What a New York Prostitute can teach you about Conversion.







Working Girl

© Alexey Klementiev – Fotolia.com

An article in Wired Magazine February details the sex trade in New York City. My attention was caught by a small sidebar describing how they use items of “normal” work life in order to increase the trust and respectability of their services.

The article was written by Sudhir Venkatesh, professor in Sociology. It describes how technology has changed the conditions, and fortunes, of the city’s sex workers. Thanks to the Internet and mobile phones prostitutes have been able to move their business: – Off the street, away from pimps and agencies and their 25-30% commissions, and finally up the food chain, many of them making respectable middle class incomes.

Status update: Just arrived in San Francisco for ConversionConference. Woke up at 3 AM and couldn’t go back to sleep. I often get my most creative ideas when I wake up at night. Seems like my brain is able to connect dots which normally goes unconnected due to über-inbox-fighting and similar tedious activities.

The three top upgrades for a working girl

But what really got me interested was a sidebar describing the “Three top upgrades” a working girl would seek in order to be able to raise her rates. One of them being a Blackberry phone. Sounds weird, does it? It’s not. By owning and showing a Blackberry phone the woman will indicate that she belongs to a professional workforce similar to the one of the client, and she can be expected to be drug and disease free. The phone serves as a proxy and a social marker which increases the perceived trust factor in the transaction.

Ok, fast forward to Conversion: This story reminds me of how online shoppers will use small telltale signs on a site when they judge a site’s credibility. This is mostly a subconscious process. Most likely,  none of the sex clients will tell you that they’ll only go to bed with a prostitute who carries a 6Blackberry. The phone just adds another piece to the puzzle we call Gut Feeling. And that’s how online shoppers act too. They subconsciously add small pieces of things that are trustworthy, things they recognize, things that look odd, and at the end all those pieces go into the Buy/No-Buy decision. The job of the shop owner is to add the good pieces and remove the bad pieces from the equation, increasing the likelihood of a conversion.

“The phone serves as a proxy and a social marker which increases the perceived trust factor in the transaction”

How delivering the unexpected will hurt Conversion

WiredNow fast backward: As I write this post it takes me back to when I started my Wired Magazine subscription. Having bought the magazine off and on over the years I thought it was time to become a regular. So I just typed in Wiredmagazine.com and went ahead. The site had a kind of old looking, jaded design. But I kept going. When I submitted my credit card number it wasn’t validated and I just immediately got a Thank you page. My expectation, based on previous experiences, was that my card number would be looked up and cleared, and it would take a few seconds. Finally, I didn’t receive a confirmation email immediately.

These three small deviations from my expectations, Flawed design, No CC validation, and No email confirmation led me straight to the conclusion that my card had been hijacked. So I checked the URL referenced in the Magazine; it was Wired.com, not Wired Magazine – The horror!

A couple of days later I met a woman from the publisher, Condé Nast, at the first Conversion Conference in San Francisco. She assured me that everything was OK, they had several URLs, and it turned out she was right.

Key takeaways

How can you learn from the hard working girls in the City? Just ask  yourself – What is the BlackBerry equivalent I can add to my site?

How can you learn from me subscribing to Wired? Just go through your site and ask yourself  – Is there anything here that could be seen as not normal or unexpected? Pay extra attention to checkout pages.

Good luck!

Final remark: Here’s a great post By Jeff Sexton
The Difference Between Mediocre and Great Copy
Hint: I used it for the title of this post.

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