Why one metric over all others makes all the difference
By Thomas Scott and Joe Mathews
Nearly 27 million people used Healthcare.org, the government’s new health insurance exchange website, during the launch month of October, and only 9.4 million were able to get past the technology problems and use the site during the first month. Out of that 9.4 million, a mere 6 people signed up for new insurance coverage.
The website is infamous for its technology fails, but there was a deeper issue that affected the website: The design was deeply flawed. Based on the people that were able to access the site and browse pages, the conversion rate for for unique visitors who purchased insurance was a shockingly low 0.000064%. That means that for every 1.5 million visitors, the government earned a single lead. This is close to the same ratio as the percentage of Americans who become astronauts or get struck by a bolt of lightning. (Note to sticklers for accurate statistical information. We pulled this data from Wikipedia and some fun-fact site for kids.)
This is an epic fail failure for any website.
What happened and why?
Simply, the website didn’t offer insurance buyers — the ones who were able to access the site — what they needed to make a purchase decision. Buyers, whether of insurance policies or franchises, want safe, secure, reliable and functional sources of information. In addition, there want transparency, detailed and helpful answers to common questions, and the ability to conduct self-directed research on your website. Satisfy a buyer’s appetite for these things, and you’ll keep them satisfied and engaged. Build a website that fails on these fronts — like Healthcare.org — and you’ll produce a poor result 100% of the time.
At last year’s IFA conference, Franchise Solutions President Matt Alden asserted that consumers have moved out of what he called “The Promotion Age,” where websites were essentially online versions of slick, colorful brochures. Websites, like the brochures before them, were designed to sell. He asserted that consumers have evolved into “The Engagement Age,” where they don’t want to be sold, just informed. Consumers of all ages and demographics use the internet to research their purchases and investments. As a franchisor, a dedicated franchise opportunity website is now your most important business marketing tool to educate and inform potential franchisees about your brand.
A franchise recruitment website must serve two very specific purposes: increase the engagement of an interested visitor by satisfying their appetite for information and convert as many visitors as possible into leads, actual people your salespeople can start conversations with.
Although virtually all franchise leads carry smartphones synced with email, franchisors have found it increasingly hard to reach leads by telephone. Twenty years ago, when franchise salespeople were gatekeepers of the franchisor’s story, franchise salespeople could reach 90% of their leads by telephone. But the tables have been turned. The lead has fired the franchise salesperson as gatekeeper in favor of the company’s franchise opportunity website and other forms of self-directed research. Franchisors struggle now to reach 40% of their leads. Therefore, franchisors need their website to convert unique visitors into engaged leads willing to accept the franchisor’s phone call. The more engaged leads are, the more likely they are to fill out a lead form and talk to franchise salespeople. More conversations will ultimately lead to more deal flow.
Measuring your website’s conversion rate is easy: using any analytics tool, such as Google Analytics, determine the number of truly unique visitors the website had in a month. This isn’t visits or page views, it’s the number of actual people who visited your site. Google Analytics breaks this down for you, and once you know that number, divide the number of leads you received from your website by the number of unique visitors.
For instance, if your website had 2,000 unique visitors in December and generated 30 leads, the website converted 1.5% of its unique visitors to leads, which incidentally is pretty close to the industry norm.
If you have 2,000 visitors and you receive 100 leads, you have a 5% conversion rate, typical of the highly informative article-format websites Franchise Performance Group has been designing for its clients, such as VooDoo BBQ, winners of Franchise Update Star Award for best franchise opportunity website.
If the franchisor is closing 2% of company website leads, look at the impact of conversions this high up in the sales funnel:
|Unique visitors per month||Conversion ratio of unique visitors to leads||Number of leads per month||Number of leads over 12 months||Lead-to-close ratio||Annual number of franchises sold||Annual franchise fee revenue (assuming $30,000 franchise fee)|
Tracking the unique visitor-to-lead conversion rate should be the primary metric franchise executives use to measure the effectiveness of their websites. In many cases, development executives and salespeople are either ignorant of how well their site performs or oblivious to how well it could perform if the franchisor designed a site consistent with how franchise buyers make investment decisions.
Franchisors have always counted on the franchise salespeople to tell their story well to qualified franchise candidates. In the engagement age, franchise brands have to master a new skill: write their story in way that engages a franchise candidate and inspires them to action while simultaneously breaking down any barriers to communication. What does this take?
