slc thumb1Most web analytics practitioners define Conversion Rate as the percent of site visitors who do something the company who owns the website wants them to do. So submit a order, sign up for a email, send a lead etc.

Measuring Conversion Rate is usually the cornerstone, if not the king queen and jester of the court, of any web analytics program. It is perhaps the very first “KPI” that is measured by any good analyst and we can’t seem to get enough of it.  We report it up and down the chain of command and it occupies a place of prime importance when we present to senior management.

After all why would you not, the logic is: your conversion rate is 2.2% ( study Q2 2006 for retail sites) and if you improve it by 0.01% you will make a million bucks (replace that with a really high number for your company).

Yet there is perhaps there is no other single metric that is abused as much as conversion rate, none that is perhaps more detrimental to solving for a holistic customer experience on the website because of the company behavior it drives.

The behavior most observed is that people obsess about conversion rate, it is every where, massive amounts of energies are spent on getting it up a smidgen, entire site strategies exist simply to move the number up at the cost of caring about anything else.

My recommendation is that you should stop obsessing about conversion rate, put Overall Site Conversion Rate in some appendix of your weekly / monthly presentations but that is about it.

The core reasons for this recommendation are:

  • Minor Reason: Overall site conversion rate (non-segmented) for your site is a nice to know metric but it is quite meaningless in terms of its ability to truly communicate actionable insights. You got 100 visitors, 2.2 of those converted, where do you start to look for what the heck happened?
  • Major Reason: A minority of visitors that come to any website come to buy (minority defined as usually less than 50% of site traffic). Consider or or or, all major “ecommerce sites”. So if a minority of people come to your website to buy why should we obsess about Conversion Rate? Are we not guilty of letting this relentless focus on conversion rate result in criminal negligence towards those other website customer segments?

    The question is: If you solve for conversion rate are you solving for all your traffic and are you improving the website experience for all your customers?

My answer to that last question is a big whopping thumper of a No. We are guilty of causing sub-optimal customer focus by using conversion rate and web analytics, and I recommend that we stop that.

So what might you be missing if you only focus on conversion rate?

  • Customers who will come to your website to “research”, product specific. They will never buy from your website, maybe if you do a awesomely kick butt job on the website maybe you will convert them but it is highly unlikely. An example of this is you/me using amazon to primarily read customer reviews or watch the new Bill Maher show, or wanting to read specs or print web pages with product information.
  • Customers who will come to your website to “learn” about you, the company. They are looking for jobs, they are looking for press releases, they are looking for your company founders bio, they are looking for why you exist, they want your blog, they want to unsubscribe from your emails etc.
  • Customers who come to our websites for “help”. This is people looking for support or looking for driving directions to your office or they want to send you a nasty email or register their product etc.
  • Customers who come for reasons that we don’t know simply because we simply never bothered to ask (this is huge by the way).

All these segments, and there may be different ones for your website, will never buy from you. All these segments are not static, they change based on market conditions, based on actions your company takes (say campaigns or branding etc), based on stuff your competitors do etc etc.

Obsessing about conversion rate means a focus on the 20 – 40% of the traffic on your website that is “in the game” and solving for just that minority.

Obsessing about conversion rate means that you are implicitly ignoring major parts of the traffic that you should be creating optimal customer experiences for (pages, content, whatever).

Obsessing about conversion rate, perhaps most importantly, means you solve for the short term, the now, and just Submit Order,  at the cost of solving for long term metrics like creating Net Promoters.

(And I say that knowing that perhaps for your site 0.001% improvement in conversion is ten million dollars.)

So if you take me advice and mount this coup in your company and dislodge conversion rate from the throne which metric should take its place?

Let me submit one powerful metric for the coronation: Task Completion Rate by Primary Purpose.

Figure out what the the core reasons why people come to your website (the question to ask is: Why are you visiting the website today?) and then figure out if for customers in each of those segments of primary purpose if they are able to complete their task, whatever the task the customer came for (the question to ask is: Where you able to complete your task today?). Do a little cross tab and you’re in business.

The answer to Primary Purpose question will look something like this: Research Products/Services, Purchase Products/Services, Look for Company Information, Register the Products I have already Purchased, Looking for Support, etc etc.

The answer to the Task Completion Rate question will be Yes or No.

If you can do this you suddenly are 1) massively aware of why people come to your website 2) just a few of them are there to buy, and how many 3) where is your website failing you.

Now you know what you need to do to improve your website experience for your major segments of customers to increase their task completion rate. It is impossible that higher conversion rate will not follow.

But as you can see the behavior you will drive in your company will be fundamentally different under this approach. 

Let me close with a humble/arrogant (your choice) point of view by applying the recommendation to a real world practice.

I am a fan of Persuasion Architecture by Future Now Inc. I have had the privilege of hearing Bryan and Jeffery Eisenberg and John Quatro-von Tivadar speak, they are awesome (Future Now blog). I like the overall beauty of Persuasion Architecture, especially the Uncovery process.

Stated simply the overall approach is: Understand customers really well, create personas for customer segments and then use patented software from Future Now to redesign website to solve for those personas needs/wants leading to sales/conversion. 

Based on the logic of this post IMHO the overpowering focus on Conversion (getting visitors to buy) and doing all the work to get a site visitors to buy limits the massive impact that the methodology can have.

Rather than being “Persuasion to Conversion by solving for customer needs” of just buyers there would be a exponentially powerful outcome for Future Now and their clients if it was “Persuasion to perfect Task Completion Rate by solving for all customer segments”. Everything about the architecture stays the same. Except the final goal.

It is much harder to solve for multiple goals, to move from solving for conversion rate / buying to solving for task completion for your major personas and the purposes they come to the site for. But doing that will provide long term sustained competitive advantage that would be hard to replicate by your competitors. (Besides my mom says that nothing worth valuing in life comes easy. : ) )

In the end, when the dust settles, it is about creating satisfied site visitors no matter why they come to your website and secondarily it is about short term revenue.

What do you think? Too much la – la  – la? Anything I am missing in my thinking? Are you convinced and will you mount a coup in your company to dislodge conversion rate? Would you like to give me a hug? Please share your feedback via comments.

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PS: This post is dedicated to my dear dear friend Blaire Hansen, for reasons she and I know :^).

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