Are You Asking the Right Question?

In keeping with recent articles in which I've shared tips that didn't make it into our new book (my utterly devious strategy for encouraging you to discover what did), I offer you this from usability guru Jared Spool, the guiding force behind User Interface Engineering. Trust me; Jared's tip is no throw-away. It gets at the philosophical heart of improving your conversion rates.

Jared writes:

"Imagine I have a magical device that tells me when anyone who is in a 2 mile radius of where I'm sitting has run out of milk. I drive to their apartment only to find them sitting there with an empty carton of milk and a dry bowl of cereal. I put them into my car and drive them to the nearest convenience store. And, just to ensure they purchase, I give them the money to buy their milk. What are the odds this person will buy milk in this instance? 100 percent, right? The convenience store would really have to screw up big to not sell milk to this person at this moment. This is what my company does online. We find people who need products. We bring them to sites that have those products. We give them the cash to buy the products. And we watch to see how the site does at selling the products to the people who want them.The average e-commerce site only manages to sell someone a product they really want, under these odd conditions, 30 percent of the time. 70 percent of the time, the customer who knows exactly what they want runs into some show-stopping obstacle that prevents the purchase. Look at your annual revenue from your site. Assume that only represents the 30 percent who are successfully purchasing. That means there is another 70 percent (more than twice your current revenue) who are trying to buy from you, but failing. That's the opportunity that you're currently leaving on the table. We're not even considering the people who haven't decided what they want yet. We're only talking about those people who are ready to purchase from you. There's a very good chance you could double your revenues just by figuring out what is stopping your purchasers from purchasing."

Don't be fooled by the deceptive simplicity of Jared's tip. It speaks to the very reason so many Web sites suffer from truly horrible conversion rates that fail to satisfy the business objectives: folks try to solve the crummy-conversion-rate problem bass-ackwards!

The industry average for online conversion still hovers around 2 percent, give or take. That means 2 out of every 100 folks complete an ebusiness Web site's conversion goal. That also means 98 out of every 100 folks stop clicking. They choose to end their online dialog. They bail. (Holy-moly ... ninety-eight percent! And pundits say 52 percent of the popular vote constitutes a political mandate!)

Most folks ask, "How can I increase that 2 percent conversion rate?" when the question they should ask is, "What am I doing that is driving 98 percent of my audience away?"

You're thinking that's the same question, right? Not exactly! When you ask how you can improve the 2 percent, you tend to focus on how you can "sell better," which leads you to make incremental fixes to your sales process—what we call "the low-hanging fruit." Of course these will improve your conversion rate—in tepid increments.

When you focus on the 98 percent, you open a whole new dimension centered on helping your visitors "buy better."

Helping folks "buy better" involves careful attention to usability, information architecture, search engine optimization strategies and other issues that influence the user interface. But at the core, it depends on your ability to marry your sales process with their buying processes. You have to understand who your visitors are, their motivations, their needs, their buying patterns and where they are in the buying decision process so you can connect them to exactly what they need to make the decision to buy from you.

Truth is, you'll "sell better" only when you help them "buy better!" So what if a 100 percent conversion rate is a pipe dream? That shouldn't stop you from dreaming big and investing the effort it takes to get as close to that 100 percent as you can. Zero in on the buying decision process, deftly interweave it with your sales process, and you can treat yourself to dramatic improvements that satisfy both of those conversion questions.

It's official. Call to Action, our anthology on conversion rate marketing, has hit the streets. Snag your copy.

This article was originally published in, a newsletter published by Future Now, Inc. Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg the co-founders of Future Now, Inc. are also the co-authors of New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller book "Call To Action" and "Persuasive Online Copywriting."

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