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Seek Out & Improve: How to Spot Optimization Opportunities in Your Analytics Data

Optimization opportunities analytics

You’ve set up Google Analytics on your website. You’re greeted by great-looking dashboards every time you log in (provided you’ve set everything up right). But you still don’t know how or where to start improving your metrics.

Sound familiar?

Nearly every website has Google Analytics set up to track basic metrics so they can analyze what’s going wrong (and right), and use that information to improve their website’s performance. That’s the purpose of analytics.

Yet most people stare at their Google Analytics dashboards and think, “Well, I guess that looks good. We’re up .0002 percent from last month.”

The question we get from many ecommerce owners is: “Based on all of this data, how do I improve? How do I make more money? How do I sell more?”

And it’s a valid question. KISSmetrics notes:

You can use quantitative analytics to understand how customers use your product or service. This will give you data points that back up what value you think you give to customers based on what features they use most often. You can find out not just who the habitual users are, but how often they use certain features and which features they use.

If you’ve set up basic tracking on your site, you have an ocean of quantitative data at your fingertips. It’s a lot to wade through, but in those murky waters lies treasure: Hidden optimization opportunities!

Optimization opportunities - analytics data
It’s time to ditch the floaties and dive deep

If you’re happy playing in the shallow end of the analytics pool, you might as well not track anything at all. You’ll only find the good stuff when you venture into deeper water. That’s where optimizers look for experiment ideas, and begin to formulate hypotheses.

In this post, we’ll cover how to use your quantitative data to unearth a gold mine of actionable analytics insights that can lead you to immediate conversion improvements.

The main types of quantitative data we’ll be working with are:

  • Data from web analytics (Google Analytics, for most of us)
  • Data from heat mapping and scroll mapping tools (usually separate)
  • Data from form-tracking tools (again, usually separate if you’re looking to get very granular data)
  • Data from various types of surveys, which may also qualify as quantitative data once the responses are consolidated (most surveys results are analyzed using cluster analysis and turned into numerical data)

Now, how do we derive conversion optimization opportunities from all of these data?

3 prerequisite steps for finding insights in Analytics

Step 1: Understand traffic patterns

At the most basic level of analysis, you’ll notice whether your website traffic is increasing over time, remaining stagnant, or decreasing.

But when you really begin to examine your traffic data, you can begin to understand the behavior (and even motivations) of your visitors.

We do this by drilling down to where the traffic is coming from, and determining the quality of those sources. How are people finding you? And are the people who find you through Facebook ads vs Google ads more likely to buy? These are the kinds of questions we want to answer.

To drill down, we use the Acquisition Reports in Google Analytics to identify the best-performing sources of traffic. We look not only at the amount of traffic an individual source brings to the site, but at how visitors who come to the site via that source behave and interact with the website.

Do they bounce?
Do they look around for a while, then leave?
Do they convert?

The answers to these questions indicate the quality of the leads each traffic source provides.

Analyzing traffic sources will tell you which sources lead to higher conversion rates, and which don’t. And that tells you where you should invest more in advertising, and where you can cut your losses.

In Google Analytics, you can also go to Behavior Reports and observe the ways in which visitors move around the website. Then you can start to see patterns based on the source of that traffic. For instance, if you notice that visitors coming from one source convert better than visitors from another source, you might start asking questions like, “What makes Facebook users more likely to convert on my site?” or “Why is our AdWords paid search campaign not delivering higher on-site conversions?”

Here is an example of a report that shows you individual traffic sources and how they behave
Here is an example of a report that shows you individual traffic sources and how they behave

Note that the problem might not be the sources themselves, but rather how your ad appears on those sources. For example, it’s a common problem to have a Facebook ad that doesn’t match its corresponding landing page, which can lower conversions considerably. On the other hand, some sources can simply be better at attracting your target audience than others.

Questions like these can provide you with ideas and hypotheses on which you can base your experiments. Or you might uncover a problem that needs to be solved in order to make users more likely to convert.

Just remember — every idea you have must be confirmed through data. If you’re not sure that the data is telling you the whole picture, go deeper. In statistics, correlation does not imply causation. Every insight must be confirmed by multiple data sources. (That said, if you uncover an obvious problem with an obvious solution, go head and fix it as soon as possible!)

Step 2: Track events (so you know what people are doing… and not doing)

The majority of every ecommerce website should be oriented toward persuading visitors to buy something. Inevitably, though, there will be some content that doesn’t directly convert visitors, instead serving as a persuasion or nurturing tool to help visitors proceed to the actual conversion.

This content typically requires some time of visitor interaction, whether reading copy, viewing videos, completing a quiz, signing up for a list, or any number of other actions.

Event tracking enables you to observe when, how, and for how long visitors interact with your website content — in essence, you’re measuring “visitor engagement”. Tracking events can show you how far down the visitor scrolled on a page, how long they played a video, and so much more.

In fact, you can track just about any interaction using event tracking scripts.

The event tracking overview in Google Analytics
The event tracking overview in Google Analytics

Event tracking metrics tell you whether a given piece of content offered fulfills its intended purpose: to nudge the visitor further down the conversion funnel. If you notice that engagement is low and conversions are down, you may need to reconsider your content.

Essentially, the content visitors are viewing isn’t motivating them to convert. This could be due to a weak value proposition or vague copy, or something purely technical — like a broken image or videos that take too long to load.

Alternatively, you might find that you have a relatively good conversion rate, in which case you could cut that content or experiment with improving it, with the hypothesis that your conversion rate will increase.

Once more, be careful not to ascribe causation to correlation. However, it’s safe to say that you can always improve your copy.

Step 3: Divide & conquer with segmentation

One of the most useful tools you’ll find in Google Analytics (and other analytics tools) is segmentation.

Segmentation makes it easy to group your visitors according to specific criteria, and view the behavior of the selected segment. This way, you can define your target audience and determine whether your value proposition, layout, etc. makes sense to them.

Depending on the nature of your business and the type of the product you offer, you’ll want to segment by different criteria. For example, you can segment by geographic location, age, or gender. If you notice one group has a higher conversion rate, it would make sense to deliberately target this group by posting relevant ads at their primary source, or using language in your copy that is specific to that particular group.

If you notice a specific segment or demographic that is underrepresented, but that you think could be a profitable target audience, you can create hypotheses to enhance the appeal of your site, and beef up marketing to bring that demographic in.

It’s a funnel, not a sieve — so plug those holes

One of the best ways to increase your conversion rate in the early phase of optimization is to plug the leaks in your sales funnel.

Luckily, the best tool to check your funnel for issues and leaks is Google Analytics’ own Goal Funnel Visualization report. You only need to set up goals properly on your Google Analytics account to benefit from this report.

An example of a funnel visualization report
An example of a funnel visualization report

Always bear in mind that each user who enters your sales funnel by adding a product to the cart is, most of the time, more than a potential customer. They’ve already expressed their willingness to buy a product from you in no uncertain terms. The fact that they did not proceed to actually buy indicates that you didn’t do enough to motivate them to complete the purchase.

There are many hypotheses and potential reasons for cart abandonment:

  • Maybe your visitors may lack trust in your website, product, or value proposition, which makes them fearful to buy from you
  • Maybe your checkout page has too many distracting elements
  • Maybe you didn’t give them an option to purchase as a guest
  • Maybe your account creation form is too long or requires too much personal data

Whatever the cause of friction may be, it’s worth dedicating significant time to finding it and reducing the dropout rate.

Focus on the low-hanging fruit (AKA your landing pages)

Another potential area of opportunity for conversion optimization is your landing pages. Once you initiate an ad campaign or any other type of promotional campaign, you need to ensure that ads, email links, social media posts, and top-level promotions lead to their own, dedicated landing pages.

The only way to ensure conversions is to create a relevant and clear landing page that matches the look, copy, and content of your ad, and also appeals to your target audience (because you’ve targeted your ads to specific audiences… right?).

This is your low-hanging fruit. Optimizing these pages is easy, quick, and gets results.

Why? Because the people who follow your ads are pretty much in the same category as the people who enter your conversion funnel. They have expressed their interest, and they’re so close to buying. You analytics tool can tell you how popular and engaging your landing pages are — and conversely, if you notice high bounce and exit rates from your landing pages, you’re getting something wrong.

Remember that your customers are not only deciding between buying from you and not buying at all. They’re also considering buying from someone else — and you must offer them a reason not to do that.

Enter your quantitative data! Most analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, KISSmetrics, and Adobe Marketing Cloud, offer a report on top landing pages. By analyzing the metrics in that report, you can better understand the performance of each landing page in the context of conversion or engagement.

The Landing Pages report can be used to compare individual landing page performance and identify issues
The Landing Pages report can be used to compare individual landing page performance and identify issues

Most importantly, you’ll want to check how your landing pages for ads and PPC campaigns perform — since after all, you’re paying for that traffic. You can do this by adding a secondary dimension to the report and checking out your acquisition channels.

By adding a secondary dimension (you can select it by clicking the smaller red box) to your report, you can identify which landing pages perform best (shown in the third column, highlighted in red)
By adding a secondary dimension (you can select it by clicking the smaller red box) to your report, you can identify which landing pages perform best (shown in the third column, highlighted in red)

By using this information, you can make further adjustments or spot issues that may indicate an ad-landing page mismatch. If any landing page has a higher-than-average bounce rate or a lower conversion rate for ad traffic, you can either improve the page, or downsize or discontinue the promotional campaign.

In the example above (and quite unsurprisingly), a CPC campaign that leads to the home page as its landing page results in zero transactions. This means the whole campaign is a waste of money — it should be discontinued or linked to a specific landing page instead of the home page.

There are also dedicated landing page evaluation tools, such as Wordstream Landing Page Grader. Of course, no landing page can be evaluated without using some form of heat mapping, such as Crazy Egg, MouseFlow, or Lucky Orange.

Identify potential issues at a glance with heat maps

By using heat mapping on landing pages that you’ve identified as containing issues, you can check for possible problems with the page’s layout or design. Heat maps help you analyze how far users scroll, where they move their mouse, and where they click, all of which is useful information.

For example, you might realize that the call to action is not prominent enough, or that there are distractions that lead people away from the landing page.

Click map as displayed in most mouse-tracking tools
Click map as displayed in most mouse-tracking tools

You can also use session recorders to try to spot usability issues. Most mouse-tracking tools offer session recording as an integral part of the tool. Session recordings may also serve to jumpstart your user testing program — though nothing can replace properly conducted user testing.

Ease friction by tracking form activity

Finally, most landing pages contain some sort of form — whether those are email address captures, payment forms, or surveys.

By using analytics tools that contain a form analytics module, like Formisimo or the aforementioned MouseFlow, we can quickly spot issues with forms that affect the overall performance of a landing page.

An example of a form performance report
An example of a form performance report

By adjusting the form layout, changing the sequence of the fields, or adding clearer, more helpful form field instructions, we’re able to drive considerable improvements in form submission.

Add site search (it’s a win-win)

Nothing is more frustrating to than landing on a site, knowing exactly what you want, and being unable to find it.

That’s why an internal search function is a must for decreasing bounce rates and increasing sales. Some studies even indicate that visitors who use site search are responsible for generating a larger proportion of revenue than their attributable share of total traffic.

The fact is that site search helps conversions on the visitor side. A properly implemented search capability enables visitors to search categories, products, and other content, and ideally provides suggestions and recommendations based on search results.

Plus, on the analytics side, your analytics tool can track the use of your internal search and provide you with useful insights.

The most useful insights from site search are the keywords that your visitors use to find products on your website. Once you know these keywords, you can use them for ad campaigns to drive increased visits to your most popular product pages, or pop them into your social posts.

Most analytics tools offer reports on the performance of site search. Using these, you can see how search contributed to your site’s overall performance.

The site search report overview can give you valuable insights, like the keywords visitors use
The site search report overview can give you valuable insights, like the keywords visitors use

Poring over these results can give you several valuable insights that enable you to improve your site, and thus its likelihood of converting visitors, in a few different ways:

  1. First, you can see what your users search for. If a popular item has no dedicated promotional campaign, you can start one based on your observation of visitor interest. The great thing here is that you already have a keyword on which to base that campaign!
  2. Second, by observing what people search for, you can improve your site copy and content. This boils down to providing more information on searched keywords that are currently not readily connected to relevant information or products.
  3. Finally, you can improve your SEO by observing the keywords your visitors use and incorporating them into your related products, so potential customers will also be able to find those products using search engines.

Google Analytics can automatically track site search if you use the standard Google Search query for website search. For other types of site search implementation, it may be necessary to use Google Tag Manager to get keywords reported in Analytics.

Quantitative data tells us a lot, but not why

When you need to know what your visitors are doing on your site, quantitative analytics has all the answers. In fact, the only thing analytics tracking can’t answer is the “why” — and that’s where qualitative data comes in!

Quantitative data tells us a lot, but not why
Quantitative data tells us a lot, but not why

But don’t whip out a survey just yet. The best qualitative research is based on your quantitative research findings.

Analyzing web traffic and tracking the behavior of your visitors can provide you with some pretty good indications of what to ask your visitors when you set out to do your qualitative research. Traffic patterns can point you to content that’s causing issues or problems on your pages that you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.

It’s important to remember that quantitative research is not just about collecting rows of figures. It’s about making sense of those figures, and using them to find ways to improve the likelihood that your visitors will become customers.

Simply reporting how many visitors came to your website and how much time they spent on which pages won’t cut it. You need to know what visitors do, how they interact with the content, what route they follow as they they move about the site, and so on.

And always keep in mind, again, that correlation does not mean causation. Question every finding and try to confirm it before you embark on improving an aspect of your website that your initial source of data points out as a problem.

Correlation != causation (Image source)
Correlation != causation (Image source)

Ultimately, you’ll use all of this information to accomplish one thing: to improve the way you present your value proposition, products, and brand to your visitors.

Optimization opportunities analytics

Nearly every website has Google Analytics set up to track basic metrics so they can analyze what’s going wrong (and right), and use that information to improve their website’s performance. That’s the purpose of analytics. Yet most people stare at their Google Analytics dashboards and think, “Well, I guess that looks good. We’re up .0002 percent from last month.”

