Increasing Website Sales: Rob Walling’s 2010 Business of Software Presentation

This post is part of a series of posts from the 2010 Business of Software conference (BoS2010). For a summary of the conference, and an index to the other presentations, click here.

Rob’s 2010 Business of Software presentation: “The Primary Goal of Your Website” – What’s the primary goal of your website? Not to sell software. With most visitors returning multiple times before making a purchase, your primary goal should be to draw visitors back to your site.

Rob Walling at the 2010 Business of Software conference (BoS2010)
Image credit: Betsy Weber

Rob Walling’s 2010 Business of Software presentation was another BoS2010 talk I really enjoyed, and got a lot of value out of. Rob discussed how we can use permission based email marketing to increase sales and profits. His presentation was eye opening for me, because I always thought of email marketing as ineffective, and a nuisance to the receiving party.

I spoke to Rob very briefly, and he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I even got to see his adorable baby boy, and I’ll tell you what, he is definitely one of the cutest babies I’ve ever seen!

Effectively Using Your Website

Most of us think that the number one goal of our website is to sell our products. And in a way it is. However, to best achieve that you must motivate a visitor to return to your website.

Rob has researched this topic, and determined that returning visitors are much more likely to purchase your product than first time visitors (and he shared some statistics to back it up). In essence, the ineffective marketer asks you to buy too soon.

The main reasons why people don’t buy from your website are:

  • There’s not enough information on your website to make the decision.
  • They don’t trust you.
  • They don’t have the money.
  • They don’t have a need for your product.
  • They are never going to buy your product.

Rob examines each of these reasons, and suggests how to overcome all of these issues (except for the last one, because there’s nothing you can do about that).

A note on that first bullet item about insufficient information on your website: When Rob mentioned this, the first thing that came to mind was Bob Walsh’s StartupToDo website. I’ve heard good things about StartupToDo, and have thought about joining on several occasions. However, the fact that there’s no evidence on the website of the quality of the service has kept me from joining – even with the free 30 day trial. I’d just like to see a sample Guide, or two, before giving away my information. So I can totally relate to that first bullet item. Rob’s own Micropreneur Academy, which is similar to StartupToDo, is guilty of this.

Statistics on Returning Website Visitors

Rob shared with us statistics from four websites showing the importance of repeat visitors. These are all his websites, except for CrazyEgg.

  • DotNetInvoice: Using three years worth of data, Rob determined that returning visitors accounted for 450% more sales than first time visitors. The per visit value earned from first time visitors was $0.55, and $2.41 for returning visitors – a 440% increase.
  • JustBeachTowels: Looking at a one year period shows that returning visitors accounted for 770% more sales than first time visitors. The per visit value earned from first time visitors was $0.17, and $1.53 for returning visitors. That’s a 900% increase!
  • Another WordPress Classifieds Plugin: Here Rob saw a 583% increase from returning visitor sales over first time visitor sales. He looked at 8 days worth of data.
  • CrazyEgg: A 60 day period showed returning visitors accounted for 1585% more sales than new visitors.

To clarify the term returning visitor, Rob defines a returning visitor as someone who has returned to the website more than two times. However, someone can visit the website from more than one computer. So with that in mind, the actual percentages of sales to returning visitors are actually higher than the statistics indicate.

So now that you’re convinced on the value of returning visitors, the question is, how do you get visitors to return to your website?

Getting Returning Visitors to Your Website

Email is your answer. Email has the highest click through rates, and is one of the most effective ways to get people to return to your website. Email is a form of personalized broadcasting – the ability to communicate with a large number of people, while making it seem like an individual/personal communication. And as a bonus, email is an excellent way to A/B test pricing and special offers.

Blogging is much harder to pull off than email – it is also a lot more time consuming. Blogging is a good way to get someone to initially visit your website. But, after that initial visit, it’s much harder to motivate someone to return to your website with blogging. Social media can be effective, however, it’s very time intensive as well.

By following the simple 3 step process outlined below, you will increase the number of returning visitors to your website. This process takes advantage of the benefits of email, and should increase your revenue by 10%. Best of all, it will only take about 2 days to implement.

Step 1: Create a killer landing page. Don’t skimp on design. Ensure your landing pages are truly optimized to get your visitors to give you their email address (and permission to contact them). For example, provide a free downloadable user’s manual to your product, or a free demo. Also, don’t make your form too long, or you’ll turn away potential customers. In general, the more value your freebie is perceived to have, the more information your visitor will be willing to give up. Take a look at the below landing pages for inspiration.

Good landing page example - credit card processing

Good landing page example - DotNetInvoice

Good landing page example - Stripe-A-Zone

Step 2: Give something away for free. For example, consider putting together an eBook on a topic of interest to your target market, and give it away in exchange for an email address. It really helps to be unique here. The more unique (and valuable) the free item, the more email addresses you’ll get in return. Smart Bear Software gives away a free book (yup, book, as in an actual physical book) on peer code review. The makers of freckle time tracking give away an eBook on credit card processing.

Smart Bear Software Free Book Offer

Free eBook example from freckle time tracking

Step 3: Setup the follow-up. Follow up with your prospective customers via email. Rob recommends using MailChimp, which offers free service for lists with up to 1,000 subscribers.

Now, let’s go back to the reasons why people don’t buy from your website, and how you can counter each of these concerns. These strategies will become the foundation of your follow-up emails to prospective customers.

  • Problem: There’s not enough information on your website to make the decision.
    • Solution: Provide information.
  • Problem: They don’t trust you.
    • Solution: Build trust.
  • Problem: They don’t have the money.
    • Solution: Provide discounts and wait.
  • Problem: They don’t have a need for your product right now.
    • Solution: Stay fresh in their minds and wait.
  • Problem: They are never going to buy your product.
    • Solution: There is no solution. Forget this segment, and focus your energy on something else.

