Conversion Rates: a user on site is worth two in the ether

By | March 31, 2012

What’s that supposed to mean?

This is a look at conversion rates – what they are, how they’re measured and how to improve them. Many web developers focus on increasing traffic – site visitors and total conversions – but the smart ones focus on conversion rates. It pays to make your site more efficient, not just more popular. Read on to find out why.

What is a Conversion Rate?

In eCommerce a conversion is a site visitor who buys something. More broadly, it is a site visitor who completes a desired action – orders a good or service, buys a digital download, subscribes to a newsletter, posts a review, etc.

The conversion rate is the number of conversions out of the total site visitors, expressed as a percentage:

Conversion Rate = (number of conversions ÷ total site visitors) × 100

It is often costly to increase your total site visitors in terms of time and advertising. This cost could be saved and the time better spent improving your website. This would encourage future conversions – return customers as well as new visitors making purchases. To keep this from being a random process you will need to measure the effects of your changes.

How’re they measured?

While there are other options available, I prefer Google’s tools because they’re generally well-designed and easy to use. Also because I already had a Google account.

Google Analytics

Analytics gives you amazingly detailed information about your site visitors. If you manage a website and haven’t used Analytics you should try it the second you finish this post. That goes for the rest of the Webmaster tools too.

  • Site wide page view analysis: allows you to check which pages of your site receive the most visitors and the least, whether certain pages cause users to bounce, where they move the mouse and click. This should direct the changes in design and usability (see below) to ensure potential customers are not lost.
  • Advanced goal definition: set custom conversion targets that are specific to your service.
  • Conversion funnel analysis: in a process like online retailing (view basket, login, payment info, address, etc.) there are a lot of stages where your user can become confused or frustrated and give up. This tool visualises the data giving and instant insight into which part (or parts) of the process are causing users to drop out.
  • Live analytics: real time reports of site visitors – amusing to try if you have a site with regular visitors.

Google Adwords

Adwords campaigns involve a lot of tweaking and testing of keywords, advert text, and landing page design. Depending on the nature of the campaign they’re can also be costly in money and time. Businesses such as eCommerce sites must be sure that they’re not wasting resources on unprofitable activities.

Adwords conversion rates can indicate whether keywords bid are offering value for money and whether an advert is effective at attracting visitors. Once you have attracted a visitor you can again use the conversion rate to measure the effectiveness of the landing page. Used in this way they enable you to monitor and modify each stage independently. Adwords is now integrated with Analytics so all your conversion rates are in one place.

How do I improve them?

With the average rate at a tiny 2.3%, there are many ways to improve your CR. Some are easier, others harder; some expensive, others free; and most should be central considerations of a good web design process. Below is a selection of ways to improve your site and your service.

Understand your user needs and demographics

Analytics and tracking software make a huge amount of data available to help you refine your site. You can make incremental design changes without jumping to conclusions about what your users need. Use demographic data to target your advertising campaigns to make sure you’re not wasting impressions on a non-target audience.

Also be sure to give your users every chance to provide feedback. If you provide a contact form, phone number, post and email address, people will be in touch to tell you what they need.

Users who feel understood will be more likely to buy from you again and recommend your site to others.

Demonstrate your USP

Users have endless options. They can buy anything anywhere anytime so tell them why they should choose you. Understand your Unique Selling Point and show it in every part of your business – the visual design, the copy, and the service. If your users understand you’re offering something that nobody else is, they will be back.

Keep usability and accessibility as priorities

This should be obvious but it regularly needs to be repeated. Keep usability and accessibility as priorities. See? So many websites lose focus on these fundamental aspects of design and lose sales as a result.

  • Usability: sites which are harder to use will frustrate and confuse users more easily and they will simply choose to take their custom elsewhere.
  • Accessibility: of course best practice should be used to ensure your website is accessible to people. It also needs to be accessible to search engine crawlers so your content can be indexed and more easily found.

Maintain user trust

Users will not share any personal information with a website they don’t trust, and they certainly won’t but anything. User trust can be easily lost and, with the number of options available online, once a user is lost they won’t be coming back.

To maintain user trust you must be open, honest, informative and reassuring at every stage of the sales process. Make sure prices (and VAT) are clearly displayed. Include microcopy – short bits of text that give the user comfort about their interaction – pressing a button or entering some information for example.

