The Ultimate Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization
I’ve written several guides on various elements of online marketing, helping businesses plan their strategies, and execute different elements of an ongoing campaign. But so far, most of my work has focused on generating new traffic for a site or improving a brand’s reputation.
These are both important elements to any brand’s marketing campaign; if you want to generate any kind of meaningful customer interaction, you need a substantial amount of traffic coming to your site and ample brand visibility to support your reputation. But ultimately, these steps are only half the equation.
How does your traffic behave when it actually gets to your site? What steps do they take? And most importantly, how is that traffic translating into meaningful revenue for your business? Without this key step, 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 line in the buying cycle). 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.
Table of Contents
A Brief Conversion Overview
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.
Why Conversions Are Important
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. AudienceBloom 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:
- Your users might not understand how to buy your product.
- Your users might not realize your product is for sale.
- Your users may lose interest or procrastinate buying your product.
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.
Understanding Your Goals
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.
- Raw conversion power. 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.
- Balancing conversions and traffic. 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.
- Variations in conversion value. 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.
Relying on Data
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.
- The dangers of assumptions. 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.
- Proving ROI. 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)
- You can always be better. 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.
Starting With the Research
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:
- Market research. 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.
- Competitive research. 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.
- Best practices and other considerations. 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 AudienceBloom 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.
Types of Conversions
With some of the basics out of the way, let’s focus on some of the main types of conversions, and how you can use them for your site. Different brands in different industries will need to rely on different types of conversions; for example, an online retailer will rely on more direct product purchases, while a B2B service-oriented company will need to generate more leads from contact forms. Understanding the strategic and logistical differences between these conversions is the first step to building an effective campaign.
Product purchases are one of the easiest and most straightforward types of conversion; essentially, when someone buys a product, or multiple products, a conversion has taken place. These are ideal for eCommerce platforms, or for businesses that focus on selling tangible goods, whether you have a vast library of different novelties or you’re just trying to sell your eBook.
There are a few different angles you can take to improve your ability to sell products.
- The landing page. The first strategy is building a dedicated landing page for your product. This is ideal for companies that have only a handful of key products, or those with key products that appeal to different target audiences. With a landing page-focused strategy, you’ll create a separate, smaller website that’s focused exclusively on selling your intended product. This level of dedication makes it easier to optimize for conversions, and serves as a convenient place for you to funnel traffic. You can also easily segment your landing pages, so you can optimize them for different audiences or compare them against one another in a kind of live, ongoing AB test.
- The product page. The product page is a bit like a landing page, in that every product is going to have its own dedicated page. Most of the time, eCommerce sites will use the same template for all of their products; this is beneficial not only because it saves them time in developing new material for every single product, but also because it lends itself to a smoother and more consistent user experience. Most modern eCommerce sites, even giants like Amazon, use this repeatable product page template. This makes it somewhat harder to optimize for conversions, as each product will have a different appeal and you won’t have the opportunity to AB test in a live environment, but at the same time, any improvements you make will improve the success rates of all your products equally.
(Image Source: Amazon)
- Shopping and checkout. As an eCommerce platform, you’ll likely support a “shopping and checkout” style experience for your visitors. Unlike a landing page, where a user is forced to either make a purchase or leave, online shoppers are given more freedom to poke around, add various items to their cart (or even to their wish lists), and eventually check out—if they feel like it. This makes it harder to improve conversions, as merely adding an item to the cart could count as a “mirco” conversion (more on this later), and you won’t have the same yes-or-no confrontation that you’ll have in other applications. It requires a secondary level of conversion thinking if you’re trying to optimize your entire site.
- Donations and gifts. Product conversions aren’t always about purchasing a product, however; you can also think about donations and gifts in this category. Why? Because the basic principle is the same; you’ll be asking a user for a specific amount of money in a single transaction. That’s why crowdfunding campaigns, non-profit organizations, and other scenarios where a request for funds is involved should all think about their conversion rates much in the same way that an eCommerce platform would think about product sales.
(Image Source: Kickstarter)
Conversions based around lead generation differ significantly from those focused on purchasing a product. The idea here is to get a user to express some significant level of interest in your brand, handing over their contact information so that your sales team can contact them and hopefully sell them on your products and/or services. In many cases, these eventual sales are much more significant, either in price or in commitment; for example, rather than purchasing a $20 lawnmower part, they might be signing up for a $10,000, 6-month contract. Lead generation is frequently used by B2B companies, but this isn’t exclusive.
