Conversion Optimization: Tracking + Testing

Before you can get going with your conversion optimization practice, you need an effective method for gathering insights in three main areas:

  1. WHO (as in, who to optimize for)
  2. WHAT (as in, what to optimize)
  3. And, WHERE (as in, where to focus)

The more you know about these, the more successful your conversion optimization strategy, and there are two main ways to gather those insights:

  • The Analytics Method
  • The People Method

Each of these methods tells you something a little different about the behavior of your users and both are important if you want a well-rounded strategy for conversion optimization.


The Analytics Method

When we talk about the so-called Analytics Method, all we really mean is “web analytics” — nothing you probably haven’t heard of before. A common tool like Google Analytics will more than suffice in this respect. However, keep in mind that not all web analytics set ups are equal so be sure to set up your tracking thoughtfully. A little more effort upfront will pay dividends, whereas, a limited or error prone set up can throw you way off course. At a minimum, it needs to be able to tell you:

  • Who your best customers are — i.e. their demographics, psychographics, technographics, and so on.
  • Which referring channels are your best channels  — i.e. which channels are driving the most people to your site.
  • Which features and/or content pieces are most popular  — i.e. what are people using the most on your website.
  • Which features and/or content pieces are driving the most conversions — keep in the mind #3 and #4 are different questions
  • Which devices and browsers are most people using  — i.e. which ones do the majority of people use to access your site? Mobile or desktop? Which OS? Which browser? etc. 
  • Where on your site are most people starting from i.e. which page(s) are they landing on first.
  • Where on your site are most people abandoning your conversion funnel from — i.e. which pages are they on and/or features are they using, when they bounce from the site.

When used effectively in conversion optimization, web analytics can afford you a powerful way to accomplish a lot with limited resources. How so? By focusing your optimization efforts on your site’s most popular areas — the pages, features and content that your analytics are telling you are used most heavily — you’ll be able to make the biggest impact. In other words, start by first reviewing your analytics and from there, target the areas of the site people use most to start your optimization efforts. This way you’ll get the biggest bang for your optimization buck.


The People Method

If your goal is to better understand how people behave on your website, then presumably you’d also find value in knowing WHY they do the things they do while there. And that’s where the People Method comes in. 

If the Analytics Method is a data-driven, quantitative approach, telling you the WHAT, by contrast, the People Method is qualitative, telling you the WHY. This method is particularly important because there are things that data by itself won’t tell you about your users, like why they come in the first place or what they like or how you might make their experience better. The People Method answers things like:

  • Why someone came to your site in the first place.
  • How they found your site.
  • Whether they like or dislike it.
  • Which page they came to first and why they chose that page.
  • Why someone abandoned checkout, a form completion, or another conversion goal.
  • What usability or messaging challenges people are experiencing.
  • In a more general sense, how they feel about you and/or your products.
  • How they would describe your product or service to a friend. 
  • How they feel you stack up to your competitors.
  • Anything they believe about what you offer that makes you better.
  • If they even see you as different from your competitors, and if not, why not.
  • The words they would use to describe your products or services.
  • Any specific pain points you address for them, and any you glaringly do not. 

Generally speaking, you get these types of insights in a few widely used and effective methods:

  • Customer Interviews — structured, one-on-one interviews with your customers and/or prospects.
  • Site-based Surveys — surveys triggered on your website that solicit feedback.
  • Moderated User Tests — structured, one-on-one moderating testing sessions with your customers and/or prospects.

There are many more ways than those I’ve cited above. Do some online research and find the ones best suited for what you’re hoping to learn.


Quantitative + Qualitative = Big Upside

When you combine quantitative, the Analytics Method, and qualitative, the People Method, things start to get really interesting. By combining the two you can grasp a fuller picture on how best to optimize your website, answering questions like: which parts of my site, if optimized, present the biggest upside potential?

So how do you get started? Simple, quantitative before qualitative…

It’s not realistic, of course, to optimize for all users so you should only be focusing on your most valuable ones. So start this process by first reviewing your quantitative data to draw insights on the question: who are my most valuable users? Doing this won’t tell you the answer definitively but it will give you a good idea and a head start on who you’ll want to be talking to. After you have an idea of who these people are, you now look for ways to engage and understand them better. Seeking to understand things like:

  • What they care about most with respect to your product, services and website.
  • What they’re motivated by when it comes to those things.
  • What challenges they have when it comes to those things.
  • Where they’re dropping off or getting confused in important workflows on your website (e.g. checkout, form completion, etc.).

