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Conversion Rate Optimization: Scent Trail or Primrose Path

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the practice of creating a pleasing user experience for a website, email, or landing page visitor with the goal of increasing the percentage of visitors that convert into customers. (And we all want more customers, right?)

The key is success comes in using good CRO techniques that lead the visitor down a “scent trail” and not a “primrose path.”

The Scent Trail and Good Web Design

Think about how and why you use the Web. Chances are it’s when you’re looking for something specific such as a product, service, information or advice. And when looking for that particular something, which sites annoy you and which do you most appreciate?

Do you enjoy sites with pop-up windows, “click here to enter” pages, blinking banner ads or flash animations that have dozens of transitions before you ever see the first bit of content? Or, do you engage with sites that load quickly, are well designed, and makes the path to information you’re seeking obvious and accessible?

Visitors on the web are task-oriented. They aren’t “surfers” so much as they are on a mission. They’re following an information “scent trail.” If your site quickly and easily facilitates that search, providing answers to questions and the information people seek, there is a likelihood they will return. If not, access to millions of other sites is just a mouse click away.

Bizzuka CEO John Munsell provides this advice:

“Engagement involves creating a design that visually makes an impression consistent with the messages that brought them there; one that directs them efficiently to where they want to go and creates a navigation process that is logical and helps people accomplish their task quickly.

“The design must make a good first impression and get a message across that says, ‘We’re professional (visually appealing), we’ve got the solution to your problems (consistent marketing messages), we’re eager to help you (obvious access to search, contact and FAQs), and here’s where you’ll find what you need (intuitive navigation).’”

John’s instruction is consistent with a principle taught by CRO expert Bryan Eisenberg. In an article dating all the way back to December 2004, he cites a Xerox Palo Alto Research study that indicated humans track information in a manner similar to the way animals follow a scent.

“People… engage in what [Dr. Ed Chi] calls ‘hub-and-spoke’ surfing: They begin at the center, and they follow a trail based on its information scent…. If the scent is sufficiently strong, the surfer will continue to go on that trail. But if the trail is weak, they go back to the hub. People repeat this process until they’re satisfied.”

Email Marketing: Cox Message Leads Down Primrose Path

When using email marketing, the subject line and body copy should share similarities. If the message includes a link that sends readers to a landing page, the information contained there should be consistent with the email and lead them further down the path.

The subject line gets your attention, the email generates interest, and the landing page provides more information and a call to action. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

The problem is that, sometimes, we lead people down a primrose path that ends in frustration rather than to the information they were looking for.

Such was the case with an email I received from Cox Communications some time ago. The subject line said, “Enter to win a trip to Scotland from Cox!”

I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland and if I could do it on Cox’s dime, that’s fine with me.

To my surprise, the email itself contained nothing about the trip but focused instead on Cox OnDemand movies. When I clicked the link associated with the message, I was taken to a landing page that also said nothing about the trip.

Instead of a Scotland getaway, Cox led me down a primrose path that left me feeling somewhat aggravated and unfulfilled. Cox had piqued my interest with an offer to enter the contest in the hopes of winning a trip, but delivered a message that only pitched its services. It added insult to injury by following suit on the landing page.

I don’t mean to bash Cox undeservedly. I’m only citing this incident as an example of a poor marketing practice that I’ve seen repeated time and again, most often in the case of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads that appear on Google and other search engines based on keyword searches.

Certainly you’ve experienced this. Click the link associated with the ad and you expect to be taken to a page that provides more relevant information, and that contains the keywords used in the search. Instead, you end up on the home page of the advertiser’s website, not to a landing page associated with the content of the ad itself.

What Cox did with its email subject line was start me on a scent trail, then immediately threw me off in the body of the email. Being the hound dog that I am, I continued to try and find the trail by visiting the landing page. When that proved futile, I went back to the email message (the hub) thinking there must have been something I overlooked. I hadn’t.

The moral of this story is, use good conversion rate optimization methods (such as the scent trail metaphor) to help people find the information they’re looking for instead of leading them down a primrose path.

Who knows, had Cox gotten their message right, I might be enjoying the Scottish Highlands now.

Contact us today to learn how conversion rate optimization can improve your website’s performance.

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