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Does this sound familiar?
I built a website, promoted it on Facebook and am getting a lot of visitors, but no one is buying.
Yea, that happened to me, too. When I first launched my business on BigCommerce, I had the site up and running rather easily. It looked the way I wanted it to. It worked the way I wanted it to. All I had to do, I thought, was get traffic there and presto: I’d have revenue coming in.
That isn’t how it happened at all.
When real visitors landed on my site –– pushed there by real advertising dollars I had spent on Facebook –– none of them were turning into real revenue. That’s when I realized I had more work to do. Building a profitable business isn’t just about setting it up well, it looking nice and then driving traffic to it. Instead, those are just the very first steps.
There are nuances to earning that sale –– what we will call “conversion” from here on out –– that are crucial for all business owners to know. And conversion doesn’t just happen: you need to optimize for it.
This applies whether you are just starting up and running the whole show yourself, or if you are an ecommerce manager or marketing director who has signed up to hit massive goals and KPIs for the year.
First, let’s begin by defining a conversion –– which often has a different definition business to business.
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What is a conversion?
When you are looking to increase your conversion rate, you need to know your end goal. Determine what a “conversion” means to your business.
- Do you need more ecommerce sales?
- Need to grow your email list?
- Get more visibility for your brand?
This guide covers how to increase ecommerce conversion rates on your site. Each of the bullets above are worth a guide all their own (the links of which above will get you on the right track).
“Conversion” is such a broad topic because it can be impacted by every aspect of the user experience on your site. Conversion rate optimization is the process of improving the shopping experience to drive a specific KPI — usually, sales.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) can be conducted on landing pages, category pages, or any other customer touchpoint.
What is a good ecommerce conversion rate?
Average ecommerce conversion rates are 1% - 2%. Even if you are doing everything right, you can still expect to win the sale around 2% of the time.
The following 28 steps are what helped me to reach 2% conversion on my own site. The outcome of these steps is measured by conversion rate, but in reality they all made a small, incremental improvement to the overall shopping experience.
A 2%+ conversion rate should be the baseline goal for your online store. Once you hit that and are doing all 28 of the below effectively, then you can move onto more advanced conversion rate tactics.
How do you calculate conversion rate for an ecommerce website?
A quick example: If your online store is getting 5,000 visitors and 50 conversions for a set period, that means your store’s conversion rate is 1%. Simple as that! Divide conversion into visitors and you have conversion rate.
Most analytics tools provide conversion rate in any segmentation of the data, which we’ll get into in the sections below.
Before we go through what to do to increase conversions, we need to know exactly what your current visitors are doing, where they are getting stuck and how they interact with your website.
Of course when experts talk about increasing conversions you will hear a common theme:
Test, test, test.
I am all for testing. However, it is important to know what are your current conversion issues are and understand the basics before you can know what you should test.
Step 1: Understand Your Current Conversion Issues
There are some invaluable and very useful tools to help analyze your current conversion rate issues. The following five are my personal favorite conversion analysis tools.
This is an amazing tool that will let you record every move your visitors make on your website. It will show you the users IP Address, location started page, where they came from and how long they stayed.
Sign up for an account and put a script tag on your site to start the session recording process. There is a free version that allows you 100 recorded sessions per month if you just want to get a feel for what your users are doing. Just add a script tag to your website and then login to your Inspectlet account. Click on a session to see the recording of each user’s interactivity on your website.
Mixpanel allows you to view your website visitors’ actions by placing event catching tags on various elements of your ecommerce website. This will not record like Inspectlet does, but it will give you a very detailed snapshot of what is happening based on where users click, how many times, etc.
This will help you determine how useful certain form fields are or how important certain sections of your website are to users. You can also setup A/B testing to determine which layouts and fields convert better. This mixpanel account shows a website I worked on and tracked various button clicks. This showed me what users were clicking on most which helped me tweak the form and content — a necessity for effective conversion rate optimization.
CrazyEgg is an eye tracking tool that lets you see where users are scrolling and interacting based on heatmaps, scrollmaps and overlay tools.
