Test What Matters – Ignore the Rest

  |  November 8, 2010   |  Comments

A look at some filters to decide which issues on your site's landing pages are worthy of testing.

If you have done any research on the subject of conversion rate optimization, you've probably come up with a long list of potential problems and concerns about your site's landing pages. These issues probably range from tactical problems to fundamental mismatches between your visitor's goals and your landing page.

So how do you decide which ones are worthy of testing? The following filters will help you to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Breadth of Impact

The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the "80/20 Rule," has been applied to a wide range of disciplines and observations. It predicts that a vital few (20 percent) of something are responsible for the vast majority (80 percent) of the results. If you apply this notion to landing page optimization, it follows that fixing a few fundamental problems will result in securing the majority of the available conversion rate improvement. Conversely, it also implies that some of the elements that you decide to test will not affect conversion rate at all.

To distinguish what is vital from what is trivial, ask yourself which changes could yield the widest potential impact. This can be done at a number of different levels, as you'll see next.

Most Important Conversion Actions

In many cases, you will have more than one desired conversion action. You should concentrate on improving or emphasizing the conversion which results in the biggest financial rewards. For example, if you offer three different service levels, you probably know which ones your audience already prefers and their relative revenue value. By fixing or emphasizing the most popular action, you stand to gain the most. If your least popular plan only accounted for 1 percent of sales, even doubling its conversion rate would not have a dramatic impact on your overall revenues.

Biggest Possible Audience

Companies often have multiple landing pages for specific online marketing campaigns. If this is true for you, examine which ones have the highest traffic levels and result in the greatest number of conversions. Give first priority to the pages that are generating the most revenue.

Many companies only focus on obviously underperforming landing pages. Of course, shoring up your weaknesses is a valid approach to improving your business. However, you should not let it blind you to the opportunities hidden away in your best-performing pages. Just because they are generating a lot of revenue does not mean they are optimized or performing as well as they could be. By improving your top pages even more, you can usually unlock a lot of value.

Most Popular Path Through Your Site

Web analytics software shows you the most popular paths (flows of traffic) through your site. Some of these packages even show you the reverse goal paths - the common sequences of pages that led the visitor to the conversion action.

Analyzing paths can be a somewhat complex business involving several interacting factors. You need to know where traffic lands on your site. In the case of main-site landing pages, the traffic may land on several types of pages on your site. For example, for an e-commerce catalog, you may have significant traffic hitting your home page, category pages, brand pages, search results pages, and product detail pages. The mix will depend on your particular business.

Do not pay attention only to the size of the landing page traffic flows because not all traffic has equal value. For example, your home page may have a high percentage of direct bookmark traffic. This may mean that you have a strong brand and people are proactively seeking out your company, with a correspondingly higher likelihood of conversion.

Conversely, most of your home page traffic may be from your successful SEO efforts. Unfortunately, the traffic may be coming primarily from generic keywords. In such cases, the large number of visitors may hide the fact that they are disinterested "tire kickers" who are much less likely to convert.

A lot of traffic (especially from paid campaigns) lands on pages that are deep within your site. This deep linking is intentional and is used to present the most relevant information possible. Deep linking is common in PPC campaigns, where the intent of searchers can be inferred from their keyword. Those who use generic keywords are sent to your home page, while those showing more specific intent or knowledge about their needs are taken directly to particular information or to product detail pages. The conversion likelihood of the deep-linked traffic is usually significantly higher because of visitors' later position in the decision process, and the targeted information that they see on the landing page.

You can combine all these factors into a single metric for estimating the magnitude of the opportunity losses for each type of landing page within your site. Multiply the revenue per visitor for a particular type of landing page by the number of visitors who land on it. This will give you a revenue estimate for the traffic source. Multiply that number by the bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who immediately exit without viewing another page). This will give you a rough sense of the potential lost revenue. You can now rank-order your pages and focus on the ones with the largest lost revenues first.

Actually, things can get a little more complicated in the real world. Sometimes a page can serve as both a landing page and as a link in the conversion path from other pages upstream of it. In such cases, the lost revenue calculation can be extended to include not only its bounce rate but also its abandonment (or drop-off) rate for traffic that is simply passing through it. But the basic idea is still the same - to estimate the value of the dollars draining out of your leaky conversion bucket.

Most Prominent Parts of the Page

All page elements are not created equal. A visitor's scanning behavior changes based on the specific task at hand. During e-commerce comparison shopping, visitors may inspect all items on a particular search results page with roughly equal attention until they find the right one. When reading articles or a column of search results, visitors will scan the material starting from the upper-left corner and focusing with decreasing attention to each new subheading or entry in the list.

But, there are common general considerations. Eye-tracking and other behavioral studies have consistently shown that people pay inordinate amounts of attention to the information near the upper-left corner of a page when they are trying to get oriented. They look for important content in the central portion of the visible page and typically ignore information in the upper-right and lower-left corners. Placing items above the fold is critical for the awareness stage of the decision process (since you can't click on a link that you do not even know exists). But there is some evidence to indicate that the fold is not at the actual visible limit of the browser window. People start tuning out when they get about two-thirds of the way down the screen. In fact, many people would rather scroll something up into the middle of their screen to examine it than look down to the bottom of the page.

Now that you know how to prioritize what matters most in your conversion optimization efforts, you can begin tuning those elements and improve the conversion rate of your landing pages by leaps and bounds.


Tim Ash

Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.

Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.

He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."

Connect with Tim on Google+.

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