4 Steps to Setting Better Conversion Optimization Goals


Ever failed to stick to a New Year’s resolution, and then blame yourself for poor willpower? Well, it may not be your will that’s to blame—it may simply be the way you phrased your resolution. And the same could be said about the goals you have for your website. As we enter a new year, if one of your intentions for 2010 is to improve your website’s conversion performance, then here are some suggestions to help you set realistic and rewarding conversion goals.

1. Treat opportunities like problems

What the heck do I mean by this? Aren’t we supposed to look at it the other way around, seeing problems as opportunities for growth, learning, and all that good stuff?

The problem (if I dare say it) with website opportunities is that they don’t get the same fervent attention that problems do. Individuals and businesses alike are wired to be reactive. A pipe bursts, we call the plumber. We see an opportunity to improve our bathing experience by installing an on-demand water heater, however, and we put it off. After all, our old water heater isn’t broken, is it?

Problems are highly motivating and actionable. If we’re in pain because DirecTV went out in the middle of the SuperBowl (knock on wood), we desperately want a solution. But the opportunity of an underperforming website? One that could, with some changes, increase its sales by 20%? That’s not as easy to see as an action item. We call it a “missed opportunity,” instead of a “problem” or a “failure,” making it sound almost acceptable to rest on our online laurels as long as the basics—such as our site being live and the navigation buttons all linking correctly—are in place.

But missed opportunities ARE a problem for websites, one that puts companies behind the competitive curve, invisibly draining them of resources and customers. What’s needed is a permanent change in our approach to opportunities, so we treat them with the same seriousness and focus as we do our website problems.

Many of our clients at CLM understand this at a deep level, but we’re often called to make a business case to senior executives who aren’t very familiar with the web or its opportunities. This is when scenario modeling comes in handy. There’s nothing like seeing what you’re missing, to make the problem clear.

Model that missed opportunity

I’ll share a simplified example from a recent project:

For this particular website, the overall site conversion rate (calculated for modeling purposes as number of sales/total unique site visits)—was 0.33%. Even at this low conversion rate, though, the site was doing quite well—the average monthly revenue was over $3 million. So there was no glaring “problem” here. The company executives weren’t feeling any pain.

But then we modeled out the potential financial impact of improvements to the site. A mere 3% improvement to the conversion rate—essentially from 0.33% to 0.34% – would add over $98,000/month in revenue. 5% would add $164,000/month. After having reviewed the site, we felt that a 20% improvement was easily within the client’s reach, which would add $655,000/month in revenue.

Needless to say, spelling out the opportunity with hard numbers made it much easier to see. The client executive team quickly reclassified the site’s underperformance as a “problem” to focus on and fix.

2. Make it clear and specific

Businessman with darts outdoors

Clarity: I recently re-read “The Logic of Failure,” in which the author, Dietrich Dörner, explores the reasons why failure happens, especially when people are dealing with complex, dynamic situations. It turns out one of the most common, fundamental reasons for failure is quite simple—it’s having an unclear, imprecise goal statement.

Our tendency, as humans generally, is to be vague when stating goals. “I resolve to get healthier,” we say at New Year’s. “I want my site to be more profitable,” we decide after looking at the last quarterly statement. Both of which are nice intentions, but far too vague to be useful as goals. Making broad comparative statements like that shows we don’t really know what we want, we just, as Dörner puts it, “…know it should be ‘different’ from the present state.”

In order to be clear, a goal statement must define the criteria we’ll use to measure success, for example: “Increase my website’s revenue by 10%.” This is clearer, but still not specific enough.

Specificity: For website optimization goals, being specific means pinning down the who, what and when:

  • Who—what traffic segment(s), exactly, will this goal apply to? All visitors equally? Just PPC traffic?
  • What—which product categories, services, or business unit will this apply to? Only computer hardware?
  • When—What time periods will be compared?
  • When (again)—what is the target goal completion date? Does this goal apply to a particular season, holiday, or scheduled marketing push?

