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E-Business Secrets

How to double your conversion-to-sales rate
More information is better than less

By  Brian Livingston March 28, 2003  

Every Web site that sells things -- and every site that earns a commission from sites that sell things -- is trying to convert lookers into buyers. No matter how many eyeballs are viewing your site, you can't pay the bills unless a healthy percentage of those people wind up handing over their credit card number for a purchase.


That's why I perked up my ears when I found that Epinions.com had recently claimed the top spot in converting workplace surfers to customers. According to Nielsen//NetRatings' home and work figures for the fourth quarter of 2002, Epinions beat out such giants as Yahoo, MSN, and Google. Because Nielsen can't follow a user all the way to a sale, the following figures represent an index of visitors who progressed to a secure transaction (an https page) and are not sales percentages:

 Home - Work - Referring Site

 82.4 - 91.7 - Epinions

 80.5 - 89.8 - BizRate Shopping

 87.0 - 86.8 - PriceGrabber

 79.8 - 85.6 - DealTime

 81.9 - 85.3 - CNET

 70.8 - 84.0 - Yahoo Shopping

 72.1 - 79.8 - MSN Shopping

 64.7 - 78.9 - Google

 61.5 - 76.3 - Overture

These rankings, of course, are not the same as actual profits or ROI. But I thought they were interesting enough to see whether Epinions executives would share with me the secrets of their high conversion statistics.

It turned out they were eager to talk, particularly since Epinions reached an agreement just two weeks ago to be acquired by DealTime, one of the largest price-comparison sites. (Both sites will continue to exist under their original names.) I spoke with NiravTolia, CEO of Epinions and who is becoming COO of DealTime, and Sarah Leary, Epinions' vice president of marketing.

The key to high conversion rates, Leary says, is to give visitors access to detailed and credible reviews of products. To test this approach, Epinions constantly experiments with the material that's shown at its site.

In one test, the company measured the rate at which people who clicked merchant links at Epinions wound up buying something at the merchants' sites. At random, some visitors to Epinions were shown pages that contained no reviews or links to reviews, while others were shown Epinions' normal design, which includes both. The results were dramatic:

1. People who clicked merchant links on pages with no reviews or review links bought something at merchant sites at a rate we'll call 1.0.

2. People who saw a normal Epinions page with links to reviews bought something at merchant sites 67 percent more often, or a rate of 1.67.

3. Even better, those people who first viewed a review at Epinions before jumping to a merchant site went on to buy items at a rate that was double the no-review pages, or 2.0.

"The more information you offer on a site before the user clicks through to an e-tailer," explains Tolia, "the more qualified the user is and the higher the conversion rate is."

There is a lot of "conventional wisdom" saying that Web surfers are short of time and so the fewer words on a page the better. But Epinions proves that sometimes, more is more. This kind of statistic goes straight to your bottom line and would be well worth testing on your own pages.

For more details, see: http://www.epinions.com http://bri.li/4e85

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1. Cyberjournalist.net names the best online Iraq coverage: http://www.cyberjournalist.net http://bri.li/44d

2. War may popularize toughened laptops for everyday use: http://slate.msn.com http://bri.li/835

3. E-mail flow reveals the informal leaders of your business: http://www.nature.com http://bri.li/c1d

4. Only 37 percent of e-tailers respond to customer queries: http://www.emarketer.com http://bri.li/1005

5. IETF takes on spam with possible changes to SMTP protocol: http://news.bbc.co.uk http://bri.li/13ed

6. Machine that translates human speech is almost ready: http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/17d5

7. Avoid the top seven usability blunders sites often make: http://www.sitepoint.com http://bri.li/1bbd

8. Which development languages will achieve Web dominance? http://www.builder.com http://bri.li/1fa5

9. Visual Studio. Net claims rapid coding advantage over J2EE: http://www.cw360.com http://bri.li/238d

10. On the lighter side: BBC regrets unauthorized Bush video: http://www.thesmokinggun.com http://bri.li/2775

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Just when we need some cheering up, along comes Business 2.0 Magazine with its annual "101 Dumbest Moments in Business" -- and it's all posted on the Web for hilarious reading.

The items you've heard of are far outweighed by the zingers you definitely missed. From the "disposable cell phone" that was found to use standard Nokia parts (Item No. 3) to the thousands of misdirected customer service complaints that resulted when Gateway Computer printed the wrong 800 number in correspondence (Item No. 76), this story is a laugh a minute. The whole list starts at: http://www.business2.com http://bri.li/c3b5

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One of last week's links went down after E-Business Secrets was sent out. Here's a new link that works:

As war begins, American readers turn to foreign news sites: http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/2b5d

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Livingston is publisher of http://www.BriansBuzz.com. Research director is Vickie Stevens. Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534939

Windows 2000 Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534130

You'll receive a gift certificate good for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you're the first to send Brian a Top Story or Wacky Web Week he prints. Send tips to mailto:Brian@BriansBuzz.com with "tip" in the subject line.

Brian Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send tips to him at brian@briansbuzz.com.

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