Although the term “conversion” is typically considered synonymous with sales, on the Web the concept covers plenty more. Understanding how to recognize, encourage, and measure nonsales conversions can be a major boost to marketing organizations.
Broadly, a conversion is a measurable event that moves a subject toward a desired goal. It can happen on a Web site, Facebook (such as a “like”), Twitter (retweeting), or a non-online medium, such as a newspaper or magazine (sending in a response card). But however a conversion happens, it can be both tracked and analyzed, with the resulting information used to improve a marketing campaign.
In some cases, the purpose of a campaign isn't to generate sales, but to encourage some other form of action. “Blood banks recruit donors,” Tom Williams, founder and president of Inno Gage, a Columbus, Ohio-based consulting firm, told CMO.com. “They never know when the blood bank is going to need help. Their blog is there to generate top-of-mind in potential donors.”
This is only one example of a nonsales conversion. Others include getting people to sign petitions or volunteer for a political campaign.
And in some cases, online sales aren't practical. “For many of our clients, online sales just isn't an option,” Alex Hanson, PPC manager at Needham, Mass.-based marketing consultancy inSegment, told CMO.com. “For example, a B2B software company might have multiple licensing structures, modular software to create a custom package, and different pricing for virtualized machines. The sale can only happen over the phone or in person. Web site conversion becomes about lead generation in these cases.”
As a result, getting and measuring conversions is not easy. “There are so many different types of conversions that matter, and you have to keep all those things in mind,” said Ada Pally, digital marketing manager at Shopify, in an interview with CMO.com. “It's not just a single funnel. People might convert through a Web site, Facebook, or a brick-and-mortar store. Now they have those different options.”
And even on sales-oriented Web sites, conversion might mean more than a purchase. Many sites have a multistep process—the proverbial “funnel”--that the typical customer goes through before purchasing. This could include requesting more information, signing up for a newsletter or whitepaper, or even calling the company.
No matter how you define conversions, the first step is, of course, getting them. Companies put a lot of time, money, and ingenuity into getting people to convert. But it's not easy.
Part of a successful conversion strategy, especially on the Web, is to make the desired action as easy as possible. “Contact forms should exist on the page,” said Matt Fogel, vice president of Agendize Services, in an interview with CMO.com. “It's also important to reduce the clicks necessary to get to the conversion. One click if you can do it, but not more than two. We're a very impatient society these days.”
In Agendize Services’ work with clients, it has found that offering users different ways to convert helps to increases the rate of conversions, Fogel said. “In giving different ways to covert, you produce a greater opportunities for that ultimate sale,” he said.
With a Web site, in particular, this means the design has to be a balancing act. Not all visitors to a Web site are immediately ready to move to conversion, and it's important to provide paths for both the conversion-ready and those who are looking for more information.
“A lot of folks focus on transactions and making the path to purchase as short and sweet as possible,” David Nickelson, director of digital engagement at Siteworkx, a Reston, Va.-based consultancy, told CMO.com. “They have as few clicks as possible and as little information as possible.”
But, Nickelson said, “That presumes your visitors want to buy or are easily persuaded to buy by making the process easy. [That’s fine] in cases where you've got folks who have done a lot of research on the product that works. But a lot of times that's not how people really shop. They're generally starting somewhere closer to a learning process. You need to build a level of trust and information.”
Part of this preconversion process is building trust with the visitor. “One of the most important factors is trust,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, people buy from people. Especially in business-to-business situations, the trust factor is absolutely enormous, and building that credibility and trust is vital.”
How to build that trust.
One way to build that trust is by providing visitors with trustworthy information. “Giving people high-quality information on each interaction in the channel is important,” said Mitch Lieberman, vice president of product marketing at Chicago marketing firm Sword Ciboodle, in an interview with CMO.com. “Quality information, independent of channel, has been shown to be among the most important conversion criteria. [Visitors] will judge you hardest on quality of information. It's just too easy to find a secondary or tertiary source.”
Because visitors are in different stages of the preconversion process when they visit a site, some marketers recommend providing multiple pathways through the site to serve different customers. “In each case, we'll construct a persona for each one of these groups,” Nickelson said. “Then we start to suggest engagement pathways as they work their way through the site. Depending on the persona, they may take different paths through site.”