Website Technical Analysis: Find & Fix Common Errors On Your Ecommerce Store [CHECKLIST]

Technical Analysis

If you break conversion optimization down to its ultimate function, it’s pretty simple. The goal is to increase the number of people who use your website for its intended purpose — AKA making purchases.

Every part of your website plays a part in reaching this goal. Everything the user sees, reads, clicks on and interacts with, and every second they have to wait for a page to load.

And it all has to work together seamlessly.

Now, having a knowledgeable human being review your website and provide a professional opinion or “heuristic analysis” can alert you to most usability and content-related issues.

But heuristics are just one of the puzzle pieces that, together, form a high-performing ecommerce website. There are a lot of puzzle pieces to sift through.

Luckily there are also three pillars of CRO to guide you:

To put together the whole puzzle, there’s no way around it. You’re going to need comprehensive website technical analysis and research to identify every opportunity for enhancement.

Why? Because your ability to get useful insights from the three methods above depends on one very important pre-condition: Your website must work properly.

If it doesn’t work smoothly, quickly, and intuitively, even the most beautiful website in the world will lose conversions.

You don’t want a Corvette

Most people would agree the Corvette is one of the most beautifully designed cars in the world: sleek, low, fast, and flashy.

But when it actually gets on the road, the Corvette is known for having engine issues, climate control and electrical problems. It was 5th on the list of Consumer Reports’ least reliable cars for 2015.

Still want one? Probably not.

If you’re going to spend $80K on a car, you need it to function as a car — not just as a beautiful, shiny piece of metal.

And if you’re investing in a professional website, you need it to work, too.

My point? Don’t get so hung up on how your website looks that you forget to test how it works.

Website technical analysis - statement
If your website doesn’t work properly, your visitors will be the first to notice.

Website technical analysis means making sure your website works

Remember the three pillars of CRO above? Website Technical analysis is the fourth.

While quantitative analysis examines the way your users access your content, qualitative analysis examines what they think about it, and heuristics examines the design used to present the content, website technical analysis only looks at the technical aspects of the website — like load speed, broken links, and a whole lot more.

Quick note: It might seem like website technical analysis overlaps with heuristics, but the two differ in one important way. All the issues identified by technical analysis are purely technical, which means they require no design, hypotheses, or testing.

In a way, that makes technical problems the best kind of website problems to have. Once you spot them, you can solve them!

No matter how minor, these issues matter

Technical issues have a major impact on how your audience perceives your website, and thus tech issues are closely linked to visitor bounce rate.

How long will a new customer hang around your ecommerce store if the link to the product they want is broken? What impression does your website make if an image won’t load?

Every error, no matter how minor, hurts the user experience in some way.

With that being said, let’s look at some of the most common tech-issue offenders.

Common conversion killers you can find & fix with website technical analysis

One of the most common issues (impacting 5.3% of websites) is a lack of canonization or redirection from different URLs that visitors might use.

Mostly, this refers to visitors using a URL without the “www” prefix in the front (e.g. typing “examplesite.com” instead of www.examplesite.com in the navigation bar). While this wouldn’t be an issue for visitors, it would be for search engines and crawlers, which would perceive these two URL variations as different sites. This harms a website’s search engine optimization and rank, as it is split between the two URLs.

Another issue that frequently flies under the radar is when the title of a webpage uses non-ASCII characters, so it becomes unreadable to browsers that cannot discriminate between different types of code.

While the impact of this error is relatively low, it should be noted that CRO relies on presenting a page’s copy and value proposition (especially for landing pages) in the title. If it’s rendered unreadable, then you’ve wasted a lot of effort. Using non-ASCII characters in page titles should be avoided in general.

In addition, localization is also considered a technical issue. If your website is localized in a language other than your native language, consider writing entirely new copy or arranging for professional translation. Nothing hurts conversions more than website copy being garbled by a mix of two languages or idiomatic phrases that lead to unintended meanings.

Browser compatibility and responsiveness to mobile devices are two of the most common issues that can be identified and solved using technical analysis. (You can detect these issues using Google Analytics or dedicated cross-browser and cross-device testing software). Put these at the top of your priority list.

While it’s sometimes not possible to solve these issues entirely, at the very least, address the issues that impact the most popular browsers, devices and operating systems.

Finally, site speed is another issue that can be spotted and solved using website technical analysis. Website speed can adversely affect conversion rate. Google PageSpeed Insights is a free page speed testing tool that also makes recommendations on which issues are most likely adversely affecting your site speed.

Website technical analysis - PageSpeed Insight report
An example of PageSpeed Insight report

The issues that need to be checked in a technical audit are following:

  1. Search engine optimization issues
  2. Optimization & rendering of content for any device, operating system or browser
  3. Code problems
  4. Broken links: Broken links to a product or the user’s shopping cart have obvious negative consequences. They can directly hurt conversions by making it impossible to complete a purchase.

However, the mere existence of broken links anywhere on your site can create a negative experience for the visitor. That means your site will lose credibility and trust — two vitally important ingredients for conversion.

  1. Site not optimized for mobile (or optimized for mobile, but not for desktop): It used to be that websites only got in trouble for failing to optimize for mobile (meaning the website is as easy to navigate via smartphone as it is on a desktop computer).

But as more ecommerce stores get hip to mobile optimization, we’re encountering another problem: Websites that look great on mobile, but are uncomfortably proportioned on desktop. Even though mobile traffic has surpassed desktop traffic, it’s important that your website scales to any screen size so that the content is comfortable to view, and all buttons and links are easily navigable.

  1. Slow load speed: Long load times are a completely avoidable conversion killer. Unfortunately, slow load speed is one of those things that’s easier to prevent than to cure. There is a growing body of research on how page load times affect conversions, and it’s clear that a) Users expect pages to load in 2 seconds or less (and they’ll abandon a site that takes 3 seconds or more), and b) People are even less patient when accessing websites on their phones.

In short, website technical analysis helps you confirm that your website is fully functional for all visitors. All the issues that technical analysis identifies must be resolved immediately.

Fixing just broken links, slow load speed, and mobile or platform optimization issues would be a cost-effective way to drastically improve conversions on a website. That’s the great thing about correcting technical problems: the payoff is immediate and significant.

When’s the best time to do a website technical analysis?

“I said 10 years ago that it was time to make technology work. Although we probably suffer slightly fewer bugs today than a decade ago, poor quality is still far too prevalent. So, I’ll repeat myself: now it’s really time to make tech work.” – Jakob Nielsen

Technical analysis isn’t a one-and-done thing. It’s an ongoing process and part of optimization process for its entire duration. You should start as soon as possible.

Along with improving your website’s functionality, some of the methods used in technical analysis are used as quality assurance before deploying any test variations. Any tech issues or errors in the content of a test variation will affect the outcome of the experiment and lead to false or unreliable results.

Website technical analysis - robot
Website technical analysis – robot

How to conduct website technical analysis like the pros

First, let me tell you what not to do: Comb through your website manually, looking for errors.

Don’t do that. It’s the least efficient way possible to conduct a technical analysis — and there are a number of professional tools to speed up and error-proof the process.

Do make yourself a checklist so you can check all areas of your site without wasting time or effort. This will help you focus your efforts on one thing at a time in a logical order, and make it easier to track your progress.

Use this website technical analysis checklist as a template

Your checklist should list all of the specific areas of technical research, with space to note the severity of problems in each area.

Technical analysis checklist
Website technical analysis checklist

Here’s what one of ours looks likes:

 Area of the problem Issue  Severity
1. SEO Check the website for issues that may prevent search engines from displaying the website in search results (duplicate content, thin content, blocked or hidden content, and other impediments to search) High, moderate, or low
2. Internal site structure, architecture, and links Check all pages for broken links, redirections, hierarchy issues, and other similar issues that affect user experience
3. Images and video Check images and videos to ensure they display properly across devices and browsers
4. Site speed Check each page for speed issues that slow down content load times or impede user navigation
5. Mobile optimization and responsiveness Check for issues on mobile devices, such as higher mobile bounce rate, poor screen resolution, and lack of mobile sitemap
6. Localization Check for any issues with localization of the site, such as translation, geotargeting issues, lack of country identifier in the URL
7. Off-site representation Check how the website is represented on social media and on Google, if it’s listed on Google My Business. Make sure all inbound links from these places work properly
8. Security Check for any issues with implementing https or other secure protocols

 

With your checklist in hand, you can choose your weapons (AKA tools) and begin the process of analysis. You can find a comprehensive list of quality assurance tools here, with short descriptions and links to each tool.

To begin with, and to solve the most glaring problems, you can stick with the basic tools.

Let’s start with Google Analytics.

CRO pros use Google Analytics to spot website issues like high bounce rate or low conversion rates that show up for specific devices or browsers but not for others. Using cross-browser testing, we can see if visitors using (for example) Internet Explorer suffer an issue that affects only them.

Here’s an example of a Google Analytics report showing conversion rates in different browsers:

Website technical analysis - Google Analytics report
Website technical analysis – Google Analytics report

Using this report, we can check how different web browsers affect visitor navigation patterns. Any significant discrepancy would prompt us to double-check the user experience using that particular browser.

We also use tools like Screaming Frog and Google Webmaster tools to check the website’s internal setup. Screaming Frog is an SEO spider that can also help spot major issues like broken links, thin content, bad implementation of an analytics snippet, etc.

Site speed can be tested and optimized using numerous speed-testing tools, such as Google PageSpeed or Dotcom-Monitor. These tools perform client-side speed testing, identify issues, and analyze the slowest pages and content (like large images).

And finally, Selenium or another cross-browser testing tool can be used to ensure your website works properly for visitors on every browser, operating system, and device.

These tools allow us to quickly and easily check for technical issues like broken links, duplicate content (instances of identical content on multiple URLs on website) and redirections (instances of unintended or circular redirections), sitemap creation and accuracy (creating a map of a site is necessary to make SEO and search engines job easier), and page optimization for SEO and crawlers.

As you apply your individual tools to address each section of the checklist, maintain a list of the issues you identify. Once you’ve completed your entire analysis, you’ll review this list.

Do not fix as you go, unless the fixes are very fast and simple. You’ll be more efficient if you make a list, prioritize fixes, and do them in order.

Next, rank the issues you identified by severity and the effort necessary to remedy them. For example, a broken link to some obscure part of the website will be a lower priority than broken code that renders product images impossible on some devices.

However, your objective should be to fix all the technical issues you find. Be sure to note what you fixed and how you fixed it for future reference!

Bring it all together

While you’re in the midst of website technical analysis, don’t forget to incorporate the other types of analysis as well.

For example, looking at quantitative data can help you identify which device, operating system, and browser your visitors use most. Noticing a higher-than-average bounce rate or lower-than-average conversions for a specific device or browser should alert you that there is a potential issue with the affected operating system, browser, or device. If these issues affect more than 10% of all visitors, the issue merits immediate attention.

Quantitative analysis when you do it in parallel with technical can serve as a confirmation and can serve as a valuable indicator of severity of the issues in terms of number of visitors affected by it This is the main reason why fixing technical issues should not be done on ‘fix it as you go’ basis. The number of visitors an issue impacts gives a clear indication of priority.

Furthermore, there is a small possibility technical issues remain undetected. In those cases, qualitative research can be of immense help. Real visitors who spot the issues will likely offer the feedback on it immediately. While initial technical analysis may end, the effort to technically improve the website should never end.

The time’s ripe to grab those low-hanging fruit

Because technical issues have such an immediate and profound effect on usability, conversions, and, ultimately, your bottom line, website technical analysis should be first on your list as you embark on the conversion optimization process.

While many issues you’ll uncover will quick to find and faster to fix, others can be hard to detect or require elaborate and thorough analysis with multiple tools. And some issues require a large-scale effort to remedy. This is where ranking each issue in terms of severity (or impact) and the effort necessary to fix them will really help streamline your efforts.

There’s no downside to solving technical issues. Your efforts can only have a positive impact on conversions. So don’t skip this step! Even if an issue seems small, it can have a disproportionately large impact on your website — and your visitors.

Technical Analysis

To put together the whole puzzle of customer research, you’re going to need comprehensive website technical analysis to identify every opportunity for enhancement. Why? Because your ability to get useful insights from the three methods above depends on one very important pre-condition: Your website must work properly.

Heuristic Analysis for Ecommerce: Get Quick Wins Before Quantitative Research

Heuristic Analysis

The conversion optimization process consists of multiple steps that overlap and interlock (heuristic analysis is just one of them). Many of these steps are based on data and research, so your initial step should always be to set up your data-gathering tools.

Heuristic analysis is Step Zero of any conversion optimization process worth its salt.

But where do you start?

Unless the website you want to optimize has obvious technical difficulties, the first step is to visually inspect the website. Do this by going through the website page by page, and try to spot obvious issues that could hinder conversion.

Just a few examples of potential conversion minefields:

  • Long forms with unnecessary fields: These add friction
  • Unintuitive menu navigation: Users may not know where to click
  • Unclear value propositions: Users don’t know what you’re offering
Heuristic analysis - long form
Here is an example of a very long form

This part of the process relies entirely on the researcher’s knowledge and experience. It is not based on any sort of data; instead, it relies on established best practices and what “usually” works on similar websites.

Important note: While heuristic analysis often precedes and informs other methods of research, it cannot and must not be your sole way of gathering data.

Why should you do heuristic analysis?

Considering the established fact that conversion optimization is a data-driven process, why is heuristic analysis a part of CRO at all?

It seems counterintuitive to talk about data-driven processes, gathering quantitative data and so on, but then begin with a method that is based only on experience. So why do we do it?

The answer is both simple and surprising. Heuristic analysis is the most cost-effective way to uncover a website’s low-hanging conversion optimization opportunities.

If a researcher can spend two or three hours simply observing and clicking around a website, and spot issues that can be fixed relatively easily and without using any quantitative tools or performing lengthy qualitative research… then by all means, heuristic analysis should precede other methods that take more time and resources.

What metrics is heuristic analysis based on?

In a nutshell, heuristic analysis focuses on usability.

The widely used analytical methodology developed by Jakob Nielsen, one of the founders of Nielsen Norman Group, consists of a list of usability heuristics. It’s often recognized as the best method for heuristic analysis of websites, software interfaces, and other types of user-to-machine interaction.

