Jason Dickson, head of partner optimization and analytics at Expedia Affiliate Network, discusses how digital marketers can convert web visits into online transactions.
Historically, marketers within the online travel industry have focused the majority of their budgets on customer acquisition with very little spent on actually converting that traffic. But more and more digital marketers are realizing that it’s not enough to simply get visitors to sites if these visitors end up abandoning their efforts and purchasing on another site. In fact, it’s generally far cheaper to gain incremental transactions on your site as a result of optimization efforts then it is via customer acquisition efforts. As Head of Site Optimization for the Expedia Affiliate Network (EAN) I am fortunate to be able to work with a wide range of travel websites on their conversion optimization efforts. Below are some of the most common best practices for improving conversion that I share with partners.
1. Speed and stability
This may seem obvious, but speed and stability is the foundation upon which all additional conversion optimization is based. If your pages load slowly or experience significant downtime it does not matter how many innovative features you add to your site; conversion will still suffer. Recent studies have demonstrated that a one second delay in webpage response can result in a 7% reduction in conversion. It is therefore important that you first ensure that your pages load as quickly as possible and do not experience significant downtime. Finally, spend time investigating any system errors occurring on the site that may impact customers (5XX and 4XX status codes, etc.).
2. Trust and credibility
Trust and credibility are two of the biggest factors influencing whether customers make a purchase on your website. Although customers tend to research products in a logical manner, they often end up making the actual purchase decision based upon emotion. It is therefore imperative that you reduce any anxiety that customers may feel about booking on your site. First and foremost is your site’s overall appearance, including how professional it looks, whether the content is organized logically, and if it appears cluttered or uses white space appropriately,. Also, clearly displaying any guarantees or assurances that your company offers (e.g. free cancellation, low price guarantees, etc.), especially near the calls-to-action, can go a long way to alleviate any anxiety customers may have about booking on your site. Finally, ensure that other trust symbols like security certificate logos and privacy policies are clearly visible, especially near forms where customers are required to enter sensitive information.
3. Clear navigation
Your site should provide a clear trail for customers to follow using persuasive and obvious calls to action. It is important that you understand what you want the customer to do on each page of the site (e.g. select a product, sign up for a newsletter, complete a purchase, etc.) and ensure that this factor is given the most prominence on the page. Make sure each of your pages has a clear call to action such as a button with action-oriented text (e.g. “Book Now”). Make the trail as easy and intuitive as possible. Don’t force customers to spend time trying to figure out where to go next or what they should be doing on a particular page. Otherwise, your customers will probably decide it’s easier to just leave and try their luck on a different site.
4. Transparent pricing
Price is one of the main factors influencing a customer’s decision to buy, but it can also be one of the greatest sources of anxiety. Customers want to feel confident that they are receiving the best possible price for the product and are not getting ripped off. Your website can help reduce this anxiety by ensuring that all price displays are clear and do not cause confusion. This can be accomplished by ensuring that the prices remain consistent from page to page and are completely transparent. Clearly state what is included in the price is it per person? Does it include taxes? - and, provide an itemized breakout to show how the final price is calculated. Finally, as mentioned above, displaying guarantees and policies such as free cancellation or a low price guarantee can help alleviate customers’ worries about getting the best possible deal.
5. Streamlined checkout path
The checkout path is a perfect place to begin optimizing for conversion. Much of the unqualified traffic has left by this point and the remaining customers have expressed interest in your product. It’s important that you keep them engaged and don’t scare them off. First, ensure that your checkout path is as short and streamlined as possible. Any unnecessary steps or fields that are not absolutely critical to complete the booking should be removed. Also, remove any potential distractions from the page including links in the header that take customers away from the purchase path. Finally, help customers through the purchase form by providing them with helpful field descriptions and easy to understand error messages that help customers quickly recover from any errors that they may commit.
Of course, these are just the first steps when optimizing for conversion. One thing that we’ve found at EAN is that conversion optimization is never finished. It’s a continual process of testing and refining. If you are just starting out I encourage you to begin with the above suggestions but then get creative and test new ideas to see what works best for your own site. It’s exciting to see your ideas yielding actual results in the form of incremental transactions or lifts in your conversion rate. So, have fun!
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