Conversion studies

A visitor converts when they move from one page element to another, a next step in a process towards an end goal. Conversion studies aim to discover how to maximize the conversion rate, the percent of visitors that complete a process. All websites have and end goal like one of the following:

Conversion rates matter to all websites

If a website's mission is only to pass along information, then make it easy for visitors to find the information they seek. In a retail website, by comparison, there are many conversion steps.

  1. Browse to a product detail page
  2. Browse similar products for comparison
  3. Add an item to the shopping cart
  4. Perhaps repeat the above steps for additional products
  5. Register an account or select check out as a guest
  6. Check out and pay for the purchase

Conversion elements

A conversion element can be any element on a page with the purpose of moving the visitor to the next step towards the end goal. Common elements are headers, links, buttons and forms. Three points about conversion:

Am I in the right place

Consider why visitors are coming to your website. What problem are they trying to solve? When landing on a page, a visitor evaluates almost instantly, "Am I in the right place?" Give each page uncluttered focus on one subject so the visitor can determine the answer in the blink of an eye. Announce the page content in the first header at the top of the content section.

Most headers serve the same purpose as newspaper headlines. When there is too much information in a headline, then there is no reason to read the article. Headers that serve as headlines should say just enough to suggest a compelling read, not summarize effectively. Keep headers simple and direct, not clever. A header is a conversion element with a goal of the visitor reading further.

A pitch differs from a headline

Headers that make an appeal state a benefit in terms of the reader's interest.

Search engine ads can suggest benefit statements. The ads below are the result of a search on website conversion.
When the header's purpose moves beyond a headline to a sales pitch or an appeal, state a benefit for the visitor. A way to research benefit statements is to review the ads that come up on search engines for phrases related to your content.

The more specifically you identify with the visitor when stating a benefit, the more relevant the pitch will be to them. The intent behind labeling products in the grocery store, "Family Size," is less about the size than about creating relevance to the big spenders shopping for whole families.

Stating a solution to a problem addresses the visitor's immediate concern. Benefits might include one of the following:

For someone looking for a solution to a problem, when a solution contains a relevant benefit it creates the emotional response: "Yes! I am in the right place."

The role of emotion

Flower delivery benefit statementsConsider the ads that come up for a search on flower delivery. Save money first, then:

Another name for a sales pitch is an appeal, an appeal to an emotion or a habit. Often after the buying decision is made, the buyer begins to think up rational reasons to justify the purchase.

Acting on impulses and habits is almost instantaneous. Reasoning takes time. Even for decisions that require research, few approvals are made before the buyer also reaches a comfort level that can be described as warm and fuzzy.

When to lead with dispassionate facts

For the appropriate effect, benefit statements must be credible. When statements stretch credibility like "today only," warm and fuzzy is pushed aside by cold disbelief.

A focus on benefits rather than features works for only some types of content. The feature statement, "flower delivery," needs help from a benefit statement to create the right emotional response. The feature statement, "24 by 7 telephone support," creates the appropriate emotional response by itself. For similar content, state the feature, not the benefit.

Context determines the appropriate approach. Consider if a newspaper had headlines that were sales pitches. The emotional response created in readers would be annoyance and disgust. Many decisions depend on factual information and dispassionate analysis. Reference websites use headers in the style of newspaper headlines.

The desired emotional response

Any approach will elicit an emotional response in the reader. Whether leading with an emotional appeal or with dispassionate facts, the desired emotional response is always the same, "Yes. I am in the right place."

Simplify, remove, reduce

Jony Ive, Apple's chief of design, reported the design effort was to, "simplify, remove and reduce," when discussing the revolutionary iPod, iPad and iPhone. Simplify each page to a clear focus. Useless clutter harms conversion. Remove irrelevant content, images and extra columns to leave only the useful elements.

Where appropriate, use conventions to minimize confusion. If two fields are usually called, "User name," and, "Password," then use the conventional names instead of creative names. To aid momentum, use unity to keep the layout consistent as the visitor moves through the website.

Images and illustrations

As a general rule, text influences conversion more than images. Images can add visual interest and draw attention, but only when they are precisely relevant. Depending on the content, drawings and illustrations might better influence conversion than images.

Look and feel

Look at a page without reading anything. Are you in the right place? Much money is spent in Hollywood and on Madison Avenue pursuing a cheap look. When cheap fits the content and the visitor's expectations, say for discount goods, then a cheap look is appropriate. Most websites will do better with a subtle look. Look and feel are created collectively by the color scheme, fonts, illustrations, images and whether or not design conventions are followed.

Content counts

The more useful information on the website, the higher the conversion rates will be. Hardcover books, a spare and time-tested design convention, evidence content is the most significant factor for a successful website. To restate a point with the word "merely" added, the designer's job is merely to create interest and focus the interest on the content.

Main and secondary pages

Keep the main page brief, the place for initial conversion elements and a table of contents for the secondary pages, which can serve as reference resources and as landing pages in their own right. Some visitors will only glance at the secondary pages, others will skim them, others will study every word. Unlike the main page, pack the secondary pages with evidence, examples and statistics to allow visitors to determine how much information is appropriate for them.

Address potential concerns

Depending on the content, some of the following might be appropriate:

Call to action

Calls to action are more likely to be found in conversion elements close to the website's end goal. State calls to action as straightforward, specific commands, either a command you are giving or the visitor is giving. Focus on the benefit, not the cost. Front-load the action word. To borrow partial examples from the search engine ads above:

Below are examples where the visitor gives the command.

Place calls to action in elements that draw attention. Repeat a call to action with different wording. A friendly statement makes a compelling variation, for example, "We'd love to hear from you," next to a direct, "Contact us." Consider providing multiple options for making contact like a phone number plus a registration form.

Design creates and focuses interest

To revisit the web design goals, a call to action for the end goal works when:

  1. An appropriate amount of visual interest was created to get the visitor to read the first header
  2. The first header hinted, "Yes," might be the answer to the question, "Am I in the right place," and converted the visitor to the next step, reading the content
  3. The content solved visitor's problem with an amount of information the visitor tailored to his or her need
  4. The visitor responded, "I am in the right place," with help not only from the content, but from the tone set by the website's look and feel