I once worked for a software company that had a photo of the founder on the app, asking for donations. When they added a picture of his cat, the conversion rate went from 1.5% to 3%. Revenue doubled overnight. Because of a cat!

This is called conversion optimisation. It means making small changes to your website that lead to huge results. 

Conversion is a word you see used a lot in digital marketing. The best way to think about it is for it to count as conversion, someone or something has to convert – i.e. change – in a meaningful way. If we treat marketing as a series of attempts to change people’s behaviour, then conversion occurs when our relationship with that person changes because of something they have chosen to do. E.g. once a stranger becomes an acquaintance, they can never go back to being a stranger (unless you lose your memory, of course…).

Once someone buys something from you, they are now a customer. You have a commercial relationship with them, and that is extremely powerful.

When someone signs up for your email newsletter, you now have permission to send them relevant information about your offerings, possibly for the rest of their life… again, very powerful.

These are examples of good conversions. Others can include:

  • Someone signs up to a recurring subscription
  • A customer upgrades to a more expensive/profitable plan
  • Someone donates to your nonprofit

There are also what I call viral conversions. These are important because it shows that people are talking about your business, possibly recommending you to their friends, and in effect doing your marketing job for you. An army of people advocating for you out in the world is a huge asset, and it is important to track their behaviour so you can reinforce it.

Viral conversions can include:

  • A visitor shares your blog article on LinkedIn
  • A customer gets someone else to buy your product e.g. a friend get friend deal – or one department of a corporate gets another department to sign up. This is the way huge B2B SaaS products like Slack can scale so quickly.

But there can be bad conversions that masquerade as good conversions. A classic example is when you measure the number of times people contact you through your website’s enquiry form, or email you, or call your phone number. This sounds like a good thing to measure (“wow we’re really busy – lots of people are getting in touch!”) but lots of people contacting you might be a real waste of time for you. It might show that you haven’t put enough content on your website, so your visitors are confused and they are asking you for more information. Metrics like these are interesting to track, but they should not be a focus for optimisation.

There are also what we call vanity metrics or pseudo-conversions. These are behaviours that look good in a report but don’t actually do anything to grow your business. Some can include: 

  • A website visitor spends more than 5 minutes on your site
  • A visitor views more than 5 pages on your website
  • A visitor puts something in their shopping cart

They are still worth tracking – abandoned shopping carts can give you clues to where potential buyers are falling out of the purchase journey – but they are ultimately meaningless because nothing has changed in your relationship with that person. You don’t know who they are, and you have no way of contacting them. 

So, now you know what makes a good conversion, what does it mean to optimise conversions? Optimisation is kind of a maths/statistical concept. Assuming you have some good conversions set up, (i.e. you’re measuring the really important things that your audience is doing on your website that make a big difference to your business), you now need to start trying things, adjusting things, and then seeing what effect it has on the number of conversions you are getting. 

This doesn’t mean going out and spending millions of dollars on an ad campaign. Conversion optimisation is all about making tweaks to your website. The closer it is to the actual moment when the conversion happens the better. E.g. the moment the credit card number is entered. These types of changes are often the easiest and cheapest to make. A classic example is changing the colour of a button from red to blue, changing the text on the button from ‘Submit’ to ‘Donate’, or changing the minimum donation from $5 to $20. These might sound like trivial changes, but they can make a huge difference.

This is great news for those of us (actually all of us) who are on a tight budget. But what it really means is that you need to: 

  • measure the conversion rate (e.g. purchases vs trialists) over a meaningful period of time. A month is usually a good starting point.
  • change only one thing at a time (so you can be sure that any change in conversion rate is due to the change)
  • Measure the conversion rate again. 
  • Compare the new conversion rate to the old one. Try to eliminate seasonal variations, e.g. your conversion rate in December is going to be much higher than November if you sell Christmas gifts. 
  • If the conversion rate has improved, great! Now find something else you can change.
  • Rinse and repeat.

There are some good tools to make this even easier. Google Analytics is the classic free platform for measuring your visitors’ behaviour, Hotjar allows you to see how your visitors actually navigate around the page, and software like Optimizely allows you to show 2 versions of the same page randomly to visitors (A/B testing) so that you don’t have a lag or seasonal variation in your reporting. You could show a form with a blue button to one visitor, and then a red button to the next visitor and they would never know. The world’s biggest websites like Facebook, Amazon, and Google employ loads of people to run conversion optimisation experiments, and these sites are in constant evolution as a result.

If you would like to explore how conversion optimisation can help you achieve your business goals, get in touch!