Let’s look at an example that shows how this follow-up technique can work for you. Test group A was allowed to download a free trial with no email required. Those in test group B needed to provide a valid email address to download the free trial, and were exposed to the below follow-up sequence.

  • On day 0 they received a welcome email with a $5 discount coupon, a link to the free trial, a link to the Getting Started Guide, and customer testimonials.
  • On day 2 they received an email with a buying guide (that highlighted other products), information on the standard and pro plans, information on their iPhone app, and customer testimonials.
  • On day 6 they received an email with an invitation to subscribe to their newsletter, benefits to some of the available features, and customer testimonials.
  • On day 30 they received an outright invitation to buy, and more customer testimonials.

The number of downloads by test group B was down by 33.6% when compared to test group A. That’s not a big surprise since those in group B had to overcome the fear of providing personal information. However, test group B showed a 3.4% increase in sales, an increase in profits by 15.4%, and an increase in first-time purchases by an average of 13.5%.

Avoiding Spam Filters

An extremely costly mistake you can make is letting your emails get stuck in spam filters. Not only is this going to destroy your email marketing, it can also hurt your brand (and reputation), if customers are not receiving your support emails.

Some common, and not so common, spam filter triggers are:

  • Sending the email message only in HTML format instead of text format.
  • Using all capital letters in the subject line.
  • Having a low text to image ratio.
  • Using poorly coded HTML.
  • Using the following terms in your subject line:
    • Dear
    • Extra inches
    • Stop further distribution (instead of using unsubscribe)
    • You registered with a partner
    • Oprah

Side note: This was something we struggled with in the beginning, and still do to some extent. At first, all of our Light Point Security emails were getting flagged as spam. We’ve since made a few changes that helped our emails get through spam filters. By far what helped us the most was using email verification tools, like those provided by All About Spam and Port25 Solutions. These free services print out a report detailing what they found when you send them a sample email message – I highly recommend it.

Increasing Email Open Rates

Now that you’ve made it past a prospective customer’s spam filter, you have to encourage the person to actually open your email message. An important factor in someone’s decision on whether to open your email or not, is the content of the subject line. Emails with the lowest open rates contain the following terms in their subject lines:

  • Reminder
  • Specials: Because it indicates you are trying to sell them something.
  • X% off: Because it indicates you are trying to sell them something.
  • Help: Because it indicates you want something from them.

Something else that has a big influence on email open rates is the From name. The From name is usually the second thing a user sees, and the more personal it is, the better. Remember, people buy from people not companies.

The best choice is to use the sender’s name in the From field. For example, if you receive an email from me, it will say Zuly Gonzalez. The next best option is to use the sender’s name along with the company name. For example, Zuly Gonzalez | Light Point Security. The third best option is to use the person or department’s role. For example, Light Point Security Support. The worst option is to just use the company name. For example, Light Point Security.

Rob Walling presenting at the 2010 Business of Software conference (BoS2010)
Image credit: Mark Littlewood

More Email Marketing Recommendations

One problem you may encounter is people giving you a fake email address. To discourage this behavior, try implementing a double opt-in process. For example, you may require the user to click on a link sent to the email address they provided, in order to validate the email.

A good technique to try is requiring the user’s email address at install time, instead of before downloading the free trial. Once they have downloaded the trial, they are much more committed, and will be more likely to give you their email address. You can request the email address after your product has been downloaded in order to send the user a key required to install the product. There was one data point from an audience member who used this technique, and he said it increased his email capture by 10%.

If you haven’t contacted someone within the last 6 months, throw away their email address. After 6 months, odds are they have forgotten about you, and will see your email message as spam.

In your initial welcome email, thank them for buying your product, and ask them what they want to do with your product. Learning how your customers use your product, and why they want to use your product, will help you improve it.

When emailing your users, also ask them if they have any feature requests. Again, this is great feedback you can use to improve your product.

One of the nice things about SaaS products is that you can tell if people are actually using your product, or not. You can use this information to email your inactive customers, and hopefully get some feedback as to why they are not using your product. This can also help you A/B test your email marketing campaigns to learn which emails worked, and which ones flopped.

Key Takeaway From Rob’s BoS2010 Presentation

Returning visitors buy more than first time visitors. Therefore, the primary goal of your website is to encourage visitors to come back. Because the most effective way to get returning visitors is via permission based email marketing, the main goal of your website is to obtain a visitor’s email address. After obtaining email addresses, implement an email follow-up strategy.

Rob posted a brief summary of his 2010 Business of Software presentation on his blog, along with a copy of the slides.

Memorable Quote

The most memorable quote from Rob’s BoS2010 presentation was:

  • “The ineffective marketer asks you to buy too soon.”

More on Rob Walling

Rob Walling is a serial entrepreneur and author of Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup. He blogs at about building self-funded startups and runs the Micropreneur Academy, an online learning community of like-minded founders designed to get a startup from zero to launch in six months. Walling runs 11 one-man technology businesses and has been building web applications professionally for 11 years.

Follow Rob on Twitter here.

You can find Rob’s blog here.

If you found this information to be useful, take a look at Rob’s new book, Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup – you can even download the first chapter for free. You can also read the chapter on virtual assistants on Jason Cohen’s Smart Bear blog.

What are your thoughts on Rob’s presentation? If you attended BoS2010, did I miss an important point? What was your favorite part of Rob’s presentation? What was your key takeaway from his talk?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *