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FutureNow Article
Monday, Mar. 24, 2008

Top 7 Tips for Optimizing Low-Traffic Websites

By Jeff Sexton
March 24th, 2008

On our “Ask the Experts” post, one reader asked how to go about optimizing a low-traffic website.

We get this question a lot.

Marketers — particularly small business owners and do-it-yourself-ers — want to know if optimization is worth it. They’re short on time and they’re dealing with limited resources. They can’t wait six months to fix something that’s broken now. They don’t have the luxury.

If you’ve realized optimization can’t wait, and you don’t have the budget to hire a firm, consider these…

Tips for Optimizing Low-Traffic Websites

1.) Get a testing platform — Any testing platform will do, but if your budget is tight, we recommend using Google Website Optimizer. It’s free to use and FutureNow has developed several free resources to help you get started.

2.) Stick to A/B split testing — For a low-traffic site, you’ll want to stay away from multivariate tests and stick to simpler A/B split testing. Multivariate testing involves optimizing more than one page element at a time, often with more than one variation per element on a given page. For example, you might be testing four different headlines, three different pictures, and two variations of your body copy on a given landing page. That means you’ve just created 24 (4x3x2) different page combinations for your test. Getting enough traffic to come up with a statistically valid results could take a low-traffic site an exceedingly long time to do that. Assuming you had 50 visits per day and a brilliantly high current conversion rate of 10%, that still means it would still take more than two thousand days (about 6 years!) to get any data worth looking at. Meanwhile, A/B testing only a few combinations can give you statistically valid data within a month or two. Again, low-traffic sites should stick to A/B testing. (This white paper can help you determine whether it’s too little or too early to A/B test.)

3.) Don’t make hasty conclusions — Be patient. Wait for the tests to fully complete before jumping to conclusions. Once they do complete, take a deep breath. On any given test page, the “Chance to Beat Original” and “Chance to Beat All” percentages are crucial — and potentially misleading if you’re not up on your statistics. Basically, anything less than 90% is simply a trend that might be reversed from one week to the next. We’ve actually seen these kind of reversals happen, where a positive change (with 70% chance to beat original) flipped negative from one week to the next. Think of it this way: If you randomly flip a coin, you could get 3-4 heads in a row over 4 flips and conclude that heads was the clear “winner” over tails. Not smart. Only after many, many flips is it safe to assume you have a clear winner (or a very weird coin).

4.) Know what you’re looking for — Make sure you know how to get a hypothesis worth testing. In other words, you should know ahead of time how to interpret the results. Don’t randomly test this image or that headline. Do so because you have reason to believe the headline “should” better appeal to buyers with a given buying motivation, or because the picture “should” resolve a particular concern. That way, you have a basis for interpreting the results. That doesn’t mean the results will be absolutely conclusive (it’s possible that people really do have your hypothesized motivation but your headline was merely a bad execution of the concept), but you’ll have a way to interpret the results and do further analysis if needed. Intelligent testing essential, especially when you don’t have much traffic.

5.) Test one click at a time* — Shorten the distance between the Experiment Page (where you’re running the test) and the Goal Page (where you count conversions). This will yield conclusive results in less time. A quick e-commerce example: Use the shopping cart as a Goal Page for a test being run on a Product Page (as opposed to using the Order Confirmation Page as the Goal Page).

6.) Ensure success with Pay-Per-Click* — Purchasing traffic to validate changes to your site is like buying insurance on the effectiveness of your web design. If your PPC ads are well targeted and attract more (and more qualified) visitors, your test results will be more accurate. With enough visitors, testing is like letting visitors design your site for you.

7.) Prioritize your optimization efforts — Optimizing for usability and conversion is usually easier than optimizing for persuasion. Before a site can persuade, its basic elements must work. Go for the low-hanging fruit, then work your way up the Hierarchy of Optimization.

Got questions on how to optimize your site? Feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.

. .

*Indicates a tip that has been added to the list.

[Editor's Note: Today is your last chance to register for the Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar, happening tomorrow, Friday the 28th, in San Francisco.We're keeping class size small and there are only two or three tickets left, so hop to it!]

