Is It All About Conversions?

There is plenty of talk about e-commerce now that we are deep into the end-of-year holiday shopping season. In e-commerce marketing the key word seems to be CONVERSION. That term refers to converting site visitors into paying customers.

Getting visitors to your website is important of course, but even to a non-profit organization you want visitors to engage with their organization. A “conversion” is generally, but not always a “sale.” The organization might also want a visitor to add their name to a mailing list, request information, make a donation or download a special offer.

Websites monitor carefully your activity on the site. When a customer visits, adds item(s) to an online shopping cart and then “abandons” it, that is a lost conversion. Nowadays, it is common in that situation for the organization to re-engage the customer. They might offer free shipping, an email reminder, or even offer live chat with the customer as soon as they attempt to click away from the site.

Social media has become another way to boost conversions.  Social media has been a way to generate traffic to a site for a lot longer. Using contextual ads, word-of-mouth social sharing and positive reviews are all important to attracting users, but turning that traffic into sales or leads is more important.

Using social media is one way to react to the analytic data about visitors.  Using tools like AddShoppers, which uses reward sharing by identifying social “influencers by tracking social activity and crossing that with conversions or ROI.

As instructional designers often use the ADDIE framework for designing training and instruction, some social media and marketing designers use the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) principles to design the user experience. This framework is built upon the conversion funnel.

funnel

The conversion funnel is a phrase used in e-commerce to describe the journey a consumer takes through an Internet advertising or search system, navigating an e-commerce website and finally converting to a sale. The metaphor of a funnel is used to describe the anticipated decrease in numbers that occurs at each step of the process from getting traffic to the conversion of a sale or other action..

Of course,there are many things that can be done to increase conversions besides marketing. Increasing trust in the site, improving site navigation structure and content (text, images, video) and usability to reduce barriers to conversion.

Is it all about conversions? Probably, but it is not all about marketing.

Internet Cookies Are Not Always Sweet

 

cookies

Cookies have been around about as long as the World Wide Web. They are small pieces of data, text files stored on your computer or other device when you load a website in a browser.

Back in the 1990s, lots of sources would tell you to delete the cookies on your computer. People treated them like a kind of spyware. They can be useful. They remember your email and information for forms. They remember passwords that you want remembered. They remember preferences and allow users to register and remain logged in.

As with the sweet and crunchy kind, there are different kinds. A cookie can be just for one visit to a site – a “session cookie” or for multiple visits – a “persistent cookie.”  First party cookies are set by the site that you are visiting, but there are also “third-party cookies” set by other websites who serve up content on that site.

The European Union is concerned about cookies. They have an  ePrivacy Directive (often referred to as the ‘cookie law’) which places requirements on website owners and operators to provide information about, and gain consent for their use of cookies. I have visitors from outside the United States, so I have added the option to this site to opt out of cookies from the site.

This site is hosted on WordPress.com and it makes use of cookies for a variety of different purposes. They offer users a widget to inform and allow consent for cookies. You probably saw that the first time you visited the site, but it might be useful to know more about those cookies are used.

One technical one is akm_mobile which stores whether a user has chosen to view the mobile version of the site.

If you are a registered WordPress.com user, then a twostep_auth cookie is set when you are logged in using two factor authentication. Another cookie – wp-settings-{user_id} is useful to me as a user because it allows my user wp (WordPress) admin configuration for the site.

Some cookies are pretty innocent, such as cookietest which checks if cookies are enabled, and  botdlang which tracks the language a user has selected.

Performance cookies collect information on how you interact with websites and WordPress says this analytical data is only used to improve how a website functions. An example is the ab cookie used for AB testing of new features.

Restricting or disabling cookies can limit the functionality of sites, or prevent them from working correctly at all. Still, people might not like the use of ones like advertising cookies that are used to display relevant advertising to visitors. They track details about visitors such as the number of unique visitors, number of times particular ads have been displayed, the number of clicks the ads have received, and are also used to measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns by building up user profiles.

Sites often use third-party applications and services such as social media platforms. When you use a Facebook or Twitter sharing button or embedded video from YouTube and Vimeo, cookies may be set by these third parties, and used by them to track your online activity. (I don’t have any direct control over the information that is collected by these cookies and either does WordPress.

You can choose to restrict the use of cookies, or completely prevent them from being set. Most browsers provide ways to control cookie behavior, such as the length of time they are stored.