The confetti type view in crazyegg will show you everywhere users have clicked on your landing page and the colors signify greater or fewer clicks. Heatmap analysis helps you understand what users do once they get to your site, oftentimes unveiling opportunities to make certain aspects of a page easier to navigate.
Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools
For most websites, I suggest setting up Google Analytics or something equivalent. This gives you a great view into your website visitors including:
- How visitors found your website: This could be from keyword searches in google, referral websites or direct visits.
- How long visitors stay on your website
- Where the visitors are from
- If the visitors are returning or new
- What browser, operating system and if the visitor used a mobile device or desktop/laptop
- How many visitors converted (based on goals setup) and the interaction that lead to the conversion
- Link to your Google Adwords campaign to track paid traffic as well
Set Up Google Analytics with BigCommerce
Google Search Console will gives you a peek at what keywords users are typing to find your website (if they click on your website or not). It also shows you various errors that may affect your website rankings such as slow loading pages, broken links, etc.
Verify Your Site with Google
Be sure to verify your site with Google to enable Google Search Console tools.
If you have your store running on BigCommerce, the platform has an Analytics section in the administration panel that shows all abandoned carts including what products were in the cart at the time of abandonment.
There are also analytics on In-Store Searches that will show you what customers are typing into the built-in BigCommerce search tool. This underutilized conversion optimization tactic helps you bridge the gap between what your customers are looking for and your on-site language and content.
Look at keywords your potential customers are searching for that *are not* showing up. This can help you determine what you need to add into the store, for example.
BigCommerce Analytics has multiple other Analytics dashboard, but they are most useful when you have customers. The two above will help you diagnose conversion problems without customers.
There are a few other great tools out there, but this should be more than enough to get visitor interaction information to figure out where your website is lacking or excelling in regards to conversion rates.
Step Two: Boost Your Conversion Rate
1. Use high quality product images
Think about what you want to see when you are shopping. When you are shopping online you can’t touch the product or put it on. The best thing you can do is to show as detailed an image as possible so that the customer knows exactly what they are getting. I suggest using as high quality images as possible depending on how close you want customers to zoom into the image.
How to Master Product Photography on a Tight Budget
2. Offer Free Shipping
I am not 100% sure why this is such a big deal, but it is. Blame it on Amazon –– everyone does. But facts are facts and everyone likes to think they are getting a deal. Offering free shipping makes customers feel like they are getting some sort of deal even if they aren’t.
Think you can’t offer free shipping? Keep in mind that this is often a psychological game. Increase your product prices to cover shipping cost if that’s what needs to be done.
Is Free Shipping Really Sustainable?
The experts over at ShipperHQ say, “Absolutely.” Here’s how to do it.
3. Use Coupon Codes
Create coupon codes that customers can use at checkout to get a specific amount off or a percentage of the purchase.
4. Adjust Product Prices
If you are selling brand name items that a lot of other stores offer, unfortunately you might have to price your products at or below the average price in order to compete. Be sure to adjust your prices frequently to see what resonates. Also know that the quality of your marketing and imagery will heavily influence the price someone is willing to pay.
Fitness brands like Lululemon and Outdoor Voices have done this extremely well. Just check out the article in the New Yorker praising Outdoor Voices’ products. They have clearly targeted the right audience. Market your brand to the right audience, with the right messaging and the right imagery, and the revenue will come in.
We De-mystified Product Pricing
Why value-based pricing works best (both for your customer and your bottom line).
5. Tweak your ecommerce checkout process
If your store checkout process is too long, complicated or unconventional, you may lose a lot of customers right as they are ready to buy. This crucial step in the funnel is where a lot of your split testing, A/B tests and site tweaks should take place.
Of course, there are industry standards for most hosted ecommerce platforms such as BigCommerce, but you may still need to tweak the process based on your customers.
For example, BigCommerce offers an optimized checkout out-of-the-box that is technically a single page (with a few drop downs and a persistent view of the product(s) being bought).
Out-of-the-box optimized checkout example.