Lead generation conversion optimization is a bit trickier, since you won’t be able to tie a direct value to your conversions, the strength of a conversion is variable, and asking for personal information is much different from asking for money.
- General “contact us.” The first variety of lead generation conversion is pretty simple—the general “contact us.” Most businesses have a contact page, with some using it as a way for customers to get support, and others using it as a way for interested leads to get in contact with them. Usually, this page has some basic company information, like a name, address, and phone number, along with a form that users can fill out. The goal here is to get users to submit that form. It’s also common practice to forward traffic to this page from other pages of your site, so it serves as a kind of “final destination” for your users.
- Requesting more information. The information request is another way to capture potentially interested leads. For example, let’s say you sell replacement windows and you have a page dedicated to the services you provide. It gives a good high-level overview, but you don’t give out pricing—instead, you have a button that mandates your users to “request more information” by filling out a handful of fields. You can also use a mode of more direct exchange for this style of request, such as by offering an eBook or similarly valuable piece of content in exchange for user information. Online marketing specialists like Hubspot do this all the time:
(Image Source: Hubspot)
- Blog CTAs. Blog CTAs are one of the most common forms of initiating conversions. It’s possible to embed a contact form in the body of a blog post, but it’s more common to use the blog content as a conduit to another area for conversion. For example, you might have a callout at the end of your blog that encourages people to “contact us for more information.” This would hyperlink to your contact page, where the remainder of the conversion would take place. Because this style of conversion happens in two parts, it’s a bit harder to track, but your blogs are a valuable way generate more conversion-related interest.
- Pop-ups and side callouts. You can also go a route more akin to conventional advertising, giving your readers a chance to convert with banners at the top or sides of your page, or in pop-up ads that show up after a few moments of inactivity. AudienceBloom uses a method like this, and you might have already seen it. These can be annoying if you opt for something too flashy or obnoxious, or if you directly interfere with your readers’ ability to access your content, so keep it conservative and direct.
Another type of conversion is the email subscribership, which for all intents and purposes is just a simplified version of the lead generation conversion. Instead of asking for lots of personal information like a name, title, and a reason for contact, all you’ll look for here is a name and an email address. You’ll collect this information to be used in your future email marketing campaigns, so every name you collect has a value—just not as much value as a direct lead or a purchase.
The flip side to this is, of course, that email subscribers are easier to get than leads. The process requires less of a commitment, and people are more willing to submit their personal information as a result. Furthermore, email subscribership can be a peripheral goal for almost any business, even if you have other conversion strategies in place. If email marketing is a central focus or value for your brand, you’ll need to prioritize this.
For the most part, any type of conversion that works in the “lead generation” category can work for the email subscribership category. For example, you could use side bars or popups to encourage new email subscribers, or use a blog callout to forward them to a particular area to sign up.
You can also earn value and gauge consumer interest with “micro” conversions. These are meaningful forms of user interaction that don’t necessarily translate to direct revenue (or a significantly increased chance of direct revenue). Instead, these are indications of user interest, which is valuable in terms of brand visibility and loyalty.
There are a handful of types of micro conversions you’ll want to pay attention to:
- Getting to a page. Some of your onsite pages are going to be more valuable than others. For example, you might prioritize a “donations” page that encourage people to donate to your cause; getting people to this page means you’re at least doing a good enough job of making your need for donations apparent, and can help you improve your overall conversion rate. You might also have deeper pages of your site that users can only access by performing a certain function—such as getting to the third step of the checkout process—that can give you similar insights into your user behavior. This doesn’t constitute a full conversion, but it does indicate engagement in the process.
- Downloading or interacting. This is another form of meaningful engagement that can help you calculate how interested your users are in your brand. For example, you might want to keep track of how many people watch your “about us” video, or see how many people walk through your interactive calculator function. You can track these kinds of things in Google Analytics, and even determine more specific factors like how long they watched the video before clicking away. It’s also a good idea to track your downloadable assets, such as PDFs in your resource library.
- Wish list or adding to cart. Most modern eCommerce platforms have some kind of a “wish list,” where users can flag or bookmark an item for future purchase. This obviously doesn’t count as a full purchase, and doesn’t bring you any direct revenue, but it does mean that a user is interested in your product. As such, it can serve as a kind of “soft” conversion for your overall tracking.
