You’ve researched your keyword phrases and plugged them into your site. You even A/B tested the best color buttons to use and made sure your site is stocked with mounds of them. A few companies even honored your site with backlinks. Now you can sit back with your fully optimized site and wait for the results to roll in, right?
The thing is this:
Optimization is about so much more than keyword phrases, backlinks, and bright orange buttons. It’s about creating a site that boasts a high percentage of visitors who convert into paying customers.
Although you’ve already plugged in those keywords, backlinks, and button colors, you still may fall flat with results.
The truth is, most websites do. In fact, the average website’s conversion score is about 3.4%.
Why so low?
Even if you already have a seemingly solid site with enticing web pages boasting relevant content, it may still be bombing with conversions. That’s because your site may be lacking in any number of important elements. These include:
- Social and psychological elements that work on a subconscious level.
- Obvious and specific calls to action.
- Clear direction for visitors to follow.
- Useful information with high readability.
- A delightful user experience.
And that’s just naming a few. Based on a WriterAccess Academy webinar with Invesp Consulting’s Ayat Shukairy and Orbit Media Studio’s Andy Crestodina, this article will fill you in on many others.
You’ll get a deep dive into the most important elements that contribute to content optimization—and higher conversion rates—for your entire site.
Content optimization is a process, not a one-time thing. It’s a series of perpetual changes, done methodically, to improve the performance of your overall site. A rigorous process of learning, growing, and improving on an ongoing basis.
But don’t get scared off. Even if you’ve never really dug deep into optimization, you’ll leave with a firm understanding of what it’s all about. And a website that’s better for it, to boot.
1. Know What to Optimize
Instead of trying to pinpoint specific elements on your web pages to optimize, Invesp Consulting uses a systematic approach based on a variety of potential issues.
For optimization, begin on the left and work your way right
- Bugs and implementation issues.
- Usability issues.
- Conversion issues.
As you can see, it’s about much more than changing a button color. It’s about looking at any number of potential issues that could be deterring customers and preventing sales.
Usability issues are problems that make using your website annoying, challenging, or downright impossible. Bugs and implementation issues are part of the lineup, as are glitches, error messages, broken links, and anything else that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.
These issues are the highest priority and demand immediate attention.
Fixing usability issues makes a user-friendly website.
Conversion issues lie on the psychological level. They are problems related to persuasion. Even with clear directions and useful information, your site may still be lacking the ability to make the sale.
- Fixing conversion issues makes a user-friendly, persuasive website.
Your first step is to identify issues on your site related to bugs, usability, and conversions. If you find enough problems, it may make more sense to start over with a new design rather than trying to fix a zillion different problems.
2. Don’t Miss the Optimization Mark
The premise for web page or full site optimization sounds simple because it is:
- Look for issues, and then fix them.
But the reality is that most companies miss the mark.
They’re weak in a number of areas, such as:
- No expert review: Companies may shun paying for an expert review and decide to do their own review instead. Their review, however, may not be methodical. And it may not be asking the right questions that come up with the right issues to fix.
- Shoddy user research: Also known as qualitative research, any user research done may fail because it’s:
- Too fast.
- Lacking clear next steps.
- Weak data analysis: This is your quantitative research, and companies often fall flat in this area for several reasons.
- Website events are not set up correctly, resulting in the well-known “garbage in, garbage out” syndrome (GIGO).
- The research is too basic, even embarrassingly basic.
- There is no real modeling.
- Faulty prioritization: What to fix first? Many companies have no idea. They prioritize randomly, or based on what they think is most important at the moment. The key is to prioritize what visitors find important.
- Feeble hypothesis: Companies may not even know how to create a meaningful hypothesis. As the starting point for the testing and investigation to come, a meaningful hypothesis is a must.
- Limited testing: The two biggest problems in this area are:
- Being weak on statistics.
- Skipping usability testing altogether.
- Post-test analysis: This is another area that often gets totally skipped. Documenting what you learned and sharing the excitement bring the entire process to a close.
- How do you draw conclusions?
- What did you learn about the visitor?
