WordPress as a website management platform can handle almost every scenario imaginable, we all know this. Besides traditional blogs, WordPress is also used to run e-commerce stores, social networks, big publishing houses and online magazines, membership sites, sales pages, and all kinds of other projects.
For some of those projects things like conversions are of crucial importance. When someone uses WordPress to run their online businesses, monitoring conversion rates and working on improving them are among the most important everyday tasks.
That’s why every WordPress developer and designer should have the basic knowledge on what a conversion actually is, and what can be done – from a WordPress perspective – to improve it.
What a conversion is
Essentially, a conversion is any pre-defined action that can be taken by any person visiting a website.
What this means is that there are no restrictions regarding what can and cannot be a conversion. Whatever a goal for a given webpage is, the action leading to this goal is usually considered a conversion.
For example, for people selling something on their blogs, a conversion is when a visitor clicks the “add to cart” button. For traditional blogs, it’s usually the act of submitting a comment or clicking one of the social media share buttons. If there’s any kind of signup form on the page (like an email subscription, for instance) then a conversion is when someone fills it out and submits it.
Quite simply, what is and what isn’t a conversion is always project dependent.
How to improve conversions (and why)
The “why” part of the question should be obvious. The better conversion rates you have the more money in your pocket.
Additionally, great websites are not ones that look the best and create the biggest “wow” effect. Great websites are ones that bring results, reach goals, and make people just a little wealthier.
There are several guidelines when working on improving conversions. Some of the main ones are: using highly visible headlines, simplicity, using social proof and trust elements, placing a visible and obvious call to action.
These are general rules of conversion-centered web design, now how to apply them to WordPress blogs.
Making headlines highly visible
Headline is always the most important piece of text for every online post/article/sales message. People in the publishing world say that headlines account for 80% of the success.
When it comes to WordPress, making sure that headlines are visible is a pretty straightforward task. Thanks to the usage of CSS files and the visual editor in WordPress, we can do a wide range of adjustments to headlines (and to any other piece of text as well).
The best starting point is to edit the CSS file and make sure that the <h1> headings are the most visible pieces of text on every page.
Depending on the design, making their color completely different from anything else on the page is a practice that often works very well. Not to mention all the other standard adjustments, like bold, italics or underlined text (not all at once, of course).
Furthermore, CSS3 has brought a lot more possibilities to make headings even more visible. Now we can use things like strokes, shadows, 3D, letterpress effect, and myriads of other things.
Here’s a rule of thumb: Start by making your headings just a little more visible. Then do it again. And again. Repeat the process until you get the impression that you’ve done too much. Usually, this is the moment when your headings look just about right.
Thankfully, WordPress blogs don’t have any problems with simplicity. The whole concept of WordPress is not complex, and most themes tend to follow this trend.
Still, if you’re a designer or a WordPress developer you need to make sure that every element has its place and that there’s no unnecessary clutter. The more elements there are on the page, the less chance that the visitor will do what the website owner wants them to do (convert).
The most important rule here is not to treat sidebars like containers for stuff. Sidebars are not meant to house every widget imaginable. Sidebars have their purpose too, so don’t fill them with everything you’ve got.
Here’s one approach for sidebars that seems to make sense: Try to use sidebars as a way of emphasizing whatever’s inside the main content block of the page (where the posts are). The idea behind this is that you need to use sidebars to help you get conversions, not do distract visitors from converting (more on this in a minute).
Using social proof and trust elements
This is a trick that’s been known in the online marketing world for a number of years.
Social proof elements are things like testimonials, customer reviews, and all sorts of other endorsements.
Trust elements are logos of other respected brands and institutions, displayed in an “as seen on” manner.
Social proof elements create an “if they like it, I will too” effect, while trust elements give more of an “if they are talking about this then I should get it too” effect. This all sounds kind of suspicious, but it’s all on the light side of the force when used properly.
When it comes to WordPress, there are two great ways of dealing with such things.
The first one is to create additional widgets to display both social proof and trust elements. Such a widget can then be placed in the sidebar or anywhere else without the need to fiddle with HTML code.
The second one is to create new CSS classes designed specifically for those elements. For example, the most common way of displaying testimonials is to use italics, quotation marks, and a person’s picture next to the whole thing. Having a CSS class that handles this can make your life a lot easier.
CALLS TO ACTION
Calls to action should be visible, obvious, and as straightforward as possible.
Just to make sure that we’re on the same page; a call to action is the entry point for a conversion to happen. Which in plain English means that the call to action is often the last thing a website owner can say before the visitor converts or not.
The simplest example of a call to action is the text “click here to subscribe” placed on a submit button for an email newsletter signup form. Or the “click here to go to _______” placed next to a link.
Whatever WordPress site you’re working on, make sure that there’s a custom CSS class made specifically to present calls to action. Thanks to CSS3 you can make this really visible, even to the point where it starts to look like a Photoshop creation, rather than like a piece of CSS code.
You can also work with a theme that enables you to use shortcodes to display custom messages, buttons, boxes, and all sorts of other things with a simple, single line shortcode. Our themes, for example, have such possibilities.
Removing sidebars altogether
For some custom pages, the best way of improving conversions is to remove sidebars altogether. This might sound a little extreme, but actually it’s a great way of making a webpage clear to visitors, and in the end … simply better.
Now, I’m not telling you to erase sidebars from the blog you’re working on completely. I’m only saying that you should consider erasing them from specific pages; ones where conversions are of crucial importance.
Unfortunately, not every theme will let you create custom sidebars for different pages or remove them altogether easily. If you’re working with a simple theme then you might have to do some HTML and PHP work to get this done.
If you’re using a good theme framework, however, then it usually takes just a couple of clicks (again … our themes … I’m not trying to be promotional, I’m just saying).
Simplifying the header and the footer
When working on a WordPress design, there’s often a temptation to create really extensive headers featuring a lot of different stuff … logos, menus, catchphrases, social media buttons, search fields, pictures, and all kinds of other stuff. This, however, does not help conversions, it only makes things harder.
The best approach to take when designing a custom header for all the conversion-centered pages is to make it as simple as possible. Preferably, only include the logo. And that’s it. No menus, no social media buttons, no search fields. Just the logo. This focuses attention on the copy instead of the header itself.
Headers aren’t really that important. Basically, their only job on conversion pages is to assure the visitor that they’re still on the same website, and nothing else. Conversions rarely happen in the headers.
Footers are yet another place that tends to be really cluttered with tens of menus, buttons, and other stuff. This isn’t necessarily bad for a standard blog page, but when it’s the conversion we’re after then it becomes quite an obstacle.
The main conversion point – like a buy button or something – is usually located near the bottom of the page. You don’t want to distract people once they reach it, and big footers do just that – they give too many options to the visitor, so they’re less likely to take the important action.
The final thing you can do to improve conversions on a WordPress blog is to close comments on every conversion centered page.
The possibility of commenting is simply yet another thing visitors can do on a page. If it’s not the comment you’re going after then closing comments altogether is the best thing you can do.
The general idea behind improving conversions is to make a page so obvious and straightforward that the only way for a visitor to behave is to either take the desired action or leave the page, there should be no alternatives. This is the most important thing you need to keep in mind when working on a custom page designed to improve conversions for certain actions.
This has turned out to be a really long post, so now it’s your time to speak up. Do you have any ways of improving conversions of your own? And finally, do you think that WordPress is a friendly tool for an online marketer?