Here are the NNG usability indicators that apply to websites:

  • Ability to keep track of the process flow by user
  • Clarity and relevance
  • Freedom and control (the visitor’s ability to maintain control of the process and pursue their own objectives)
  • Consistency of site message
  • Prevention of errors by anticipating the most common errors, and reducing the possibility of triggering them by visitor action
  • Error messages tested for clarity and relevance in order to help users diagnose and recover from errors
  • Recognition
  • Flexibility and efficiency tests to allow visitors to use shortcuts and time-saving measures
  • Aesthetics and functional design
  • Documentation and help services

Let’s go through these one by one.

User’s ability to keep track of the process flow

This metric refers to the website user’s ability to instantly estimate their current “position” or location on the website relative to their desired objective or starting point. The visitor is made aware of their progress and the estimated number of remaining steps (or amount of time) before they reach the objective or goal.

A form that features some sort of progress indicator, especially for multiple-page forms, is a good example. The visitor is informed how many pages are left in the form, how many questions they have completed, how many questions remain, or simply shown the percentage of the form completed so far.

Heuristic analysis - easy to follow form
Here is an example of a form that informs prospects of their progress

In a broader sense, breadcrumb navigation and similar menu solutions serve the same purpose.

A website that fails in this respect will probably suffer from a high bounce rate, low conversion rate, and low visitor interaction. Visitors will feel lost without the ability to maintain control of their navigation through the site.

Clarity and relevance

Estimating and improving your website’s clarity and relevance is one of the primary tasks of conversion optimization.

Clarity refers to the visitor’s ability to understand a website’s message, while relevance refers to his ability to relate the product or service being offered to his own needs. These two concepts are critical indicators of a site’s success. It’s well known that if the visitor does not understand a website within five seconds, they will not proceed with their visit.

Clarity is the factor that helps visitors make the most out of this short amount of time. The website must clearly show and/or explain its purpose within those five seconds. So, in designing your website and writing its content, let clarity be your guiding principle.

Relevance, on the other hand, represents the connection between the visitor’s need and the content of the website. If a visitor perceives the site content as personally relevant, his motivation will increase, and he will pay more attention.

The way the human mind perceives information is also helpful to consider. There are many ways to convey information, but the best is imagery — since the brain processes pictures up to 60,000 times faster than words.

So the more visual the content your visitor sees on first glance, the more likely it is to grab his attention. Odds are that images or graphics will help make your content clearer.

Heuristic analysis - visual elements relevance
A visual representation of relevance. Image source

Freedom and control

People like to feel like they’re in control, and this applies to websites, too.

If your visitor feels like they’re being forced down a certain path on your website or that they cannot control the way they navigate the site, you will lose them.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that your website cannot have a structure or ideal user flow. It must have those — but in order to instill a feeling of control in visitors, the site structure must be constructed as a logical progression.

Websites take freedom and control from visitors in a few different ways, including:

  • Frequent pop-ups
  • Slider banners or carousel-type catalogues that users cannot control
  • A lack of clear navigation

An example would be a “Buy Now!” pop-up that covers the visitor’s screen before they even have time to examine or consider the website’s value proposition or offer. Heuristic analysis should uncover these types of issues and inspire ideas about how to rectify them.

In short, any type of content that interrupts the visitor’s navigation, forces certain actions on them, or pushes a call to action before they are ready to convert will make a user feel like they have no control.

Heuristic analysis - popups example
Heuristic analysis – popups example (image source)

Consistency of the message

When a visitor lands on the website, he should be “greeted” by a clear message that serves as the site’s basic value proposition. This message should be omnipresent throughout the website.

Take Apple, for example. A consistent message runs through every apple.com page dedicated to a specific product. iPad pages consistently point out the message that the iPad is better and faster than any laptop.

But the consistency doesn’t stop there. Apple maintains this consistency in all of its marketing channels. That way, the visitor is primed for conversion long before they even get to the website. If your website offers a clear and relevant message that is consistent throughout, it should enjoy high conversion rates (provided there are no other issues with the site).

Heuristic analysis - consistency
Heuristic analysis – consistency

Error management and prevention

You can be certain that in navigating your e-commerce website, your visitor will occasionally make an error — whether it’s due to a misunderstanding or simple oversight.

Most frequently, errors happen when visitors need to fill in a form or type a comment or something similar. A good user interface aims to eliminate the possibility of error. When this is not possible, it aims to minimize the effort a user must expend to understand and fix the error.

Error notifications should be constructed in a way that informs the visitor of their error but doesn’t blame or scare them. Error messages should be informative and contain the best way to correct the error.

For example, many website forms require a visitor to enter their date of birth. Since date formats differ all over the world, the required format should be clearly pointed out in the field question. However, should the visitor still enter the wrong format, the ensuing error message should inform them that the format is wrong, and once again point out the correct format.

(Of course, the best approach is to eliminate the possibility of this type of error by designing the input field in a way that compels or guides the visitor to fill it out correctly the first time.)

Heuristic analysis - error message
Here is an example of a successful implementation of error prevention.

An example of a bad error message would be “You have entered a date in the wrong format!” Not only does the error message language blame the visitor, it unduly alarms and frustrates them by using ambiguous language.

Error recovery

Further improving the error messaging involves testing error messages for clarity and relevance. Users should be able to understand the meaning of the error message and how to fix the error — so give them clear instructions in plain language.

Avoid error messages that just supply an error code, since these have no helpful meaning outside of your development staff.

Recognition

If your website is designed to serve a returning audience (and most ecommerce sites are), it should be able to recognize returning customers and ease their navigation accordingly.

Let’s look at Amazon. Once you register on the site, your actions are tracked and used to improve your experience. After you buy something, you will start seeing similar and related items on the homepage. If you maintain a wishlist, Amazon will point out the items from your wishlist that are currently on sale.

Google search is another example. If you are logged into your Google account, when you start typing a search keyword, Google will offer keywords similar to those you previously searched for.

This type of recognition both makes it easier for a customer to use your site, and makes it feel more familiar. And, as you may know, it’s worth the effort — since returning customers frequently have a much higher conversion rate than new visitors.

Personalizing your website goes a long way toward creating a loyal customer base. As you do your heuristic analysis, dedicate special attention to potential personalization options and current personalization implementation.

Without personalization, the only alternative left for the returning user is their own memory. Since memory can be unreliable, by using personalization, you avoid having to force your visitors to remember the specifics of your website and the easiest ways to access the content they want.

Flexibility and efficiency of use

This heuristic is related to the previous heuristic. Customers who frequently visit a website develop their own unique way of navigating it and consuming its content.

Since it is impossible to guess the number of ways in which a visitor might interact, or the sequence of their actions, a well-designed site will offer ways for visitors to take shortcuts to their most frequently used calls to action and/or content. This can speed up the user interaction and further increase the customer’s feelings of belonging and familiarity.

Aesthetics and functional design

In addition to being clear and relevant, a well-designed website should also be functional.

By that, we mean that the information it contains is presented in an easily accessible way that minimizes the effort needed to get information.

Heuristic analysis - aesthetics & functional design
Heuristic analysis – aesthetics & functional design

For example, copy should contain only information that is necessary and relevant. Every unnecessary addition to the content draws visitors’ attention away, and can harm your store’s conversion rate.

Documentation and help

As you know by now, a well-designed website should be intuitive to use. Most contemporary ecommerce sites use a familiar layout just for this reason. Visitors react better to a familiar interface, so this isn’t a good place to experiment, unless you’re extremely confident that your new design is better-suited to the nature of your business.

Should your website actually require some explanation for its use, provide these directions right where they’re necessary. If steps need to be completed in a certain order or input provided in a specific format, inform users when they initiate the action.

Also, provide an outlet for users to ask for help, whether it’s a live chat or another form of direct contact. (A bonus of allowing this kind of customer outreach is that it’s incredibly valuable for use in qualitative research, so no website should be without it.)

How to conduct your heuristic analysis

Due to its extreme subjectivity at certain points, heuristic analysis is best conducted as a team — since multiple sets of eyes can help eliminate subjective observations and biases.

Plus, the more people who conduct an analysis, the less likely it is that they’ll overlook issues.

In fact, just 5 people will most likely spot 75% of all heuristic issues on a website:

Heuristic analysis - Source: Nielsen Norman Group
Heuristic analysis – Source: Nielsen Norman Group

Go forth and analyze!

Heuristic analysis is the most cost-effective way to spot potential improvement options for your e-commerce store. And it often doesn’t require much testing to implement those changes — since a focus on improving usability and user experience can only result in boosting your website’s performance.

Since heuristic analysis doesn’t require the collection of quantitative data or the conduction of user surveys, it should be done prior to any other research activity. Of course, you’ll need to work with your client and/or outside research consultants, since some of the findings of your analysis may depend on the nature of the business activity and the target audience.

Heuristic analysis also has another benefit: it allows you to better understand your ecommerce customers, enhancing their ease of use and enjoyment of the shopping process.

Heuristics are usually most conspicuous in their absence. However, if you don’t notice problems immediately, look over some user session recordings. These can shed light on where your website is failing users in one regard or another.

Heuristic Analysis

The conversion optimization process consists of multiple steps that overlap and interlock. Many of these steps are based on data and research, so your initial step should always be to set up your data-gathering tools. Heuristic analysis is Step Zero of any conversion optimization process worth its salt.

Foundation of High-Converting Ecommerce Stores: Clarity & Relevance

High-converting ecommerce stores: Foundation clarity & relevance

Together, the ideas of relevance and clarity represent the cornerstone of successful communication between people. High-converting ecommerce stores need to have both to be effective.

Clarity means that you’re conveying your meaning in terms that can be understood by your conversation partner (or audience). Relevance simply means that what you are saying makes sense in the framework of conversation.

For example, if people around you are talking about politics, your remarks on gluten-free recipes may go unnoticed or–more likely–be seen as odd, off-putting, or out of place.

These two simple concepts, which we so easily apply to our everyday communication, are also critical in successful ecommerce messaging — and yet they’re often overlooked.

Getting your ecommerce website’s prospects and visitors to actually read and understand your offer requires that your messaging is spot-on in terms of clarity and relevance. Because if it’s not… you’re losing sales to confusion and irrelevance.

Let’s look at how to evaluate and improve your ecommerce website’s clarity and relevance, starting with a little more background on how these qualities affect conversion.

Together, clarity and relevance generate LIFT

According to WiderFunnel’s popular LIFT model, relevance and clarity are the two forces in conversion that generate lift.

The influence of relevance and clarity on the conversion process is best explained visually. Here’s how WiderFunnel founder Chris Goward represents it:

High-converting ecommerce stores - lift model
High-converting ecommerce stores – LIFT model

What does “clarity” mean in ecommerce?

In general, “clarity” means that that your site’s copy and content are easy to understand. This sounds like a pretty simple, easy goal, right? So easy that people frequently take clarity for granted — assuming that if they understand their own content, everyone will.

The result of such oversight is obvious to the people on the receiving end: readers/consumers.

Clarity is important because it enables your consumers to instantly grasp what you are talking about. And understanding is the key to keeping someone’s attention — which is what your website content needs to do.

You’re familiar with the “five second test,” right? Let’s do it now:

Site 1:

High-converting ecommerce stores - Site 1 5 seconds test
High-converting ecommerce stores – Site 1 5 seconds test

Site 2:

High-converting ecommerce stores - Site 2 5 seconds test
High-converting ecommerce stores – Site 2 5 seconds test

Which one of these sites passes the five second test?

One sure way to fail the five second test is to offer unclear content.

If your visitor can’t understand what your website is about the moment they arrive, they will leave, possibly never to return.

How to improve the clarity of your ecommerce website

Establish a visual hierarchy

The best way to ensure that your audience can instantly grasp your store’s concept and purpose is by employing design best practices, starting with creating a visual hierarchy.

The visual hierarchy communicates the order of importance of individual elements (e.g. images, copy, or calls to action) to the visitor immediately, without the need for explicit explanation.

For example, consider the following image:

High-converting ecommerce stores - visual hierarchy
Which of the circles in the image above did you intuitively consider more important — A, B, or C?

The largest circle instantly seems more important due to its size. Manipulating the size or placement of a given element on a page can help draw visitors’ attention to that element, and increase the overall clarity of your message.

Plus, a properly established visual hierarchy requires less time and energy to understand, making it easier to maintain visitors’ attention.

Design simply

To preserve the clarity of your website, aim to simplify its design. Like a properly structured visual hierarchy, simple design enables your visitors to concentrate on what matters. If your website is full of details and distractions, visitors will get lost trying to process all the stuff being thrown at them.

On the other hand, a simple website enables users to grasp a message more quickly. This is a consequence of how the brain works: the more disjointed the information, the more time it takes to process. This is why simpler sites are also naturally clearer and visually more attractive to visitors.

You can further improve your site’s clarity by using a “prototypical” design — one that matches the typical site in your category or industry. For example, if your site sells clothing, it makes sense to design it around common principles used in similar sites, since that is what visitors expect.

Appeal to the brain’s “System 1” with images

Another way to increase the clarity of your ecommerce site is to use imagery where possible. “A picture is worth 1,000 words” isn’t just a clever saying. It’s the truth, and that’s because of the way the human brain perceives reality.

According to dual process theory, the brain has two main systems of perception: System 1 and System 2.

High-converting ecommerce stores - dual process theory
High-converting ecommerce stores – dual process theory

The image above shows the difference between these two systems.

System 1 is faster and more reactive. Incidentally, it is the one that perceives images.

System 2 is the slower, more methodical, cognitive part of the brain that perceives and interprets text (also known as reading).

If something can be explained in images, people will grasp it faster and more readily than if the same thing were presented by text/copy.

Now, not everything can (or should) be presented with images. So when you do need to write copy, consider the following guidelines to keep it clear and relevant:

  • Stick to the point to make sure readers stay engaged.
  • Use everyday language. As they say, write for humans.
  • The text should be clearly formatted; use bullet points where you can, and stick with easy-to-read fonts.

(Want to know more about writing effective ecommerce copy? Try evoking emotion in your copy.)

