The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Why is My Homepage Bounce Rate So High?


Dealing with homepage bounce rate!
Over the past few months, I've received dozens of questions about homepage bounce rate so I decided to dedicate a blog post to it. I'm glad to see executives and marketers getting more involved with website optimization. I think it shows the true evolution of web marketing.

Let's start with a definition of Bounce Rate:
The percentage of visitors that visit one page on your website that exit the site before visiting another page.

Hence the word "bounce"... Here's a quick example. Tom sees a paid search advertisement for xyz company. He clicks through the ad and hits the homepage (more about why this could be a problem later.) He quickly scans the page and doesn't find a call to action to what he's looking for and promptly goes back to the paid search listings. That's a bounce.

I figured that providing a list of some of the most common problems would be a smart way to build this post. So without further ado: (in no specific order...)

1. Your homepage doesn't speak to your personas (types of buyers)
I have mentioned this about a dozens times in related posts, but in my opinion, the best way to optimize your website is to determine your customer personas (types of buyers) and then build persuasive scenarios based on those personas. The days of pointing visitors to a website and simply listing a navigation and a quick intro are gone... I gave a quick example of persona development in my last post (HD TV buyers) if want to reference it.

2. Confusing Homepage Layout and Content, So What Exactly Do You Sell??
Let's say you are speaking to your personas (as mentioned above) and you still experience a high bounce rate. If that's the case, then there's a good chance that your homepage isn't laid out properly. As part of an abbreviated persona development project, my client learned that their customers tend to look for a search box when they hit the homepage of an e-commerce site. As a result, they moved their search box to a more prominent location on the page, improved their search algorithm, and improved the way their search results are displayed. Now, that's a great example of learning from your customers and making the appropriate changes to your website structure. And, they utilize a robust web analytics package to analyze their site activity to ensure the changes they made to the site are working. It's a constant evolution. That's just one example, but you should look at how you introduce your company, your text navigation, the visuals you have on the homepage, the lingo you utilize in the copy, the dimensions of your site as compared to your average visitor (via your analytics package), how quickly your page loads, etc.

3. External Campaigns Driving Visitors to Your Homepage
This can inaccurately bump up your homepage bounce rate and is a common problem that I see in web marketing. For example, paid search campaigns that lead to the homepage of your website, email marketing for a specific promotion that lead to your homepage, banners (yes, unfortunately some web marketers still use banners) that lead to your homepage, etc. I understand if you are undermanned and cannot build campaign landing pages, but I cannot emphasize how this can help your campaigns on multiple dimensions. You can split test landing pages, you can talk specifically to the campaign recipients, you can provide unique content for the promotion visitors, and you can track that landing page at a granular level. In addition, you can utilize your web analytics package to view clickstream reports to see where visitors go after viewing that specific landing page. I can keep going here, but I think you get the gist of why landing pages are important. Using landing pages will also give you a more accurate bounce rate for your homepage. Maybe 7% of your homepage bounce rate was from external campaigns. But please, don't go and refine your homepage until you have accurate data.

3. Ranking in Natural Search for Keywords that Aren't Directly Related to Your Company
If you haven't optimized your website for search, your homepage might actually be ranking for keywords that don't directly relate to your business. Typically, this isn't a big driver of traffic, unless you've really added content and phrases on your homepage that can be interpreted by the search engines as something else. This is something you can easily find via your web analytics program. Just pop into Natural Search and view the top keywords from each search engine. You'll be surprised what you find. For example, if you wrote a book on starting a golf instruction business and you get a few thousand people per month visiting your site by entering the keyword "best ways to increase the distance of your drive", then your homepage bounce rate might be inflated. Figure out why you are ranking for that keyword and then form a strategy for ranking for keywords that directly relate to your business. If you don't have the skill-set in house, then hire a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist.

