How to Find and Fix ‘Conversion Leaks’ in Your Site that Dribble away Profits
Does your website perform up to par? If not, you can do a lot to fix it. But first, you need to find the “conversion leaks,” the pages in your site that cause people to dribble out the back door without buying.
A primary diagnostic tool is Google Analytics, a free and powerful analytics package, or another analytics package installed on your site. Here are five important places to look that’ll help you spot problems — and fix them! And as you fix the problems, you could double or triple your conversion rate, and profits.
1. Where are visitors entering your site?
Google Analytics makes it easy to view your top landing pages. You might be surprised at the number of visitors who aren’t entering your site through the home page. That can be crucial information.
Look closely at these top “landing” pages. What’s the bounce rate on them? What’s the time on page? Where are people going next?
If a large percentage of your visitors aren’t entering the site through your home page, take a quick look to ensure that your Pay Per Click (PPC) landing pages provide all the information visitors need. Consider giving visitors clear links for additional information. Ask yourself how clearly your Unique Value Proposition is explained on these alternate entry pages. Would someone landing on your services or product category pages get that information? Or would they be left wondering why they should do business with you and forced to hunt elsewhere for their information, never to return?
Remember, this is just the first step, but the end goal is to get an understanding of how visitors move through your site and why they take the actions they do. Knowing visitor entry points is a crucial first step in that process.
2. How are visitors entering your site?
Your analytics package should let you analyze traffic, breaking visitors down by source: organic search traffic, paid ads, direct traffic, etc. For organic and paid search, you should be able to see what keywords brought the majority of the visitors to your website. From this information, you should be able to get a sense of the following:
What are their expectations? Given your visitors’ traffic source and keywords, what are they looking for? What would they most expect to find when they land on your website? What scent are they following?
What are their likely goals? The same keyword search could easily be used by people with differing goals. Chances are you might be ignoring all but one of them. For instance, I could be searching on “Pensacola Day Spas” because I wanted to buy a gift certificate for my wife. Whereas my wife might search using the same term to see if they take last minute or walk-in appointments. Or maybe she’s searching to see if they have a specific treatment? The point is, it helps to mentally force yourself to brainstorm as many real world scenarios behind the search terms as possible.
What do they already know? Someone searching on your name, or on the name of a specific service or product line, obviously knows more than a visitor entering from a general search term. Use your keyword knowledge to get a sense of visitors’ differing stages in the buying process. Are they just starting out and searching for general information? Do they already know exactly what they want? Or are they somewhere in between?
How well is your landing page matching up with visitor expectations and goals? Would visitors find their keywords on their entrance pages? Would they know that they are in the right place, based on a seven-second scan of the page? Do your entry pages have high bounce rates? What is the average time spent on the page?
3. Next-page navigation. Where are visitors going when they first hit your website?
Now that you know where visitors are entering your site and you have a sense of their motivation upon arriving at your site, take a look at where they navigate to upon their arrival. What are the most popular “next pages”? Look at this information while viewing at the actual landing page.
- Are the most popular “next pages” the same ones you would have guessed?
- Are they pages linked to by prominent calls to action or embedded links placed within the active window? Or are they pages only accessible through your top or side navigation?
- Often we confuse what we want visitors to do with what they want to do. Just because you offer a free trial doesn’t mean people will take you up on it before looking at your product tour or gallery of work. And when what visitors want to do is difficult to find, you end up loosing lots of prospective customers who click away rather than taking the trouble to search for the information they want.
- If you find people navigating to an unexpected or seemingly unusual page, ask yourself what questions those pages might be answering for the visitor. Why do you think the visitor is moving to those pages? Is that action congruent with what you’ve seen of visitor motivation from their keywords/scent?
After you see what those most popular next pages are, click through to them within your analytics package and see where visitors are going from that next page. If the majority of entering traffic for a given page is clicking through to a couple of different pages, you’ll often find that visitors navigate to the remaining popular pages following their first click. You should start to see patterns forming — key, or most navigated to, pages will stand out.
Watch out for situations where your most persuasive content is not one of those most navigated pages; you can’t persuade visitors with content they never see. Also, watch for situations where one of your most navigated pages is also an exit point.
