Conversion Rate Optimization, Upside Down

  |  March 30, 2007   |  Comments

Are you ready to turn optimization efforts upside down?

Way too many conversion rate optimization projects are coming up empty. Companies feel they work too hard for too little return.

Most conversion rate optimizations efforts are focused on pages and elements (we've identified over 1,000 variables) but don't focus on the entire persuasion scenario. That's how they cheat themselves. Most organizations face structural issues that prevent them from recognizing or correcting the problems. They simply optimize blindly.

Perhaps if I explain the issue, this column will help some smart CEO or CMO get out of the bind.

The Hierarchy of Optimization

Not long ago, Kathy Sierra wrote "What comes after usability?" Reading it inspired us to explain the hierarchy of optimization:

Eisenberg Graphic 1

Sierra's graphic refers specifically to users and applications. Ours focuses on potential buyers who must be persuaded to convert. The two are similar but different. And unless you're actually designing an online application, don't treat your visitors as users.

A Hierarchy of Potential Buyer Needs

Like Maslow's hierarchy, the pyramid indicates that only once the base needs on the bottom are met can potential buyers move up to address the next need. As they arrive at the top of the pyramid, they're effectively persuaded to take action:

  • Functional. Does this product/service do what the prospect needs? How easy is it for a prospect to determine this?

  • Accessible. Can she access it? What are the barriers to her ability to realize the need? Is it affordable, reasonable, and findable?

  • Usable. Is it user-friendly? Are there obstacles?

  • Intuitive. Does the sales process/Web site feel intuitive and natural based on her buying preferences? Is she forced to endure unnatural buying modalities to realize her need?

  • Persuasive. Does she want it? Does she truly understand if it fills her need or solves her problem? Is her expectation reasonable? Will she be delighted?

Any optimization hierarchy must reflect visitors' needs as they approach your site, as well as your sales/conversion goals:

Eisenberg Graphic 1

The top of the funnel is market potential, the bottom is where prospects convert. Almost every conversion rate optimization effort focuses too narrowly on the bottom while ignoring opportunities above it. The best optimization efforts achieve usability. Many companies face persuasion issues, not conversion issues.

As you can see, the sales funnel and the needs pyramid are inversely related.

Determine Where to Allocate Optimization Resources

Any company committing resources to optimization should use these diagrams to determine where in the hierarchy its current efforts fall and what other areas might be more lucrative for optimization efforts.

Important points to consider:

  • Is the value of your product/service too complex for most prospects to understand? If so, optimizing the sales funnel at the bottom, when prospects are ready to convert, isn't efficient. Focus on persuasion issues.

  • If you know most of your traffic acquisition focuses on the late stage of the buying process or your product meets a basic, easy-to-understand need, focus on the base of the needs pyramid. This is the place for impulse buys.

  • If you have strong brand awareness or are a market leader, optimizing the top of the needs pyramid will bear little fruit. Prospects know what to expect from your company. Instead, focus efforts on the middle to bottom of the needs pyramid. Prospects are already convinced of your brand's value.

  • The checkout process and lead forms are where you can see the greatest buyer intent. If your checkout process or lead forms have relatively little dropout, optimize the top tiers of the pyramid to move and persuade more prospects to enter the bottom of your sales funnel.

Marketing, Sales, Development, Analytics, and Optimizers

So many silos, so little time! Optimization can boost results not by percents but by multiples. It just needs the proper executive sponsorship.

Hey, you! Yes, you, the too-busy-to-think executive. Do I have your attention? Are you ready to turn your optimization efforts upside down?

Meet Bryan Eisenberg at Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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