Conversions For Sites That Don't Sell Anything

by Kimberly Krause Berg January 25th, 2013 

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When we see the word "conversions" in online marketing articles most of us think it refers to turning inbound web traffic into increased financial revenue.  What if you don't sell anything?

Back in the days before the word "conversion" became all the rage for search and social marketers and web site designers, just turning on the ignition to a new web site was a huge thrill.  We watched people come, maybe click around and then what?  Anything could happen.  And this was the problem.  Anything could happen. 

From watching all the things that people do on web sites, we learned a great deal more about design and marketing.  So did search engines like Google and Bing, because they figured out that what we do on web sites tells a story about what we like and how well a web site met our needs.  Design matters

Today search engine algorithms and other tracking applications know every site we love, where we look on web sites, how we bounce from social sites to any type of web site and how we conduct tasks.  Search engines also know who we are, where we are, how we get around, why we return to sites, when we search the most and what we search for most often.  This is also what you need to know for any type of conversions, whether your measure of success is earning revenue or something very different.

The Trick To "We Don't Want Your Money" Conversions

Conversions are simply the act of your web site visitors completing a task you want them to perform.  This includes interacting with an online application, viewing a video, reading an article, filling out a form, registration, leaving comments, and even navigating your web site.  Your web site may be an information-only site, non-profit, online game, blog, directory, forums, niche hobby, fan site, religious/spiritual, inspirational, quotes and lyrics, book reviews, how-to tutorials, or a web-based online application offered for free, like project management or Open Source software.  We'll assume none of these sites has sponsors and ads tossed on them.  They are labors of love but no less interested in increasing traffic, fluffing up brand awareness and proving they're better than their competition.

simply the
act
of your
web site visitors
completing a task
Where do you start? 

Remember what a conversion is.  You want your site guests to do something you want them to do.

Look at your homepage and choose one or two main user tasks you want your guests to participate in.  Where did you place it?  Can it be seen?  This means do the colors contrast and are the fonts large enough to be read.  Is it really obvious where you put the task and what you want visitors to do with it?

Yes, usability is the first conversions checkpoint for any web site hoping to increase conversions.  Identify your guests and guide them to that special thing you have just for that user group.  Create different user paths and funnels for tracking. 

For example, if you know a segment of your guests only comes to participate in your industry forums, make sure they have an easy path to follow in your design. 

If you know that another group of your target visitors favor your articles or blog, guide those people there right away. 

Calls to action should be above the page fold, with a nicely contrasting beveled button large enough to beg to be pushed.

Other Easy Enhancements

In addition to making your entire user interface easy to follow and use, there are other choices you can make to increase activity.  Actually, there are so many I'll run out of room, so here are a few easy recommendations.

1. All forms must be non-invasive.  Each field asking more personal information without a clear reason lowers the conversion activity you'll get. 

2. Information providers need to provide proof of expertise just as much as anyone else.  This is the difference between someone seeking links and someone providing quality information out of passion or as a labor of love.  Who are you and why do provide information?

3. Information architecture.  If you don't build a foundation for your house and frame the rooms inside it, nobody will be able to figure out where they are and the house will eventually fall down.  The same theory works for web sites.  Conversions increase when it's easy to figure out where to find what we need.  Trust me when say that a tiny gray text link against a gray background in the footer is not going to drive conversions. 

4. Meet expectations.  This is killer advice.  Every link label should describe exactly what happens if clicked.  When your text says "Sign up for our newsletter", it better be a newsletter with something interesting to offer and samples and NOT a boring mailing list.  If you send out an email from your non-profit organization about a cause and the headline says, "Please sign our petition", this should be exactly what users do.  If you need donations, be honest and say so in the email subject line.  If you have a Facebook page and invite site visitors to "like" or "follow" you, make sure there is a good reason for them to do so.  They won't hang out with you if you're never there.  Meet expectations for time, such as how long a form takes to be filled out or note how fast you respond to your contact form.

5. Authenticity and credibility.  It doesn't matter if you blog about how you give away popcorn to those poor seagulls flying over Walmart or you offer online tutorials, you still need to prove your credibility and worth just as much as the big brands do.  If you happen to win an award, you can watch the immediate uptick in conversions to your how-to site because now you can be trusted in the minds of your site students.  Pictures and videos offer proof of  expertise.  Show off your awards and credentials.  Hang out and connect with thought leaders and experts.  If they like you, they'll carry you along and get you visibility.  Visibility means more traffic and more traffic means more conversion opportunities, even if it's a demand for more of your articles, tutorials, information, online application or community.

You don't need to sell anything on the web to want higher conversion rates.  Activity and tasks completion are just as valuable for many types of web sites.  The more guidance your web design provides and the more genuine you or your brand are, the better your conversions will be.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy 4 Actionable Split Tests To Improve Your Conversions

Kimberly Krause Berg

Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, search engine optimization and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, and persuasive design. Human Factors and Usability and how it blends with Search Engine Optimization have been her passion for over a dozen years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998 and was a self-employed usability and search engine marketing consultant for Cre8pc.com since 1996. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability and persuasive design in her role as Usability and User Interface Analyst.

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5 Responses to “Conversions For Sites That Don't Sell Anything”

  1. I like that you've bridged the gap for businesses/individuals who don't consider themselves to be operating on a conversion basis. Actionable language is a must have for any site. Another tip I might include is identify goals and work content around them. Prioritize you time around creating content and designing your site to reach those goals.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Kim – Helpful article. Setting up conversions activities can be particularly challenging when your retail customers want complete ownership of the relationship with consumers. A couple of our key goals are to increase pages per visit and the percent of visitors that view the "Find Retailer" page. These are not very satisfactory from a standpoint of getting a handle on evaluating engagement, but at least serve as proxies.

  3. DJ Huren says:

    Great post about website conversions. I always look to improve my website and some tips are helping me. Another great tip that you didnt mention is;

    Try to get people to the place that they want in only 3 clicks. The less the better. But if people have to click for more then 3 times they will go back to google and go to your competitor.

    I think that one is really important aswell :)

    • Kim Krause Berg says:

      Thanks for your kind feedback. On the so-called "3 Clicks Rule", that's an old rule. Usability studies show that there is no limit to clicks for people. They will keep going as long as there is a darned good reason to. This is why link labels with action words and better descriptions for the landing page are important. Inspire interest. Create momentum. Provide a call to action. That's the new rule for clicks.

      For search engines and crawling, text links are limited. Best bets are root level and 1 level up for organic crawling for pages.

  4. Great post very helpfull for me. My website gets finally found in Google on a few high rankings, too badly the conversions are very low. Going try some of your tips on my website and see what happens.