If a user converts and completes a purchase feeling that they can trust you throughout they are very likely to become a return customer. This can also drive future conversions by improving your reputation through positive word-of-mouth.

Publish content that builds excitement and interest

There are quite a lot of websites. To make yours stand out and encourage return visitors it should be memorable and/or offer value above your competitors. One way to achieve this is to offer unique or exciting content. This is particularly relevant to specialist industries or business-to-business where industry insider knowledge can be offered as an incentive for site visitors to return and convert.

Create goal-oriented design and content

Your users are busy people with a lot of options so your design and content should be crafted to direct them towards the goals you’ve set. Include clear calls-to-action and make sure that microcopy is in place to reassure users that they are on the right track.

User feedback, reviews and testimonials

There is clear evidence that customer feedback can increase sales. They do this by building user trust through independent feedback. Free tools are available to implement user testimonials, e.g. Testimonials Manager for WordPress may achieve this but there are third parties offering a paid-for, independent service which may show more credibility to users.

User incentives for conversion

If you want you users to do something and they’re not doing it, give them more of a reason. This could be anything you think your users would value. A site which focuses on providing great value for money might offer a voucher code for a newsletter signup. An online retailer with a customer review section might simply offer a “trusted reviewer” badge as a reward. Try and be creative and memorable to keep your users coming back, buying and recommending your site.

A note of caution

Conversion rates are certainly an important and very useful measure. They enable us to make changes to our websites that are based on evidence that directly links back to return on investment. But conversion rates can be misleading. Looking at a site-wide conversion rate may give the wrong impression about a business, especially over time, for example:

  • Day 1: (25 sales ÷ 1000 visits) = 2.5%CR
  • Day 2: (10 sales ÷ 100 visits) = 10%CR

These are extreme numbers but they illustrate the point that even though Day 1 had more visits and more sales – i.e. much greater interest from customers and potential customers – Day 2 had a 4x greater conversion rate. Luckily, as noted earlier, analytics software has the capability to report in a very detailed way so you can avoid being misled.

To conclude

Conversion rates are simple but very valuable pieces of information when used cautiously. They can be used as part of the site optimisation strategy which is implemented during testing and continues post-deployment.

By measuring how they change when you alter your designs and content you can be sure that you are making improvements that contribute to the goals of your business to maximise return on investment. This is also true for changes to online advertising campaigns.

There are many ways to improve conversion rates. They should all be considered but their suitability will depend on the nature of the business. Some have been touched on in this post but there are many others to experiment with.

If you’re a web developer or marketer you should already be using a tool to measure your site or advertising campaign statistics. Rather than focussing on increasing total traffic to your site, set some specific goals with an analytics tool and use this information to refine your efforts.

Use conversion rates to make the most of your existing site traffic.

Conversion Rates: The Presentation (Speaker Deck)

Related Posts from the MA Course

Project Review: Appleyards

By | January 15, 2012

Brief: A website owner has approached you to redesign their site. They are convinced that with an improved design, their site will do better. They have asked for advice on colour, page layout, branding etc.

Home Page, Before & After: New home page contains all the same content as the original design plus a search box and social media links. Clear visual hierarchy with SEO page titles and links to key site content. Tone of the site has changed with the new site feeling more professional and giving a much greater sense of trust and experience than the original site.

Service Page, Before & After: Layout of a service page completely changed to put a stronger focus on the copy. Outline of the page summarised in a few bullet points with more detailed information below the fold if the user is interested. Again the page has been marked up for improved SEO which is also improved by breadcrumb trail. Page includes links to share via social media.

Contact Page, Before & After: Again the layout has completely changed and it is immediately obvious from the visuals what page you are on. Elements now align to a grid making seem a lot tidier and more organised. All company offices are shown on the map and social media links are also directly relevant to the page content.

Site Identity: conventionally this would be placed at the top left of a page but Appleyards’ brand guidelines state that the logo should appear at the top right. Visually this works as it contrasts well with the rest of the page content and the curves of the logo are designed to appear more natural on this side of the page.

Visual Design & Layout: 960 grid system with a 16 column layout to give greater flexibility as there are a lot of page types and variable content types. Use of column helper classes means that page layout can be tailored to content while still keeping the site easy to manage and update by internal staff.

