UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 188 May 30, 2007

Conversion Rate Optimization - Part 1

Google takes the leading role

Within the e-commerce sphere, the “mind games” between site owners and search engine designers have focused on search engine optimization (SEO). After all, you can’t make a sale if visitors aren’t reaching your site. However, as the web marketplace grows exponentially more competitive, attention among webmasters and site owners has turned to conversion optimization – converting site visitors to buyers.

Conversion optimization has nothing to do with SEO. SEO is designed for spiders and bots. Conversion optimization is based on two factors only: the needs and motivations of human site visitors and persuasive site content and design to encourage humans to make a purchase or perform some other action. Any other considerations are sub-sets of these two factors in conversion optimization strategies.

Measuring Human Motivations and Site Effectiveness

SEO is based on the development of numbers (metrics) that are immutable. Numbers are numbers, there’s no debating that. The interpretation of site metrics, on the other hand, is a true combination of art, science and testing.

Assessing conversion rate optimization must apply a completely different approach to data gathering and the accurate, actionable assessment of the cold hard facts (percentages and such) that are the basis of SEO.

How, for example, do you quantify the emotional response of visitors? What method do you use to collect utile data? And how can you apply the scientific method to the analysis of human motivators and to site designs that will appeal to and persuade those motivators.

The Google Website Optimizer (GWO)

Google owns SEO (sorry Yahoo). It is now moving into eyeball optimization (EBO) to help site owners improve conversion rates. It’s got lots of features, it’s totally flexible in designing useful tests for human reactions and it provides data using simple to read and understand charts showing what’s working and what would work even better.

One key point here: after indexing billions and billions of web pages, who is going to know better what works and doesn’t work for solid EBO? After all, all the Google gurus have to do is evaluate their top performing sites to develop measurement criteria and tools to improve conversion optimization. Google is going to know what works.

One other point worth mentioning – it’s free. A flexible, user-designed test engine developed by Google and available free. It’s a must have for any site owner, site designer, webmaster or SEO.

What can Google Website Optimizer do for me & how can it do it if I don’t know the difference between a statistical mean and a statistical average?

1) Multi-Variable Testing

Got to have it. When quantifying human motivations and the effectiveness of a site page, you must have data to compare – data based on site variables such as a different home page image or revised site text. There are hundreds of variables within any website. Color selections, type font, type color, navigation tools, product images and descriptions – literally an endless list of variables.

Google’s Website Optimizer allows you to design tests to compare variables to see which ones work best. Often called A/B split tests, these simply compare a change or two to see which performs best. For example, you might have a picture of your product on test site A and a photo of the product in use by a human on test site B. Simply by comparing visitors’ reactions to pages A and B, you can make refinements to your site.

Another useful A/B split test to check the success of your Adwords placements is to create two identical ads with two different destination URLs. You’ll quickly discover which placements pay for themselves and which should be dropped.

2) Easy Analytics

The information gathered by Google during testing is delivered in an easy-to-understand format. You’ll see, in graphic form, where visitors go and where they don’t go when on site. You can also track where visitors go after leaving your site – an excellent indicator of what visitors are looking for but didn’t find on your website!Taking a good hard look at your bounce rates and possible paths-thru-site are essential parts of your ongoing conversion optimization diet.

3) Usability Testing

Real humans navigating your site. Get as many people as you can to site down and click around – from your computer-whiz 12-year-old to mom and dad who still use dial-up. These tests provide the reasons why visitors take specific actions – over and over again.

4) Eyeball Optimization

GWO shows you what attracts eyeballs but doesn’t generate a click. It also shows what visitors miss entirely because it’s misplaced or mislabeled. Every page should go throughundergo an “EBO” to improve conversion rates.

5) Follow the Leaders

You can’t copyright an idea so use the same features and techniques employed by higher ranking competitor sites. Then, conduct A/B split tests to see which changes show improvement in conversion optimization.

6) People Are Still the Same

There’s nothing new about direct response advertising, which is what successful sites use. Infomercials, newspaper ads, TV 30-second spots – these are all examples of direct response advertising and the same motivators that work in other media will also work on your website. Once again, you can’t copyright an idea and the principles of direct response marketing haven’t changed one iota.

Determine and identify the buyer’s needs; provide the solution to meet those needs. It’s worked for the past few millennia and it’ll work for you today.

7) Small Steps or One Giant Leap

Do you make incremental improvements or try to fix everything all at once. It depends on where you are right now. If you’ve optimized your site (or paid to have it optimized) a small step here and there can make a huge difference, and a major revamping of your site may actually set you back in the optimization race.

On the other hand, if you’re just launching, run a couple of A/B splits and other analytics to see which site pages are hot and which are not. Adjust accordingly. The point here? The more optimized the site, the less optimization is needed so if you’ve been at it for a while, take small steps and assess improvements. If you’re just starting out, launch, track and adjust as needed – whether it be small steps or the proverbial giant leap.

8) Create a Diagram of Your Marketing Funnel

Start with placed adverts (Adwords, paid links, etc.) Add your home page, each product page, the checkout, automated order conformation, customer care and order fulfillment. Each one of these is a component of a sale and, from the list and with the help of GWO, you’ll be able to more clearly identify holes in your marketing funnel – those areas most in need of improvement, i.e., optimization.

Now, this is just the beginning. Conversion optimization is an on-going process and there are additional steps you can take based on test results delivered by Google’s Web Optimizer – steps that we’ll look at more closely in part 2 of this series.

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