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:
- Quantitative research: To analyze traffic patterns on the website
- Qualitative research: To get insight into the minds of your prospects and customers
- Heuristic research: To ensure your content is presented in the most logical, intuitive way
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 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.
The issues that need to be checked in a technical audit are following:
- Search engine optimization issues
- Optimization & rendering of content for any device, operating system or browser
- Code problems
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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:
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.