Why Conversion Optimization Fails
This is an article I wrote for Website Magazine in 2011. I recommend that you pick up their latest issue to read many more articles. The American magazine “reaches 142,709 qualified website owners and Internet professionals and the largest audience of website owners and managers in the field.”
There are many reasons why your attempts at conversion optimization could fail. If you avoid the mistakes listed in this article, then you will be more likely to succeed — it’s as simple as that. To achieve success in conversion optimization, here are the five biggest mistakes to avoid.
1. Getting blinded by your own knowledge and preferences
If your conversion optimization efforts are largely based on what you like and how you behave, then you are more likely to fail. Not everyone is like you; there are at least three other temperaments to consider.
According to renowned psychologist David Keirsey, everyone falls into one of sixteen temperaments. The temperament of the buyer influences what will convince them to buy a specific product, and what will make them buy it specifically from your company or website.
Which temperament are you trying to sell to? To learn about how to sell to people who may be different from you, read the work about temperaments done by Keirsey and the interpretations made by firms like Future Now, Inc.
My own consultancy firm, inUse Insights (new brand since May 2012: Outfox), has also done similar work, grouping visitors into four types that are illustrated by different birds: owl, penguin, swallow and peacock. The lesson here is that you should learn as much as possible about your audience, and don’t fall into the trap that they are just like you. Besides that, you know a lot more about your company, product or service than your visitors, and you may therefore make the mistake of assuming that your visitors know more than they do. Don’t get blinded by best practices, either; they are not always silver bullets. Your audience and context may differ.
2. Optimizing for the wrong visitors
The assumption that all visitors to your website are there to convert is wrong. When analyzing why visitors are dropping out without converting, you need to know what they came there to do in the first place.
Some visitors end up on your website by chance, some because you cater to their interests or needs, and others because of a mistake. You will rarely convert those who came to visit your site by accident. If you combine a survey (attitudinal data) with your Web analytics tool (behavioral data), you’ll be able to ask for the intention of your visits upon entry and analyze their success rate.
It’s not unusual to find out that the group you have a reasonable chance at converting constitutes 10 percent or less of your visitors. With that new knowledge, you can focus your conversion analysis on the segment that came to your website to convert but never did. Work hard to make that group convert, and forget about the rest — for now.
3. Focusing on only one metric or goal
Testing and conversion optimization is often based around the idea of increasing the rate for a specific metric, a specific goal. Nothing wrong with that, but you may forget to check how your efforts are impacting other goals and metrics.
Maybe you are increasing one goal at the expense of others? Maybe your conversion rate has gone up, but your average order value, margin or return on ad spend has decreased? Always make sure to look at the big picture. If you’re just looking at — and optimizing for — one metric, there’s a risk that you’re fooling yourself.
4. Making testing a goal in itself
I’ve come across organizations that have set goals on how many A/B or multivariate tests they should run in a set period of time. That’s a bad idea.
Think about what incentives do to people, particularly if there is a reward involved. If the goal entitling an employee to a bonus is the number of tests executed, be prepared for lowperforming tests and maybe even ones that decrease rather than increase your conversion rate.
A good goal is not addressed as the number of tests run. Instead, focus on the monetary goal you want to reach, or actions that you want your visitors to take, and run as many tests as you can based on hypotheses and traffic volume. Your goal should be to increase something (purchases, downloads, etc.) or decrease something (visits to the contact page from visitors who have read the FAQ, etc.), not to run a certain number of tests. If you focus on the number of tests, chances are that you will be too eager to test that you forget about building a solid hypothesis, and run tests that don’t have enough traffic to complete within a reasonable amount of time.
5. Coming to the conclusion that nothing works
Have you run tests and not seen any improvement? Rather than conceding that there is no way to make a difference and simply giving up, it is more likely that you overlooked something. There may be something further you could do to collect more relevant data.
Has your Web analytics tool been implemented properly? Have you integrated attitudinal and behavioral data in your analysis? Have you done usability testing? Have you used a tool such as ClickTale that shows behaviors that are not necessarily linked to what you can actually do on the website? One way to quickly get new ideas is to ask your non-tech Web-savvy friends to perform a task on your website without your guidance.
Conversion optimization is for everyone
Keep in mind that conversion optimization is not just for e-commerce. It’s for everyone. It does not matter whether you’re selling a product, a service, information or an idea. We all have specific actions in mind that we want website visitors to take. Conversion optimization is about making a larger share of visitors do those actions. It could be about making a donation, becoming a member, changing an opinion about something, or many other actions.
As long as it’s measurable, it’s a candidate for conversion optimization.