One of my favorite tragic characters is Wile E. Coyote. How can someone be so brilliant yet fail to capture the roadrunner? We see him regularly creating some very elaborate, physics-defying devices and traps, yet he is still unable to catch the bird.
I think if he had ever paused for a moment and thought about his failures, he would have realized most of his ideas would have worked with just a little tweaking.
Unfortunately for him, his constant failure kept me glued to the TV each Saturday morning when I was a kid. I often wonder if the level of interest would have died off if the roadrunner had ever been caught and eaten.
I often see this same problem occurring when a company adopts some new Web technology (such as conversion optimization) because of its “coolness” factor.
They have access to these great tools like Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer, and they immediately jump in and start trying things out. They’ll get some percentage improvement here and there, but the gains are so small, they often give up and go back to focusing just on traffic generation from SEO and SEM.
How To Catch A Roadrunner
The key to succeeding with conversion optimization is found in understanding visitor engagement. If you don’t know the details (who, how, why) of how people engage with your site today, how can you devise tests that are effective?
With your primary goals in mind, you want to study how people are reaching, or not reaching, those goals. If you run an e-commerce website with good traffic, where are people hitting roadblocks that keep them from checking out? Are visitors only filling out your forms partially or simply exiting the site when they encounter your forms?
Without an understanding of how visitors are engaging with your site, doing conversion optimization will not be nearly as effective. In a previous article, I wrote about the basics of visitor engagement and ideas to improve your website. This time, I’m taking a deeper dive into engagement analytics so that you can plan your conversion optimization campaigns and capture your fair share of roadrunners.
Understanding Visitor Engagement Analytics
Understanding how visitors flow (or navigate) through a website isn’t the easiest thing to display. In your head, it makes sense; but, creating a tool that displays this information in an intuitive way is kind of tough. Google Analytics does a pretty good job of displaying this data.
There are two reports you can look at called Behavior Flow and Visitor Flow. Both will give you a good idea of what entry pages people start from, as well as the first, second and third pages they visit. Using this, you can visually see what pages may be causing the most hangups as people move through the content funnel or your shopping cart. Additionally, with Behavior Flow, you can segment this audience in several different ways to see how different segments move through the site.
Studying the performance of your forms at the field level is critical to know what needs to be improved. Using tools like Clicktale and Formisimo, you can capture critical elements such as how much time people are taking to fill in unique fields and what fields they stopped on and abandoned the form.
This is valuable information, especially for e-commerce stores that need a clear picture of where people are abandoning checkouts. Long forms, though they can collect great information for sales teams, can really be daunting or scary to visitors and lower conversion rates. If you can pinpoint fields in which most people stop entering information, it can give you an idea of where people either decided it wasn’t worth giving the information or they are having trouble understanding what to provide.
Heatmaps & Mouse Movement
One of the great things I’ve learned over time doing website analysis is that visitors think with their mouse. Visitors have a tendency of moving the mouse where their eyes are looking, kind of like reading with your finger. Rarely do I see anyone moving the mouse line by line as they read, but when they are interacting, the mouse tends to go where their attention is.
So if someone is confused, you may see the mouse going everywhere or clicking on seemingly random things. This information can provide valuable insight on exactly how actual visitors are interacting with your site. A couple of nice tools at a nice price for this include Inspectlet and Mouseflow. As a business owner, it’s worth using these tools for at least a few months on critical site pages to see how opted-in people interact with your content.
There are several things to study when analyzing visitor behavior. You need to look at how long they visit a page, what are the entry and exit pages, how often they return and how many pages they are looking at.
Average Time on Page. This metric doesn’t necessarily reflect whether it is a good page or a bad page. For instance, you may have a page that you want someone to click through quickly to get to the next step, or you may have a page that you want someone to spend time reading.
Either way, it does give you insight into visitor behavior, especially when comparing average time spent on a page before and after you’ve made changes to it. If you add more content, for example, you’d expect to see visitors staying longer. If you increase the font size, you may find that people spend less time on the page — not because it is less interesting, but because they can read it faster.
Entry Pages. When you study entry pages, you are gaining an understanding of how people came to your website. Though many people do land on the homepage first, it isn’t your only entry page. In Google Analytics, go to Site Content > Landing Pages, and you can easily see what your entry pages are. If you then apply the Secondary Dimension: Source, you will see what the referring source is and its impact on the visitor.
This will help you gain an understanding of where people came from, a little about their motivation in visiting your site and whether or not they found what they expected (bounce rate for the page). With this information, you can start devising strategies for improving the bounce rate for that landing page — perhaps by creating better content or adding stronger calls-to-action.
Exit Page. This is the last page that someone saw on your website within that session. It is possible they came back another day to look at your site, but this metric shows where people most often leave. There are obviously many reasons someone may leave a website, but if you see high exit rates on specific pages during an e-commerce check-out, you may have a problem.
Perhaps your visitors don’t know what to do next, or something is turning them off from the purchase. You’ll find that forms often have high exit rates because most people simply don’t want to commit to giving out their personal information, or they may just be price shopping and found the info they wanted.
If you have decent traffic coming to the website, you have people coming from all over the world. When you look at visitor behavior and segment visitor flow in Google Analytics by geographic regions, you may find that different regions behave differently.
Even if traffic is just U.S.-based, you can find differences between East and West Coast. These different behaviors aren’t necessarily right or wrong — they are simply different. Using this information will help identify possible insights for email and SEM campaigns targeted at specific regions.
Making it Happen
There are obviously more things you can study, but these metrics will take you a long way to making better decisions about conversion testing. Like any really powerful tool, conversion optimization isn’t something to jump into without understanding what is really going on. Once that understanding is in place, it is much easier to have those triple-digit gains we often read about but rarely experience personally.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.