For many marketers, the dive into conversion rate optimization begins with excitement—and meaningless testing. Marketers typically suffer from a faith crisis and hit a testing bottom. The strong bounce back up takes a different approach: They do it right.
3. Implement an Optimization System
The end game for all businesses is repeatable, sustainable growth to their bottom line. But the only way to create that is through an optimization system. Invesp Consulting uses a system with the acronym SHIP:
Optimization Phase 1: Scrutinize
You can expect to spend about 75% of your time in the first phase of scrutinizing. It contains six specific steps, many of which you’ll recognize as areas where countless companies are weak.
- JTBD: Just to be done, or fixing the bugs, glitches, and other obvious issues.
- Expert review: Conducting a thorough, systematic review by a well-versed expert in optimization.
- User research: Qualitative research based on your visitors.
- Data analysis: Quantitative research based on statistics, correlations, and trends uncovered.
- Competitive analysis: Knowing your competitors.
- Usability testing: Making sure everything works.
Classify Optimization Issues Immediately
As you conduct your systematic review and problems come up, classify each problem into one of four distinct categories. This allows you to prioritize and properly deal with the issues.
The four categories are:
- Fix right away (FRA): Simple usability issues that don’t need further testing. They could be broken areas or elements that need adjustment.
- Instrument (IT): Issues you realize need additional tracking or other configuration added to perform the most effective analytics.
- Research opportunity (RO): Areas that are potential testing possibilities. These may be discovered through any of the scrutinize processes.
- Investigate further (IF): These elements require other means of investigation to ensure they are indeed causing issues for users. They may not cause a break in the process, but they have been identified as potential areas to address.
Alt. title: Categorize all issues as soon as you identify them.
This is your qualitative research, and it can be lengthy and extensive. But it’s also totally worth it when you get it right.
User research is the process of observing, analyzing, and explaining your visitors’ interactions with your site. The best way to conduct user research is to interact with your visitors, virtually or physically.
Ask predesigned questions with the goal of uncovering potential problems on your site. That’s where the lengthy and extensive comes in. One method Invesp Consulting uses is:
- Conducting 45-minute phone interviews with customers.
- Speaking with about 25 customers per client.
In addition to one-on-one interviews, additional qualitative research methods include:
- Focus groups.
- Usability questionnaires.
Getting Into Your Customers’ Heads
Getting into the head of your customer is imperative, and not just for determining if your site provides a smooth experience. You want to go deeper to understand what your visitors are thinking and feeling. You need to know what they really want.
People aren’t buying a product or service. They’re buying what that product or service will do for them, or where it will get them. The job of your product or service is to get them from where they are to their desired self.
Alt. title: Your product or service is the thing that allows people to make the change to become their desired self.
To truly grasp this, you need to look at all perspectives. You also need to go deeper than the traditional voice of customer (VOC) research, which typically gathers top-of-mind answers.
You want the deep stuff that resides in people’s subconscious.
You need to ask what people are buying—but you don’t necessarily want to ask the buyers. They may not even know. They just know that it will make their desired state come to fruition. For instance, people are not buying:
- OnStar for turn-by-turn directions; they’re buying peace of mind while driving.
- Milkshakes to taste a flavor; they’re buying a way to sate hunger for a long commute.
- A drill because it has a quarter-inch bit; they’re buying the joy they get when they perfectly hang a cabinet (and get their spouse off their back about hanging it).
“Unlock the right information that will get us to higher conversions without relying completely on asking people what they want.”Ayat Shukairy | Invesp
You’re not selling the solution. You’re selling “how I want things to be.”
Once you’ve collected your qualitative research, it’s time for the quantitative phase to begin.
- Review all the data you’ve collected.
- Find correlations in the data, common trends.
- Use a validation tool to back up what you’ve uncovered.
Knowing Your Competitors
You may be surprised to find your competitors are not always what you may initially think. They may be something else entirely.
Let’s look at Snickers vs. Milky Way. You may think the two candy bars are constantly going head to head, right? But they’re really not.
- Snickers is marketed as a way to fight hunger.
- Milky Way is thought of as a delicacy or dessert.
