Seven ways to improve your online conversion rates

Online shopping basket

Conversion Rate Optimisation, or CRO, was once a hot business buzzword. Today, it's standard practice for any ecommerce website - it's what separates the successful online retailers from the also-rans. Dan Croxen-John explains how to make sure your website delivers results

There are two key elements to CRO - research and implementation. Detailed research and analysis can reveal the issues with your website that are holding back conversions. With these findings you can then design new, more effective web pages. Your designs should be tested to find out whether they solve the problem and increase sales.

CRO is not a once-only technique - it must be rigorously and consistently applied in order to get results.

Here are seven ways to improve your online conversion rates.

1. Change your mindset

Learn to say: "I don't know… but I'll find out". This allows you to work without prejudices, hunches, guesswork, assumptions or well-meaning opinions.

The only views that count are those of your target customer. You, your boss, your team - they are not your target customer, and their opinions don't count.

Even the best optimisation process in the world can't help you get results if you're biased about what the problems are before you start.

2. Focus on where visitors are dropping out

From landing page to product page to basket to checkout, what are the key pages visitors have to go through to place an order, or convert, on your site? Once you've considered this, look at where customers fall out during their journey.

Use analytics to map visitor progression through these key pages, and identify where you're losing the most visitors. The points where most of them drop out represent the biggest opportunity for improving your online conversion rate. These are the areas where you should focus most of your attention.

3. Understand visitor intent

Why do your visitors come to your website? Why do some buy, and others don't? What exactly were those lost customers looking for, and what prevented them from buying it? Understanding visitor intent is vital if you want to improve your online conversion rates.

Add pop up surveys - with a tool like Qualaroo or HotJar - to the key drop-out pages identified in your analysis to discover why visitors are dropping off there and what they were looking for.

4. Find out "why" as well as "what"

Analytics is great at showing you what's happening on your website, but it doesn't tell you why. Only by speaking to your website visitors will you get this qualitative research.

Although pop-up surveys can help, you can't beat moderated usability testing. "Moderated" means that you speak to a real visitor or customer. Ideally, this should happen while they're using the site, or very shortly afterwards, while everything is fresh in their mind.

Use a tool like Ethnio to recruit them, and a tool like GoToMeeting or Skype to see what's happening on their screen. Watch in real time as they use your website to complete their task. As you're on the other end of the phone, you can ask questions as you observe and get a unique insight into how - and why - they use your website.

5. Prioritise

Once the research phase is done, you should have a list of possible improvements and optimisation opportunities. But how do you decide which one to focus on?

One way is to rank each improvement based on the difference it could make and the strength of the evidence supporting it. Strength is measured by the number of sources of research it came from. The more sources, the stronger the evidence.

You might also want to rank the improvements based on how easy they will be to implement. This will help you prioritise your list, so that the highest value opportunity is tackled first.

6. Plan your improvements - but be open to change

A plan keeps you and the team on track. But after implementing an improvement, before you move on to the next one, take a look to see if there's even more potential.

Be willing to wring out further uplifts from successful actions. If you get an extraordinary or unexpected result from one change, you can often get even better results from going back and fine-tuning it.

7. Use a split-testing tool

Split-testing (sometimes known as A/B testing) allows you to scientifically measure the impact of the changes you make. There are many tools available that let you test one page against another, without any visitor knowing they are part of a test. Even better, you don't need to change any code on your main site.

Using a split-testing tool - like Optimizely, VWO or A/B Tasty - brings two major benefits.

Firstly, you can easily develop variations within the tool yourself, so you are not waiting around for your website dev team. Secondly, you only need to code new web pages that have been proven to work.

Feeling the fear?

CRO has become standard practice for leading websites, because it works. But if the process is not embedded into the culture of your organisation it can generate fear - fear of failure; fear of looking stupid in front of colleagues; fear of wasting your company's time; fear of upsetting your customers.

In many ways, it's easier just to carry on designing web pages that look great and everyone gets excited about. But a pretty new home page or a vibrant banner won't win you big sales increases if the real problem lies buried on page two of the checkout.

You owe it to your customers to make buying easy. They want your products, and they want to buy them quickly and easily, so they can get on with their lives. If you don't systematically look at every part of your website and improve it, you are doing them a disservice. What's more, you're losing sales.

CRO is really about making your website easy to buy from. That's good for your customers, and it's also good for your bottom line. So if you're scared of CRO, then the best advice is to feel the fear - but do it anyway.

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