How can I increase conversion rates?

The difference between online and offline conversion rates

Twice this week I have found myself talking about "conversion rates" and pointing out that online the average is around 2%. Essentially, this means that for every 100 people who visit a website only two of them will go on take some kind of action. Frankly, this is abysmal and online businesses should collectively be ashamed of this statistic.

If you ran a real world "bricks and mortar" store and your conversion rate was 2% you would not be able to afford to pay the rent. Typical retail conversion rates are 20% - ten times higher. And even that is poor. It means that eight out of every ten people that a shop engages with, who comes through the door, walks out without buying a thing. Sales assistants appear to have forgotten that the word "sales" is in their job title.

Online we are fooled into believing that a 2% conversion rate is OK. A High Street shop could get 1,000 visitors a week and get a conversion of 200 people. Online, 1,000 visitors is much easier to get, so a company could still get 200 conversions but needs 10,000 visitors. Indeed, check out what most businesses worry about in forums and business discussion groups and you'll find that "getting more traffic" is a frequent request. You only need more traffic if your conversion rates are low.

So, perhaps it is better to focus on increasing that 2% rate, rather than trying to get more visitors, most of whom will take no action. What you need is more action, not more visitors.

The first step in doing this is to decide the actions you want people to take. Start with the end in mind. Say, for instance, that you run an accountancy firm and that you want to sell a tax advice package. Your end goal is the "thank you" page when people buy that package. But to get them there you may need to get them to sign up to your newsletter first and then your newsletter may need several reminders about the package before people get prompted enough to go to the page where they buy it.

If you have a process like this for everything you want to happen with your website, you can then measure it. Our accountancy firm can analyse how many people who sign up for their newsletter eventually end up at the "thank you" page. Data can be collected to show how many reminders in the newsletter are necessary, or if they work at all. And once you have information like this you can then "tweak" your process taking people from sign up to thank you, so that you get more people at your final goal. In other words, by having a goal and collecting information about how people reach that goal, you can then ensure that more people get there. And in turn, that increases your conversion rate.

There are no fancy tricks to moving your average conversion rate upwards. It is down to planning the pathways you want people to take and then measuring everything possible so that you can then enhance things so that more people complete that pathway.

Simply having a website and hoping is hardly a strategic approach - yet you would be surprised at how common that is...! Planning routes through your website and measuring what happens will provide you with useful information to help you change things. Start with the end in mind.

WHAT I LEARNED THIS WEEK Just be polite - it takes no effort

Earlier this week I was at the London Book Fair, one of the most prestigious and important events in the publishing world, so you would expect businesses there to be “on the ball”.

Indeed that seemed to be the case shortly after I arrived. I had been walking around for about 10 minutes when through the throng of people in the aisles I heard someone shouting at me from behind. I turned to find a beaming smile from a publisher I know, but whom I hadn’t seen for a year or two. She said, “I saw you walk past a few minutes ago and I had to catch up with you. It’s so lovely to see you again. Have you got a minute or two to pop back to our stand?”

Of course, with a warm welcome like that, I immediately accepted her invitation and went to meet her colleagues and hear about the way the company was doing (very well, as it happens). After spending time at the stand, I headed off to find my way around the rest of the exhibition.

As I went past one exhibitor, I saw a catalogue that caught my eye and which I thought would be useful. As I picked it up a rather grumpy man from the company said, “You need to give me your business card if you want that.” No smile, no hello, no positive vibes at all. I handed him my business card, which he merely put in his pocket without looking at it and then turned and walked away.

Now I wonder which company I’ll be doing business with in the future. Manners – it doesn’t take much to be polite - and it can earn business.

Graham Jones

About Graham Jones Graham Jones is a professional speaker, psychologist, consultant and author who specialises in the way people use the Internet.

The Corporate Toolbox