Understanding eCommerce Conversion Optimization

Ever ponder the intricacies of how to properly optimize your online store to convert better? Here at Demac Media, we do. A large and growing part of what we do is help eCommerce businesses do just that: find and hit your ideal conversion rate. Here’s what you need to know:

eCommerce Conversion Optimization
(how it helps SEO, marketing and more!)

To understand conversion optimization, I think it’s useful to stress a few points:

1. Your “conversion rate” is only one metric in a series of other measures that assess the health of your eCommerce business

Conversion Optimization

2. In fact, “revenue optimization” might be a better holistic strategy to use when thinking of conversion optimization:

 

eCommerce conversion optimization

The main idea is getting a larger percentage of the same pool of traffic to complete some form of action on your website (and not simply go on their own self-guided tour).

According to numerous studies, up to 90% of offline purchases are influenced by online research (we’ve all heard different stats, the point is that it’s happening). So if you are a brick-and-click retailer, b2b, sell complex products, or even have a phone line where people can call and place orders, you need some form of conversion strategy to drive action, not just order confirmation pages.

What do you need to start?

Well, what you don’t need is a complete redesign (at least not without the data you need to produce a conversion-centered design). There are many businesses that pay for a website redesign every 3 years and hope that it will reinvigorate their brand and online revenues. The majority of the time, the opposite happens. One of the most important things you can take in any full build or redesign project is perform a data study. The more data you have, the easier it is to design with purpose. The big idea here is that at the end of the day, you or I won’t care if it looks pretty … if it converts.

Consider your headlines. Whether they are in specific pieces of content, product pages, home pages, banners, or otherwise. If you consistently test what headlines traffic responds to, you will not only create more engaging content on your site in general, but you’ll also have more ammo to use in your marketing campaigns. How much more effective do you think your search ads would be if you know what headlines your customers responded to? The same goes for your banner/display and media buys. Ultimately the more you know about what engages converts your traffic on-site, the more you can leverage that same data in your marketing campaigns. As an extra bonus, you’ll then start building out content pages that are jammed full of relevant and engaging keywords that your prospects are searching for. In doing so you’ll capture more organic traffic and at the same time lower your bounce rate because your prospects are finding the content that engages and interests them. The result is more people finding you, more traffic in general, higher engagement, higher conversion rate, and more revenues.

In order to set the tone for the rest of this post, let’s do quick exercise. This is especially relevant for the readers who have pursued a redesign only to see a conversion dip or now difference at all (after spending what is potentially a ton of money).

Scenario: You decide it’s time for a redesign. The existing design/UX needs a facelift, maybe you are doing a rebrand, or maybe you just want one (who knows). Now, consider the two ways you can go about doing this:

1. You interview design agencies and pick the agency that has the designs that you like best. These are either based on competition, brands that you respond to, layouts, customizations, or just the appeal of the agency’s designs in general. You sign the contract, pay the bills. At that point, the design process begins and is driven entirely on the creative direction of the agency (in other words, what they like).
Problems:

  • Your customers didn’t pick the design, you and your agency (missing something?)
  • Basing designs on the competition is a bad idea.
  • Many businesses don’t have a conversion strategy. Thus, similar companies pursue similar designs based on an “industry leader” and the things that hold back the goose, now hold back the gander (one design mistake becomes the norm because of competitor uptake).
  • Your agency designs based on what they think looks/feels best, and not based on hard data of what converts your customers.
  • Or…

    2. You’ve spent the past year running AB tests on content, headlines, pictures, CTA’s, page layouts, colours, categories … everything (EVERYTHING). Then you pick your agency by saying to your final contenders “here’s what we know that works, here’s what we know that doesn’t work, now … can you build me a design that converts?”

    If you want the high-converting, fly by your seat revenue generating eCommerce site that your peers have, you need big data. Data drives design, design drives engagement, engagement drives relevance, relevance drives attention, attention drives interest … and interest drives conversions. If you are building an eComm site for the first time, look to other sources. Google Analytics, Social Analytics, data from live conversations with your customers as well as root knowledge of who you customers are, how and why they buy, and why they chose you over the competition (on top of dozens of other questions you’ll have to ask to generate a solid design/UX hypothesis).

