Leads are the fuel that keep most businesses running. Without new leads there are no new customers, and without new customers your revenue eventually dries up.

So the bottom line is that leads are important. But if you can’t convert your leads to customers, then no amount of leads in the world are going to keep your business afloat.

This, of course, begs the question – how do I improve my ability to convert leads into customers? For some businesses, if they improve their conversion rates from 1% to 2%, they’ve increased their revenues by 100%. Better still, that extra revenue has higher profit margins because the hard costs that support the extra revenue are fixed.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we go any further, let’s rewind a bit and talk about some of the fundamentals.

What is a conversion rate?

Simply put, a conversion is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Let’s assume you’ve created a web presence for your small business and with prudent advertising you’ve even succeeded in drawing in some curious clickers.

If those visitors leave without doing anything more than gazing, their value to your business is negligible. (Maybe it’s not zero, since there’s a chance they’ll mention your company to someone else. But corporate empires are not built on such slight foundations.)

What you want from the visitor is conversion. Conversion is when curiosity morphs into commitment. Somewhere deep inside the visitor’s brain (we’ll talk more about the brain later), something clicks. And somewhere on the visitor’s desktop, a mouse clicks. Your business has just gained a convert.

The precise definition of conversion will differ depending on your business. If you’re an online retailer, conversion happens when a strolling internet shopper actually makes a purchase. If you’re a content provider, conversion happens when your target signs up for a newsletter, or registers for an event.

Your conversion rate is the percentage of browsers you convert into buyers. (Or subscribers. Or whatever your goal has defined them to be.) The higher the percentage, of course, the better.

Why conversion rates are important. You have already put a lot of effort and money into drawing potential customers to your site. The energy and funds you’ve invested are a necessary (perhaps painful) cost. Once this effort has drawn a crowd of curious onlookers, you have everything to gain by converting as many of those browsers as possible.

Since you’ve already spent money attracting people to your site, each conversion pushes your cost-per-customer down. Put another way, when you spike conversion rate by, say, 100%—you’re getting twice the customers for the same advertising budget. It’s digital gravy!

When you convert one visitor, you have not only gained their business, you have ended their consideration process. They’re now much less likely to be looking to your competitors for what they want. After all, the whole exercise of weighing options can cause cognitive fatigue.

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If you’ve ever stood in front of 40 flat screen TVs at your local electronics store and secretly wished someone would just make the decision for you—you know the anxiety that comes with too many options. Your new customer may well be relieved to have made a decision; now you can confirm their choice by providing a good product or service.

But boosting your conversion rate isn’t easy. It takes concentration and persistence. The work, however, is worth it. No matter how gloomy the outlook may be, there are things you can do to improve your CR. If they’re on your site, they’re in consideration mode; all they may need is a little push.

Landing page tips and techniques.

Your target has landed on your site. You’ve got just a few seconds to convince him he’s found the right place. Every decision you make regarding words and graphics can make your page more magnetic—and ultimately boost your conversion rate.

When your landing page loads and your target sees it for the first time, he or she is in your conversion funnel. That’s a metaphorical term for the process you’re hoping to put your site’s casual visitor through. The top of the funnel—the wide part—represents everybody who lays eyes on the page. The bottom—the thin part—represents the people you managed to convert.

Your job: make the bottom as big as possible. Your primary tool: testing.

Test, test, test. Perhaps the most powerful property of a landing page is its modifiability. (Is that a word? Yes.) No matter how successful you make the page in converting customers, you should never stop testing alternate headlines, graphics, layouts and everything else. Seemingly minor differences can make a huge impact on conversion rates.

The testing process—called conversion rate optimization—should put every element under consideration:




call(s) to action


button graphics

and everything else

A/B Split Testing. You can test the relative conversion power of alternate headlines and graphics, called A/B split testing. The differences in an A/B test may not always be intuitive. We know a lot about what motivates people (below you’ll learn about 14 time-tested words), but we don’t know everything—and probably never will.

That’s why you should continually test variations: you never know for sure what’s going to trigger a conversion. So try altering words and graphics even if you can’t say in advance why the difference between the two versions might affect your conversion rate.

Invite customer feedback. When you make it easy for your customers to tell you what they don’t like about their experience on the site, you are uncovering a goldmine of powerful information. Create a feedback form, and make sure your landing page has an easy-to-find link to it.

InkjetSuperstore.com made great use of this technique (under the guidance of Kampyle, a feedback analytics advisor). They paid close attention to the comments they got and made speedy changes to address concerns. The retailer not only earned a profitable 6% increase in conversions, but found that costly calls to their customer service line dropped by 12,000.