- Account creation. Some sites depend on the creation of an account before further meaningful action is taken; for example, you generally need to create a full account on an eCommerce platform before you buy anything. You can count the creation of a new account as a kind of conversion, because it demands at least some level of commitment to your brand and can lead to other, more revenue-based transactions in the future.
These aren’t the only types of micro conversions out there, but they are some of the most common. They won’t help you figure out your new revenue or your ROI, but they can lend some significant insight into the value and appeal of your brand, and give you direction on improvements you can make to your conversion strategy.
Diversifying Your Approach
I’ve listed four different types of conversion to pay attention to: product conversions, lead generation conversions, email subscribership, and micro conversions. Each of these is best suited to a different type of business, and most businesses will stand to benefit from paying attention to some of these forms of conversion more than others. However, all of these modes of conversion can be useful in some way. It’s up to your individual goals and desires to decide which of these modes are the most important, and how you’re going to balance your strategy. I encourage you to decide which of these types of conversion you’re going to focus on before planning the rest of your strategy.
Best Practices for Higher Conversion Rates
Now that we’ve covered most of the basics, we can move on to focus specifically on getting higher conversion rates. This section of the guide will explain how to increase the number of people who end up taking meaningful action—whether that’s buying a product, filling out a form, or micro converting, as most of these different types can benefit from the same best practices.
I’ll be covering a number of different sections here, each with examples of their effective use.
Make Your CTA Visible
Your first step is to make your call-to-action more visible. This should be obvious; after all, how are people going to convert if they’re never given the direct opportunity? Yet many marketers and webmasters end up with CTAs that don’t stand out in any meaningful way. This often represents a huge loss in potential conversions.
You can actually increase the visibility of your CTAs in a number of distinct ways:
- Frequency. Visibility is all about increasing the chances that one of your visitors will encounter a CTA, so one of the easiest solutions is to create more CTAs throughout your site. Make sure there’s at least one CTA on every page—which you can ensure by keeping a signup form in the footer—and do some UX testing to make sure every user encounters an opportunity to convert at least once. The only caveat is to make sure you aren’t spamming your visitors; if they feel like you’re shoving conversions in their faces, they’re not going to want to engage with you. This is where your multifaceted approach will come in handy; you can ask for direct purchases, information for lead generation, and email subscriptions all separately so you’re not asking the same thing over and over.
- Location. The placement of your CTAs is also important. I mentioned having a running CTA opportunity in the footer, but this isn’t very visible when compared to other locations (it’s just a good way to guarantee at least one conversion opportunity per page). The old advice was to keep your CTA above the fold, no matter what, meaning your CTA should be visible immediately, without scrolling. However, this approach is a bit outdated. In fact, heat maps studies suggest that some CTAs are better off when they’re placed a short scroll down from the top of the page.
(Image Source: Unbounce)
The truth is, there’s no “right” or “wrong” place for your CTA, as long as it stands out and catches your users’ attention. This can be hard to discover, and you probably won’t get it quite right the first time, so play around with different locations and see how it affects your results.
- Coloration. Coloration is also significant, especially when you look at the actual button users click when completing the conversion action. There are a lot of psychological studies that seem to suggest that some colors have different effects than others, or that some colors are “better” for conversion. For example, Hubspot sometimes demonstrates this example, where changing the color of two buttons (and keeping everything else the same) from green to red spurred an enormous increase in conversions.
(Image Source: Hubspot)
There’s no question that these results are real. However, the cause of this can be a bit misleading. It’s not the red coloration that made this CTA more effective, but rather the fact that the color stood out more in contrast with the rest of the page. When experimenting with color, your goal shouldn’t be to find that one, specific, magical color that will increase your conversions; instead, you just need to stand out better.
- Directional Cues. You can also make your CTAs stand out by using directional cues; these are visuals that help guide users’ eyes, often unwittingly, toward the conversion opportunity. For example, you might include an arrow pointing to the main CTA, or use color to provide a directional guide to it. You can also go even subtler, by using photographs of people who happen to be looking in the CTA’s direction. Such a change may not seem that significant, but it can have a double-digit growth effect on your conversion rates.
Offer a Strong Value
The core of any conversion is an exchange of value. Your users are going to give you something, and in return, they expect to get something. For product purchases, this system is obvious and straightforward; your customers are giving you money in exchange for a product they believe to be worth at least that much. But the value exchange is present when users hand over their personal information, too, such as in an email signup or form submission. That’s because personal information has a value, and users know this.
Users aren’t going to convert unless your exchange is valuable. Therefore, you need to offer a stronger value if you’re going to see more conversions.
