timToday we welcome Tim Coulter who owns Conversion Alchemy, a service that will help website owners to optimise their websites for converting visitors. Conversion Alchemy is in a pre-launch phase where Tim and his team are targeting SaaS application vendors and this is an ideal opportunity to understand the marketing techniques Tim is using to build his business.

Hi Tim. Can you tell the readers how long have you been doing business on the internet for?

My background is in software development, although I prefer to think of myself as a software entrepreneur, meaning that I place as much emphasis on the business and commercial aspects of my work as I do on the technical issues.

I have earned my living online since 1998, when I first started freelancing as a developer and consultant. Since then, most of my work has been with smaller tech companies, typically projects involving a fusion of technical and commercial roles.

I’d like to ask you about Conversion Alchemy. It’s a tool that helps website owners ‘convert’ visitors?

Yes, with web traffic growing ever more expensive, smart marketers are beginning to understand that they can achieve better results by improving the way they engage with and monetize their visitors, instead of simply trying to find more of them.

Large and well-established ecommerce businesses have long used scientific techniques to optimize the way they convert visitors into customers (and companies like Amazon are fanatical about it) but it is only in the last few years that this philosophy has started to filter down to smaller online ventures, including SaaS (software as a service) app vendors.

Unfortunately, the optimisation techniques that work well for large sites are not well-suited to low-traffic and pre-traffic web projects. This means that the majority of early-stage ventures simply ignore this crucial aspect of their marketing.

Conversion Alchemy is a turnkey service that helps new and low-traffic SaaS businesses to fast track their way to a high-converting website. It also provides a solid foundation for continued optimisation using more conventional techniques.

Can you explain first of all what is involved in conversion rate optimisation? Why should I be interested in it?

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the benefit of conversion rate optimisation is to consider how you might go about gaining a 10% increase in your website revenues. One solution might be to increase your targeted traffic by 10%. And, whilst this is an effective strategy, it typically comes at extra cost – a cost that recurs month after month.

Now imagine that you could make a few small changes to your website that would enable it to convert 10% more of its visitors into buyers. The effect on revenue is the same as a 10% increase in traffic, but with no extra cost. And those small changes need only be made once, but their effects are permanent.

Conversion rate optimisation takes this simple concept and encapsulates it into a robust methodology that is designed to deliver maximum results. The modest 10% gain that I just mentioned is at the lower end of the expected spectrum, with some projects achieving astonishing improvements in the hundreds or even thousands of %.

The leading conversion optimisers all religiously follow the principles of test-driven optimisation. In other words, they don’t simply guess what might make a site sell more; they use a technique known as split testing, which validates their instincts by testing them against live traffic, constantly iterating to achieve further incremental gains.

Unfortunately, split testing requires lots of traffic. A single test requires at least 1000 unique visitors (sometimes many more) and fully optimizing a site can involve dozens or even hundreds of separate tests. So, while split testing may be the optimiser’s tool of choice, it’s not always possible, especially for pre-traffic and low-traffic sites.

One alternative approach to this challenge is heuristic optimisation. Essentially, this just means replicating the best tactics that have been seen to work on other sites.

However, most conversion professionals are very wary about heuristic optimisation. As they are quick to point out, what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.

One of the keys to getting more out of this strategy is to understand that heuristics must be deployed as part of a planned and balanced campaign, not simply cherry picked from a list of a few good ideas.

Because our target market is early-stage SaaS vendors, we have no choice but to adopt heuristic optimisation. So, instead of running scared of its limitations, we are actively embracing it and building a robust methodology that capitalizes on its strengths.

Any ‘secret’ or underused CRO tips that you can give me?

A common recommendation from expert conversion optimisers is that you should avoid using other peoples tips, as they are not guaranteed to bring you the same spectacular results.

I agree with this view; there is no conversion silver bullet. If you have enough traffic to use split testing, this should be your preference, and you should plan on a long-term campaign that delivers incremental gains over time.

But even if you are struggling with traffic and forced to use heuristic techniques, be sure to approach it holistically, focusing on your visitors’ motivations and avoiding the temptation to randomly experiment with page elements.

Why would I need your product, Conversion Alchemy, to improve my conversions? What extra does it offer me compared to optimising my conversion elements myself?