Let them talk amongst themselves. Consider setting up a live chat area on your page. You can then hear what people are saying to each other about your product or service. You won’t like everything they say, but you’ll get feedback that is often more frank and unguarded than what you get from an official form.

Tap into the power of social proof. When people find themselves in uncertain situations, they look to others for behavioral cues. A first-time visitor to your site is likely to be uncertain; allow third parties to reassure them.

Social proof can take the form of testimonials (“I’ve never bought a bongo drum I loved as much as this one”) or recommendations (“Customers who bought this bongo drum also enjoyed this hand lotion.”) If the provider of the reassuring quote is associated with a brand, include a logo, if possible.

Social proof also comes in the form of reliable media coverage, so if your product or service has been mentioned favorably in the press, make sure visitors to your site see the good things that have been said about it.

Your call to action needs to be loud and clear. Performable.com discovered that a good size for a call to action button is 225 pixels by 45 pixels—which is pretty big, if you look at it on a screen. But your business is at stake: this is no time to be demure.

Did we say “call”? We meant to say “calls.” You never know where your visitor’s gaze is going to be when the impulse to commit strikes. So make sure you’ve got a consistent-looking call-to-action button that shows up in more than one place. (On the other hand, avoid the temptation to plaster the page with so many buttons that you annoy your visitor.)

Behold the mighty Johnson Box. The term “Johnson Box” refers to a technique from the world of direct mail. It’s a box near the top of the letter that summarizes what the reader will find in the rest of the piece. Consider putting one near the top of the landing page—especially if the page extends below the bottom of a typical screen.

The Johnson Box needs to be short, of course—bullets are a good idea here. And it needs to promise something that the browser wants. She is deciding whether to spend more time on your site—make it instantly clear that she’ll be rewarded.

Make payment as easy as breathing. Sounds obvious (and it is!) but many sites make costly conversion-squelching mistakes when it comes to closing the sale. One of the most common errors is to require the customer to create an account (via an intimidating form) to make a purchase.

There are all kinds of reasons you’d want to capture a customer with an official account—but the customer has other motivations, like saving time. If they can pull out a card, type in a few numbers without having to worry about establishing an account, they’ll be more likely to convert.

Use trust badges—but do so carefully. A trust badge is a graphic licensed by a third party for the purpose of endorsing the reliability of your company and/or site. An example would be VeriSign, which will certify legitimate sites as being secure and free of malware. Optimerica.com got a 32% boost in conversions by adding a trust badge to their home page.

However, not all trust badges are equally trustworthy. As you might expect (with some dismay), organizations have cropped up that will sell trust badges cheap—much like diploma mills. So perform due diligence to make sure the trust badge you seek is worthy.

Give them an option to complete a survey. Those few who take the time to complete a survey are giving you a gift. Show your appreciation by making the survey short and efficient. Then, really listen. Don’t be defensive—the negative feedback is far more useful than the happy talk. It’s not too hard to put together a survey; the leading company, SurveyMonkey, makes it pretty easy.

People love to click on things. Make it worth their while. Look at the page and find candidates for clickability. You can learn a lot about what users are expecting by seeing what they click on. If possible, the click should move them down the conversion funnel.

Every time you boost your CR, you’ve learned something about your customers. So a successful A/B test not only makes an immediate impact on your business, it provides you with insight that can inform further productive changes. Keep track of these insights and establish a process for making regular modifications in response to what you’ve learned.

How to write headlines that can improve your conversions by 50%.

Headlines are by far the most important component of copy. Eyeballs skate over your page, looking for items of interest. A big, bold headline says “Here’s what you’re looking for!” Since most people skim, a strong headline is your best shot at conversion.

  • A simple tweak boosted conversion 127% for one online retailer. On the advice of Tulos, a Finnish conversion rate optimization agency, Scandanavian Outdoor Store ran an A/B test of two headlines: “Men’s Clothing,” and “Order men’s clothing easily for bargain prices.” (It’s possible that line lost a little music in translation.) The second of the two prompted the 127% boost.
  • Make your headlines concrete, not abstract. Time and again concrete, emotional headlines outperform abstract, intellectual ones. CityCliq put these two lines to the test: “Businesses grow faster online!” and “Create a website for your business.” The second, more concrete headline outperformed the first by a whopping 90%.
  • Make your headline about a benefit for your customer—not a feature of your product. So for example if you’re selling a digital camera, the headline should be not about megapixels but the size of the smile on a poster-size print.
  • Write the headline in the language of your customer—not the jargon of your industry. You get used to talking about your business in terms that can be confusing or off-putting to your customers. When speaking to them, talk the way they talk. If you want to know how customers talk about your product or service, listen in on their conversations via social media.
  • Be specific. Name names. If your company has done wonders for another company, tell the world about it (with their permission, of course). Don’t be shy about asking your corporate customers for testimonials.
  • A headline should not sound like an opening to a leisurely conversation. It should give the reader the sense that it’s delivering all the information they really need to know.
  • Don’t lie. It’s a bad idea not just for ethical reasons, but because people’s BS detectors are more sensitive than ever. And once someone feels they’ve been misled, the word spreads at the speed of fiber-optic cable—which by the way is pretty fast.