Font: original site uses sIFR, which relies on Flash, for page titles in company font (Bliss 2) – still accessible but adds needless overhead which increases page load time and has a flash of unstyled content. New site uses @font-face to avoid the shortcomings of sIFR and allows different font weights to be included for the best visual experience. Also, the site completely alters use of font size, colour and whitespace to create a clear and visually interesting hierarchy.

Colour: company has a brand purple as well as a colour for each of the company business units. Business Unit colours used on the main navigation but nowhere else – this reduces the meaning of the colours and simply makes the menu look messy. The new design adopts a “monochrome + 2 complementary colours” approach. This uses the brand purple and unit colours while keeping a completely consistent layout above the fold. The effect is to create interest and clear visual cue about where you are in the site without distracting from the content or appearing messy.

Information Architecture & Navigation: original site lacks a search box and has 3 sets of navigation – top, main and footer. Navigation behaves inconsistently (not all items are links) and colours for each business unit on main menu items are distracting. Due to split navigation the site hierarchy is confusing and unintuitive. Excessive navigation options do not properly address Hick’s law.

New design has greatly improved navigation all located at the top of the page. Site content is essentially the same but reorganised into 5 top level categories with icons. CSS popup menus appear on hover giving the user more options as necessary. Search box is now available at the top of each page. Additional navigation element below search boxes for Online Services also serves as an “advert” for prospective clients/employees for how the company works.

Both versions use breadcrumb trails as there is a lot of content on multiple levels, but the new design makes them more prominent and places them at the top of each page as recommended in Don’t Make Me Think.

SEO: correct use of semantic HTML tags creating a page hierarchy which is independent of the user’s device (i.e. more accessible). Breadcrumb trails and customisable page titles and meta data to ensure best page rank. Use of Google Analytics and Adwords implemented with an ongoing review process and simple CMS ensure that the small marketing team will be able to continue to monitor traffic and optimise site cotnent.

CMS: existing site based on a custom CMS which – any changes, improvements or tech support can only be provided by one developer. New site uses WordPress so can easily be managed and improved by internal staff at minimal cost.

Project Review: Warm Bean Coffee

By | January 15, 2012

Warm Bean Coffee (View Site)

Brief: As part of a new campaign, to bring customers back to the high street, you have been commissioned to build a website for a small business retail outlet based in a small town in the southeast of England. The campaign organisers believe that by giving small, local businesses a web presence, they can increase awareness and improve trade.

Tone: design emphasises this is a local business by stating the location clearly on every page. Similarly, purpose of the business is always obvious. Large images make an impact and add visual interest. Copy is friendly and helpful, as concise as possible without being terse.

Site Identity: logo is simple and iconic reinforcing the purpose of the business. Main products and location contained in a large banner. Banner contrasts with other content; spans the header image to add visual interest, drawing the reader’s eye down the page.

Colour: complementary palette (browns and yellows) generated using Adobe Kuler from coffee bean image in the header, then a contrasting blue chosen for additional visual interest. Colour scheme intended to be warm and cosy in-keeping with the company brand.

Font: Georgia for titles and the opening paragraph, Verdana for body text. Use of bold, italic and varying colours keep the limited typefaces from looking uninteresting. Consideration given to all whitespace (padding, margin, line-height, letter-spacing, etc.) to ensure a pleasing visual balance. CSS pseudo-elements, :before  and :after, used to add the coloured tildes ~ to the Drinks and Snacks pages as they are style, not content.

Layout: 960 grid system with a 30px baseline. Basic 12 column layout used as very flexible and design does not require anything more. Whole page is summarised via visual and copy in header area, then more detail given below the fold.

Information Architecture & Navigation: only five pages are used, with no sub-levels, making all information easy to find and contrasting with larger coffee shop chains. No search box as site is so simple but may be required in future if range of drinks and snacks becomes much larger.

Images: large JPEGs for high impact header images, optimised for load time while still working with large, widescreen displays. The blur effect, and images with limited colour palettes were used to reduce the file size. Coffee beans in header edited to tile seamlessly.

Google Maps API: jQuery and gMap plugin used (along with an API key) to create a map and indicate the location of the coffee shop using a custom icon. This technique does not use an iframe so the page validates against a Strict DTD. Map spans entire width of the header so it feels fully integrated into the overall design.

Social Media: links to Facebook and Twitter included in the head of each page. Use of these for a small business could be vitally important for building up a loyal and local client base which will recognise and relate to members of staff. There is the potential for future promotions and events organised via social media.