- Prove your worth or offer something. You have two main options here, depending on the type of conversion you’re after. If you’re trying to get a lead or an email subscriber, you’re going to have to offer something in exchange for their information. For example, you might offer a complimentary download of an eBook or other valuable offer. You might also promise a free proposal or free consultation in exchange for reaching out. On the product side, you’re already offering something, only this time it’s in exchange for money, so you’ll have to prove the value of your item. There are a few ways to do this, but to start, think about what unique value it is you’re really offering.
- Bullet-point lists. One of the best ways to communicate the value of a product is through the use of bullet-point lists. You could go for a paragraph-style approach, detailing the item, but remember—people make conversion decisions quickly. You need to convey as much information as you can in the smallest possible space. Bullet points help you organize this information so it’s easy to pick up and easy on the eyes. For a product, choose the top unique benefits to include here. For a special offer, like a consultation or a free piece of content, be sure to list the advantages. You can see Pebble using the technique here:
(Image Source: Pebble)
- Sweeten the pot. Sometimes, even a good product or a valuable exchange isn’t enough to help consumers finalize their decisions. They may be hesitant, or they may question whether the exchange is truly valuable enough to pursue. One of the best things you can do is sweeten the pot with some additional value—over and above what you originally offered. For example, you might “slash your price” to show that purchasing your product now is less expensive than it normally is.
- Offer more information for those who want it. Brevity is one of the most important elements of a successful marketing campaign, and conversion optimization is no exception to that rule. When introducing your products or services, you’ll want to be as brief and concise as possible. However, there will be users who want more information before they buy. How can you resolve this seeming contradiction? The best course of action is to be as brief as possible, but also offer information to those willing to seek it, such as introducing a live chat window or posting links to your main site, where users can learn more.
Make It Easy
You’ve made your CTA visible, and you’ve proven your worth. The next thing you should think about is the actual process of conversion. Though in principle, a conversion is often as simple as clicking a button, the reality is, you can make the process as simple or as complicated as you want it. Unfortunately, many marketers opt to make it more complicated than it has to be, often with logical intentions.
For example, they may produce form fields that demand a lot of input from the user; when trying to earn more leads, the more information you can get, the better. Getting information like previous purchase history, current interests, and background can help your salespeople close more deals (and can give you more information to work with from a market research perspective). However, as a general rule, people are impatient and will greatly prefer forms with fewer fields to fill out. Whatever you can do to simplify your form, do it. Believe it or not, shaving off just a few extra seconds of effort can make the difference to a prospective lead.
In a similar vein, you’ll want to make sure your checkout process is simple as well. Most eCommerce platforms these days are able to offer one-click purchasing, or something analogous, to make the online shopping process simpler. You don’t have to do this, but you should reduce the number of steps it takes to check out to the bare minimum.
Ensure Proper Functionality
This is another piece of advice that should go without saying, but make sure your forms and shopping carts are working properly! Do a test run of your form to make sure the fields can be filled out easily and submitted without error, and make sure you get an email notification as well—I’ve worked with clients in the past who simply weren’t getting notification of their conversions, and they’ve missed a lot of opportunities as a result.
Beyond that, you’ll want to use a platform like Mobiletest.me to test how your CTAs, forms, and products look on various mobile devices and browsers. Take note of any significant differences that could bear an impact on your potential visitors, and correct them proactively. The most important things to worry about here are content loading issues—make sure all your content and visuals are loading properly, and in a way that’s accessible to the user.
Write Compelling Headlines and Copy
I already mentioned the importance of being brief when it comes to selling the value of your offer, but now let’s focus on some of the bigger stars of your CTAs—your headlines, taglines, and filler copy. Headlines are what will grab your users’ attention immediately, and it’s responsible for forming the first impression they’ll get of your brand, so take some extra time to craft the perfect, attention-grabbing, reputation building message.
Easier said than done, right? Here are a few tips to help you through the process.
- Don’t over-sell. This is the first trap most novice conversion optimizers fall into. When crafting your headlines and copy, you’ll be selling your goods and services, so you’ll want to make it sound as appealing as possible. However, this sometimes lends itself to a certain tone of voice that comes off as pushy or tacky. For example, a line like “you won’t believe what this product can do!” might sound like a good way to cultivate interest, but it’s both overused and overly salesy. Modern consumers are discerning and naturally distrustful of advertising, so you’ll have to tone it down if you want to gain their trust.
