Optimizing for Goal Conversion

    August 24, 2004

Most folks are getting the hang of web analytics at some level.

Some are simply counting visitors, but probably at least understand some of the more important ideas. In previous columns I’ve discussed how tying the “source” of the visitor to the quality of the visitor is extremely important to the success of a web site. Metrics like Percent One Page Visits and Percent Single Page Access help you understand which traffic sources generate visitors who are the most valuable to you. We’ve also talked about the next step up the ladder, measuring Advertising Effectiveness by tying source of the visitor to goal completion on the site. When you arrive at this step, you are beginning to understand which advertising or other efforts generate the most benefit relative to cost, in other words, the highest Return on Investment (ROI).

After optimizing your advertising, the third step towards improving the “front end” or acquisition part of the business is to optimize the web site itself for conversion of visitors to goal. You now know where visitors are coming from and you know what value they have to your site; the question is, how can you get more of them to do want you want them to do?

Here is the way I approach the first phase of a web site optimization for visitor conversion to goal:

1. Above all, really think about your business model, and decide what the primary thing you want people to do at your web site is. Be very specific; if you don’t have a clear conversion “goal”, you absolutely cannot optimize for it. It’s OK to have secondary and tertiary goals, but they must remain ranked in order of importance. You can’t have “3 primary goals”. The reason is simple. You have to make tradeoffs in design and navigation to optimize for visitor conversion to goal. By definition, if you are optimizing for 3 equally primary goals, you will not be “optimized” for any of them. This is an incredibly important issue; make sure you think it through. If you really can’t get past the “3 primary goals” thing, consider creating 3 sites or sub-domains each with their own navigation oriented towards a single primary goal.

2. Concentrate first on the highest volume entry pages that are also the highest source of One Page Visits. You can keep “score” on this by using a percentage: for each entry page, what is 1 Page Visits / Entry Visits for each Entry page? Make changes to see if you can decrease the Percent of One Page Visits for the highest volume entry pages. The further visitors penetrate the site, the more likely they are to accomplish goals.

Try changing the order of links in the main global navigation, and realize that “less is more” – the more you focus visitors by providing fewer link choices, the more likely it is they will click on what you want them to and move towards the primary goal of the site.

Pay careful attention to the wording of all links in the main navigation – are they crystal clear, do they really say what you mean? Are they “compelling”, do they “beg for a click”? Use “action-oriented” language in links you want people to click on, for example, “Learn how to” or “Try it now ” If individual pages have their own navigation, make changes there as well, and see if you can drive up the percentage of visitors who complete goal.

3. In conjunction with this, look at the visitor paths from those same high volume entry pages – where do visitors go, what do they do? Does it look like visitors are confused? Do visitors “pogo-stick” back and forth between the same pages? Do they click the “Home” link when they are on the home page? Why do you have a “Home” link on the home page in the first place? How close do visitors get to accomplishing goals? Can you reduce the number of steps they have to take to reach goal? What can you change in your navigation to get people to where they should be going, make it easier for them?

4. For most web sites, the newsletter is more important than people realize; many visitors simply forget you exist after the first visit. In fact, for many sites that think their conversion goal is to sell something, the primary goal should be newsletter subscription. The newsletter brings them back, your list is a source of “warm leads”, people most likely to buy. You will sell more by selling to newsletter subscribers than trying to sell cold to new visitors, so the most important conversion goal is newsletter subscriptions. Make newsletter subscription more prominent, put the “sign up” near the top of the home page.

Make the subscribe box or a link to the “subscribe page” part of your main navigation so it is on every page; you might have to kill another link to do this. Your visitor paths from the home page can help you in deciding which to kill. If you have a “Links” link in the main navigation, put it elsewhere. It’s a major barrier to conversion by encouraging people to leave the site.

5. If your web site analytics support flagging “goal pages” or “Scenarios”, enter the pages or paths representing your site goals, and then optimize entry pages and paths so they result in the highest percent of visits reaching these goals. Make sure every paid campaign has a unique landing page and track all of them for goal or Scenario completion. Adjust copy in ads and on landing pages until you are maximizing goal completion.

That should give you plenty to think about for now. Strive for continuous improvement in the percent of visitors completing site goals. You will know you are finished when everything you try actually reduces visitor conversion to goal.

If this happens to you, it’s probably time to think about a whole new web site design. Use what you have learned from optimizing the previous site to design a new site that is built from the ground up for goal conversion, which also means built from the ground up with web site analytics in mind.

And that’s pretty much it for the “front end” of the business. You have to acquire the visitors in the first place. Many people spend a lot of time and money driving traffic to a site, only to let the opportunity slip away. Make sure you understand the quality of visitors by source, optimize your advertising, and optimize your site for goal conversion. If you boost the percentage of visitors converting to goal, you will make more money without any increase in marketing budget.

Once you master visitor / customer acquisition, don’t think you are done. There’s the whole “back end” of the business to be considered – getting new visitors and customers to keep on coming back again and again. Visitor and customer retention is “what’s next” for web businesses and web analytics, and we’ll talk about retention and some new tools for this area in my next column.

Jim Novo has nearly 20 years of experience using customer data to increase profits. He is co-author of The Guide to Web Analytics and author of Drilling Down:Turning Customer Data into Profits with a Spreadsheet. If you want more visitors to take action on your web site, try using the free conversion metrics calculator, downloadable here. If you need to sell more to customers while reducing marketing expenses, get the first nine chapters of the Drilling Down book free at http://www.drillingdownbook.com.

Ask Jim a Traffic Analysis Question!