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Utility shopping platform branding, UX/CRO, SEO (9/16-4/17)

How I helped build a brand from the ground up, enabled e-commerce revenue with conversion rate optimization (CRO) and UX fixes, and doubled site traffic in 5 months.


Business: achieve online conversion-rate improvement (from zero) with a brand-new business model
Brand: create & test brand awareness and consumer receptiveness with introductions via paid search and email marketing, develop a brand identity and marketing strategy from scratch
UX/conversion rate: address homepage experience, add needed interactive elements to address drop-offs in the signup flow
SEO/SEM: optimize pages, identify and target business-critical keywords

The Way Forward

September 2016-April 2017: Power Kiosk Direct, a Chicago-based energy supplier comparison shopping site, came to me last fall with a challenge to build their e-commerce site from the ground up. I did a site analysis and saw that the following was needed:
• Improved site traffic and engagement – analytics setup, onsite SEO (site performance, keyword relevance) & UX
• Brand identity and messaging that would resonate across channels, targeting their core value proposition
• Increase e-commerce conversions (utility supplier signups) from zero

I’m never one to back down from a challenge, but in order to be successful I saw the scope of work would require a serious time investment as well as learning in depth about the utilities industry itself… More significantly, it was a brand new model: electric & gas supplier rate shopping in an ecommerce environment.

We were starting with very low traffic, but by fixing some basic duplicate content issues (technical SEO) and with dedicated onsite efforts – left (SEO & user experience), the site’s presence and traffic did grow steadily as you can see from the SEM Rush and Analytics data. From day 1 of my time with PKD, page views roughly doubled (52%). We also made significant headway in terms of site engagement (bounce rate data, left), so that was a nice affirmation.

But after a month of onsite improvements within the existing design framework, still no conversions.

I started to see more fully what we were up against. The core value proposition — that Power Kiosk Direct had on average the lowest available electric supply rates on the market — simply wasn’t enough to get the wheel turning.

We were facing:
• Significant consumer skepticism (due to an industry dominated by junk-mail promotions, telemarketer and door-to-door salesmen)
• An online signup flow & marketing materials that needed significant work to overcome brand credibility issues

And while the business owner had put significant work into a platform that at its core worked really well, there had been no attention paid to the marketing or UX. So all of that I had to build from scratch. After spending most of my resources the first few months fixing the flow (UX work at left), I needed to actually test getting traffic into the site and get data back.

This was in order to see:
1) Where we could improve (“conversion path” drop-offs)
2) Where the opportunity gaps were (B2B industry, residential/B2B geo location, demographic)

To get the best data insights, which could help guide the site’s marketing & SEO efforts, I relied on AdWords (residential/B2B) and MailChimp email marketing (B2B). And we got great results back in terms of engagement, which spoke to the effectiveness of the messaging. See the screenshots at left. Email campaigns were getting 20+% open rates and my AdWords ads (with sophisticated, highly targeted campaigns & ad groups – left) were averaging an impressive $1.31 per click. But as I saw in Analytics, paid search traffic wasn’t converting directly from this channel. At all.

Progress, Finally

After a week or so of campaign efforts, we started to get a residual increase in traffic overall and a small trickle of conversions. This was a great success in itself to simply get some evidence that the UX was now doing its job.

And from the data, I saw that a typical conversion path (like similar ecommerce models where a significant buildup of trust is required) would involve 2-3 trips back to the site — and so the conversions ultimately were much more likely to be attributed to organic and direct channels.

I made this case to the business owner, while I worked to get the ad spend down as low as possible. I narrowed our market focus to specific states where we’d seen the best results, pitched new “urgency appeal” campaigns (including use of promo codes), and went back to UX to further improve credibility. (By implementing BBB & other site certification badges, for example.)

The trickle of conversions continued, but the owner had expectations that couldn’t be met given a business strategy to operate as lean as possible. He wanted to take his success with brokers (direct salespeople) and apply that learning to a completely different model.

It simply wasn’t possible to get over the hump — or past a certain point — that way.

My parting recommendation to him was to invest in a nonprofit partnership that would enhance his brand and give consumers another reason to switch their energy supplier… a conservation nonprofit, for example, would be a great tie-in in terms of credibility — and also useful as a jumping-off point for PR/offsite SEO.


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