Conversion Rate Basics

How much time, money, and resources do you spend optimizing your conversion rate?

If you’re like many of us, the answer to this question would choke a rhino.

Tally up the megabytes of spreadsheets e-mailed to execs, the time exhausted gazing at analytics dashboards, and the invoice stacks courtesy of technology vendors. Then, count up the efforts poured into your PPC (define) campaigns, SEO (define), and A/B and multivariate testing.

It’s not for a lack of effort that the conversion rate needle refuses to budge. More times than you can imagine, overlooking the basics is the culprit.

What good is tweaking a high-performance engine if you neglect to change the oil?

Here are some conversion rate basics you can’t afford to ignore.

Double-Check Your Landing Pages

Our senior persuasion architect Anthony Garcia was recently shopping for an automatic cat litter box and noticed a Google-sponsored ad for a major pet supply retailer. As he clicked through, he landed on a page generated by an internal site search, a common practice.

The problem this time, as well as with several terms he tried afterwards, was the landing pages returned no results. No products. No product listings. Nothing. Just a shell of a page. Curious, Garcia conducted both Google and internal searches using terms from that particular site’s product pages. For at least a dozen terms, he retrieved empty internal search-generated landing pages. Worse, this big name e-tailer was likely forking over decent bucks for AdWords clicks only to land visitors on an empty search results page.

Ouch.

Glitches like these happen every day, and technology has an easier time creating them than finding them. A little bit of human intervention and due diligence could have saved this company what could amount to tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales.

How do you avoid this? Simply click through your own ads from your list of PPC terms.

While you click through just as your visitors would, you may also find some landing pages fail to provide strong scent,and you have other content that would match certain keywords better.

Old school? You bet your AdWords!

Keep It Fast

For many, it’s hard to imagine there’s still a significant portion of visitors who dial up to access the Internet. Don’t take for granted that visitors reflect the averages and trends of the rest of the online world. Never forget why we went from dial-up to broadband. Speed! Now, how do you feel about your current connection? It’s too slow.

Recently, we worked with a client who rolled out a few heftier elements on certain key pages. Its site style was a little on the dated side, and this project aimed to update the look. When it was introduced, the client noticed a higher drop off and a subsequent drop in conversion. A look at the logs showed the number of users accessing the site using dial-up was significantly larger than the norm.

After considering the nature of the product and users, this made sense. Among the lessons learned: some sites should pay attention to usage when they begin redesigns or major site overhauls. While you may not need to optimize for dial-up, be aware of who uses your site. You may not have the luxury of using as much bandwidth as you thought. And just because you have the bandwidth doesn’t mean you should hog it all.

Another case in point: our COO, Howard Kaplan, was trying to pay his cell bill. The entire page loaded, except for the button that would have allowed him to log in:

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In another case, a client increased conversions by 24 percent just by optimizing all images and CSS (define).

People want their sites fast, and every day they want them faster. The time to trim is now. You can start with this load time analyzer for Firefox to check your Web site and competitors’ sites. You’ll see what’s clogging up those pipes.

My Challenge

These are just a few basic issues that crossed my desk over the past week. That doesn’t mean all issues are basic. Broken links, images, and 404 pages still abound. Nearly invisible call-to-action buttons and links, misspellings, and poor grammar also count as the basics.

So I challenge you: pull yourself away from the latest and greatest technology for a minute, quit waiting for some black box conversion increase revelation, and make sure you and your team have a good handle on the basics. You might be surprised at what isn’t being done. Even better, you might be surprised at your conversion rate increase when all you do is clean house a little.

Related reading

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A cartoon depicting web analytics. It shows a bubble with the letters WWW in it, surrounded by "click! click!". An arrow leads from the bubble to a notepad with graphs and charts on it. Another arrow leads to a chart on a piece of paper, with a lightbulb next to it, which leads on to a spanner with the words "tweak! tweak!" next to it. In the bottom left corner is a box with four bullet points in it: gather, report, analyse and optimise.
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