How to Turn Website Visitors into Sales

September 24, 2008

1:28 pm

These days, most of us are pretty good about monitoring our website activity. We know our “hits” from our “page views” from our “visitors” and many of us track those numbers religiously. Unfortunately, though, those numbers only show you who reaches the virtual door. What happens after a potential buyer steps inside your website? Too many companies, even those spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on online marketing, focus so much on driving website traffic that they fail to convert that traffic into sales.

Fortunately, it’s getting easier and easier to measure your online sales and track potential customers. Here are a few tips for finding the gaps potential customers fall through and patching them up.

Know Your Conversion Rate

In the industry, “conversion” is just a fancy term for turning visitors into customers. Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors that reach a specific business goal, whether that’s a sale, lead, or download. It sounds simple enough, but the first step to improving your conversion is to track it and establish your baseline. Industry experts suggest that average conversion rates run 2-3%, but real numbers can vary wildly – honestly assess where you’re at now and work to improve it. Fortunately, many analytics tools (including free tools such as Google Analytics) now make online conversion tracking easy.

Find Your Gaps

Once you’re tracking your conversions, map out your online sales process. A typical process (sometimes called a “conversion funnel”, since it’s wide at the top and narrow at the bottom) may look something like this:

  1. Home Page
  2. Search Results
  3. Product Page
  4. Shopping Cart
  5. Order Form

Of course, the path any given visitor follows could be very different, but once you have a sense of the ideal path, you can start to review your website analytics for gaps. For example, does traffic fall off a lot between your shopping cart and your order form? Once you isolate these gaps, filling them becomes much easier.

Make Actions Clear

In any online sales process there are multiple calls to action, decision points that you want customers to follow. One of the easiest ways to improve conversion is to make your calls to action clearer. For example:

  • Make links look like links (i.e. blue and/or underlined)
  • Make buttons look “clickable”
  • Make buttons visually distinct (large, a bold color, etc.)
  • Use action-oriented copy (“Buy it now!”)

Test, Test and Test Again

Don’t leave website changes to chance – test them, and let the data guide your decisions. This can be as simple as a basic “split” or “A/B” test, where you serve up two versions (A and B) of a page, copy, or image (split 50/50) and measure which one generates more conversions. These days, website testing is easier than ever, thanks to free tools like Google Website Optimizer. Testing is not only incredibly effective, but it can go a long way towards ending arguments over opinion, especially in larger organizations.

Make Improvement A Habit

Hopefully, this gives you a few ideas for how to get moving on the path to increasing conversion. Ultimately, understanding your website data and improving your online sales process should be a long-term habit. Honestly assess where you’re at today, listen to your data (and your customers), and start testing improvements methodically, and you’ll be off to a great start.

TECH cocktail Community Contributed Knowledge

Dr. Peter J. Meyers is the President of User Effect, a former start-up executive, cognitive psychologist, and lifelong programmer. User Effect specializes in helping online businesses understand their customers and convert visitors into buyers. Pete can be reached directly at

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