4. Website Visitor Expectations are Not Met Properly (This also relates to the external campaign listing above...)
If you set expectations too high in an advertisement and suddenly you receive a lot of traffic from that advertisement, there's a chance a good portion of that traffic could bounce. If you sell Samsung TV's, but don't sell Panasonic TV's and your ad claims that you have the widest selection on the face of the earth, then it shouldn't be a shock when people looking for Panasonic TV's bounce off your site! One of the best lessons I learned regarding marketing copy was from John Caples (probably the most famous advertising copywriter ever). Keep it specific and keep it realistic. For example, "We provide a wide selection of Widescreen HD TV's from Samsung, Sony, Pioneer, and LG in sizes ranging from 26" to 50". Compare that to "We have the widest selection of HD TV's in North America and we must move our inventory today! We have every size imaginable!" If someone visits your site from the second ad and they are looking for a 60" Toshiba, they will probably bounce.

So, how do you fix your website bounce rate problem?
1. Track everything via a robust web analytics package and start analyzing the results (where are visitors coming from, which links on the homepage are most active, which real estate areas on the homepage are most accessed, is on-site search easily accessible, etc.)
2. Determine your personas and map out a plan for speaking to those personas right on your homepage (and in your navigation). This involves speaking with your customers, using web surveys, and speaking with your customer service people.
3. Split test changes to determine if they are working for you. If you don't have a benchmark, then how will you know if you are improving anything?
4. Run clickstream reporting to see where people are going (after you make changes based on your persona development). This will enable you to see which elements drive the most sales. In addition, it will enable you to see which elements drive the highest abandonment rate. For example, you might find that 45% of the people that click through your "New Additions" link leave the site on the next page.

And as usual in web marketing, be creative, be analytical, listen to your customers, listen to your customer service people, and track everything. It's definitely not easy, but if you utilize a structured approach, it could chop your homepage bounce rate down to a reasonable number!

GG

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Web Marketing Surveys, The Value in Gaining Customer Feedback


Online Marketing Surveys and Gaining Valuable Customer Feedback
More and more, companies are looking to make important changes to their websites in order to increase conversion. A few years ago, most website changes were about look and feel or functionality, where today I hear the word "conversion" much more (and especially at the executive level). It makes sense, doesn't it? Web Analytics packages have evolved and web marketers can now view their data easier and faster than ever before. That said, where do you start? Should you use a structured process like the steps in Persuasion Architecture or use another approach that you've utilized in the past? Regardless, finding out what your customers think is essential. There are many ways to accomplish this from focus groups to usability testing to online surveys.

In my opinion, all should be used to gain important feedback prior to mapping out the blueprint for change. For this post, I've decided to target website-based surveys. In my experience with helping clients launch online marketing surveys, the first step is typically the hardest. "Well, what are we going to ask them and why?" is what I typically hear. At this stage it's important to think about your customers and the types of buyers that will be visiting your site. Based on personas that you map out, you can start to flesh out the questions that will enable you to make key decisions about the changes to your website. For example, if you sell HD TV's, two possible personas that come to mind are:

1. The Cutting Edge Buyer - He always wants the latest and greatest equipment.
2. The Discount Shopper - She wants an HD TV, but cannot afford the latest and greatest. She wants the best possible TV for the budget she has.

Keep in mind, there are probably 4-5 other potential types of buyers for this category, but I wanted to give you some quick examples. Note, these are not demographic-based, they are buyer process-based. There's a big difference between the two (and why I believe Persuasion Architecture is a strong process to go through.)

So What Do We Ask Them?
Now you can start to flesh out your questions for each persona. So, for the two sample personas I listed above, what do you want to learn from them? Maybe how important product visuals are, product reviews, or if they would use a forum for customer support? Maybe you want to see if they will read your blog, participate in the blog, or if they cannot stand blogs. You will be surprised what you find. Think about the Discount Shopper persona, maybe they want to access a sales-only page where they can sort products to their heart's delight. Or, maybe they want to subscribe to RSS feeds for the latest sales. My point here is that you should not answer the questions...but that your goal is to learn from your customers. Don't try and answer your own questions, chances are you are too close to the product line, website, and company. You might be right 20% of the time, but 20% won't earn you a promotion...

