Like any other aspect of business, websites don’t start with perfect success. They all start rough and improve with time. The key to this is web metrics, getting the numbers that tell managers what is happening in their site because you can’t improve something you don’t understand.
Success on the web means getting people to do what you want when they visit your site. So the first thing you need to do is decide what it is you want them to do. This is called the Target Action. In most cases it’s buy something or fill in a form.
If you haven’t determined what your target action is before you built the site, it’s worthwhile looking at your site once you have determined your target action. Ask yourself if your site’s design makes it easy for people to engage in your Target Action. Ease of navigation is consistently one of the top 10 complaints people have about web design.
Once you have determined your Target Action you need to determine how successful the site is. The key performance indicator of success is your Conversion Rate. This is the percentage of visitors to your site who engage in your Target Action. If you want them to fill in a contact form, your Conversion Rate is the percentage of visitors who submit the form. If you’re selling online, your Conversion Rate is the percentage of visitors who buy something.
The average conversion rate across the web is 2%. Amazon are said to have the highest rate at 9%, though this is not a figure they will confirm.
But these sites are special cases, with very high brand recognition. This means people already know what the site is selling before they go there. It is possible to run a perfectly profitable online business with a conversion rate of 2%.
The web is a volume business. Once you know what your conversion rate is, you know where your priorities lie: if your conversion rate is 2% or more, your site is doing well and you should concentrate on getting more visitors. If your conversion rate is less than 2%, you’re wasting the visitors you’re getting and should put your efforts into improving the site.
If you do want to improve your site, you need to establish where it’s failing. The secret is to work back from your Target Action. The first thing to ask is, “how many are getting to that point in the site?” This is your Prospect Rate.
At its simplest, the Prospect Rate is the percentage of visitors who viewed looked at your wares, viewed your product pages. However, you may want to establish Prospect Rates for different sections, such as product pages, the shopping cart, and the credit card payment page. The most important, and often overlooked, area in online shopping is the credit card payment page, so you may want to concentrate on that first.
Between viewing these pages and completing the Target Action, the visitor has to do something. If it’s a form, they have to fill it in and hit the submit button. If it’s a shopping site they have to fill in a credit card page and submit that.
People who look at these forms and don’t complete or submit them are said to have “abandoned”. Each form therefore has an Abandonment Rate, which is the percentage of people who looked at a page, but didn’t complete it.
The basic rule for reducing abandonment on forms is to ask fewer questions. Many people treat contact forms as an opportunity to engage in some market research. They may ask questions like “how much is your budget?” or “where did you find our site?”
Each of these questions will be a reason for someone not to complete the forms. Remember what the form is for – to get the contact information from a potential customer so your sales team can start talking to them. Is losing a potential customer a reasonable price for a little market research?
For sales systems with abandonment issues, the lesson is to keep selling. Don’t assume that once a visitor has put something in the shopping basket they’re committed to buying it. They’re only committed when you’ve got their money. Many people have second thoughts about buying a product once they’re asked to put in their credit card information.