The Importance of Visitor Conversion

In this article, we look at understanding if your site is ready for paid advertising and CPC campaigns. A common tactic to address slow web sales is to pay for advertising on various web networks (Google or Overture being the most pervasive). This, however, may not be the right “first thing” to actually do. To understand why, let’s look at a simple formula that describes web sales:

Traffic to the Site * Visitor Conversion To Customer * Average Order = Web Revenue

What does each part of the formula mean?

“Traffic to the Site” is just what it sounds like: if you have 1000 unique visitors (in web reporting this is known as Unique IP Addresses) coming to your site each month, then you can plug “1000” into that part of the formula. This number is not equitable with “Hits” or “Page Views” as these are not representative of actual people coming to your site, only how many pages are being viewed.

“Visitor Conversion To Customer” means the percentage at which your site converts a new, random, unique visitor into an actual, buying customer. If you have 100 people coming to your site in a month, and only one places an order, your conversion percentage is 1%. Conversion percentages for web sites vary dramatically, with most sites shooting for 0.5% to as high as 5%.

“Average Order” is simply the averaged total (or subtotal) of web orders placed. If a site is selling widgets for $19.95, and the average order is for 2 widgets, then the average order subtotal would be $39.85. So, what does all of this mean? We all learned in math that anything that is multiplied by zero is still zero. Applying this to the above formula shows that increasing web traffic to your site could still lead to a ZERO. If your conversion percentage is 0% (or something lower than 0.5%), paying for traffic into your site is a bad


What do you do if your conversion percentage is lower than 1%, or you need to get your conversion percentage higher? The short answer is: find out why visitors are not buying. We understand, this is easier said than done. Your best bet in getting started is with customers you already have. Ask them what they liked and disliked about your site. Do not fall into the trap of jumping on the obvious answers or the first answer to come to you. Often times, there are multiple reasons why your conversion percentage is lower than it could

be. The web reports your site generates automatically can also give you insight into why visitors are not buying, but analysis of these reports usually requires an experienced person who knows how to interpret the numbers.

Here is a short list of common issues we see, that once fixed, led to higher conversion percentages:


    1. Hard-to-use or unintuitive web site navigation


    1. Low quality product pictures


    1. Product descriptions meaningless or too short


    1. Splash page for the front page


    1. Heavy use of graphics makes pages download too slow


    1. Shopping experience confusing or too many distractions


All of these can be summarized as: your website does not meet visitor’s expectations. Figure out what their expectations are, change the site to meet their expectations, and watch your website grow!


Customer Follow Up


This article focuses on ways to address new and returning customers to encourage repeat business and loyalty. The ideas presented here are not new, but they are combined in such a way as to allow you to pick and choose which ones are most appropriate for your business, as well as generate ideas of your own for building online and offline relationships with your customers, clientele, or prospectives.


1) Emails: When it isn’t SPAM

Email can be used effectively when treated with moderation. Resist the temptation to come up with 20 different email templates that should be sent to a customer and focus on getting the basics right instead. Four to five emails over the course of a month is very tolerable, especially when each email has a specific purpose. Take for example the order confirmation email that is generated when the customer places an order: it should be concise, short and easy to understand, which is that you got their order. It should include quick answers to common questions, but you shouldn’t waste space with advertising, save it for a future email. With that future email, thank them for their business and offer a repeat order discount or highlight featured items.

A reasonable email flow might look like:

    • Order Confirmation Email (short & concise)


    • Shipment Confirmation Email (short & concise)


    • Thank You Email with 15 day offer


    • Specials & Featured Product Email



2) Direct Mail Flyers

Since you have mailing information for the customer, setup a calendar of direct mail postcards that go out to your entire customer database. Also setup a system for sending out direct mail with one-off address labels for brand new customers to get the repeat exposure in that critical time frame of the weeks following a good experience. Costs can range based on frequency, list size, and complexity of direct mailer(s) production. Keep it simple by having one-offs printed in advance and print labels as needed, and schedule new flyers to be mailed on a quarterly or monthly basis depending on how often your market changes or inventory fluctuates.


