Art and Science of Conversion: Website Visitors into Customers

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Conversion-rate optimization (CRO) is the art and science of converting website visitors into leads and customers. Part art, because it requires the creativity of cross-functional expertise to identify and solve a prospect’s conversion barriers, CRO also requires controlled A/B/n testing, which is where the science comes in.

As John Wannamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” The truth for most website owners is dire. In a typical situation, 90-98 percent of website visitors leave without becoming a lead or customer, and no one knows why they leave or how to keep them.

That’s why conversion-rate optimization is important. You don’t just need website visitors; you need new customers! Even if you don’t double your sales, what would a 20 percent, 30 percent, or 50 percent lift be worth?

Fortunately, it’s not just the elite few marketers who are championing CRO. It’s become an accepted best-practice strategy. In fact, a recent study by eMarketer showed that CRO was the top priority for digital marketers in 2013.

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I’d like to share a typical result from this strategy and how you can get results, too. But first, let’s start with a little background information.


How Does CRO Work?

Here’s a typical story to show you how conversion optimization can work. You may relate to similar opportunities to improve your website, too.

Business: Tourism Recreational Vehicle Rentals

CanaDream, in business since 1995, has become one of the largest recreational vehicle rental and sales companies in Canada, catering mostly to an international clientele eager to experience the country. With a fleet of more than 750 quality motor homes available through a network of eight rental locations across Canada, CanaDream is positioned as a top-ofthe- line supplier of Canadian leisure travel.

But, they were facing challenges in their online business.

Business Need

Customers of CanaDream book vacations through one of three channels: (1) via accredited wholesalers, (2) directly via CanaDream.com, and (3) over the telephone.

Even with well-known vehicle quality and customer service, the CanaDream website booking conversion rate was below industry average. Even though the website had recently been redesigned by a leading digital agency, CanaDream needed to find a way to increase conversions online and by phone.

As a business in a very competitive marketplace, CanaDream understood the website had to differentiate unique value proposition for web visitors. But, the website was not doing the job: prospective travelers couldn’t see how to book, easily understand the benefits of booking with CanaDream and didn’t gain motivation to act.

Solution

CanaDream engaged with WiderFunnel, the conversionoptimization agency, to develop and run an ongoing program. First, the team developed a strategy that would identify company goals, evaluate user experience patterns and prioritize problem areas to optimize.


After an in-depth web analytics heuristic analysis of the website, the team discovered several key areas that needed to be improved. One of the top priorities was a site-wide element that I call the Persistent Call-to-Action (PCTA).

A PCTA is a website element, such as a call-to-action form or button that appears on all web pages. PCTA could be a “My Cart” icon in some websites, a newsletter signup box in others, or a “Request a Quote” button.


Most websites have them and they are often under-appreciated. Here’s a screenshot of the original “Book Online” PCTA on the left column of one of CanaDream’s primary templates.

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One of the tools we use is called the “LIFT Model™” conversion-optimization framework to construct task-based hypotheses.


You can use this framework to think about your website from a visitor’s perspective and categorize all improvement opportunities.


I’ll explain the six aspects of it, and then walk you through how we evaluated CanaDream’s PCTA with the LIFT Model.

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LIFT Model’s Six Parts

  1. Establish Value Proposition – This is a classic problem. Even though every business owner can tell you why they are the best, we often find that they forget to say it explicitly on their website. Do you have the best customer service, lowest prices and highest quality? Do you know what’s really most important to your prospects? You can test to find out what makes you the best in their minds.
  2. Create Urgency – Ask for business. Tell them why it’s the right time to take action. This doesn’t have to be a hard sell, but urgency is a powerful fuel for driving customers to take action. Test the best way to create urgency.
  3. Improve Clarity – There are many aspects to think about within clarity. Is the copy-writing communicating value proposition? Do images support the message? How obvious is the next step call-to-action? What about the hierarchy of information?
  4. Improve Relevance – Your headline is your first impression and should tell the visitor they are in the correct place AND what to do. Images are also valuable assets for establishing relevance; make sure photos match the purpose of your page.
  5. Decrease Anxiety – Testimonials, certifications, warranties are all important to establish trust. If your visitor has to stop and consider their safety, they may never start back up. But, too much emphasis on security can also hurt sales. In one test, placing a security symbol too close to a shopping cart actually reduced e-commerce sales by 2 percent. You should test that!
  6. Decrease Distractions – Tone down elements not important to your business. How many things are you asking customers to do on a single page? What is the most important element on the page? Stay focused on the page’s purpose.

Some of the LIFT points we identified for CanaDream’s
PCTA:

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The next step is to create hypotheses by turning weaknesses into strengths. These become things you can test!

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All these ideas are a great start, but the next step is critical.

There is only one way to know whether your educated opinion about the improvements will actually work better — you have to test it.

Testing in this case does not mean that you change the page and look at results before and after that change. That wouldn’t be a controlled test. How would you know that one of the many external influences didn’t change at the same time as your change to the page?

Testing also doesn’t mean usability exercises or focus groups. Opinions from a few people can give ideas, but won’t tell you what works for everyone.

The only way to know what works for sure is to run properly controlled tests. Use a testing tool that randomly selects each website visitor to see one of the test variation page designs.

Then, each of those buckets of visitors is tracked through to whatever revenue-generating action they take on the site to find the best-performing variation.

In the CanaDream tests, both primary revenue-generating actions were tracked: online bookings and booking phone calls with unique phone numbers for each test variation.

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Whether your website generates leads for internal sales, focuses on eCommerce sales or drives affiliate revenue —CRO should be a priority.
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Results: 106 Percent

The winning PCTA design from the series of test rounds more than doubled the company’s web-generated sales.

  • Changes made included:
  • Increasing prominence of headline;
  • Aligning input fields to ease prospect’s eye flow;
  • Changing shape of angled background area;
  • Increasing prominence of call-to-action button;
  • Changing call-to-action button copy to match form headline;
  • Added urgency in headline with limited availability message.

Not only did CanaDream increase travel bookings, but they were also able to see a significant difference from the limited availability message. They can now leverage this and other insights across their marketing activities.

How this Applies to You

This example showed how conversion optimization works for a travel booking website, and for all industries and situations. Whether your website generates leads for internal sales, focuses on eCommerce sales or drives affiliate revenue — no matter what your business model is — conversion optimization should be a priority.

Frameworks like the LIFT Model evaluate key landing pages and conversion funnels today. Start by identifying highest traffic pages with the most obvious experience problems. Then, going through the LIFT Model exercise is likely to reveal quite a few hypotheses you could test.

Continuously testing and improving results from traffic driving to your website and landing pages will lift your conversion rates, deliver proven marketing insights and maximize your profit.

About the Author

Art and science

Chris Goward was one of the first to look at websites and say, “We should test that!” From that revelation, he founded WiderFunnel — the company that pioneered conversion-rate optimization methods for companies, such as Google, Electronic Arts, Magento, SAP, and BuildDirect.com.


He is the brain behind LIFT™ and Kaizen™ methods and speaks at conferences and seminars around the world to evangelize how marketers should optimize their marketing to get more leads, sales and profit. He is author of the conversion optimization book, “You Should Test That!” published by Wiley Sybex in 2013.