Conversion rate optimization helps answer the following critical questions:
When you fail to answer and improve upon these questions, you can generate all the traffic you like—and it won’t matter to your bottom line.
What you need is another step of the process: a way to convert your inbound traffic into paying customers (or at least get them further down the marketing funnel).
Earning more “conversions” is vital for your brand to stay afloat, but conversions come in dozens of different varieties, and the process is somewhat complicated.
I’m here to walk you through everything you need to know about conversion optimization, from what qualifies as a conversion to ongoing best practices for success.
First, we need to talk about what conversions are, why they’re important, and some general points to keep in mind when optimizing your site for conversions. This is going to serve as the basic framework on which we’ll build your direction and key strategies in the future.
You’ve probably “converted” or been a conversion before—and recently, too. Have you bought anything online recently? Your purchase technically qualifies as a conversion. Have you downloaded any free content in exchange for some personal information? This is a conversion too. Conversions aren’t just about getting people to pay you money; they’re about getting your users to make a meaningful interaction with your brand. SEO.co uses conversion optimization tactics, just like you should, even on our home page:
Conversion optimization is important because without any conversions, your traffic will pass through your site like water leaking out of a bucket. Once it’s gone, it can’t bring any value to your brand.
Conversion optimization itself is important because most of the time, conversions don’t happen on their own. Let’s say you have the “perfect” product; it’s cheap, it’s something everyone needs, and it’s something that generates mass appeal. You get plenty of traffic, but you never worked on your conversion strategy.
You’ll run into a number of potential problems:
The list goes on. On some level, conversion optimization is about making people want to buy your product (or engage with your brand), but even more importantly, it’s about giving them the power and opportunity to actually do it.
Before you get started in a conversion optimization campaign, you need to understand what your core goals are. Yes, you’ll obviously want to “increase conversions,” but there are some other important elements to bear in mind here.
The first and most obvious goal is increasing your total number of conversions. The greater percentage of visitors who convert, the more valuable your traffic is going to become and the more revenue you’ll be able to generate for your brand. You can improve this rate in a number of ways; for example, you can create more conversion opportunities throughout your site, make your conversion process easier to complete, or add a greater degree of urgency—I’ll be digging into these strategies individually in later sections of this guide.
Increasing conversions alone is good, but remember what I said in the introduction—it’s only half the story. Conversion optimization is about increasing the average value of a visitor to your site, but what if you’re only getting a handful of visitors? You’ll also need to consider ways to increase the volume and relevance of traffic headed to your site, keeping it in balance with your conversion optimization efforts. For most businesses, this balance is difficult to strike at first, and they end up pouring too much effort into one over the other. Think carefully about your goals, and where you stand currently, then direct your efforts accordingly.
You also need to understand that not all conversions carry the same value. It’s easiest to imagine this in terms of a product purchase; a user buying an item for a few dollars counts as one “conversion,” just as a user buying an item for thousands of dollars, yet clearly the latter is more valuable. Similarly, a strong lead filling out a contact form is more valuable than a new email subscriber signing up to receive new content from your brand. If you want to maximize your effectiveness, you’ll need to keep these relative values in mind.
Next, I want to explain the importance of relying on data. Throughout your conversion optimization process, from the beginning of your strategizing through the ongoing process of refinement and development, you’ll need to rely on the scientific method and objective data to guide your actions.
One of the biggest problems I see from newcomers is a tendency to rely on assumptions, and on multiple levels, too. They may assume they know how their target audience behaves, electing to go with one form design over another because it “seems” like something their target audience would prefer. For example, they may include a picture of a baby when trying to appeal to new parents. This may work, or it may not—you won’t know unless you have some kind of objective data to back it up. Assuming too much will leave you trapped, unable to push your campaign forward, and you’ll end up scratching your head when you don’t see the results you thought you would.
Data is also important for proving the return on investment (ROI) of your efforts. Conversion optimization itself won’t demand much money from you; you might pay a professional to help you with your conversion efforts, or you might invest a few hours a week to the process, but it’s relatively inexpensive to pursue. Where conversions really count is in how much money they bring in for your overall marketing campaign, where you’ll spend countless hours and thousands of dollars to earn new traffic for your website. Only through objective analysis and measurement will you be able to prove the ROI of your campaigns.
(Image Source: Investopedia)
This is an important principle to keep in mind for your conversion optimization efforts, and it ties into the problem with the “assumption” angle. Conversion optimization is about getting more conversions, so when you aren’t getting any conversions, it seems appealing. Let’s say, as a result of your efforts, you go from a rate of zero percent to something like two or three percent. That’s a pretty solid conversion rate! But at this point, most people get lulled into a state of complacency; they believe they’ve done a good enough job, and they don’t strive to get even more conversions. The truth is, your conversion rate can almost always be higher, but you have to keep striving for improvement if you want to see those rates budge.
Before you get involved with a campaign, you’ll be conducting significant research to ground your campaign direction in an objective vision. There are many types of research you’ll need to consider:
First, you’ll need to really get to know your target audience. You’ll need to learn what’s most valuable to them, what makes them take action, and what kinds of elements appeal to them. Hopefully, you already have a good understanding of this from your business planning and marketing efforts, but it doesn’t hurt to do another run-through to consider how your audience behaves in a conversion-oriented context. This is the point where you’ll be asking these people for their money or their personal information, so you should know them pretty intimately before you start making any changes.
