This article is a transcript of my answers to questions posed by Chris Lake of from December 2005.

In 11 years not much has changed.

What are the most important factors that influence conversion rates?

A joint of roast beef is sizzling over an open fire on a glorious summer day. The aroma fills the air as you cut the juicy meat into generous slices and stack them on a plate to pass around your friends. Your pet dog, driven crazy by the smell starts begging, whining and running around excitedly, hoping for a piece of the delicious steak.

“Speak to the dog, about what matters to the dog in the language of the dog”

Jeff Eisenberg – Call to action

What he means is write for your target audience, about what it is they want, in a simple and attractive way. I’m sure that you’re now thinking about roast beef and open fires. That’s what you need to do when writing for your website, try to put a picture in your prospects head. The most important factors influencing conversion rates are your copy and content, your copy attracts, persuades and provides momentum, while your content answers all your prospects questions. Design, usability, measurement and testing should all be taken into account but they come after you figure out what it is you want to say and to whom you want to say it.

Where do you normally start when working with a new client? Is there a set process you follow?

Initially we get the basic business information so we can work out how deeply the client has thought about their website as a business. You’d be surprised how many companies don’t know what their cost per visit is or their websites impact on their business. So we do a free business evaluation that says, ‘this is where you are now’.

Next we’ll do an analysis of how far we think we can take them, based on their own limitations and budget. Then we can say what service they might need to take them to the next level. Not all businesses need the same things, some need tweaks to marketing strategies, some need better copy and content so it’s hard to answer. But the process we use is the same to find out what the client really needs and then start the process of working with them.

How important is it to use web analytics tools to find on-site problems?

You can’t prove whether anything works on a website without web analytics tools. I advise every client I’ve ever worked with to get web analytics. I won’t work with an enterprise level company if they haven’t got web analytics. The tools allow you to do 2 things very well, pinpoint problems and measure your tests. Without this capability you’re pretty much guessing.

Can you suggest some generic KPIs that e-commerce teams should be monitoring?

There are lots and you should decide upon metrics which you can act upon. However here are some you might want to think about adopting;

  • Segmented conversion rate
  • IE Product Conversion Rates or Source conversion rates
  • Average order value
  • Average number of items purchased
  • Shopping cart abandonment rate (step conversions)
  • Revenue and Profit per product
  • Cost per visit
  • Profit per website visit
  • Sales per customer
  • Customer re-conversion/churn

Too many paid-search and affiliate programmes do not create campaign-specific landing pages. What are the key elements that should be found on a landing page?

Compelling copy and content. Complimentary design, a graphic should help people to see the text or reinforce the message not just be there for the sake of it. One link from the landing page – the call to action, IE the buy now button. A landing page should already attract the audience who want what you have so you needn’t persuade them to go elsewhere by giving them any other links or options.

You’re a big fan of A/B testing. How can web teams implement these tests and what should they be testing?

The basic principle is that you write two test pages, direct equal traffic to each and see which works better. It’s possible to write your own traffic splitter code if you are only testing a few things at a time and you have in house programmers. Or you could outsource the testing to something like Offermatica which handles the test pages and the traffic splitting.

Things you might want to test using an A/B split are headlines, copy blocks, graphical images, banner ads, PPC ads, button colours, in fact anything where you have the potential to improve the response and be able to measure the improvements.

Editors Note: In the old days we had expensive tools or our own split testing scripts.

Now we have so many more versions of tools that handle A/B testing. VWO, Optimizely, Test & Target, Google Optimize etc.

Creating web pages is a balancing act between the needs of the business and the needs of the user. Factor in the needs of the search engines and that’s quite a challenge. Where should your priorities lie?

The needs of the user are the most important. The business need in most cases is simply to make or save money. Businesses should achieve both their own business objective while catering for the user so that she can accomplish her goals. The more that the she accomplishes the better it should be for your business. Search engine marketing is important but you should never sacrifice copy or content simply to rank highly on Google. Search optimisation should and can be implemented, but it should still persuade the person reading the copy that your solution is for them. Yes it is a balancing act but if you prioritise with the users in all cases then you’re on the right track.

Which online retailers do you most admire for their shopping cart processes? And which ones are a ‘dropout from basket’ waiting to happen?

Amazon and have very friendly and simple interfaces. The interesting thing about these two sites is that while they do take your details and record them so it’s easier for you the next time you visit, they do not ask you to “open an account” or “create account” because the wording itself puts many people off. How many times have you bought something from Amazon because they “suggested” something based on your interests? Amazon really understand about building a site around what the user wants (or might want based on their preferences).

The sites which are a drop-out waiting to happen are the ones which have common problems, like requiring registration before a purchase, long checkout processes (I’ve seen ten steps to purchase before), no shipping information displayed, no privacy policies, no security (SSL encryption), lack of guarantees and return policies, the list is endless.

Copywriting is an increasingly essential art form for many e-commerce teams. But the challenges for large websites can be immense, if authoring occurs at a local level. How can you manage authors so that they stick to the conversion-focused rules?

We train the content managers to be responsible for their own testing to improve the site copy and this is done in conjunction with A/B split testing and or web analytics. We either handle the technical part ourselves but usually guide the managers to do it themselves. Ownership of the site is key, by getting the content managers to own and develop their content based on what works, gradually the conversion improves. On the one hand content is a never ending job. If you want conversion you’re for sure going to have to invest in your content. On the other hand there are creative ways to make sure the content has the best possible chance of success but using templates of SEO friendly content (good H1s and titles etc), content management systems and running testing in an agile manner. By selecting your hero content first its ideal.