Let’s Have a Little Fun

Having fun on a laptop

Your web site is an advanced piece of technology. Even if it’s a few years out of date, it’s still quite astonishing that information, products, videos, music and more are all at our fingertips on a daily basis. It’s easy to lose our sense of wonder about all this – just two decades ago, very little of what we now call the internet existed. Now, most of us depend on it at some level for social interaction, shopping, research, and business transactions, among many other things.

As that sense of wonder has slowly vanished, replaced by the workaday reality of checking your bank balance or ordering a pair of shoes, it’s worth remembering that there’s still a little bit of room for fun online – even on a buttoned-up e-commerce site. I’m not suggesting that you plaster your online store with cat videos. But it might not hurt to lighten up your presentation – a dose of character, properly administered, could give you the online personality to stand out from the crowd.

If this sounds trivial, it isn’t – if there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned from these columns over the years, it’s that uniqueness is one of the most important traits your website can have. Unique, original websites rank better than websites that substantially duplicate one another, and with promotional products and apparel, you’re competing with thousands of other sellers offering overlapping product selections. There are numerous strategies for making your content stand out, and many of them are labor-intensive and expensive. Injecting some fun into your website is cheap and easy, and you might even enjoy it. Why not give it a try?

If you’re stomping your feet, grousing about being a “serious business”, think about that for a minute: this is primarily a marketing business, and many of your customers are marketing professionals. They love fun. They want to know that you have at least a small creative bone in your body. Jazzing up your website with a touch of personality shows them your creative, entertaining side.

Beyond that, simple, bright, easy web sites are the norm these days. Years back, you decked out your web presence out in dark, serious, corporate colors to impress potential clients and show them that you were, you know, for real. These days, few people expect (or respect) that kind of presentation – we live in an app world, where attention spans are short, technology is back behind the scenes, and unique ideas and character get you eyeballs. Drop that dark maroon and stifling gray and get with the program – fun, open, simple web sites attract visitors and reflect well on your company.

Put a Face on it

Let’s start with the easy stuff. First, think about getting some people on your site. I don’t care if it’s a stock photo (as long as it isn’t that same blonde-haired call center operator that nearly every e-commerce site uses), just put a human being out there. For promotional products and apparel e-commerce sites, this action alone can make a big difference. Unlike buying a book or DVD, an ad specialty order can be an intimidating process, and visitors like to know that a human being is there to help them.

Want to take it to the next level? Put yourself and your employees out there! This is often a business of relationships, so why not just go out there and show people who you are? Smiling faces give visitors confidence that they’ll be taken care of. If your employees enjoy their jobs – if they have fun with it – get that out there! You don’t have to have them dancing in hula skirts and playing ukelele, but a happy face can help keep a visitor sticking around a little longer.

Add Local Flavor

It’s tempting for any online business to downplay their location – you want to be available everywhere, to everyone. For some businesses, if they’re big enough, talking about where you are or where you’re from doesn’t make much sense. But most small to medium-sized businesses will benefit more from talking about their location than simply trying to be a faceless juggernaut.

Why? Because of that uniqueness factor. Everyone is selling everywhere these days, so touting your “everywhereness” (and hiding your location) doesn’t really buy you much as a business – unless you’re huge. Instead, a touch of local flavor is a great way to make your content unique and give visitors a sense of who you are. You don’t have to make it a dominant feature of your web presence, but talking a little bit about the region or city you’re in in your blog posts or “About Us” section is a good start. Even better, tie it in with your employees and let them tell a little story about themselves!

Tell More Stories

This one may seem obvious, but your customers are often your best storytellers, and you should put them on your site. But it can be hard to get a good customer testimonial, which is why they’re often dry and uninteresting. So, go beyond the “Linda went above and beyond” pull quote and actually let them tell a story – let them have some fun.

