Beyond Conversion Rates

In that first second at midnight on January 1, something nearly mystical occurs. Though the only thing that really changes is the calendar, we somehow feel we’re making a fresh start. We begin plotting things in our lives or work that can be different and better. Allow me to challenge you to think afresh about the opportunities 2005 offers you and your Web site.

The Conversion Rate Game

Before the dot-com implosion, we were a small, lonely voice shouting about conversion rates from every rooftop we could climb up. Back then, few seemed interested in submitting themselves to conversion rate accountability. We knew sooner or later, the piper would show up and demand payment.

Now, conversion rate optimization is almost mainstream. Welcome to the conversion rate ballgame.

A Low-Scoring Game

Depending on whom you ask, average conversion rates are between 2 and 4 percent.

By today’s standards, you get bragging rights and the full dose of hero treatment if you can maintain a conversion rate of 5 percent or above. You have deity-like status if your conversion rate approaches double digits. The world’s finest players sport double-digit conversion rates of somewhere around 12-14 percent.

Of course, I’m referencing top-line conversion: The number of visitors who take the macro action you want them to divided by the total number of site visitors.

A double-digit conversion rate seems unimaginable to some, but experience demonstrates it’s certainly possible. We’ve seen it happen time and again.

Of course, it takes a lot of work.

88 Percent Still Don’t Convert

Even with an awe-inspiring 12 percent conversion rate, it’s a little painful to consider 88 percent of visitors still don’t convert. That’s quite a mound of traffic. But it’s understandable why many feel content with these conversion rates. Even when a dismal 2 percent conversion rate is elevated to 4 percent, that constitutes a 100 percent increase. This usually leads to profitability. One hundred percent growth tends to make people fat and happy.

That’s one reason why the conversion rate game is only played on a portion of the playing field. Most sites optimize and test paths leading from the home page to the shopping cart (or lead-generation form). Many have milked their Web analytics dry and can only squeeze out another few drops of conversion here and there. Others have A/B tested everything they can think of, with only incremental improvements. Still others see so many opportunities, they don’t know how or where to start or, more important, how to manage multiple conversion paths.

If conversion rate optimization were a football game, most teams have been trying to get to the end zone only with a simple, straight-up-the-middle running play offense. No wonder they can’t move the conversion football more than a few yards at a time.

Put the Ball in the Air

If all your visitors were exactly the same in personality, product need, and buying preference, you could use this simple conversion strategy and theoretically achieve as close to a 100 percent conversion rate as possible.

Current conversion rate optimization deals with and measures what is. It can tell you what’s going wrong, and where. In some cases, it can indicate why things happen on your site. But you must also take into account what could be.

Take a more inclusive, holistic approach to converting more visitors. In other words, instead of trying to drag a 12 percent conversion rate, kicking and screaming, up to 13 or 14 percent, put the ball in the air and aim to convert all your potential customers.

Even if your site is among the best performing, 88 percent refuse to tread down the same, tired conversion path you’ve been optimizing for a year or two. If that path were the one they wanted to click through, don’t you think they would have by now?

Persuasion Vs. Basic Optimization

Clicks are people. Each has different needs, capabilities, preferences, and expectations.

The same conversion goal, or a singular conversion path, for everyone is foolproof recipe for mediocrity in site performance. Instead, use scenario design to help create, define, and measure more effective conversion paths.

Different visitors are in different stages of the buying cycle. They need different volumes and types of information. Does your site account for these variances? Do you even have the answers and information each type of visitor may seek?

Some visitors have drastically different motivations for buying. Have you addressed each motivation in your copy and trigger words?

Some visitors require multiple visits before they’re ready to convert. Have you planned proper first, second, and beyond visit conversion scenarios and strategies for them?

Have you sorted out the types of hyperlinks you should include on pages? Do your point-of-resolution links create resolving doors for point-of-action links?

Then, there’s audience segmentation. Visitors enter your site from several channels, carrying different expectations based on the channel that got them there. Have you planned appropriate paths (not just landing pages) for those who enter your site organically? For those who enter from banner ads, email, or media campaigns?

Many companies establish conversion funnels for measuring performance for these channels but put little thought into how a conversion path may need to be planned differently based on context. In such cases, scenario design will rationalize all on- and offline sales efforts into a seamless whole, consistently relevant across all channels.

Persuasion isn’t site-wide. It applies to outside elements, such as pay-per-click (PPC) ads, email, banners, and offline collateral. Explore every possible question or issue. Architect those persuasive paths to a close.

Using Web analytics and A/B testing exclusively for conversion rate optimization is better than doing nothing. But it’s still entry-level persuasion.

I hope this column stirs more questions than answers and you begin thinking more about possibilities you may be missing.

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