How to evaluate the clarity of your ecommerce site

You can evaluate the clarity of your site by asking the following questions:

  • What is this website about?
  • How and why is it useful to me?
  • Can I understand what’s being offered?
  • Is there enough detailed information about the product?
  • Is there enough detailed information about the offer?
  • What do I do next?

If all of these questions can be answered quickly and unambiguously by any random visitor (or better yet, a tester), congratulations! Your site is clear.

If not, go back to the drawing board and improve on any issues your tester identified.

Let’s look at an example of a website with a clear message: Booking.com.

High-converting ecommerce stores - booking.com clear message
High-converting ecommerce stores – booking.com clear message

Booking.com has a very clear homepage. It offers a simple form with a visually emphasized call to action. It also helpfully provides you ideas for trips, based on your location.

The visual hierarchy is exquisite and the greatest portion of the screen is allocated to the call to action section. All of the copy is short and to the point, offering very clear benefits. It’s all calculated to make you want to go on that trip you’ve been thinking about.

Now let’s see an example of an unclear homepage:

High-converting ecommerce stores - unclear message
High-converting ecommerce stores – unclear message

This is a website called Doctors Supplement Store, which apparently sells dietary supplements. Spend five seconds looking at it and try to find the call to action.

There are three elements that stick out and could be considered calls to action. One is a button labeled “Login,” which is clearly for registered users. One is asking us to “Register” (for what?) and the final, floating CTA is “Email us” (why would we want to email them?).

The page lacks any attractive or informative value proposition. It has no product images or a hero image. And nothing in their copy makes you want to click anything on the site.

Now, compare it to the homepage of another company that sells supplements:

Vitamin Shoppe homepage
Vitamin Shoppe homepage

This is the above-the-fold portion of Vitamin Shoppe’s homepage. On the first screen, you are welcomed with a coupon for $10 off every order over $50, and free shipping.

Scrolling further down, you’ll find a call to action to sign up to receive information on health and exercise, along with exclusive promotions. By joining, you can schedule regular delivery of the supplements you every day. Each call to action explains what you’ll receive if you click it.

Vitamin Shoppe product page
Vitamin Shoppe product page

What does “relevance” mean in ecommerce?

If clarity is what makes people stay for more than five seconds on your website, relevance is what holds their attention over the long term.

Relevance means that the content your site presents is actually related to the problem or desire with which your visitors arrive. If your content lacks relevance, no matter how clear it is, it will never maintain your visitors’ attention.

The simplest and best illustration of relevance is this:

High-converting ecommerce stores - relevance
High-converting ecommerce stores – relevance

Relevance occurs at the intersection of your visitors’ interests and your website content. The highest-performing sites increase the surface area of this intersection, and decrease the outlying surfaces.

In the context of visitors who come to your website organically or directly, you can increase relevance using various methods. The first step should be to determine your target audience and try to address them. This will increase the perception of relevance as you address their problems and offer solutions to it.

The concept of relevance is often mentioned specifically in the context of landing pages. A landing page is a page created with the intention of driving traffic (paid or not) to it. If you create a landing page, you must always make sure that its context is relevant to the ad or link you placed on, for example, AdWords.

The best way to increase your website’s relevance is to gain intimate knowledge of your visitors, especially your target audience. You can use surveys and interviews to gather this data.

A similar messaging tactic is to borrow the existing words of your customers, which you can find in testimonials and reviews. All ecommerce sites should provide customers with a way to post reviews, and use this “swipe” method to increase the relevance of the site copy.

Take these concepts a step further

When you’re aiming to improve your site’s clarity and relevance, it’s not enough to merely focus on whether the language of the message is understandable, and the offer is related to the prospect.

Your entire website should convey one unified message or meaning, from the copy you choose to the product photography styling. That way, you’ll maximize the impact of your message and increase your credibility in visitors’ eyes.

Plus, by performing user research and employing personas and personalization, you can match the content your site offers with the known preferences of your target audience or segment. This means that you can provide content that’s incredibly relevant to a particular customer, and get your message across clearly by using language with which that customer identifies.

At the end of the day, clarity and relevance are linchpins of your ecommerce store’s ability to sell — and they can help you create a loyal following of users who understand and identify with your brand.

High-converting ecommerce stores: Foundation clarity & relevance

Together, the ideas of relevance and clarity represent the cornerstone of successful communication between people. High-converting ecommerce stores need to have both to be effective. Clarity means that you’re conveying your meaning in terms that can be understood by your conversation partner (or audience). Relevance simply means that what you are saying makes sense in the framework of conversation.

HOW TO: Create & Automate Ecommerce Customer Personas Using Google Analytics & Tag Manager

Ecommerce customer personas Google Analytics & Tag Manager

We’ve discussed how to conduct customer research and its importance. We’ve gone over the importance of personalization and how ecommerce customer personas are defined. And we’ve dipped our toes into a theoretical introduction to using analytics tools for persona creation.

Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

We will now, as a practical exercise, present the step-by-step process of creating ecommerce customer personas by using Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager as the main tools.

Why those tools? Because they are an industry standard, used by over 70% of marketers to gather quantitative data. They’re also free, and for an SMB ecommerce website, they’re a great starting base to get the personas you need. More advanced tools can come later.

Tools that gather quantitative data can rarely be used to determine a visitor’s specific intent. Often, we have to resort to asking that visitor a direct question to understand their intent.

But, using a structure of goals, segments, event tracking, and pattern identification based on the same quantitative tools, we can deduce the intents of specific groups of visitors with reasonable certainty.

First, segment visitors in Google Analytics

Creating ecommerce customer personas begins by identifying common customer characteristics that are unique between groups of customers. The basic idea is to select a relatively small number of distinguishing characteristics (such as age group, frequently bought products, average monthly order value, gender, or location).

Google Analytics contains an invaluable asset straight out of the box: Advanced Segments. Segments rely on the data available to Google through some of their products, third-party cookies, and other sources.

When you enable the Interests and Demographics report, you gain access to this database and can use it to create segments of your visitors:

Ecommerce Personas Google-Analytics - interests & demographics report
The Interests and Demographics report in Google Analytics

By playing with segments, you can create a simple persona, based on gender, age, geolocation, and/or device. You could also add interests to it. Pretty soon, you’d be able to create a few simple personas.

Here’s that process in action:

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics segment configuration
Here is a segment configuration to create a simple persona

In the example above, we’ve created a person we call “John”.

John represents a male, aged between 18 and 44, from the U.S., who likes technology. Over 10% of users on the site correspond to this criteria, so it is not too wide (encompassing many different types of customers), nor too narrow (creating a glut of persona types) a classification.

Next, we’ll see how users like John behave, compared to all other users:

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics - comparison
Comparison of revenues and conversion ratio between John (our persona) and an average user

We can see that this group has significantly more value than other groups, with both a higher conversion ratio and higher AOV. Knowing this, it is obvious we want to attract more users like John!

So how do we go about that? We could use Google Analytics reports to figure out what interests John by viewing the landing page(s) he looked at:

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics Category Interest
An example of a report on product category interest

As we can see, a significant number of users belonging to our “John” persona browsed the website looking for apparel, while a large number was also interested in electronics. We can use this information to present users in the “John” group relevant products as soon as they reach the site.

Another possible use of GA information is to view the Acquisition Report, and try to figure out which channel brings our website the most “John” users:

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics Acquisition report
An acquisition report for our “John” persona, sorted by conversions

Although Direct is the channel that brings in most conversions, we can see that new visitors belonging to this persona mostly reach the site through Organic Search and Direct channels. This way, we can uncover the most profitable channel to bring more new “Johns” to the site.

Of course, this is only the fraction of information that can be uncovered by using a combination of personas and Google Analytics. And this is at a very basic level.

Next, let’s look at how to use Google Tag Manager and Analytics combined to define and create a persona.

Next, use Google Tag Manager to segment automatically

So, we know how to manually establish a persona and start comparing the behavior of that group to other groups or all the visitors to a website.

Now let’s make that happen automatically. That way we don’t have to spend the effort to define personas and use segments (as easy as it is). Instead, we’ll have the data right there, ready to be used.

To begin, we need to design a custom dimension in Google Analytics. This custom dimension will be our persona.

To define a custom dimension, open your admin tab in Google Analytics. There you’ll find a guide to implementing a custom dimension for your Google Analytics property.

Follow the guide and define the dimensions for each of the ecommerce customer personas you may want to use, depending on the nature of your business.

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics - Add custom dimension
Where to add a custom dimension in Google Analytics

If, for example, you sell computers, you may want to create personas for office users, power users, home users, students, IT experts, and graphic designers.

That way, you can assign attributes to each of those ecommerce customer personas as they visit your website.

To assign personas, you’ll first need a cookie to be placed on your visitor’s browser. It will just perform one function — to count the instances a user accesses content that allows you to classify them as belonging to a distinct persona. The content of this cookie will be readable by Google Tag Manager.

To be able to rely on these results, you will need a persistent (or user) cookie that contains reports on how many times user accessed the site, starting from the first time they accessed the site. This allows you to track their interests far back into the past.

Combined with solidly defined personas, this data helps you create an automatic way of tracking and reporting the behavior of different personas. Plus, it will reveal the influence and performance that your personalization efforts and persona-specific content have on your users.

When you define common characteristics of customers, combining them into personas should give you a discrete number of groups, each corresponding to those defined behaviors or demographics.

Here’s how to create and deploy this type of cookie. Make sure your cookie tracks the specific indicators that allow you to classify ecommerce customer personas. For example, frequent access to content meant for power users, to use our computer-store example above, allows you to identify an individual as belonging to the “power user” persona.

Next, open Google Tag Manager and create a new variable. This variable will be a “1st party cookie type”. This will allow you to read the value of the cookie and assign this value to a variable.

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics - Create new variable
Ecommerce customer personas Google Analytics – Create new variable

As a final step, you need to configure a trigger dependent on this variable, and assign it to the custom dimension that you established earlier.

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics - trigger configuration
Using a 1st party cookie to establish a trigger

Once you’ve defined a trigger that is activated when the cookie value reaches a certain threshold, you will be able to create a new tag using the trigger to set a custom dimension value (the dimension with your named persona).

With this setup, every visitor to your website will, within some time, be identified as belonging to a certain persona group. The mechanism will work dynamically, and can even change the persona type of the visitor as time goes by and their preferences become clearer.

How to use ecommerce customer personas to improve your store performance

When you have defined and refined personas, it opens up a host of new opportunities to target each of the persona with appropriate messages, ads, emails or other types of content. To do that you need to create surveys tied to your personae in order to get the answers to why particular persona make their purchase decisions.

To achieve this, you cannot just ask them why the customers bought the product, because frequently their answer will be superficial and will not uncover their true motivation.

For example, you may ask a customer why they bought a power drill from your website (assuming you sell power tools). They may say they like the product, the company or any number of such reasons. Or their answer to such a direct question could be ‘To put a painting on the wall.’ Your customer is nothing but honest here, but nobody buys a drill just for this reason, as they can easily borrow one from friends and family.

While correct, these factual answer do not lead to true customer motivation. To uncover it, you need to get acquainted with their story, so you need to ask them how they solved their problem in the past, how frequently did they need the drill and similar, you may uncover the real answer. The customer does not want to depend on other people any more and wants to have a tool they could depend on in their own free time.

According to job-to-be-done theory, the true reason most of your prospects buy any product is to complete some specific task that will make their life better.

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics - Jobs to be done theory
A visual example of the Job-to-be-done (source: Intercom.com)

By identifying this task and job-to-be-done you can devise a marketing message that will resonate clearly with your audience and create content – from top of the funnel to the bottom of it that will consistently propagate this message according to each persona type you identify. By identifying the pain points (which in effect is a job to be done) in your personas and create a content that will cater to their specific needs, you will be able to present each persona type with a appropriate content.

Personality theories: A brief introduction

There are several frameworks for establishing personas, which I’ll touch on below.

One thing to remember is that all of these theories are based upon psychological personality types. As such, there is no “right” or “wrong” model. You should use the one that you feel best suits your customers and best explains their behavior.

Jung’s theory of personality

Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung based his personality type theory upon two basic human traits: extrovert and introvert. By using four additional modifiers (sensation, thinking, intuition, and feeling), Jung defined eight personality types. Mapping groups of customers to these personality types will enable you to form groups of customers who correspond to certain patterns of behavior.

Ecommerce personas Google Analytics Jungian personality types
Jung’s personality types, represented visually (source)

For example, Jung’s theory holds that extroverted people seek broader knowledge and information, and tend to rely on a great deal of sources to gather information. Introverted people will likely be oriented to prefer more specific sources of information, and seek narrower but deeper knowledge. You can take these tendencies into account when you present your product information.

Jung also posited that intuitive people tend to rely on hunches and knowledge that seems to come out of nowhere. They might appreciate copy written in the future tense, and more easily imagine the possibilities that your product or service can open up.

Sensation-type personalities, on the other hand, tend to seek firm data and independent confirmation in Jung’s view. They distrust hunches, and prefer that data are referred to in present tense with concrete and specific language — since this is information that they can use their five senses to perceive and understand.

Each of these combinations of personality can be used as a foundation on which to build content and user experience. Of course, you should use testing to back up your assumptions about how each persona will respond.

Other personality theories

There are many other psychological theories to describe different personality types, including the Big Five, DISC, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to name a few.

Ecommerce Personas Google Analytics Myers Briggs personality types
Myers-Briggs personality types (source)

Each outlines the common preferences of individual personality types, and allows you to identify the type of actions, products, and information each personality type is more likely to seek. All you need to do is to identify the action that corresponds with the personality type(s) of your customers, and you will be able to create accurate personas based on your customers’ on-site behavior.

Personality theory-based ecommerce customer persona creation in action

Let’s return to our computer-selling example for a practical application of personality theory-based persona creation. First, you’ll pick the personality theory or framework that most easily maps to your business model or what you already know about your customers.

After you conduct a customer research study and a few surveys, you should be able to identify your customers’ personality types according to the model you selected.

When you have identified the individuals who conform to each personality types, you’ll next go through your traffic and conversion reports in Analytics. The point and idea is to find specific patterns of behavior that differ each type from each other and define persona types accordingly.

