For eCommerce Conversion Optimization, A Data-Driven Strategy Is Key

If you're like the majority of site owners, then you're probably not satisfied with your eCommerce store's conversion rate. According to eConsultancy, only 22% of companies are satisfied, and that number has been trending downward for the past four years.

To make matters worse, companies say that conversion rates are getting harder to improve. The percentage of website owners who were unable to increase conversion rates has risen by 17% since 2010.

All the while, the importance of conversion optimization has been steadily increasing, and it's now prioritized above social media marketing and brand building, and tied with content marketing, as seen in a recent Digital Trends Report from eConsultancy.

There is something wrong with this picture. Why are companies struggling to make improvements to this vital part of their marketing plan?

Marketer gut feelings and so-called "best practices" are to blame

Does your website have a carousel or "slider" on the homepage? Do you prominently feature your site security badge? Scientific testing by WiderFunnel has shown that both of these "best practices" can actually hurt your conversions. While they may seem like an obvious solution to the problem of how to feature several important offers, homepage carousels have proven to hurt conversions rates in many cases. The prominent site security badge can be a problem when it focuses your customers on security, rather than completing their purchase. So why do so many businesses emphasize them? Best practices and gut feelings.

You should base your strategy on scientific marketing instead. According to eConsultancy, when companies use a structured approach to conversion rate optimization, they are twice as likely to see increases in sales.

This should come as no surprise. The scientific method is the source of a lot of the world's knowledge. Advances in healthcare, education and technology did not come about by using gut intuition or best practices. Why would your website be any different?

But instead of embracing the scientific method when it comes to conversion optimization, 63% of companies are still relying on the habits they're used to, or the so-called "common sense" of their peers. This is your chance to break out and get ahead of the competition.

Marketing optimization testing makes best practices and gut feelings obsolete

The guiding principle to data-driven strategy is to let reality speak for itself and to use the data to inform future hypotheses.

At WiderFunnel, we ran a series of landing page optimization tests for WineExpress.com to see if big "Add to Cart" buttons really did a better job than small ones. Turns out, version A (small button) increased conversion rates by 5% while lifting revenue per visitor by 41%. In this case, the smaller button version won.

eCommerce Conversion Optimization

Here's another question: "Do WineExpress.com customers just prefer to be sold to subtly?" We tested whether removing a countdown timer for 99 cent shipping would help. Again, applying less marketing pressure helped increase conversion rates, this time by 7%. That is a marketing insight that can be used across their entire website and in their other marketing channels. Their target market and environment is unique and responds different than some others. If they'd just assumed that they knew what was best without using an iterative A/B testing strategy, they could have hurt their results.

eCommerce Conversion Optimization

How to use the scientific method to increase your conversion

The main issues with the "best practices" many websites employ are that they're not tailored to the individual business, or they're obsolete. Using the scientific method will ensure you're making website changes that really improve your business results.

Here are five steps to get started with conversion optimization testing.

  1. 1. Prioritize your testing opportunities
    There are three factors to consider when prioritizing where to test on your website:
    • Potential looks at the amount of improvement that can be made on each page
    • Importance looks at how valuable the traffic is to the pages
    • Ease refers to how complicated the test will be to implement

    Prioritizing the pages that rank highest in these three factors will focus your effort and give the best results.

  2. 2. Analyze your opportunities

    Use a conversion optimization framework like the LIFT Model to analyze your key pages and identify the conversion barriers.


    eCommerce Conversion Optimization

  3. 3. Develop hypotheses

    A LIFT analysis will identify lots of problems to fix, but don't just go ahead and fix them: Test them! Turn those weaknesses into strengths that you can test to improve your results.


    eCommerce Conversion Optimization

  4. 4. Create controlled tests that provide conversion rate lift and marketing insights

    Once you have your hypotheses, you need to test them. Use a control version to test a few variants at a time until you see clear results.

    eCommerce Conversion Optimization

  5. 5. Apply your new insights to future tests and other marketing channels

    The learning you get from conversion rate optimization can impact your entire marketing approach and will help you make better decisions throughout your business.

    One great optimization test to try: test your value proposition to learn the triggers that move your prospects to act.

    What are you waiting for?

    An added benefit to using a structured, data-driven approach is that it will also help you back up your strategy decisions to your company's leadership. Concrete numbers make a much better point than, "It seemed right," or "Everybody else does it," and they'll help you make a strong argument for the value of the work that you do - as well as boost your conversion rates!

    About The Author:
    was one of the first people to look at online content and say: "We should test that!" From that revelation he founded WiderFunnel - the marketing optimization agency that pioneered conversion rate optimization methods for companies such as Google, Electronic Arts, SAP, Shutterfly and BabyAge.com. He is the brains behind the LIFT™ and Kaizen™ methods and speaks at conferences and seminars around the world to evangelize how marketers should test their marketing to get more leads, sales and profit. Chris is author of the conversion optimization book, "You Should Test That!" published by Wiley Sybex in 2013.

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