"Our conversion rate is X% and we want it to be higher."
This is where the vast majority of CRO programmes begin. They're looking at that overall website conversion rate and whether that's in internal discussions that they're having or in reaching out to potential agency partners, that overall conversion rate as a start point, that rarely changes. It's one of the core metrics of any website, and therefore it's a natural focus for improvement.
But realistically, what does that statement represent? So honestly, it represents a desire. It's little more than that. It isn't a strategy, it isn't a plan, and in some cases isn't even really a particularly tangible goal. What we need to do is look at turning that desire into action.
So what's our pathway to moving from desire to action?
Desire to action – our 4-step framework for achieving a higher conversion rate
We break this down into four simple steps: Specifics, Insights, Ideas, and Political Will.
Step 1 - Specifics: Where are the weak points in your conversion process? Every process has limiting factors, and this is your opportunity to identify where yours are.
Step 2 - Insights: Why do you think those weak points exist? What do you have to back that opinion up? Simply knowing that something is a weak point doesn't mean that you can fix it. So this insight section is looking critically at the root causes of those weak points rather than just the symptoms.
Step 3 - Ideas: How can you change those weaknesses into strengths? And it's where you stop looking backwards at what has happened and start looking forwards to what you can do with it. So from all you've learned from those first two steps, from the specifics and the insights, what can you pull together to help you make an impact on those numbers?
Step 4 - Political Will. Who will you need to win over to move forward? Who needs to buy in to those previous three steps and what's going to convince them to let you move forward? Now, you're not an island. You will always need others to join you on the journey if you're going to move things forward. And recognising who that is and how you can convince them is the last piece of the desire to action puzzle.
Step 1 - Specifics - Where are the weak points in your conversion process?
To achieve specificity, we're going to break down that overall website conversion rate into something more meaningful.
Let’s demonstrate this with a real-world example.
At the outset of a new relationship last year, a client said to us:
“Our checkout process is too long, which is denting conversion.”
From Basket to Sale, the conversion rate of that process was 32%.
On the face of things, this was a seven-step process for a checkout process that is longer than most. So they had drawn a logical conclusion from the data that they were looking at. The problem was that once you broke that 32% conversion rate down, the picture looked very, very different.
50% of their visitors failed to make it past step two, but from there on, 64% of them completed a purchase. So it's not the length of the process that was hindering them the most, more just that that first step from Basket to login, in their case, was particularly poorly performing.
What might this look like if you expand that scope into an entire site?
Ecommerce websites : Breaking down your overall website conversion rate
Using an ecommerce example, we've taken a typical conversion rate 2.5% from Visit to Sale, and what we’re going to do is chunk that up and break it down into something that's a bit more actionable.
Firstly, we can break that down into three distinct step conversion rates.
A step conversion rate is the rate that visitors move between two steps of the process as opposed to end to end. And in ecommerce, these are the three steps that we would look at initially.
Step 1 - Visit to Non-bounce. That gives you a view of how successful your offsite to onsite performance is, whether it's via Ads or other external links that you have. How well does your site move visitors to the next step, thereby avoiding bounce?
Step 2 – Non-bounce to Add to Cart. Of every visitor that does not bounce what percentage then go on to Add to Cart - that assesses your site strength regarding product level decision making. How successful are you in helping a visitor make that key choice of which product or products fit their needs?
Step 3 - Add to Cart to Sale. This is a straightforward assessment of your checkout process as a whole. The product-level decision is made by this point, but you still need to reinforce that choice and provide something that is functionally simple and reassuringly clear as a path to purchase from there on.
Using this breakdown, we can then select one of those areas to investigate further. In this example, we will use Add to Cart to Sale.
We’re now able to break that 50% rate down into its three constituent step conversions.
Identifying to us that Add to cart to Shipping rate is the lowest of those three.
So you’ve taken that overall website conversion rate, you’ve broken it into three, you've then selected one of those areas and broken that down further. And what that's enabled us to do is identify within our add to cart to sale rate, there is one area, add to cart shipping that is the weakest of those three.
Lead gen websites : Breaking down your overall website conversion rate
This process works the same for lead gen businesses as it does for ecommerce. The labels for the steps are different of course. We've swapped out Add to Basket for Views of the lead form and we swapped out shipping and payment for visitors starting form fields and completing form fields. Different labels, different steps, but the same specificity within there.
Step 2 - Insights - Why do you think those weak points exist?
Now that we've got a simple process for identifying those specific areas of weakness, how can we go about generating the insights as to why those rates are occurring?
There are a whole host of options out there to add some flavour to the raw numbers that you’ll get out of your quantitative analytics.
Experience analytics tools like Hotjar or Mouseflow. They provide access to various sort of map types, scroll, click, attention, as well as session recordings and survey capabilities within those tools as well. Alongside that, looking in detail at the comments and reviews that your organisation receives also offers an insight into how visitors and customers are interacting with the site.
But all those options require some amount of tech to be in place to achieve. Here are a couple of structures that don't require additional tech or indeed access to that additional tech in order for you to build those insights.