Some brands like to take this even further and build off that optimized checkout to create a true one-page checkout where you can see the entire checkout process when you land on the page. Multiple BigCommerce partners can help you skin this as needed.
One page checkout skin example, powered by Intuit Solutions.
6. Use cart abandonment software
If you are getting a lot of abandoned carts –– i.e. Someone lands on your site, puts an item in the cart and then leaves –– then abandoned cart software can greatly increase your store conversion rates.
This software works with users that have added items to their shopping cart, entered their email and details and then left your store. Some ecommerce platforms offer this software free as part of the store functionality. Thankfully, BigCommerce is one of those.
Here’s an example of the first email from a BigCommerce customer after an abandoned cart.
Their software allows you to create follow-up emails that will send the user an email with their cart contents as well as allow you to give them a coupon code to get a discount as an incentive to complete their order. Decreasing abandonment rate should be a high priority for online store owners, since this cohort of users have demonstrated interest — and abandonment is often between 60 and 80%.
The success of this software is different for every store, but there is no doubt that it helps pretty much 100% of ecommerce stores that use it. Some stores see as much as a 30% increase in their website conversion rates. Acting on cart abandonment by itself can take you from low to average conversion rate.
Abandoned Cart Calculator
Use this Abandoned Cart Calculator to see how much more revenue you could be making.
7. Use live chat software
I have had mixed results with this. I believe this can increase conversions, but I would suggest that if you choose to use live chat software if you are truly available during business hours to immediately respond to customers that request a chat.
Do not let the software go into the mode that says you are currently unavailable and that they can leave a message. That sends a bad signal. It would be better to not implement at all if you can’t be there when they want to chat.
What this does though is build a direct communication line from your potential customer to you. Creating a real human connection will help build trust for this purchase as well as lifetime loyalty in the future.
Get a Live Chart Software App Now
8. Let customers know your ecommerce store is safe
This is subtle, but a really big deal. You need to build a certain level of trust in a short amount of time for customers to be willing to enter their credit card information on your website. Split tests have shown that trust signals can significantly increase conversion — so don't miss out.
Finding ways to enhance your on-site trust and credibility should be the basis for many of your conversion rate optimization activities.
Customers want to know that they are dealing with a legitimate store that has industry standard security measures in place that ensures them their credit card information will be protected. Here are a few things that help:
- Install SSL at checkout (out-of-the-box on most ecommerce platforms) and site wide if possible.
- Show small images of credit cards, PayPal and other payment options as a visual signal that you use customer-trust payment options.
- Display some sort of McAfee, GeoTrust or other security badges, and make sure that you actually have an active account with them. Don’t just add an image if you aren’t truly secure.
SSL How You Need It
In addition to the shared SSL certificate used by all BigCommerce stores, BigCommerce also offers dedicated SSL certificates verified by GeoTrust.
9. Setup structure so visitors can easily find products
Structure your product categories in a logical manner, but make sure you use as few levels as possible to allow a user to reach a product as fast as possible.
I simplified mine like the above. Oftentimes, it is also necessary to allow customers to Shop by Color or other various fields.
Setup a rotating banner to showcase top products. Here is an example from Trust the Bum.
Rotating image 1
Rotating image 2
Rotating image 3
Also, implement a website search to allow customers to find products easily. The faster a visitor can find a product, the more likely they are to buy from you.
10. Make your checkout form easy to understand
Make sure that everything on your checkout form is completely understood, such as CVV and input formats. In fact, if you can, I would have the fields limit only what can be typed into certain fields to make it easier for users.
So, when a user types a credit card number, format it for them as they go along to make it easier to read and harder to mess up.
In a date field, don’t let the user type, but have a date picker or dropdown.
The user is already reluctant to enter their personal credit/debit card info already. Don’t give them any reason to feel uncomfortable or make it hard for them to check out.
Digital wallets help tremendously with this. Digital wallets are payment processors like PayPal Express, Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, and others. These systems allow users to sign in with their account information and then pre-populates everything for them. It is faster for them, and more secure for everyone.
11. Always show shopping cart contents
Show a shopping cart icon with a link to get to it after the user has entered an item into the cart. If they can’t find the cart they can’t checkout.
