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You Build It. They Come. Now What? Part 2

December 26, 2011

Last week we shared some thoughts on the sequence of important steps associated with bringing a web-based product to market.  More importantly, we suggested that well executed projects will possess a plan for executing each of the seven steps before starting step 1.  We argued that such a ‘start with the end in mind” approach would maximize the opportunities to leverage potential synergies across the steps.  We promised future posts would break these ideas down a bit further and provide some concrete examples.  If you did not get a chance to review the first post, or want a quick review, click here.

This post will dive deeper into steps 3 and 4.  We are side-stepping steps 1 (getting the product right) and 2 (getting prospects to visit your site and learn about the product offering) because the web is jam-packed with info on these topics and we can not do justice to the cause in a single blogpost.  Rather, as the title suggests, in this post we hope to share insights on how to convert your visitors into members (step 3), and your members into regular users (step 4).   In the final post, Part 3, we will share ideas for converting your users into product evangelists (step 5) as well as some insights on how to think about organizing efforts to achieve step 7, continuous improvement.  If steps 1-5 are done well, New Market Entrepreneurs have the luxury of sitting back and watching step 6 happen automagically!

So this post assumes you have done your homework in understanding the problem you are trying to solve and testing between product-delivery alternatives such that you EXACTLY meet the user needs you are trying to address (step 1).  It also assumes you have a well thought-out plan for communicating to your target audience the fact that your web-based property now exists (step 2).   As mentioned in the prior post, most product launches work tirelessly on steps 1 and 2 — investing deeply in time, people and capital to execute the product and traffic-generation plan– but leave little time for the important steps that follow.

Grab the Snorkel, Goggles and Fins– It’s Dive Time…

Step 3:  Converting visitors to registered members  –  

The Goal:  Convert Visits to Sign-ups.  Occasionally, New Market Entrepreneurs get so carried away with steps 1 and 2, they neglect to devote the necessary time and attention to ensuring every nanosecond of the initial visitor’s time and attention is understood, managed and — quite frankly — orchestrated toward a common goal… the sign-up.  Different product offerings will deploy varying strategies for the exact timing around introducing the  sign-up ‘offer’.  While the ‘sign up’ link is omnipresent, if you make it your dominant offer too soon, you will lose them.  And introduce it too late– they may not stick around long enough to see it.

Key Tactics:

There are hundreds of tactical methodologies and strategies web-delivered products and service offerings deploy to increase their visit to sign-up yields.   While most New Market Entrepreneurs will engage in-house or contract web design talent to get the job done, it’s always a good idea to have some foundational familiarity with the topic.  Here are some good sites to bone up.  www.onextrapixel.com, www.uxmovement.com, www.uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com,  www.smashingmagazine.com,  www.webdesignledger.com.  Remember, in most cases you will be directing targets to custom landing pages that deliver on the offer/promise contained in your marketing.   If you plan to let your homepage do this work, you have even more to consider!  Below are some key ideas to keep in mind as you plot your course for maximizing site conversion.  It is not an all encompassing list!   Rather, just some ideas to prime the pump.

1) Design Strategically-  You must have specific goals and objectives for the first impression moments and clicks on the site or landing page you will be driving your initial traffic.  This post says it all.

Web design isn’t art. It involves a whole collection of different skills — from copywriting and typography to layout and art — all fused together to create an interface that not only features a pleasant aesthetic but that communicates function and facilitates easy access to its content.

But in order to combine all these elements of Web design together and achieve successful results you must have a clear direction, a direction that will guide each and every aspect of your design towards common goals. You must think strategically.

The post goes on to identify and describe 6 helpful steps in succeeding with Strategic design.  It’s a must read, along with this, this and this.

2) Use Video – While unable to back this claim with data (I’ll continue to look and let me know if you come across any), our experience is that the most successful sites leverage brief-yet-compelling, movie trailer-style video(s) to depict the offering’s compelling value.  Video is always accompanied and followed by a dominant sign-up offer.  The opportunity and challenge in step 3 is coming up with the right balance of content that engages and stimulates enough to earn the sign-up.  Yet, if this can’t be executed in 1 to 2 minutes, you will likely lose your audience.   We’ve seen all types of video work– from low budget hand sketches to high value (expensive) productions.  The secret is coming up with messaging that casts your product offering as a unique ‘must have’ in the mind of the target audience you identified in step 1 and communicated to in step 2 (which brought them to the site).  Less is always more with video in terms of quantity: number of videos and length of each video.

3) Use Heat Maps in pre-launch and early-post Launch –  Here is an excellent overview of how many companies are gleaning insights on how visitors are consuming content on their sites.  You can learn a great deal in pre-launch testing if you can build some heat mapping research into you launch budget.

