Business InnovationEmerging TechUser Experience

10 Things You Should Know About Conversion Optimization

September 2, 2010

Use the following list as your guide to analyze your site performance and execute a plan that improves your conversion rate.

If you’d like to turn your site into a selling machine, contact us. We can help.

image of a money on the background overlayed with text showing Conversion Optimization makes real sense1. Want to improve the productivity and efficiency of every marketing dollar? Invest in Conversion Optimization.

Conversion Optimization is the science of converting MORE of your site visitors to customers.

It requires a mastery of many different domains, but usually requires applying an understanding of digital marketing, web analytics, search engine optimization, search advertising and user experience design . . . to conceive, test, and implement marketing and site changes to improve conversion rate (the rate at which your site converts visitors to buyers).You can think of it as something of a relative of SEO – Search Engine Optimization. However, its connection to the bottom line is more direct.So, why is Conversion Optimization interesting to marketers? While marketing has always been entrusted to “fill the pipeline,” it hasn’t always been held responsible for making the pipeline more efficient. For today’s marketer, who is probably being held to a higher standard (as in – generate revenue and profits), you need to go a lot further than generating more visitor traffic.Conversion Optimization is the way that you generate more from the traffic you already generate.

image of a russian doll background with text overlay Improve across all business layers2. Conversion optimization isn’t really about improving just one conversion rate – it’s about many.

When you think about it, there are lots of different conversion rates on your site. As a visitor turns into a prospect, then into a customer, and then ideally into a repeat customer – there are many steps along the way. Each one will have an important rate for you to consider.

What percentage of people are signing up for your email or to follow you on Twitter / Facebook? Is that percentage improving or getting worse?The classic funnel isn’t the only way to think about conversion rates.For ecommerce businesses, there’s also the different categories of products that you sell. If you run an office products site, how well do you do when it comes to copy paper buyers versus binder clip buyers? So, add another view for important categories.Let’s not leave out what may be one of your most important conversion rates – by marketing investment. While it’s easy to look at things like PPC / search ads and determine how many are converting into buyers or leads (and then getting converted thereafter), what can be difficult is when certain marketing investments have an impact on more than just an immediate transaction.While a paid search ad might convert someone right away, an email campaign may create more loyal buyers over time and even lead to more referrals.In any case, you should be looking at a lot more than just one rate (and probably carrying many of them around in your head) when it comes to improving conversion optimization. Marketers are constantly being asked to make tradeoffs. The closer you are to your conversion rates, the better you’ll be at determining where to cut and where to add.

image of a oranges background with text overlay Keep your offer fresh3. The old rules still apply. If your target, messaging, and offer aren’t any good, there’s only so much Conversion Optimization can do.

This may be obvious to you, but it’s not to a lot of people. It’s always important to think about where you’re going before you jump into website optimization. In other words, think like a business person first – don’t just assume that you should optimize something just because improvements can be made. You may be going down a dead end street.

You need to start at the beginning before you get down into the machinery of conversion.The first question you should ask is something along the lines of “does this site make any sense to the targeted user (assuming the target is actually who’s coming to the site).”Your website should pass the smell test regarding the target, the messaging, and the details of the offer. Your site should speak to your targeted segment in order to improve conversion.Need some help? I co-authored a book about building brand architectures that might be handy – and you can even get a few paragraphs for free from our friends at Google.

image of a play area background with text overlay Avoid the mousetrap4. It’s a virtuous cycle. When you get smarter about conversion, you get smarter about your marketing investments.

It might feel as if you’re making a trade-off between pouring more money in media or promotions or anything else in the marketing budget, but you’re really not. Because Conversion Optimization arms you with a better sense of what’s working, by product segment, by market segment, by marketing investment – you’re actually much better off.

The next time the CFO or CEO asks a probing question such as, why did you split up the marketing budget this way? or can you tell me how you came up with how much to spend on marketing? – you won’t have to respond that you’re terribly late for another meeting.You’ll be better prepared to discuss specific information about which investments are working and which one’s are not. Since you are investing in conversion optimization (no matter where you’re placing your marketing bets), you’re continuously working on effectiveness and efficiency improvements.If you can make your home page more efficient at generating leads (instead of bounces), wouldn’t it always be a good idea to go ahead and do it, assuming it’s not going to cost an arm and a leg?

image of a city street with vehicle traffic background with text overlay Constantly adjust based on traffic5. Conversion Optimization is a lot more than testing headlines. It’s a comprehensive and constant effort to make your website more efficient at turning visitors into customers.

We all know the trap when it comes to making strategic decisions about a site that’s supposed to please so many people. Corporate marketing can suffer the most when it comes to managing through all of the trade-offs around what should be on the home page.