Survey Monkey, A Great Online Survey Solution
Now that you have your questions, how do you go about setting up the survey? At this point, everyone involved will have a different opinion on how you go about launching the survey. Should the IT department set it up, should you go with a free survey solution, or should you go with a paid service. I almost always recommend the latter. I really like Survey Monkey and several of my clients have taken my recommendation to use their service. The professional subscription is only $19.95 per month and you get a robust online survey solution that's customizable to boot. You can read their online survey features here, but they should cover ~99% of what you want to achieve. The reporting is strong and offers an excellent export feature so you can import the data into Excel (or whichever data analysis program you use). Anyway, I have found it to be a solid solution for launching and tracking online surveys. And, it's fast.

Make Sure You Sweeten the Offer
In order to increase response rate, I highly recommend including an incentive for filling out the survey. And I'm not talking about a $5 gift card to Starbucks. Offer something of worth or you risk having an extremely low response rate. For example, I have a consumer products client that offered their customers 15% off their next purchase. That could translate into $15-20 off their next purchase. The incentive completely depends on your customer base. A quick brainstorm session would yield a dozen or so incentives that you can use.

Analyze the Data
After the survey is over, take the time to analyze the data from several viewpoints. The open-ended questions sometimes yield incredible information. Think about it, if someone took the time to actually type in a response, it's probably worth reading, right? Some people even include their contact information, which can help you build focus groups down the line. It depends on how passionate the customer is and how much they want you to change!

Closed Loop Communication
Last, but not least, let the respondents know what you are doing based on their feedback! This is probably the most overlooked step in the process. Your customers will likely feel as if they didn't waste their time and that you take their feedback seriously. Also, it's a great opportunity to look for customers for focus groups or even word of mouth marketing campaigns.

In closing, online marketing surveys can help you understand how your customers really feel about your products and website, and can help you make decisions based on data versus your own opinion. Use a solid solution for launching surveys and analyze the data fully before making any decisions. Then follow up with the people that responded. You can start to foster a stronger relationship with your customers, which can lead to loyal customers and hopefully increased revenue. And, isn't that what it's all about?

GG

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

When Website Redesigns Attack! A Gripping Story of Vanishing Search Engine Rankings


When Website Redesigns Attack, Search Engine Rankings Drop
This is a story of a website going full circle, and not in a good way... If you are thinking about redesigning your website and you believe that search traffic is important to your business, then this post is for you. Read on...

First, my purpose is not to focus on the company or website I refer to below, but to focus on the concept of redesigning a website without fully understanding the impact it will have on natural search. This is not a rare occurrence...it unfortunately happens all of the time.

Help, Google Doesn't Like Us!
Almost two years ago, I assisted a company that hit rock bottom from an organic search standpoint. They went through a complete website redesign and started to notice that their search engine rankings dropped off of a table. This had gone on for about a year prior to my showing up. The first thing the CEO asked me to do (and the term "ask" is being nice..) was to get the site ranking in the search engines as quickly as possible. The site was essentially non-existent in the engines and nobody at the company knew why. The site was a Pagerank 0, with old content indexed in Google, and the site wasn't ranking for any competitive keywords. So, I was handed a budget and launched a major SEO initiative to turn things around. After making significant changes to the site architecture, content, and navigation, we went live with a new codebase. Four months later, the site had over 65,000 pages indexed in Google, earned a Pagerank 7, and began ranking for dozens of competitive keywords, including hundreds of long tail terms. The site did a 180 and was humming from a natural search standpoint. I wish the story ended here...

Flash Forward to Today...
I noticed that the site was recently redesigned again. It was actually more of a refresh than a redesign. As I browsed the site, it didn't take long for me to notice some serious problems... Some of the most important changes that were made for organic search were now gone. Important keywords were missing from the site, title tags weren't optimized on key landing pages, and I could tell that nobody focused on SEO when mapping out the redesign. Uh oh. So I started testing some competitive keywords that the site was once ranking for...the site was no longer ranking for them... So, what will happen to some of their natural search traffic? Well, it will probably go to a competitor's website.