To learn more about how to manage cookies, see aboutcookies.org. For more about advertising cookies and how to manage them, see youronlinechoices.eu (EU based), or aboutads.info (U.S.-based).

Thank You, Increased Bandwidth

Web design ideas that were once not under consideration because of slow page load times are now web trends because increased bandwidth and data compression means users won’t bounce from your site because of a dragging load time.

Here are two examples.

The trend to using more streamlined and minimal designs allow typefaces to be more dramatic – and perhaps less recognizable or complex. We don’t think of typefaces as bandwidth hogs, but it really is the lighter design trend that  allows for those typefaces.

Another trend that relies on better bandwidth is using background videos and animations. Of course, they can also be a distraction if used poorly. Moderation is key here.

This would seem a quite natural design element for a video or film company.

Life of Pi
Official site for the film Life of Pi

A lighter animation is a hover animation. Most users intuitively hover their cursor or finger over items, especially if they want more information.

And on this lightly animated home page for Spotify , we see the web trend of using carousels.

spotify

 

This simple but extensive use of video backgrounds comes from a company with a very simple URL http://y.co/, a luxury yacht company with large video footage as its background.

 

yacht

 

Carousels, Parallax and Hamburger Menus

 

Two trends that I see this year in web design have to do with layout and scrolling. One is the carousel scroll that goes right to left rather than up and down. This makes most or all of the site “above the fold” (to use an old newspaper term) so that the viewer doesn’t need to scroll down – not that scrolling left is so much easier.

The second trend gives us some very long pages that endlessly scroll where “pages” overlap each other and no clicking to other pages is necessary.

The parallax site allows the foreground and background content to scroll at different speeds, so there is sometimes an illusion of depth. It is a nice effect, but both of these trends have drawbacks. For example, parallax can be bad for you search engine optimization since they appear to search bots as being made up of one page and not all the content can be crawled by the search engines. This is exacerbated when text is embedded in graphics.

There are other trends becoming more prevalent this year, such as that series of short lines that have become known as a “hamburger” being used to indicate that a menu is linked there. This has become popular as the popularity of mobile devices grew and designers started simplifying navigation.

You can read more about these and other trends and some of the plusses and minuses of these design trends.

Web and Social Media Analytics

Google AnalyticsAnalytics are important is every business and organization. They always have been. Today’s world of “big data” has made them more important and has certainly given them wider use and more visibility.

With websites and social media accounts, the numbers (statistics, metrics, measures) you always hear about are hits, follows, likes, shares and reposts.  Every person using social media has become a part of others’ analytics – and probably follows their own numbers.

I don’t know of anyone who has a website or blog that doesn’t take a look at their hit counter and whatever data is being gathered. If you use WordPress, you get a suite of stats and analytics. But many users use other tools in addition. Google Analytics is another popular method of analyzing site traffic. I use WordPress.com and use their stats, and I use Google Analytics. Most of the time the numbers don’t agree. It’s not a small variation either. Have you heard the saying “A man with two watches never knows the correct time”?

I have read a number of explanations. For example, JavaScript based analytical tools, like Google Analytics, can never be completely accurate because many people have JavaScript blockers installed in their browsers. Some tools allow hits by the owner to be counted and some do not. I know that when I’m working on a site, updating and viewing it, that can amount to a few dozen “hits.”  That is why analytics will also sometime break out visitors versus unique visitors. The former is always bigger because the latter means that if I visit a site (or a site’s pages) 25 times today, that is one visitor.  Unique visitors may sound more accurate, but in some cases you would certainly want to know that your visitors are returning throughout the day (think of Facebook, Twitter or a news site) and visiting multiple pages.

That is why you’ll find articles with titles like “Is Your Social Media Content as Popular as You Think?

One of the buzziest terms out there now is “engagement.” Not a new word, just new to this new arena. Engagement means capturing and holding attention. As a teacher, I want to engage students and have interaction with them. I also want that to occur with this post and all my blogs and websites.

When we are talking about a business and profits, engagement changes. To Amazon.com, hits are good but engagement means all the things that lead to conversion and sales. Some critics of the aggressive online marketing we see now say that where engagement was once the journey, now it is the goal.

I am not a marketer, but I need to be aware of what is happening in the field, so I look at things like the content marketing goals in places such as the Content Marketing Institute reports.