Finding insights with Conversion Flow and Conversion Narrative
Conversion Flow is the functional steps that a visitor must take on the way to converting. And here's an example of what that might look like for the average ecommerce site.
So critically, it starts off site and it notes all the potential parts into the site, then shows a variety of possible routes to completing a purchase. This enables you to identify potential loops in the process, areas where a visitor may end up going back one step or multiple steps. And it also helps to isolate where visitors should be directed in order to move forward in that process.
Conversion Narrative is the story that is being told along that flow made up of all of the messages that a visitor is receiving. These can then be mapped against the flow steps to assess the continuity and the coherence of that story, as well as to identify when key messages are first delivered to a visitor.
As a bit of a hint, most modern sites are going to have more challenges with their narrative than they do with their flow. Functionally, most of them work pretty well. But the coherence of the story is significantly more challenging for most. But without having control over that flow, without knowing where you're looking to direct a visitor, it's impossible to control that narrative. You can liken it to opening a book at page 13, then going to page seven, then going to page 53. It doesn't matter how well written that book is, the story still isn't going to make sense within there.
Conversion Flow analysis - examples
Here’s some examples of how these structures can illuminate areas of challenge within the site.
Let’s pick out some examples. For ecommerce, delivery and returns information. This information often takes visitors away from that core conversion flow. It is essential information for their decision making. But if you take a visitor out of that core flow to find it, you'd better be sure that you're going to be able to bring those guys back in. But how many delivery and returns pages that you've seen come with a link that takes someone directly back to the product page that they were on previously?
From a lead gen perspective, often there are a lot of CTAs that are just screaming for someone to book a call or a demo or a meeting. And this isn't creating a path for a visitor, it's just hoping that if you ask enough times, you will get a visitor at a point where they are ready to talk.
If you can set out your key content that leads visitors through your selling points and supporting information, you're creating a structure whereby they're reading through the information most likely to get them to a place where they think a call is worthwhile. And that will increase your chances of success. You can work that out by filtering your GA data based on visitors that have seen those key pages and have a look at their conversion rate to lead versus those who don't see all those pages, or only see one of three or four that you have.
Specific examples aside, looking critically at your Conversion Flow can help to add context to the conversion rates that you're seeing in your data. Remembering all the while that that's what you're looking for. You're looking for indications of why behind the what that you have seen.
Conversion Narrative analysis - examples
Here’s an example from the ecommerce side. You may well find that reassurance messaging, all of the reasons to buy from you, they disappear when you enter the checkout. This is particularly important for sites based on Shopify, where often the ability to talk to your visitors directly gets lost. Once you're into that templated Shopify checkout, that part might be unavoidable, but what it does mean is that the focus of your attention, from a narrative perspective, is on how important the basket page is, that last page before they go into Shopify's Checkout, that’s your last opportunity to deliver those key messages.
From a lead gen perspective, you may well see that you're talking features. A lot of the time our tool does this, our service does this and less about the benefits. And that's putting your product or service at the centre of the conversation rather than your visitors. They came to you with a problem. They need to know that your product or service will solve that problem. If they believe it does, they will then start paying attention to how it does that.
Combining flow and narrative analysis with the data that you have from your conversion rate breakdown, you should begin to develop a stronger understanding of why visitors are struggling to move forwards.
Step 3 - Ideas - How can you change those weaknesses into strengths?
Now that we've covered a bit about the numerical data and where some opportunities might exist, it's important to look at how we bring those together to form ideas.
D > I > R flow
And here's where a key concept for us comes in: DIR or Data Insight Recommendation. We need to establish this flow through our CRO work to enable us to move from desire to action in as logical way as possible:
Data - that's the specifics we laid out at the beginning, what happened? And most of the time that's numerical.
Insight - why do we think it is happening? And it's usually a non-numerical answer there.
Recommendation - What can we do with those insights now that we have them? What ideas do we have.
DIR is an essential model in CRO, it creates that path from what you have seen through what that means and onto what value could it have for the future.
You want to start with very specific data so that you end up with a meaningful recommendation. Here's an example.
Based on the conversion rate breakdown we did earlier, that specific data is telling us for all the steps of this process we're losing 50% of visitors at that first point and then we've got 60% plus that are moving from that second step through to the end of the process.
And that specific data can then lead to a much more specific insight. So as an example here the bulk of conversion loss happens between add to basket and login suggesting that visitors are losing confidence in their product selection.
From that we have a much more usable recommendation - add reassurance messaging to the basket page.
Step 4 - Political Will - Who will you need to win over to move forward?
And that brings us right to the action that we are seeking from that desire that we talked about earlier. Or does it?!
Unfortunately, that process alone often isn't enough to get your ideas into action.
As much as we might like to think that laying out that logical argument will win people over sometimes, we need to be a little bit more overt with it. And here's where the politics side of things comes in.
Fortunately for many of us, most politics in business revolves around money. This is because most targets that exist in business revolve around money too. And therefore the people who need to hit those targets are more often than not thinking in pounds or dollars.
Those people, generally the more senior stakeholders within your organisation, they are the ones with the power, the political clout to help push through the ideas. And that means that they are an essential part of achieving action.
