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Marketers continually search for benchmark studies that confirm that they're acheiving acceptable conversion rates, but this approach won't help them reach maximum conversion from traffic they're driving to their site. Instead of living in the bubble of "but we're better than our competitiors," they need to establish their own conversion maximization priorities and push for their own standards.

We had a chance to speak to Boris Grinkot, one of our Digital Vision winners and the author of our newest report, Conversion Maximization - The Essential Workflow, to gain insights into marketers' missteps and the course corrections that could improve their approach toward conversion maximization. This practical report explores key issues and opportunities around the important process of improving conversion rates and how to avoid common misconceptions.

Why should marketers eye benchmark studies with more skepticism than they do now?

I think the approach is generally wrong. Managers and executives tend to look for benchmark data to feel better about what we’re doing or to support their preexisting ideas. Or to win an argument. My opinion is that benchmark studies are great to understand what’s out there – but they are not definitive. For example, every benchmark chart that compares different tactics only includes a small subset of all possible tactics that are out there. It’s limited for practical purposes, but fundamentally it relies on the author’s arbitrary choice of survey questions and answer choices.

The info is useful but should be taken for what it is. And most importantly, benchmark data is usually difficult to apply. Just because using video on websites is on the rise doesn’t mean that you should add video to your website. It does, however, mean that you should consider testing video, but a benchmark study shouldn’t change your conversion maximization priorities. It just gives you food for thought.

What are the top three assumptions preventing marketers from truly achieving conversion maximization?

  1. They already have a “pretty good” conversion rate (or “better than our competitors” or “really great”). This is a fallacy. Any conversion rate can be improved, and if you haven’t tested intensely for a year or two, there’s probably some low-hanging-fruit conversion tactics that will get you a double-digit conversion improvement.
  2. Focus on driving traffic, rather than on converting it. It’s simple: more people through the door means more sales. But the problem is that each sale has a higher allocated (and/or marginal) cost. Especially in B2B, each customer that comes to the site and doesn’t convert may represent a significant decrease in the potential market share. But regardless of the addressable market size, whatever cost/effort are expended on driving traffic are rendered worthless by a poorly converting site. Investing some of the traffic generation resources into improving conversion first will multiply future ROI on traffic generation.
  3. Improve conversion by only using focus groups and usability studies. As I mention in the report, usability is definitely a key factor in conversion maximization, but it’s not the only one. A website must excel at communicating a marketing message, and it must deliver it to the right customer segment. And even usability changes—beyond simply getting the obvious bugs out of the website functionality—must be A/B tested on the live site with real customers.

You write that conversions aren't created equal, that they contribute a range of economic values based on their type. How does that premise affect the metrics marketers choose to track?

This definitely can add some work to the marketer’s job. I generally recommend that even a small marketing department would benefit immensely from a dedicated data analyst. The issue with conversions that are not equivalent to business metrics is that marketers need to do some math before they can truly understand their value.

In a situation where many different conversion types are possible on a website (which is most cases, unless you are a startup that sells a single product), marketers have to back out the dollar value of each conversion – including non-obvious ones like newsletter subscription or a document download – before they can prioritize conversion maximization opportunities. They may find that getting newsletter subscribers is worthless because those never convert to customers, while getting visitors to the product demo page has a significant correlation with sales.

What is the local maxima problem, and why do marketers need to avoid it?

The local maxima problem isn’t specific to conversion maximization. It’s a practical problem with the scientific method. If you start optimizing too early, you can miss out on a totally different solution that you haven’t explored. For conversion marketing, this means testing radically different treatments before polishing up small changes.

To be realistic, marketers don’t need to test a hundred radically different versions of every page. A given page may practically be redesigned in only a small number of ways. However, marketers should explore eliminating, adding, or combining pages – not just redesigning or rewriting them. After these radical changes are tested, they can focus on optimizing further or shift to bigger conversion maximization opportunities.

Talk to us about "quantum decisionmaking." What is it, and why is it important when considering deliberate value exchange?

I wanted to create a practical model for the way website visitors think and react. I think all websites can increase conversions significantly without having to psychoanalyze their visitors. It’s a model that’s meant to be practical and obvious. It's just a checklist for marketers: Are we answering these questions on our websites? Are we answering them correctly for each visitor segment? Are we answering them clearly and with an obvious next step?

There are many conversion “formulas” out there, but I think what they all have in common is this idea of helping the website visitor find and understand the information they need to take the action we want them to take. That’s what quantum decisions are: small mental steps toward converting.

When the conversion process is a deliberate value exchange – that is, the website visitor perceives a tangible or intangible cost associated with conversion – then the decisionmaking process is heavily influenced with information about value. The website visitor makes these decisions in response to marketing messaging on the site, and conversion maximization efforts must focus on this messaging factor.

Editor's note: Conversion Maximization - The Essential Workflow is available to all Econsultancy members. Click here to download. 

Stefan Tornquist

Published 4 December, 2012 by Stefan Tornquist @ Econsultancy

Stefan is Vice President of Research (US) for Econsultancy. You can connect with him via LinkedIn.

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