The Awareness Ladder: How to Set Up Your Website for Maximum Conversions

Do you have a website that just won’t make any sales? Or are you building your first website, and are puzzled about how to structure it? Then this post is for you!

website conversions

Image by TechGig

In this post I describe an approach to structuring your website to optimize conversions – whether you define a “conversion” as a sale, email opt-in, donation, or whatever action you want your visitor to take.

But first, a refresher on how to put yourself in the shoes of your market – from marketing legend Eugene Schwartz.

States of Awareness of a Market: How to Put Yourself in Your Audience’s Shoes

In his classic marketing text Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz describes the “states of awareness” in a market. As the term suggests, consumers have a certain awareness level when it comes to a particular product – ranging from completely unaware to highly aware.

In a nutshell, Schwartz defined the states as:

1.       Unaware of a need: the prospect is unaware that they have a need for your product.

2.       Aware of a need, but not the benefits of your product: the prospect recognizes the need, but not the connection between the fulfilment of that need and your product.

3.       Aware of benefits, but not a solution: the prospect recognizes immediately that he wants what the product does (i.e. he recognizes the benefit), but he doesn’t know that there’s a product that will do it for him.

4.       Aware, but not convinced: the prospect knows of your product but doesn’t yet want it.

5.       Most aware: the prospect knows your product, and knows he/she wants it.

Schwartz said that a marketer must know what state of awareness their prospect is in, in order for them to write compelling ad copy.


Because the words a marketer uses, and the information they provide in their ads, will differ based on the state of awareness that a customer is at.

For example: if you’re an internet marketing consultant who sells search engine optimization (SEO) services to local businesses, the way you speak to someone who is at state #4 (aware but not convinced) will be completely different to the way you speak to someone who is at state #1 (completely unaware).

With the prospect who is at state #4, you could probably jump straight into a discussion of the benefits of your service, using terms like “SEO”, “organic results”, and “optimization”.

But if you tried to use a term like “organic results” with someone who is at state #1 (completely unaware), they’d probably think you’re a hippy trying to sell them marijuana, and they might call the cops on you.

Now, from a theoretical point of view, these are useful points. But how do translate Schwartz’s insight into sales on your website? Enter the “Awareness Ladder”.

How to Apply the State of Awareness to Your Website: Enter the “Awareness Ladder”

In his new book entitled Convert! Designing Websites to Increase Traffic and Conversion, Ben Hunt tries to fill the yawning gap between SEO and direct-response marketing.

Ben Hunt is a U.K.-based web designer, and in this interesting interview with Ken McCarthy of The System Seminar, Hunt describes his evolution from simple-web-design evangelist to his current focus on website designs that CONVERT.

In the book Convert!, Hunt covers a range of topics related to both web design and direct response marketing. But what I found most useful in his book was something he calls the Awareness Ladder.

In essence, the Awareness Ladder is a different way of looking at which stage searchers are in the keyword search cycle. But instead of categorizing searchers as “Browsers”, ‘Shoppers”, or “Buyers”, searchers are grouped into which stage of awareness they’re at.

Here are the stages of awareness (which Hunt calls “steps”):

Stage 0: Not Aware of the Need

At this stage, the prospect is not aware they have a problem, so they’re not looking for a solution. How to target them? Go where they are on the web, and tell them they have a problem – and educate them on why it’s a big deal.

Example: middle-aged men and women who have a serious health issue (like diabetes) but don’t realize it. You could target these people by putting banner ads on websites that are frequented by this demographic. The banner ads could include copy to this effect:

“Did you know frequent peeing is a sign of diabetes? Click here for a complete list of diabetes symptoms”

Note: is it ethical to inform unaware people that they have a problem? In the case of health problems, I would argue that IMers are actually performing a public service. (Provided their sites provide legitimate, helpful information, of course.)

If you’re trying to convince people that their lives are incomplete without Baconnaise, on the other hand…

Stage 1: Aware of a need (but not aware solutions exist)

These are people who search on generic “problem” keywords, like “acne” or “computer virus”. Web pages set up to target these keywords should describe the problem and why it needs to be solved, then link to other pages that discuss solutions. Which leads to the next step:

Stage 2: Aware of some solutions (but not your specific one)

At this phase of the prospect’s awareness, they may be in the “Shop” phase that Richard Stokes discusses in the keyword search cycle. They might have refined their search beyond basic keywords like “computer virus” and are searching on slightly more targeted terms like “computer virus software”, or “get rid of computer virus”. Web pages targeting these terms should discuss the range of solutions available, and could be set up like “review” pages.

