The Secret to Conversion Rate OptimizationBy Greg Snow-Wasserman
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We talk a lot about optimization in digital marketing. There’s different ways to optimize your website and pages to appeal to search engines, social media traffic, PPC channels, content marketing and more. Each of these optimizations generally focus on how you optimize your site to get more people to start the conversion process – filling the top of the funnel.
But what do you do when almost no one makes it to the end of the funnel?
What you need here is conversion rate optimization (CRO).
What Is Conversion Rate Optimization?
Before we get into the magic behind optimizing your conversion funnels, let’s first go over what conversion rate optimization is and the key terms and ideas behind it.
Formally, conversion rate optimization is the structured and systematic use of analytics and user feedback to improve the performance of your website. Basically, it’s finding out where and why users don’t convert, and fixing it.
An important part of CRO is maximizing the value of your current traffic, not increasing traffic to your website. This is important. If you’ve got a leaky pipeline, you need to fix the leaks before you increase the volume.
Now, a quick marketing vocabulary lesson. There’s a good chance you already know some or most of these terms, but it’s important for everyone to know all of them.
- Conversion: The action you want taken on your website. This is often used to mean an order, but could also mean email sign up, account registration, ebook download, or any other action that transforms a website browser into a customer or hot lead.
- Conversion rate: A pretty simple idea, it’s the percentage of website visitors that convert on your website, or the number of users, per 100 visitors, who finish the conversion process. It’s calculated as (Number of conversions/Total number of website visitors) * 100.
- Call-to-Action (CTA): An instruction to the audience to take an immediate action. These are typically buttons or links with the words “buy”, “sign up,” “order” or whatever your website’s conversion is. They also usually use the word “now” to create a sense of immediate urgency.
- Conversion/Sales Funnel: The primary path visitors use to complete a conversion. An ecommerce site, for example, could have a funnel of home page, category page, product page, checkout. This funnel will vary widely between websites and market segments.
- Exit rate: The percentage of people who leave your site after viewing a page. Note that this isn’t the same thing as bounce rate, as it includes people who arrive on the page from elsewhere on your site.
- Abandonment rate: The percentage of people who enter a conversion funnel, but leave before completing the process. For ecommerce sites this is also known as “shopping cart abandonment rate.”
Set a Conversion Rate Baseline
CRO is about figuring out how to get to where you want to be, in terms of conversion rate. So it stands to reason that the first step is to measure where you are now. Otherwise, how do you measure progress? If you’ve already set up goals and funnels in analytics, you can skip ahead to the next section.
There are some basic steps you need to take in order to establish your current performance and measure performance when you start optimizing.
- Goals: Hopefully, you’ve already set up goals in your analytics tracking. If you haven’t yet done so, open up Google Analytics; select your account, property and view (if you have more than one); and click Admin in the bottom left corner. Click on Goals and then “+Goal” to create a new one. Select “Goal Type” — the type of goal you will track (more on this in a minute). When naming your goal, be descriptive. Don’t count on yourself to remember the difference between “Goal 1” and “Goal 2” six months down the line.
- Funnel: If you have a multi-step conversion process, such as creating an account or completing a checkout process, check the box for “Use funnel.” Enter the URLs of your goal funnel, matching the rules you set for your goal URL (if your goal URL is an exact match or RegEx, your funnel URLs will be, too). Check the box for “Required Steps” if you only want to track users who start at step one of the funnel. Otherwise, Analytics will count people who enter the funnel in the middle or end. Note that setting the funnel will affect the way the funnel visualization report works, but people who land on the goal URL through other ways will still get counted in conversion reporting.
- Value: How you measure conversions will impact what you put here (it’s optional, but using a value here will make optimizations so much easier in the future). If you know an exact amount a trial signup is worth to you, great. Otherwise, put an approximate or average amount here. This will let you track how much your CRO efforts are impacting your revenue stream.
Let’s go over the types of goals here really quickly. This is an important step, because it’s the part that lets you track all sorts of different conversions on your site.
- URL Destination: This type of goal measures the number of times people visit the specified page. These goals are good for tracking confirmation pages, thank you pages and PDFs stored on your site.
- Visit Duration: This goal measures how long people spend on your site, and records a goal for any duration that meets the duration goal. This type of goal is good for FAQ-type sites that want to answer users’ questions as quickly as possible (so a goal that is achieved for a visit less than a duration), as well as measuring engagement (setting a goal that is achieved for a visit more than a certain duration). These goals can be tricky, however, as they work by comparing timestamps for pageviews. If someone doesn’t click to another page, there’s no way to measure duration. This goal can still be useful when comparing change over time.
- Page/Visit: This type of goal measures the number of pages viewed during a visit. Like duration, this is good for customer support sites (the fewer pages visited the better) and engagement (the more, the merrier).
- Event: Event goals are a bit more complicated than the other three, because they require adding code to your website. This goal type is great for measuring clicks on external links (such as affiliate links), download buttons, video viewership, social sharing buttons and widget usage. The only problem with event tracking is that you can’t build a funnel around it. Funnels require each step to have a unique URL, which events don’t have.
