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)

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