6 Ways Your Website Is Losing Sales - Advertising

How effective is your website? Is it attracting lots of targeted visitors? Is your site bringing in new business and new contacts daily? Are customers, purchasing agents, business partners and new vendors finding you on the web? Or have you spent thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for a website that seems to collect little more than electronic tumbleweeds and cyberdust?

Millions of web searches are conducted each day by government buyers, private industry purchasing agents, small businesses and consumers looking for everything from software to hoof trimmers for goats. Chances are there are people searching the web right now for the products or services you sell. If your site doesn't capture their attention and order, a competitor will.

Typically, these prospects go to Google, Yahoo, MSN or AOL and type in a keyword or key phrase describing the product or service they seek. The listings they see on the first one or two search engine result pages (nicknamed SERPS by Internet marketing professionals), are usually the sites they visit to gather information and make their purchase. If your site doesn't show up on that first page or two of results, or if your site does show up but is difficult to use, customers that could be yours will drift into some other company's sales funnel.

So, how do you make your site show up in the first page of two of search results when you can find 566,000 search results on Google for a term like "bullet proof vests"? Why do competitors' sites, and sometimes sites that are just lists of affiliate links, wind up on the first or second page of the SERPs when your site is on page 53? Why is your site missing in action - or, if it is getting found, missing the action?

There are many factors that affect search marketing results including how old your domain name is and how long it's been live on the web. But if your site has been up for several months and it isn't bringing you leads, contacts or sales, then the problem may be that your site is guilty of one or more website marketing mistakes. Here are the most common - and the easiest to correct.

1 - Thinking your customers don't use the web

I was at a dinner one evening with a small business owner who was complaining how difficult it is to get new customers and how much trouble he is having getting some of his old customers to pay their bills. I asked the owner if he had a web site and was using it to attract customers. "We have a web page up, but we don't do anything with it," he said. "Our customers don't look for our services on the web." I resisted the temptation to remind him that he had just said his customers don't pay, either.

Instead, I looked at his website the next day. It was just a single page with little other than the company logo, phone number, and a photo of their facility. Next, I searched for a couple of key phrases that described what the business sold. Not surprisingly, my dinner buddy's site didn't show up in the organic (unpaid) search results. But a lot of his competitors did.

In addition, a number of his competitors were advertising in Google and Yahoo pay-per-click ads. They apparently had discovered what my friend was missing: customers on the web.

2 - Hiding your site from search engines

No one wants to hide their key pages from search engines. But that's exactly what a lot of sites do because the people who build them either don't understand how search engines work, or are more concerned with visual effects than getting found on the web. Search engines are hungry for text. They can't read graphics.

The text on pages tells search engines what a site is about, so the search engine knows when to display it in response to search queries. If the search engine can't find any text, or finds very little text, your site isn't going to get found. Here are some of the ways sites hide themselves from the search engines.

- Misusing Flash Technology

Flash technology is what web developers use to create web pages with moving images. Done by a really good designer, a flash page looks impressive. It wows you, the rest of your management team, your investors and your mother-in-law. If it's really good, it might even win some design awards. But it has one fatal flaw: A page built with Flash technology rarely places well in the search engines. That's because search engines rely on textual elements in a page to determine what a page is about and whether or not it matches what Joe Customer just typed into the search engine.

Flash is great for product demos and to show off design skills, but business looking for free search engine traffic, won't get it from Flash pages. Worse, Flash pages often take longer to load than regular HTML pages and annoy visitors who want to quickly gather facts about the product or service.

If your home page or other key page on your site is a Flash page now, change it. In its place, put a text page that includes text, headlines and bullet points about your products and services. If you spent a lot of money for the flash presentation, link to it from your home page or from your "About Us" page. That way the presentation will still be available for those who really want to see it, but it won't stop you from getting search engine traffic and won't annoy people who don't like Flash pages.

- Using pictures of text instead of text

Maybe you or your web designer wanted to give your website a certain look. Perhaps it's some font you like to use in headlines or other design elements - a font that wouldn't be on everyone's computer. Or, maybe you told your web developer to copy your brochure as the basis of your website. So, they scanned in the brochure and saved it as a series of image files. Whatever the reason, if most of the text on your pages is actually incorporated in a screen shot or other picture, the "text" in the image isn't going to get picked up by search engines.

