Much of the attention in website conversion optimization is on testing and tuning individual landing pages. However, there are many online campaigns that require a visitor to pass through a series of pages before converting. Tuning multiple-page sequences (otherwise known as "flows") has its own unique challenges, because you are not simply tuning the content and organization of a single page, but how the content supports multiple steps in the conversion process.
The best multiple-page conversion flows are systematic, connected, and flexible. Each of these characteristics presents numerous opportunities for enhancement and can be tuned and tested for optimal effectiveness.
An effective landing page framework considers three key elements: user classifications (or "roles"), critical conversion tasks for each user class, and the decision process required (A-I-D-A: attention-interest-decision-action) to support each task for each group of users. In other words, your conversion flow must reflect an understanding of who needs to accomplish what on your site, and makes sure that visitors have the proper support at every step along the way to confidently and easily move to the next step.
Imagine that you are trying to get your visitors to cross a rickety rope bridge across a wide chasm. This analogy is not too much of a stretch: most conversion flows require a significant amount of trust and commitment on the part of the Web visitor. Without a series of solid and reasonably spaced planks, most people (except for a very determined few) will not make it across to the conversion goal on the other side.
When tuning a multiple-page conversion flow, consider testing changes to your site that will fill in the missing pieces. Look at your analytics and see where users are bailing out or seem to get confused, and then test options that provide additional information or support to the user at those moments of crisis. Sometimes this will require creating new content such as wizards, demos, or video presentations, but you may find that you only need to reorganize content that already exists, putting it into the language of your visitor and presenting it at a more appropriate step in the user's decision process.
Even the most systematic conversion flow can leave visitors lost or frustrated if it lacks a strong and obvious connection to other content on your site that could maintain or increase the visitor's psychological momentum toward the conversion goal.
Researchers Peter Pirolli and Stuart Card at the Palo Alto Research Center (formerly known as Xerox PARC) have worked for many years on their information foraging theory. It describes how people hunt for information on the Web much like wild animals in search of their prey. They follow information scent in order to determine if they are getting closer to their goal. They will keep clicking on additional links if they feel that the scent is getting stronger. Otherwise, they might simply give up and start foraging in some other location (your competitor's website, for example).
The information scent is conveyed by clues in a visitor's immediate environment, usually in the form of links on the page. Tuning your multiple-page conversion flow may include enhancing the information scent at various steps in the flow and testing the connections between pages. Consider these tuning options for helping visitors follow the scent of information and build psychological momentum toward conversion:
Unfortunately, even a well-connected and systematic landing page process is not enough. In reality, many of your visitors will not follow an orderly progression along the neat and well-marked little paths that you have laid out. They may jump around, back up, or leave and return much later (after forgetting most of their previous interactions with your site).
Many visitors will not even arrive at your front door. They will enter on pages deep within your site that were never designed as starting points for your conversion process (e.g., previously bookmarked pages, links from blogs, or from organic search results). You can do several things to prepare for the random entry points and unpredictable visitor behavior:
Don't know where to start? A common testing element in multiple-page sequences is the granularity of the steps in the flow. In some cases (if you have a smaller amount of information on your conversion form), you may want to squeeze all of the input fields onto one page. The conversion action can then be labeled as "instant one-step" or something similar, implying expediency and immediate gratification. Another approach is to break up the process into multiple pages. Each page can then contain a small and non-threatening micro-action that is easily completed by visitors on their way to the ultimate goal.
Wherever you start, be sure to keep your conversion flow systematic, connected and flexible, and test every new tuning enhancement to ensure that it supports the user's progress toward conversion.
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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."
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March 19, 2014