3) Paper Catalogs & One-Sheets

The days of catalogs are not necessarily numbered, as seen by the effectiveness of large direct order houses who have survived the transition online by using both channels to more effectively cater to the customer. You can take advantage of these dynamics by scaling down to a four or eight page catalog or even a one-sheet that uses web based calls-to-action. This is an expansion of the direct mail flyers idea, but has even more possibilities.


4) Its All In The Packaging

What do you include in shipments going out to the customer? Clearly, you have the obvious: product and packing slip, but what else could you be including? One example is a simple print-out on card stock that has your logo and a special promo code for their next (return) order? You could spin this as a Thank You or a Frequent Buyer program, or make it time-sensitive to get the repeat order sooner. The possibilities here are really close to endless: postcard or paper catalog, one-sheet on your company or highlight on the type of products you sell, or even a newsletter you recently printed. Look at your current marketing materials and look for potential re-use with no or simple modifications.


A Note On Customer Service

Providing an excellent customer service experience in each and every order processed on your site is the most direct way to building repeat business. There are a myriad of ways to address customer service during the order cycle, a few major ones could be:

    • Repeat contact with the customer regarding the status of their order


    • Prompt shipment of goods (or contact if there will be a delay)


    • Easy-to-understand return policies and directions


    • Real human beings available to answer questions and handle issues with shipped goods


Improving your customer service through better follow up, as well as implementing other customer service initiatives will pay dividends over two to three years, longer if new customer acquisition continues.


Quick Study: Elrick Art Supplies

We are associated with this website only in that we buy office and art supplies from this website.  Once you have placed an order, they send two emails, one to confirm the order and one to confirm shipment of the product. The package arrives with a postcard and paper catalog along with the nicely wrapped product and the packing slip, which is basic and easy to read. After two weeks or so they send out a postcard and a few more follow up emails thanking you for your business. This is a solid customer service experience with repeat exposure that educates us as to what other products they carry. We now are trained to go to their website first when looking for anything art or office related.



Above all, treat what you implement as research. Some ideas may have no effect at all (not all segments will respond to a paper catalog, as those segments will assume they can get the same information online and not want to deal with looking at or using the paper catalog). Measurement over periods of time will help guide you in figuring out what to ramp up and where to look next. Keep refining follow up initiatives that gain traction and learn from them. You will find channels and avenues to your customers that none of your competitors pick up on, which strengthens your position in the market and raises the barrier to entry.

I hope this article was valuable to you. MagicLamp offers this kind of advice and know-how to all of our clients on a daily basis. If you are interested in finding out more about what MagicLamp can do for you, contact us for a free consultation. If you are an existing client of MagicLamp and want to get started on any of these ideas or new ones you may have, email us or add a new task in the Change Management System.


Building Online Credibility

Confidence is not easily won with consumers or prospectives, especially on the web. Paying attention to credibility and how a website expresses it can lead to better conversion rates for e-commerce websites, whether it is for product sales or lead generation. The messages you communicate and how you communicate them will largely be determined by two important factors:



    1. Customer Types or Consumer Demographics


    1. What you want the visitor to do when they get to your site



Consumer Reports Webwatch Guidelines

But the online reality today is that few Internet users say they can trust the Web sites that have products for sale or the sites that offer advice about which products and services to buy. Only 29 percent of users say they trust Web sites that sell products or services. And just 33 percent say they trust Web sites giving advice about such purchases. That compares to 58 percent who trust newspapers and television news and 47 percent who trust the federal government in Washington.

From the old hands to the newbies online, users want the Web sites they visit to provide clear information to allow them to judge the site’s credibility. Users want to know who runs the site; how to reach those people; the site’s privacy policy; and how the site deals with mistakes, whether editorial or transactional. For example, 80 percent say it is very important to be able to trust the information on a Web site — the same percentage who say it is very important that a site be easy to navigate.

