Focus on conversions, not traffic boosts SEM

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Tim Ash is CEO of (, and author of “Landing Page Optimization” (Wiley Press, 2008). BtoB recently asked Ash about trends in landing page optimization. BtoB: In discussing search campaigns, you've said that conversions are more important than driving traffic. Please explain. Ash: A lot of people in online marketing spend too much time trying to figure out how to drive traffic through organic search and pay-per-click advertising; but, unfortunately, there is usually a big disconnect when prospects actually get to the landing page. Marketers should be trying to get Web site visitors to act in some way—like clicking through to another page, or downloading a white paper, for example—but most landing pages are pretty awful and fail to accomplish this adequately. Driving more traffic usually leads to small incremental improvements. Fixing your landing page provides leverage across all your traffic sources and can skyrocket profitability. BtoB: How can marketers do this most easily? Ash: By doing a best-practices scrub. Most landing pages are pretty messed up. A lot of the changes you need to make are correcting fundamentals, and you really don't have to test your site to improve things. First, get rid of visual distractions such as unnecessary, gratuitous graphics that distract people from even looking at your call to action. Make your call to action clear, and eliminate marketing fluff in your copywriting. And watch for upstream disconnects. This is where you promise one thing in your pay-per-click ad but don't mention it on the landing page, thus losing the information scent trail. Another problem is presenting too many choices. If you list 20 product features, do you really expect the visitor to read down to the 17th item that he's interested in? Finally, don't ask for too much information—and perhaps don't ask for any at all. When a site makes no requests at all for information, I've seen downloads actually increase by a factor of 50. Also, it kicks in the recipro- city principle of persuasion: When you give to people, they feel obligated to give in return. BtoB: Beyond the basics, explain a bit about testing of landing pages. Ash: Split or A/B testing of completely different landing pages helps you pinpoint which version works better. If there's money at stake, you want to get a definitive answer. Yes, the possible downside might be that you send half your audience to the worst page for a while; but the point is, over multiple tests, you improve your baseline and lock in an ongoing improvement. After the A/B test (which might include more than just two landing page versions), you may want to move to multivariate testing, which fine-tunes the basic design. Here, you can gauge the effectiveness of things like which headline to use, the color of buttons, price points, etc. With today's testing technology, you can test millions of pages to get them just right, obtaining a higher percentage of people who did something you wanted them to do or generating more revenue per visitor. BtoB: What kind of ROI can a marketer expect from this process? Ash: We just had a client redesign their landing pages; their cost-per-acquisition dropped from $10.50 to about $8, while their traffic from paid search doubled. Because there is no incremental cost associated with driving traffic, the profitability increase was off the charts. BtoB: Where do you see the industry evolving? Ash: The importance of improving conversion can't be overstated, and we are going to see more professionalism in the field. I think we'll soon see an official job function within companies and agencies—something like “conversion improvement specialist.” We're hoping to contribute to that with the first dedicated Conversion Conference (, in San Jose [Calif.] this May.
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