Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the science of continually making your website work harder for you. It’s not enough to have a great website; your website has to keep getting greater all the time. After all, your existing competitors are busy fine-tuning their own user experiences online, and new competitors are always emerging.
As much as you may have invested in your website, all kinds of things could be adversely affecting users’ interactions with it. Many of these are within your control, so it’s crucially important to identify and fix them. These adverse factors might be stopping your users from reaching the ‘conversion goals’ you set for them, like completing a sale or asking for a call-back.
If these problems aren’t addressed, you could be missing out on revenue (or other gains) while also wasting the money you spent on advertising and promotion to get users interested in the first place. If you’re losing customers who came to your website ready and willing to spend money with you, but then were prevented from doing so, that’s a major problem. And the cumulative effect? You could lose sales, market share, and aspects of your reputation.
Heatmaps are an important tool in finding and repairing these problems so that you can reach your ‘conversion goals’. So let’s take a closer look at what conversion goals are.
What is a conversion goal?
Your conversion goals are simply whatever you want your customers to do on your website. You may have multiple goals. You may want your user to:
- Complete a purchase
- Request a call-back
- Read your terms and conditions
- Provide their email address
- Download an app or a document
- Play a video
- Subscribe to a trial period
- Respond to an advertiser
- Share something on social media.
Every conversion goal has its own ‘conversion funnel’.
What is a conversion funnel?
The steps that lie between the user starting the process towards a conversion goal, and successfully completing that goal, lie within the ‘conversion funnel’. And heatmaps can show you what the user is doing on that journey.
There’s a conversion funnel for every action you want your website visitor to take, whether that’s fairly passive – such as reading some text – or active, such as making a purchase.
A funnel can be thought of as a pipeline, but it’s funnelshaped because more users start the process than complete it: it’s widest at the top. In a perfect world, it would be a straight pipe rather than a funnel: the same diameter at the bottom as at the top, with the same number of users both starting and completing the journey.
Therefore, it’s important to keep working on straightening out your conversion funnels. Straightening them means losing fewer people at each step along the journey. The straighter your funnel, the fewer barriers lurk within it to prevent your users from popping out successfully at the other end. A straighter funnel means a better brand experience for your users, and less hassle and cost for you – because you’ll lose fewer sales, you’ll field fewer calls and emails from irritated users, and you’ll be providing a better brand experience.
How do you know what shape a funnel is in? If your bounce rate is suspiciously high, or if you’re not achieving the conversion rate you think you should, you may realize there are problems with it. You may even know exactly which pages cause most people to leave your website. You may know all of this – but you still don’t know exactly what the problems are. In other words, you know where people leave the funnel, but you don’t know why.
So what causes people to leave the funnel?
People leave for all sorts of reasons. Some you can influence, and some you can’t:
(1) Technical, usability and design reasons – What if nothing happens when a user clicks a button, or if they can’t find the button at all? Or if your website demands an unexpected format for a zip code, phone number or date? Or the number of items in a basket just won’t update? These issues are your ‘lowhanging’ fruit: problems that the right software tools (such as heatmaps) can help you to identify, prioritize and correct.
(2) User behavior reasons – Humans are complex and unpredictable. Here’s an example: if your form asks, ‘Do you have a promotional code?’, a user might enter ‘yes’ or ‘no’ rather than the promotional code itself – and they’ll become very frustrated when they don’t get their discount. But how will you know that the promotional code field was the problem? A heatmap would tell you, because the field would show up as an unusually bright red where users repeatedly clicked, typed, re-entered, and dwelt over the field.
(3) Logistical and operational reasons – Maybe the size of sweater the user wanted wasn’t in stock. Maybe your cupcakes don’t come in guava and parmesan flavour, like the user wanted. Maybe you don’t deliver to the user’s area. These are all issues that might be worth resolving, but you’d only need to change your website once you’d made broader changes to your business.
(4) Users’ own reasons – Perhaps their phone rang and they were distracted; perhaps they thought twice about spending the money. Maybe they asked their partner what they thought of the sweater in their basket, and the partner didn’t like it. Perhaps they were just researching your business, or maybe they’re a competitor. These are things you can’t really affect, and it would be a waste of your resources to try. Effective CRO will focus on (1) and (2) above. And heatmaps will help you find your problems – otherwise, you may be left having to guess.
Guesswork isn’t helpful
Without help, you won’t know whether someone dropped out of your conversion funnel because of reasons to do with them or you. Or whether you could have done something to keep them… and, if so, what. But you might spend a lot of time trying to guess.
You could even try ‘fixing’ things based on those guesses (and potentially make things worse). There might be heated debate in the workplace as to what the real problems are, how comparatively important they are, and how they should be tackled.
Incremental wins add up
Sometimes the changes you need to make to your website are quite obvious, and you won’t need help identifying them. The problem lies with all the ones you don’t know about; they may be smaller and less obvious, but there may be significantly more of them. They offer a multitude of opportunities to make incremental improvements which, when added together, can make a huge difference.
If every small improvement you make retains just 0.01% of the users who would otherwise have left each conversion funnel, you could see a substantial volume of additional income or value across the course of a year. Heatmaps can help you find where you need to make those improvements.