Also, be sure to show customers what they are actually buying as they checkout. As mentioned earlier, BigCommerce’s optimized checkout does this out of the box.
Example of an out-of-the-box checkout for BigCommerce customers.
12. Let customers checkout as guests
Allow users to checkout without signing up for an account. You will have their name and email address when they buy anyway. Forcing the user to register is just giving them another reason to leave your store.
See image above to see how that works.
13. Give detailed product descriptions
Make sure you describe the product in great detail so the customer knows exactly what they are getting. Remember, they can’t touch the product and they are not in a store where they can ask questions. This will also prevent returns.
How to Write Product Descriptions That Grow Sales
Your step-by-step guide to 2x growth via product descriptions alone.
Even better: add a product video or demonstration.
All of Sierra Designs’ products have videos featured on their product page showing the product off and in use.
All of this helps to build your SEO ranking as well –– so it is beneficial for your for multiple reasons.
14. Allow customers to review products
Why do so many people buy from Amazon? Because of the reviews.
Remember the last time you went to buy a product online. Did you search for reviews before buying? I bet you did.
You could even offer customers a coupon code or other type of incentive next time they purchase as a reward for providing a review. Also, ask the customer to voice any complaints to you so you have the opportunity to address any issues as this will help you receive more positive reviews.
Generate 62% More Revenue
Product reviews and testimonials are powerful. Here’s how to use them to sell more.
15. Make your “Add to Cart” and “Checkout” buttons prevalent
Sometimes a user is thinking of buying and can be further prompted to do so by an actionable button that says exactly what to do and that stands out from all the other surrounding text and images. The absence of these buttons is often the result of marketers overthinking things. As long as you're not obnoxiously hitting people over the head with CTAs, I'd worry first about losing conversion by not making these buttons easy to access. BigCommerce now offers a customizable Buy Button that you can easily add to your site to gain those conversions.
“Simply changing our CTA from black to a blue color has reduced abandoned carts by up to 50%”
16. Provide product testimonials if applicable
Ever heard the statement ‘Facts Tell, but Stories Sell’? Well, it’s true. Testimonials are way more powerful than just a list of features.
Prove your product works by using real testimonials. Start by offering your product for review to prominent review websites (that give honest reviews) and use this as a starting point for your testimonials.
Hint –– press reviews counts!
17. Have a great product return policy
Most customers (over 50%) will read the return policy before buying. Don’t over-promise here, but definitely make it as painless and as easy as possible for customers to return products (within reason). This may not sound like conversion optimization, but is another example of basic business practices acting as CRO.
How to Create a Return Policy That Sells
Customer-first, but within reason. Here’s how to strike the balance.
18. Optimize for mobile devices
Your ecommerce store needs to work on mobile devices. Hosted stores such as BigCommerce support this out of the box, but you may need to tweak how it looks and works on a mobile device for your own specific business needs.
Mobile Responsive Out-of-the-Box
19. Have a phone number
You can buy a toll-free phone number for fairly cheap using services such as tollfreeforwarding.com (which is where I bought my number for FabFutons.com).
I would also suggest having a professional record the phone menu or voicemail for you if you are a smaller store so that you can project a more professional image and make customers feel more comfortable buying from you.
You can find professional voice over freelancers on Fiverr.com and UpWork.com. I have personally used and recommend Fiverr.com.
20. Provide valuable content
Write useful and valuable content to supplement your products. The more value and information you can provide your customer, the more likely they are to buy from you (as opposed to a competitor that does not offer as much).
This includes writing valuable content on your product landing pages, but also using blog content to educate, inform and engage your target audience. This will also help to increase organic SEO traffic.
Again, not traditional conversion rate optimization, but still moves the needle.
See below how Kap7 uses content about water polo drills and tips to supplement their expertise in water polo swimwear.
21. Try and catch customers before they leave
Once a customer leaves, they are most likely going to buy from somewhere else.
While I hate pop ups as much as the next guy, but the last chance you have to catch a potential customer is the moment they are trying to exit your website.
