Building a website: 10 strategies for encouraging visitors to act or buy

The question that has occupied marketing experts since the beginning of the commercial internet is "How do you convert browsers into buyers?" And by buyers we mean those who ‘buy in' to your site, ie sign up or an email newsletter or download a white paper.

A typical conversion rate for small business websites is between 1 - 5 per cent according to marketing professionals. In other words, for every 100 visitors to your site, somewhere between one and five will follow the link to your ‘buy this product' or to a free download. Here are ten strategies on how to get them there.

  1. Remember the basics, but don't oversimplify. Yes, focusing on usability and good design will lead to a better conversion rate but you also need compelling messaging and alternative navigation. (Customers who bought this also bought X and Y and Z: wine under £5, wine under £10, etc etc.)

  2. Think like a customer. Design your site from your customers' perspective - what they want from you, not from what you want to give them. How do you find out what they want? Just ask. Encourage feedback and examine your web metrics.

  3. Don't over-pitch to your prospects. Instead, give them another reason to return to your site. Start a blog on it for example, or offer some hints and tips for existing customers. Or you could start a forum for customers and prospects to exchange ideas.

  4. Yes, discounts and promotions really do work. Online shoppers love a good deal, including weekly/monthly specials, free p&p, coupon codes, or discounts for multiple orders.

  5. Nothing sells like pictures - especially detailed ones. Integrating zoom and even rotate functionality on your site can really boost sales.

  6. Add tools for reviews, comments, or ratings. Good and bad reviews can build your site's credibility. Third-party reviews can add credibility to your site and potentially boost sales over the long term. Why? If you add the capability for your customers to comment, it shows you really care about what your customers think, and that you're willing to stand behind your product.

  7. Entertain. Generating an engaged audience can bring prompt more buyers. If they're bored, they unlikely to reach for their wallets (and they'll probably leave your site, too). Use podcasting and video-casting to promote your products and services through email campaigns that drive traffic to your website and consumers to your store.

  8. You can't have too many ‘order' buttons. If you want customers to place orders, give them plenty of opportunities. Put order buttons not just on the home page but on other sub-pages. Don't force customers to backtrack to place an order, and avoid complicated, multi-step order forms.

  9. Bookmark widgets, anyone? Giving your visitors the option of bookmarking a ‘buy this product' page can draw other visitors in a Web 2.0 world. Bookmarking is the ability to tag a certain page from your web browser and then come back to it quickly. Bookmarking tools like allows people of like interests to share information and possibly drive additional prospects to your site.

  10. Don't forget your meta tags. These descriptions about your pages are embedded in the coding of your site, and can help with sales. If you don't have a meta description tag, the search engines will often choose a text extract from your page that may not be the most persuasive. You can add meta tags to the header of each page, on your Office Live Small Business site or other web publishing software.

Related posts: How to write web content for a busy audience; 12 things you shouldn't publish on your website

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