If they don’t have a good story to tell, you can always make one up and ask for their permission. Just don’t think about testimonials as a stuffy, prove-how-professional-you-are endorsement. In face, so many testimonials read that way that they’re frequently ignored. A fun testimonial, on the other hand – say, a “here’s how Jill saved my bacon at a tradeshow” kind of story – shows that you solve real problems for real people.

Make it Move

It’s hard to overrate the value of videos on your site. They make content unique, offer a means of introducing yourself to your customers, and can even kick up a little bit of social media awareness for your company if they’re done right.

A great way to do them right is to have fun with them; product usage and demonstration videos are a fabulous place to start. If you’ve got a fun product, have some real fun with it – toss a stress ball around, hit the sidewalk outside with an umbrella, or go drive a few branded golf balls and talk about them. Remember, you tell stories about your company and your people with these videos, and if you make them fun, you not only give your visitors something to enjoy; you also show them your expertise.

How’s that? Well, when you handle something with comfort and aplomb, you appear as an expert. It’s the dry, nervous, overly formal presentation that drives viewers away. The more fun you can have with product videos, videos introducing your staff and anything else that you care to put out there, the better. Start your own Youtube channel (it takes a few seconds), get out your smartphone and start recording!

Finally, while social media sharing for e-commerce is a decidedly mixed bag, having a bit of fun with your web site increases your chances of getting noticed – videos get shared, stories get likes, and you begin to build up an online character that customers enjoy. Those social signals help with search engine ranking, as does the originality of your content – there’s really no downside. So loosen up that tie and inject a dash of fun into your site!

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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The Art and Science of Landing Pages

Landing pages collage

If you’ve gotten past the novice stages of selling promotional products and apparel online, you might be trying out a new thing here and there. Maybe you’re dabbling in online advertising using a pay-per-click service like Google Adwords, or perhaps you’ve tried developing some unique content of your own to help with your search engine ranking. Maybe you’re even running some local advertising or sponsorships to draw new customer to your web site.

If so, you’ll soon start thinking about landing pages. Landing pages are what they sound like – a page on your site where visitors land before they (hopefully) take other actions, such as browsing, buying things, filling out a lead form or giving you a call. Any page on your site can be a landing page, although typically when someone enters your site at a specific product page, their destination is so focused that we don’t call that a landing (often it’s just an “entrance”).

In most other cases, though, visitors who arrive at your site need to know that they’ve arrived at the right place. Thus, a landing page might be a listing of products (a category page, for instance) that the user was searching for, a page of information specific to their search, or even a form that addresses their need in specific terms and asks them to sign up for something or request information.

Landing pages can be many different things, but in order to be effective, they need to be welcoming and relevant. Just as you would greet someone entering your retail establishment and ask them what you could help them with, a landing page immediately establishes your relationship with a prospective customer.

What About my Homepage?

Your homepage is, in essence your primary landing page. But your homepage has a problem – it has to be all things to all people, all at once. In its role as a general-purpose greeter, your homepage is more like the doorway to a mall – it’s an entrance point for browsing, but not the direct route to what a visitor might be looking for.

Landing pages, on the other hand, allow you to tailor content and messaging toward a specific audience or product need. You may sell apparel, promotional products, signage and even printing services, and there may be a few of your visitors that are interested in all of those. But if you have a customer just looking for one of those services, you can build a landing page for each service that speaks to your strengths, service and pricing for that service only.

Now, you might protest that you don’t want to get pigeonholed into specific services; you offer everything, and you do it well. That’s fine, and it can be a good message in any number of media. But on the internet, specificity wins. The more you say you do, the less likely you’ll be found for any one thing that you do (there are exceptions to this, obviously, like Amazon, but they are few and far between).

That’s because the holy grail for search engines is to offer up the exact content a visitor wants for the search terms they’ve entered. That means that, all other things being equal, a search engine will prefer a page that is very specifically relevant to the search terms a user entered, as opposed to a page with many different products or services. In practice, that means that a search for “travel drinkware” more likely will be directed to a page about “drinkware” or “travel drinkware” rather than a page about promotional products in general (as I said, there are exceptions, especially with companies with extremely high general-product search ranking).

