The First Conversions: What Script Writers Can Teach Online Marketers

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Product pages get a lot of love. Testing budgets go there, analysts’ reviews focus there and even AdWords campaigns deep link there (sometimes). And why not? You'd be hard-pressed to find a page that ties to return on investment as tightly as the page that directly sells the product. Tiny conversion improvements there add up.

If you compare a website to a movie, the product page is the third act. It's where the tension reaches heights and the audience gets the conclusion. Because a lot hangs on it, movie studios spend a disproportionate amount of time punching up the script for the third act.

Billy Wilder is known for tearing into this kind of mentality. "If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act," he notes.

The same can be true of online marketing. 

The Problem is in the First Act

Just because visitors leave a product page doesn't mean the problem is WITH the product page. Maybe the product page is persuasive about the sale, but the visitor wants to compare specifications. The product may have a clear call to action, but the page isn't helping return visitors find support information. The product page can be very persuasive, but if it's persuasive about the wrong things, it's not going to stop visitors from looking elsewhere.

The real problem is this: most of the time, the sale isn't your first conversion.

Conversions are tied to where the visitor is in their decision-making process. A good way to think about it is the AIDA model: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. If visitors are looking for quality educational material about your industry, success isn't the sale … yet. Success is a low bounce rate and high return rate on early-stage pages, ones  designed to cater to the "attention" phase.

Conversions aren't exclusive to the late stage of the sales process. Microconversions matter too. Think about these as the setup leading to the third act:

Getting the First Act Right

To punch up the "first act" or get the early stage conversions right, you need to think about the 98 percent or so of your audience who didn't buy something. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are their tasks?
  2. Did they find what they need?
  3. How likely are they to come back?
  4. Can you continue the communication and relationship with them?

From your clickstream or traffic monitoring tool, you're not likely to be able to answer these questions. Don't try to answer these questions using traffic — you will not get far. Instead, review things like internal site search (the words used in the search box on YOUR website, not Google and Bing) and voice-of-customer tools that show surveys to visitors. These tools will give you solid data about user intent and task accomplishment rate for tasks prior to the sale.

Once you know what the main tasks are and how well your visitors can accomplish them, you can reallocate your time and resources to fixing the biggest problems on your website, not just the ones on your product page.

Making Sure They Get to the Third Act

The other thing you can do is make sure your visitors can actually FIND your product page. After all, it doesn't matter how explosive your third act is if most of the audience gets bored and leaves during the first two acts.

You can do a lot of things to make your site more effective, and three of the four things I usually recommend aren't exclusive to the product page:

  1. fix on-site search;
  2. reduce your navigation categories (unless you're Amazon.com); and
  3. position your trust symbols where they can decrease anxiety. 

All the Acts Matter

Remember, some of the conversions that matter are nowhere near your product page. It's OK to obsess about your product page, just like it's OK to obsess about the third act. Still, it's so much better if you're obsessing about the whole movie instead.

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This article originally appeared in Tim's Retail Online Integration column January 22, 2014

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