It takes a coordinated effort among skilled franchise salespeople who understand the emotional hooks of the business and know how to tell the story well; a skilled web designer who is fluent in article-format websites, SEO and internet research behavior; and most importantly, a skilled brand storyteller who knows how to write engaging content that hooks the visitor. Content that inspires them to read page after page, leave their contact information and be willing to accept a call. Anything less than a coordinated effort with these three highly skilled people or groups will ultimately lead to a breakdown in results. Contenting yourself with a 1.5% conversion rate from unique visitors to leads is essentially saying yes to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost franchise fee revenue, hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost royalty revenue and millions of dollars in lost shareholder equity.
When one considers the mere $20,000-$30,000 it costs to build a website, how can so many franchisors let this happen?
At FPG, we divide franchise recruitment website users into three distinct categories. Not every category has equal value:
1. Visitors. These are people who stumble upon, visit or look at your website who are not in the market for a franchise and are not interested or likely to engage in a conversation with a salesperson. The fewer of these that visit your site, the better. They don’t fill out forms and they don’t contribute to your results. Visitors who don’t convert are mostly meaningless traffic. We aren’t saying traffic is bad. More traffic is better than less traffic, but in somewhat the same way as a finger in the eye is better than a kick in the groin.
2. Leads. These are people who might be interested and will fill out a form in order to request more information, but in general they’re either not qualified, not ready to buy a franchise or they don’t connect to your message or brand. In general, leads are not likely to become franchise buyers. Every franchise website has these, and they contribute to the conversion rate but not to the sales results. Franchise portals generate buckets full of people in this category, which need to be sifted to find the buyer at the bottom. Franchisors generally do not help their own cause by hosting websites with lousy brand stories that don’t address the concerns and information demands of potential buyers. Most websites we come across are merely designed to catch the fish that jumps in the boat.
3. Buyers. These are the visitors you want. Franchise buyers are fewer in number than the consistent flow of franchise lookers; out of a hundred leads, franchisors will intersect with several potential buyers. They have the skills and experience needed to do well. They have the financial wherewithal to acquire the franchise and ramp it up, and most importantly, they are ready to open a location in a short timeframe. But franchisors still need to engage them. They are not stupid fish that willingly jump in the boat.
As long as a franchisor’s content meets the demands of the targeted franchise buyer, then the more franchise buyers the website attracts, the more deals get done.
Franchise buyers behave differently than visitors and leads; they are seeking a larger scope of content, have more questions and are more thorough and serious in their research. Unfortunately, too many franchisors build a website to answer the most basic questions leads ask rather than creating a content-rich site with the robust upfront information buyers demand. Put another way, many franchisor websites are designed to generate leads but turn away buyers.
1. Expand the scope of your franchise recruitment website. What happens when franchise buyers go online to do research? They ask questions. That’s at the root of every Google search. When franchise buyers do research, they are looking for detailed answers to common questions — the same scope of information you regularly handle in the first call with a candidate or during your webinars. Unlike leads and visitors, franchise buyers have a pretty substantial appetite for this information, about an hour’s worth of reading. That’s an hour’s worth of reading BEFORE they want to opt in and talk to you. In a previous blog we measured the differences in information gathering between leads and buyers.
At FPG, we believe that franchise salespeople have permanently lost the first conversation they’ve traditionally had with candidates to the franchisor’s website. Take a second and think about your website AS A CONVERSATION. Are you telling a compelling story? Are you addressing the buyers’ questions and concerns? Do you effectively make the case that your business is unique, profitable, sustainable, defensible against competition, necessary, franchisee-friendly and serves a mighty purpose?
Don’t assume that a web developer knows how to tell your brand story; a typical franchise recruitment website project is only 20% design. The other 80% of the project is reporting, interviewing, video creation and brand storytelling. In our experience, even the best web developers are over-focused on design. For a user, the content itself is what drives engagement and conversion from visitor into lead. Focus on the scope and breadth of your online story so the design supports the story, not the other way around.
2. Publish articles on a regular basis. There are two common mistakes franchise development teams make when it comes to their website. First, they think of it like a brochure. Once they’ve launched the site, they rarely, if ever, update it or publish new information. Franchise brands are rarely stagnant; in your system, there are hundreds of hard-working people who get up every day and spend their entire workweek pushing for results.
Alternately, they publish every thought that enters their head. They become the internet version of the annoying neighbor you fake a phone call and run into the house to avoid talking to. Worse, what they do publish is spammy or stuffed with keywords so it is difficult to read. Often, the quality of writing on a franchise website is far below the level it needs to be to really engage a buyer.
For a franchise candidate looking at your brand from the outside, the franchise recruitment website is the only window they have to gaze into to see what you have to sell. If franchising were a shopping mall, your website is the carefully merchandised display window designed to grab shoppers and draw them in. Lead generation is simply getting your story in front of people who want what you have to sell when and where they are looking.
