Refining Your Web Site for Greater Profits

Your Web site isn't a 'set it and forget it' business tool. It's a marketing experience, one that has to be reviewed and updated regularly based on visitors' perceptions and preferences.

April 1, 2010

Congratulations! You just launched your brand new Web site, and it’s loaded with all the latest bells and whistles. Now, you can hardly wait for it to start cranking out new business while you sleep. (Hey, the vendor promised that would happen!)

Well, sorry to curb your enthusiasm, but your Web marketing journey isn't over. It's just getting started.

Measure, Test, Refine

Let's assume for the moment that your site has tons of new traffic coming to it on a daily basis. Believe it or not, this is not a terribly hard thing to accomplish. What is much more challenging, though, is converting casual visitors into new business. That's why it is important to:

  • Measure their behavior when they come to your site
  • Consistently test additional ways to engage them.
  • Refine your site to optimize conversion.

This measure-test-refine cycle is an ongoing process, one that ideally should take place on a quarterly basis.

The changes you make based on this cycle need not be drastic. For example, something simple as changing the words from "Featured Properties" to "Best Buys" made a huge difference to Pittsburgh real estate professional Jim Dolanche's site in terms of click-through rate.

And he never would have known unless he tested it.

Measure What's Hot and What's Not

Imagine being able to sit over the shoulder of your visitors and see exactly how they interact with your site. Measuring site visitor behavior is very different than visitor statistics and is crucial to understanding how your site does or does not engage people who land there.

There are plenty of tools out there to help you do this, and they generally aren’t that expensive. For instance, CrazyEgg is a service that generates "heat maps" of your site pages showing you where people click and how often. The brighter the spot, the more people clicked on that particular spot (see example heat map below). Interestingly, it shows where people are clicking (the lowest form of engagement) whether or not there is a clickable link there. In one snapshot you get an immediate and rich sense of what your visitors found interesting and, just as importantly, what they didn't.

Once you have measured your visitors' collective behavior, it’s time to start testing alternative text, graphics, offers, and even layout to see if these changes significantly improve your site's ability to convert casual visitors into serious clients.

The ABCs of A/B Testing

To effectively test changes to your site, you need to have a way to randomly serve up both the current and changed versions of your site and then measure visitor behavior on each. This is known as A/B testing (or multivariate testing when making more than one change at a time), and it can be a powerful way to consistently improve your site's conversion performance.

There is good news and bad news about the A/B testing process, however. The good news is that Google has a free A/B testing service call Google Website Optimizer that is very feature-rich and lets you test any changes to your site and statistically measure the differences in conversion, time spent on your site, and visitor satisfaction. The bad news is that it is so sophisticated that you will need the help of a knowledgeable Web developer and/or SEO person to set up the tests and measure the results.

One last caveat: Your site needs to see several thousand visitors per month in order for test results to be statistically significant.

Consistent, Incremental Improvements

Once you have completed the visitor-behavior measurement and A/B testing parts of the cycle, it is time to implement the changes you have determined will enhance your site's conversion potential and start measuring all over again. Ideally, you should repeat this cycle three to four times a year. Think of it as polishing your Web site. It just shines that much more brightly with each treatment.

Web sites are not "launch and forget" marketing weapons. They need to be consistently refined and course-corrected if you want the most bang for your online marketing buck. If you focus more on the Web marketing journey rather than the destination, you will have a lot more fun, and a lot more business to show for it.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.