As marketers, we’re all ultimately in the conversion optimization business. The success of your venture depends on how many people you get to sign-up, register or order. You weigh the value of each conversion against how much it cost you to win it, and that’s the driving engine of ROI for your organization. The higher your conversion rate, the higher your ROI.
But that equation is deceptively oversimplified. In the real world, there are many confounding factors, such as:
- Time delays between first seeing a page and then later deciding to convert
- Other touchpoints that influenced conversion (the attribution challenge)
- The lifetime value (LTV) of a customer—which is constantly changing
- Sentiment—how people really feel about you, constantly changing too
- Cross-channel, multi-person and referral purchases that are hard to track
These factors are crucial to the ongoing viability of your business, yet they aren’t reflected in the conversion rate for a single, specific landing experience. That’s where trouble can arise, because there are numerous ways you can boost the conversion rate of a single experience—but at the expense of other future conversions, lifetime value and the opinion people have of you.
Call it a conflict between conversion optimization and brand optimization.
I’ve had a number of recent experiences that have reminded me of how important the bigger picture of “brand” is—one that should be discussed more in conversion optimization circles.
Survey says: brand, brand, brand
Over the past few months, I’ve been conducting a research study with a group at Harvard University on how to improve the trustworthiness of search advertising in the eyes of users. In our experiments, we’ve subjected participants to simulated search results and examined their rationale in choosing what to click.
Although the study is not complete, I can say anecdotally that I have been astounded by how many participants have emphasized brand recognition in their choices. If they saw a brand they knew, one that they had a favorable impression of, it leapt to the center of their attention, often overriding other significant factors in favor of competing links. I expected brand to be an influence, but I was surprised by how dominant that influence was. Al Ries would be proud.
If brand is that powerful—and there’s a ton of evidence throughout marketing’s history to believe that it is—then search marketers and conversion optimization specialists should consciously weave that into their programs. If you have a great brand, leverage it and protect it. Be careful of damaging it, even accidentally, with landing experiences that don’t live up to your brand’s promise and position. And if you don’t yet have a strong brand, at least in a particular area where you’re marketing, make a concerted effort to build it.
Remember, brand is more than a name, a logo and a color palette. Brand is the experience that people associate with you and your products that differentiates you from the competition. It’s both the substance of what you do and the style in which you do it. It’s what people believe you’re the best at. Every touchpoint you have with someone—what you say, how you say it—either contributes to or detracts from that brand position.
And, as elsewhere in life, first impressions matter. Once someone starts to form an impression of your brand—whether it’s the picture you wanted them to have or not—it’s very hard to change their opinion. Which leads us to the topic of landing pages.
What about the other 85%?
Let’s say your conversion rate is a respectable 15%. The question is: what about the other 85% who don’t convert?
See, landing pages are not like email or direct mail, where a large percentage of recipients never even look at your message. The only way someone reaches your landing page is if they deliberately click on something—an ad, a search result, a socially distributed link. 100% of the people who arrive on your landing page chose to see what you had to offer. Even if they only a stay for a brief moment, they will form an impression of you.
Now, there are a variety of reasons why someone might not convert. They’re not ready. They’re just browsing. You don’t appear to be what they expected or were hoping for. They don’t like your offer. These may be legitimate reasons to bounce as far as you’re concerned. Maybe only a fraction of these visitors would be a good fit, and your landing page is doing what it should by filtering them.
But you want to be careful about two cases. One, if someone would have been a great fit, but something about their experience with your conversion path caused a disconnect or turned them off. Or two, if someone isn’t a great fit today, but they might be in the future—or if they might influence others who could be a great fit.
With this latter case, even if you don’t win the conversion on that particular visit, you have won the opportunity of a brand impression that can help you (or haunt you) further down the road. So ask yourself: what is the brand impression you’re making? What message do you send to people who don’t convert? Did you give them something of value for clicking through to you, even if it’s not necessarily as much value as they would receive from converting?
Let’s not play hardball
You can boost your conversion rate and your brand at the same time. But conflict can arise between those two objectives when you do things such as employ strong-arm conversion tactics. It’s good to ask people for the conversion, and it can be good to give them a clear incentive to convert now. But if your presentation crosses a line and becomes threatening or deceptive, a dangerous bifurcation can occur.
On one hand, strong-arm tactics can boost your conversion rate on a particular page. You can usually coerce a few more people with bullying or chicanery. If you’re focused entirely on your conversion rate metric, such lift might lead you to believe that these practices are a good idea. And you might seek to push them further and replicate them elsewhere. That’s a vicious, destructive cycle.
Because on the other hand, what you don’t see directly is how many of the people who are bouncing are now leaving with a negative impression of you. Frankly, even a number of the people who convert may feel less enthusiastic about you given the arm twisting—and if your conversions are leads for subsequent sales or long-term customer relationships, that can be disastrous. All five of the scenarios listed at this top of this article can be damaged.
I recently had an experience like this with Register.com, which so incensed me I wrote a long blog post on when marketing optimization feels like extortion. While as a (former) customer, I was very angry with them, in the back of my mind, I kept imagining how an overly aggressive conversion optimization program could have inadvertently led to that unfortunate outcome.
The role of a brand champion
What percentage of your visitors, converting or not, leave with a positive brand impression?
That’s as important a metric as conversion rate, albeit harder to measure. You can approximate it by talking directly with a sample of prospects, walking through landing experiences with them and encouraging their feedback. This sort of direct interaction—getting out beyond the keyboard—is a great way to build your intuition and empathy with different market segments.
It’s with this intuition that a brand champion should review your landing pages through the eyes of the customer. Ideally, this brand champion role is someone other than the conversion optimization champion. Even if they both want the same thing—brand building and good conversion rates—it’s helpful to have the benefit of multiple perspectives.
Aim for a great conversion rate. But think of non-conversions as an investment in future conversions—an investment you make with good brand building. For any marketer who cares more about their business than myopic results of an individual page, that investment is crucial.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.