If you fail to update your website with reviews, awards, articles, interviews, blogs, social media and updated content, your display window begins to look like the store window that still has its Christmas decorations up in the middle of the summer.
A stagnant website sends the clear message to visitors — many of whom visit multiple times over a 3- to 6-month period — that you don’t have the time, money or interest in giving them information, and in general, that you are an unorganized company. Signs of stagnation also allow ideas such as “this company is a sham” or “this company isn’t doing well” to creep into a candidate’s mind before you speak to them. These first impressions are difficult to remove and can kill many deals long before you ever earn a conversation. In sales, you are only as good as your last conversation and if your website’s conversation is poor with buyers, you are setting yourself up for underperformance.
If buyer perception isn’t motivation enough, keep in mind that Google rewards websites that publish content often. A regularly updated, professionally managed recruitment website from a small brand in a competitive space will often beat out a stagnant website from the market leader in the search results.
Besides helping you gain online visibility through higher search ranking, current content sends the message that your brand is the real deal in its segment. It is well-run, has a positive future and has a lot of interesting developments going on. This is the best possible first impression to make, and you can’t make it without ongoing content marketing and regular publication.
3. Build your website so it is designed to convert. Conversions don’t happen randomly; the easier you make it for unique visitors to fill out a lead form or pick up the phone and call, the higher the number of people you’ll speak with.
If your current website doesn’t perform well, it might be more than lack of content. You might have a website that isn’t designed to increase conversion rates. Outside the franchise industry, where inbound lead generation is the lifeblood of sales, conversion strategy often drives the layout and design of a website.
Are the forms visible on the page, or do visitors have to click through to another page to see the form? Is the form on every page? How many fields does the form have, and how long does it take to complete? Is the form usable on a smartphone? Does the form stand out visually?
These are all really important to increase the number of leads your website generates. Here are some of the strategies we follow that make a difference:
- Put a form on every page, and never make someone click through to fill out a form. A form that looks great and appears simple on your desktop computer might look horrible on a mobile device. The data is conclusive — not putting a form on every page costs you leads. Requiring visitors to click a button to get to a form on another page also costs you leads. Don’t do it.
- Make your form short. Don’t fall into the trap of using forms to prequalify candidates or gather information your salesperson should be gathering in their calls. We use as few fields as possible — every additional field you use on your forms lowers the conversion rate. Our best performing forms and the ones that deliver the most closes are the simplest: name, phone, email, zip (or state), how did you hear about us and a text box that says “tell us about yourself.”
- If you build a modern website that has long, vertical pages, put a form at the top and the bottom so there is a form for people to complete no matter where they are on the page. The best spot for a form is on the upper right-hand side — eye-tracking and heat map studies often show that this is the most productive place for a form, and we include one on every page — homepage, core pages and blog articles — in this spot. The bottom of the page is the second-best location for a form, and we prefer to have both form options on every page. If your goal is to get people to fill out forms, then make it easy for them to do so.
- Make sure your submit button contrasts visually with the site design. If you do have forms on every page, you can increase conversions by making the submit buttons stand out. Orange and red are the best colors for this — no matter what the color scheme of your website, using a power color for the button will increase your leads.
- Are your forms easy to fill out on a smartphone? It’s shocking to us how few franchise recruitment websites are built with good, responsive HTML. A “responsive” website is simply one that responds to the screen size of any device. Look at your site on a desktop and it looks normal; look at it on a smartphone or tablet and the website rearranges itself to the different screen size, stacking the design elements into a longer, vertical webpage that is easier to navigate on a small device. How hard is it for your visitors to submit a form on their phone? Mobile visitors are topping 40% for some brands, and if your site doesn’t work well for mobile, it’s time to redesign.
- Don’t forget phone numbers: Do you have trackable phone numbers on your website? As many as 30% of candidates will opt to make a phone call rather than fill out a form. Most franchise systems don’t do a good job of tracking phone calls, but they are as valuable — perhaps even more valuable — than a web lead. We use tracking numbers on all our sites so we can report back to the client on how many leads AND phone calls we received. As a bonus, most call-tracking programs record calls, giving you the ability to coach salespeople.
- Publish content that buyers care about.
Don’t miss the opportunity to design and launch a franchise recruitment website that gives franchise buyers what they want. Right now, there are people out there who want what you have to sell. How well your franchise recruitment website converts can mean the difference between a Healthcare.org disaster or a screaming success.
Budget at least $25,000-$30,000 for the website, content and video work. Plan to make this investment every two years. If you do the site right, you can expect an exponential return of $100,000-$500,000 in franchise fee revenue. It should represent the best money a franchisor can invest in finding new franchisees.
Curious to see how your franchise recruitment website performs? Start a conversation with us about its performance and what opportunity you might be missing.