    Let’s say you plan to start today – where do you start? Answer: Top of the funnel.

    Too many people spend their time on the checkout process. This is fine if you’ve done years of conversion optimization, but what about those who haven’t? In most scenarios, you’ll have a funnel like this:

    eCommerce Conversion Optimization

    If 3000 people are placing items in your cart, why would you start your work there when 7000 people didn’t even make it to the cart? More importantly, if you beef up the top of the funnel you’ll naturally get more people to the checkout. As such, your strategy should always be Top of the Funnel. But there are other benefits of this strategy, not limited just to increasing the number of people who actually shop and buy from you.

    As mentioned above, if you constantly test everything you’ll get a better idea what your traffic responds to positively. Have you heard of Upworthy? “Today, it is the fastest growing media company in the world.” While they have an abundance of great strategies, one of the strategies core to their success is “Write 25 headlines for every article” and “Use A/B testing and analytics to juice content.”

    A unknown fact about Upworthy: they have very little original content. The bulk of their original content is their headlines, which test to excess, and that helps them drive the maximum amount of traffic to their content. As Pariser says in his own words,

    “The ethos behind the 25 headlines is, you can have the best piece of content and make the best point ever. But if no one looks at it, the article is a waste. A headline is all about getting the article in front of people.”

    If Upworthy, in the 21st century, can produce very little original content but become one of the fastest growing media companies in the world by AB testing everything they do, imagine where that strategy can take your eCommerce efforts?

    A secondary benefit of Upworthy AB testing headlines for traffic, engagement, upvotes and social shares, is that they begin to get a great idea of what their traffic responds to. Not only in terms of headlines and calls-to-action, but content in general. Thus they can constantly update their engagement strategy based on the insights their customers are handing to them (in real time). And there’s the big picture.

    Their strategy, which you can replicate with success, is testing everything. Like Upworthy, if you test the top of the funnel items you’ll drive more traffic to your content/pages. Then you can test what engages the traffic once they are there. At that point, and where you’ll drift away from Upworthy, is testing what leads to a conversion. The big picture here is not only working towards increasing conversions, which testing everything will come naturally for you, but working towards understanding your customers on a much deeper level. By tracking this data, you’ll build a pool of knowledge which you can then leverage for any online (and even offline) initiative.

    SEO:

  • More relevant content = more traffic from Google
  • More engaging content = less bounces, and Google will develop a crush on you
  • Consistently changing content = Google starts to like you because you are changing your site all the time to better your user experience (Google wants to send it’s users to the pages they are hoping to find – be that page)
  • All of the above leads to higher traffic rankings on the pages relevant to your customers, and thus your revenues
  • Marketing:

  • Not only your ads, but your landing pages (if applicable) are going to perform much better if you know what your customers respond to:
  • Colours;
  • Images;
  • Headlines;
  • Sub-headlines;
  • Call’s to action;
  • Amount of information (do you know your customer’s shopping persona?)
  • eCommerce Conversion Optimization

    The opportunities with this type of knowledge are endless. What starts with a conversion strategy and a drive towards “getting more users from the same amount of traffic to complete some form of action, and not simply go on a self-guided tour of your website” ends up driving more traffic because of the impact these changes have on your search rankings. At the same time, you build a very deep data pool which can fuel all of your marketing efforts. These same insights can help you plan your redesigns more effectively, efficiently, and with far less risk.

    How to Convert

    The most simple starting point is developing a culture of testing and challenging the status quo in-house. This allows you to can keep more of the good stuff and throw out more of the bad stuff. The good stuff then fuels all your plans from design/UX to marketing to revenue optimization and everywhere in between. Regardless of your niche, chances are your website is underperforming. It’s underperforming because you aren’t testing different variations of design, UX, headlines, layouts, calls-to-action, checkout options, and other variables that can and will produce a conversion lift.

    Possibly the greatest aspect of conversion optimization is that it is a revenue generating activity, and thus a smart investment with a healthy ROI case. However, unlike most investments, this one will pay dividends in everything you do online, from generating revenues to planning your marketing campaigns.