Elizabeth Smythe says: “What is an absolute? You said we’re supposed to use them but how can I if I don’t even know what they are or where to find mine?”
Oh Elizabeth, there are so many snarky replies I’d like to give you but alas, this is a serious subject that deserves a serious answer.
Here’s the thing…. Users want Web sites to be like grocery stores: It doesn’t matter which supermarket you go to in the U.S. — whether it’s a Piggly-Wiggly in South Carolina, Safeway in Seattle or Shop ’n Save in Maine — you know the milk will be near the eggs, flour close to the sugar and the bananas in the vicinity of the apples. You don’t expect ice cream in the dog food aisle or pickles sandwiched between puppy chow and cat litter.
A typical grocery store is full of absolutes. Same with a Wal-Mart, a Starbucks, a Jiffy Lube, an L.L. Bean catalog or Amazon.com.
There are things that work and things that don’t. There’s not a cataloger in the world who’ll tell you the cover isn’t a hot spot. Nor is there an intelligent Web marketer who’ll deny there’s a magic formula for the perfect checkout. The Web world is full of absolutes (best practices and must-haves.) You don’t have to like them, but for the sake of your online business, you should know them.
How Do I Learn the Absolutes? First, look closely at your stats. There’s no better way to find out what your users like and don’t like about your site than to look closely at your data.
Second, sites like MarketingSherpa.com, WilsonWeb.com and MarketingProfs.colm, or the blog at FutureNowInc.com, have many case studies and ideas about what’s working online. Look to them regularly to find out what others are testing; apply what’s applicable to your business.
Where do you start? There are so many things to look at that many folks simply get overwhelmed and postpone the analysis until a later date. Try these:
1. Abandoned Web shopping carts or forms. Find the percentage of people who start your online order-taking process and then abandon it. Look closely at the step where they’re leaving.
2. How many people are adopting to a cart (or a form) as a percentage? Very few look at this, yet it’s one of the most helpful pieces of data there is. If not enough people put stuff in their carts, you may have a pipeline problem. These days, most companies get more than enough traffic; they just don’t know how to effectively convert it.
3. Look at your conversions as a whole. It floors me how many people still think they take the number of visitors, subtract the percentage of abandons and then get their conversion rates. The only conversion number that represents is, well, breathing.
Look at each level of conversion: How many people request a catalog? How many people sign up for your e-mail? How many people convert on an order? And so on. Every action on your site should have its own conversion level. “Ordering from a Catalog?” traffic should have a much higher conversion than, say, someone coming from a MySpace blog posting.
4. Days to sale. How many of your users are repeat visitors, and how long does it take for them to come back? Figure out those numbers and your thrust and trigger e-mail programs will go through the roof. How so? It’s been repeatedly proven that there’s a direct correlation between the number of days it takes a user to make a sale and the amount of contacts they received during that period.
5. Bounce rate. How many visitors come to your site and leave immediately? In other words, what percentage of people coming to your site are completely useless to you and/or don’t see what they’re looking for on the initial entry page?
Three of the best absolutes in this business come from knowing how much traffic you’re getting, what percentage of it’s direct/no-referrer traffic (as opposed to coming from affiliates and search engines) and how much of that traffic is sticking.
6. Active average user session. Most statistical packages don’t have this number, so you have to calculate it on your own. Average user session is the average length of time that people stay on your site. An active average user session is the length of time that people stay on your site in an active capacity. You figure it out by taking the average user session and dividing it by the number of drills.
If people spend 10 minutes on your site and look at 120 pages, that means they’re looking at each page for about five seconds, which is a great indication of a severe navigational problem.
Despite what all those touchy-feely types tell you, the internet is not pink. Nor is it gray. It’s pure black and white. And the more black(read: rules and structure) you have in your Web business, the more black you’ll have on your bottom line.