Internet users were asked about six specific Web site policies and information for e-commerce sites. For each of the six policies examined, more than three-quarters of users say that it is very important that e-commerce sites provide specific, accurate information about the site’s policies and practices. For example, a total of 95 percent of users say it is very important that sites disclose all fees, while 93 percent attach the same emphasis to statements of the site’s policy on using personal information.

For example, about three in five (57%) have read at least most of the policies about credit card use on the sites they visit. Just 35 percent report reading the privacy policies on most sites and only 22 percent report reading the “About Us” pages that provide key information about the site, such as its personnel, goals and purpose. Although users may not always be diligent in reading this type of key information, they are consistent in their demands that the Web sites make the information easily available when they do want to read through the policies and practices.

1,500 Internet users age 18 and older

E-commerce sites overall draw dismal ratings, even among those who use them. Only three in ten (29%) say they trust e-commerce sites either “just about always” or “most of the time” while more than six in ten (64%) trust them “only some of the time” or “never”.

That puts credibility right up with ease-of-use at the top of the users’ list: An identical 80 percent say that it is very important that the site be easy to navigate.

The impressive reality of these findings is further strengthened by the fact that these opinions are strongly held across groups and across the varieties of experience with the Internet. There is not much variation by age, race, income, or education. And the variations that do exist are overshadowed by the fact that three-quarters or more of each group take the same position

About a third of users (32%) say who owns a site is very important, with another third (33%) saying it is somewhat important. About one in four users (24%) say knowing which businesses and organizations support a site is very important, while 37 percent say it is somewhat important.

A Web site’s display of seals of approval from third parties is far down the list of items that the users say are important. Only 19 percent say it is very important to see such seals, while 41 percent say it is somewhat important. Thirty-eight percent see no importance in such seals of approval.

A site’s display of awards and certificates also doesn’t buy much with users. Only one in ten (9%) find it very important and less than a third (30%) find it even somewhat important. A majority (59%) do not find it important.

Almost 6 in 10 read all or most of these policies

Those users who have attended or graduated from college use their cards more freely than those who never attended college (73% v. 51%).

Those who use a credit card on the Internet do not feel secure. More than six in ten (65%) worry a lot or somewhat that someone might obtain their credit card number and misuse that information. This worry is particularly acute among people who have not attended college (74%) compared to those who have attended or graduated from college (61%). Those who have been online more than three years show less concern (61%) than those who have been online for six months or less (75%). Visitors to e-commerce sites worry about this to a similar degree as those who don’t (64% v. 69%).

Those who know what a cookie is and have cookies enabled on their browser have a significantly different view on privacy and credit card protection than those who don’t have them enabled or do not know about cookies. More than eight in ten (84%) of those who have cookies enabled use a credit card online compared to slightly more than half (55%) of those who don’t allow cookies. More than nine in ten (90%) have provided personal information to Web sites, while just 65% of those who don’t have cookies enabled have done the same. Those with cookies enabled are more likely to look at all of credit card protection policies compared with those whose browsers do not accept cookies (40% vs. 30%). The difference on privacy policies is not as great, but slightly more of those who have cookies enabled look at some of these policies compared with those not using cookies (53% vs. 46%).


Specific and browser compatible privacy policy

Confidence Affiliations



      • With one icon you communicate a resolution policy you abide to


      • You take security to the next level and can prove it




E-Commerce Ideas

Ideas for E-Commerce Product Sales Sites

Customer Expectations



    1. If you have all of the inventory physically in-stock, designate it as such. Backed up by a garuntee that the item(s) will be in the hands of the shipping carrier within one business day or less, and your visitors a lot about how you run your business. You don’t stock less popular or potentially lower quality product, and only sell what you have. This assures the customer that they will receive their order quickly with no processing delays. To be more specific, if they order early enough one day, they literally could have it the next. I see many online shops take weeks to deliver, but generally they are upfront about, and thus manage  expectations.


    1. Some businesses can extend their reach where delivery times are longer by managing expectations at a finer level. NewEgg’s new feature that allows you to be notified when an item is back in-stock could take conversions to a new level for several reasons: another excuse for customer contact; less thinking involved to get back to the shopping cart; and it’s completely automated which means you can acheive 100% exposure.