Pitfalls to watch out for as you create your ecommerce customer personas

Using Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager in the ways I’ve described above allows you to automate the persona creation process. It’s not a perfect process, however, and you must be aware of a few potential drawbacks.

First, the process can only be as accurate as the number of visitors who allow cookies. You can probably assume that this will be a vast majority, and that visitors who do not allow cookies will not have a significant influence on the final result. You should be aware of this, and set a default persona value for visitors who do not allow cookies.

Second, the accuracy of ecommerce customer personas will also largely depend on the way you define the actions that classify individual visitors into personas. If you do this loosely, or set variables that only differ slightly from each other, your mechanism is likely to identify multiple personas — since most visitors will tend to examine every part of your website eventually.

You need to do diligent qualitative research here, which can help you structure your website in a fashion that lends itself to easy visitor classification. For example, setting up tripwires in the form of content likely to draw attention of one type of visitors and not the other types can help you establish some basic persona groups.

By using basic, data-based personas, you can structure your ecommerce store content, offer, product category pages, and product descriptions around your customers’ perceptions, needs, and concerns.

However, by using personality theories and types (such as Jung’s or the Big Five), you can take personalization a step further to create discrete, finite content types and user interfaces corresponding to the personality types you define. Personality types, if applied properly and for long enough to create as-accurate-as-possible results, can be a much better personalization mechanism than purely data-based personas.

By identifying each personality type’s preferences, and basing their experience of your site around those preferences, you will increase your website’s credibility of your website and boost your conversion rates.

Ecommerce customer personas Google Analytics & Tag Manager
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Using Customer Personas with Google Analytics to Get Ahead

We will now, as a practical exercise, present the step-by-step process of creating ecommerce customer personas by using Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager as the main tools. Why those tools? Because they are an industry standard, used by over 70% of marketers to gather quantitative data. They’re also free, and for an SMB ecommerce website, they’re a great starting base to get the personas you need. More advanced tools can come later.

How to Create USEFUL Customer Personas Using Your Google Analytics Data

Customer personas using Google Analytics

First things first: What are customer personas, and why do you need to create them?

A “persona” is an idealized customer group with specific common characteristics. The use of customer personas in marketing and selling is very common, since identifying personas enables you to create messaging and content that perfectly fits specific groups of customers.

Using customer personas, you can identify different types of customers, and devise the best way to approach them and the best content to show to each group.

Plus, using Cialdini’s six principles of influence, it’s possible to devise a conversion funnel specifically suited to different personality types, and personalize the content they see or receive according to their specific needs. Personalized and relevant content that matches the needs of your visitors increases their likelihood of converting.

While we thoroughly covered the art of defining personas in a previous post, we only touched on how to track and segment by personas in Google Analytics — so today, we’ll tell you how to do that. (After all, what good is a persona if you don’t know how those users behave on your site?)

This post will provide a framework for understanding and implementing customer personas using basic Google Analytics features. We’ll show you how to use Advanced Segments to create a persona, and how to use persona segments to improve the content of your website and your customer experience.

The best part: Advanced Segments is a readily available feature in Google Analytics! The power to start tracking your customer personas is at your fingertips.

A quick overview of using Google Analytics to track customer personas

Google Analytics provides a large amount of data on different aspects of your visitors — how they get to your website, who they are, what they do on the site, etc.

Using this data, it’s possible to draw an accurate picture of visitor behavior, then sort that picture by the channels and websites from which a visitor originated, what content they viewed, and what events they triggered. All of the aforementioned data can be used to deduce patterns of behavior of different groups of customers and visitors.

You can start by using the most popular channels to see how visitors who arrive from that channel tend to behave on your site. To do this

To do this, use Advanced Segments to define a segment that shows visitors coming from a channel you want to analyze: for example, visitors who arrive via Organic Search. Here we pulled out the segment of converters to compare them with all other visitors and used Acquisition report. This can show you which channel is most effective in bringing converting visitors.

Customer personas - Google Analytics segments
An example of a popular segment

When you decide on a segment and define it, next, you can follow those visitors’ navigation and behavior on the site itself. Their behavior may uncover patterns that, when you identify and quantify them, enable you to predict the behavior of similar visitors!

For example, you may find out that one customer segment prefers a certain kind of content. Oe maybe they’re coming from certain geographical areas. Or maybe they belong to a specific age group.

Using this method, you can start to create a customer persona based on any criteria you select.

Step 1: Create a segment

The information you need to draw from Google Analytics depends on knowing who your target audience is. Before you create a persona, define the characteristics of that group of visitors or customers, and what information your persona should convey.

Then, using Advanced Segments, you can create customer personas as different segments and compare them to each other.

Creating a segment is a straightforward process in Google Analytics. Start by clicking on the “Add Segment” button in the top left corner of Google Analytics’ visualization window. A dialogue box will open, allowing you to select conditions for the segment.

“One method of incorporating personas into the ongoing maintenance of a website is to create persona-inspired segments in your analytics tool. These segments can not only check whether the user described in a persona is characteristic of your website’s real visitors, but can also help you uncover patterns of use and trends in behavior that would otherwise be masked when lumping together the data for all visitors to the site.” Aurora Harley, Norman Nielsen Group

Customer research - Google Analytics segment creation process
The segment creation process

A segment to represent a customer persona begins by using a custom segment feature in Analytics. When you select a custom segment, you can add characteristics to it that match your persona: things like demographic info and which messages or content to show that visitor.

Example of customer persona details
Example of customer persona details

Google Analytics automatically collects and reports visitors’ Age Range, Gender, and Location without the need for you to set those up. You can see those demographic details in the Audience Reports section of the Google Analytics interface:

Customer research - Age report in Demographics section of Google Analytics
Customer research – Age report in Demographics section of Google Analytics

The age report, for example, gives the proportion of each age group of visitors. This data, just like all the others in the demographic section, originates from data Google collects anonymously from other websites. When creating a persona segment, you can begin by adding a certain age range as the first criterion.

Customer research - adding age to a segment
Customer research – adding age to a segment

Adding other details to your persona is as easy as checking a box. As we add details, a persona begins to take shape, and the segment that contains those details represents a rough outline of the persona.

Here, we’re creating a persona called Jane Smith. She represents female visitors aged 18-34.

When you’ve added all the demographic data you need to add, click Save button to create your segment and then ‘Apply’ on the next screen to show the resulting segment results.

Customer research - partial persona segment
Customer research – partial persona segment

(Not so fast… you’re not done yet)

Obviously, this is not a complete persona. The mechanics of Google Analytics prevent the ability to fully and accurately track customer personas as you might design them — for example, you will not be able to directly assign a marketing message or an elevator pitch for a persona.

However, using Analytics’ aggregated data and your existing segment, you can track members of those customer personas as they navigate your website.

The data collected by Google Analytics can be directly used to identify traits and make it easy to segment visitors into customer personas according to those traits.

For example, if a visitor looks at certain types of content, triggers specific events, or views videos or images, etc., you may notice that she’s a quick, impulsive decision-maker. Alternatively, you might notice that another type of visitor tends to research a lot before buying.

This information can help you devise specific CTAs to most effectively match the personality types of your different visitors. Using experimentation and testing, you can refine these CTAs further until you identify those that work the best for each persona.

There are several personality theories that can help you discover behavioral patterns. Using these theories can be greatly helpful in determining the content types likely to make those visitors convert. For example, you can base your customer personas on the Big Five theory, which defines five basic characteristics or personality traits.

“Is there a way you can begin to recognise personality traits in your CRM? Well, probably, yes. Perhaps you can run multiple campaigns subtly using different language to attract different personality types. You know which CTA someone has responded to and you can consequently segment your email marketing workflows accordingly.” John Hughes

Step 2: Dig into your Acquisition Reports

The first place to use your partial persona segment is your Acquisition Reports in Google Analytics. These reports show how visitors reach your website and what channels (ex. organic search, paid search, social media, etc.) they use.

Work backward from your acquisition channel’s marketing message

Using the data here, we can further increase our knowledge of our persona.

Customer research - a sample Acquisition Report
Customer research – a sample Acquisition Report

As you can see, referral is the best-performing channel for visitors belonging to our “Jane Smith” persona. Since we know what the message the referral channel offers is, we can easily find out the most effective message for Jane Smiths — the message that will attract more customers like her, and convince them to convert.

Using this knowledge, you can assign a marketing message to your customer persona based on the message that the best-performing referral channel conveys.

Customer research - Google Analytics referral sources
Customer research – Google Analytics referral sources

By indirectly using the data from your acquisition reports, you can flesh out the “marketing message” and “elevator pitch” fields in your persona. You don’t even need to get complicated with your Analytics.

Use audience data to fill in gaps

Next, using audience data, you can fill other gaps in your partial persona. Within “Audience Reports,” there is a section called Interests.

Like the age section, this one uses data that Google derives from third-party sources. By observing these reports alongside your partial persona segment, you can find out what this segment is most interested in.

A list of visitor interests in the “Audience Reports” section of Analytics
A list of visitor interests in the “Audience Reports” section of Analytics

Of course, this list is far from complete. This information isn’t provided to Google if visitors use private/incognito browsing or similar options. However, most visitors won’t take that step, so their data will be visible.

By mining the interests shown by most visitors belonging to your persona, you can fill in the missing fields of values and interests. This information can be too general, though — so you should aim to augment it through qualitative research, including surveying your visitors.

You can post a survey that will help you identify what challenges and goals your visitors share, and then match them to the correct customer personas by asking questions about their general demographics (age, gender, etc).

However, there are a few other ways to match customer personas and goals in Google Analytics. Let’s take a look at three more.

Step 3: Look at site search data

While your visitors may reach your website using organic search, they will also frequently use your own site search to uncover the products or information they need.

“Site search” reports are a Google Analytics feature that enables you to track the keywords visitors use for internal search. The context of the keywords may indicate a visitor’s challenge, goal, or problem.

Looking at a keyword that is relatively “popular” will give us a glimpse into at least a few visitors’ goals and problems.

Example of site search results
Example of site search results

Again, this data may not give you a complete picture, and a large number of visitors will not actually search on your site. However, those that do will provide you with priceless data.

Step 4: Flesh out your customer personas with Behavior Reports

Visitors who reach your website are likely to navigate it in search of a solution to their problem. Google Analytics’ “All Pages” report in the Behavior section shows you what pages the majority of a given user segment visits.

A list of visitor interests in the “Audience Reports” section of Analytics
The All Pages report

You can also use the “Content Drilldown” to see what pages, and in which sequence, your visitors view. Using drilldown in visitor behavior section, you can see what pages users are viewing, and better understand what content drives conversions for different customer personas.

Content Drilldown reports
Content Drilldown reports

Step 5: Set up “events” to populate customer personas with data

Events are another good source of data for customer personas. If your website has content such as blogs, videos, or images — and most of e-commerce sites nowadays do — you can define events to in Google Analytics to understand what content your different persona segments view and enjoy.

Then, you can use that information to improve and extend your website’s personalization efforts, which is the entire point of the process of creating customer personas!

Google Analytics Event reports
Google Analytics Event reports

Before you can use event reports, you need to set up events tied to your content, so you can track visitor behavior around that content. While “events” are not a preloaded feature of Google Analytics, most e-commerce websites go to the effort of manually setting up an event structure so they can track visitors’ interactions with content.

For example, if you implement event tracking and discover that many visitors belonging to a specific persona view content about a common topic, it’s safe to conclude that those visitors share the same challenges or goals. In addition to identifying those goals and challenges, you may also get a glimpse of fears and values these visitor share.

Use Google Tag Manager to set up events — it’s the easiest available event-creation method.

Step 6: Complete your customer persona with Customer Lifetime Value & Conversion Reports

There’s one more piece of information that your persona lacks — and unfortunately, “Salary” is something that we cannot possibly get directly from any data available in Google Analytics.

But, if you dig into “Conversion Reports” (one of the default features of Google Analytics Enhanced Ecommerce reports), you can see a report on how much a persona segment spent on your website products in total.

Overview showing the total spend of an average persona member
Overview showing the total spend of an average persona member

Using this data, it is possible to assign an average monthly spend (or yearly spend, or any other time period supported by Google Analytics. Just note that as the time period lengthens, Analytics may introduce sampling.)

How can you use this data to derive the customer’s salary? This is a tricky proposal, as it requires you to have at least a starting estimate. Again, you might use a survey and pose a question like, “What percent of your income do you spend online?” or similar. You can also try to find data about similar users online and make educated guesses.

“Many companies are failing to utilize data in any form to build bonds with existing customers. In fact, a significant proportion of businesses are failing to utilize CRM and other technology to track Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and understand the common traits of key clients.” – Maximizer.com

By using this conversion/revenue data, and comparing your customer personas with each other, you can derive insights that drive future expectations and revenue predictions. You can also use it to adjust prices or create offers personalized to the incomes and expenditures of select groups of customers.

Don’t dismiss the importance of qualitative research

So now you’ve seen that Google Analytics can be used for much more than just checking how many users come to your website. It’s technically possible to use Analytics to inform your efforts to create customer personas — whether or not your visitors volunteer their information in surveys or other qualitative methods.

There are, of course, problems with using Google Analytics this way.

First off, the data may not be 100% reliable, and visitors may withhold some data. This can distort your customer personas and make them less than accurate. (On the on the other hand, you’ll be able to create customer personas without complete reliance on qualitative research, which has its own shortfalls.)

The best option is a marriage of the two methods: use this Analytics-based persona-creation method to confirm the information you get from your qualitative customer research.

What’s next in this series? Well, while creating segments and creating customer personas is useful, it leaves a lot of work to be done manually. So next time, we’ll show you how to use Google Tag Manager to automate persona creation.

Customer personas using Google Analytics
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Using Customer Personas with Google Analytics to Get Ahead

First things first: What are personas, and why do you need to create them? A “persona” is an idealized customer group with specific common characteristics. The use of personas in marketing and selling is very common, since identifying personas enables you to create messaging and content that perfectly fits specific groups of customers.

Using personas, you can identify different types of customers, and devise the best way to approach them and the best content to show to each group.

