What health promotion can learn from the science of e-commerce

health promotion conversion tactics

By James Mulvey

Health promotion and behaviour change campaigns have a pretty hard job online.  It’s tough enough to get someone to buy a pair of shoes or shiny new ipad online--harder still to get someone to visit your website and learn about healthy living habits or memorize the signs of stroke. You have to move people to action--but often it is an unwelcome action with an intangible benefit (such as cutting down on fatty foods or exercising more).

If there is any marketing discipline that knows how to move people to action, it’s the science of e-commerce conversion. E-commerce lives or dies by moving people from casual interest to clicks and sales. As most health promotion and behaviour change campaigns are also focused on getting people to do certain things (like asking them to sign up online as an organ donor, pledge some money on a website, or commit to a new healthy behaviour), organizations undertaking health promotion and behavioural campaigns can learn a lot from the science of e-commerce.

This article covers some key e-commerce principles that your next campaign can benefit from, increasing your organization’s ability to move people from awareness to action.

How to persuade online: the conversion sequence

The conversion sequence is the path that your target audience takes through your advertising or internet searches, progressing from awareness of your product or service to navigating your website to finally converting to your desired action--whether that be a download, free trial, or new sign-up. 

One of the most persistent mistakes is to clutter homepages with information. The idea behind this is that your homepage is a general introduction to your organization and should service a wide range of visitors, letting them find their own individual paths.

For example, take a look at this homepage from a national health organization.

online health promotion tactics


The example above offers more than 22 different actions for visitors, including “hot news” “other news” “email alerts” “news and events” and “job vacancies.”

The logic is that because this is a national organization with many different stakeholders and audiences, the homepage must meet the different needs of a varied audience. This is often the result of committee decisions overriding a much more important measure of success: using your homepage to help achieve the overarching goal of your organization.

So while most homepages attempt to please a crowd of different visitors, if you use heat-mapping software or take a closer look at your Google Analytics, you’ll find out pretty fast how many of your visitors actually make it through the clutter. Usually, the majority will simply leave. Unless they absolutely have to find something, they will most likely hit the back button.

As a result, it makes much more sense to look at your Google Analytics, find out how the majority of visitors interact with your homepage, and then optimize for the action that best serves your organization. For example, you don’t need to put “job vacancies” on your homepage: if a person wants to work for you, they will be willing to dig a little deeper and find the section for new hires. You should be aiming to target the majority of visitors--helping move them through the door.

Your homepage should be designed to elicit a specific response from visitors. While it’s true that health organizations might not have the goal of converting visitors into paying customers--they do have goals that need to be reached. Do you want donations? Do you want people to learn about your cause? Do you want to offer support services for your target audience?

The key is to decide on a central metric, and then to work towards moving visitors from your homepage towards that specific conversion action. Here’s an example of a well-designed health organization homepage.

Good example of health promotion landing page

The above homepage is designed around a central focus: get visitors to sign-up for health coverage. It has a strong headline “your child can have health benefits” (see 1), which for any lower income mother in the USA is pretty powerful, and which then leads naturally to a big, aesthetically pleasing call-to-action button (see 2).

On the right column, there are three boxes with more information in case the target audience wants to learn more about the sign-up process and services offered (see 3). These boxes do a nice job of hiding additional information while still giving users the opportunity to dig a little deeper. This homepage understands that online persuasion is an intensely visual medium: if you overwhelm visitors with text and information choices, they will either leave or go down some path that leads away from your central goal.

Another thing to take away from the above homepage is that the most important points are presented above the fold. According to usability research by Jackob Nielsen (in his book Prioritizing Web Usability), 77% of visitors will not scroll, meaning that the majority of your visitors only read the information above the fold.

It makes sense, then, to telegraph your main call-to-action above the fold. You can then (like the homepage shown above), put secondary information such as contact info, news, and other details near the bottom of the page.

To optimize your own homepage’s design, just answer these questions: What action will provide the greatest amount of return and help your organization complete its mission? What do the majority of visitors come to your website for?

Make that action the central focus of your homepage, only displaying the information absolutely necessary to your audience completing your conversion goal.

Recover abandonments

Shopping cart or sign-up form abandonments are powerful signals that a user is interested in your product. That’s why e-commerce sites use “cookies” (pieces of data used to track browsing habits) to retarget users that came to their websites, put things in the shopping cart, and then left.

The same applies to awareness and behavioural change campaigns. If someone came to your website, began completing the desired action and then left, then they are highly qualified visitors that you should try to re-market to.

Luckily, online marketing makes it easy to track every lost conversion. If a prospect filled out half of your form and then left when you asked for credit card information, you can find and analyze that behaviour in your Google Analytics.

Better than that, you can re-market to them, reminding them with an ad to come back and finish their purchase. You can set up conversion goals in Google Analytics, tracking where in the process the majority of your visitors drop off.

Online tactics for health promotion

The key is to discover why people have left your site. For example, do you require users to fill out a medical number? If so, someone might not have realized they needed it before visiting your website. That means the only thing standing between them and signing up was a single piece of information. They might also plan to return to fill it out, but then forget. You can set up re-marketing in online ad platforms like Google Adwords to remind those users, bringing them back to your site at a minimal cost.

If you don’t have a Google Adwords budget, then you should follow the golden e-commerce rule: capture the most important info first. For example, email addresses should always be collected before asking for a credit card so that you can send a reminder to them in case they abandon halfway through. And you should cut away any unnecessary steps like asking for a phone number, business name, or age--unless that information is critical.

More important, find out why those people are leaving and then optimize your site to correct those leaky pathways.

Test and Measure

In every campaign, you should have a specific action you want to take place. It could be watching your new awareness commercial and then re-tweeting the commercial (turning one click into social sharing). Or signing up for a newsletter. Or downloading a health app. Whatever your goal, just remember that the best way to drive up conversions is to decide on one key action.

After you have decided on your key action, you can use analytic software to figure out what is preventing people from doing these actions.

Pay attention to key decision moments-- for example, the moment when a potential donor has to give up a credit card. Or, when you ask for personal info in return for a free health app or product. Then set up some A/B tests in Google Website Optimizer to find out what is preventing people from filling out the form.

In general, the best place to start testing is the layout of your website and sign-up form, rather than obsessing over words, colors, and images. After you have improved conversions with your design, you can test elements like the headline, images, and sign-up button.

Testing is a science, but it ultimately is about the human experience of your site. Focus on making things simple, easy, and respectful of your visitor’s time. They will repay you with their attention and a high conversion rate.

Summing up

If you are planning on using online tactics for your health promotion and behavioural change campaigns, it makes sense to take advantage of analytic software and conversion principles so that your online marketing channels work hard for you. E-commerce has dug up a ton of research, insights, and best practices, giving your organization a solid foundation of effective principles to structure your campaigns and website architecture around.

If you want some help designing an effective online strategy for your next health promotion campaign, Redbird Communications is here for you. We have proven results with health promotion campaigns and would love to help you harness the power of online tactics for reaching your audience.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for more free information on using marketing to make the world a healthier, happier place.  

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