What Kind of Pages are These?

If you get someone to land directly on a product page, you’ve already won that battle – they’re (most likely) exactly where you want them. But for the rest of your visitors, it’s often beneficial to build or modify key pages on your site so that a “landing” visitor is more likely to stick around and take the action you’d like them to take. As an added benefit, if you’re running pay-per-click advertising, a relevant landing page actually increases your quality score, which reduces you cost per click and improves your ad position.

There are two primary types of landing pages that most e-commerce site owners should be maintaining:

Regular Site Pages: These are the pages on your site that have concentrated content that visitors often search for. For instance, these may be your major category pages (apparel, drinkware, writing instruments, etc.) or the pages where you describe and promote specific services in detail (printing, vehicle wraps, embroidery, etc.). These pages should be regularly maintained, updated and populated with the keywords that best fit the searches for that product or service.

Custom Landing Pages: These are pages you create on your own for a variety of purposes, for instance:

  • Advertising campaign landing pages: If you run an advertising campaign that is likely to attract new customers, rather than just sending them to a page of products, you might want a page that shows them products and (briefly) introduces your company to them. You can tell them a little about your company, your guarantee and so on before diving right into products.
  • Lead Capture landing pages: You might have a product or service that requires followup, estimation or other interaction that you can’t accomplish quickly on a web page. Lead capture landing pages very quickly state the benefits of filling out this form, and ask users for a small amount of information in order to continue the sales process.
  • SEO/Content Landing Pages: If you’re doing SEO work or building content to target a niche or long-tail product area, a landing page with those products and keywords can help you with ranking. We recently built a series of landing pages for very specific products that assisted both with pay-per-click and SEO.

Do I Need All This?

At the very least, you should maintain and optimize those built-in landing pages on your site, like your category pages. A little bit of keyword research can help you determine what kind of content to put on a given landing page. Good keyword content on your landing pages can improve your rankings for specific terms. But it needs to be balanced with content that welcomes visitors. Don’t go overboard with either; imagine a user coming to a landing page for the first time, and think of a message or description that will entice them to stick around.

Custom landing pages are a bit more work, but the payoff can be big, especially with advertising campaigns. For instance, if you are advertising a promotion or discount, your custom landing page can reinforce that messaging and guide a visitor directly into purchasing. You might even advertise to specific audiences, or based on seasonal criteria; the more specific the message, the more important that it be reinforced after someone clicks on the ad.

However far you decide to go, make sure you test your landing page strategy with analytics. Many companies see massive improvements in landing page performance with very small changes – a button moved up the page, a color change, a different headline. With analytics (Google Analytics now offers free A/B testing with its Experiments tool), you can fine-tune your landing pages so that they deliver exactly what you want most: more customers.

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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Converting Online Sales, Part III: What’s Working?

Charts and Graphs

Last time, I talked about the different paths that users might take to finish an order that started online. Depending on how your business is optimized, you might opt for a highly-automated, Amazon-like experience; an email-intensive, quote-based sales cycle; or even a very phone-centric customer process. Any of these are – as is a combination – as long as your visitors are guided clearly to the one that is most important to you.

Most of you are going to focus on a single path but still allow for sales through one or more of the remaining ones – that is, unless you’re so big that you’ve become the Amazon of promotional products and apparel (in which case, please call me – I’d like to write an article about you). Obviously, sales that begin and end online are fairly easy to track, because they go through your shopping cart. But you can still run a very successful web site without a single order placed through your shopping cart. In fact, you might be running a web site that is a sales-generating machine and not even know it.

How do you figure out what’s working? Online marketing and sales experts will tell you those three magic words over and over again: “Measure, measure, measure.” They’re right, of course – measurement is the key to understanding how any aspect of your business is performing, and you should do as much of it as you can (Google’s free Analytics software is a good place to start).