We’ve spent hundreds of man-hours building the heuristic database that lies behind our 250-point analysis checklist, enabling us to review your conversion process and to immediately pinpoint its choke points.

You could certainly do this yourself, if you’re prepared to invest enough time and effort into the background research, but it probably wouldn’t make much sense, unless you also want to transition to a new career as a conversion optimiser.

Do all websites need to optimise conversion rates? Is it limited to ecommerce sites?

The benefits of conversion optimisation are certainly not limited to ecommerce sites. Any site with a tangible goal (which means pretty much every site) can use these principles and techniques to get more value out of their visitors.

The approach used will vary from site to site, with ecommerce stores focusing on landing the sale, while other sites optimise for lead generation, but the benefits and the underlying principles are the same for all websites.

Can you tell me a little about Conversion Alchemy? What format is it in?

It’s not actually a product – more a “productized” service. Whereas the conventional approach to conversion optimisation tends to be 100% bespoke and open-ended, we have set out to build a turnkey service that delivers specific results in a specific timeframe for a fixed price.

To achieve our goal of fixed pricing and to make the service affordable, even for early-stage web projects, we use some automation. This helps to improve efficiency and, above all, to ensure consistency across client projects. But, behind the scenes, there are still real human beings at work, because conversion analysis is a complex undertaking that requires a rich mix of skills and experience.

In fact, our analysis process employs four separate specialists, who work independently, using a custom software application, to collect and record facts and observations about a landing page or conversion funnel, against a 250-point heuristic checklist. There are also some fully-automated operations (such as website performance profiling) that enable us to efficiently collect relevant factual data about the target website.

When all four specialists have completed their analysis, and the automated sequences have run, the application contains in-depth insight into the conversion readiness of the website, including specific knowledge of the choke points that are likely to harm conversion. This data is then used to automatically generate a report that identifies the issues and presents comprehensive guidance for fixing them.

In the report, each recommendation is scored according to confidence (how sure we are that it will produce a lift), potential (how much lift it might produce) and effort (how much time or cost is required to implement it). These scores are used to sequence the recommendations according to several different priority schemes, offering ready-made optimization plans for a variety of different client profiles (risk limitation vs. gain maximization vs. budget limitation). For clients fortunate enough to have an abundance of traffic, there is even a plan intended as the basis of a test-based optimization.

Why did you decide to launch this product?

In the past, I’ve worked with several smaller B2B SaaS businesses that were stuck in a conversion Catch-22. They didn’t have enough traffic to use test-based optimisation and, because their sites weren’t conversion optimized, it didn’t make sense to scale their traffic campaigns.

In such situations, the only realistic solution is to adopt a heuristic approach.

The goal of Conversion Alchemy is to offer a reliable heuristic optimisation methodology that achieves the best possible results. We see this as a valuable proposition for the numerous early-stage SaaS ventures that need to optimize their marketing but are also stuck in the conversion Catch-22.

What kind of research and preparation did you do to establish there is a market for Conversion Alchemy.

Actually, we’re still in the market validation phase. We started by creating a single-page lead capture website and driving some targeted traffic to it, mostly from social media.

Judging from the high opt-rate that this page is currently achieving, we know that there’s a lot of interest in what we’re building, but we still have work to do to shape our service and our offer to exactly match the needs of our target market.

Does the Conversion Alchemy website convert well?

At this time the site has just one page – a lead capture page that we use to recruit early adopters as part of our pre-launch validation and feedback initiative. The traffic to this page is still very low, mostly coming from Twitter, and it converts at 32%, which we’re very happy with.

What techniques are you using to drive traffic from Twitter? Do you use it as a push platform for your message or are you using it to instigate conversations?

Our Twitter prospecting technique came straight out of the “growth hacker” manual. We initially set up our Twitter profile to tempt viewers to click through to our pre-launch page and then started recruiting targeted prospects by following the followers our some of the key influencers in our niche – around 50 to 100 a day, chosen for their apparent alignment with our target market.

Since these prospects had already demonstrated a general interest in our field, we assumed that a reasonably high percentage of them would also have an interest in what we are doing. This assumption has been borne out by the fact that around 12% of them follow us back and, of those, around half click through to the opt-in landing page. We attempt to engage with everyone who follows us and to maintain conversations that we hope will eventually yield the first real users of our service.