Buyer Personas for eCommerce Customer Research

eCommerce Buyer Personas

A buyer persona (aka. user persona, customer persona) is an avatar that represents the aggregate of your target customers. The persona answers the questions: Who is my ideal customer? What do they want, in life, at work, at home? What do they need? What are they trying to accomplish? What goals drive their behavior? What are they looking for that I can provide?

These are the million-dollar questions for any business, because without these answers, you won’t achieve product-market fit.

For e-commerce businesses especially, having a thoroughly fleshed out buyer persona is vitally important, because it’s not enough to only understand what your customer needs and wants on the surface, you need to understand their entire psychology to create and sell your products effectively.

The difference is this.

Say you sell swimsuits.

You know your users are looking for “black swimsuit” because those are the keywords they’ve used to search for a product. That’s what they say they “want.”

But if you have a fleshed out buyer persona, you know that they want a black one-piece swimsuit that will stand out on the powdery white beaches of Cancun over Spring Break.

Or, they want a black one-piece swimsuit that’s totally retro and makes them feel like a Hollywood movie star of yesteryear.

Those are two very different audiences, with very different needs. But on the surface – they both want a black swimsuit.

eCommerce buyer personas - different personalities
eCommerce buyer personas – different personalities

Buyer personas are the foundation of every product you develop, every marketing campaign you create, and every word, image and color on your website. I hear you: “But I already know what my customer wants!” Sure you do. But does every person in your company have an equally crystal-clear picture of your target customer?

Try asking every person in your company to write down who they think your target customer is, what they think your target customer wants, and what that target customer needs.

Without a buyer persona to refer to, you’ll get as many answers as you have employees.

Buyer personas are as important as a rallying cry as they are to product and marketing efforts. And, even after the product, website and marketing are “finished,” you’ll need them again to optimize all of the above with A/B testing.

So let’s lay this foundation right.

The best way to create buyer personas

A swift search on the internet will uncover hundreds of articles telling you how to create a buyer persona – everyone has their own take on it. But if that take doesn’t begin with in-depth customer research, don’t buy it! The best way to create buyer personas – buyer personas that will give you actionable insights you can use immediately to make your product, website and marketing more effective, is to begin with a lot of research.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is the first, and most important, step of the buyer persona research process, because this is where you actually speak with your real customers (or ideal prospects, if you use a survey or interview tool that gives you access to more people). This is also the scariest part of the process, because it’s where your beliefs about what you really know about your target customer are tested.

Take a page from Sherlock Holmes’ book and don’t go into these surveys or interviews trying to prove your pre existing theory. Let the evidence speak for itself.

With any method you choose for your qualitative research, you’ll want to ask questions that get to the heart of…

  • Behavioral drivers – what they want to achieve, why and how they found your business in the first place.
  • Concerns – what worries them? What information would they need to not be at all worried about purchasing your product?
  • Expectations – what expectations are they coming in with? What experience do they hope to have with your brand?

More optimization strategists are leaning away from building personas out of purely demographic information. As optimization strategist Dr. Fio Dossetto says, “I find that personas built around ‘standard’ data points, such as gender, age, etc. are usually very limited, and I’d much rather go for a behavioural approach which then allows me to think about practical, actionable solutions and recommendations.” He’s not alone in using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to uncover behavioral patterns and underlying motivations.

Qualitative research tools:

Surveys

  • SurveyMonkey – best for when you have an existing user base to ask (and it’s free, unless you want to survey their consumer panel).
  • AYTM (Ask Your Target Market) – lets you create surveys to send to both your own list and the AYTM panel of 4.5 million people (you choose targeting criteria).
  • Instantly – offers similar services with variations on how many people are in their panels, and how specific you can be with your targeting criteria.
  • Qualaroo – creates a single-question survey that pops up on your site at a designated time. Best for when you want to know why someone is leaving a product page or purchase page.

Best practices for successful surveys:

  1. Ask the easiest questions first.
  2. Group questions on the same topic together (to avoid confusion).
  3. If you’re asking a more involved question, place it towards the middle.
  4. Ask the most personal questions at the end.
  5. Be brief – only ask the most important questions and always give them the option to respond freely, in their own words.
  6. Be careful that the way you phrase your questions doesn’t lead to biased answers. For example:

“What do you like about ______?” pushes for a positive answer, when the truthful answer might be an emphatic “nothing! Ugh!”

Include questions like:

“What made you realize you needed a product like ours?”
“How does this product make your life better?”
“What do you wish you could find – or find more of?”
“Did you have any hesitations or worries about the product before you bought?” Followed up with: “What were they?”

And, include a question that tells you about them as a person, like asking about hobbies, pets, personal style, etc.

Interviews

  • Email, phone or Skype – these don’t have to be high-tech if you have users willing to speak with you.
  • GutCheck lets you conduct 30-minute video interviews with its 3.5 million U.S. members. Choose age, income, and other criteria to make sure you’re talking to the right people.

Best practices for insightful interviews:

  1. Focus on a few key questions, like the ones recommended for surveys above.
  2. Don’t get hypothetical – talk about real past situations.
  3. Resist the temptation to talk about your product. Rather focus your questions on their problems and desires.
  4. Listen much more than you talk, and either record the call or take excellent notes.
  5. Follow up with a thank you via email, and invite the interviewee to share further thoughts if they have them – sometimes the best feedback takes a while to percolate.

One good way to get users to volunteer for surveys or interviews is to offer gift certificates in exchange for their time. This info is invaluable, so spending some money up front will be rewarded.

Segmentation

As you gather your qualitative responses, start segmenting them based on what they have in common. What are their common desires, pain points and concerns? What else do these people have in common – even characteristics that feel tangential, like their hobbies or favorite colors, or whether or not they own a dog. And, of course, there’s the basic demographic information like age, gender, household income, education level and geographic location, which may or may not be pertinent.

From here, we can begin to form a persona for each segment. To make each persona actionable, include:

  • What he or she cares about (values).
  • What he or she is concerned about.
  • What emotions and needs drive his or her behavior.
  • What his or her obstacles are to purchasing.
  • What his or her expectations are from a purchasing experience.

Notice we haven’t talked about adding a picture, a name, or a lengthy backstory. You can do these things, and it may help you to visualize your ideal customer in a more complete way. But the focus here is on actionable insights.

Quantitative research

Quantitative research is the numbers side of persona construction, because you need to know which segment actually delivers the highest revenue and lifetime value.

The two big questions to ask before beginning quantitative research are:

  1. How are you tracking customers?
  2. What type of segmentation system makes the most sense for your goals?

Google Analytics offers advanced segmentation features that let you create segments around average revenue per user, transactions per user, new versus repeat customers and frequent customers.

Using this information, you can quickly pull reports that reveal the segments with the highest odds of making a purchase (and repeat purchases).

The Audience tab will be your home base for most of this research. You’ll find your basic demographic information, like age and gender under Demographics: Overview. Click on Age, and you’ll see what numbers are associated with different age groups (sessions, time spent on site, pages visited, etc.). You’ll also see which age range converts most and produces the most revenue. Repeat the process for Gender.

Audience reports in Google Analytics we can use to create buyer personas
Audience reports in Google Analytics we can use to create buyer personas

Now, Google Analytics has access to even more information – like interests. But it’s a convoluted process to find this report. Click on one of the genders (the one that shows the highest revenue is generally the best place to start), and you’ll see an “Other Categories” report.

Look for the word “Other” in blue and click it to change to “Affinity Categories,” and click the green box that appears in the dropdown.

Here you’ll actually be able to see what your age (or gender) segment is interested in, including hobbies and media preferences.

Buyer personas - here is the table of results you get when you select Other
Buyer personas – here is the table of results you get when you select Other

Now, for e-commerce Google Analytics users, you can explore segments by other dimensions, like Product, Product Category, Product Brand or SKU to see the demographics behind your purchasing audience.

Quantitative data offers a tremendous amount of information, but without the qualitative research behind it, it doesn’t paint a complete picture of underlying motivations. You need both to create a fully functional persona.

Once you have your quantitative data and know which segments are the most lucrative, overlay that information on top of your qualitative data, and meet the real people behind those purchase decisions.

Now you can complete your persona.

What a fully functional buyer persona looks like

eCommerce buyer personas - profile
eCommerce buyer personas – profile

Base the following on what an ideal customer looks like for one of your customer segments.

An ideal customer is one who loves your product, is loyal to your brand, has a problem you’re uniquely able to solve, and is willing to pay (and refer their friends).

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Favorite product
  • Cares most about
  • Worries about
  • Wishes s/he had
  • Loves you because
  • Is motivated by
  • Expects you to
  • Is delighted when you…

(And any other pertinent information that might inform your marketing decisions, product development priorities and website design – things like favorite magazines can inform art direction, tracking can tell you which parts of the purchase process tend to become obstacles; use all of this information).

Now, not every conversion specialist is a fan of buyer personas – but they all use them in one way or another. Conversion Copywriter Joanna Wiebe, for example, says she isn’t a “persona fan,” but says “we write for our ‘one reader’ and get to know that reader well. It’s not a persona, per se.” Whatever system you use, the most important thing is to understand your target customer, and convey that understanding to everyone in your company in the clearest possible way.

Once you have your buyer persona – it’s time to optimize for him or her

When you have identified your target segments, you can then comb through your quantitative data and find which segments tend to gravitate towards certain products, which get lost or abandon carts, and where they run into trouble that bounces them off of your site (and onto a competitor’s!).

Now it’s time for Heuristic analysis – this is when you review your ad campaigns, landing pages, website pages and sales process to make sure everything is tailored to your personas.

And, of course, along with this analysis is the technical analysis, where you make sure everything in your sales funnel is actually functioning the way it should be. Sometimes the conversion problem is as simple as a broken link.

At the end of this process, you’ll not only understand your customers in a deeper, more actionable way than you ever have before, you’ll have a model for how to track them and measure how well you’re tailoring your experience to the persona you want.

And from there, the world of optimization is your oyster.

Let the A/B testing begin.

eCommerce Buyer Personas
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Using Customer Personas with Google Analytics to Get Ahead

A buyer persona (aka. user persona, customer persona) is an avatar that represents the aggregate of your target customers. The persona answers the questions: Who is my ideal customer? What do they want, in life, at work, at home? What do they need? What are they trying to accomplish? What goals drive their behavior? What are they looking for that I can provide?

3 Extremely Complicated Steps to a Customer Journey Map that Actually Works

Customer Journey Map

Customer journey maps have the potential to be the best tool your marketing department has – or a colossal waste of time. There are plenty of articles out there that will tell you how to build a customer journey map in “3 easy steps.” Those don’t work, at least not by our standards.

If your customer journey map isn’t moving you towards more conversions and awesome retention rates, it’s a waste of paper.

The way most people do customer journey maps looks like this: Bring your ‘best and brightest’ into a room for three hours, play “this is who we think our buyer personas are,” “this is what we think they’re feeling,” and follow it up with “these are where our touchpoints are.” In other words, it’s “brainstorming” with insufficient research. You’re not creating a map, you’re having an office party. And the customer journey map is the party game.

Lame.

Do I sound harsh? Good. Because customer journey maps done wrong really burns my biscuits.

They have so much potential to be useful.

Actionable. Energizing. Even inspiring.

But to be truly useful, you have to approach them from the foundation of research, grounded in real, verifiable customer data. And that’s the step too many people miss, because it’s just not as much fun.

Forget fun – this is marketing strategy.

When a customer journey map does its job, it becomes a tool that lets you (and your marketing team) visualize your relationship with your target customer from first eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room encounter to mutually fulfilling partnership.

It shows the most likely places to meet your target, what they need there (depending on which stage of the sales funnel they’re in), what they get there currently, and where mismatches in expectations and desired outcomes may be losing them.

If this sounds like I’m describing more than just a customer journey map, you’re absolutely right.

This definition is much simpler:

“a customer journey map is merely an illustration or diagram of all the places (touchpoints) your customers come into contact with your company online or off.”

To make your journey map actionable, it can’t be merely an illustration of touchpoints. It has to illuminate the relationship, in its entirety. It has to pay attention to not only where prospects are, but what they need – and how to give that outcome to them in a way that moves them closer to your desired destination.

This journey map will become your visual cheat-sheet to understanding your customer on a deep, meaningful, actionable level.

It’s not simple. But there are three steps.

Step 1: You wouldn’t plan a road trip without research…

Research is where we always start; and if you’ve created your Buyer Persona (the right way) already, you’re mostly there. You’ll want to base persona research on your current ideal clients: Those who’ve bought from you, love what you do, and recommend you to their colleagues and friends.

The persona creation process answers these questions:

  • Who is my ideal customer?
  • What do they want, in life, at work, at home?
  • What do they need?
  • What are they trying to accomplish?
  • What goals drive their behavior?
  • What are they looking for that I can provide?

You’ll get those answers through qualitative research – voice of customer data – that gets to the heart of behavioral drivers, concerns and expectations.

Oh, did I forget to mention the standard demographic data points? Age, sex, marital status? No, I didn’t forget. They’re just not as important unless you’re selling Viagra. Focus on what matters for your customers.

Qualitative research can be done a number of ways, but each method has its limitations, which is why I recommend using several. Not just surveys, mining user reviews, or recording customer service chats and conversations – but those in addition to customer interviews whenever possible.

As Genuinely founder and CEO Mack Fogelson explains about their own customer journey development process:

“Most companies are making assumptions about their customers based on what they think they know vs. actually talking to their customers 1:1. Their maps then become an accumulation of biases and inferences vs. what their customers actually need.

What they’re missing is the underlying motivators that cannot be seen in demographic or psychographic data. Our customer journey maps open up the Thinking/Feeling/Doing in each stage of the customer journey, across the sales funnel.

Customer journey mapping requires you to actually speak with your customers. Not just digitally through surveys or other methods of collecting data. 1:1. Face-to-face.

Good customer journey mapping requires collection of all of the data you have about your *actual* customers, not just a stereotypical persona.” – Mack Fogelson, Founder & CEO, Genuinely.co

Whichever method you use, when questioning current customers (always a good place to start), ask about early stage touchpoints they experienced, with questions like:

  • Where did you first see our brand? (And give them options, depending on where you’ve placed advertisements)
  • When you first saw our ad, what did you think we could do for you? (Open ended question)
  • What initially prompted you to visit our website? (this is where you’ll uncover potential influencers and other touchpoints you might not even be aware of)

And any other questions you can think of that will give you an idea of not only where they first find you, but also what they want when they do.