But, very few of us have either the time to spend poring over analytics reports or the money to pay someone to do it for us. You can set up KPIs – key performance indicators – to reduce the amount of information you need to review, but even defining these (at least with respect to a web site) can sometimes make a harried business owner’s head spin.

Remember, we just want to find out what’s working – your sales may be going in one direction or another, but you can’t factor in your web site if you don’t know how to track sales back to it. In our business as a web site provider, when customers don’t see orders flowing directly through the web site they often assume that the web site isn’t doing its job. In many cases, it’s actually working quite well; they just don’t know where to look.

Which Way is the Wind Blowing?

Other than the basics of top and bottom lines, we’ve each got some “gut” methods for determining how well our businesses are performing. Very often, these are just measurements or statistics that we’ve internalized – a sense of how many customers are coming through the door, or how often the phone is ringing. When you launch (or re-launch) a web site, it’s critical to be able to break these down a little further, so you can attribute performance correctly.

Let’s talk about some of our “gut” performance indicators and how we can break those down so the web site gets the credit (or blame!) it deserves:

General interest in your goods and services: You know what this is – the feeling of “momentum” in your sales. Are you stuck in first gear or are you cruising down the highway? Either way, it’s likely that your web site (unless it’s just a perennial afterthought) has something to do with it.

Inquiry volume: How many phone calls do you get every day? Do you know how many actually originate from customers visiting your web site?

Quote requests: Are you getting a good amount of quote requests every week? Where are they coming from? Email? Fax?

Existing customer interest: Are your existing customers re-engaging with you? Do they call you with a question about a product they saw on your site? Do they use it as a way to do a bit of research before getting on the phone with you?

How on earth do we track this back to the web site? Luckily, there are a few best practices for ensuring the proper attribution. Some of them are simple, while others require organizational buy-in (and probably a little trial and error) to get right:

Easy: Get a web-only phone number. Additional phone numbers, including 800 numbers, are relatively cheap. No matter your phone system, you can track the calls coming in from a second number. This is a great way to make absolutely sure a phone call is originating from the web site. Sure, some callers may have only gone to the website to get a phone number, but this is less common these days since Google puts phone numbers in its local results and users don’t have to go all the way to the site to get your number.

Of course, you may argue that you shouldn’t give credit to the website just because someone went there to find your phone number. But why not? Your web site is your business’ face to many existing and potential customers. Whether they get a phone number or fill out a quote request for a dozen products, the site still got them to you.

Easy: Use web-specific offers, coupons and codes. Many site owners make the mistake of promoting great deals online but then losing track of those deals when they go offline. The simple solution is to use a different code for an online offer, so that if that customers calls or emails (as many of your existing customers might do once they’ve seen an offer online), you’ll know (without having to ask – you’ll see why that’s important in a moment) that they came from the website. Got a 10% off coupon for new customers? Make the code “WEB10″ on the website, and make sure your salespeople track the codes religiously.

A Little Harder: Ask: This one may require a culture change for some businesses, but if you advertise in multiple media, you’re probably already familiar with it. You’ll need to hammer this home as a best practice with your salespeople, your customer service staff – heck, even your receptionist: Asking “How did you hear about us?” Yes, it’s tough to reinforce this habit, but it’s mandatory.

Finally, if you do any online advertising, affiliate marketing, or any other web-based promotions, you’ve got a massive (and sometimes bewildering) arsenal of techniques for tracking inquiries and sales back to your website. If you’re entering that world – which can be very rewarding, provided you have realistic expectations and a decent budget – you’ll need to have all the above in place as a foundation, because attribution can be tricky when there are many different paths that have to be tracked just to your web site itself.

Your web site is (or will soon be, whether you like it or not) a critical, strategic part of your business. If you take the time now to establish a few basic methods for attributing business to your site, you’ll be very thankful in the future.

- Brent Buford

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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