- Be concise and straightforward. As an alternate route, it’s far better to be concise and straightforward about your offer. Don’t try to overhype it or build it up to be bigger than it is; if your product is good enough to be sold, try letting it sell itself. Be descriptive here, and as accurate as possible, but don’t use ambiguous language or inflated terms to push your product. For example, describing a chef’s knife as “strong, durable, and comfortable,” would probably be more appealing to something sensationalized like “the world’s most amazing knife—you won’t know what you did without it!”
- Highlight the problem and solution. You’re solving some type of problem, or else you wouldn’t be in business. It might be that your product addresses some critical consumer need, or it might be that your service can make your clients’ lives easier. Whatever it is, you need to identify that problem and bring it to the forefront. Make sure people know what the problem you’re solving is; this is psychologically valuable because it serves as a kind of one-two punch, making users realize they have a need, and then addressing that need with your chosen solution.
- Imply a degree of urgency. As I mentioned before, users have notoriously short attention spans. There’s a high probability that, once on your site or landing page, a user may spontaneously lose interest and click away to do something else. Also, if a user feels they can safely delay their decision, they may feel comfortable walking away—and even if they have the best intentions, it’s unlikely that they’ll return. Accordingly, your copy should convey some degree of urgency. Phrasing like “try it today” or “act now” help transition people to the “now or never” mentality. Using strong action-based words also helps; a change as simple as adding the words “get started” can yield a double-digit increase in conversions:
(Image Source: VWO)
Include Images and Videos
Written content alone isn’t enough; not all of your users will want to read to understand the benefits of your exchange. It’s also valuable to include images and video to influence more conversions, especially on a landing page. However, as you might imagine, not just any images and videos will work. Here are some tips to help you use images and video effectively:
- Use real people. First, try to use real people in your images. Seeing another human face can greatly increase conversions. The psychology behind this isn’t precise—it could be a trust factor to see another human being, or it could just be positive associations (since most people are either smiling or having a good time in these types of images). If you don’t believe me, check out this case study from KissMetrics; granted, there are a handful of changes that have been committed at once, but the biggest one is adding a picture of a human being—and conversions went up by 100 percent.
(Image Source: KissMetrics)
- Call to emotions. It’s a good idea to call to user emotions in your images and videos. For starters, if you have people involved, make sure they’re smiling, laughing, or otherwise clearly enjoying themselves. This creates an emotional resonance, even if it’s only slight, that makes your product seem more positive. You can also influence emotions by sympathizing with negative situations; for example, you could show off your product in a video that highlights the key problem your product is meant to solve.
- Be unique. If you’re creating images and videos around a given product, you won’t have to worry about going out of your way to be unique; you’re already doing something original. However, most service-based companies and other businesses looking for a quick image fix may seek out stock photos or other low-hanging image fruit to fill in the gaps. Stock photography isn’t inherently bad, but it is often cheesy and unnatural—not to mention your users have probably seen the same images all over the web. If you want a higher conversion rate, you need visuals that make you stand out.
Marketing Experiments has a great example of how changing a stock image to an original image can boost your conversion rates immediately.
(Image Source: Marketing Experiments)
- Show off your offer. Show off your offer as completely as possible to make sure users see the value in it. For products, this means showing images of your product from multiple angles, and video that demonstrates your product in action. For offers like a free proposal or an eBook, showing off an example, or a sample chapter could be a good way to show people what they’re actually getting. This insight can help people make up their minds—plus it gives them a sense of trust and familiarity with your products and services.
Offer Social Proof
Most people have an inherent distrust for corporations and brands, or at the very least, they tend to trust their peers more than organizations that are clearly out to make a profit. About 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews submitted by their peers as much as they’d trust a personal recommendation from a friend or family member—which is somewhat surprising, if you think about it. But the bottom line here is that most people need some kind of social proof, some evidence that you’ve been making exchanges with other users satisfactorily, before they’ll commit to your brand in any way.
Social proof, therefore, should be one of your top priorities. There are a couple of easy ways to instill more social proof in your CTA or landing page: reviews and testimonials. Though related, these are two distinct forms of content submitted by your past customers. Reviews are generally short, descriptive analyses of a past purchase or interaction, often based on a product or service. Testimonials, on the other hand, are generally longer, serving as a pitch for a company or organization as a whole.
As you can see in this example by VWO, simply adding a handful of reviews to your product page (or testimonials to your lead generation page) can have a substantial impact on your conversion rate.