The 14 most powerful words in marketing.

Words do have power to boost your conversion rate—and some have more power than others. Fortunately, finding the most powerful ones is not all guesswork. Marketers have been performing A/B split tests for years and the results have been confirmed again and again. People like to think they’re immune to the persuasive power of certain words, but their behavior shows otherwise.

These 14 words get a lot of their energy from tapping into the sub-cortical and limbic areas of the brain, two of the more primitive parts of our massively complex thinking machine. It is from these areas (sometimes called our “Lizard Brain”) that our deepest and most instinctive impulses originate.

Find ways to include these potent words in headlines and copy:

  • Free. This four-letter conversion vitamin never loses its power. Soocial boosted its conversion rate by 4.7% by simply changing “Sign Up!” to “Sign Up: It’s Free!”
  • Now. It can suggest news “Now even more delicious!” or urgency: “Order now and get 40% off!”
  • You. Everybody’s favorite subject is themselves so it shouldn’t surprise us that they like to see pixels in the form of them.
  • Save. A timeless classic that still packs them in.
  • Money. It’s the one thing everybody needs and wants. Use it, when possible.
  • Easy. This word is not only appealing to your visitors, it’s a good guideline for you as you design the user experience: make everything as easy as possible.
  • Guarantee. A companion to social proof, the word “guarantee” reduces the anxiety associated with first-time purchases.
  • Health. This is a word that many people have an innate interest in.
  • Results. The Internet has helped make everybody even more skeptical of murky advertising claims than they already were. This word suggests concrete benefits.
  • New. So much more attractive than “old.”
  • Love. Everybody wants it; let them find it at your site.
  • Discovery. This one is perhaps not as obvious as some of the others. It’s another way of tapping into people’s desire for something new.
  • Proven. An anxiety-reducer with nearly as much power as “Guarantee.”
  • Safety. Perhaps not applicable to, say, a site that sells donuts. But useful when appropriate.

Try them out with an A/B split. Craft two versions of a headline. One version should include one of the 14 words—the other headline, not. Chances are, you’ll discover that those words have as much power for your business as they have had for many others.

Conversion rate benchmarks. How are you doing? Let’s say you’ve absorbed the information above and you’ve implemented a lot of our recommendations and sure enough, your conversion rate has moved up. You’re happy, of course—but you’re also wondering: how does my rate compare with other rates in my industry?

The benchmark cannot be denied. Even if your rate seems pretty good, if it’s underperforming the rates of your competitors it is not good enough. You need to know how companies in your industry are doing as a whole.

Find benchmarks at Fireclick.com. This free site packs in a profusion of solid data on benchmarks, broken down by industry. It may be interesting to learn that the average website conversion rate is 2.2%. But of much more use is data on the rate for your particular industry. (Our sympathies to the electronics industry, which earns the lowest conversion rate of all at 0.8%.)

You may be done with this blog post, but you’re never done with conversion rate optimization. If there’s anything you should take away from this blog post, it’s that room for improvement is infinite. You can always be converting visitors to customers and the more you do it, the more money you make—money that can be invested in more expensive forms of marketing like video.

Keep in mind that the web changes every day, and so do the “rules.” So for example, if Performable got a 21% boost in CR by changing their call to action button from red to green—go ahead and try that. But don’t expect this change to guarantee a similar result for you. It might work. (Yay!) But even if it does, the effect may subside over time. That’s why constant testing is so important.

If you found a way to boost your conversion rate, let us know. We’d like to add your story to what we know about how business works in the digital age. Thanks.

About the Author: Jamie Turner is the CEO of the 60 Second Marketer and 60 Second Communications, a marketing communications agency that works with national and international brands. He is the co-author of “How to Make Money with Social Media” and “Go Mobile” and is a popular marketing speaker at events, trade shows and corporations around the globe.

60 Second Marketer