By Peter Prestipino, Editor-In-Chief
The ability of a website to turn browsers into buyers is essential for enterprise success today - without it, there is simply no chance of survival. The good news? It is within your power to influence users, in a positive way, along their path to conversion.
Optimizing the digital experience for a consistent stream of conversions, be it the sales of a physical good or the subscription to a digital service, can be a tricky and complicated matter, and the expectations will differ based on one's role within the enterprise (as well as their experience). In the Web realm and in the digital department of enterprises today, conversion optimization/conversion rate optimization (CRO) is essentially a system for increasing the percentage of visitors that become customers, or more specifically, take the desired action - be it the purchase of a product, the download of a whitepaper, or a sign-up for an email newsletter - that is directed by the brand on a Web page. In reality, conversion optimization is so much more - influenced by analytics, testing, marketing and more.
The practice emerged from the need of Web professionals to improve performance, particularly after the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s burst as well as the financial crisis of 2008. Enterprises were no longer willing to throw one good promotional (marketing or advertising) dollar after another into channels that didn't result in new customers - regardless of how well it seemed to work for others over time (organic search) or how trendy and seemingly appealing it was (social media) to industry experts.
Web professionals woke up to the realization that they, and they alone, were responsible for their own success and had ultimate control and power over the experiences they developed, the manner in which they positioned their brands, products and offers and, of course, the results. In many ways, optimizing for conversion demands emphasis on a range of professional digital practices, from tracking and testing to ongoing development and in today's incredible digital environs, there is no better way to make positive improvements and the reasons are many and diverse. More importantly, there is a major need for it.
According to Econsultancy, just 22 percent of businesses are satisfied with their present conversion rates, but for every $92 dollars spent acquiring customers, only $1 is spent converting them. The reason may just be that the practice is not necessarily simple or straightforward - it's more science than art in many ways and that can be a challenge for organizations that are more creative than technical. What's more and again, the practice is the convergence of numerous initiatives - from user experience (UX) design to Web analytics. Fortunately, there is an immense amount of research and best practice guidance available (much of which is featured in our Conversion Corner article each month).
There are also incredibly powerful technologies (many of which readers will discover here) that help professionals improve the methods and processes required and, of course, their actual approach - the elements of tests that influence users to take the action set forth or not. There are hundreds of ways that digital experiences can be optimized for conversion and in this month's feature article readers will discover some of the most effective known in the virtual universe. First, however, it proves useful to establish a foundation for CRO success. And where do you begin?
A FOUNDATION FOR CRO SUCCESS
Perhaps the most significant mistake made by those brands looking to optimize their conversion rate is that they simply ignore the foundational elements that are so crucial. Many jump right into testing, for example, when in reality, what they should be concentrating their attention on are all of the preceding steps - including analysis. For example, do you know how specific channels (e.g., organic, social, email) are performing? There's a reason the phrase "garbage in, garbage out" is common in CRO circles. The customers that websites attract can make or break a brand's conversion-related success and as a result the source of visits is something that should be continually monitored (if not obsessed about). There's much more, of course, that should be analyzed, including visitors' behavior.
By engaging in an analysis of visitor behavior, enterprises can discover what is preventing more conversions from taking place. Identifying these pain points means finding the areas or elements of a Web page (or digital experience) that prevent users from completing a conversion - and there are often many (discover five of the most common design barriers to conversion at wsm.co/desprobs).
Consider these two specific instances for identifying areas of Web pages that are being ignored or which are too distracting:
+ Observe how far users scroll on the page, comparing the activity and behavior of different audience segments
+ Determine the form fields that are causing drop-offs and abandonment and driving conversion rate lower
There is so much insight that can be gained from studying the user experience that it is not uncommon for most of it to be missed or ignored and that's unfortunate.
The more marketers know about why a user may or may not be converting, the better positioned their brand will be to concentrate its efforts on those elements that demand attention and optimization, avoiding those areas with minimal influence on conversion and conversion rate. Discover additional performance and experience metrics that may be influencing the success of your enterprise at wsm.co/expnos.