You can use software such as MaxTraffic, OptiMonk, Sleeknote, Sumome or OptinMonster. Your goal here is to collect an email and drive your subscription base. Your subscription base (whether they are customers or not) are people you do not have to spend money on to advertise or market to –– because you can send them an email, instead. You want that list to be as large and engaged (i.e. actively opening the emails) as possible.
Email Marketing Integrations
22. Grab visitors’ attention quickly
If you can’t grab the visitor’s attention in the first 3 seconds, then you probably have lost them.
Images will be the first thing someone sees and uses to judge a website subconsciously. Make sure if you are going to use large images on the homepage to choose carefully and try to catch the visitors attention in a positive way.
How to Use Visual Merchandising to Drive Engagement
Merchandising isn’t just for brick-and-mortars. Here’s how to merchandise your site to drive sales.
23. Use “Calls to Action” sparingly
Don’t overwhelm a visitor with too many options and CTAs on one screen. I suggest having an ‘Add to Wishlist’, ‘Share Icons’, ‘Add to Cart’, ‘Learn More’, etc all in the same area on the same page.
Drive the user to the call-to-action that you want them to perform on that page. If they are on a product page, then use ‘Add to Cart’. If they are on the Cart page use: ‘Proceed to Checkout’.
See how dozens of other stores use CTAs to earn more revenue with each visit.
24. Use a tripwire offer
A tripwire is a low-cost almost undeniable deal to get a visitor to purchase from you.
This does two things:
- First, it allows you to “get the money flowing” as perfected by American Pickers. This builds trust.
- The second thing is does is allow you to offer a higher priced / upsell to the current customer. You can now approach them as a customer and treat them as such. Give them special treatment and offer them something they cannot get as a normal visitor. This is just a longer process of building trust. You can also use this as a way to grow your ecommerce email list, which allows you to sell to the list at any time even if you don’t try and sell them something immediately.
The Badass Beard Care team was done this perfectly. They offer a free sample of the product in an ad on Facebook. The customer only pays for shipping. This gets the product in the customer’s hand, and gets that customer’s information to the marketing gurus at Badass Beard Care.
25. Do small incremental changes
When tweaking your website, be sure to do small changes so you can test and measure what changes helped or hurt your conversion rates.
26. Dare to be different
Explain why a visitor should buy from you. What makes you different from all the others selling the same products. What is your Unique Value Proposition. Why would I buy from you?
The Complete Guide to Writing Copy That Sells
Be funny. Be smart. Be you! Otherwise –– why should someone shop with you over anyone else?
27. Spell check
Yes, you read that right. Make sure you spell everything correctly. Not doing this may hurt your sales as people will lose confidence and trust in your company.
28. Measure your ecommerce conversion rate optimization success
There are a couple of ways to make sure your tweaks and changes are working. The obvious one is to verify that your conversion rates are increasing.
BigCommerce tracks your store's conversion rates day-over-day, week-over-week, month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter, year-over-year and in any customizable way you want to see it. You can view it easily on your dashboard, or on the Analytics Dashboard.
There is more than just increasing conversions, though, as you want to make sure your value per customer or bottom line is increasing as well.
It’s more important to know what you are going to do with the traffic you receive than to just try and always get more traffic. Make the most of what you already have and then push for more traffic.
Step 3: What to Do With Your New Customers
The conversion optimization game doesn’t end when you make a first sale. It doesn’t end when your make your 100th sale either. It’s great that you now have customers, but now is the time you go from that 2% conversion rate to something much higher.
Small tweaks can seriously boost your bottom line, and while your front-end conversion rate is now optimized for 2% conversion, and getting you customers, it’s time to optimize your back-end conversion rate. This means you’ll now want to focus on driving repeat purchases in a predictable way.
Why predictable? Because once you have a baseline average conversion rate for your site and a steady repeat purchase rate from already existing customers –– you can better determine how much to spend on advertising to win a customer over. This is because your ROAS (return on ad spend) lowers as repeat purchases increase.
Ecommerce expert Bryan Bowman calls this the “Value Ladder.”
