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March 26, 2009

Help Your Small Business Customers Feel Smart: Search Engine Strategies, NY

By Kim (cre8pc)

There is good news for small or large businesses and start-ups who desire an on-line presence and felt that large search engine marketing conferences didn't care to help them.  As evidenced by the Small is Beautiful: Search for the Small Business track at Search Engine Strategies in New York city this year, it was smart of conference organizers to heed their needs.  Every session in this track overflowed in attendance.  And, when asked in this particular session, they indicated that each session in this track was followed along, session by session.  They were inspired and had every intention of catching every session targeted to the small business owner.  If you were there, and enjoyed this special attention, by all means let conference organizers know in your session feedback surveys.

The title for this Wednesday afternoon's session is "Turning Simple Change into Big Profit".  The thrust of this session is that paying attention to even the smallest details on your web pages makes a gigantic difference in site abandonment and low conversion rates. 

Andrew Goodman was a last minute replacement for a speaker who had to unexpectedly leave .

Moderator: Jennifer Evans Laycock, Site Logic Marketing and SearchEngineGuide

Matt Bailey, Site Logic Marketing
Kayden Kelly, Blast Advanced Media
Andrew Goodman, Page Zero

Matt Bailey led off the panel with illustrative screen shots of web design errors and bad practices.  If your web site design contains any of these problems, chances are good your site visitors are confused, frustrated and unable to complete tasks.  The bottom line is that you're unable to generate sales, meet customer expectations, rank well in search engines or create excitement and demand for your products or services.  As Matt says, "If you can't find it,it doesn't exist."

User Friendly Web Design

1. Remember to put your company address on your web site. If customers need it and can't find it, they are gone.

2. Calls to action should be big, bold and "everything should be built around the call to action".  It is confusing when there are several calls to action before the big action that you wish site visitors will take.

2. The color red and other vibrant colors can overshadow the call to action prompt.  If your headlines are in red, subheadings in red, navigation links in red, logo is mainly red, and your "buy now" button is a light purple pastel text link or small button, readers will scan right past it.  Set aside a clear area for main tasks. Organize primary tasks and sub-sets of tasks. 

3. Make sure your images match your content and theme.   Puzzlegirl

4. Avoid a FLASH splash page. If you have one, make sure your entry buttons are clearly labeled with logical tasks so that visitors know how to enter the site.

5. Customize Error 404 pages by directing users somewhere.  Write friendly error messages.  Invite them into the site.

6. Avoid "over information" before call to action and or complicated and scary terms, conditions for use and policies.  (Kim's note: Law firms and insurance companies are famous for this.)

7. Don't use generic navigation such "products", "services", "about us", "contact us", etc.  Users navigation by need.  Be specific in your navigation labels to create confidence in where they (Kim's note: You can insert keywords this way too.) Mulit-level web sites need a sound information architecture, requiring sub-navigation, breadcrumb navigation and other navigation assistance.  Never force users to click "Home" to go forward again from where they were.

8. Don't forget basic SEO on your sites. Make sure you content has your company name, products, services in the content. (Kim's Note: Matt shows an older Cottenell page that has no terms like "toilet paper" on the homepage, just pictures of puppies. I decided to check Cottonelle.com to see if they had improved and sure enough, it is not optimized, still emphasizes puppies - like their commercials, and the first hint of "toilet paper" is in very tiny font size text, in the text navigation, below the page fold.  While figuring out they sell toilet paper, You can Meet the Puppy, enjoy Puppy Playtime, make puppy wallpaper, color puppies, view the puppy ads and get a desktop puppy.)

9. Never make your homepage one FLASH image.  Do not create your website entirely in FLASH.

10. Allow user generated content because it helps to add content on your pages. 

11. Too many bold colors make it hard to see other important content.

12. Cross-sell in a catalog and up-sell in the shopping cart. Select the product first, and then get the fun gadgets that go with it.

12. If you call to action is out of the screen - flex width lose right hand side, don't put call to action there

13. Don't force pre-registration before ordering.

14. Never yell at users with red text, all caps and negative words.

15. Remember who you're targeting.  Only 11% of people use RSS.  Many do not know what it is.  Simply putting icons (Stumbleupon, Digg, Reddit, Sphinn, RSS, etc.) on the site and expecting people to take action will not work because most will have no idea what they are for.  Add text to clarify and be sure to offer a basic email subscription or contact option.

There are actually sometimes where certain odd situations may limit a small business and increasing conversions.  Sometimes a Google ads campaign presents a mysterious situation and its wise to investigate to see uncover the problem.  It can be a matter of removing clutter, which is a well known conversions-killer.  This includes security verification information placed inside the header, along with your logo, and leading task links.  One case study, where some serious digging around was necessary, resolved into a matter where credibility was a customer issue.  The company had been in business for over 50 years but online, only a few years. It was an acute reminder of brand awareness both on and off line.

Absolutely be sure that your SEO "gets it".  In other words, don't hire an SEO who is ready to mind-meld with your products or services.  (Kim's note: This goes for usability services too!)  They can't assist you presenting your USP unless they understand what it is.  Your SEO must be prepared to set up various campaigns and test results to see what works.  An objective SEO can optimize in ways that are not obvious to you because you're too up close to the project. Allow third party testing by giving them a task and watching.  Ask them what they like and dislike.  Get real world responses.  Invite user generated content because this can give you an idea on what to improve. 

Be aware of 3rd party services and content management systems (SMS) that aren't flexible and let you change content, or they force unnecessary content that interferes with SEO or usability.  People bounce around web pages and don't all enter via the homepage first.

Helpful Tools

Conversion rates translate into millions in revenue.  Make sure nothing is broken on your web site.  A good strategy is to get to know your audience and understand what their challenges are. Tools offer ways to identify bottlenecks on your site, track 404 errors, locate broken links, and help you to organize, track and log page activity. 

1. Set up the free Google Optimizer and keep testing your pages.  Look for what people are doing on your web site. This tools allows you to set up goals and create funnels.  Set up an internal site search so you can identify what users are looking for on your web site.  This helps you see what's missing. Look for top entry points, where "bleeding" occurs.  Create a shopping cart funnel, for example, and you will find top exit pages.  Sometimes the problem relates to product pricing.

2. Try Crazyegg for heat maps testing. While not free, it is inexpensive.  You can see where each click occurred, view destination and get a better understanding of where they're clicking. 

3. A free tool to help you understand why visitors do what they do on your web site is 4Qsurveys.  With this application you can study tasks.  Did they complete them? Use this to get feedback.

4. User testing can be cheap. Try the 5 second test   There are various tools like Morae and Silverback .  (Kim's note: There are a lot of new and free tools for listening and recording.)  User testing helps you become more objective about your web site and offers proof to stakeholders  that changes are necessary.

5. If you improve just 5 things on your homepage, category page, details page and your shopping cart, your conversions will automatically increase by 2.5%.


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