Of course, these are only a small sample of the questions you’ll want to be asking. The list is highly dependent on your situation — your business, issues, challenges, and what you’re hoping to learn.


User Testing

One of the most powerful People Method techniques is called User Testing, which entails, in essence, drawing insights by watching people use your website. This might sound overly simplistic but make no mistake, a lot can be learned by just watching someone use your website. In fact it can be revelatory, clarifying precisely what needs to be tweaked to reduce extant friction. Things like, any areas where people most commonly get frustrated or confused, or where they struggle to understand a step in a process, etc. 

A quick and easy way to accomplish this is by just asking friends and family to do a moderated session with you, which might work as follows:

  1. Sitting with that person (or remotely via screen share).
  2. Asking them to perform some basic tasks on the website and, while doing that, to “think aloud”. In other words, verbalizing their thought processes as they attempt to perform tasks you’ve requested.
  3. And be sure to not tell or show them anything. All you want to do is ask them and then sit back, watch and take notes. You’ll be amazed at what you see.

What to Test

Here are some areas you might want to test:

  • Homepage
  • Forms
  • Landing Pages
  • Pricing Pages
  • Checkout Flow
  • Other Elements
    • Marketing Creative (e.g. emails, banners, posts, CTAs, ad copy)
    • Colors
    • Layouts (spacing, site grid, etc)
    • Fonts (size, color, treatments like bolding and bullets, etc.)
    • The order of tasks in a process flow
    • Copy (length, tone, understanding, etc.)

Basic Tracking Tools

Here are a few of the basic tracking tools you’ll want to know about:

  • Google Analytics (GA): Google Analytics is the standard for tracking and analytics. Having GA is essential and the bare minimum.
  • Heat Mapping: Heat mapping tools, like HotJar, provide precise detail on where users click, scroll and move their mouses. They’re an excellent way to identify flaws in the site’s UX. 
  • Surveys: Pop up surveys are a good way to collect your qualitative information. Survey Monkey is a good basic platform for that.
  • Testing Platforms: There are a handful of so-called, UX optimization platforms that provide great tools for conducting A/B split tests. Some notable ones are:

A Note on Iterative vs. Innovation Tests

One of the first questions to ask when the time comes time to implement a conversion optimization strategy is: do I have enough traffic and conversions to be able to just make small changes and still get statistically significant results? The answer is fundamental to the decision to either do Iterative Testing or Innovative Testing. I’ll explain the differences.

Iterative Testing

Iterative tests, as the name suggests, only test small iterative changes, things like button colors, moving a CTA, swapping headlines or images. This kind of change is generally easy to implement and straightforward to act on afterwards. Sounds great, right? There’s a catch and it comes down to math. To garner meaningful results, iterative tests need A LOT of site traffic for the simple reason that, without traffic volume, it takes too long to generate statistically significant results. Think about it. If it takes six months to meet a conversion threshold vital to statistical significance, in that six months time other factors may change, ultimately changing the implications of your results. To do iterative tests, experts suggest that a site gets ~1,000 conversions per month at a minimum.

Innovative Testing

Innovative testing on the other hand is about doing more radical changes and is appropriate in the absence of high enough traffic numbers to qualify for iterative testing (or alternatively, there are no more iterations to be done, CTAs, copy and so on have all been tested, and the needle still isn’t moving).

Innovative tests are usually more complex than iterative changes. For instance, instead of just testing a simple change to a single element with innovative tests, you tackle major modifications like an overhaul to the entire interface design. The premise of innovative testing is that, at lower traffic volumes only substantial differences (between the control and the variation) can generate conclusive results. Landing page optimizations for instance, are perfect for this approach and can garner dramatic performance improvements. This might look something like: 

  • Running a split test. That is, for a period of time, splitting the delivery between the old interface and the new one (50/50).
  • Tracking key metrics for both, things like conversions and measuring which one performs better.