One other consideration is that not all your visitors are going to hit your landing page first. They could find you through a search or some other method that brings them to another page on your site. “It used to be everyone came in on your home page, and you had to make sure your foyer was clean and all the brass polished,” Nickelson said. “Now people come in through second-floor bathrooms or the study--and it had better be clean.”
As a result, he added, “There may be smaller pages that actually have higher conversion rates. You need to be focusing how to maximize those pages.”
Quality Versus Quantity
According to most experts in conversion, there is an inverse correlation between the quantity of leads a campaign generates and their quality.
“Quality of conversions and the number of conversions are inversely proportional,” Adam Blitzer, chief operating officer and co-founder of Atlanta consultancy Pardot, told CMO.com, expressing a sentiment echoed by many of those interviewed.
That’s because getting quality conversions usually means getting more information from visitors. But the more information you ask for, the less likely the visitor is to complete the conversion.
“You see companies ask for everything under sun,” Blitzer said. “We tell them only to ask for what they'll immediately use.”
A compromise technique is what Blitzer calls “progressive profiling.” “If they have another interaction with you, go to another form instead of asking for information they already gave you already,” Blitzer said. “Only ask for one additional field. It's a nice way to get a lot of data about someone without scaring them away with an overly long form.”
The issue of quality versus quantity is important when deciding how to structure your site. Often the decision turns on how much effort is needed to follow up on the conversion. If the conversion leads immediately to a sales call or other intensive step, then the quality of conversion is likely to be more important. If the follow-up is cheap, such as adding a name to a mailing list, then the quantity of leads tends to predominate.
“Quality of conversion matters when we move away from petition signature campaigns to focusing on building an email list,” Bryce Cullinane, associate of business development at Resonate Networks, a Reston, Va.-based company that specializes in public campaigns, told CMO.com “There we're driving quality conversions.” To do this, Resonate puts its ads for these campaigns on the Web sites that are most attractive to the target audiences. “It's not going to be your dirt cheap cost-per-acquisition, but the highest quality,” he said.
Metrics And Analytics
Measuring a conversion campaign is, of course, critical to success. “Metrics are pretty easy to come by,” Pally said. “Everything is so analytics-based these days, there isn't a single commercial tool that doesn't have analytics offered with it.”
Still, in spite of the wide availability of tools, they aren't always applied--or applied well. “The greatest things missing from most campaigns are the analytics and some testing capabilities,” Paul O'Brien, head of Seobrien, an Austin, Texas-based firm that provides marketing management, told CMO.com. Those are needed, O'Brien said, to provide “the insight from where you're converting and to optimize that experience [because] it's easier to grow your conversion rate through the funnel than it is to grow a marketing channel.”
Among the available tools are the suite from Omniture (now a division of Adobe, CMO.com’s parent company) and Google Analytics. Generally, these tools provide nearly everything you can think of to measure your Web site, as well as a smorgasbord of reports at all levels of detail. Tools for other media, such as Facebook or Twitter, are generally not as advanced, either in the range of metrics or the reports they generate, although they are catching up rapidly.
The result is an embarrassment of riches for marketers. But it still takes judgment to apply those easily available metrics usefully. “Measurement isn't necessarily the hard thing anymore; it's deciding what to measure,” Shopify's Pally said. “It's not necessarily the numbers you want to look at; it’s how they trend over time.”
Measuring a conversion campaign starts with the basics, no matter what medium you're using. Of course, what constitutes the “basics” will vary with the medium.
"In doing an email campaign for a restaurant, we measure open rates and click-through rates," said Trevor Shanski, founder and president of (E)WordOfMouth, a Rancho Mirage, Calif.-based provider of social and marketing solutions, in an interview with CMO.com. "If you don't have a good open rate, you're not going to go to the next step. Clicks to open help us answer the question, are we designing mailers to get people to take action?"
Similarly, with a Twitter campaign, retweets are often a basic measurement, especially with a campaign that's designed to go viral. Facebook campaigns often start their analysis with likes. However, in both cases it's important to also use more in-depth metrics. Retweets and likes alone are limited in what they can tell you about your campaign.
Yet no matter the medium--online or offline--the key to a successful marketing campaign is measuring response. "If you can measure it, you can improve it," Ray Simon, CEO of ENPIO, a San Francisco-based marketing company, told COM.com. "That's for sure on conversions. Otherwise you just have anectdotal information."