A Site With a 100 Percent Conversion Rate

Which of the following goals helps plan a better Web site?

  • Increase sales conversions from 2 to 4 percent, a 100 percent increase.
  • Ensure 100 percent of visitors take the action planned for them to take.

Most managers would be thrilled with a 100 percent sales increase. They’d celebrate a 4 percent conversion rate. Yet that 4 percent conversion rate doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s explore what, exactly, is left on the table.

Deal With Only Four Types of Traffic

There are four types of visitors:

  • Those who land on the wrong site.
  • Those who know exactly what they want to purchase.
  • Those who know approximately what they want to purchase.
  • Those who aren’t overtly in buying mode but might buy if they came across the right thing.

Are conversion goals identical for all four types of traffic? Of course not!

Let’s work backwards. What does 100 percent conversion look like? First, we eliminate people who came to the site in error. This shouldn’t be a big number, but aggressive search engine marketing (SEM) or human error can account for a small percentage. Let’s assume a 10 percent visited in error, so only 90 percent are convertible.

Overcome Usability Issues

Jared Spool, referencing his many usability studies in User Interface Engineering, writes about the ideal conversion rate in a tip taken directly from my new book, Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results:

Imagine I have a magical device that tells me when anyone who is in a 2 mile radius of where I’m sitting has run out of milk. I drive to their apartment only to find them sitting there with an empty carton of milk and a dry bowl of cereal. I put them into my car and drive them to the nearest 7-Eleven. And, just to ensure they purchase, I give them the money to buy their milk. What are the odds that this person will buy milk in this instance? 100 percent, right? The 7-Eleven would really have to screw up big to not sell milk to this person at this moment.

The average e-commerce site only manages to sell someone a product they really want, under these odd conditions, 30 percent of the time. 70 percent of the time, the customer who knows exactly what they want runs into some show-stopping obstacle that prevents the purchase.

Look at your annual revenue from your site. Assume that only represents the 30 percent who are successfully purchasing. That means there is another 70 percent (more than twice your current revenue) who are trying to buy from you, but failing. That’s the opportunity that you’re currently leaving on the table.

Spool’s scenario describes only customers who know exactly what they want. How many people does that account for? If they’re coming from a shopping comparison site, the proportion may be substantial. What if you don’t sell something that can be as narrowly defined as milk, such as a new product, complex solution, or highly customized product?

Lead generation, such as newsletter subscriptions, can also be measured in terms of conversion rates even when conversion isn’t the final goal. They’re micro conversions on the path to macro conversions. We don’t expect someone to buy immediately if he’s filled out a form to receive more information. He’s at a different stage in the buying process.

Early Stage Buyers Convert When We Persuade

If we want buyers to convert when they haven’t yet identified exactly what they’re looking for, we must focus on understanding their buying process. Every click is a conversion when you plan a scenario as if every click requires an individual decision — because it does.

Dissect the buying process into component parts for each persona, then measure those micro conversions in the clickstream. Not only can you better understand how well you’re persuading, you can also segment conversion rates by persona. That allows you to focus on cumulative conversion rates for the site, instead of simply an average conversion rate.

Most sites must plan for many more factors before a visitor will even participate in the conversion process. Some factors can be planned for, some can be influenced, and some are outside our control.

To begin calculating what your conversion rate should be, work backwards from the 100 percent conversion goal. Don’t begin with your currently miniscule conversion rate and find ways to increase it. The result will be a site optimized for a homogenized few.

Don’t Be Satisfied With 4 Percent

Of course, no site will ever achieve a 100 percent conversion rate. When we go through this process with our clients, we subtract factors beyond our control, then factor in and plan for complex factors we can do something about. The ideal conversion rate is always higher than the clients’ anticipated. Some are in the low double digits, others should be over 50 percent.

Both are far cry from that anemic 4 percent clients once drooled over.

I’ve advocated Six Sigma methodology for years and still wonder why people don’t think this way about their sites. Sure, a lot of companies make serious money online. But don’t rest on your laurels; a few brave sites are already moving from the conversion optimization arena and to the conversion maximization arena.

What will your goal be 100 percent or 4 percent? Let me know.

Editors’ Note: We congratulate Bryan and his brother Jeffrey on the publication of their new book, Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results. ClickZ reviewed it earlier this week.

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