What Is Your Site Really About? A Conversion Primer

June 10, 2013 | Catharine Robertson

navigating a tablet

A writer friend recently asked me for advice on sprucing up her personal website, offering to buy me a meal in exchange for my thoughts to help her prepare to work with a graphic designer and a developer. In advance of our lunch date, I gave her a homework assignment: Who are your top three desired visitors? What do you want them to be able to do on your site?

If my friend sold shoes, it would be a pretty easy assignment to identify roles and desired actions. What if she sold cars? Still pretty easy. What if she were the CEO of Amazon? I would give her the same homework, though it would be a little more involved.

So why would this homework be a little difficult for a writer? (Who, by the way, is also the host/curator of a storytelling series and a magazine editor, so her focus is not uni-directional.) She’s not selling anything, she protested. My friend’s stated goal: “I just want people to be able to find information about me if they Google me.” Well, sure. But what do you want them to do next? What action do you want them to take? What is your desired conversion?

What are conversions?

Any action you desire from a site visitor can be called a conversion, even if the site isn’t Amazon and you’re not exchanging products for dollars. Signing up for a newsletter, registering for an event, making an appointment with a doctor, creating an online account: These are all conversions.

Even conversions that don’t entail the direct exchange of money are potentially worth something to the site’s owner. Ad click through rates are directly tied to ad costs, for example. And if you create an account on Yelp, they sell ads based on your demographic information, or sell your information to those who will.

Types of sites and conversion rates

For nearly every type of site, there are actions the site’s owner desires you to take when you visit. Such conversions may not translate to dollars that day (except in the case of advertising conversions), but they contribute to potential revenue over time, because the conversion taken on the site is a lead to a future sale. The number of people completing conversions, as compared to the site’s total number of visitors, is the site’s conversion rate.

Here are just a few types of sites, their conversion actions, and conversion measurements:

Retail sites want visitors to buy things, obviously. Their conversion rate can be measured in revenue per transaction, profit per visitor, and other transaction-to-dollar ratios. But retail sites they can also track micro-conversions ahead of purchases. Micro-conversions include actions like creating an online account, signing up for loyalty programs, or otherwise giving up valuable contact information.

Advertising-driven sites, such as newspapers not behind paywalls, want visitors to click on or view ads. Their conversion rate is measured by the number of times ads are seen, click through rate, the size of the site’s audience, and return visits.

Educational or research sites want visitors to download guides or request info via email. Their conversion rate is measured by pageviews of educational pages, links, followed, and the number of info requests received.

Brand awareness sites, like a microsite to support a new Nike shoe line, want visitors to share the site’s URL with friends or print coupons. Their conversion rate is measured by the number of social shares or coupons printed.

The above isn’t a complete list! I didn’t even touch on form fill rates; commenting, rating, and other user-generated content; or the various subscription levels that comprise conversions.

There is always an action to take

So, back to my writer friend and her homework assignment. What kind of conversions should she be pursuing? First she had to figure out what she wanted people to do on her site. She already had the following content:

  • Short bio

  • Links to buy her non-fiction book and a book-related press kit

  • Description and samples of screenwriting

  • Description of book editing

  • Sample of and links to magazine writing and editing work

  • Description of and links to the storytelling series

She showed up at our lunch with a complicated idea of showing interested parties she’s a jack of all trades. She extended the metaphor to wanting to have images of different playing cards as the entries to her different types of creative work. It was a classic case of the client coming to me with the solution before the problem had been defined. And the solution was all wrong, of course. What did playing cards have to do with her writing abilities?

Over some green chili chicken stew, I broke it down for my friend:

Me: “Wanda*, in your wildest dreams, what is it you want a person to do when they look at the content about your screenwriting?” [* Totally not her real name.]

Wanda: “In my dreams? I guess I want some producer to magically hire me to write a screenplay. Or a publisher to hire me to edit a novel.”

Me: “So your audience is people who have the power to engage you for work. And your goal is to get hired, to create work for yourself by getting noticed.”

Wanda: “Yeah, I guess that sounds about right.”

Me: “Sounds to me like you want people to be contacting you, then?”

Wanda: “Yes! I need the little contact link at the top of the homepage.”

Me: “Actually, if the one thing you want people to do on this site is contact you–with a means to hiring you for writing work–then you need a contact form on every page. High up on the page. And the copy near the contact form should be in context with the topic of the page instead of just a generic ‘Contact me.’”

As we wrapped up lunch, I talked to her about testing and tweaking the copy on her page depending on what rate of form completions she ended up getting. She left the cafe excited to work on her site–a convert, I daresay.

What do you bet the topic of our next lunch turns to SEO?

About the Author

Catharine Robertson

I'm an Information Architect and Consultant with TBG, and I write and perform comedy in Baltimore.

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