Ok, so you’ve decided what conversions you want to measure, established how you’ll measure them and set up your funnels. Now it’s time to work some CRO magic.
Conversion Rate Optimization Magic
When optimizing your website’s conversion rate, there are two approaches to take: the landing page and the conversion funnel. It’s important to differentiate between these two parts because the objectives and pain points for each will be different.
Landing Page Optimization
If your website is suffering serious conversion underperformance, the landing page should be your first suspect. Your site’s landing pages’ job is to get people into the funnel, so this is a natural place to start with your optimizations.
When creating landing pages, build them to be testable. You should be able to easily swap out (or delete entirely) different elements to test what works and what doesn’t. Each landing page should have the following pieces you can optimize:
- Headline – Your
<H1>tag, the goal of the headline is to get the visitor interested in learning more about the topic by consuming the page content. Much like its dead tree namesake, the headline is the hook to draw the reader in.
- Hero image – The main visual element of the page. This is actually a critically important part of a landing page. Your hero image should be relevant to the offer, but also evoke a positive emotional response in the audience associated with the product. Show people using your product, or the benefit they’ll receive from the service. Reinforce the value people will get out of converting, even if you have to get a bit abstract with it.
- Body copy – This is where you explain your offer, product or service. Essentially, it’s your value proposition. Use body copy to explain what you’re offering people and how what you do will bring value to their lives (professional or personal, depending on your business). This is where you make promises to your audience that your product backs up.
- Call to action – This is the action you want the visitor to take on your site. What form this takes will depend on your conversion goal. It could be a form submission, download button, add to shopping cart button or something else entirely. The key is to make it prominent and obvious what taking that action will do.
- Social proof – Add customer reviews and testimonials from your target audience. Basic psychology says we will make decisions similar to those who are like us. Plus, online reviews are trusted by most people these days. Feel free to name drop here, too. Throw in the names of any prominent partners you work with, whether they’re customers or vendors.
Take a look at your current landing pages. What are your best-converting pages doing, and what are the worst doing? Form some hypotheses to test via A/B testing. Some good places to start are:
- Long-form vs. short form copy. There are some people who think that, when it comes to text, as little as possible is best. Others argue that minimizing text doesn’t let you adequately explain the benefits of your offer and will turn people off. The thing is, there’s a time and place for each school of thought. Brands with strong awareness and loyalty likely won’t need a lot of explanation, whereas newer or smaller businesses might. Try out long and short-form pages to see what works for your audience. You might find that you need a mix of the two depending on the user’s place in the conversion process.
- Call to Action. Where is the best place to put the form/button? At the very top, or should you wait until the user is engaged by the content? Install a heatmap to see if people are viewing the whole page and try moving the CTA to the hottest part.
- Product use vs. product benefit. Is it better for the hero image to show your product/service in action? Or should you show people living out the benefit? Maybe people prefer an illustration with your logo and/or mascot.
- Third-party approval. Sure, social proof is good, but what if that’s not enough? Test out adding other endorsements like security seals, customer service awards, or publications you’ve been featured in. If you have them, of course.
When forming and testing different hypotheses about your landing pages, keep the definition of CRO in mind:
Finding out where and why users don’t convert, and fixing it.
This is about removing barriers to conversions. Don’t get carried away by adding CTAs all over the page or writing an essay explaining how your service will end world hunger.
Once you’ve perfected the entry point to your funnel, it’s time to plug any leaks you’ve got in the conversion process. If you’ve got a one-step process, like a form submission or email signup, congrats! Your landing page CRO is all you need. If you’ve got a multi-step, however, head back to your analytics to optimize that.
Your best friend here is the funnel visualization report in Google Analytics.
You can get this report in the Conversions section under Goals. The funnel visualization will show you how many people are entering and exiting your funnel at each step. If you checked the “Required step” box when you set up your goal, only people who entered via step one will be counted here.
Take a look at each step of your funnel. Where are the most people dropping out? What are those pages asking the user to do? Can any of the steps be consolidated? On the other hand, should any of the pages be broken out to multiple steps to avoid overwhelming the user?
Keep two guiding principles in mind when optimizing your funnel:
- Reduce friction. Users want to get through the process as quickly and easily as possible. Don’t burden them with unnecessary fields in forms or, heaven forbid, ask them for the same information in two different places. If you have an obvious pain point in your funnel, test different forms, designs and optimize page speed to reduce wait times.
- Don’t make them think. This is a guiding light of content marketing as well. The best thing you can do to encourage conversion is to do the user’s thinking for them. Don’t introduce any doubt or distractions into the process. Users don’t need a video showing off the product before entering their credit card information.
Once you’ve streamlined your conversion funnel, you can move on to other, more advanced optimizations that can result in getting more users into the funnel, and getting more qualified users into the funnel. However, if you haven’t removed all the barriers to conversion before opening the traffic floodgates, you’ll be wasting a large amount of that traffic as they bounce out of your site. However, with the right funnel in place, you’ll see an increase in conversions, sales, revenue and, hopefully, profits.
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