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Comments (44)

  1. Great tips Jeff. I work on a lot of site that have low traffic. Usually they
    were spending a lot of money on PPC and the CPA was just not worth it. I
    recommend buying longer keyword phrases that are cheaper and bring in more
    qualified traffic. Plus, targeting your landing pages to these phrases.
    Also, don’t only focus on sales as your main goal. Set up conversion goals
    for email collection and lead capture and plan a follow-on marketing
    campaign. Then do small A/B tests on key areas of the site.

  2. Good advice. I’d definitely second (3) & (4). Testing takes time on small sites, and you need to plan effectively and use that time wisely. I’ve also found that smaller sites tend to have an initial reaction period where loyal visitors balk at changes but later accept them (even positive changes). This can delay reliable results even further.

  3. Great tips and interesting comments. In France, high traffic sites are discovering what is optimization. I think the revolution could come from small sites with clever marketers.

  4. These are great. Oftentimes smaller businesses truly don’t know where to focus their efforts on – it always seems like one big mountain they can’t climb. These are great tips to begin!

  5. Jeff, thanks for answering my question in this post. I will have to now plan and do things as you mentioned in the post above. I hope this will improve conversion rate of website. Also comments by Alex above are quite interesting, I should also use those to improve conversion.

  6. Thank you Jeff for the contribution. I’ll try to implement your tips!

  7. Regarding #5-”Test one click at a time”: Will the example of using the shopping cart as the Goal page provide valid results? I find that many visitors click on the “Add to cart”-button just to check how the Cart looks like, as a way of checking if the company of the site is trustworthy, but they don’t buy. So will these “conversions” show if a test creates more $$$? Anyone with a comment?

  8. Hi Jeff, I have been following your resources and have taken a few online seminars, thank you. I tried to work with G.W.O. on my Blog and for some reason I didn’t get to place Google Codes around the titles, I must of been doing something wrong, I will try it again. Thanks for all the great information.

  9. Another good entry. I especially like number 4. Too many clients want to make changes for the sake of making changes. I always try to convince them that we have to have a reason for the change. I’ll use this to help with my argument.

  10. Hey Jeff,

    Good info. I think you’re never too early to start testing. We’ve found that several small changes over time really add to the cumulative success of a site.

  11. BP: #5 is very dangerous. I would put a huge warning around that one since it could cause you to think you are increasing conversions, when you really are not.

    Here’s a fairly well known scenario: Amazon and other etailers hide prices of some products and force users to add it to cart because the price is too low to display on the page. They probably get a lot more clicks, since everyone wants to see the price, however it does not necessarily mean people follow through with the purchase more often.

    There are many things that if you don’t put on your first page, but do put on your 2nd (like the legitimacy factors BP mentioned) that can cause many clicks, but few conversions. So I would always keep track of full conversions, while giving clicks some consideration if you are comfortable with the risk.

  12. Billy,

    I agree with you that anyone optimizing a site’s sales process one step at a time, as mentioned in point 5, defintely needs to watch their metrics.

    An extra degree of uncertainty is introduced into the testing process when a page other than the final goal page is used. However, the risk of this uncertainty is not as large as the lost opportunity cost of not testing due to low traffic.

    Here is a relevant post about optimizing a sales funnel. The part about factors on earlier pages in the funnel effecting later pages is particularly important for testing a funnel one click at a time.

  13. Talking about different, my site is crap, but does ok.
    I have big ticket items for sale (workshop machinery)
    We neither need nor want a lot of hits, and need very local business only. (Machinery is heavy and expensive to ship)
    Our google position is always good because we have some aspects of the market to ourselves.

    My daughter has a very different ebook business, a great Joomla site but it needs heaps of a/b testing, as every tiny word seems to make a difference. It has taken a long time and a lot of work to get hits and sales

  14. I have another perspective of SEO for blogs. This article might be very helpful and interesting to read.


    I have written this article for the bloggers looking for SEO Success.

    Hope it helps!

  15. [...] “ Top 7 tips for Optimizing Low-Traffic Websites” de Future Now soulève une problématique intéressante qui est : Comment optimiser les [...]