4. Where (and Why) are visitors leaving?
Let’s talk about the difference between bounce rate and exit rate. A bounce is sort of like it sounds — someone came in on a given page and left on that same page without going anywhere else on the site. Unless visitors are also converting on that same page, bouncing is bad. It means visitors are rejecting you — either because you are attracting the wrong visitors, or because your landing pages are not re-assuring them that they are in the right place to find what they came looking for.
An exit rate simply tells you how many of the people who came to that page also left your site from that page, including both people entering the site on that page and people navigating to that page from somewhere else on your website.
Planned and unplanned exits. Some exits are good. You expect people to leave your site after buying something or filling out a lead form. Customers who login to a registered user domain from your home page, for example, will likely show up in your analytics as a bounce. But you obviously don’t want customers to leave before reaching their goal or your goal. Often you’ll find visitors exiting from pages containing your “conversion beacons” — product pages containing the “add to cart” button, service pages containing your lead form, etc. Or you’ll see cart/form abandonment, where visitors start to convert and then back out.
Take a look at “time on page” for the conversion beacons. Abandoning a page after a few seconds isn’t the same as dropping it after a few minutes. A few seconds means it was the wrong product or service for them. Someone leaving your page after a few minutes engaged with your content and never got the answers to their questions and/or simply didn’t have the confidence to buy. Take a look at the page itself. What information are you not giving your visitors? Are you using great photos,
persuasive copy, points of action assurances, and risk reversals in order to instill buyer confidence? What about shipping information? Most of the exits on both this page and the cart page are caused by inadequate information and content on these conversion beacon pages.
Page prior and broken scent? If you find a high exit rate page, look at the most popular entry paths to that page. Look for mismatches between expectations in moving from the prior page to the exit page. What were visitors hoping to find on that exit page and what did they actually find? Was the hyperlink misleading or was the content simply anemic? Try to figure out the factor that annoyed them.
5. Form a hypothesis and test
Completing steps 1 through 4 should have shown you several mismatches between what you expected and wanted to happen vs. what your visitor wanted and what actually ended up happening. You should also be able to come up with some pretty good theories for why these mismatches are occurring and what might fix them.
Even better, you will have developed a strong sense of what success would look like if your tested theory proves true. In other words, you know what metrics are indicating a problem, so you know what metrics you should see change.
For instance, if you have a high exit rate from a commonly visited page — let’s say it’s your Our Track Record page — and find that those visitors who do click through from that page seem to visit a page that’s only linked to from the navigation — let’s say it’s your Gallery of Work page — then you might decide to test placing a visually prominent link or call to action within the active window of the Our Track Record page, linking to your Gallery of Work. You could then test to see if that reduces your exit rate and increases visits to the Gallery.
If you’ve gotten to this point with your analytics, congratulations: you’ve now made your analytics actionable.
Here are some further tips to help keep you going down the right path:
Don’t test randomly. Always test with a hypothesis regarding visitor motivation or behavior. You’re after insight as much as lift. A “negative” test that gives you a better idea of what motivates your visitor is actually better for your long-term success than a positive test that was nothing more than a shot in the dark.
Keep in mind the difference between micro-conversion and macro-conversion. Testing a page variable that reduces bounce rate and/or moves more people to a key persuasive page (as in the example we used above) may or may not immediately impact your conversion rate, but it is increasing micro-conversion by moving your visitor one step closer to conversion. If that hasn’t increased bottom-line conversion, it could be because your website is leaking somewhere further down the funnel of your tested page. Now you just need to find that next leak or break in your persuasive path.
Bonus step: Answer their questions, manage their anxiety, stoke their imagination
When looking at a page in terms of visitor behavior and motivation, always ask yourself how well that page is answering your visitors’ questions, how well it is re-assuring them emotionally that they are in the right place and on the right track to accomplish their goal. How well it is appealing to their real desires.
A quick note on how to integrate “best practices” into your optimization efforts. Rather than blindly testing best practices, allow your knowledge of them to help you form theories about why visitors are or are not taking a certain action. For instance, it’s a best practice to place your calls to action within the active window. If your main call to action is in a sidebar and almost no visitors are taking that action, you might test moving your call to action into the active window. For some fabulous books on best practices and testing, take a look at Call to Action (Wizard Academy Press, 2005) and Always Be Testing (Sybex, 2008), both by Bryan and Jeffery Eisenberg.