    1.  Using PayPal for addressing an international market: chances are that getting your credit card processing system setup for accepting Visa or MasterCard world-wide is fraught with problems: higher rates and potentially more fraud. Adding PayPal to your site bypasses the fraud through international banks (which can take 60 days to find out about). It can cost more that your regular processor, but the additional revenue and growth make this a good bet. You also offer another way domestic customers can pay as well.


Get product into other sites and indexes

  1. The ultimate use of web logs and metrics: growth.

eCommerce Conversion Checklist

When looking at your current website or considering a plan for a new website, there are many site behaviors, features, or potential visitor actions that effect conversion rates. The following checklist is a summary of features or additions that you should consider. Note that this is beyond the basic list of must-have’s for any shopping system.

    1. Shopping Cart Life Span: How soon does your shopping cart expire for anonymous users? More than a few shopping systems use Session variables for tracking cart items, and expire within hours, especially for users behind prozies that change IP addresses often, thus rendering the current Session invalid (think AOL). Several studies point to the fact that customers will wait as long as 4 days before deciding to buy, and if the item they were looking at is still in their shopping cart, you just saved them several steps and increased the possibility of conversion substantially.


    1. Solid and Flexible Product Navigation: this is a subject that could go on for ever. Our recommendation is that you look at new ways to extend product and site navigation based on current user actions and possibly experiments you run with users. If you don’t currently have a search feature, ask some users whether it would be a substantial gain to have one. Look at different ways to categorize product and build new filters. Then look at how they get used, and make further changes based on those results. You may end of up with something that not only makes it easier for your customers to find the products they are looking for, but a significant differentiation over your competition.


    1. Product Shots: Starting out with great product shots is always nice, but it doesn’t always happen for a variety of reasons. Think about getting or taking better pictures, as well as optimizing old and new pictures for the best display and fastest download. Batch converters get better over time, and you may find that you can keep high quality while reducing file sizes by 50% or more.


    1. Clear & Concise: Make sure your policies regarding Shipping, Returns, Conditions, and Terms are readily available and clear to customers. Make it easy for potential customers to do business with you by providing steps and contact point (phone, email, or online forms) for dealing with different situations (ordering offline, exchanging a products, et al).


    1. Clear & Concise Part 2: Product descriptions can be a wealth of information for your customers about your product. It also has the added benefit of helping you with Search Engine Optimization. New products should not necessarily get all of the copy-writing time. Consider re-working existing product descriptions that are top sellers too. Never skimp here. Hire someone if that is how it will get done.


    1. Advanced Product Configurations: If your products are amenable to add-ons or modifications, consider building specialized forms for those products in the product detail page. This could be a new source of revenue, and will likely increase your per-order averages.


  1. Product matching: in apparel, jewelry, and other specific types of product sales websites, offering a generalized “recommended products” in the lower part of the product detail page is often not enough. Consider setting up specific matches, for example, this pair of earrings goes well with that necklace. Think of it as the editorial content of the site that customers will appreciate, because you have taken the time to not only know your product, but give them direct guidance on what goes with what. If you don’t think this applies to you, think about it and see if there is something similar you can offer for your products, as it yet another way to increase per-order averages.

Getting Addresses for Your Email Campaigns

As more and more companies start to explore their marketing options online, one obvious place to start is with e-mail campaigns. The first question is ostensibly “where do we get email addresses?”.

Option #1: Your internal database, CRM or customer lists. This is where most businesses will start that have an established business.

Option #2: Buy e-mail lists. Similar to direct mailers, there are hundreds of companies out there that will rent their vetted e-mail lists to you. Attention needs to be paid to the bottom line, as the list and services to send out the emails could be much higher than expected, and the focus needs to be conversions.

Option #3: Build your list on the website. This option takes time. Typically, websites will have a box for the visitor to enter their email address, and then click a subscribe button. Follow-up is key, inluding sending a confirmation email, thanking them for subscribing. Placement of the subscription box is also important. People are three times as likely to subscribe if: a) The box appears on every page; and b) the box is located above the “fold” or scroll line for the page.