If your home page and site consist of mostly graphic images, change it. Put real text on the page, not images of text. (If you can't tell if it's text or a picture of text on your site, try to select a portion of the text the way you'd select a portion of text in a Word document. If you can't select only a portion of the text, the text isn't really text. It's a graphic.

Search engines can't read the words in your graphic logo, either. So, be sure to include your business name in plain text somewhere on your web pages, too.

- Using Frames to build the site. Web frames provide an easy way to build a site that where text on pages scroll, but the navigational elements are always stay put. Theoretically, that's a good idea. But theory and practice don't mix. The problem: search engines don't read framed pages. If your developer has set your site up in frames, have them change it. It's better to have the navigational elements scroll with the text, than to have them static on the pages and not get found.

3 - Not using the right keywords and keyphrases in the pages on your site.

Keywords and key phrases are the words people type into the search engine when they are looking for a product or service. To get found in search engines, your website needs to contain text that includes the query terms your customers are most likely to use looking for what you sell.

For instance, if you sell voice recognition software called VoiceConverterNow and you target the healthcare industry, your prospects are likely to be searching Google and Yahoo for terms like "medical voice recognition software" or "voice recognition software for hospitals." Unless you're the leader in your industry, they probably won't be searching for your product by name. Neither will they be searching for terms such as "leading provider of voice- to-data conversion systems in the medical community," or other puffery you might be tempted to put in brochures or VC presentations. Similarly, if you are an individual who provides word processing and OCR services to publishers, your site isn't likely to get found if it talks about your expertise as a "virtual assistant." Your customers will be searching for terms like "typist," "data entry service," and "scanning service."

To maximize your chances of getting found in search engines, be sure your web pages include common key words and phrases associated with the product or concept being described on the page. Appropriate keywords should appear in the page title, metatags, headlines and body of your text.

Note: The page title consists of the words that show up at the very top of your browser. It is one of the first places the search engines look to determine what your page is about and match it up with search engine queries. Unless your business name is a keyword for your industry, it should be at the end of the title, not the beginning - or not in the title at all.

4 - Making it difficult to understand what your business sells and what features the product or service offers.

Web searchers are impatient. They expect to be able to tell what you sell and where to click for details the moment they land on your website. They want that information in plain English with lots of short paragraphs and bulleted lists. And they want facts and product features, not vague lists of the benefits of buying from your business.

You probably won't get a lot of inquiries for your environmental testing laboratory if your home page states your philosophy of doing business and your services page makes claims for the reliability of your results - but never talks about the type of testing services you offer.

5 - Making it difficult to place an order or check out from a web store.

You'd think that online merchants would make shopping as easy as possible. Unfortunately, many don't. "Buy Now" and Checkout buttons are often difficult to find. Customers are often asked to register and divulge personal information before then can place a single item in their shopping cart. And the order and confirmation process is sometimes long and confusing. Topping off all those problems, some merchants don't provide phone numbers customers can use if they prefer to call in an order instead of typing it in online.

As a result, shopping cart abandonment rates are high and conversion rates are low. According to a survey by Internet Retailer, two-thirds of all websites have shopping cart abandonment rates higher than 30%, and one third have abandonment rates higher then 50 percent.

To identify and fix problems in your shopping cart, try this exercise: if you accept incoming phone orders, take them yourself for a few hours. Type all called-in orders into your online shopping cart. Make a note of everything in the ordering and checkout process that annoys you or slows you down. When you're done, send your list of annoyances to your programmer and have her fix the problems and bottlenecks.

6 -Not getting permission to contact web visitors again.

Conversion rates vary by website and product, but on the average, only about 2 percent of visitors to a web site make a purchase. In other words, roughly 98% of the visitors to your site don't buy during their visit. A handful may bookmark your site so they can find it again in the future, but most of the people who leave will simply forget about your site.

Fortunately there's something you can do about that sad statistic: Give the visitor a reason to leave you their email address and other contact information before they leave your website.

What kind of reason? There are many. Among them: offer a free newsletter; ask customers to sign up to be notified about special offers; offer a free, downloadable white paper about a subject related to your prospects needs; or even offer a free mini-course. When you deliver the newsletter or other material you offered, you get additional opportunities to market products to interested prospects - prospects who otherwise may never have returned to your site.

Copyright 2006 O'Hara Publishing

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