In the world of ecommerce one of the key processes for getting conversion rate above the 2.5% average is improving your First Time Visitor (FTV) conversion rate. First time visitors are easily your most costly segment, likely making up between 60-80% of over all visitors, and likely having a lower than average conversion rate. First time visitors are unfamiliar with your site, frequently with ecommerce in general, and always need assurance that they can trust you. Assuming that your site isn't a usability mess (though many ecommerce sites are), increasing the conversion rate of first time viewers is primarily going to be an issue of alleviating negative emotions tied to perceptions of dependability by building encouraging experiences using authority and familiarity.
To begin, paint yourself a picture of who your FTVs are. Using your analytics software (you DO have analytics software, right? If not you may want to contact us) find out the following:
- What is your ratio of first time visitors to returning visitors? What is the FTV conversion rate?
- Where are your customers based in the real world?
- What are the primary entry pages for First Time Visitors? Where are they coming from? How many of your FTV's typed your URL in directly? What themes are there that appear to be driving FTV traffic?
- What is the average time on site for a FTV? How does this compare to site average? What is the average size purchase/cart of a FTV?
- Where are they going? What is their clickthrough path, and where is their exit point?
Once you have this data you can begin planning your strategy by looking at the problems customers face when coming to your site.
Edging First Time Viewers into the comfort zone:
If you have a giant brand name behind you, say OfficeDepot.com (which had a whopping 20% conversion rate in march according to InternetReCommerceer.com ), then you likely don't have to worry about people trusting your company itself. However, for smaller ecommerce sites who may not have real world recognition, the first step to building credibility is through making your user base aware of your own connections to authority (especially if your users are coming from non-authority sources such as Google). This can be done in part by presenting yourself as an authority in the field of what you're selling (through Q&A pages, FAQs, and glowing reviews of your staff), but also by relying on others authority by featuring them on your site. A classic example is the now ubiquitous "Hackersafe" (now MacAfee Secure) and "trust guard" logos that can have a huge effect on new customer acquisition. You can also play up your connections and partnerships with large companies: make it well known that your ship with major shipping companies, refer to yourself as a distributor of a well known product, et cetera. This kind of recognition instills a notion of familiarity that is invaluable to converting first time viewers into first time buyers.
For the less internet savvy there are other, often severely underutilized, ways to increase comfort level, and thus conversion. Many first time shoppers feel uncomfortable with the notion of dealing with a virtual entity. To help alleviate this you can connect your site to the real world by simply talking about your real world location. For instance, (almost) every site has an "about" page. This is usually treated as an afterthought, but can be a conversion powerhouse when properly used: it connects the company to the real world by it engaging the viewer in the history, size, and uniqueness of your company and it allows you to make a value proposition to an already active and engaged audience (because, hey, they chose to read this). Further, always connect your company to the real world by giving the locations and contact information (these should be there anyway) of your head quarters and shipping locations—and ALWAYS keep your phone number readily available—and if possible a picture of your head offices or warehouse (unless your company is in a grimy horrible looking building in a bad part of town, I suppose). This alone can have a huge impact.
Once you've worked on alleviating concerns with your site you can start managing the customer experience. You want to assure your viewers of the convenience of buying online in general, and how it can be potentially cheaper, compared to offline options.
Assure them of your transaction security (especially if you can play up a trust guard or hackersafe logo in connection) and privacy policies. Assure them that there are going to be no hidden fees or processing costs. Ask yourself what you can say to assure some one looking to purchase that they can do so confidently with you. Then ask yourself: what messages and calls to action are going to move more First Time Visitors into your engagement cycle?
You should look at what sites your customers are coming from, and make alliances with them. I know several ecommerce sites who have paid to join forums in order to interact with their customer base, even offering discounts and deals to members. This kind of direct engagement is invaluable to FTV and repeat returning viewer conversion.
Continue building trust and familiarity by building engaging user experiences It should be remembered that, like in search, relevance here is key. Using the data gathered from your analytics, consider creating a "First Time Visitor?" page within your site. This can serve both as the starting page for a funneling process, where you can give new users options based on their demographics, as well as a way to test out new messages on first time visitors. Make pages that First Time Visitors visit frequently prominent, while figuring out why your exit pages are causing visitors to leave. You may also want to make bundle options or customize sales to match preferences
Similarly you may want to provide information pages for foreign customers. If you are in the US a page about your policies when shipping to Canada can be a fantastic tool for converting Canadian viewers.
Over all remember that increasing your FTV conversion rate is largely about alleviating insecurities and negative emotions tied to ecommerce and much of this can be done building encouraging experiences using authority and familiarity. Remember that in the end this is about engaging customers, not directing them, and that the most important thing you can do is pay attention to what your analytics are telling you.