At this year’s PROSPER Show in Las Vegas, he gave a fantastic presentation about how to build a value ladder, beginning with free educational content (i.e. your blog) and moving people up the awareness ladder to increased sales with your brand. Here is how he drew it out.
Literally, he hand drew it.
Here are the steps he described –– paraphrased here –– to build a value ladder.
The Free Stage
Potential customers begin at an unaware stage. They don’t know they are looking for your product. You must educate them –– in a non-salesy way. If you are selling fishing lures, for instance, start with content about, “Seven Reason Why Your Last Fishing Trip Wasn’t Successful.” Maybe only one of those reasons is fishing lures.
At this stage, work to capture emails via pop ups as described below, or retarget visitors with ads to pull them back to the site. They are now aware they might have a fishing lure problem.
The $ Stage
In this first conversion stage (if you are measuring conversions as a sale), a customer may only be comfortable enough with your brand to buy something small. Offer an inexpensive lure that can help solve their problem as a tester. This is similar to the Badass Beard Care “free product” offer mentioned earlier.
At this point, you will have the customer’s email and can begin using an email nurture stream, rather than additional advertising dollars to continue them up the value ladder.
The $$ Stage
Now, they have tried your lure and like it. Offer them a subscription service to multiple lures, or monthly lures. Or, offer them a bundle. Either way, you are moving them up the value ladder.
The $$$ Stage
Often, each stage will require a new “awareness” problem. For instance, say you now want to sell someone a tackle box for all their new lures. First, you have to educate them on why their current tackle box isn’t fitting the bill.
In this way, the value ladder often starts over. The difference, however, is that you already have the customer’s business and email address. You don’t need to re-advertise to them. You just need to keep them engaged with your brand and content via email nurture streams –– and lead them down a new, higher cost funnel.
The $$$$+ Stages
At this point, your ecommerce business is more mature and it may make sense to partner with other brands to offer fishing trips (for example) to your audience and move them even further up both the value and engagement ladder. This is where your big ticket item purchases will occur –– after someone has purchased with you and trusts your brand.
Other Metrics to Help Measure Conversion
Beyond how well your store converts there are a few other metrics that matter when discussing conversion. That’s because they are indicative of engaged or disengaged user behavior. Moving these metric sin the right direction will generally help your overall store conversion rate.
- Bounce Rate is the percentage of people who leave after viewing a single page. A high bounce rate is not a good thing – for some reason (or reasons), people aren’t finding what they’re looking for on your store, so they are leaving immediately after landing on your site.
- Exit Rate, often confused with bounce rate, is the percentage of people who leave after viewing the page. Your exit rate lets you know the last page that users view before they move on. A very high exit rate on a specific page can be a red flag — this is one metric you can look to drive down with landing page optimization.
- Click through rate: The number of people who click a link to your website from an ad or email. Optimization for AdWords or email marketing campaigns often focuses on getting more users to click through to your website and take an action — or even engage on social media.
You can find these metrics in your Google Analytics account under “Behavior > Overview”
- Average Session Duration is an engagement metric that gives you a general idea of how long people are sticking around your site. A high bounce rate means a low average time on site — visitors aren’t sticking around long enough to do whatever it is you want them to do (convert).
- Average Page Depth (AKA Pages per Session in Google Analytics) is an engagement metric that tells you how many pages a potential shopper visited before leaving. This metric is simply total pageviews per session duration. Note that more page views can mean more engagement but also can mean a lack of clarity in your conversion funnel if no conversion is present.
You can find these metrics in your Google Analytics account under “Audience > Overview”.
The value ladder isn’t perfect for everyone, but it does do a great job at explaining why it is important for you to think through what you will do with your customer once you get them in. Driving repeat business is extremely valuable, both in terms of revenue as well as brand engagement and interaction. It is how you actually build a brand –– not just a flash sale site.
But, before you can begin on the value ladder, it is important that you first make sure your website is converting at a baseline level of 1-2%. The 28 steps mention in here will help you to accomplish that and not waste precious advertising dollars.
Have questions? Leave them in the comments below!
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