I was recently hired to critique a web site and suggest changes that could improve conversion rates. There were several backbone upgrades that I recommended, but what I want to focus on now are the front-end problems that might also be plaguing your own site.
The first issue this site-in-question had was the webmaster (who is also the business owner) was too familiar with the business. His copy was full of industry terms and technical jargon that his site visitors didn't understand.
Unless your prospect is a total industry insider, it will probably be necessary to "dumb down" your web site copy. Use common terms and phrases that your prospects would use on a normal basis. Read through your copy and as you hit questionable words, ask yourself "Have I ever heard my customers say that?" If not, replace that word with a more commonly used term.
Make sure your visitors can find what they're looking for. The site I was hired to critique was driving a large portion of its traffic through a display ad in a trade magazine. My client reasoned "The visitors already know we offer XYZ service because that's what the ad talked about. I want the web site to show them what else we can do." So the landing page highlighted my client's ABC service and never even mentioned the XYZ service.
It seems like a logical approach, unfortunately, that's not how web surfers think. They are looking for immediate gratification. If they come to your site based on an ad for XYZ, chances are 90% or better that they are specifically looking for XYZ. If they can't find it quickly and easily, they simply leave. Web site competition is too fierce to expect your prospect to spend his time hunting and digging through your site. Give him what he's looking for right away.
We redesigned the landing page to showcase my client's XYZ service and we saw an immediate reduction in the bounce rate.
And speaking of finding things quickly and easily, it's imperative that your site visitor can complete his task quickly and easily. Don't ever interrupt the flow of conversion! My client broke into the checkout process by presenting the visitor with a survey on the second screen of the shopping cart. His logic was, "These are the people making a purchase, these are actual customers. These are the opinions I want, and I want to grab them while I have their undivided attention."
I'll admit, that logic makes sense. But again, that's not the way web surfers think. Any thing that stops them in their tracks is only an invitation to leave the site. We simply moved the survey to the end of the checkout process and made a few tweaks to the survey process itself (that's a topic for another day.)
Other things we did to improve this web site included cleaning up the navigation, improving the call to action, removing the over-used back button and updating most of the graphics.
The increased conversion rate was almost magical and my client thinks I'm a hero. Not bad for a few easy fixes that you can easily apply to your own web site in a short amount of time.