Driving around recently in my hometown of Woodinville, WA, gave me a pair of contrasting marketing experiences I wanted to share with you:
I was driving to the grocery story along a two-lane curving road when I came up on a fellow in dark clothes, standing in the shade, probably 30 or more feet away from the side of the road.
He was standing near some bushes, holding what appeared to be a loose-leaf sized sheet of brown corrugated cardboard.
The “sign” appeared to be blank – at least, I didn’t see anything written on it (written with a ball-point pen, perhaps?), and he was so far away from the road that I actually didn’t even see him until just before I passed him.
Upon my return trip from the store, I passed him again from the other direction and realized he had a stand selling fresh Bing cherries (hidden away from traffic view behind the jutting bushes).
Unfortunately, it was too late – I had just bought some of these early summer delights from the grocery store! Too bad for him that he didn’t let me know what he was selling when I was ready to buy.
Continuing on the way home, I drove by one of the large, famous wineries in Woodinville that holds concerts on their beautiful grounds during summer afternoons.
As I was driving toward the winery, I saw a fellow standing on the sidewalk right next to the road. He was smartly dressed, very visible in colorful clothes, and held up a neon green sheet of paper containing a concise message written in large black text that read as follows:
I NEED TICKETS
Unfortunately for him, I didn’t have concert tickets to sell. (Or perhaps he was really trying to sell me.)
But let’s assume he really did need tickets, and if I did have extra tickets to sell, I was easily in a position to respond. I saw him long before I got up to him. I was able to read the concise message on his high-contrast sign well before I passed him, and he was wisely positioned in a location where a driver could pull over to make a quick, convenient sale.
What I saw here was a great demonstration of one person who did and another person who did not know how to market themselves to their intended audience (in this case, people in cars passing by).
SEO Is Just One Part Of Web Marketing
How many of us really think about how potential customers see us as we market our products and services on our websites? It’s really very similar to these two street marketers.
So often we as SEO’s see sites that are the digital equivalent of scenario No. 1 from above. The webmasters of these sites often bury their sales pages deep in their site, making them hard to find.
When they are found, they provide little useful information on the page about the item for sale. Worst of all, these pages often all but hide the web control, button, or link you need to click to actually buy it!
These are the same pages that usually ignore the value of descriptive metadata, and the page’s non-existent content, short (or omitted) headlines, and the images (if any) do little to support the marketing effort in search.
It almost seems as if these webmasters faithfully believe that their audience simply “knows what they want” and will “know what to do” once they arrive on the right page. This faith in their customer base is honorable, and it may be true for their old regulars, but frankly, that’s no way to expand the business and develop new customers.
Instead, you need to tell ‘em what you’ve got. And by that, I mean tell both humans who visit to your site as well as the search engines that crawl your site.
Let’s take a look at a few ideas on how you can improve your chances in getting those drive-by potential customers to stop at your site and buy from you rather than drive on past and conduct their business somewhere else.
Page Metadata Helps Put The Brakes On At The SERPs
For old school SEOs, page metadata is where we live. To bring searchers to your products pages, you need to describe what it is you’re selling. And unlike human users, search engines like to look in the metadata tags.
To make your pages relevant to search queries, you need to add unique <title> tags, <meta> description text, and evocative <h1> headlines to your pages, using descriptive, targeted keywords.
But just as importantly, to drive searchers to click your link in the SERPs, you need to write compelling metadata text that shows up as the SERP’s blue link text (the <title> tag) and the blue link description snippet (the <meta> description tag text). If you don’t get click-throughs, you won’t get conversions!
Taking our offline example to online, as a searcher, which of these SERP listings stands out most to you?
As an SEO, you need to consider this point of view as you add metadata and write on-page text and <h1> tags.
Now I hear the din of distant arguments stating that the <h1> tag is not metadata, as this tag’s text is displayed on the page. Yes, but as the <h1> is supposed to be a descriptive line of text defining the theme of the page, I lump this tag into the whole “data about the page content” category – i.e. metadata.
Keyword-optimized and compellingly written page metadata will help search engines understand what’s on the page, build relevance for searches, improve the discoverability of the product in search by users, and boost the click-through rate for your links in the SERPs. Old school SEO.
Add Descriptive Information On The Page
So now you’ve gotten search users to your page. Good start. And what do these people want to know about your products?
Brainstorm time. Step into their shoes (or think about what it is you want to see on a webpage when you are looking for something to buy online).
Most successful e-commerce sites offer the following types of information in the body text of their products pages:
- Product’s official manufacturer and model name (which is good keyword fodder, anyway)
- Size or dimensions
- Material type
- Date of manufacture (for products where freshness is important)
- Other related product specs and features
- Warranty information
- Price (for the sake of all things good in this world, put in the price, including a shipping and sales tax calculator. If you try to make me chase down the price, I’ll simply run away)
- Detailed product descriptions (at least a good paragraph, perhaps more)
Sites that don’t anticipate the needs and questions of their visitors by providing this information will find it very hard to convert them into customers.
Now, Add More Information
In addition to the basic descriptive information on the page, the best e-commerce sites make extensive use of multimedia content to augment the product information available. This includes presenting multiple product images (including a detailed zoom-in view to see fine details), How To videos, installation and setup information, and more.
At MozCon 2012, I saw a brilliant and inspirational 15-minute talk given by Jeff McRitchie of MyBinding.com. He’s made a couple thousand short and sweet informational videos for his admittedly non-sexy product inventory – paper binders, shredders, laminators, and more.
He’s worked out a fast and low budget way of creating a massive video inventory, and he’s noted that when site visitors watch the videos, his conversion rate for that product goes up fivefold! Brilliant!
What else would a potential customer want to see? Product reviews, of course!
To make your product pages really sing, enable customer reviews on the page. You can also offer customer testimonials and even links to third-party reviews, such as those in online magazines and review websites.
One hot tip I heard at MozCon 2012 was about the use of customer reviews on your product pages: actively select the specific product reviews you want to show by default on your pages, choosing ones that make use of strong keywords, are written in detail, and are persuasively positive. Let your customers be your best advocates.
Make Buying The Product Brain-dead Easy
Now that you’ve given your site visitors all the information they need to make their purchase decision, let them clearly see how to do it!
Make your “Buy Me Now” control a high contrast color to the rest of the page, perhaps as a button image or some other control that is clear, obvious, and very conspicuous. Be sure to put it above the fold (and if the page is long with descriptive content, repeat it at the bottom of the page as well).
Stop Your Customers From Driving By
Frankly, the discussion of optimizing your pages for conversions could go on for pages. But the core of the matter is it’s just like those two guys trying to sell something to drivers passing by on the road.
Is what you’re doing on your website going to be noticed in a glance? Are you hiding your message or is it pleasingly visible and clear on your page (and in your metadata)? Are you telling potential customers what they want to know, including how to buy your product?
If not, your customers are driving right on by, spending their money on that product from someone else. Tell ‘em what you’ve got, and you’ll be the one they stop for.
Photo used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Flickr user garryknight.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.