You’ll also want to look around at your competitors, and see what they’re doing. You may or may not be able to discern how well they’re converting (as most sites don’t publish their conversion rates), but you will at least get some ideas for how to start marketing to your target audience. Even with your limited familiarity on the conversion process, you’ll be able to distinguish between competitors who have invested in their conversion plans and those who haven’t. Take a look at the conversion investors, and carefully evaluate the tactics they use to convert bigger percentages of their inbound traffic. Essentially, they’ve already done some of the work for you.
Conversion optimization best practices remain more or less the same, but marketing is also an ever-changing industry. Before diving into your campaign, it’s a good idea to cruise around blogs specifically dedicated to helping you increase conversions. The SEO blog, of course, has a number of topics related to earning more revenue for your brand, but you’ll also want to check out blogs like Unbounce and Hubspot. This guide is meant to be an all-in-one resource for conversion optimization, but just as you can “always do better” with a conversion rate, you can always learn more about the process.
You have to keep working to improve your conversion rates, or else your campaign will stagnate, and you’ll miss out on some extraordinary potential. This section will explain the importance of experimentation, testing, measurement, and analysis in your campaign for better long-term results.
It’s not enough to opt for an “optimized” conversion strategy. You have to put your changes to the test in a live environment—and more than that, you’ll have to commit new changes to gradually improve your results as a kind of ongoing experiment. There are many values to ongoing experimentation:
First, experimentation forces you to discover new tactics. When you force yourself to find new things to change, you’ll tweak things you hadn’t before considered. The resulting changes in your data—for better or worse—will lead you to new insights and new angles to which you were previously oblivious. It’s the only way to keep moving forward.
Experimentation also helps you discover the “unknown unknowns” of your campaign, and illuminate some false assumptions you may unwittingly hold. As a simple example, you might assume that the position of your CTA in the top-right corner of the site is the best place for it, but through experimentation, you may learn that the top-left is actually superior. You may also encounter data outliers, or surprising results that illustrate a new dimension of your audience, or your brand, that you can learn from.
Web design trends change quickly because audiences are always demanding something new. New devices, new fads, and a rapidly shifting digital landscape make it hard to keep up with your audience. A constantly revolving cycle of experimentation can help you stay ahead of your audience—or at least keep pace with them.
Your audience isn’t the only group that’s constantly changing. In all likelihood, your competition is already ahead of you, experimenting with their CTAs and iteratively improving their conversion rates. If you want to stay ahead of them, and become more relevant to your shared audience, you’ll need to apply some changes of your own.
One of the most effective ways to experiment is the classic AB test, so named because you’ll be comparing two different versions of your website, landing page, or CTA—the “A” version and the “B” version. This test is effective because it boils down your results to a simple apples-to-apples comparison, allowing you to determine what it is, precisely, that does or doesn’t work.
(Image Source: Optimizely)
Essentially, you’re going to follow the scientific method here. you’ll come up with a hypothesis; for example, you might decide that a change in font could increase conversions, or that a new image is what your CTA needs to get better results. Then, you’ll design a test that puts that hypothesis to the test, keeping your “A” version the same and applying the desired change to your “B” version. You’ll put both into a live scenario, compare your results, and form a conclusion about the effects of your change—and then repeat this process indefinitely as you come up with more hypotheses for improvement.
Though simple in concept, there are a handful of best practices you’ll need to follow for your AB tests if you want to use them effectively:
Just like in any math or science application, you need to isolate your variables. If you change too many things between your A and B versions, you’ll have a hard time determining which of your changes was actually responsible for the differences you observe. Try to keep as many variables as you can consistent between the two—including your traffic sources and timing.
Remember, every business is going to have different goals and different ideas of success in conversion optimization. Are you striving for a greater number of conversions? A higher quality of leads? More user information without sacrificing your conversion rate? There are many possibilities to aim for, but you have to be aiming for something.
Understand that your results aren’t going to be perfect. If one of your tests gets 100 conversions and the other gets 105, this isn’t a significant enough difference to warrant a change, necessarily; this could be due to random fluctuations in your population. If you’re ever in doubt, repeat the test under separate conditions and see if your test holds up.
Independent of your AB tests, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your conversion rates, which you can do by setting up Goals within Google Analytics. Getting good results in a test is a solid start, but it’s a good idea to pay attention to your long-term trends. Changes in competition, seasons, trends, demographics, and traffic sources can all have an effect on your conversion rates, so watch for these fluctuations and monitor your performance over time.
Occasionally, you’ll want to take a pulse of your overall marketing ROI. You can tap this metric easily once you have a good handle on your conversion rates:
First, you need to estimate your total spend on attracting new traffic. Depending on your approach, this can range from simple to difficult. For example, if you enlist the services of a full-service marketing agency, all you have to look at is your monthly expenses. However, if you leverage contractors and full-time workers, you’ll have to factor in time and employment costs as well.
Next, you’ll need to know the average value of your conversions, as well as how much traffic you see. I covered calculations of conversion value in a previous section, so you should be able to obtain this figure easily.
Next, compare your visitor value—which you can find by multiplying your average visitor value by your total number of visitors—to your marketing expenditures. Are you earning more than you’re spending? Good. If not, then it’s time for a change.
Conversion rate optimization is one of the best marketing strategies you can pursue because it, by extension, can improve the return of all your other marketing strategies.
As you bring in more traffic with tactics like SEO, social media marketing, or even paid advertising, conversion rate optimization will help you maximize the potential value of those visitors.
Everything in marketing comes down to revenue, and conversions are the final gateway in getting that revenue. Don’t underestimate the importance of your conversion rate optimization strategy, and remain committed to your ongoing improvements.
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