ever wants to do before they start a web site.” But HatWorld e-commerce manager Karen Weber is confident the effort will pay off-her goal is to double conversions within four to five months of launch. To Weber, adding the conversion enhancement service on top of search marketing services the company buys from iProspect was a no-brainer. “It just made sense,” she says. “If you’re going to pay the money to bring traffic to the site, why wouldn’t you try to convert it at a higher rate?”

The conversion funnel

Search marketing and advertising companies aren’t the only players taking a new look at their role in conversion. Web design and development companies have long been focused on page improvements that enhance conversion. The difference now is that they are also cranking what happens off the page, in the search arena, into their counsel on how to do it.

“If you think of the top, wide end of the conversion funnel as awareness and the bottom end as converting someone to buy something, we’ve usually been focused on the lower two-thirds of the funnel,” says David Fry, CEO of web design and development firm Fry Inc. “That’s making the site a better experience, giving people the shopping tools, and reducing the friction in the shopping and buying process.”

But lately, Fry says, the company is doing more work in the top third of the funnel, where the drivers aren’t so much shopping tools as they are web advertising and marketing efforts such as search engine marketing and search optimization. While it doesn’t at present execute keyword buys for clients, leaving that to companies such as DoubleClick whose ad buys are scaled to get better deals, Fry now works with its clients to do analysis of what types of search terms are used at Google, for example, and how that relates to the products their companies are offering.

While Fry says search marketing’s function of making people interested in a company and traditional conversion enhancement’s task of reducing friction in the transaction require separate skills, the two are blending. “If you are driving someone to your site off a search engine, you have to make design changes accordingly,” he says.

To enhance conversions for its clients, Fry Inc. works with scenario design based on hypotheses about the needs of different users, focusing on the needs of three to five specific groups, followed by tests of whether different designs allowed users in each group to accomplish their goals on a site. “Most of our web sites have multiple audiences because most companies do,” says Fry.

Good for all

What’s good for retail clients is good for search engines and search engine marketing companies as well. “Once you help people fix the conversion problem, they can afford to spend more on marketing,” Carlson says.

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