By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
In the quest to attract new customers for fuel delivery and home comfort services, an effective website is an invaluable tool. When a site delivers what prospective customers are looking for and simplifies conversion, the company is at its best in adding new accounts.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. For every website that is truly effective at conversion, there are dozens that simply don’t go the distance. The best way to optimize your site is to design with the prospective customer in mind, use website analytics to evaluate performance, and adjust whenever necessary to improve the conversion rate.
For illustration, let’s consider a full-service company that sells both heating oil and propane and perceives an opportunity to improve its market share. The goal is to add full-service accounts for either or both fuels, and the company is willing to offer $50 per account in new customer discounts.
To begin, the company should assign a manager to the project and, in most cases, partner with a marketing agency with demonstrated capabilities in web design, advertising and web analytics.
The manager should draw on their colleagues and the agency for some essential upfront work that will really pay off as the recruitment process unfolds. The first task is to develop multiple profiles of prospective customer types: first-time homeowners, recent move-ins, mature homeowners, etc. No deep psychological profiling is required, just enough thought to form sound ideas about different types of prospects who visit your site.
Using those profiles, try to anticipate how they the different types of prospects will make their choices. What questions will be on their mind? What do they think they want? What do they really want? This might sound like a lot of scholarly thinking when all you want to do is drum up some new business, but keep reading. You’ll see where I’m going with this.
Once you have a clear idea of the types of consumers you’re trying to attract and the questions they are asking, you have a sound basis for developing an outstanding customer intake process that uses your website as the hub. From here, you will design and launch the website – or website enhancements – and begin tracking performance and making adjustments.
A successful intake process begins when the prospect responds to your marketing campaign and arrives at your site, either on the home page or a specially designed landing page. It concludes on a conversion page, where the prospect signs on to become a customer and claim their $50 worth of fuel coupons. In between, a customer might visit several other pages to find answers to their questions.
A great website design makes it easy to meander through the site and still arrive at the conversion page without getting lost – or disappointed – along the way. In short, it provides a great experience that helps the prospect identify your company as their best choice.
To achieve a great design, focus on two key factors: anticipating each prospect’s possible questions, and creating a navigation format that keeps them focused and on track.
When anticipating the questions a prospect will ask, it pays to set aside your wishful thinking and “get real.” Maybe you were hoping they’d be impressed with your family ownership and deep local roots – and they probably will be – but you have to be prepared for the price question, as in, “How come you charge 30 cents more per gallon that that other guy?” If you don’t explain the pricing yourself, you’re leaving the prospects to their own conclusions – and you probably won’t get their business.
Today’s customers are used to getting answers, and they don’t appreciate being thwarted, particularly not by a company that is trying to win their business. Don’t fear the questions. Answer them.
Price is just one of the tough question today’s customers are asking. Here are some others:
- Propane prices went through the roof last winter. Isn’t that price gouging?
- Why should I heat with oil, when other fuels are better for the environment?
- Is propane safe for indoor use?
- Isn’t natural gas much less expensive than oil?
I could go on, but the point is that today’s consumers are inclined to choose companies they like, and they tend to favor companies that they perceive as helpful and forthright. This has important implications when optimizing a website for customer recruitment. The site has to be complex enough to provide lots of good information in a pleasing way while also maintaining compact, straightforward navigation that keeps the customer well oriented. That way, they can chart their own course without getting lost.
Analytics Makes It Possible
Web analytics play an essential role, because precise data on website visits helps you see how customers are traveling through the site and enables you to spot problems, such as broken navigation links or website copy that sends the wrong message.
The most popular tool for the job is Google Analytics, which is free to use for most sites and offers comprehensive data on traffic and usage, including granular information on each visit and visitor. In an industry where individual accounts are potentially worth thousands of dollars a year, it is essential to digest this data and use it to optimize your site for conversion.
For most visitors who come to your site, Google Analytics can tell you:
- what city or town they are located in when accessing your site
- the referral source to your site (Google, Facebook, etc.)
- the first page they visited on your site
- what kind of device and browser they are using
- how often they have visited the site, and when
- how many pages they viewed during each visit
- which pages they visited
- how long they stayed on each one
- the order in which they viewed pages
- the last page they viewed before exiting the site.
That data is extremely useful in its own right, but it’s what Google Analytics enables you to do with that information that is so powerful. You can use the application to define goals on the website, which can be either micro goals or macro goals, and then track which visitors convert, i.e. meet the goal.
A macro goal in Google Analytics aligns exactly with your company goals: to add new customers or sign existing customers up for new products and services. You can create macro goals for new customer enrollment, submitting a credit application, enrolling in a price protection program, budget plan or service contract, or signing up for a new service.
A micro goal could be anything that reflects the kind of engagement you are trying to create. Let’s say you’re launching a blog and your site to increase customer interest and affinity. You’re going to want to know if the investment is paying off. You can set up a few micro goals such as the visitor spending at least five minutes on the website, clicking through from the blog to another page within the site, or friending the company on Facebook. Once the goals are defined, your reports will show you what kind of results you are getting.
Google Analytics ties everything together with what it calls Flow Visualization and Goal Flow Reports. You have created a “sales funnel” on your site that originates in a marketing campaign, travels through the information pages where the customers get answers to their questions, and concludes with a successful signup. Flow Visualization allows you to see how customers are traveling through the funnel, including how they arrived, what pages they visited along the way, and where they ended their session. Goal Flow Reports summarize this information.
For example, you run a recruitment campaign using Google AdWords that promotes full service fuel delivery with a new customer discount – your $50 coupon campaign. As soon as someone clicks on your ad, they enter the sales funnel via a custom landing page tied to this campaign. The page introduces them to the company, highlights the special offer, and provides navigation to your informational pages. Google Analytics will show you what happened next for each individual visitor.
If the sales funnel is working well and engaging visitors, you will be able to track their page visits and see how they are flowing towards the conversion point. Ideally, the pattern will show a satisfying level of engagement with a solid percentage of goals completed.
Alternatively, goal completions might fall short of expectations, and you might even find that visitors are dropping off without shorter sessions and fewer page views than expected. Flow Visualization enables you to drill down into the visitors’ paths and might show one or two pages with high levels of drop-offs. You won’t know exactly what went wrong from the Analytics report, but ’ll know where to start your troubleshooting.
Choosing a full-service fuel provider is a big decision for a homeowner, and marketers need to appreciate all the complex questions the customer may have about cost, the environment, safety, competing fuels and more. A powerful tool like Google Analytics enables you to build and operate a dynamic web presence that is both easy to use and highly informative. That’s how you impress today’s Internet savvy consumers.
As always, the online marketing experts at PriMedia are eager to help you win on the Web. To get started, please call me at 800-796-3342 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.