Snickers is not competing against Milky Way
It is competing against other snack foods that sate hunger
When it comes to competitors, marketers have three types:
- Direct, which do the same job in the same way.
- Secondary, which do the same job in the same way.
- Indirect, which do a different job with a conflicting outcome.
When you understand the job your products or services do, you can then more effectively optimize your landing pages because you:
Know what you’re hired for.
- Understand your indirect competitors.
- Understand what makes you different.
- Double down at what you’re good at.
- Create a unique value proposition.
- Create headlines that work.
- Craft amazing copy.
Optimization Phase 2: Hypothesize
Phase two of the savvy marketers’ optimization system is to hypothesize. This phase contains three steps.
- Prioritize: Look at the results of the scrutinize phase and determine what needs to be done, and in what order. Classify and prioritize, based on the four categories of issues introduced earlier.
- Hypothesize: Create and test your hypothesis on what could be improved to boost CRO.
- Design: Pick something simple for starters, then create a prototype to ensure you’re heading in the right direction. If you are, the final design comes next.
Optimization Phase 3: Implement
The third step in your optimization process is to implement the changes. This involves:
- Creating and controlling the content.
- Deploying the newly developed environment.
- Cross-browser testing.
Optimization Phase 4: Propagate
The final phase of the process is to propagate, and it’s the step a lot of companies miss. Here you want to ask yourself three important questions, known as the three whats:
- What were the results?
- What did we learn?
- What are our next steps?
The optimization process typically results in a series of small wins—and even a big one here and there.
But even the small wins start to add up, resulting in a user-friendly, persuasive site that consistently increases your bottom line.
4. Properly Focus Your Optimization
All companies want to increase revenue. And when it comes to increasing revenue, there are two key factors at play:
- Website traffic.
- Conversion rate.
Knowing this, Orbit Media Studios’ Andy Crestodina asks a straightforward question.
“If something doesn’t impact traffic or conversions, why would you do it?”Andy Crestodina | Orbit Media
But still, marketers sit in meetings talking about all kinds of improvements, none of which impact traffic or conversions. Think about that next time you’re huddling with your team.
- Traffic can be thought of as the cheese, luring people to your site.
- Conversion rate can be thought of as the mousetrap.
Some companies are typically good at one side or the other.
- They get tons of traffic, but not a lot of conversions.
- They get a high percentage of conversions, but not a lot of traffic.
Your goal is to get good at both sides. And Crestodina advises the opposite approach than what most companies take. He says to start at the bottom of the funnel.
If you start with the focus on the bottom of the funnel, it lets you maximize the outcome from existing visitors. In short, you’ll start making more money the right way.
5. Optimize the Action Stage
Before people take action, or convert, on your site, they must:
- Find the answers they need.
- Overcome uncertainty and objections they have.
And sometimes finding those answers can be a bear. When asked about online frustrations experienced in the past month, not finding answers to even the simplest questions was the top annoyance.
Brands tend to be too close to the situation to realize they are not even answering the most basic questions searchers may have. Visitors don’t know the jargon. They don’t know the product or service.
Searchers need straightforward information, which is often lacking.
You can fix this by answering expected questions, and then some. You can implement a four-part plan that increases the power of your content and ability to convert.
- Call to Action.
Let’s say user research reveals that people are concerned about online security. They want to know if they can use your marketing technology behind a firewall. Your plan of attack would look like this:
- Question: Can I put this behind my firewall?
- Answer: Yes, with options in the cloud or on-premises.
- Evidence: Back it up with logos of firms that use your technology.
- Call to action: Prompt the visitor to chat with a security expert.
You’ve answered the question, backed it up with evidence that shows they can trust you, and then gave them a clear next step. Remember your content strategy here is to move people past the uncertainty and into conversion.
- Answers move visitors into a new state.
- Uncertainty is the friction that keeps people stuck in the old state.
Finding the Questions to Answer
So just how do you uncover the burning questions your audience has? Two ways:
- Ask your customers.
- Ask your sales team.
Questions to ask your customers include:
- What was going on in your life that sent you searching for help?
- What else did you try? What didn’t you love about it?
- What almost kept you from buying from us?
