To measure how successful campaigns and strategies really are, you need numbers. The conversion rate is one of those numbers and especially important in any marketing team.
According to a recent study (source, in German), 62% of marketers want to optimize their conversion rates in 2018. It’s therefore time to ask: what is a conversion, actually, and what does the rate tell us about marketing success?
Conversion: a definition
„Conversion“ generally means that one thing becomes another, when it – for example – changes its physical form, its temperature or function (see: Convertible, a car that changes from a car with a roof into a cabriolet).
When it comes to marketing, a conversion usually means that a lead, customer or contact „converts“ into another phase of the buying cycle or the customer journey.
As a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for success, the conversion rate is very popular because it usually can be measured quite easily and it’s very straightforward information on the effectiveness of campaigns and strategies.
One (popular) example for a conversion rate would be, how many of all the leads a company has generated in a year have become customers.
Not every conversion is the same
One of the first conversions in a typical buying cycle is the lead generation. An (as of yet) unknown user fills out a form or registers and from then on is a known „lead“.
Another known conversion is the one from lead to customer (for example, through a purchase). But conversions can also be measured earlier, for example, if a user clicks on a link on an ad or on a social media platform. The user might not be a known contact by then and is not more than a number, but this number can say a lot about the social media- or ad campaign.
One fundamental truth about conversion rates is this: there’s not THE one conversion rate. For every phase, every process and every business unit, the conversion rate can mean something different. Just like the goal for a football player might be to shoot a goal themselves whereas the goal for the trainer is to win the whole game. And this is the exact point, where vague communication about conversions can lead to misunderstandings and errors.
Conversions need to be defined clearly
In conclusion, this means that it’s absolutely essential to make sure that everyone is on the same page when talking about and defining conversion rates as KPIs. A sales person might be less interested in newly generated leads and find more use in sales accepted leads (SAL).
Upper management on the other hand might only look at those leads that have converted into actual customers.
Even within the same business unit, conversion rates and conversions can be different according to your field of work. As a writer for our company blog, I am interested in any readers that found the blog via search engines or other channels. I also need to know, how many readers eventually click on a CTA, to see how I can optimize my articles.
However, some of my colleagues don’t really care about that and only want to know how many website visitors have downloaded a white paper or study.
What does that mean for your KPIs?
According to need and priorities, you need to define which conversions are important for everyone and which are only important for a specific set of people. Based on this, reports can be set individually for upper management, marketing or even individual marketers. That way, everyone can use the conversion rates they need to fulfill their goals, and no one has to wade through heaps of data to find the needle in the haystack.
How do you optimize your conversion rate?
Since we’ve now established that there are numerous conversion rates depending on your goals, the optimization of them seems to be a „Fass ohne Boden“ or a bottomless pit. The internet is filled with entries on optimizing your conversion rates and given what we know, it’s important to always know what conversion rates the articles are talking about and whether the tips can be adapted to your individual work and processes.
Especially, when it comes to benchmarks, for example, it’s important to know where you and your company stand because benchmarks differ not only between business units and strategies but also between industries, target groups (especially B2B and B2C) and communication channels.
However, there are certain best practices, that can help nearly all companies to optimize conversion rates which I would like to talk about.
No time for a longread? Look at and download our infographic on the following 10 tips for conversion rate optimization.
The classic method to optimize conversion rates is the A/B-test. You divide your contacts into two similar groups and „test“ different campaigns/strategies/concepts on them and then measure which performed better.
Ideally, your A-version is your status quo or standard and version B is your new version (or variation).
Be careful that you don’t change too much with your version B, otherwise you won’t know whether it was the text, the design change, the UX or the CTA that caused the results.
For testing the success of an email, you would for example start with changing the subject line. In another test, you would then try another body text or a different CTA and so on.
(You can use multivariate testing to test out different changes at once on your homepage, but this only works if you have heavy traffic and therefore adequately large test groups)
Use Buyer Personas
Buyer personas act as stand-in customer profiles based on real customer feedback and interviews. Personas are very helpful because they contain information on customer behavior, preferences, motivation and also problems.