“Likes” don’t necessarily mean a conversion or sale and thousands of views don’t mean a positive ROI. And yet, you still need to follow the numbers.

What did it mean that Twitter removed share counts from its widgets, buttons, and API? Are they telling us that the share count didn’t mean much? It didn’t count replies, quote tweets, variants of your URLs, or reflect that some people tweeting these URLs might have many more followers than others, so the share count was never an accurate measure of social engagement with your content.

Remember that analytics is not statistics, but what you do and learn from those statistics

YouTube only counts a view after approximately 30 seconds. That’s so that accidental views or bounces don’t get into the stats. You might also say that if 25% of your views were under 30 seconds that it is because your videos aren’t interesting – or at least they are not engaging in those first 30 seconds. YouTube analytics will tell you if someone watched 1, 2, 3, or all 4 minutes of your video and that is important to your analysis and further action.

Many of the “pro” tools are for a price and so is hiring someone to handle your analytics and marketing, but there are good free analytic tools to measure content effectiveness.

Social Media For Authors

It’s rare to find any published writers that don’t have their own website. Publishers usually create some kind of pages for their authors, but you really need your own place to promote yourself, your writing, your readings, workshops and appearances, and probably to share some samples of your work.

coben

Mystery writer Harlan Coben has a very good author site that is obviously professionally maintained. He has his own Facebook account, plus one for the books. He is on Twitter and he uses Instagram.  Harlan is a friend and former student of mine and I know that he does much of his own social media. His website points you to all his social media (including an old-fashioned email newsletter – know your audience – not all of them are on social media) and the social media points you to the website.

We are past the time of having to explain why a website is important, and are now pretty deep into the time when any writer – novelist, non-fiction writer or poet – also needs a social media presence.

You don’t necessarily need to be on all the social networks. In fact, even though it is advisable to take possession of your name real estate in all the big networks before someone else does, you probably can’t put out enough content to make all of them seem active unless you have help.

Besides having a truly personal account, having a closed or open Facebook group is a good way to share information, events, photos, reviews and press. Depending on target audience, the chances are much better that readers will check their Facebook – or other social networks – more frequently than your website. Those social posts may drive readers to more in-depth material on the website such as a book preview.

Instagram is the visual place to be, though some treat it in the same way as Twitter (which has also become more visual from its early days) with hashtags and short messages.

Of course, there’s also LinkedIn and Pinterest and plenty of others out there and on the horizon. But again, don’t over extend yourself. LinkedIn is a purely professional, yet still social network, and you would think a professional writer should be there. Yes, have a profile, but that’s not where your readers expect to find you. You would be spending you time better by being in GoodReads which is populated with readers and allows you to do things like offer free book giveaway promotions.

All of this might be handled by someone else – a publisher, agent, publicist – but for the majority of writers reading this, it’s all up to you.

I am still a believer that most social media needs to point to a website where more significant content is found.

My own predilection is for poetry, so I look at a lot of poet sites, both as a reader of their work and as a designer of websites. They range tremendously from simple, homegrown, self-maintained sites, to slickly designed sites. The latter type is often infrequently updated, which is not a good thing. A good test is to check their page for readings and other events.

I checked 7 poet sites in my bookmarks to see what’s new or updated.

Marie Howe‘s site is nicely designed, but hasn’t been updated in 3 years.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan‘s website has up-to-date book information and a complete bio for others to use. Her event updates are on a complementary blog that is updated at least once a week with readings, workshops or her poetry.  (I know that because I’m the one who maintains the site and blog.)

Laura Kasischke has a good basic site, and Laura Boss has a simple, but clean and updated website.

taylormali.com has a very nice site but shows no “gigs” upcoming or in the recent past.

kevinyoungpoetry.com is a good, modern site and up to date in content, and so is the site for robertpinskypoet.com. The fact that their URLs are not kevinyoung.com and robertpinsky.com means someone else grabbed that very important piece of their identity real estate. That is often done as a business venture with the aim to resell it to the author or celebrity. A domain/URL will usually cost $15-25 a year, but resales frequently go for $5000 and up. Get it while you can…

Robert Hass has only a site done by his agent barclayagency.com/hass.html but no personal site – but roberthass.com is owned by someone – probably not the poet Robert Hass.