- What made you confident enough to give us a try?
- What made us the best solution for you?
- When evaluating options, what was the most important to you?
- What can you do now, or can you do better, that you couldn’t do before?
- Give me an example of when this (solution) made a difference for you.
- Starting out, what was the biggest challenge you were hoping to solve?
- If you could never work with us again, what would you miss the most?
- How many people has our solution helped? (What is the biggest number you can get up to?)
- What is the number one thing you would mention to a friend if you wanted to convince them to hire (company)?
Questions to ask your top sales associates include:
- What questions do people ask you during the sales process?
- What questions are you just sick and tired of answering?
- What should people ask you, but usually don’t?
- What analogies do you use to describe what you do?
- Fill in the blank: People can work with us, even if they _____
The responses you get:
- Supply you with a slate of questions you can answer.
- Evidence, or proof, to back up your answers.
- Words written directly from your customers, in their own language.
Useful Words and Phrases for Optimization
To amp up the power even more, combine your answers to the questions with persuasion words.
Many of those listed below come from Copyhackers’ Joanna Wiebe, who has mastered the art of persuasive copywriting.
Because: Explains the reason you need this
- We offer this service because not everyone wants their data on the cloud.
Should: You have the right to have this outcome/success.
- With all the effort you put in, you should be reaping success.
Already/still: Meets the visitor where they are, reminds them where they want to be.
- You already invested a ton of money, yet you’re still not seeing results.
The truth is: Makes them believe they are deciding on logic, not emotion.
- The truth is, most customers don’t care about what you do. They want to know what you can do for them.
Even if: Overcomes objections
- Write amazing copy, even if you never wrote a piece of content in your life.
Creating the Perfect Service Page
Optimizing your service page is an ideal place to start, especially since many of the service pages you find all appear the same. That’s right. There is absolutely no differentiation.
Fix that by going through your service pages and ensuring they have all the elements needed for success. There are 13 of them:
- Short descriptive headline.
- Keyword focus.
- Quick visual credibility.
- Meaningful subheads.
- Answers to top questions.
- Short paragraphs.
- Testimonials, social proof.
- Strong supportive visuals.
- Faces of your people.
- Data and statistics.
- Clean, simple flow.
- Depth and detail, with a target word count of at least 800.
- Compelling call to action.
Effective sales pages have two kinds of content:
- Answers to questions your audience is asking.
- Evidence backing up your answers.
Ask yourself how many of your answers or claims have evidence backing them up. Unless you’ve optimized your content marketing, the answer may be close to nil.
Evidence improves conversion rates and reduces uncertainty. Depending on the type of evidence you use, it speaks to the head as well as the heart. The head is logic and the heart is emotions.
- Big evidence includes data and statistics.
- Little evidence includes testimonials and stories.
Testimonials for Optimization
Testimonials are particularly powerful tools for persuasion. Too good to waste on the seldom-viewed testimonials page, you should instead pepper testimonials throughout your site for use as evidence on service pages and other areas.
The most powerful testimonials have seven key elements:
Use the most compelling customer-written copy from the testimonials as your headers and subheaders. This is not something you’ll find on most websites.
They instead fill the most prominent areas with meaningless fluff, with the most compelling info buried in the fine print.
Don’t do that. Flip the two. Make sure the most valuable thing on the page is also the most prominent thing.
Creating a Strong Message
Testimonials serve as incredibly strong messages, especially if you combine the most powerful messenger with the most powerful format.
- Strongest messenger: Customer.
- Strongest format: Video.
- Example: Customer video testimonial.
- Mid-strength messenger: Other.
- Mid-strength format: Images.
- Example: Certification or seal from third-party site or company.
- Weakest messenger: Self.
- Weakest format: Text.
- Example: A text-only piece of content telling people how great you are.
The Laws of Visual Hierarchy are another thing to keep in mind when you’re setting up optimized content marketing. Remember, you want the most valuable information needs to be the most prominent.
These laws guide the eyes down the page.
Three more ways to guide the eyes down the page include:
- Visual cues, such as where the subject of your photo is looking. Your audience will follow their lead.