We’re pulling double duty here. It’s not just about finding the “where” but also the “why?”

We also want to start to piece together a timeline that takes us from that first touch point to first conversion. This may be difficult for people to answer (memories just aren’t that good), but to get a ballpark answer, ask:

  • “How long did it take you from first seeing our brand to making your first purchase?”

You may want to give them a multiple-choice response option and a free response option, just in case they’re kind enough to expand on exactly what their journey looked like.

But this is asking a lot. If you’re going to ask your customers to take this much time with you, you’d better offer them something good as incentive.

From this research, you can build out your buyer persona into a genuinely useful tool that points you in productive directions for future marketing decisions. And from there, you can widen the scope of your research to people who fit within your target parameters. Cubeyou is particularly good for finding early touchpoint opportunities (ie. where specific consumer demographics hang out – including what they read, watch and do in their spare time).

Using all of this information, you can begin to place markers on your map.

“Customer journey maps get a bad rap, much like personas. That’s unfortunate because when done properly, they can be very enlightening in terms of your customers’ needs and pains. Journey mapping helps articulate information in a simple, memorable way so that everyone is on the same page about: customer goals and expectations, customer experiences, optimization opportunities, and internal ownership.

When proper research is conducted (the narrative needs to be fact, not fiction), having up-to-date customer journey maps for your various experiences can be useful, especially for large companies. It’s meaningful to visually map out phases of the buying cycle, emotions, touchpoints, channels, etc. along each journey.

That said, be aware that linear funnels are idealistic. Most customer journeys are much more complex and, well, messy. Be sure you’re mapping accurate journeys instead of your idealistic linear funnel.

Overall, customer journey maps range from helpful to totally useless, depending on how data-driven and realistic you are.” – Shanelle Mullin, Shopify

Qualitative research tools for you to consider:

Step 2: Charting the course to conversion

We’re going to start our chart with a goal: Move the customer down the sales funnel. No, we’re not mixing metaphors (map? Funnel? What?), because we’re using both at the same time.

Don’t be afraid to add dimensions to your customer journey – it can make it an even more useful tool. Georgiana Laudi, Digital Strategist says she adds KPIs at each stage, and doesn’t stop there:

“At Unbounce, I reorganized the entire department to match our customer’s journey, and called it the Customer Journey Tribe. It’s not something usually done in marketing, but it’s a popular approach for structuring dev teams.”

And, from my Customer Success perspective, I’d also recommend adding Customer Success milestones, so you know exactly where, when and how prospects and customers are finding value with your brand (yes, Customer Success is typically associated with SaaS, but believe me, e-commerce customers have to be successful too!).

But let’s not overthink this right now. Let’s just start by drawing your map in the shape of a funnel.

e-Commerce Customer Journey Map
e-Commerce Customer Journey Map

This is, clearly, simplified for the sake of explanation. But what you see is a customer journey map with touchpoints overlaid onto your typical sales funnel.

The Target Customer doesn’t know who you are, until they reach a touchpoint – but because you’ve done your Buyer Persona research, you already know what they want and need (maybe even before they do). This gives you the power to make that first touch point count by making them problem-aware (at the earliest stage) or solution-aware (their pain can be fixed!).

That first touchpoint might be an ad on Facebook, a banner ad on their favorite niche blog, the recommendation of a brand advocate or influencer, etc. Some of those you have direct control over, like ads. Others you have indirect control over, like providing great user experiences to guarantee yourself positive recommendations from your customers on user review sites.

The target customer then becomes a prospect. They’re interested. You’ve given them a reason to think that you can provide what they’ve been wanting, searching for. They come to your website – the next touchpoint possibly – and what do they find there?

Hopefully something that brings them closer to their ideal outcome.

If you’re an e-commerce site selling wine, maybe that’s a quiz they can take that leads them to wines they’d most likely love (BrightCellars does this brilliantly).

e-Commerce Customer Journey Map - BrighCellars
e-Commerce Customer Journey Map – BrighCellars

In fact, quizzes are a great way to immediately raise engagement, and it can be as simple as having the lead fill in their measurements and filtering results by what clothes will fit best. Use your imagination!

This touchpoint is very important. They may have heard of you before, but this is where they finally meet you and form a strong impression. That impression either bounces them off the page, or leads them further down the funnel towards conversion.

At each of these stages, using your customer research, chart:

  • What they know (ie. what funnel stage they’re in).
  • What they want (ideal outcome).
  • How to bring them closer to that ideal outcome using the touchpoint you have.

“For me, it’s about identifying my customer’s motivations, desires and intent and using that knowledge to build a better customer journey. I use_their_words, I optimize the colors, font, copy, images and entire content according to what I learn from customer interviews, surveys and emotional targeting research (emotional SWOT, customer awareness mapping, competitor research, etc.)” – Talia Wolf, GetUpLift

Your customer journey map can also show you where problems in your funnel are happening – because problems tend to happen around touchpoints.

If you find that customers are falling “off the map” around a specific touchpoint, it’s time to bring out the customer journey map again to help you find the reason why.

  • Perhaps they’re dropping out during the post-opt-in email campaign.
  • Or, perhaps you notice that your website pageviews are high, but as soon as they find your product page, they bounce out.
  • Or it could be that they do buy, they convert, but then they call your customer support and never buy from you again.

The question becomes: What aren’t they getting – that they need – to move down the funnel?

And this is where conversion optimization practices like customer surveys, UX research and A/B testing can really help to demystify the situation.

Step 3: Confirm your hypotheses

Even with research, your customer journey map is really a series of educated guesses – aka. hypotheses. And hypotheses are made to be tested.

Once you have your map, you’ll start finding potential opportunities to optimize experiences at each touch point. And this is where you can confirm your guesses about your user, and about what will move your user, with A/B or multivariate testing.

And that’s a whole other post – or five – which you can read here.

Learn more about A/B testing.

Conclusion: Customer journey maps are great – unless they aren’t

Customer journey maps, when done well, serve multiple functions. They:

  • Empower you to identify and understand customer needs, so you can improve customer service, experience and UX.
  • Save money on touchpoints/ads that don’t work, and show you where to spend money on touchpoints that work best.
  • Unearth opportunities to differentiate products.
  • Increase conversions drastically.
  • Improve retention and build your brand reputation (because customers are getting what they need).
  • Create brand advocates who create even more touchpoints and conversions!

But when we talk about customer journey maps, we have to acknowledge that most aren’t used this way.

Too many customer journey maps (and their respective “How to” articles) focus more on what the company wants customers to do, rather than on helping customers achieve their ideal outcomes (even if that ideal outcome is finding a gorgeous prom dress that makes a 17-year-old feel like Cinderella). They tend to be too focused on acquisition, and not enough on retention (did you notice how my sample funnel went beyond conversion? Brand advocacy and retention is important for every business!). Essentially, they’re focused on the company’s success, and not the customer’s.

I come from a Customer Success background. I believe that if you lead the customer towards achieving their ideal outcome, and don’t disappoint on delivery, you will win their loyalty.

To do that, of course, you have to know your customer really well.

And that’s not nearly as simple as “X marks the spot.”

Customer Journey Map

e-Commerce customer journey maps have the potential to be the best tool your marketing department has – or a colossal waste of time. There are plenty of articles out there that will tell you how to build a customer journey map in “3 easy steps.” Those don’t work, at least not by my standards. If your customer journey map isn’t moving you towards more conversions and awesome retention rates, it’s a waste of paper.

How to Find All the Qualitative Data You Need for CRO Testing (In Unexpected Places)

Numbers and words — or quantitative and qualitative research, as optimizers think of them — are two of the most important parts of thorough conversion research. The results are the basis for CRO testing.

But while locating conversion improvement opportunities through quantitative data is relatively easy and straightforward (simply compare your numerical results to your expected results!), implementing qualitative feedback for better conversions (CRO testing) just isn’t as simple.

Qualitative data isn’t easily compared, or analyzed, or even visualized, which means there’s a lot of room for error. It takes some serious interpretation skills to turn wordy answers from surveys and interviews into valuable, actionable insights.

But within these wordy answers lie the reasons your customers are or aren’t converting. It’s the most valuable kind of feedback you can collect.

And there are many, many ways to gather this data, each with their own benefits.

Understand your options for gathering qualitative feedback for proper CRO testing

The goal of qualitative research is to capture the “voice of the customer,” which you can do in several ways:

  1. Surveys, polls, and queries
  2. Interviews
  3. User testing
  4. Live chat logs
  5. Support call logs
  6. User reviews of products and services
  7. All other forms of direct feedback (social media posts, blogs, forums)
CRO Testing: Seven main types of qualitative research give you a well-rounded picture of your customer’s deepest pain points, desires, and priorities.
CRO Testing: Seven main types of qualitative research give you a well-rounded picture of your customer’s deepest pain points, desires, and priorities.

All of these methods are useful, but not all are appropriate to use every time. Here’s a rough guide for what method to use when.

1. Surveys, polls, and queries

As a method for getting the most possible responses from your visitors, you can’t beat surveys or their cousins: polls and queries. These methods enable you to pose identical questions to as large an audience as you want.

Depending on which tool you use, you may be able to segment your audience and target only the people who bought something, the people who logged in a specific number of times to your website without buying, and so on.

The results you get from surveys will be as relevant and actionable as the amount of thought you put into the questions. To get answers that truly reflect your customer’s perception of the website, your questions need to allow respondents to express their opinions freely and without being led.

Surveys come in several different varieties, including exit surveys, consumer surveys, pop-up surveys, and Net Promoter Score surveys. For a detailed discussion on how to conduct surveys, check out our guide.

Once you’ve conducted your survey and collected the results, you’ll have the challenge of interpreting them. Ever try to make sense of 200 or more answers? It’s not easy!

To successfully process this amount of text data, start by isolating the specific keywords that best indicate the issue you’re trying to diagnose. Once you do that, count the number of times respondents mention that specific issue. This will give a good indication of the severity of the issue.

CRO Testing: Creating a word cloud is a popular technique for evaluating qualitative research.
CRO Testing: Creating a word cloud is a popular technique for evaluating qualitative research.

You may find that you have to create several categories for the most commonly mentioned issues. If that’s the case, order issues by severity so you can tackle them in order when it comes time to A/B-test solutions.

Now it’s time to reread your results and try to hypothesize the best ways to eliminate the issues identified. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the customers will point you in the right direction. But don’t count on them do the problem-solving work — that’s your job. As Henry Ford supposedly said:

“If I asked people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.”

Whatever hypothesis you create, be sure to test it first before implementing it permanently.

Now, there are some drawbacks to conducting surveys. For starters, they require a significant amount of effort. This is no excuse not to do them, however — just be sure to plan and prepare your surveys to get valid results. Otherwise, all that effort will be for nothing.

Eliminating the issues your customers help you identify through survey responses is one surefire way to increase your conversions… as long as you interpret the answers correctly.

On-site polls

Polls serve a different function from surveys in that they help to uncover the proportion of people who have specific issues with some aspect of your website.

You’ll use a poll once you have already uncovered an issue and need to decide how to approach the solution. If your solution is difficult to implement, for example, polling your visitors may help eliminate less successful variants before you even design them, reducing the stress on your resources.

When running a poll, you should be very confident in the issue you’re addressing in order to avoid putting words in the mouths of the respondents. When running a poll that calls for open-ended answers, phrase the question in a way that leads to longer, more detailed responses.

For instance, don’t set up a poll asking, “Are you leaving without purchasing because you don’t trust our site?” Instead, phrase the question, “What kept you from purchasing today?”

Why poll rather than survey?

Poll results often lend themselves more easily to comparison and interpretation than survey results, which can include multiple answers that may all relate to each other.

Multiple-choice poll responses can be given numerical values, so you can use those to instantly analyze your data. The best way to use number-based polls is to set up questions with responses on a scale of 1 to 5 or 10, where 1 stands for “Strongly Disagree” and 5 or 10 stands for “Strongly Agree”.

2. Prospect or customer interviews

Interviews are an expanded version of surveys. During interviews, you actually talk with your prospects or customers, so you have the opportunity to discuss their responses and get more detailed answers.

Interviews are by far the best way to gain insight into your customers. They can serve many useful purposes, from identifying and exploring issues in detail to finding fodder for future marketing copy and customer success materials.

The only disadvantage to conducting interviews is the amount of time and effort they require. However, when done well, they’re worth their cost, and should be high on the list of priorities for qualitative research.

3. User testing

User testing involves recruiting a group of random users to navigate your website and identify common issues. They are usually given specific tasks to complete, and often, their session visit is recorded.

The results, from users’ verbal feedback to their session recordings, can be of great value on the heuristic side of CRO research. Users might just offer you a new view on your UI, or reveal a problem you hadn’t noticed.

Here’s our detailed guide to user testing, including where to source users and how to interpret their feedback.

4. Live chat logs

If your website maintains a live chat option (and if it doesn’t, it should — but more on that later!), then going through your live chat logs can be an enlightening experience.

Chat logs, especially support logs, can contain a treasure trove of insights. Anything from visitors’ complaints to their product information queries can indicate areas that need to be improved.

The best part is: you’ve already got these resources. Unless you don’t.

If your website does not have a live chat feature, make it the next priority for your developers. They’re relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, and can make a big difference in conversions. In fact, research from Kissmetrics and eDigital Research indicates that conversion often doubles for visitors who use live chats while shopping online.

5. Support call logs & support staff interviews

Recordings of support calls from customers can also provide valuable information that you can use to improve calls to action, fix value propositions, and identify common problems with products or services.

In fact, interviewing support personnel is nearly as useful as conducting customer interviews. Customer support workers are on the front lines with your customers, and interviews with them will frequently yield insights you can’t get any other way.

For example, in regular customer interviews, customers tend to be hesitant to express negative opinions because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. However, they may not be as concerned about the feelings of your customer support staff!

6. User reviews of products & services

This form of direct user feedback is too often ignored, even by large companies. (Only click that link if you’re ready for a horror story featuring toilet paper and terrible support.)

