Breaking Down a Conversion Funnel

  |  May 24, 2005   |  Comments

How to cultivate a customer experience that delivers.

So you've identified the most important behaviors on your site. One of them is some sort of conversion funnel. Now what? The conversion funnel could be five steps to purchasing a pair of shoes or booking a trip. It may be a lead conversion funnel that drives people to request more information or sign up for a Webinar.

The key is breaking down the conversion process to determine where opportunities are and why people don't continue to the next step. When analyzing a conversion process or funnel, you must understand the overall conversion is made up of a series of microconversions. At each step in the funnel, site visitors make one of three decisions:

  • Continue to the next step in the funnel. This is the desired behavior.

  • Leave the funnel and go to other content on the site. In many cases, these people seek more information, often to support their buying or conversion decision. Most will end up leaving the site without converting, but some may reenter the funnel process and complete it successfully.

  • Exit the site altogether. Obviously, we've lost our chance to convert or cross-sell people on this visit. In addition, if they leave the site, we can't get them to convert on secondary goals or other desired behaviors outside the primary funnel.


Visitors have a choice to make at every step in the process. For them to complete that process, we must help them make the right decisions along the way.

When we analyze conversion processes, we find it helpful to break the funnel into different steps, then categorize those steps into a few key areas.

Here's an example of an eight-step conversion process:

  1. User visits site.

  2. He clicks to a product detail page.

  3. He clicks to add the product to his cart.

  4. He clicks to check out.

  5. He enters his address.

  6. He enters his billing information.

  7. He clicks to an order-confirmation page.

  8. He clicks to an order-complete/thank-you page.

Tracking the Conversion Process

Most top analytics tools can set up funnels to analyze processes such as these. Each tool is different, and some are better than others, depending on what you want to analyze and how the site is set up. WebTrends calls its tool "Scenario Analysis," while Omniture calls its "Fall-out Report."

Now analyze the different behaviors you may see throughout the process. As you analyze behavior at each step, consider what the visitor did to reach that step as well as how he may view the site visit. Just because someone comes to your site doesn't mean he intends to purchase just then. The same can be said about someone going to a product detail page, or even adding an item to the cart. He may simply be browsing products and adding them to the cart to keep track of them, with no intent to buy.

As people start the checkout process, we can assume they're getting a bit more serious. After they've begun to submit personal information, they're even more serious. Often, the "money step" comes next. Will they enter their payment information?

Commitment and Acceleration

Commitment level increases as people move through the process. It starts with zero, or very low, commitment when they arrive at the site and builds slowly as a product is added to the cart. Commitment picks up quickly as people begin to enter personal information and move through order confirmation. It's imperative to continue to sell the decision, even on the order-completion and thank-you pages. A buyer can always cancel an order or return the product.

Since the commitment level grows through the different key steps, we also want to see the abandon rate drop as we move through the steps. In the above example, it would be very worrisome to see a high abandon rate from order-confirmation or order-complete pages. Visitors have gone through the entire process, entering personal and payment info. They're the visitors we can't loose. They're so close! They made the decision to continue on at each step in the process, up until the last one. This is an obvious area to focus attention on.

What Do They Need to Decide?

As you analyze your conversion funnel, determine at each step which of the three choices visitors make (continue, visit other site content, or exit the site) and why.

One of the most informative things to look at is where people go on your site when they leave the funnel. Do you cross-sell other content too much in the wrong places? Are people questioning their decision and seeking more information to help them decide?

It can also be insightful to understand what content visitors look at when they leave the funnel, then return. By understanding what people seek when they leave the funnel, you can understand common questions that cause people to leave the process. By understanding what does or doesn't drive people back into the funnel, you can determine where to focus efforts to help answer the questions that keep people from converting.

Fine-Tune for Your Audience

Each conversion funnel is different, and visitor behaviors within each process are different. But approaching each in this manner will help identify how to improve your overall conversion rate as well as microconversion rates. Once you look at the conversion rate for all visitors, explore different behaviors based on new versus returning visitors; repeat buyers; traffic from different campaign sources; weekday versus weekend visitors, and so on. You can often tune the flow for different audiences and significantly increase conversion.

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Jason Burby

As President of the Americas at POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. With more than 20 years experience in digital strategy, he is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert, and retain customers. Jason supports POSSIBLE's clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works. He is the co-author of Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions.

Follow him on Twitter @JasonBurby.

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