Of course, this is not a scaleable traffic-building strategy, but it’s an ideal way of gauging initial interest in what we’re doing and testing our ideas.

Is social media important?

Social media, particularly Twitter, is currently our primary source of traffic. Although the numbers are still very small, the quality of visitors is very high. This approach is opening some interesting conversations that are providing immensely valuable insight into the needs of our market and their receptiveness to the product we’re developing.

It’s not clear whether social media will remain as important to us as our traffic needs scale up but, right now, it’s vital.

Have you used any of the entrepreneur/start-up discussion forums or LinkedIn to promote Conversion Alchemy?

Both of these channels are on our radar but our focus is currently on validation and the refinement of our business model, not promotion, so we don’t see value in opening new channels at this stage.

However, given that our approach to conversion optimization is new, we see a lot of future potential in evangelising it through channels like this, where we can interact directly with the people who face the problems that we aim to solve.

Do you think organic search will be important? Will you optimise your site for organic traffic?

Almost every web business relies, at least partially, on organic search, and ours should not be any different. However, given the volatility of SEO, we also understand the importance of a balanced traffic strategy.

In any case, at this stage, our simple pre-launch site doesn’t have enough content to rank well for any of the topics that might interest our audience. We’ll be addressing that over the coming months, as we publish a range of educational and pre-sales content pieces, ahead of our public launch. At that stage, we’ll certainly be looking again at SEO, although it will probably be primarily from a perspective of content quality, rather than hoping to exploit any of the SEO tactics that worked in the past.

Do you do any PPC? Which advertising platforms do you use?

We have experimented a little with Adwords and had disappointing results. It’s a mature platform with a dominant market position, so it stands to reason that competition in every niche is very strong. After a few attempts to make headway in the “conversion optimisation” niche, we gave up, realising that the competition has a bigger budget.

In the future, we may return to experiment further with Adwords or other PPC media, but it’s not currently on our priority list.

Do you do any lead nurturing, ie capturing contact details and marketing to prospects if they don’t become a customer immediately?

Yes, lead nurturing is essential for any product or service that doesn’t have instant sales appeal. In other words, in any web sales scenario where a visitor might need to reflect, compare or simply get to know your company better, there’s about a 95% chance that she will leave your site before buying. She may have the best intentions of returning later, but probably won’t actually do so. Capturing contact details is the single most effective way of building rapport with your prospects over time and leading them gently back to your site to make a purchase.

The current pre-launch landing page for Conversion Alchemy exists only for lead generation. Our goal at this stage is to build an audience of early adopters with whom we can share ideas and gain feedback on our concept, prior to a formal launch.

Do you use any lead nurturing/lead scoring software to help identify ‘hot’ leads?

Right now, the rate of lead generation is too low to warrant any form of automation. Instead we prefer to treat every lead as a person and to review them individually to identify their potential.

Again, this early-stage strategy suits our current needs, which revolve primarily around validation of the concept and gaining a better understanding of our audience. When we get as far as scaling the business, lead volume and segmentation will become more important, so we’ll probably have to look again at a more sophisticated approach at that time.

Is there anything you would do differently when launching another product?

Conversion Alchemy hasn’t launched yet and I am sure that we’ll make many mistakes before we get that far. Ask me this question again in three months and I may have an insightful answer for you. Right now, it’s too early to know.

What are your future plans, either in internet marketing or otherwise?

Conversion Alchemy is currently an all-consuming work-in-progress, with plenty still to do before it launches commercially. Right now, I am focused on that one goal, to the exclusion of everything else, even my personal life. But I can see opportunities, in the future, for other products that address the same market; maybe even a SaaS application that simplifies the management of conversion optimisation campaigns. And, if things really work out, I might get to spend some time with my family as well.

Conversion Alchemy is an all-new approach to conversion rate optimisation, specifically designed for early-stage SaaS applications that don’t yet have enough traffic for split testing. Using a database of more than 250 conversion heuristics, we will quickly pinpoint the choke points on your site, showing you what’s wrong and how to put things right. Find out more at http://www.conversionalchemy.com.

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