Speaking in their language, presenting back our ideas for improvement through the lens of their way of looking at things, it will help them to make the judgment that we want, which is let's take these ideas forward. So how do we plot that part out?
Example: £100k Funnel
If we go back to an example that we used earlier but this time we've added in some nominal values for visitor volumes and an average order value of £50.
We’ve got 80,000 visitors, 40,000 of those don't bounce, 4000 add to cart and 2000 go on to complete a sale. What we've got here is effectively a £100K funnel - 2000 sales at £50 each.
With these numbers we can begin to represent those conversion losses at each stage as a financial value.
For example, if our add to cart to sale rate was 100%, we'd make 2000 more sales from that and that's another £100,000 more revenue. These are the sorts of numbers that will start to turn heads.
Value of a visitor at different stages
But what if there are two conversion rates that are equal? In this breakdown that we use both of these represent 50% losses, but they are not equal.
If we converted 100% of visitors from visit to non bounce, we would make an additional £100,000 in revenue on the assumption, of course, that all other conversion rates remained the same throughout that process. But to do that, we would need to influence 40,000 visitors positively with our test or our idea.
What that means is that each visitor saved at this point, converted when they weren't converting before, is effectively worth £2.50 - £100,000 total potential value divided by the 40,000 visitors who drop out at that stage. At an individual level, they are effectively low value.
Conversely, if we could convert 100% of visitors from add to cart to sale, we'd also make an additional £100,000. But here, we only need to influence a total of 2000 visitors. Each visitor saved at this point has a value of £50 - £100,000 divided by the 2000 visitors, the dropout at that point.
Now, of course, achieving 100% conversion rate is a near impossibility! But this isn't about saying we can get £100,000 extra out of this process, it's about anchoring your ideas to a significant revenue figure that is being left on the table. It plays on that most basic of human fears that we're leaving things behind, we're missing out in this.
Lead gen example
Whilst we’ve used this example from an ecommerce perspective, it works the same in lead gen as well. There's just an extra step that you have to think about it. Understanding what the average sale value for your business is, then working out or asking what is our lead to sale rate? If it's 10%, you can then divide that sale value by ten, and that is effectively the value of a lead within that funnel. So you can still apply the same maths to it, just with that extra step so you've got a value for your lead.
Whether you're talking ecommerce or lead gen, what you are suggesting here is that a significant revenue opportunity is there. There is revenue being left on the table. And by backing you and your idea, they may be able to effectively recoup some of that loss that you are really bringing to the fore. By positioning your idea in these terms, you can say something like this:
“Driving a 10% improvement in conversion rate from basket to sale could net us an extra 200 sales and £10,000 in revenue.”
And when you're trying to navigate the politics of your business, it's much more difficult to ignore a statement like that than it is I've got a great idea for our checkout process.
You're coming into that conversation armed with the right information to get the approval that you're looking for.
It is worth noting at this point that CRO as a discipline and a practice, it offers substantially more benefits to an organisation than the simple revenue numbers that we're talking about here. But when it comes to getting it off the ground in your organisation, numbers like these are the sorts of ones that tend to get senior decision makers to pay attention. They are targeted on things like this. Often they are the owners of some pretty punchy targets.
What you're doing here is offering them a means of increasing their likelihood of hitting those targets and doing so in a way that is measured and balanced and helps you avoid the missteps that would effectively take away from those targets.
So even if it sounds a little cynical, if you believe in the value of CRO, of iterative improvement, test and learn, sometimes there is a certain element of playing the game that is necessary to get others to give you that chance and in time, convert them into believers too.
Follow our 4-step framework to achieve a higher conversion rate
"Our conversion rate is X% and we want it to be higher." This is where we started.
We've identified that this represents desire and no more than that. Not a plan, not a strategy, merely a want. To move to action there are four steps that we need to take.
We need to identify specifics from our data to show the areas of weakness and therefore of opportunity.
We need to find insights into why those specifics might be happening and to help us understand what might turn weaknesses into strengths.
We've looked at various different ways of doing that, including the Conversion Flow and Conversion Narrative structures.
We need our ideas powered by that data and those insights to show that we have a logical plan of action.
And lastly, we need the right framing of that idea, very often in financial terms to help us secure the political will to push those ideas into action.
To achieve a higher conversion rate, start looking at that conversion rate breakdown today. If you've got Google Analytics, you can do this pretty quickly. If you can, share what you find tomorrow, get people talking about it.
Next, draw out your Conversion Flow for your site. If it's easier, start it on paper. You can digitise it later. And then once you have it, look to map your narrative onto it. Keep the focus of that narrative on the primary and the secondary message of the pages initially. Give it some amount of constraint so it doesn't go too wide.
Next, bring your breakdown and your flow and narrative analysis together and see what ideas come out of that. If you've already primed your organisation with your breakdown work, bringing ideas to the table to solve some of those is a natural step.
To some extent, they should be expecting that to come through. But before you present those ideas, do the maths, work out the scale of their potential. Unfortunately, you often only get one chance, to land your ideas well. Go into those discussions armed as best you can with as much as you can to try and bring out the answer that you want.