Stage 3: Aware of the specific solution (but not of its benefits)

At this stage, the prospect is searching by using product- or service-specific keywords (for example: “Norton anti-virus”). They’ve probably already made the emotional decision to buy, and are now looking for information to validate their decision. This is where well laid out product-review pages convert like crazy. If you can attract people who are at this stage of the buying cycle, you have the potential to rake it in.

But as Ben Hunt says in Convert!, it’s vitally important that web pages that target people at Step 3 lay out very clearly the BENEFITS of the product the page is promoting.

Before I move on, let me add one point about targeting people who are ready to buy. As I mentioned, these can be the easiest prospects to convert into customers, because they’re “in heat” (don’t groan at me! I’m not the first one to use that analogy :)

But amorous consumers also have the largest number of marketers chasing after them. So if you find that targeting buyers is just too competitive, consider going after consumers who are at step 0 (unaware that there’s a problem, or step 1 (aware of their need, but unaware of any solutions). People at these early stages of the buying cycle can be much easier/cheaper to reach (whether it be through search engine optimization or pay-per-click advertising) – and by reaching out to them as an “educator”, you’ll be gaining their trust.

Then who do you think they’ll come to when they’re ready to buy?

Now on to the next step:

Stage 4: Aware of benefits (but not convinced)

Aargh! Almost there! At this stage, the prospective customer is teetering on the verge of purchase – how do you push them off that fence?

Ben Hunt recommends that you do this by building “the vision in their mind of how much easier their life will be once they enjoy the benefits” of the product you’re promoting.

That’s good advice, but I’d take it a step further. Whenever I have a landing page designed (okay, sometimes I slack!), I try to include all six principles of persuasion from Robert Cialdini’s classic marketing text Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Here are the six principles (if you want a description of each, click here):

– Social proof

– Reciprocity

– Liking

– Commitment/consistency

– Authority

– Scarcity

Stage 5: Convinced and ready to buy

At this point, the prospect has their credit card in hand. All you have to is make sure that your shopping cart is working (if you’re selling your own product), or that the merchant’s sales page converts (if you’re an affiliate).

How to Use the Awareness Ladder to Structure Your Websites

I know what you’re thinking at this point: well that’s fine, Mr. Theodore Theory, but how do I implement this stuff?!

I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about how to apply the Awareness Ladder to my own sites, and in the table below I’ve summarized the steps in Convert!, using a hypothetical example (the diabetes niche) to give it some context.

Then in the following section I lay out a plan for structuring your websites to take advantage of Ben Hunt’s invention.

Click on the image to download this as a PDF

7 Steps to Build Your Site Using the Awareness Ladder

The Awareness Ladder is a great guide to setting up a new website, but it can also be used for existing sites (in fact, I’m in the process of re-structuring all of my health websites using it).

Here are the steps to follow:

Do this First: Brainstorm a list of keywords in your niche. Sort the list of keywords from highest to lowest volume.

Do this Second. Determine the organic competitiveness of the keywords (i.e. how competitive a keyword is in the search engines by using a tool like Market Samurai).

If you’re just beginning, I wouldn’t recommend targeting keywords that have more than 50,000 allintitle results in Google. (Don’t know how to do “allintitle” keyword research? Click here for a decent tutorial.)

Make a shortlist of all the keywords that you think you can rank for.

Do This Third: Use the Awareness Ladder guide above to categorize your shortlist of keywords. Slot your keywords into stages 1-5, depending on what you perceive to be the intent behind each keyword.

Do This Fourth: By reviewing your shortlist of keywords, assign one site category to each stage of the Awareness Ladder.