It’s well worth dedicating time to this readily available user feedback. Customers volunteer so much information via their reviews, and you don’t need to organize a survey or conduct interviews to get it.

Ideally, you already have user reviews enabled on your website.

A slight snag: sometimes stores allow reviews, but nobody writes them. If this is the case, you may need to incentivize customers to review you, at least at the beginning. If participation is low, carefully check out the review process and try to make it more prominent, and ask customers via email to review the product they purchased after a few days.

CRO Testing: Reviews are a source of invaluable (and often unfiltered) customer feedback.
CRO Testing: Reviews are a source of invaluable (and often unfiltered) customer feedback.

Some companies use different incentives to compel their consumers to review, such as point-gathering schemes that offer rewards or coupons. Strategies like these don’t cost much to implement and can be very effective.

As with any other form of user feedback, this one is too valuable an opportunity to miss. Gathering consumer reviews is effortless, and once the basic mechanism is set up, the only task remaining is to actually read the reviews.

The best way reviews can be used? To improve your copy. Notice which words your customers use to describe the biggest benefits you offer and the biggest pain points your product solves — then use those same words and phrases in your copy.

7. Other forms of feedback

Today, most (if not all) web users maintain some sort of profile on at least one social network. While you can’t directly track the social network profiles of your customers, it’s possible to track their mentions of your website or the products/services you offer.

Sentiment analysis tools are the quickest way to get this information, and will additionally tell you whether these mentions are generally positive, or negative. You can use this information to keep tabs on how well you’re serving your target audience, to help inform your buyer personas, and to help your writing team “learn customers’ language” for future copy.

You’ll also want to monitor mentions of your brand or service on blogs and forums — particularly professional or niche forums for products/services that do not have a wide target audience.

It’s not the data-gathering that matters for CRO testing

The most challenging part of conducting qualitative research isn’t gathering qualitative data, though that can be a labor and time-intensive process.

It’s interpreting and quantifying that data accurately. Whenever words are involved, there is room for interpretation, which can be flawed. But when we begin to gather lots of voice-of-customer feedback, patterns emerge that can point us in valuable, conversion-linked directions.

When structuring your plan to gather qualitative data, remember to use more than one method, because no single method will give you a well-rounded perspective on what your customers are really thinking, feeling, and experiencing on your site.

And keep in mind: Your goal for conversion optimization is to find out what customers think about your website — not what they think of your products or services. That’s a whole different ballgame.

Look for feedback that indicates areas of your website that cause friction, anxiety, confusion or distraction. These are the worst conversion-killers. Then use that qualitative feedback alongside your quantitative data to form a clear picture of what areas to optimize first, and which hypotheses will stand the best chance of success.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

Numbers and words — or quantitative and qualitative research, as optimizers think of them — are two of the most important parts of thorough conversion research. The results are the basis for CRO testing. But while locating conversion improvement opportunities through quantitative data is relatively easy and straightforward (simply compare your numerical results to your expected results!), implementing qualitative feedback for better conversions (CRO testing) just isn’t as simple.

Conversion Research: 6 Treasure Troves of Qualitative Research You Can Access Right Now

Conversion research is an important part of the CRO process. Qualitative research isn’t just about visitor surveys and user testing. While both of these methods give us the opportunity to directly observe visitors’ behavior and get a glimpse of the thought process behind it, surveys and user testing suffer from a serious limitation: visitors and testers are aware that they are being observed.

And that changes things.

Read any quantum physics lately?

One of the fundamental premises of quantum theory (known as Heisenberg’s principle) is that by the very act of watching, the observer affects the behavior of the observed.

And this is where it gets weird: The same thing is true of electrons.

Conversion Research - Needless to say, finding your way around Heisenberg’s department can be confounding
Conversion Research – Needless to say, finding your way around Heisenberg’s department can be confounding

Electrons will move and behave differently when observed, literally changing their “flight paths”. The more they are observed, the more their behavior changes.

What is true of electrons is equally true of people. As soon as we become aware that our actions are observed, we can’t help but change them. There’s no practical way to eliminate this complication, but fortunately, observation doesn’t completely invalidate findings when it comes to conversion optimization.

That said, ideally, we would have access to visitors’ opinions expressed of their own free will, without knowing or caring if they are observed.

And thanks to the advent of social networks, live chats and recorded support calls, that’s an ideal we can actually attain.

Conversion research #1: “Spy” on your customers using chat logs

Support calls, live chat recordings, transcriptions, or logs are easy to get — they should already be among your resources (just ask your customer relations department).

The first advantage of these qualitative data sources is that they contain the opinions of customers who have questions about, or issues with, your service or products.

Their second advantage is that people tend to talk more freely in these channels. They specifically point out the problems they’ve observed, which may not be the case with surveys.

The cherry on top? You don’t have to offer any incentive to compel these users to provide their opinions.

If you don’t have these resources already available, put their implementation on your priority list.

First, establish a support call line and a live chat on your website. Consistent research shows that the presence of live chat on ecommerce sites increases conversions. The live chat must be manned and available at all times, or at least during periods of normal operating hours.

Conversion Research - chat logs
Conversion Research – chat logs

Live chat enables visitors to pose their issues in real-time to a live person and get answers immediately. The fact that such prompt service is available offers many benefits, in addition to resolving potential hurdles that stop visitors from converting:

  • It increases visitor trust
  • It creates a bond between the visitor and the website
  • And, in the context of qualitative research, it creates a permanent record of the issue so that it can be analyzed.
Conversion Research- support?
Conversion Research- support?

Analyzing chat logs is very similar to interpreting open-ended survey results. A good first step is to look for repetitions: Repeated words, phrases, question types and concerns. Finding common keywords allows you to do a keyword search to get an idea of how frequently each type of question is raised. From there, you can resolve the issues that come up most frequently (an indication that they are the most significant).

Support call transcripts or recordings also require the same approach. It’s all about determining categories and calculating frequency to find which fixes will have the most impact.

Apart from live chat’s conversion benefits, qualitative data is why most ecommerce sites nowadays offer live chat. Having consumer data on record saves a lot of effort (and money, too) when doing research for conversion optimization, marketing, and copywriting.

Conversion research #2: Mine useful messaging from product reviews

Most e-commerce websites allow visitors to review products they’ve bought. This feedback is highly valuable in several ways:

  1. It works as “social proof,” which builds trust with would-be purchasers and improves conversions
  2. Voice-of-customer data can be used to improve your marketing messaging and copy. Let your users tell you the most important benefits!
  3. You can use this feedback for your qualitative research

A common mistake businesses make with reviews is to limit the feedback to ratings only (usually using stars), without the option for written feedback. This type of rating is useless.

If your product or service receives many 1-star ratings, it will have a hugely negative impact on conversions — and to boot, you won’t have any understanding of why customers are unhappy. Even if you receive 5-star ratings, you still won’t know why (and neither will your prospective customers)!

Conversion Research - Sony, for example, has made user reviews extremely useful at first glance
Conversion Research – Sony, for example, has made user reviews extremely useful at first glance

Written feedback lets you know what to improve and what customers like about the product. This is why every review system should allow written feedback.

Bear in mind that not many visitors will trouble themselves with leaving elaborate feedback. This is why we recommend that some sort of incentive should be offered.

The most obvious incentive is a monetary one, like offering discounts, coupons, or other shopping benefits to customers who write a review. It’s certainly effective, and can be seen on many sites that reward reviewers with points or tokens that lower the price of a product. If it can be executed without significant impact on the bottom line and protected from manipulation, this type of system works well.

The second way to incentivize customers to leave feedback is to create some sense of achievement, but without offering any direct monetary benefits. Instead, the reviewers might be shown the number of views their reviews had and how helpful they were. They might even reach “Elite Reviewer” status.

This way, a person’s individual sense of accomplishment effectively drives them to leave detailed, helpful reviews. This is the system that Amazon.com uses with great success.

Finally, there is the option of offering access to premium features of the website or service. This is usually used by SaaS companies, which provide reviewers with features not otherwise found in the package they purchased — but Zappos also uses a similar system. Earn enough points by purchasing products and leaving reviews, and you gain access to their “elite”-level perks (like faster shipping).

Conversion research #3: Tackle research head-on with customer interviews

Customer interviews offer the significant benefit of being able to ask participants to elaborate on their answers. You can conduct these interviews either in person or over the phone.

Don’t be too quick to jump on the phone rather than do the footwork to interview in person. Remote interviews may be more cost-effective, but they remove an essential ingredient that is only available via direct contact with the interviewee.

If you’re in the same room with the person you interview, you can observe body language, facial expressions, and other subtle non-verbal communication that can reveal a great deal more about the subject than only verbal answers.

Conversion Research - Never lose sight of this fact, and take it into account when interpreting your interview responses
Conversion Research – Never lose sight of this fact, and take it into account when interpreting your interview responses

It must be noted that face-to-face interviews are time-consuming and difficult to arrange, especially if the business is online. Customers may be spread across the globe!

The best alternative in this case is the video interview. Skype, Zoom, and other videoconferencing platforms provide a satisfying middle ground for interviews, and also offer the option of recording the interview for later analysis.

To be useful, interviews must be structured and well-planned. Interview questions can be the same as in those you use in an online survey, but prepare additional questions that complement or expand upon the primary ones.

You should also plan selection criteria for your interviewees ahead of time. It’s very important to only choose respondents from your existing or potential customer base (people who have already bought something from your website).

The fact that they’ve already purchased something means that they already find value in your products or services, which makes them your target customers. You want their feedback. You don’t want feedback from people who are uninterested in what you offer, or who are chronically supportive friends or family members.

To get the best results from in-person or video interviews, they shouldn’t feel like interviews at all. There is an art to the “un-interview,” and establishing a rapport is vital.

A good interview flows like a regular conversation. It feels more natural than awkward. Interviewers need strong interpersonal communication skills to pull this off.

Conversion Research - customer service
Conversion Research – customer service

Use interviews to find out how customers use your product or service, what their anxieties and motivations are, and what their deeper emotional backgrounds might be. Interviews are all about creating a depth of understanding — going past the surface to find the emotional, psychological, and purely pragmatic underpinnings behind user behavior.

These findings will enable you to improve your copy, even to the point of using the responders’ answers verbatim as statements of your product’s benefits; in headlines or ads; and even as part of your value proposition. Successful interviews can also become testimonials, provided the respondent agrees to it.

Another use for the interview is to find out about your competitors. Questions like, “Did you consider any other product/service?” can reveal the ways your product is better than other available solutions, so you can update you value proposition with those insights.

After the fact, you can analyze interview findings the same way you interpret survey results: Comb through responses and identify the most frequently mentioned issues.

For further reading on conducting interviews, check out: Start Talking! How To Do Customer Interviews That Reveal Priceless Insights

Conversion research #4: “Eavesdrop” on social media posts

Social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter, and other places where customers spend time, like blogs and forums, yield an even greater opportunity to glean customer opinions.

Every day on social media, your customers are freely sharing their opinions of products they bought from you. This can be a source of free promotion, if those opinions are positive. And it can also be a valuable source of user feedback and voice-of-customer data (even if opinions are negative).

When people post about products voluntarily, they’re much less inhibited. They’ll tell you how they really feel in unvarnished language. It’s raw, authentic, and can provide deeper insights than even surveys or interviews (where, again, people are aware they’re being observed).

This is why we believe it’s vital to track relevant social media posts and blog mentions.

A few handy tools to monitor when your brand or product is mentioned:

  • Meltwater: Use it to instantly search blogs, Twitter, and Facebook for specific terms
  • Social Mention: Use it to monitor multiple websites in one place and find out which keywords people use when talking about your company
  • IFTTT (If This Then That): Use it to automate simple online tasks using “recipes”. For example, “If [website] mentions [company], then send me an email alert”

There are many other tools out there. When selecting those you prefer, choose tools that show you not only where you were mentioned, but exactly what was said. That will give you the voice-of-customer data you need.

Conversion Research - A lot of presents can come from the social media box… if you just open it
Conversion Research – A lot of presents can come from the social media box… if you just open it

On your website, you can also provide social media links for visitors to use to share their opinions directly on Facebook or Twitter.

Quantitative analysis can then help you identify which social media platforms are most useful to your website, since your analytics tool will track the number of visitors coming from each individual channel.

Conversion research #5: Got a niche product? Learn to love blogs and forum posts

Even more than social media, blog posts and forum posts can offer deep, comprehensive opinions and critiques of products and services. Tracking these mentions should be a matter of course — you need to know what people are saying about you, because these reviews directly affect conversions.

And, for the purpose of conversion optimization, these reviews are very useful as additional sources of insight of what people expect, what they find, and where you might be losing them.

For niche products especially, blog posts and forum posts are the best and most readily available sources of voice-of-customer data. Influencer opinions and reviews reach your target audience, giving the most valuable form of social proof you can have. They can also do serious damage to your conversions if their impressions are less than favorable.

Since conversion optimization is primarily interested in the performance of the website as the main source of conversions, issues with products themselves may be outside of your purview. But blogs and forums still contain useful feedback that you can use to improve the copy on your website and address usability issues.

Conversion research #6: How to stay focused & avoid data overwhelm

Too often, the most readily available sources of user feedback are ignored in favor of more complicated and expensive methods of acquiring qualitative feedback. Don’t let that happen to you.

We recommend beginning your qualitative data gathering process by making a comprehensive review of existing available sources. Just be careful not to get distracted by issues that are not directly related to conversion optimization (which is all too easy to do!).

Conversion Research - This maxim is just as applicable for conducting customer research as it is for leading Apple
Conversion Research – This maxim is just as applicable for conducting customer research as it is for leading Apple

Your task as an optimizer is to improve the website, not the products or services themselves. To reduce the risk of distraction, approach your data gathering with a plan. Use your survey questions as a guideline for what types of answers to look at more closely.

And if product issues continue to arise, pass on that information to the appropriate people — so you can stay focused on your job.

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

Qualitative research isn’t just about visitor surveys and user testing. While both of these methods give us the opportunity to directly observe visitors’ behavior and get a glimpse of the thought process behind it, surveys and user testing suffer from a serious limitation: visitors and testers are aware that they are being observed.