(Image Source: VWO)
Social proof can go a long way in cultivating more trust from your new user base, but you’ll usually have to go a step or two further if you really want to earn your users’ dedication. One of the simplest ways to do this is to add “trust badges” to the bottom of your site. These small icons, usually located in the footer of a page, show users your affiliations and accreditations, demonstrating your authority (and possibly your security). VWO found that adding trust badges can increase your conversion rates by more than 70 percent.
(Image Source: The New Media Co)
You can also build trust by showing off your expertise. For example, you can list all the major publications you and your brand have been featured in. You could also show off how long you’ve been in business, how much growth you’ve experienced over the years, or list some of your most noteworthy clients (assuming they’ve given you the permission to mention them).
In addition to all the factors I listed above, there are a handful of other variables you should keep in mind when planning, executing, and evaluating the success of your conversion optimization strategy:
- Timing. The timing of your efforts can play a significant role in the type of results you see. For example, if you’re a landscaper, you’ll probably see far more conversions (and traffic) in summer months than winter months. You may also see spikes in conversion activity around certain times of the day or certain days of the week. Keep this information in mind, and make bigger pushes during peak times.
- Traffic sources. Your sources of traffic will play an enormous role in how effective your conversion optimization strategy is, because different sources will send different types of people to your site. My next big section focuses on audience optimization and targeting, so if you’re interested in learning more, skip down.
- Associations. Certain elements of your CTA may cause different effects in different people. For example, an image that seems warm and welcoming to some may seem frightening or alienating to another. There’s no easy way to compensate for this, other than by constant experimentation to find more images and elements that are acceptable to everyone.
There are countless variables to consider in a conversion optimization plan, but for the most part, it’s best to stay out of the weeds. Keep your attention high-level, on your actions and your measurable results.
Ignore Best Practices
Throughout this section, I’ve been listing a number of different considerations for increasing your conversion rate—the best practices for conversion optimization. I have one more best practice to share with you, and it’s a little bit counterintuitive: ignore best practices (at least some of the time).
What do I mean by this? Why did I waste my time writing out and showing examples of all these best practices if I’m now encouraging you to deliberately ignore them? It’s because every business is going to be unique. Your brand, your voice, your audience, and your goals will all be different from everyone else’s. The “best practices” for conversion optimization are rules that work well for most brands—but not all the time. If you stick too closely to norms and conventional practices, not only will you miss out on some great improvement opportunities, your conversion attempts will end up looking like everyone else’s—and that’s definitely something you don’t want.
Go against the grain by defying some of the standard conventions, as long as you have a good idea to substitute for the original best practice. As you’ll see, the more you experiment, the closer you can get to perfection.
Audience Optimization and Peripheral Factors
In the last section, I walked you through the steps of creating an “optimal” conversion opportunity—essentially setting the stage for the average user to want to convert. But not all people behave the same, or have the same needs; in fact, we’re all pretty darn unique. That’s why one of the biggest factors in conversion optimization success isn’t the stage you set, but the people who come to that stage in the first place.
One of your biggest priorities should be making sure the right types of people make it to your conversion opportunities, and catering to them to maximize the potential for conversion.
Choosing the Right Platforms
Most of your online marketing efforts (other than conversion optimization) will focus on exploiting external platforms like search engines, advertising opportunities, and social media sites to funnel traffic to your site or landing page. Your first step should therefore be choosing the “right” platforms—the ones with the highest likelihood of sending appropriate traffic to your site.
- Know your demographics. Take a minute to analyze the type of demographics you’re targeting with your conversion strategy. Early in this guide, I mentioned the importance of doing your market research before even beginning a campaign—now, you’ll need to call upon that research to help you figure out what types of platforms you’re going to use. For example, every social media site has a unique demographic makeup—while Facebook and Twitter might be good for some companies, Instagram might be better for others. Know what platforms and what types of communication your key demographics use, and cater to them there.
(Image Source: Pew Research)
- Know your buy cycle. Knowing your demographic data is helpful, but you’ll also need to understand your industry’s buying cycle. For some consumer products, this is pretty basic; when a light bulb burns out, you have to buy a new one. But for other products and services, like link building services, potential clients go through periods of awareness, interest, research, and eventually final decision making. Depending on your goals, you may need to focus on users in one specific area; for example, if you’re trying to build more email subscribers, the “awareness” stage is an ideal opportunity, but if you’re trying to get solid leads, you need to target people further along in the buying cycle.