Ultimately, all the data in the world is not going to mean anything if Web professionals don't learn from it and put it into action. In the end, what is most important is making something positive happen and in order to do that, some ideas on what can move revenue and engagement metrics in the right direction can mean the virtual world to struggling (and even thriving) brands.
Optimizing for Conversion
Only with a strong foundation in analysis is it possible to begin testing because there is no other way to know what can and should be optimized for conversion and the impact a test could potentially have on the success (e.g., revenue or engagement) or failure of an enterprise. Explore several possible testing options and scenarios below and determine (after analyzing your site's existing performance) if they are right for your enterprise.
+ Check Conversion Rates per Browser: Engage in browser-specific usability testing to identify any barriers to conversion, fixing issues that may prevent users from completing a purchase or taking the desired action.
+ Test Content/Color/Placement of Call-to-Action Buttons: The call-to-action (CTA) buttons with two words convert significant higher than those with just one word. Color also plays a significant role in optimizing conversion rates so commit to regular testing of these vital elements.
+ Examine Slow Load Times: Slow loading Web pages do not just reduce user satisfaction, they reduce clicks/engagement and increase lost revenue per user. If there is one effort every brand should make, it should be to speed up their digital presence in any way they can.
+ Test Inclusion/Placement of Reviews: Many shoppers look at product reviews before making a purchase and a majority are likely to purchase from those sites if they feature product ratings and reviews from other users. Including reviews (both positive and negative) at critical conversion points help reinforce the perception that converting is the right choice and the buyer won't regret their decision.
+ Build Out Product Descriptions: Concentrate efforts on providing detailed descriptions on every product/item featured, addressing quality of the item and the service, pricing and security (reducing prospect/visitor anxiety has been shown repeatedly to increase conversion rates).
+ Feature Shares/Likes as Social Proof: The most common form of social proof is the number of social shares and likes on a piece of content. Make this information viewable and provide the ability for users to share the page as well.
Social Customer Engagement Efforts Need Work
A new Boston Retail Partners report suggests that while social media produces near unlimited opportunities to "create" a memorable and personalized customer shopping experience, most retailers are not executing. In fact, 81 percent of retailers surveyed indicated that their processes need some work. Read more: wsm.co/socialeffort.
+ Integrate Video on Landing Pages: Products that feature supplementary video content are far more likely to be purchased that those that do not.
+ Recommend: Test the presence of related products or information and emphasize those which are most popular and which are the best sellers.
+ Prioritize Email on Forms: Collect users' email addresses early in the form so that should they abandon, it will be possible to still communicate with them later. Also consider autofill (offered by many Web form management providers including FormStack) as they can increase conversion rates dramatically.
Big List of Conversion Optimization Links
Interested in learning more about each of the scenarios mentioned here? Website Magazine explores these topics regularly and has curated a list of articles explaining each at wsm.co/crolinks.
+ Design Matters: Research reveals that websites with low visual complexity and high prototypicality (how representative a design looks for a certain category of websites) were perceived as highly appealing.
+ Test First-Time Conversion Incentives: Offer a reason for users to convert (purchase/sign up) such as free shipping on the first purchase for e-commerce merchants or an information giveaway for publishers. Providing discounts and bonuses ensures the users they are making the right decision as humans tend to compare subsequent options against the one that came first (regular price, then discount price).
+ Offer Payment Options: Offer a variety of payment options for customers and consider the inclusion of alternative payments like Bitcoin or payment models like payments offered by companies like Splitit.
+ Emphasize/De-Emphasize Support: Being available for users when they have questions but aggressively pursuing all users sets a poor precedent as a brand that is overbearing and pushy. There are instances when support is important, but test the strategy your enterprise employs on when and how they offer/present support options. Some brands will benefit from engaging in proactive chat while others should only consider providing personal assistance upon request.
