The Portal Pattern: Core Conversion Marketing Strategies

The second of the five “core” conversion marketing patterns is the “Portal” pattern. Last month, I talked about the “brochure” pattern. In future posts I will discuss the “eCommerce” pattern, “considered purchase” pattern and “site as a service” pattern.

My goal with this series is to explore three strategies that are conversion deal-breakers for five categories of web sites. Get these strategies right, and you should be able to optimize your way to higher and higher conversion rates. Get any of these wrong, and you will find yourself struggling to improve.

For this discussion, I assume you are generating reasonably qualified traffic and that your offering has a demand in the marketplace.

The portal pattern

Also known as the “advertising model” and “subscription model,” The portal pattern can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • The site itself is the service. Portals are most often content focused.
  • The site “monetizes” the content through advertising, with some sort of pay-to-view strategy, or by offering complimentary products and services.
  • Consumption is usually spontaneous. Visitors don’t think long about whether or not they are going to consume the content.

Sites built on the portal pattern include news sites, research sites, educational sites, forums and association sites. Most revenue-generating blogs follow the portal pattern.

Overall, the primary goals of a portal are to get people to stick around, to view more pages, and to join or subscribe. Here are the conversion strategies that will impact these goals most.

The home page

Many businesses design their site believing the home page is crucial to conversion. In this case, it is. If designed correctly, the home page will be the primary landing page for the site, though portals are often well suited to bringing search traffic to internal pages. Great content is the best organic search strategy.

I invite you see the home page as a traffic driver for the content. Just as you would advertise on other web sites, you advertise your content on your own home page. In this sense the home page is more akin to a search engine result page, or SERP. It helps a visitor identify which content they will investigate within your area of focus. For the information portal, the home page is like a magazine cover.

The home page must be laid out to quickly route the visitor to items of interest. Specific content should be featured. Many of these sites provide their most important stories on the home page. This is particularly true of the blogosphere, where the most recent articles appear on the home page.

The home page should say little about the company providing the information. If it is important that your company or products be highlighted, you probably should look at the “considered purchase” pattern, which I will discuss in another post.


Visitors have different navigation needs. The brothers Eisenberg have a nice way to model this in their book Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? where they define four “modes of persuasion,” or what Sitetuners professor Tim Ash would rather call “cognitive styles.” Your readers may favor some of these modes, and this model will help prioritize investments in navigation features.

A visitor in a “competitive” mode may be trying to solve a problem or stay up-to-date on a topic. Site search is critical if you’re attracting such visitors. Make sure your search engine doesn’t return a raft of irrelevant results. These visitors may lose patience quickly if they don’t find what they’re looking for near the top of your search results.

Visitors that in a “methodical” mode want to go deep on a topic. They will appreciate the traditional “drill down” style of navigation that most sites employ. Nested menus and category trees appeal to them. Links to related content on are also appreciated.

Visitors arriving in a “spontaneous” mode may be browsing. They are looking for an excuse to engage. They move on quickly if they don’t find something relevant content. Advertise specific content on the home page for these visitors. Intuitive categorization of the content will also help them find something of interest. They may also be drawn to categories like “Newest” and “most popular.” They’ll respect a site that categorizes content using terms that they are looking for, not just by industry conventions.

A visitor arriving in a “humanist” mode may be relationship-oriented and interested in what others think. Let them explore content on an author-by-author basis.

Site maps and bread crumbs are additional navigation tools that have proven to aid stickiness and conversion rates.

Your internal content pages are your landing pages. Each should offer the reader ways to explore additional content. Consider adding site search, proper categorization, author pages and related content features to these pages in addition to your traditional navigational menus.


What a tragedy it is to entice someone to subscribe to your site with your fine content, only to chase them away with a poor purchase process. It’s easy to rationalize that these visitors weren’t really ready to purchase. However, web site optimization efforts have proven successful in decreasing abandonment rates in shopping carts and registration processes. Maybe you’re the one who’s not ready.

While some abandons are the result of a visitor getting distracted at their computer, many are the result of unanswered questions and poor trust-building in the purchase process. For someone you’ve asked to provide their credit card number, anything your site does that leaves a question in their mind—or places one there—will cause them to reconsider.

Of the three strategies listed here, you might focus on this one first.

The first step is to know what your abandonment rate is. Subtract the number of people who become customers from the number of people who click your “join” button. This is the number of visitors who abandon your process before finishing. Divide this number by the total number of visitors who click “join,” and you get the percentage of people who don’t—or can’t—get through your purchase process.

It stands to reason that, if you have a pay-to-view business model, you’ve got to make it easy for people to sign up. Most visitors have a natural resistance to parting with their money. Any friction generated by your purchase process will increase your abandonment rates and decrease the number of paid readers you have.

Maybe the portal pattern should be called the “obvious” pattern. These strategies are the primary concerns for many web sites. However, this pattern stands as a contrast to the other patterns: Brochure, eCommerce, Considered Purchase and Site as a Service. These patterns have different make-or-break strategies, which I will explore in future installments.

Examples to explore

How well are these portal pattern sites serving their visitors?

Next in this series: The E-commerce Pattern: Core Conversion Marketing Strategies

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

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  • allenkristina

    Hey Brian, I was really struck when you said “the home page will be the primary landing page for the site” because we often talk about the home page of a site not being a landing page at all; however, your explanation makes sense. While the home page isn’t technically a landing page it should still be well organized and lead the visitor to the proper area as quickly as possible. Good point!

    -Kristina, @ion_interactive


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