OK, so with all of that in mind, now let’s compare three example goal statements.

  • Standard: “I want my site to be more profitable.”
  • Clear: “My goal is to increase my website’s revenue by 10%.”
  • Clear and Specific: “My goal is to increase my web-sourced revenue 10% YoY across all products, for traffic from our weekly promotional email blast.”

Of the three, the last one is most likely to set you up for success.

3. Break it down

To successfully address a large, complex goal such as making a website more profitable, we need to break it down into smaller components. We’re looking for the elements of the goal that have “handles”—we can “grab” them and make changes to them.

Let’s take as an example our “clear and specific” goal statement above. If we ask ourselves, “what pieces of this goal can we affect?” a number of individual components appear, including:

  • The email blast audience, or mailing list.
  • The timing and frequency of the email blast.
  • The email blast itself. Its content, design, call to action, etc. would all be elements to list as areas for potential improvement.
  • The initial landing experience—its call to action, content, interactivity, design, etc.
  • An associated form or process, such as a purchase or registration process.
  • The tracking methods used (to track and confirm various conversion actions)

Once we’ve identified our project handles, we can evaluate, prioritize and schedule changes to them individually based on potential business impact.

4. Prioritize and Schedule

Prioritizing conversion optimization efforts is a step sometimes fraught with politics and misconceptions, and really deserves at least one full article devoted to it. In a perfect world, our clients and our companies would make these decisions pragmatically and rationally, based on the numbers, like the following.



  • Dress up the home page with some cool Ajax ducks: Projected $35,000 loss
  • Fiddle around with a long-tail-keyword landing page: Projected $5,000 gain sometime next year
  • Improve shopping cart conversion rate: Projected $50,000/month gain starting next month

Rational decision: Start with the cart.

But as we all know, that’s not always the way it goes. Sometimes the homepage gets flying ducks while the shopping cart is left to drop conversions like they were hot potatoes. We can aim higher, though.

To wrap up, a few questions to help with prioritizing optimization projects:

  • Can we track and measure results? Without this, there’s no way to show success and gain support for other, similar projects.
  • Are resources available to make the improvements? If so, what is the estimated cost?
  • What is the projected financial return—both immediate and over time?
  • Are there outside scheduling considerations, such as an upcoming advertising campaign?

Here’s wishing you many successful conversion optimization projects in 2010!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is co-author of the popular book Web Design for ROI and VP UX of Closed Loop Marketing, an online marketing agency that's been making websites more profitable since 2001.

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  • http://www.hiconversion.com zagano

    Thanks for making it so obvious: small increases in conversion rate can deliver a huge impact to the bottom line.

    We have developed a complete article dedicated to the same topic: http://hiconversion.net/business-tactics/the-business-case-for-conversion-rate-optimization-cro/.

    So, how is it possible that online marketers are still obsessed with counting visitors instead of converting them into sales?

  • http://www.webnabit.com mwheeler

    Nice article. To answer Zaganos question, I believe because every hit is a potential sale. Without traffic there can be no sale. The product or service should do the selling.

  • http://searchengineland.com Sandra Niehaus

    Hi zagano, thanks for spreading the word further with your article. One reason we run into for many marketers’ obsession with visit count is that it’s simply an easier metric to report on than conversion rate. Unless the site generates revenue through ad impressions, though, the pure visit count metric can really lead you down the wrong path, because it encourages you to treat all your visitors the same. Site owners should be segmenting their traffic and addressing each audience (and marketing channel) individually.

  • http://searchengineland.com Sandra Niehaus

    Hey mwheeler, That’s a very good point – no traffic, no sales. Of course, you also want your website to be as effective a ‘salesman’ as possible.

  • http://austinsearchengineoptimization.net austinseonet

    Great post. A little tip: Your call to action should be prominently displayed on every page of your site. If you don’t know where you want you users ending up, then you haven’t put enough thought into your site.


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