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How to Make Your Website Really Sell

The best advice for converting visitors to your company's website into real revenue

This story appears in the September 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

By most standards, a 10 percent online lead-conversion rate is nothing to sneeze at. Many companies thrive on much less. But Ajay Goel figured his business, JangoMail, an e-mail marketing platform, could do better. And to figure out how, Goel listened to the critics.

"Our whole business depends on us successfully converting online leads," he says, "and we got accused all the time of having an old-school, '90s-looking website that was not very visually appealing. I definitely think that affected us."

So Goel decided to start fresh. The JangoMail site was redesigned with pale lavender graphics, an interactive "Ask Us" feature and plenty of scannable icons. It is now "very Web 2.0-ish," Goel says.

And it made an almost immediate difference: Within a month of the relaunch, JangoMail's online lead conversion rate tripled to 30 percent.

Site aesthetics--the overall sensory appeal of a company's online home--is just one factor that reliably determines how successful an e-business is at turning visitors into customers. That reliability is hard to come by: E-commerce is still in its infancy, and filled with trial-and-error experiments. Think of the internet as a field laboratory, in a constant state of flux and full of educated guesswork.

All the more important to know the tactics, tools and features that have consistently worked for entrepreneurs.

The initial hook. "Everybody loves a deal," says Adam Glickman, founder of, a safe-sex e-tailer. He and other entrepreneurs who make a living on the Web agree that offering visitors purchase incentives on the home page--such as first-time-buyer discounts or free shipping--is the best way to get quick conversions.

"We do everything we can to get them to buy then and there," says David Gass, founder of Business Credit Services, a Las Vegas firm that helps fledgling companies access financing. What's more, visitors usually are willing to provide valuable bits of basic info for your database to get an incentive.

Site functionality. Businesses that greet online visitors with a cumbersome and counterintuitive website are spinning their wheels. On the other hand, sites that move visitors along at the their own pace, with the ability to deliver customized landing pages and content, and to answer questions promptly, tend to do best with conversions.

"It's about offering lots of channels for follow-up through web pages and e-mail," says Jay Bower, president of the Crossbow Group, a digital marketing services firm in Westport, Conn. User interfaces and dynamic content pegged to specific customer personas is a powerful lead-conversion tool, he adds.

Be sure to post toll-free phone numbers and e-mail addresses on every page, as well as fields for visitors to submit questions, says David Lively, whose Ohio consulting firm, The Lively Merchant, specializes in retail sales. Glickman says retail sites should also allow visitors to calculate shipping costs early in the purchase process so that they aren't ambushed at the conclusion of the transaction.

The ability to send automated responses to visitors who have reached the shopping cart is also critical, Lively says. "You want to be able to send auto responses that correspond to the exact point where a customer exits the shopping cart before purchasing, a communication that says, 'We saw you were considering purchasing so-and-so product. If there are any questions we can answer about that product.'"

Site aesthetics. All that functionality amounts to little unless it comes in a visually appealing package. These days it's tough to get by with a wallflower of a website. Consider investing a little extra for a unique, appealing and clean site that fits your company and brand identity.


How to Hold a Hot Lead

Make the essentials accessible. The company phone and e-mail should be prominent on most every page of a site, says Jay Bower of the Crossbow Group. Sites with a shopping cart should also provide ready access to privacy policies, return policies and shipping info.

Don't demand too much information. "Only ask a customer or prospect for information you really need," advises retail sales consultant David Lively. "Long forms are a source of frustration."

Let them buy first, join later. It's important to give customers an opportunity to open an account, but only after the close, says Dave Nevogt, owner of e-tailer

Remember: Less is more. "It's a Facebook-driven world right now," says Bower. You don't want a site that looks text-heavy.

Function well with any browser. The best sites accommodate all visitors similarly, whether they arrived via Safari, Explorer or Firefox.

Be original. Don't use a common template. Dare to differentiate with a site that looks and feels like no one else's, says David Gass, who heads Business Credit Services.

Keep the site fresh. Regularly update your content, graphics and so on, and don't be shy about trying new stuff on your site (a blog or video, for example).


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