Why can’t I get a bigger placement, higher in the dropdown, featured in the hero (insert your favorite plea here for favorable treatment)?When it comes to making decisions about what goes where on a site, it can be a thankless task to be in the place of the decider.Conversion optimization is your way to turn what’s thankless into something of a no brainer. You can simply say that you’re going to make decisions driven by data when it comes to deciding what goes where on your corporate website.Of course, there are those oh so important policy decisions that may interfere here. However, if you’re being paid to actually drive sales and revenue, you can stand firm in your reliance on data and push decisions like that upstairs if need be.

image of a booth background with text overlay Follow your customer to register6. Want to stretch your search ad dollars further? The best way to do it is to convert more of your search visitors.

This is where things get really interesting. If you’re currently running search advertising (display, pay-per-click) campaigns, you actually have access to the facts and figures that would let you determine the value of improving conversion rates.

If you know how much it costs to generate a click from a search results and you know how likely you are to convert that visitor into a buyer, you’ve a good sense of the ROI of said search ad.However, there might be something else that would be even more interesting to search ad placements over time.It should come as no surprise that search ad rates are not static – and for some categories they will certainly go up over time, due to any number of factors.In the same way that a manufacturer makes constant improvements in productivity, so should any digital marketer look to make constant improvements in conversion rates. It’s the only way to guard and ideally improve operating margin over time.

image of a electric meter background with text overlay Look ahead while tending the store7. Wondering where your sales are going next quarter? Conversion Optimization will help you start using website performance as a LEADING indicator.

We talk to clients every day about optimizing website performance and traffic. The smartest clients, usually CMOs but not always, realize that their site traffic is nearly always a leading indicator for their business performance.

And this isn’t just for the kinds of companies that you would imagine. It’s not just ecommerce sites that are obviously looking at website traffic as a leading indicator, even for longer sales cycle purchases.Even business-to-business companies with relatively long purchase cycles can use their sites as something of a crystal ball.As a part of our conversion optimization offering, we often need to get into the analytics setup and tinker (usually fix) to make sure we are getting the data we need.Generating greater insight into category performance, not to mention opening up an opportunity to address market changes before they’re significant, is just one of the many benefits that comes from a more programmatic conversion optimization effort.

blurred image background with text overlay Focus on what converts8. Looking to redesign your current website and want to avoid the same old war of opinions and anecdotes? Put the focus on what converts.

I’m in the position to talk to a lot of people with buyer’s remorse. They’ve just completed a new website only to discover that they’ve made some sort of terrible mistake.

Lead generation results plummet. Sales decline. Or, most recently, someone discovers that you can’t view Flash on an iPad or an iPhone.The reason why the remorse can be so intense is that the process of redesigning a site can turn even relatively logical people into lunatics. While everyone looks forward to the outcome – ideally a site that sells more – almost no one looks forward to the work and the, uh, alignment required to make it happen.If you’ve focused on putting the marketing analytics in place to know what converts and what doesn’t, you’ll have ammunition you need to cut short many of the arguments that are fueled by anecdotes.

illustration of a funnel background with text overlay Use the funnel to support spending9. Are you ready for another tough year for marketing planning? Use your conversion funnel to go to bat for marketing investments.

The economy will have its ups and downs every year. I remember how one CMO at a large beverage company would just get irate when the marketing team made excuses for missing the plan because of the weather.

Every company has its own planning ritual wherein different parts of the company duke it out for resources. Marketing is usually in for a particularly tough cross examination.If you want to be able to answer the why questions – why this much, why this investment, why this time, why, why why – you can always just point to your knowledge of your conversion funnel, by category, by brand, by marketing investment. Mastery of this level of detail will help position you as recognizing that not only are you looking to build your brand, but you’re also working on a big “optimization problem” in search of higher sales and profits.Conversion rate details will let you answer the why questions and show up as a profit-focused marketer – not just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

imkage of a pie on a table background with text overlay Save a slice for later10. Ad hoc efforts are not the answer. If you’re serious, allocate a percentage of Digital Marketing / Media to improve conversion productivity over time.

In the old world of manufacturing, the cost or conversion equation is usually taken as a given. Manufacturing costs are based on standard costs that might have been updated based on last year’s performance.

That’s why so many marketers may overlook the fact that they should be investing in the overall efficiency of their sales machine…every month. The current conversion rate is not a given. It’s a function of many factors, the majority of which are usually within the control of marketing.If you would like to see the CFO smile when you’re pitching your marketing plans, try talking about how you would like to improve the efficiency of your sales efforts by focusing on Conversion Optimization.You’ll in essence be saying that you want to make smarter and more efficient investments with all of your marketing dollars.