Web Design Garage by Marc Campbell

Web Design Garage by Marc Campbell

Web Design Garage is an easy to follow book that walks the reader through many of the challenges web designers face everyday, with solutions that are elegant and easy to implement. While I highly recommend it for novice designers, it is also a good read for experienced designers who are looking for new ways to approach usability problems or design constraints. The book covers a broad range of topics, and helps move the reader from the old way of doing things (HTML 3) to CSS and HTML 4 and XHTML. The single most important part of this book is getting the reader to pay more attention to CSS and how it can be used to

    • Shorten HTML Code


    • Make your site’s look and feel more extensible and scalable


    • Deal with formatting problems the right way.


Another topic which stands out is how to properly format pages using standard HTML markup such that readers, web crawlers, and special accessability programs can all read and understand the page. Heavy use of < h X > tags are a good example.

Links for this book:


Don’t Make Me Think

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (2nd Edition)

Book Review by Jason Robinson

Summary: Designing sites for usability can increase the Return-On-Investment for any website, and how users actually use your website may be dramatically different than how you think they use it.

Don’t Make Me Think is a substantial book, not because it is a long book (by contrast, it is short and concise) but because it offers fundamental guidance and experienced perspective on common problems that web producers will encounter, and how different members of the team will view the problem in contrast to what users (generally speaking) see. Steve Krug’s background is extensive, but suffice it to say he has not only been developing websites for years, but he has run many usability studies for clients, and offers this book as your map to understanding usability and how to navigate it through the political waters of your web design projects.

The book runs the gamut, starting out with how web site visitors generally muddle their way through a web site. Then he moves into topics such as designing web pages for scanning (bullets and short summaries belong on the home page, not long paragraphs of text), and how to constructively guide visitors through the process of finding what they are looking for, even if they start on the wrong page (think inbound links from a search engine). From here, he discusses fundamental navigation elements and proper placement and making sure they get the attention deserved through use of size, placement, and coloring.

Starting with Chapter 8, Steve starts in on the dealing with usability as the political football it often is, and how to deal with arguments between the designers and the developers, with the idea being to present usability as a fundamental aspect of the site and not as an afterthought. The book then goes into anecdotal examples of how one can run usability study for very little (to no) money, and still get 80% of the effect of running a many-thousand dollar study by a third party.

Steve summarizes the whole point of usability with the idea that people come to your site with a certain amount of trust and anticipation, and for every mistake you make with usability, that amount goes down, until they finally leave the site. This is sometimes a hard concept for people to grasp, and yet it is pervasive across all demographics, and this section should be read aloud to a team who is working on a product sales site, as it willeffect the bottom line.

The rest of the book offers guidance on improving usability through different web tools and CSS, with additional resources and further reading. The sample letters to your boss Steve provides in the back of the book are more than fun, they could potentially help some people out there who are having a hard time convincing management that usability should not take a back seat to aesthetics.

I wish every designer and developer would read this book, it would make design meetings so much easier.


The HTML’ers Guide to Regular Expressions

The HTML’ers Guide to Regular Expressions Part 1: Cleaning Up Content

Over the years, I’ve written 1000’s of lines of original code, in many languages. Somehow, I missed the chapter on Regular Expression (RegEx), which are pretty scary even for a programmer type, but recently I was forced to learn RegEx to deal with faulty HTML content being returned by a syndication service. An example of a Regular Expression for HTML:


This is the most useful Regular Expression I have in my arsenal for tackling content that has been given to me in an unknown state. Simply put, it removes all HTML tags that start with “<” and end with “>”, regardless of styles, attributes, or other text inside the tag. If I am using this Expression on an HTML page, I use my favorite editor to go through and restyle/structure the document. This is often easier than trying to interpret or correct the existing HTML structure.

