Conversion Rate Optimization: The Biggest Failure on the Web?

Recently I was interviewed by Jim Obermayer for his Sales Lead Management (SLM) radio broadcast. His questions touched on many of the issues that we commonly  encounter with our clients at SiteTuners, and they got me wondering if marketers have really embraced conversion rate optimization (CRO) to the extent that they should. In this post I’ll share with you some highlights from our conversation.

What do you mean by “The Myth of the Perfect Conversion” referenced in your book?

Many marketers and web designers still operate on the assumption that everybody who shows up at their web site is ready to transact right now. Emotionally, and even logically, they may know that’s not the case, but their marketing strategy hasn’t caught up with this reality.

There are the different stages in the buying process, which really should be thought of more as a “consideration” process in its earliest stages. Marketers tend to want to squeeze the bottom of the sales funnel rather than supporting prospects higher up in the funnel who are in the earliest stages of consideration. So the myth is this expectation that every visitor can be forced to convert on their first visit. It simply isn’t going to happen.

A good conversion strategy will support people who simply have an unfulfilled need and who are taking the first steps in researching their options. It will offer meaningful, relevant content to help people progress through the buying process without the anxieties that can cause conversion friction. So in the end, a marketer may see a series of mini conversion tasks be completed as the buyer moves down the sales funnel.

Tell us about chapter three of your book, “The Matrix -Moving People to Act,” specifically roles, tasks, and the decision-making process.

The matrix is a framework for getting the right people through the right activities on a web site in the right order. It’s a fairly straightforward process that marketers can use to categorize key visitor types and what those visitors are seeking to accomplish, so that they can ensure that their site meets those needs efficiently and effectively.

Each visitor that comes to your site has a specific task or tasks they’re trying to accomplish. For example, someone coming to an airline web site might want to change their flight, check their schedule, or change their seat. Tasks are generally easy to predict based on what stage of the buying cycle the visitor is in – awareness, interest, desire, or action.

The matrix helps marketers create stress-free and efficient online conversion paths. It puts their focus squarely on the customers and their needs, and challenges them to look at their website as a buyer rather than a seller.

So you really encourage marketers to map out how someone buys, how they sell, and how to create the best web page to contribute to that?

Absolutely. Thirty years ago I studied at UC San Diego under Don Norman, the man who literally wrote the book on user-centered design. Today, after all this time, I find that most marketers are still focused on the wrong things: their company, their goals, their brand, their reach and frequency, and essentially everything that they think is important to their success. Instead, they should be putting their focus on whether the needs of their customers and web site visitors are being met.

Marketers should try to walk a mile in their customers’ shoes – with all the baggage, the information, the confusion, and the lack of attention that visitors bring to the experience. Doing this simple exercise will help marketers create a web experience that is relevant, effortless and enjoyable to their customers, and also supports the business’ goals.

Why doesn’t the average digital agency spend more time on conversion?

The problem with many digital agencies is that their customers expect them to be jack-of-all-trades, which essentially makes them master of none. Most began as web design/development companies, or maybe traffic acquisition specialists, and have expanded their capabilities from there. And if you look at most RFPs, clients still seem to be asking agencies for deliverables like a web redesign, a banner campaign, or a media buying contract, and they measure the success of their agency by how good the site looks and how much traffic comes to the site.

Rare is the client that will tell their agency: “we want you to develop a website that gets more customers through our conversion funnel,” even though that’s probably what they really want. Agencies that are performance-based will prioritize CRO because their goals are aligned with their clients’ goals.

What kind of an ROI can people expect from CRO?

Conversion rate optimization is probably the highest payoff activity an online marketer can do. ForeSee Research did a study of marketers that indicated CRO was a top-rated priority. Marketers are finally beginning to see that CRO is a force multiplier – it affects all of your traffic-driving activities and amplifies the profit from all of your channels. And it’s a competitive advantage as long as your competitors aren’t smart enough to do the same.

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