In the beginning, the cyber-deities created – STATS! Before you follow any advice here make sure you have superior server stats. MKStats is one program from the old days strongly recommended or something like Urchin. Another more recently developed program is Saw Mill. Essentially what is important is you need to have stats reporting on your server that shows you all the pages and files that get viewed, where people are coming from, how much is being downloaded, etc. Running a paysite without a good stats program for the server would be like running a sports book with no idea who played for each team. So once you get that taken care of, it's time to get started.
The first and most important thing to understand about building your tour, and for that matter, all the rest of your paysite is that you cannot allow yourself to become married to any concept. The power of the Internet is that you can try things out and know the results almost immediately. With your web page, you get to experiment with a variety of ideas and find out what works best. Conversions are bad? No problem, try a different model on the tour. It's not like you spent $2 million producing a commercial that is now going to run for 60 days on every major network. You can change things any time you don't like the results you are getting and then watch for different results pretty much immediately.
So this is the overall concept to understand before digging into any specific advice. It's all about trying things and testing the results then tweaking or changing them. No one thing works every time in every circumstance or there would be a simple formula to work off of. What you have here are the best starting points and the methods and specific elements for implementing the process to your success which is the "try and measure" method. First you try a tour, then you measure the results. Once the results are close to your target then you reduce the testing to more minute details of the tour and continue to test until you have optimized completely. With that said, let's begin with a discussion on the types of tours that work and when to use them.
When building a tour for your paysite there are many things that need to be considered. Page weight (or total size in KB of the files), color combinations, model selections, pixel size of the entire presentation, text, positioning of key links, etc. Every piece has an effect on the conversion and they each interrelate with one another. There are also general schemes to consider. The style of the tour, whether it's the highly graphical, rectangular tour, the long page filled mostly with text and samples, or anything in between.
Choosing what style of tour to put up used to be a simple matter of matching it with the content of your site. Amateur personality and certain niche sites did best with a text laden tour and mega-sites did best with the rectangular, graphic heavy tours. Any hybrid of the design types usually applied to sites that catered to a niche with a very broad market such as lesbians or teens. In today's market, however the tour style you choose is more a function of the source of traffic being sent to that tour.
This paradigm shift occurred about the same time TGP traffic became the primary driving force from free sites to sponsors. The match up is generally as follows: TGP traffic, newsgroup traffic and/or chat room traffic almost always works best with a long page, text laden tour. Banner traffic from "old school" free sites, exits from other paysites and most SE traffic will usually work best with the highly graphical tours.
Of course there are always exceptions to any rule but these are the starting points to work from so you will be much more likely to get it close the first time and have less adjusting to do as you go. Let's see some examples...
In Part 2, we'll examine other points to consider when building your tour, such as the reaction you will get from other webmasters, and more. Stay tuned!