Are you taking conversion seriously?

Paul Boag

If you want to see a return on investment from your website it involves a long term commitment to optimisation.

It amazes me how many website owners don’t seem to care about the performance of their website. They say that it should generate a return on investment, but they do nothing to make that happen. They launch their site and walk away.

Driving traffic is not enough in itself

Part of the problem is that they think generating a return from the website is about driving more traffic to it. In truth, more traffic is a sign of good marketing, not any success of the website.

Where you see the return on investment from a website is in the conversion rate. How many of those people who hit the website convert?

But people don’t seem to invest in optimising their conversion rate. According to Adobe over half of organisations invest less than 5% of their marketing budget in optimisation.

Optimisation isn’t in our DNA

To be honest this does not surprise me. Optimisation is not in most marketers DNA. Until digital, the cost of optimisation had always been too high to carry out in any serious form. Instead marketers throw ever more people and hope that some part convert.

This mass media mindset is something I encountered not long ago. We were helping a national UK charity to form their digital strategy. As part of that work we discovered that the conversion rate on their website was less than half a percent. This was not surprising when you looked at their site. Calls to action were poor and the donation process painful.

While we were helping them with their digital strategy they were running a massive marketing campaign. They ran two or three of these a year and the cost ran into millions. Each campaign encouraged people to visit the website. The same website that had such a terrible conversion rates.

We recommended that they took some of that marketing budget and spent it on optimising their conversion rate. We were confident (based on previous charity work) that we could double that conversion rate to 1%.

Numbers can sometimes help change perceptions

Unfortunately we met considerable resistance. The culture of continual big marketing campaigns was so deep rooted that it was hard to change their thinking.

In the end we turned to cold hard numbers. We looked at two possible approaches…

  • The website remained unchanged. The charity continued driving traffic through national TV and press advertising.
  • They stopped the current round of campaigns. Instead they invested some of that money in optimisation and managed to increase the conversion rate to 1%. In this scenario, no extra traffic would come from campaigns. Instead traffic rates would maintain at their default level.

We calculated that a 0.5% increase in conversion would generate almost £3 million in revenue. That was without any increase in traffic beyond the default levels.

To generate the same amount of revenue with the existing website would need an extra 33 million people to visit the site! That just wasn’t going to happen no matter how good the campaign.

The numbers were clear. Investing in improving conversion rates was far better than driving more traffic to a failing site.

Cultural norms are hard to change

What happened next was interesting. They congratulated us on our analysis and completely agreed with our recommendations. The board gave the head of digital a mandate to make sweeping changes. It was a victory.

Except that nothing changed. Intellectually they agreed with what we were saying, but were unable to shake their old mindset. They were unable to change the way they had always worked.

Are you going to fight for change?

So what about your organisation? Are you serious about optimising your site or are you too stuck in your ways to do anything about it? Is usability testing, split testing and design optimisation a nice idea in principle or will it happen in practice? Are you going to sit back and accept the status quo or are you going to fight like hell to bring about change? At the end of the day that is the choice you have to make.

“Converting Leads To Sales” image courtesy of