The Conversion Chronicles, resources for improving your online conversion rates

Is Your Web Site Marketing Driving Away Your Customers One By One?


Forward to a friend      
We respect your friends privacy

Do you agree that a referral from an existing customer or industry colleague is among the greatest forms of flattery? Our company has been built on referrals from happy customers.

When people visit our website we greet those visitors to our business with both ears open, offering specific information they had been looking for and asking how best we can assist them further.

It´s not the case for the website of a traditional magazine publisher who appears to have confused visitors to their site with people seeking the yellow pages. At www.Forbes.com they seem to think the people referred to their publication really want to be bo
mbarded with advertising. This article is a result of my experiences visiting their website when I was referred to them and my opinions about what they´re doing wrong.

If Bob had only known...

I received a referral from a trusted source for business news, Bob Allen, editor of a daily email column and web general manager of Crain´s Detroit Business here in Detroit. Crain´s and Bob Allen are trusted advisors I count on to keep me abreast of the business news affecting our customers working in this region and those who trade with Canada. So, when Bob´s column recommended a www.forbes.com link to a profile of one of my neighboring businesses, I right away made the jump to check it out.

It started out with a long wait as 18 offers loaded onto the page. It made me question whether I was being directed to the right site. When the page finally downloaded I found that the first page contained two additional offers in the body of the article text and 3 sponsored hyperlink offers with pop ups. To support all this misguided ad space, the text on the page was quickly read in less time than it took to download. Resiliently I clicked the link to the next page.

Next, my browser hung up and stopped working. Now, unable to restore the previous page with the back button, I opened another browser window and I tried the link Bob had sent me again. Hitting the second page link again, I was greeted with the cause of the crash, a full page ad running flash that could have had an error or wasn´t supported in my browser. The onus should be on Forbes to provide the experience not on me to have the right technology.

I persevered, and clicked the link to skip the rest of the presentation. A registration form page loaded. Requiring me to comply with their user name and password requirements, the form also made me decline to receive additional offers and wade through a number of newsletter choices and three more ads. There were so many different offers and distractions, I don´t know if there was a match with my interests or not. After completing the form, yet another menu required my attention before I was returned to the article.

Finally arriving at page two, I was greeted again with 18 more adverts, but only one magazine offer in the run of the text and just one sponsored link. Improvement? Now, I don´t know what possessed me to keep going, but I clicked on the link to have the article emailed to my longtime fri end, customer and world trader to the Global 100, Sam DeCarlo at FedEx Trade Networks, in Atlanta. This too took two tries. At this forms page, I was presented with 3 offers and upon completion was directed to a confirmation page with 3 more offers. It took a total of six minutes. A competitive goal we set with clients is 30 seconds to one minute. Clicking on the ´back to the article´ button failed to return me to the article.

Instinct told me to copy myself in the email to be sent by Forbes.com, just to be sure Sam would receive the article. I referred Sam because he had worked for the person profiled in the article and I figured he would be interested. So at this point, the value in the information was still higher than the level of frustration with the website.

We find that this is not true for 99.5% of visitors to sites we assess, converting only 1 in 200 referrals.

What does Forbes need to do to save the referrals any business other would covet?

1. Greatly reduce the page loading time focusing the page on the title of the article that the visitor is expecting to see and not the offers from advertisers and other Forbes.com products. Reviewing the same issue of the print magazine, I found only 3 offers within the pages of the article and no run of text ads, and charts and graphic enhancements missing from the online experience. The years of research and reader surveys is no doubt the source of the current mix of ads and images to article space in the print version, why would they think the online reader would accept lesser experience?

2. Forbes needs to test and examine their content delivery with high quality analytics on the backend so they know how people use their site and learn the frustrations people have. They have learned what works in print publishing, now they need to learn what works in web publishing.

3. Registration should be offered and not mandated to unsuspecting readers attempting to finish reading the article. We are largely all adults here. The Forbes process could (and should) include an offer to subscribe to the print edition and the online publication. But it´s perhaps presumptuous at best to expect me to subscribe to read every article. Build a relationship offer your visitor a drink, don´t hit them with a fire hose.

4. Stay on target with the interest of your visitor. Web sites offer the greatest opportunity in history to target advertising offers to visitor interest. I looked at an article on a global trade player and I was offered everything from stock trading accounts, VoIP, to flowers. Relevance to the reader is key and the advertisers on Forbes.com will only thank them for it if they get higher click through rates due to strategic ad placement.

Sadly, the troubles didn´t end here, the email link forwarding the article to Sam failed to work and I was not able to link to the last page of the article.

Summary
We are all pressured to deliver results in business on and offline. Forbes.com is no different. But, the generations of trust and value in the Forbes Publishing brand is not tran slating to the online community. Like the soap sellers in the 50´s who didn´t market to the needs of consumers using automatic washers, traditional businesses have got to focus on leveraging the power and value of the world wide web in distributing their products be that information or automobiles. The 2004 NSSE survey of college students, known as Nessie, confirmed a trend noted elsewhere, only 10% of respondents said that they rely on traditional newspapers or magazines as their main source of news. Do we know the names of the 2005 leaders in publishing?

In my opinion, Timothy Forbes, COO of the magazine needs to send a note of apology to Bob Allen and assure him that he and his subscribers can rely on Forbes.com in the future.

The pace of change and my experience tells me that forbes.com will not be seen among next generation of leaders in publishing without a radical change in their online services. But, they could be, it is a simple and scientific craft of knowing your customers and responding to them properly. How about your company, will you be among those who win over referrals one by one?
More from this months issue | Archived chronicles | More from this author
Mike MohanAuthor: Mike Mohan, President - Aboavista USA

Mike Mohan is a contributing writer to the Conversion Chronicles and president of Aboavista (USA) based in Detroit. Mike has 20 years experience in a wide range of marketing roles and 10 years developing online marketing strategies for some of the world?s fastest growing companies.