7 Myths About Conversion Optimisation!

By | 30th March 2012

image of ebay.com homepage which benefits from conversion optimisation

Revised 28th November 2017:

Don’t Make These Conversion Optimisation Mistakes:

As online businesses have matured and competition for customers has intensified, conversion optimisation has become an increasingly important method for improving the customer experience and ultimately conversion. Developing a program of conversion optimisation using split (A/B) testing and Multivariate Testing (MVT) enables organisations to identify which new elements of a customer experience have the desired impact on visitor behaviour. This normally follows at least three stages:

  • Understand current visitor behaviour by using web analytics to identify conversion funnels. This helps you to prioritise pages and journeys to review. Start with the low hanging fruit by focusing on pages with the highest levels of traffic and the highest conversion rates.
  • Align webpage objectives with the business goals. This process can help identify low priority objectives that can either be removed or  their prominence reduced  to allow the focus to be on the high priority objectives.
  • Review priority web-pages and customer journeys using customer insights (e.g. usability testing,  surveys and heuristic evaluation) to develop test hypothesis to increase conversion (or whatever the desired behaviour is). It is important to segment customers (e.g. new vs existing) as you will need to understand how changes to your website affect different key groups.

Up to this point I find everyone appears to be in agreement about what needs to be done. However, when it comes to developing  hypothesis for conversion optimisation there are a number of myths that some marketeers have about conversion optimisation.

1. You should follow the rules and principles of conversion optimisation.

One such rule I’ve heard is that the fewer clicks to conversion the better. Taking this particular myth first, if more clicks allows the visitor to build trust and engagement with the site, then the opposite may be true. Context is so important in improving the customer experience.

There are no rules in conversion optimisation, just hypothesis that need evaluating and sometimes testing if appropriate. Always seek to challenge existing thinking and don’t make assumptions about the customer journey unless you have evidence to back it up. Use a structured framework such as the 8 steps guaranteed to boost conversion and you should learn a lot more about how you can improve conversion.

2. Apply best practice User Experience (UX) design.

By definition best practice is already out of date and the online world is rapidly changing. I don’t dispute that elements of best practice generate useful ideas for conversion optimisation, but if we always considered best practice websites would never change. Good UX design is an important driver of hypothesis but this doesn’t always align with current best practice. Be bold, be different, test new ideas as otherwise testing will have very limited benefits.

3. Do what customer and usability research tells us to do.

Usability testing tells us if customers can complete a task or transaction, but does usability testing reflect real behaviour?  People can behave very differently in a real purchase situation, when they might be searching for a dress to impress and their own money is at risk. Real life can be very different from a usability test.

During research observe what people do and listen to the language they use as this is often more illuminating than their opinions of a particular webpage. Behavioural economics tells us that people are poor at predicting how they will adapt to change and generally are resistant to and dislike change. One of the easiest mistakes you can make is taking what customers say and applying it in a literal way. Listen, observe, and interpret according to a recognised framework of consumer behaviour.

4. Rely on gurus and online tips.

Anyone who needs to tell you that they are a guru probably isn’t one. Whilst online tips and advice from ‘experts’ can generate ideas for conversion optimisation, every website is unique. Your visitors and their motivations should reflect your value proposition. You also need to consider your business model and how you generate income. A good conversion rate optimisation consultant will advise you on strategy and ensure you have the right processes in place rather than advising on tactical changes.

Many companies that are serious about conversion optimisation, such as Amazon and Booking.com, don’t allow their conversion team members to write blogs or tweet about their experiments. They  don’t want to give away a competitive advantage. So, ensure your experiments are tailored to your website and your visitors to ensure they have the highest chance of success.

5. Focus on the design of a single competitor or best in class website.

It’s good practice to browse other websites as you will see design features, interfaces, tools etc that  generate ideas for testing. However, never fall into the trap of focusing or modelling your site on a single website. This is dangerous as their value proposition, and visitor profile is likely to be different from yours.

Competitors may or may not have good reason to present information and display assets differently from you. Their customers probably have different expectations to your visitors. Further, there is no guarantee that they have optimised their site unless you have evidence to support this assumption.  Focus your efforts on better meeting the needs of your own customers and seek to create a user experience that reflects their aspirations and motivations.

6. If we didn’t experience a fall in sales last time we made a change to our proposition/offer it is not necessary to test the impact of a further change!

Unless you have huge traffic such as Booking.com it is unlikely that you can test everything.  For this reason some marketeers want to change important elements without first testing. They tell you that they didn’t see a drop in sales last time they made a significant change so they don’t expect one this time. This misses the point as many factors affect sales. Unless you use an A/B testing tool you won’t have a control and be able to isolate how sales might have moved if the offer had not been changed.

Further, conversion optimisation requires that you understand how different segments respond to  changes to really understand its impact on the business. Inertia caused by factors such as brand loyalty, perceived risks of switching suppliers and habit formation mean that existing customer behaviour may not change immediately. The danger is that existing customer behaviour (i.e. no change) will hide changes in new customer behaviour as many sites are  dominated by repeat visitors.  Potential customers may be put off from signing up to your offer and you will never be aware of it unless you conduct a controlled online experiment.

7. If a small change is made to just one element of a customer journey we don’t need to consider conversion for the journey as a whole, just the element we are changing.

Websites are ecosystems. Every element is linked to other parts of the system through their interaction and influence on visitor behaviour. However, people who have been tasked with changing one element of a journey can be prone to focusing on their change in isolation of the customer journey as a whole.

This can have serious consequences if not challenged as even a minor change early on in a journey can significantly influence visitor expectations and behaviour. This can result in a reduction in overall conversion that is not anticipated by those working in silos. To avoid such situations ensure that marketeers appreciate the importance of measuring all the relevant conversion rates, including the overall journey conversion rate.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.

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