- Know your dispositions. If conversions are your ultimate goal, you need to cater to certain user dispositions. For example, if you’re selling something fun and exciting, you need to hit people when they’re feeling good (and make them feel good). If you’re selling a conservative financial product, like insurance, you need to hit people when they’re feeling cautious or especially prudent. Knowing these potential customer dispositions can help you target them appropriately through your messaging and channels of choice.
- Hitting multiple targets. Don’t feel limited to choose only one demographic at a time; your product or service may appeal to multiple people, or you may have multiple different goals going at once. If you are targeting multiple people at once, it’s a good idea to segment your strategy as much as possible, such as by creating separate landing pages for each of your target audiences.
Headlines, Lead-Ins, and Audience Targeting
There’s a kind of “pre-party” that happens before the actual CTA, which can influence whether you’re successful in getting a conversion. You’ll have an advertisement, or a piece of syndicated content, or some other external post designed to get people to your site. How you frame this can influence whether or not a person clicks through, and once they get there, can influence whether or not they stick around to convert.
- Getting the click. Your first goal is getting the actual click, and to do that, you’ll need a powerful and interesting headline. You’ll generally have a finite amount of space to work with here, so you’ll have to pack as much meaning as you can into your lead-in. Make sure your message is tailored to your target audience; appeal to their emotions, their values, and even their norms to make sure you’re attracting the right segment of your audience. Then, offer value and include a tease, such as “we’re cutting prices on one of our best items,” which conveys an element of the value you’re offering without giving everything away up front. This will help you secure more clicks from the people you need most on your site.
- Setting the right expectations. Sensational headlines, like “you won’t believe what we’re offering now,” are tempting to include because they will, in all likelihood, generate more clicks for your site or landing page. The problem is, these types of headlines tend to over-hype what you’re actually selling or offering. Your visitors may feel misled, or at the very least oversold, and they’ll probably be less likely to convert as a result.
- Appealing to your audience. Finally, you want to be sure you’re sending your audience somewhere appropriate for them. If you have segmented landing pages, ensure that you’re directing your traffic to the appropriate segment. Otherwise, run a final check of your images, headlines, copy, and offers to make sure they’re all in line with your audience’s expectations and desires.
New vs. Returning Visitors
Your new and returning visitors will likely behave differently, based on the type of business you run. For example, with an eCommerce platform, a returning visitor has likely already been through the ordering process once, from start to finish. Accordingly, they know they can trust you, so you’ll have less of a need to prove your trustworthiness through social proof, trust badges, and similar factors. For a B2B service, a returning visitor will likely be further along in the buy cycle than a new visitor, and they’ll want to see a different list of benefits. In almost any case, returning visitors are more likely to convert than new visitors.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to serve returning users differently than you serve new users, such as directing them to a different version of your website. What you can do, however, is set up a separate flow for your new visitors, creating specific landing pages for visitors you know to be unaware of your brand that work on building trust and awareness. You can also use the behavior flow chart in Google Analytics to better understand how your new and returning visitors behave differently once onsite, using this information to refine your optimization efforts.
Bounce and Exit Rates
Bounce and exit rates are distinct, but for our purposes, they mean the same thing; a user has become disinterested with your site, and leaves before converting. Bounce and exit rates are valuable pieces of information that help you understand where your users tend to leave your site, and possibly, why they tend to do it.
Why is this important for conversions? With so many conversion opportunities throughout your site, and a user population that’s likely going to explore your site somewhat thoroughly before converting, the longer the average user stays on your site, the likelier they’ll be to eventually convert (or at least walk away with a good impression of your brand). A high bounce and exit rate could mar an otherwise solid conversion optimization campaign, so it’s in your best interest to improve your site’s performance here.
I won’t spend much time digging into the logistics of improving your bounce rate, as this could be a topic worthy of its own guide, but KissMetrics does a pretty good job of outlining the basics here.
(Image Source: KissMetrics)
I want to end this section with one peripheral consideration—a variable that can influence your overall effectiveness in conversion optimization. It’s all about the value of your conversions. Not all conversions are equally valuable, and emphasizing an unprofitable conversion could cause you to spend too much money on an ineffective strategy.
