Disclaimer: you know your market and your customers better than I do. Some of these will likely be different for people who are not pitching products to teachers.

Over the past month I’ve been doing a lot of tweaking of various things on my website, and generally after leaving a tweak up for two to five weekdays (my weekend traffic is highly skewed by the work habits of my customers) I evaluate whether it was effective or not. Its not A/B testing but its, shall we say, empirically driven iterative improvements. (As an aside: I’m sure my Japanese economics professor would say that I’ve just started doing things The Japanese Way (TM), as iterative improvement is routinely credited for everything from the quality of Japanese cars to… the quality of Japanese cars.) Anyhow, there are surely other, better ways to increase your conversions (such as optimizing your landing pages), but you can accomplish all of the following while brewing a pot of coffee.

1) Make your “download now” link an image. This delivered roughly a 100% boost in my conversion rate. Yeah, you read that right. I kept things very simple: it looks like a button (so its obvious you can click it), has unambiguous text (“Download (newline) Free Trial”), and I made it blue, which is figure is a nice inviting color which stands out on a site that tends to orange/yellow/white.

2) Within your main content area, put your goal for that page as the first textual link. This was roughly a 20% increase to the conversion rate. I don’t check what percentage of people get to my download page from the right-hand button versus from clicking on an exhortation in the text (although, come to think of it, I really should and could do that by just appending ?clickedOn=wherever to the link and then browsing Analytics’ “Dynamic Content” data), but systematic use of this convention has helped me alot. Here is my theory: some people will read your entire page, but a lot are just sort of browsing, and they’ll randomly click on whatever looks interesting — and you might as well have that be your goal (purchase or download, as appropriate).

3) There should be a download/purchase link on EVERY page. Want some fun stats? 71% of my visitors who download go straight for the cheese: they arrive at either my home page or an optimized landing page for a particular ad, and their next action is the free trial. What do the other 29% do? They dig around like veritable gophers. I have a non-trivial number of users who hit *every* accessible page in the site before downloading, including a rather suprising number who go through every link in the nav bar in order. And at some point the gophers decide they saw something they liked and convert. This has happened on every page I have written, from my free teacher resources to my about me blurb to… deciding to download after reading my privacy policy.

4) Your main page should have a screen shot above the fold. My program is not much to look at, but the printed output is pretty nice if I do say so myself (not exactly fine art, but it looks well done for elementary school bingo cards). I’ve tested having no screenshots/scans on the front page, having a screenshot only, having a screenshot and scan, having a scan only, etc. And I’ve tested where to put the screen shot. The conclusion: having a screenshot matters, a lot. Suprisingly (or perhaps not, since many, many visitors will leave in literally 10s or less if they don’t see something they like), it really matters that it is above the fold. To the tune of 25%. I put it south of my sales pitch on the main page for 3 days and changed nothing about the site in that time, and conversions nosedived. (Incidentally, I put the scan at the bottom of the page, after discovering having it was better than not having it but that if I put it above the spiel few people would scroll down to read it.)

5) If you use thumbnails, pop-up the full-size version in a new-window. This is probably a function of having non-technical customers, but you would be absolutely shocked at the percentage of users who in 2006 have not heard of the “back” button. I did some analysis on what people did right before they left: the largest group arrived at the site and left immediately. The second largest group clicked on a thumbnail and couldn’t find their way out of it.

Anyhow, you can quickly implement these, wait 48 hours, and revert them just as quickly if they didn’t work. You’ll notice that this data-driven improvement can’t happen without, well, data. Do you have analytics software installed yet? If not, what are you waiting for? (The only acceptable answer to that question: “My Google Analytics invite.”)