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Persuading more visitors to buy through your website

If your shopping carts are empty, or people aren't even mustering their mice to come to your site, don't throw in the towel. Even if your online sales have been strong, maybe you could be doing better still and increase those conversation rates further. Check out these tips for boosting online sales.

Use email to announce price cuts and special offers

Don't worry so much about new customers; stick with the ones who have indicated they want to hear from you. Send this "A" list of customers an offer or two tied to the season, the weather, or whatever event is appropriate to try and increase your sales.

"Special offers work well," says marketing consultant Marcia Yudkin "and the beauty of email is that you can think of something and send it out that very day." Accountants should be marketing at the end of the tax year. Sports companies can market best at the start of the season, or during big games. Then of course, there's seasonal sales: barbecues in summer, boots in winter.

"Be aggressive with your email marketing," adds consultant Elaine Rubin, chairwoman of the retailing association Shop.org. "Drop prices as Christmas Day approaches, with specials and opportunities." Equally, beware of increasing email "clutter" this time of year, cautions Simon Ng, strategic planner for online ad agency Lot21, "make sure it is a compelling offer."; not just because you'll be filling readers' inboxes, but also because you'll be crying out for attention in a very competitive space. The secret of all forms of marketing is relevance- so make the subject of your email promotion absolutely clear or it will end up in the virtual bin.

Turn your banner ads into "a Call to Action" to boost conversion rates

This is not brand building. If you use banner ads, you need banners that will create sales. They'll need to entice people to click through and buy. Showcase your best products with these ads, offer bargain prices, and make it easy for shoppers to go straight through to a "buy" button, to increase conversion rates. Be clear too - banner ads that are too clever or creative won't work. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) sets standards for banner advertising; and for creative advice this article speaks volumes

"Do a few different banner ads and track them as closely as possible", says Jim Meskaukas, chief of Internet strategy at Mediasmith. "It doesn't matter how many clickthroughs you have for a particular ad if people aren't buying", he stresses. After a few days, junk those banners that aren't leading to sales or increased conversion rates, and concentrate solely on those that are - or try a new approach with your banners. "It needs to be a call to action," Rubin says. The great thing about internet marketing is that you can switch ads quickly. You can't change creatives in the middle of a print or TV campaign without great expense. Online, though, you can even run simultaneous campaigns until you know which wordings or designs deliver you the most income.

By the way, one word on pop-up ads (or as some agencies call them, "interstitials"). Whatever you may have heard, don't use them. They irritate customers and ruin your brand. The only acceptable use for a pop-up is to provide help or assistance, not to sell.

Upsell to buyers

Any internet user who has clicked an ad, found your site, browsed your shopping area and decided to make a purchase is now your new best friend. They've already made quite a commitment, so they are ideal for some targeted upselling.

This is often best done in your checkout section - for shoppers who have already committed to a purchase. It needs to be done sensitively, in other words, relative to the purchase that has been made. If, for example, the buyer has bought a printer, you might take the opportunity to offer them some print cartridges (ideally at a special once-off rate too). Alternatively give them more reasons to be happy- free gift-wrapping, shipping, or a redemption coupon off their next purchase. Another option, slightly harder to implement, but very effective, is to offer something from a partner website. "This is an up-sell or a cross-selling opportunity," Rubin says, "to someone who already has shown he or she is comfortable putting their credit card online. These are your best customers." This cross selling and upselling at the point of sale can bring increased sales revenues per customer.

Keep your site fresh

Show content that beckons buyers in. Make buying online easy and convenient. This is an interesting balance- you need enough relevant content to get your customers excited, but you don't want to get in the way of the sales process. Frequently rotate promotions and new images on your home page or gift sections, so that repeat visitors don't see the same featured products over and over again. But don't let readers lose track of their desired products, or opportunities to go to the checkout. A customer who is lost on the page is a lost sale. There's more on site freshness here.

Bring in extra staff as necessary

Here's something that may not generate additional sales or increase conversion rates right now but could save your reputation for the future.

Make sure you have enough workers to handle the phones, respond to email queries, and ensure that deliveries get made on time. Bring in family or friends, or help from temporary agencies, even if only for a couple of days, Rubin says. "You could have your workers doing double shifts, if necessary. You need to make sure that customers have a positive shopping experience."

But if you can't make a delivery on time, be honest and forthright with the customer. Let the customer know immediately- call them before they call you. While you might lose a sale in the short term, notes Paul Costello, Lot21's director of strategic planning and research, "you will definitely preserve the credibility of your brand - which is worth far more in the long run."

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