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General approaches to improving your ecommerce conversion rate

Conversion rate optimization methods

Published by

May 10, 2018

Improving ecommerce conversions is a function of many factors. Since a sale is largely dependent on the amount of information a prospect has, improving your site’s informational content will have a large effect on conversions.

Of course, information about products, transactions, and other information about your company, brand, or store takes precedence over every other type of information.

First, consider your sales funnel

The path customers take, from arriving on your site to completing a purchase, is known as a “conversion” or “sales” funnel. This descriptor references the fact that not all of your visitors actually end up purchasing anything from your website.

So the top of the journey is wide, or filled with visitors, and the bottom is narrow, which creates a funnel shape:

Typical ecommerce funnel
Typical ecommerce funnel

As you can see from this graphic, out of 1000 visitors to this example website, only 22 actually purchased anything, making for a 2.2% conversion rate.

Increasing this rate is the aim of conversion optimization efforts. And while ideally, we’d want to see a conversion rate of 100%, this is practically impossible. (For reference, Amazon, which is widely recognized as the best-performing ecommerce store, has a conversion rate of 13% for its non-Prime members.)

Provide more information about your products

Product pages (an area of your ecommerce website that we’ll examine in-depth later) are the primary place to offer information about your product(s). At the same time, providing more information in blog posts, how-to videos, or other helpful and beneficial content is the best way to draw prospects’ attention to your website.

The only way to persuade prospects to buy your products is to present as many persuasive facts about those products, as accurately as possible. Some of the ways to offer this info are:

  • Showing high-definition, accurate photographs of the products
  • Providing detailed description of products’ materials and functions
  • Customer testimonials and reviews (these are some of your best tools to make visitors convert)

This type of information makes searching for products easier. As prospects gather information on how your product can apply to their situation or problem immediately, they will be more likely to click buy. The point is to make the information relevant and appropriate to as many prospects as possible.

Relevance is the most important aspect of product-related content. You can make your content more relevant by making it “smarter” — that is, providing immediate and automatic recognition of different customers by gender, age, location, past purchases, or other distinguishing characteristics. Smart content is easily achievable using readily available tools for personalization and user recognition. This approach is part of personalization, which we’ll also talk about later on in a separate section.

Even though high-quality photos, videos, and other visual representations of your products are indispensable to conversion, the entire buying process must be made easy for prospects to convert. It won’t matter how good your product photographs are or how detailed your information is unless your prospect can easily complete a purchase through a series of logical steps.

Help visitors and customers identify more with your brand

Many ecommerce websites use content marketing to establish their brand and match it to a certain lifestyle or the interests of a significant group of visitors (their target market).

For example, a store that sells hiking equipment might publish articles or videos on where and how to enjoy nature; land conservation; and/or humane treatment of animals and the environment. A clothing brand might publish articles on topics relating to luxury or living well, which will help tie its brand to the perception of luxury.

Allay doubts and fears

Often, the largest amount of doubt and fear on an ecommerce site is tied to the process of payment and shipping. It’s paramount to establish trust and dispel any fears your customer may have about the security of their personal information or the process itself.

To enhance trust, be sure to include detailed and clear information on shipping costs (including countries or regions where shipping is free, and how customers can qualify for free shipping if you offer it).

The other critical aspect is payment. You need to be up front about accepted payment methods and assure customers that their info is secure.

There’s another layer of trust you’ll need to establish, too: namely, convincing prospects that your offer is legitimate. One of the best ways to dispel distrust in this realm is to provide content that proves the usability of your products.

You can also engender trust by providing content that shows there is a real organization behind the products your store makes and sells. Show customers you share their values and interests (the “About” page is a great place to do this).

Videos are an effective way to influence prospects with a credible message, and introduce them to your products in a way that no copy or photograph can. Consider creating video(s) of how to use your product, and showing examples of its application in a real environment.

If you can obtain them, video testimonials are an excellent way to increase your store’s credibility. By providing your prospects with the opinions of their peers, you can influence would-be customers much more than with regular old video.

Increase engagement

One of the important indicators of website performance is how engaged your visitors are as they navigate the content. More engagement generally means a higher likelihood of conversion as visitors spend more time on the site, and read and consume more content.

Along with blogs/articles and videos, which can prolong visitor engagement, interactive content can generate increased engagement. Many websites use gamification to increase engagement and make visitors feel more connected to the website. Gamification can be accomplished in a number of ways — frequently by offering “achievements,” prizes, or tokens to repeat customers.

Loyalty programs combined with gamification can be used effectively to increase customer lifetime value and average order value, as well as to make more customers into repeat customers.

Of course, the ultimate engagement happens when your site is able to recognize every customer and provide them with content and experience tailored to their needs. This is where personalization comes in.

How to start using personalization to your store’s benefit

“Personalization” has become one of ecommerce’s most frequently used words. The basic goal of personalization is to make a website and its content responsive to each individual customer.

According to a study done by Forbes, 96% of all marketers believe that personalization is essential to increase conversion, and 88% noticed a measurable increase in revenue when they implemented personalization.

