June 05, 2009, 2:41 PM — Conversion is one of the most critical metrics for understanding website performance. It reveals the site’s effectiveness in getting visitors to do what you want them to do such as register, open an account, get a quote, purchase products or simply visit a certain page.
While most website teams measure conversion, it has traditionally been a manual process that is difficult to manage and optimize. What’s been missing is a structured, proactive approach — discussed below — to managing both conversion and its evil twin, abandonment.
At the heart of conversion management lies accurate measurement. Many teams don’t track abandonment consistently, and most conversion is measured after the fact and on an end-to-end basis. This makes it impossible to detect problems as soon as they occur and identify the root cause quickly. To optimize conversion, then, website teams need to treat conversion management as a mission critical process and monitor every step proactively.
Measuring conversion in real-time. Conversion is not a standard measure. Even though the definition is well understood, the way that it is measured varies tremendously between sites. When measuring conversion and abandonment, comparisons with your own past performance are essential to making a meaningful interpretation of the data.
Ideally, you want to track conversion at every stage of the conversion process, for every page, traffic source, etc. And you need to track these numbers over time, comparing them with normal expectations. Doing it in real time means that you find out as soon as there is a problem.
That level of granularity is essential to identify what the root causes of good and bad performance really are. A further benefit is that improvements in one part of the site can be easily identified. You can’t do that if you’re only looking at the process end-to-end. An improvement in one stage could easily mask a significant drop in another. Both changes might go unnoticed for some time.
Remarketing to abandoners. Understandably, website teams tend to focus on the visitors who convert. But what about the vast majority of visitors who abandon a conversion process? Converting a tiny proportion of these abandoners has a dramatic impact on sales, making the economics of abandonment very attractive.
Follow-ups to abandoned applications, registrations and baskets are a very effective and often neglected technique in bringing in extra sales. A tiny change in conversion here can drive significant sales. Though traditionally hard to do — and near impossible to do in anything approaching real time — it is very effective.
For example, Forrester Research found that a combination of two follow-up emails achieves a massive 46 percent conversion of those that had abandoned their original applications. The first email is sent within 30 minutes of the abandonment, gets an 89 percent open rate and a conversion rate of 28 percent. The second email goes out one week later to those that did not respond to the first and gets an open rate of 60 percent and a conversion of 25 percent.
In some circumstances, follow-ups for higher value customers may be more effective when done by phone rather than email. Or you might choose to follow up low-value abandonments using email, and high value ones by phone, differentiating the treatment based on the value of the customer that abandons.
Regardless of medium, follow-up timing is critical, as Forrester reveals. An automated follow up within minutes of the customer abandoning is more effective because the email is very personal and immediately relevant to the customer. The same thing applies with a personal phone call — the customer is often astonished at the level of service provided in this case.
If you’re quick enough, the customer is still thinking about your business at this point in time and hasn’t yet been distracted. They may still be trying to complete a transaction or have simply run out of time and plan to get back to it later. Getting the deal closed at this point is important, before anything changes, or they decide to investigate alternatives.
Written in the right way, a gentle nudge from a follow-up email will always persuade a proportion of customers to complete the process. This doesn’t just apply to ecommerce but is equally applicable to abandoned registrations, account opening processes or quotes where a simple and timely follow-up email will increase conversion numbers.
Extending web analytics. The proactive approach to conversion management has a different set of requirements — tracking individual visitor behavior and triggering immediate response. While the reporting capabilities of traditional web analytics tools can complement this approach, they don’t provide the continuous real-time monitoring that enables fine grain measurement, proactive real-time alerts and automated real-time follow ups.
By extending existing analytics solutions and adopting a structured approach to conversion management, website teams can detect conversion problems immediately and receive proactive notifications of changes in site conversion performance, where the root cause of the change is detailed, enabling them to fix it immediately. And they can follow up with abandoners automatically. Ultimately, a structured approach will help the team optimize website conversion