Here’s what I mean: for each group of diabetes keywords listed above, I would assign one category. These are going to be the menu categories for my site. Here are the category names I would use for each group of keywords:

Stage # Keywords Site Category/Categories
1 diabetes; type 1 diabetes; type 2
diabetes; what is diabetes; symptoms
of diabetes
What Is Diabetes?Symptoms of Diabetes
2 diabetes treatment; treatment for
diabetes; diabetes diet
Diabetes Treatments
3 victoza diabetes; neal barnard
reversing diabetes
Diabetes Products
4 victoza diabetes review Diabetes Products
5 buy victoza diabetes medicine Diabetes Products

You can see from the table above that your site wouldn’t need many categories (four categories, actually). The key would be to produce one web page for each keyword that you can rank for, and to make sure that your stage 1 and 2 pages make your visitors want to click to the stage 3-5 pages, which contain product-specific reviews (with a big emphasis on the benefits of each product, along with the six principles of persuasion).

Do This Fifth: Download (free) The Ultimate Heatmap by Michael Campbell. One of the best ways to gain confidence in your first days online is to earn a little money – and Adsense is one of the easiest ways to do that (you’re not going to make a killing, of course). Michael Campbell’s Ultimate Heatmap shows you exactly where to place ad blocks on your site to get higher clickthrough rates.

Note: last week I made ONE change to the layout of one of my sites based on a recommendation from this report (I added an Adsense block to the top of the left sidebar). The ad revenue I would normally earn from that site DOUBLED as soon as I made that change, and revenues have been up significantly every day since.

Do This Sixth: choose a good domain name for your site (one that includes your main target keyword), and install a WordPress theme that allows you to quickly and easily make changes to the site.

I have almost zero technical skills (I know the HTML code to bold and underline text, and that’s it), so I use WordPress themes that are meant for tech dummies. Hands down, the most user-friendly WordPress theme for non-technical IMers is the Socrates theme (which was created by IM legend Joel Comm).

Do This Seventh: start creating content for your site!

Tip: outsource this task as soon as you make your first $10 in profit! Waiting too long to hire help is one of the biggest mistakes I made when getting into IM. By hiring freelancers, you’ll be leveraging your time, so you can make money more quickly.

Summing Up

Having a properly structured website can HUGELY increase the conversion rate of your website – whether you want to maximize ad clicks, affiliate sales, email opt-in, donations, or whatever.

One of the keys to maximizing conversions is taking the viewpoint of people who are typing keywords into a search engine and then landing on your site. Website designer Ben Hunt makes a big contribution in this area, because his Awareness Ladder gets you to take the perspective of the searcher at each step of the keyword search cycle.

Once you understand what people are looking for, you can structure your website in a way that ushers visitors quickly and effortlessly through to the action you want them to take.

Questions? Comments? Please leave them below!

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  1. says

    I definitely have had a problem figuring out where my potential customers are. I think that we, as marketers, often forget that not everyone in the world is as excited about our products as we are! The Awareness Ladder and your additional comments will make this a lot easier. Thanks for the post.

    • Moe says

      Great point, Tom. I’m convinced that the majority of businesses that fail do so because they assume their product/service is better than sliced bread. The Awareness Ladder is one way to get an idea of what people are REALLY looking for.

  2. Theresa says

    Hi, Moe,

    This is really helpful as I am just about to set up a website. I really like the step by step process that I can follow. Great Sherpa!

    Thanks again,

  3. says

    Hi Moe
    “Before I move on, let me add one point about targeting people who are ready to buy. As I mentioned, these can be the easiest prospects to convert into customers, because they’re “in heat” (don’t groan at me! I’m not the first one to use that analogy).
    But amorous consumers also have the largest number of marketers chasing after them.”
    Yes I did groan, yes I have heard this before….. but I really liked the next bit about ‘amorous consumers’……………….. the mind boggles – whatever next!
    But you must have been thinking about the dog niche … yeah?
    You know, amorous, being on heat ….. Ha Ha!!
    Still a very good SEO article, good on theory, but not always easy to put into practice.

    Graham in UK

  4. says

    Cant stay and chat – too much to take in and do, but just wanted to let you know I was here, loved the post (as per the norm now) and absolutely LOVED the use of awareness as a defining factor. Brilliant that is.

    Again, there is no way I could digest all of this now. Your posts are slowly taking over my bookmarks tab – just stop it already!

    PS: Did you outsource the build of niche sherpa or did you do it all yourself?
    if you outsourced – can you name names?
    Im looking to do something similar with my course but I just dont have the time

  5. says


    This is a fabulous checklist for creating a site. In fact I am just getting ready to set up a new site and I will be using this. It is easy for me to get going on something that I do not need to be doing right now.


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