Why Is My Website So Bad at Converting?

Paul Boag

When analytics, usability testing and session recorders let us down, we need to turn to alternative methods for ascertaining our sites shortcomings.

Nothing is more frustrating than launching a new website only to discover it doesn’t improve your abysmal conversion rate. It feels like you spent all of that money for no return. But before we linch your web designer, let's take a step back and work out where things are going wrong.

Start With the Basics

The obvious place to start is with analytics. I don’t want to get into that in depth here as that is not the point of this post. But analytics may help you identify drop off points where things are going wrong.

Usability testing and session recorders will then help you to narrow the search to what specifically on a page is putting people off.

Staring at an analytics dashboard is not going to be enough to discover why most people abandon your site without acting.

But despite what people like me claim, these techniques are not a cure-all. You will often find yourself none the wiser as to why people aren’t buying. Just because a site is well designed and has avoided obvious usability hurdles doesn’t mean they will act.

So how do you find the problem and fix it?

Want to Know, Then Ask!

The answer is simple. If we want to understand why people are not acting on our website, we merely need to ask them! It's not rocket science, and yet it rarely seems to happen.

Start by adding a one question survey on your site. One that triggers when the user goes to leave. I am running one at time of writing on my conversion masterclass course page. It simply asks them “If you decide not to enrol today, it would be useful to know why.” I then offer them the following options based on my best guesses as to why they might be leaving.

  • I am not sure what the course covers.
  • I don’t think I need it.
  • I am not convinced it will help.
  • I think it is too expensive.
  • I don’t trust the website.
  • I want to think about it.
  • I have never heard of the tutor.
  • Other.

Although I have tailored this list to my specific circumstances, you can see how you could quickly adapt this to your situation. Instead of “I am not sure what the course covers” it could easily become “I am not sure what your company does”.

If you want to know why people aren’t acting, ask them!

Note that only one of those options directly references the website. Most of the reasons people do not act have nothing to do with site design or usability. Instead, it is factors such as the copy not being persuasive enough or the cost of acting being too high. Heck, you might even find that there isn’t a need for the product or service you are offering.

Make sure you include the ‘other’ option at the end and allow people to type in an answer if they select this. You will be surprised at what you learn. For example, more than one respondent to my survey said they wanted to persuade their boss to pay for the course. I am now working on a “convince the boss” PDF they can download, print off and hand to management.

Of course, one thing this approach doesn’t take into account is the fact that some of those coming to your site might not fall into the group of people you are trying to reach. For example, a lot of replies might signal the price is too high only because you are driving the wrong kind of people to your site in the first place.

To resolve this problem, you also need to talk to those who did buy your product or service.

Talk to Those Who Acted

At face value, it might not seem to make a lot of sense talking to those who acted when you want to find out why people are not responding. But there is a method in my madness, honestly!

For a start we know these are the ‘right kinds of people’ by the very fact that they have chosen to act. By definition, we want to win over people who are similar to those who did act.

All we need to do is ask those who acted the right question. We need to ask; what nearly stopped them from acting.

Whether we are talking about buying a product, completing a contact us form or subscribing to a newsletter, we have doubts. Even if we then go on to act, we have still had those doubts or concerns. Although the people we are talking to overcome those concerns, other similar people might not have. If we know what those worries are, we can address them.

Not Rocket Science

Admittedly this is not a revolutionary approach. It is trivial to implement, and obvious if you think about it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen very often.

But what I like about this technique is that it looks beyond site aesthetics and usability at the real problems that prevent people from acting the majority of the time. For that reason alone, we should include it in our tool belt of conversion optimisation techniques.

Thanks to Olivier Le Moal from Shutterstock for allowing me to use this image.