One of the first things they teach you in sales training is to ask for the order. Don't just chummy it up with prospective customers -- explicitly ask them to buy your product.
Many websites forget this step.
Numerous companies are now producing informative websites that are rich in content and thin in commercial messages. This is good, because users are more interested in facts than hype. Unfortunately, many of these sites are so focused on providing information that they lose the sale.
Where's the Product?
In one recent study, users were searching the Procter & Gamble website looking for food products for a new kitten. Although one user succeeded in finding Eukanuba Kitten Chicken & Rice Formula , most users failed. When asked whether the website recommended any kitten food, the vast majority of users said no. (We asked this question at the test's end to avoid biasing the users' behavior while they were actually using the site.)
To its credit, the P&G site made it easy to find information about pet food: There was a clear link named Pet Nutrition & Care on the homepage and a search for "kitten food" brought up "Iams kitten food -- choose the right formula for your cat" as the third hit. (Although this is a good title with strong information scent, many other hits on the site had atrocious titles like "P&G -- Feature Article" or "News: XML Search.")
The Iams kitten food page contained a clear link to Feeding Tips for Growing Kittens , which was highly attractive: all of our test users clicked it. The article was also very interesting and informative: all users scrolled through four screens of text. At the bottom of this fairly large page, users found their answer -- kittens are strict carnivores and need animal protein. They also need plenty of fresh water.
Our users were happy. They'd discovered good advice on what to feed their kittens. Unfortunately, they didn't notice that P&G sold a product that fit their needs. Nor did they notice the brand name, which was shown as a graphic in the page's upper corner -- a place users don't look unless they need to.
The page did contain a link named "May we recommend a product for your cat?" but it was in the left-hand margin (another place users don't initially look) and had scrolled off the screen long before users found the information they were looking for.
The body text (where users do look) didn't ask for their order, so users left the site without realizing it actually sold the product it was supposedly promoting.
Information and Sales: Striking a Balance
Informative articles are good for several reasons:
They enhance credibility by showing that you know what you're talking about.
They attract traffic because they're rich in keywords and content, and thus enhance search engine visibility.
They help users differentiate between alternatives if you offer multiple products.
They supply arguments for your fans to help them convince others (such as their bosses or spouses) that buying your product is a good idea.
In informative articles, it's appropriate to turn down the volume on the sales message. If you push too hard, you lose credibility. But if your articles don't push products at all, you lose sales.
Remember: many users arrive directly at your article from a search engine, and haven't visited the rest of your site. This is good; you want the extra traffic, so don't turn off deep linking. But these users typically dive directly into the article's text, and might never even see your company name or realize that you sell related products.
Place product mentions where users will see them, even if they're visiting only for that one pageview. Mention the product in the page's body area and at the end of the article. If the article is good and answers key questions (which of course it should), users won't look at the page's peripheral parts, and they certainly won't spend time looking at your logo or slogans at the top of the page.
Strive for a happy compromise between providing informative content and asking for the order. If you don't mention your product, you'll attract tons of freeloaders, but no business.