Your greatest tool here is awareness—you need to understand exactly how valuable each of your conversion opportunities is. Combined with knowledge of your total number of conversions and traffic, you can make a good estimate for your marketing ROI—but I’ll get into that later. For now, let’s look at how to calculate the value of a given conversion in three dimensions:
- Straight purchases. Straightforward product purchases are the easiest to calculate. Depending on your intention, you can determine the average “cart” order of a new visitor, or determine the average lifetime spending habits of a new customer. Keep in mind you’ll need to filter first-time conversions from repeat buyers in these metrics.
- Leads. Leads are somewhat more complex. First, you’ll need to determine your average close rate, which is partially dependent on your sales performance and partially dependent on the strength of your leads (going back to the audience optimization side of things). From there, you’ll need to calculate the average lifetime value of a customer. With this knowledge, you can multiply your close ratio by your average customer value to get the average value of a conversion here.
- Subscribership. Email subscribership is even more difficult to calculate, because it’s hard to determine exactly which variables and factors influenced a long-term email subscriber to finally make a purchase. Was the customer already interested when signing up? Was it the strength of your email campaign that pushed them over the edge? You can play around with your email marketing statistics to try and determine the value of a new subscriber here, but you’re better off keeping this exclusive to the email marketing side of your marketing analysis.
AB Tests and Experimentation
By this point, you’ve got a solid start on your conversion optimization strategy. You’ve done your research, you’ve committed to all the standard best practices (or have strategically deviated from some of them), and you should be seeing some higher conversion rates accordingly.
But you’re not done yet. I’ve mentioned before in this guide that there’s an ongoing component to conversion optimization—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.
The Importance of Experimentation
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:
- Discovering new tactics. 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.
- The unknown unknowns. 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.
- Keeping pace with audience changes. 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.
- Staying ahead of the competition. 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.
How AB Tests Work
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.
AB Test Best Practices
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:
- Make one change at a time. 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.
- Know your success metrics. 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.
- Compensate for variables. 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.
Ongoing Measurement and Analysis
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:
- Estimating your spend on traffic. 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.
- Knowing your conversion value. 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.
- Calculating total value. 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.
There are a number of tools you can use to assist you in your conversion optimization efforts, including tools that analyze your current layout, ones that support you by automating experiments and AB tests, and ones that thoroughly measure your results.
These are just a few of my favorites:
- Unbounce. Unbounce is a leader in the conversion optimization industry, and I’ve already mentioned them a few times. Its main function is to help webmasters and marketers build and customize their own unique landing pages, making it easy for you to separate your traffic streams, set up AB tests, and manage independent CTAs. Unbounce offers more than 200 different templates for you to choose from, a great deal of customizability, and in-depth reports that help you understand the conversion performance on each of your pages.
(Image Source: Unbounce)
- Hello Bar. Hello Bar takes a slightly different angle to the process of conversion. Rather than aiding you in setting up specific landing pages, Hello Bar is all about adding new features to your existing website to facilitate more conversions. Most of these revolve around some kind of popup, greeting bar, or other semi-advertisement that naturally stands out to your users. Naturally, the company also offers customization and an in-depth analytics platform to help you track your results.
(Image Source: Hello Bar)
- OptinMonster. OptinMonster is another great tool for conducting AB tests and building better CTAs, but this one specializes in “opt-in” moments, or in other words, email subscriptions. With OptinMonster, you can design your own popups, landing pages, callouts, or other forms of CTA to attract more email subscribers, and put them to the test in a live environment, comparing the results of your different versions. Many of its tools can also be used for general lead generation purposes, such as contact forms and requests for more information.
(Image Source: OptinMonster)
- VWO. VWO is another company I’ve made reference to more than once in this guide, as they’re another leader in the conversion optimization industry. VWO’s integrated dashboard is designed specifically to allow marketers and webmasters to test their ideas more easily. AB tests are a standard feature here, but there are many other types of tests the software offers, including split URL testing and multivariate tests. If you’re committed to ongoing experimentation, it’s a good choice.
(Image Source: VWO)
- Optimizely. Finally, we come to Optimizely. Working for both websites and mobile apps, Optimizely helps you build and execute different variations of your landing pages, popups, and other CTAs. It also offers a number of different plan types, from basic testing and analytics to in-depth integrations and variables to play around with.
(Image Source: Optimizely)
Most of these tools I’ve outlined have specific areas of expertise, and they all offer something different when it comes to user experience. Most of them offer free trials, so I encourage you to give each of them a try and see which ones will be the best fit for your brand—you may even end up using more than one.
Conversion 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 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 this strategy, and remain committed to your ongoing improvements.
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