Have you ever heard of heatmapping? It’s some pretty cool technology that lets you see where people are looking on a website. If you’re ever testing a new website design or creating a really important landing page, you can use heatmap technology to see where peoples’ eyes linger. If they aren’t looking at the areas on the page you want to emphasize, you know you might have some design flaws.

4) Remember this:  The vast majority of people who visit your site (and for our purposes the place your marketing drives them) will be happy if you provide them something simple:  MAKE IT EASY FOR THEM TO FIND WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR!

Above all else, the following tenets (summarized here),  should rule the day:

  • Don’t obsess over the visual design of your website
  • Do obsess over the usability by your customers and prospects
  • Don’t worry if you or the CEO think your website design does not look pretty
  • Do worry about the conversion rate of your website (Are people finding what they need and completing their tasks?)
  • Don’t use flash, heavy graphics, or tons of video
  • Do use these things if it helps your customers get what they want from your website
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to design and layout
  • Do use a basic layout that will be familiar to your customers
  • Don’t differentiate with the design/functionality of your website
  • Do differentiate your company by making it really easy for your customers to find what they want on your website
  • Test, test, test! The only thing that matters is what your customers do on your website. Sit down with a potential customer, and watch them use your website. See if they can figure out how to get what they want; see if they can easily do the tasks you want your consumers to do. (e.g. “Show me how you would register for our free demo.”)

Update 1/8/12:  Here are three additional links that add important insights to successful website conversion:

Update 1/9/12:  Click here for a handy e-Book Optimizing Landing Pages for Lead Generation & Conversion which will walk you through the next steps of building an extremely effective landing page.

Step 4 – Onboarding: Converting the Sign-up into a Regular User

The Goal:  Gain Regular Users.   Think of all the effort and expense a bank goes through to get somebody to sign up for a new credit card.  What if that shiny new card never gets activated or, when activated, never gets swiped?  In a similar vein, sign-ups mean nothing if these new members do not use and engage with your site.  Again, assuming you have done a good job in step 1 identifying an un-addressed need AND building a kick-ass product that solves that need AND executed step 2 flawlessly in terms of bringing the right people to your new site, AND maxed out on the tactics suggested for step 3 above (just a small example) — you are now ready to execute your plan for converting sign-ups to regular and delighted users.  That plan revolves around a carefully crafted, staged email onboarding strategy.

Because you will have collected the email address as part of the sign-up process, you have the right to periodically message to the individual for a variety of good reasons.  Of course, all outbound messaging must be considered a precious privilege that can be taken away with the click of a mouse (all your outbound messaging must include a unsubscribe option)  if you over-step your bounds.   Your onboarding strategy will involve the following elements:

Key Tactics:

    1. Identify the major milestones in terms of levels of engagement with your product offering.   For readers familiar with the concept of a sales funnel, think of it in terms of the stages of closing a deal.  For readers unfamiliar with sales funnels, identify key MEASURABLE activities (we will come back to this) that you believe can capture the degree a sign-up is lightly, moderately or heavily engaged with your offering.
    2. Identify the elapsed time (between the milestones you have identified above) you believe best fits the engagement process.   In other words, how much time do you think it should take to get from sign-up to stage 1– from stage 1 to stage 2 and so forth?  You now have mapped you engagement stages to a timeline.  Again, the timeline elements you identify (both the event and the date/time) must be MEASURABLE.
    3. Develop a messaging strategy (what will go into the emails) for each stage you wish to include in your onboarding strategy.  This will likely involve a lot of work.  Not only will you need to come up with compelling email copy, but you must also give time and effort to developing the landing page that each email will click to (if there’s not a place already in existence within you site that’s up to the task to convert them to the next stage).  An many ways the time, effort and thought you need to put into this effort is a replication of step 3 above… for as many stages as you plan to email
    4. This next element is a great example of the opportunities for synergies across steps — building identification and time-stamping for each stage/milestone you identified above into your product and depositing this data into your user database.  Without this element, automating  your onboarding strategy will be all but impossible.  And if it’s not automated, it is unlikely to happen.
    5. Leveraging the right outbound email package to execute your strategy and your automated vision.    Like most of the ideas in this post, this topic is fodder for at least one additional blogpost.  For now, we’d point you to three of our favorites:  Hubspot, Aprimo and/or Eloqua.
For those wishing to learn more about the staged email onboarding strategy, here is a great blogpost describing the efforts of a consumer-web startup (as well as an idea to more tightly integrate and automate this process in the form of a new start-up offering).

In our final post on this topic, Part 3 will deep-dive on ideas for building evangelization opportunities into your offering (step 5) as well as share some useful concepts for building continuous improvement into your offering and your marketing (step 7).

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