  16. Hi guys..
    I have got 5 websites and have struggled to get traffic. It has taken months to get the main one up and running but I have managed to go from zero visits a day to 2500 a day.(1500 uniques) It has all finally clicked in my head and now I am working on a sixth website.. This is a different story because I know how to get the traffic alot quicker.
    There won’t be as much testing and trying to get the right keywords because I do have a clue now..

  17. [...] the areas where you’ll see greatest improvement. Not sure where to start? Check out the tips here, here and [...]

  18. I loved the bit about avoiding the trap of hasty decisions. That’s one the keys, isn’t it. Many people lose hope between the execution of campaigns and getting the results phase (which sometimes can drag for months naturally).

  19. [...] sure you know which page to A/B test. (For past tips, see GrokDotCom and past thinks coverage here and [...]

  20. Thank you Jeff for the contribution. I’ll try to implement your tips!
    Good infos!

  21. Great tips.Agree with you but PPC campaign should be carefully designed otherwise it will lead to total waste of time.

  22. Great tips and info. I have not had a whole lot of success with ppc marketing with the kind of sites I run. I feel like ppc marketing is great for sites that are trying to convert people. Most of the time I am just looking for visitors and it is better for me to spend time/money on creating more content than ppc.

  23. have a blog and want to earn more?
    dont have traffic?
    for all your solutions

  24. Great advice. More often than not newbies really dont know where to focus their energies on. You cant help but to get lost in it all.

  25. I agree with
    We can focus on longer keyword phrases that are cheaper and bring in more qualified traffic. After we could can create targeting a optimized landing page to these phrases, with a propper advertiser (adsense or other affiliate).

    Also don’t only focus on sales as your main goal. Set up conversion goals for email collection and lead capture and plan a follow-on marketing campaign. I`m using aweber and that light box pop up does real wonders …

  26. Here are some more tips for optimising low traffic websites:

    - Do some basic usability testing. Just ask people to use your website and watch them as they try and perform tasks that you give them. This can be very revealing.

    - Analyse how your prospects use your site using software like clicktale or crazy egg. View mouse movements, click patterns and scroll patterns and see if you can spot something obvious that’s helping or hindering the conversion process. With clicktale you can actually watch videos of people using your site.

  27. Hi Jeff,

    Great tips and information. This information will certainly help me get great conversions from my traffic.

    I would also advise my friends to view your blog and comment get use full information.

  28. Thanks Jeff for these great tips. My blog is also getting low traffic but is improving. I ll work on these tips.

  29. hello jeff,
    My website is getting very low traffic and the bounce rate is also high. I will try with this website optimizer. It may increase my traffic

  30. I prefer to use a tracker like affiliate prophet. It has heat mapping built in and combine that with crazy egg for click maps and you’re golden.

  31. Jeff,
    You are SPOT ON!
    Thanks for sharing such a nice information,how can decrease my websites bounce rate although my site’s traffic is OK to some extent

  32. PPC game is too hard for me. Any tips for SEO traffic increase?

  33. Great concise post. Using these tips already. Love the A/B simplistic form of testing but never really thought of testing at all before reading this blog. Thanks so much.

  34. I have to say I really enjoy your post. Could be a little more reader friendly but packed with great info. I bookmarked your site : )

  35. Very informative post. I have a very low traffic blog and thanks for your tips. I will surely apply the tips you provided.

  36. Extremely informative post. Thank you very much. Your contributions are very much appreciated.

    I’m going to take full advantage of these optimization tips!

  37. You cant help but to get lost in it all.

  38. It’s really difficult to get a website to the top…especially when you don’t have any professional help. Good tips. Some will undoubtedly find them useful.

  39. discovering especially when you don’t testing but never really high traffic sites are thought have any professional simplistic form of help what is optimization. I think the

  40. That’s great article
    I loved the bit about avoiding the trap of hasty decisions. That’s one the keys, isn’t it. Many people lose hope between the execution of campaigns and getting the results phase (which sometimes can drag for months naturally).

  41. A small difference makes a big difference over time. Good advice. Small sites may seem small but in the long term can generate a lot of hits (relatively).

  42. A/B Testing is very important to achieve goals, but without a good SEO strategy A/B testing is useless.

  43. Wow, incredible blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is great, as well as the content!

  44. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s
    the blog. Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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