- Color temperature, with a contrast of warmer colors and cooler colors grabbing attention.
- Creating flow, or using elements that guide the visitor on a clear path from start to finish, landing smartly on your call to action. Don’t make the eyes zig-zag all over the page.
Effective Calls to Action
There are two rules for calls to action:
- Have one.
- Make sure it’s specific.
People make a split-second cost/benefit decision, determining if the benefit of clicking is worth the cost. That means you want to make the benefit obvious and not too stressful or overwhelming.
Three CTA examples:
- Download eBook = No benefit mentioned.
- Download eBook and solve all your problems today = Too stressful.
- Download eBook instantly and start reading now = Just right.
6. Optimize the Consideration Stage
The consideration stage is in the middle of the traditional funnel.
This stage is the perfect place for an irresistible CTA that works absolute wonders for conversions. You can create one with this tip from Crestodina:
Turn your mission statement into a powerful CTA.
Of course, you need to have a mission statement for this to work. And not a lot of companies can say they do. A Content Marketing Institute survey found only 28% of companies have a documented editorial mission statement.
If you’ve yet to create one, then do so. Then use this formula to craft a no-fail CTA:
- Our content is where [audience X] gets [information Y] that offers [benefit Z].
Let’s say your mission statement reads something like this:
- Where digital marketers find practical advice on content, SEO strategy, analytics, and web design to get better results from their websites.
Information Y becomes your CTA, like this:
- Practical tips for content marketing and web design. Subscribe now.
Transforming your mission statement into a CTA works great for social media profiles, too. Turn your social media bio into a mini-CTA.
7. Optimize the Awareness Stage
Only after you’ve successfully optimized the action and consideration stages should you tackle the awareness stage of the funnel.
Here is where you’ll find the most widely searched form of optimization: search engine optimization (SEO).
The stage’s optimization doesn’t stop there, however. Conversion optimization goes beyond SEO, although keywords or keyword phrases are still an important part of the mix.
There are three types of keyword phrases:
- Informational search queries: Looking for answers.
- Transactional search queries: Getting ready to buy.
- Navigational (branded) search queries: Already know what they want, just need the fastest way to get it.
The first two types are the ones you want to focus on for optimization.
Keyword phrases are one element that contributes to your page ranking on search engine results pages. Links are the other big ranking factor. The two work in tandem to boost your page to the top of the heap—hopefully.
Note that Google only ranks pages; it never ranks entire websites. Also note that Google has a specific algorithm, known as PageRank, which measures the importance of a page.
Domain authority is:
- The overall authority of your entire website.
- Also known as domain score, domain ranking.
- Not the same as page authority, or PageRank.
- Not going to tell you if a page can rank for specific keyword phrases.
- Going to at least give you an idea of what level of keyword difficulty you can meet.
Ranking for specific keyword phrases is not necessarily your goal. You instead want to prove to Google that you have a high-quality page. How do you do that? Crestodina has the answer.
How Google Understands Quality
Algorithms have come a long way since the early Google Analytics days. You don’t get high search rankings from tricking a robot. You get high rankings from creating a page that delivers the valuable, relevant content people are seeking.
Want to create a high-ranking page? Make both Google and the readers happy.
In short, it’s about topics and not about keywords. Your goal is to cover a given topic with the best content, ever. The byproducts of creating the best content include:
- Ranking for keyword phrases, such as “web design tips.”
- Ranking for semantically-related keyword phrases, such as “web design tricks.”
- Answering the questions people are asking the most.
- Growth in your domain authority.
- Ability to rank for higher-competition keyword phrases.
- An incredible (and ongoing) increase in traffic and click-through rates (CTR).
- A big boost to your bottom line.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of what’s involved with content marketing optimization, you probably understand why the average website has such a low conversion rate. This stuff is deep, complex, and highly involved. It’s also an extensive process that really never ends.
The more you work at it, however, the better your site is destined to get. You’ll have happier customers—and more of them—along with repeatable, sustainable growth for your bottom line.
High-quality content is a prime ingredient for optimization, and you can get it with WriterAccess. Start a free 14-day trial now.