If I am programmatically manipulating content (e.g. from a database, RSS, or syndication service) I might not use something less global:


This is more atomic in nature than the first Regular Expression, as it only finds/replaced emphasis tags. How many times have you had to do a global search and replace on a document where you first searched for <em> (and replaced with nothing) and then </em>. This Regular Expression catches both.

Side Note: I tend to preserve HTML entities (like ») as it is not obvious that it is missing from the structure of the document. HTML tags are different, in that they are not part of the content, they are describing the document structure, and through the use of CSS, the presentation.

Here are some other useful expressions for dealing with HTML formatting:

Regular Expressions for manipulating content and HTML in content:

Sources for Helpful Regular Expressions:

RegEx Tools

These tools are helpful in learning or debugging Regular Expressions:

RegEx Coach (PC)

RegEx Buddy (PC)

RegExWidget (OS-X)

Text Editors w/RegExp support

From a perspective of having used many different editors over the years, I have definitely built up a bias for certain solutions. I find that the built-in widget of EditPadPro offers the easiest and most efficient use of RegEx in day-to-day HTML editing. Most of the text editors or applications with RegEx support implement it in the Search-and-Replace window, which is useful, but from a usability perspective, you find yourself typing and clicking more to use the dialog type of interface. Nowadays, I use RegEx so much in my work, that the extra typing in clicking is a big deal. You may not care about this at all.

Lots of applications support RegEx:

Macromedia Dreamweaver (Find/SnR Dialog)

Microsoft Frontpage (Find/SnR Dialog)

Microsoft Visual Studio

SlickEdit (Find/SnR Dialog)

e/TextMate (Find/SnR Dialog)

EditPadPro (has a great SnR w/RegEx widget in the main edit window)

VIM (Find/SnR Dialog)

Eclipse (Find/SnR Dialog)

Aptana (widget in the main edit window)

Programming & Scripting Languages that support Regular Expressions

In fact, most programming languages support RegEx through various libraries or objects. We call out this list so that if you happen to use one (or many) of these, you know you have a simple way to try out RegEx in a familiar environment.






C, C++

VB, VBScript, VB.NET, C#, VBA

* Some would say PERL and Regular Expressions are too closely knit to consider RegEx a “part” of PERL. The truth is that PERL can be thought of as an extension of RegEx.

Conversion Rates & Web Advertising


I saw this article, in the news, which is about a company suing Google, Overture, and others over click-fraud. In the article, the company states “Lane’s said ads are often clicked only to generate a bigger bill for advertisers, not by someone truly seeking more information.” One could come to that conclusion when running a web advertising campaign and seeing ZERO results. Another conclusion that could be reached is that the site has such poor conversion capabilities, that the site may never get a real customer. If I were Googe et al., I would seriously consider getting usability and e-Commerce experts to look at the deficiencies in the site and see if the second conclusion is more likely (statistcally speaking).

Wide and Deep

Conversions on the web are never cut-and-dry, just like direct mailer promotions. Even the best turn-key systems need refinement and some experimentation to yeild the best results. Often, defining what really constitutes a conversion can lead to interesting avenues of exploration for increasing conversions, because there is more to go after. Consider that not all visitors to your site are in a buying mood. Would you rather have them just leave the site, or perhaps leave their email address or other contact information? An “add me to your news list” is one way to squeeze more blood from the conversion turnip. There are many other examples of broadening the horizon. A good place to start is looking at competition, and then scanning the various books about e-commerce design to build a list. Prioritize this list against what you understand your visitor””s needs to be. When in doubt, setup a survey!

Usability & Functionality

I was recently drilling down into a product sales web site that was developed by another company, and discovered that the usability was leaving much to be desired. To add insult to injury for the random customer, the shopping cart was broken, and the checkout process what really basic and did not recover well when I went back and forth. We were already working with the owners of the site to give it a total make-over, and I asked for all of the web logs. After running some extensive analysis, the raw unique-to-conversions was 0.02% averaged over six months. Once the site is up and running on an e-commerce engine that actually works, it will be telling to see the difference in conversion rates. More: In MagicLamp Networks Newsletter Volume 4, we looked at how poorly designed sites can make web advertising a bust.