+ Consider Social Login: Most users will simply avoid sites that require a registration process, but many will freely offer up their information if a social login option is presented. Capitalize on the familiarity of Facebook and Google and watch conversion rates skyrocket.
+ The Color of Conversion: While it's not easy to change a brand's colors, there are some tests that can be run to ensure they are not negatively impacting conversion rates. For example, test the presence of landing pages' color palettes depending on the gender of the majority of your audience, or whether items are in short supply or were recently discounted.
+ Capitalize on Authority: People naturally trust authority figures and if a prospective buyer is confident you're the leader (and the best possible option), they will defer to that person in the future. Consider forming partnerships and taking advantage of thought leadership opportunities (like guest posting) to establish authority and showcase that elevated status at every critical point in the conversion process.
+ Personalization: Implementing personalization enables brands to better understand user preferences and develop products based on what interests the user.
+ Rich Snippets Markup: The conversion process starts well before the landing page; considering marking up data such as reviews and ratings to help your listing stand out on the search results page. Another option, and a powerful motivator as it capitalizes on the fear of scarcity, is to showcase the remaining inventory (e.g., the number of items left in stock).
+ Eliminate Popups: While there is something to be said for getting in front of users and making a direct call-to-action, popups (regardless of what they are presenting) distract, confuse and frustrate users so it's best to eliminate them altogether from the digital experience (particularly as Google will soon begin penalizing sites which feature them in Jan. 2017).
CRO TOOLS FOR DIGITAL SUCCESS
There's really no expectation that enterprises will be able to test (or implement any of the strategies above) without the help of software. In many ways it would be impossible without technology, and fortunately, there are many powerful solutions available that are suitable for every size enterprise and budget, which make CRO a viable initiative. Knowing what to look for in these offerings, however, will position a company for success in the future. Brands will want to consider the following when making their selection of these important solutions:
+ Total Cost of Ownership: From the cost of setting up these systems initially, to any ongoing costs that are required, knowing the total cost of ownership for CRO software solutions is essential. While they can provide an immense return in certain situations, knowing the out-of-pocket expense each month will enable an enterprise to plan accordingly.
+ Technology/Support Alignment: Not all systems are right for every enterprise; some solutions are highly sophisticated and require an extensive amount of training and customization, while others can be plugged in to an existing content management or e-commerce system with ease. Ensuring that a CRO tool makes sense for an enterprise is a foundational element of success with these initiatives.
+ Features/Capabilities: Spend time exploring an enterprise-level CRO tool will make one thing clear - they're far more powerful than many of the run-of-the-mill offerings. Understanding the need and expectations of CRO initiatives will ensure that companies are not buying more (or less) than they require. Those with a limited amount of traffic, for example, may only require a solution that provides A/B testing and not a multivariate testing offering.
Increasing the conversion of websites and mobile applications without the support of software is nearly impossible.
SHARE YOUR CONVERSION EXPERIENCE
There are likely innumerable changes that could be made to the digital experience put forth by an enterprise that can change its fortunes - from shifts in budget to eliminating poor-performing channels, to modifications to the online experience. And there are thousands (if not millions) of instances when putting these changes into effect has resulted in a positive impact for businesses.
In many ways, it is unfair to profile only a handful of instances where conversion optimization has provided performance improvements. As a result, Website Magazine would like to encourage you to share your stories and reveal what - the specific tests, the change in process, etc. - made a difference in the Web experience for your business.
Submit your stories of success with Website Magazine and its community of 'Net professionals - email our editorial team at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us with the hashtag #CROctober - and we'll profile the most interesting stories so we can all generate better results from the digital experience.
Every Web professional, from the data scientists to the digital designer, should be concerned with helping their enterprise maximize conversion on the 'Net. While there is plenty of guidance on generating traffic to websites - just explore some of Website Magazine's past issues - there is surprisingly little about optimizing the experience when they arrive, but we hope this month's feature article has encouraged you to go beyond the psychology and explore the myriad opportunities available to drive more conversion from a 'Net presence.