With that knowledge you can write better copy and create content suited to your target groups.
Customer Journey Mapping
Customer journey mapping is a method to experience specific customer journeys from your customer’s point of view (for example the newsletter-sign-up or the check-out process of an online shop). With this method, you can easily identify gaps in the customer experience and see where technical or other problems cost you conversions.
Be clear about next steps
Whether it’s a CTA, a subject line or an ad copy: give your leads, users and customers clear messages what they can and/or should do next and what they can gain by doing it. Too often, a conversion rate is dangerously low because a CTA is phrased ambiguously, or the customer has no idea what to do next.
Believe me: customers want to be guided as long as they don’t feel forced to do something. Give hints, advice and tips how to proceed.
By the way: Make sure that you don’t overdo it and keep your next steps/CTAs in each phase to a minimum, especially in emails or on landing pages. The more choice a customer has, the less likely they are to choose either.
Don’t be too innovative
It seems to go against every fiber of any good marketer but don’t try to reinvent everything. There are reasons for certain design choices, website layouts and best practices – they work. Furthermore, people are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to navigating websites, doing research or buying products.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative but make sure that creativity can be found rather in your content than your UX design. The layout of your online shop, the check-out or any service offers should not be hard to navigate or necessitate abstract thinking.
By the way: This is a main reason why seemingly „ugly“ platforms like eBay and Amazon dominate the market – customers simply know them and know how they function.
Speaking of difficult processes: the Baymard Institute tested problems that customers have during check-out (one of the biggest offenders when it comes to failed conversions). They found that the average check-out involves 23 (and more) forms and steps even though only 12 would be necessary to gain all necessary information.
The more steps a customer has to take to get to a certain goal, the higher the risk that they get stuck and/or frustrated and abandon the process. Add to that long response times in your service and you lose a lot of customers.
Try to use methods like customer journey mapping to find out where your processes might be too much to handle and then ask yourself whether and how you can change them.
Price, additional costs, shipping time, clauses, contact data, etc. should never be hidden away. Hardly anyone goes into a shop and buys something without knowing how much it costs or whether there are certain clauses attached to the purchase.
Of course, you don’t always know what exactly your customers want to know but, in this case, again, you can use customer journey mapping and buyer personas to find out (never underestimate your customer feedback when it comes to these things).
Optimize waiting periods
Waiting time is one of the most dismissed experiences in any customer’s life. Hardly any company can completely avoid waiting periods but at the same time, many companies fail to make these moments better. Whether it’s the loading time of a website or the music loop when the customer calls the support – there’s almost always a way to optimize either the length of waiting or the quality of it.
Gigantic plugins, large file images and unnecessary scripts can hinder websites to load and can be easily identified and optimized by a competent web admin.
When it comes to waiting time during processes, more communication is always appreciated. Maybe you can tell your customers how long they have to wait until they get feedback, or you offer to call them back instead of letting them wait in line listening to „Hold the Line“ on repeat.
Don’t forget internal processes. Sometimes, a customer or lead has to wait because the communication flows within your company are not optimized enough.
It’s never easy to establish trust, especially with new customers. But a clear design, transparency on important information (especially privacy policies, contractual information and contact info) and good service can immediately help with gaining your customer’s trust.
Also: don’t deny mistakes when you made them. Customers are more likely to forgive a company if it apologizes than if it denies any wrongdoing.
Get your marketing/sales-pipeline right
Internal workflows and processes have a gigantic influence on the customer journey and therefore the conversion. If marketing, sales and preferably service are aligned and communicate well, it’s more likely that your leads and customers always know who to talk to and that not a single lead will get lost in the sometimes complex lead funnel.
Make sure that there is always someone who is responsible for the lead or customer and don’t hand over problems and never look back.
If necessary, work with Service Level Agreements (SLA) and define who is responsible for your leads and customers at which phase and what you can expect from other business units and have to deliver in return.
Find out which marketing solutions can help your marketing team to create personalized, innovative and successful marketing campaigns.