The Danger of the Website Redesign
I'd love to say that this is a rare occurrence, but it's not. When redesigning a website, it's critically important to have key people from a wide range of roles involved during the process. This starts with the web marketing team to map out the strategy and blueprint for the redesign. Then, the programmers and designers should be involved in the storyboard and prototype process. Also, you should include any specialists along the way, like search specialists and rich media specialists to ensure the entire project will go smoothly and achieve the goals of the redesign.

Don't Skimp Over Strategy
Sometimes (ok, often), the strategy piece is briefly completed and the designers and programmers run with the latest and greatest technology to wow visitors (or worse, to gain experience with new technology). When this happens (from a search standpoint) search rankings tend to go down. For example, that really cool, dynamic navigation isn't being indexed by Google, the new code is so smart that it's 302 redirecting visitors all over the place, and someone forgot to add descriptive title tags, description tags, and descriptive links on the site.

So, What Should You Do?
If you are planning a redesign, ensure you use a structured approach that includes key people from a wide range of roles in the process. This is one of the reasons I truly believe in Persuasion Architecture. Your web strategy is fully mapped out prior to designers and programmers getting involved.

My guess is that the CEO will pick up on the lower traffic levels and start asking questions. I wouldn't want to be in the room when that happens. :-()

GG

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

e-Commerce Shipping - Online Consumers Demand a New Standard


Online Consumers Demand a New e-Commerce Shipping Standard!
Let's face it, everyone shops online now. If you haven't shopped online for something in the past year, then stop reading this post and repeat the following lines:

* My name is {SayYour Name} and I'm a little afraid of technology
* Per Glenn Gabe's Request, I am going to try and overcome my fears and buy something online this week
* Heck, I'm going to buy something online today and then after I realize how fun and efficient it is, I'm going to thank Glenn from the bottom of my heart and recommend his internet marketing services to every marketing manager I know --sorry, I had to add this last line ;-)

Now I know I'm on the "You Better Believe It" end of the spectrum when it comes to buying online, but heck, my mother even shops online and she's 64!

Did You Say 4-7 Days?
I'll now get to the point of this post... I recently made a few purchases online and I was a little shocked to see that it would take up to a week to receive my items (as the default shipping option.) Could that be right? 4-7 days? Maybe I should have just run out and picked up the items from the store... Here's my point. I love shopping online. Not a surprise, right? That said, e-tailers need to understand that consumers today expect more from their online shopping experience. If I purchase something online, I want it delivered in less than 3 days and without having to pay extra for priority shipping. Am I wrong to think this way? I don't think so. I've worked on enough web marketing surveys, focus groups, and persona development projects to know what consumers expect from e-commerce shipping...and it's not 4-7 days!

Online Shopping is an Immediate Action
Let's break it down. Purchasing online is an immediate action. You log onto a site, select items to purchase, enter your credit card information, and then place your order. This can all be done in less than 5-10 minutes if you know what you need. I've actually purchased books from the Barnes and Noble website in less than 2 minutes...which is my all time record and I have this record time hanging on my office wall. OK, I'm kidding about hanging it on my wall, but I did purchase books in less than 2 minutes this year from bn.com. And yes, this keeps me coming back to their site. They get it. Functionality, speed, reliability, and getting their products into the hands of consumers as quickly as possible is the way you keep quality customers buying from you (and also get them writing about it on their blogs!)

A New Standard for e-Commerce Shipping
Now I'm not crazy to think that overnight shipping will be a standard (we can all dream, right?) but I truly believe that companies selling on the web need to understand that online buyers want their products as soon as possible. That way, they won't feel the need to just run out to the mall and pick up the items with their own bare hands. I know, they'll have to speak to the teenager in the store who seems like he had a few too many the night before and can't seem to focus, but ultimately, they will find what they need and take it home with them.

Calling All Web Marketing People...
So, if you are reading this post and you are in control of your company's e-commerce site, please remember that your e-commerce shipping standard should match your online buyer expectations. i.e. Don't list 4-7 days as the default in your shipping column or you might find that customers who are ready to click "Submit" will instead be clicking "Close Window" and doing something crazy like getting in their cars and driving to a store. God help us all!

GG

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