If you’re here, you know that without conversion rate optimization, all the traffic in the world won’t guarantee a profit. You probably also recognize the need to test your assumptions with experiments and split tests, that you need to overcome objections, and, well, convince them to convert. But if you’re like almost every marketer in this field, you’re missing one big, important piece of the puzzle: a unified framework.
Most of us are forced to start with hunches or guesswork when best practices aren’t making the cut. Sure, that eventually turns into tests, data, and a road forward. But it’s usually a long and winding road, and there’s a reason for that.
Most of us have no idea what our users are thinking about.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had some unified model to turn to, something that would tell us what consumers were thinking about during each stage of interaction with your site?
It turns out, we’ve got one.
The model comes from a peer-reviewed paper called Developing a New Model for Conversion Rate Optimization: A Case Study. It’s built on three case studies, a detailed analysis of the literature, and examination of one highly successful CRO agency.
And it means that most of us are, at best, making decisions based on a half-finished model.
Let’s be honest: conversion rates on the web suck.
Sure, over half of US consumers with net access are regularly shopping online. But most sites have conversion rates under 5 percent, and unoptimized sites are lucky to capture value from more than 2 or 3 percent of their visitors. Compare that with physical retailers, and it starts to look absolutely horrendous.
There are several reasons for this:
That last point is a big problem. We can’t treat online consumers like people walking through the front door. They’re a different animal entirely. And that’s why the model most of us are using is only half-baked for a digital marketplace.
If you’re not familiar with the buying funnel, it goes something like this:
This isn’t the only version of the buying funnel. Some of them talk about awareness, interest, desire, then action, or use different terminology. But they all take the same basic framework: consumers realize they need something, then go through a series of steps until they buy something, and then perhaps do something else.
Do these steps leave you feeling uninformed? Unsure how you could possibly use them to your benefit? Bored?
That’s the trouble with this model, and others like it. The steps just sit there. It tells us that consumers need to pass through a series of steps, but it doesn’t tell us how or why they do.
Don’t get me wrong, the buying funnel isn’t without merits. It’s useful to know that there are stages in the process, and that the consumer needs to advance through all of them if you want to run a successful business. You can’t sell a solution to somebody who doesn’t even recognize a need for one.
But how do we advance them through those stages, instead of sending them running for the back button?
Most versions of the buying funnel don’t even give us an idea of how to do that. The general advice is to just test whatever random impulse comes to mind if best practices aren’t working. We don’t have a model that tells us why best practices might not be working.
At least, most of us don’t.
After analyzing academic papers on CRO from 2004 to 2012, the researchers concluded that the buying funnel model was missing one thing: web experiences.
Here’s the thing. The online marketplace just can’t be compared with physical retail. People experience the web differently than they experience “the real world.” After interviewing a CRO agency called Clixo, who’s worked with companies like Nissan, Samsung, and Hasbro, they uncovered five elements of web experience that play a crucial role in conversions:
And the peer-reviewed literature had two more elements to add to the mix:
So, what’s the point of adding these seven experiences to the mix? Are we just trading in one arbitrary set of “steps” for a different set of “web experiences?”
First off, in the three case studies, applying just 5 of these web experiences was enough to double conversion rates 2 out of 3 times (and make some serious cash in the third).
But the breakthrough comes from combining these two ways of looking at user behavior into one unified framework. At each stage in the buying funnel, the user is experiencing one or more of these elements. This helps us pinpoint which kinds of changes are worth testing during each phase in the buying funnel. Here’s how they fit together:
Write this down or print it out now. Tape it to your computer monitor. Seriously.
Now, at each step in the buying funnel, we know which elements are most important to test. We don’t need to address interactivity during the need, information, and evaluation phases. We can ignore the catalyst when the user is making the actual purchase, and afterward.
By combining these models, we have a framework for deciding what to test, why, and when.
Now let’s go ahead and dive into these elements:
This is all about the intersection between the user’s motivation and the traffic source. When you understand what motivates the user to visit the page, you can design accordingly. This is why user targeting is so important. Take a look at:
This is what people tend to think of when they talk CRO: button sizes and colors, layout, images, text size, etc. An understanding of visual psychology and design principles can pay dividends here. Unbounce has covered this tons of times so it’s probably best if you just take a look at How to Use Design Principles to Increase Conversions and some Unbounce landing page critiques.
This one is huge. Did you notice it’s present during every single phase of the buying funnel? To establish value, you need to accomplish three things:
Visitors also measure value on two different levels:
It’s important to demonstrate value on both of those levels.
This is closely related to aesthetics, but it’s not the same thing. Put simply, the user isn’t going to buy anything if the interface makes them do any work at all (and that’s only a slight exaggeration).
Keep in mind that usability testing is a very different beast from split testing. It’s about observing a small number of users (5 or so) and identifying common obstacles that make it difficult for them to move forward. Once you fix those obstacles, you iterate. Each iteration has a small sample size, but over time this sample size should get fairly large.
This is another topic that’s covered in depth all over the place, so we won’t delve too far into it here. Unbounce has a post on the complicated relationship between usability testers and split testers, and Smashing Magazine also has a helpful guide to improve your usability testing.
This one gets missed a lot. You can adjust button colors and directional cues all year long and get nowhere if your core approach to persuasion is flawed. Persuasion is based on two fundamentals:
Persuasion also occurs in 3 phases:
When you compare online and offline shopping, there is a serious confidence gap. This is one of the absolute biggest gaps between the two worlds of retail. Your visitors really need to trust you, and the value of your product, before they’ll even consider spending a dime on you.
This is made up of 2 key elements:
Online stores are both more and less interactive than physical stores. When you physically drive to a store, you can directly ask questions and get help without an awkward interface. At the same time, the store can’t physically change shape or teleport you exactly where you need to be based on your needs, while an online store can.
There are several ways you can enhance interactivity:
Okay, this is a lot of information, and it’s easy to get lost in it. So, how can we approach this actionably? It actually all boils down to a fairly simple process:
As an example of how this works, let’s take a look at one of the case studies from the paper: an SAAS software company.
In the second case study, a B2B business was struggling with attracting phone consultations:
The final case study involved a skin care company:
I’m a fan of theory, but I don’t think it’s worth investing a ton of time into unless the result is a model you can use. That’s what I love about this new approach. It gives you principles to base your decisions off of, instead of just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.
It’s not enough to know where the user is in the buying funnel. We need to address what is going through their minds during each stage, and why. Once we recognize which level of experience matters and when, we can eliminate objections before they happen, keep users on the site, and even keep them coming back for more.
Have you ever addressed the wrong thing at the wrong time? Does this model clarify what went wrong? We’d love to hear anything you have to add to this conversation.