Personalization means you need to collect every available data point about your visitors and customers, and use those data to derive information about what that customer likes or enjoys. A website can be personalized in a number of ways, but the main aim of personalization is to make the prospect’s journey to conversion shorter and easier. Prospects should immediately see products and/or options they want to buy.

Personalization doesn’t stop there, however! It should inform everything you do on the website, recognizing and taking into account prospects’ interests, values, motivations, challenges, and fears.

At its core, personalization means to offer marketing message custom made to each individual, resulting in increasing the likelihood each of them converting. A truly personalized user experience doesn’t just offer relevant content, but anticipates the prospect’s needs and desires.

By offering visitors relevant content, guiding them to the products they need, and making them offers that correspond to their life situation and their current stage in the buying process, you ensure that prospects’ motivation and ease of use will be met by a trigger at the right time.

Repeat customers can be encouraged to provide more data, which you can then use to make following shopping experiences even smoother. This data can also be used to match the behavioral patterns of prospects who have not yet purchased anything from your website. This way, you can provide a large part of your audience with some sort of personalized experience, and increase the likelihood that each visitor will convert and purchase something.

As your customer base grows and you obtain more data, personalization will prove to be one of your most powerful tools for increasing conversion. Even the most rudimentary personalization can help increase the conversion rate of first-time visitors and of visitors from other countries, encourage repeat purchases, and reduce cart abandonment.

Personalization can be achieved in two primary ways:

  • Customized experience using customer input
  • Automated personalization using available data

One of the most commonly used methods to increase website personalization is to use personas, or groups of visitors that share common characteristics.

By developing personas, you can start to personalize a prospect’s experience as soon as they arrive on the site. Use common behavioral indicators (ex. clicks on particular content, acquisition channels, location, or interests) to observe patterns of behavior and immediately slot individual prospects and visitors into a group.

For more information on how to create personas, read our article on automating persona creation.

Customize your store experience using customer input

Personalization can easily be achieved using customer input. If you have a method for customers to register, you can then allow them to select layout options for the site, change their display language, or alter other customizable elements of the website.

This type of customization is powerful because it enables you to provide every customer with an experience that mirrors the desires they express. Plus, it doesn’t depend on tracking or interpreting prospect behavior.

But customization does have one serious drawback that limits its use. Because it depends on data that customers willingly choose to disclose, you’ll need to win their trust and confidence first. Prospects need to register and then start inputting their preferences. Needless to say, they might bounce or never bother to fill in that info.

That’s why you shouldn’t depend only on the data your customers elect to provide. You should also use automation and available data to personalize your store’s web experience.

Automate personalization using available data

Automated personalization has a major advantage over customer-input personalization: namely, that it doesn’t require any conscious effort by the prospect to fill in the information you need. By using a combination of quantitative methods and qualitative research, you can automatically profile prospects and sort them into groups.

Most analytical tools enable you to gather data on visitor location, age, gender, acquisition channel, and behavioral patterns.

By observing and analyzing this info, you can create personas and start personalizing content according to given criteria.

The simplest method is to personalize according to location. Clothing stores often use this approach to provide visitors from specific locations with offers for products that correspond to their climate and current season.

The drawbacks of personalization

While personalization can be extremely useful, there are situations when personalizing user experience can create additional issues — and instead of increasing conversions, it can do the opposite.

First, if you decide to automate personalization, make sure the data you use can be easily translated into something that an automated software can understand and apply. What does this mean? Essentially, you should personalize based only on relatively unchanging elements.

If you go too far with personalization and try to second-guess your customers based on wrong or outdated assumptions, you can end up making their user experience worse.

The second issue is introducing personalization on a level that creeps visitors out. The best personalization is timely and contextual, so prospects and customers see the offer they want, at the time they need it, and in a context that makes sense.

For example, if your prospect is looking for a laptop computer and you can identify her expected use (mostly for work), offer her devices with a configuration that’s appropriate for business.

How not to personalize: Any personalization effort is always a hair’s width away from going from relevant to creepy. While some of your prospects may assign little value to privacy, many will have concerns about it. If you want to make personalized offers, take care to set reasonable expectations with your customers.

Some guidelines:

  • Make sure you provide them with a timely opportunity to explicitly opt out
  • Do not personalize based on personal identifiable data (such as home addresses names of the members of the family etc), even if you have this data
  • Make sure that you don’t offend or hurt your customers through inconsiderate promotion, as in the widely quoted example of a father finding an offer for prenatal products addressed to his daughter.
  • Before you start any personalization, establish strict guidelines and procedures for what data to use.

In addition, don’t offer them benefits that they do not qualify for or make wide assumption based upon a single data point. For example, a person interested in organic food may not necessarily be into paleo diets or vegan food. Before you make any assumptions, make sure you have multiple data points available and match them for more accurate and relevant results.

In addition, make sure your personalization is not shallow (ex. offering customers a product they have already bought, or just because they have it in their browsing history).

You should always be collecting data and learning from your customers. No information should be neglected or skipped, since everything your customers and visitors do can help you personalize their experience. Just make sure you use the data wisely and without creeping out your customers.

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Edin is a Senior CRO Consultant. Edin is into Google Analytics and testing (any A/B testing tool really) and likes to write about it. You can follow Edin on Twitter.