Analytics for website and conversion rate optimisation
We’ve already noted that attracting visitors to your website is only the beginning. Mere footfall is rarely – if ever – your sole business goal. Measurement comes in terms of macro conversions – in other words, end goals such as a user making a purchase on an e-commerce site or submitting a contact form on a lead generation site – and micro conversions (steps along the way, such as adding an item to the site shopping basket).
As well as measuring conversions, Google Analytics includes a wide range of ways to investigate what visitors are doing on the site, which can give you invaluable clues to where you might need to focus your attention and how you can smooth the road towards conversions. This is what site optimization is all about. It focuses on the user experience, but not for its own sake. The point is not simply to make your site visually attractive or fun to use, though there may be nothing wrong with doing so. The aim is to ensure that the site serves your business objectives as well as possible and that the business will benefit from users reaching their goals on the site.
Site optimization for CRO
One of the best ways to ensure that your site is optimized for conversions is to apply a user-centric approach to design and segmentation, which is formally referred to as user experience design or UX design. It’s actually about applying the same principles as an intelligent marketing strategy. In your marketing activities, you create and share information that you know is of interest and value to your target user persona. You keep this persona’s interests, preferences and needs at the fore of your planning, creation and distribution processes while, as we’ve seen, keeping what users are looking for at the heart of your SEO activities. In the same way, UX design helps you achieve your website conversion goals by creating a design that is focused on the user’s objectives and removes any barriers that might inhibit their journey.
The elements of this design include visual design and accessibility, naturally, but also “information architecture” (that is, the site structure and navigation), usability (more about this in a moment) and user interaction and journey analysis. With well-defined, efficient user journeys mapped out, you can concentrate on delivering the right information for that user at the right time – and strategically implement conversion points at the most appropriate moments along the way. It’s evident how the Users Flow and Behavior Flow reports in Google Analytics can be useful for discerning and defining the paths your users take through the site and the conversion process, as well as identifying problem spots where they might be dropping out.
Website usability is not about attractive design, visual impact or “coolness”, it’s all about effectiveness – that is, how effective the site is at enabling specific users to complete specific tasks. If they fail to do so, where do they hit the critical stumbling block? Site optimization involves identifying these roadblocks (pages with high exit rates) and determining how they’re falling down on the job. If users do complete the desired task, how quickly and easily do they do so? The various Flow reports in Analytics can help you determine how many steps they took, how much of their time they spent on hunting through the site or seeking help (FAQs, site map or site index, site search) and how much was productive time. If users resort to site search, don’t assume it’s necessarily a failure of site design and navigation, though: some users prefer searching and find it less time-consuming than browsing for what they want.
Bear in mind that users accessing your site on mobile devices have different needs and may have different objectives. Typically, they want information in quick, easily digestible bites, and more than half will abandon a site if it takes more than three seconds to load. Some 30% will abandon a purchase transaction if the shopping cart isn’t optimized for mobile devices. It’s worth catering for these fussy visitors, though: these days a quarter of web searches are conducted on a mobile device, and 80% of shoppers admit that mobile purchases are impulse-driven.  They add that they’re more likely to purchase from a brand that offers an engaging mobile experience, though the eventual conversion might be at a later point on a desktop computer. Using a responsive design or creating a version of your site for mobile devices will help ensure you attract and keep these users; by making the path to purchase or other conversion simple and straightforward, you’ll align the site better with their needs and likely increase its conversion rate.
The site speed will affect a visitor’s experience of your site: the longer a page takes to load, the higher its bounce rate is likely to be. A whole range of speed measures is available in the Site Speed reports in Analytics (see section 3.3 of the ‘Google Analytics: Key Account Features’ playbook), but it’s worth noting that Google Search itself takes page speed into account – along with other factors – when deciding search result rankings. If you hope to improve the site’s ranking, you need to look carefully at three specific factors: response time (time to first byte), page size and page load time.
From the user experience perspective, a page that loads (or an operation that completes) in one tenth of a second (100ms) or less will feel instantaneous to the user, so this is the “gold standard” to aim for. In these impatient times, when we’re used to super-fast broadband speeds, five seconds is probably the upper limit. Sometimes, however, it’s just not technically possible to complete an operation in 100ms – sorting a large data table, for example. In these cases, experts recommend using some sort of loading dialog to show the user that something is happening and the site hasn’t just locked up. Animations such as spinners are good, but progress bars are better, and a percentage readout display is better still.
It’s useful to optimize page assets and load time, but when it comes down to it, perceived performance can be more important than actual performance. For the same reason, it’s vital to ensure that clickable items on a page respond to mouseovers to signal that they are indeed clickable, and change state when they are clicked to confirm the user’s action. Give users as much feedback as possible and they’ll feel that your site is more engaging.
Indeed, it’s well worth looking closely at how visitors interact with your website. The In-Page Analytics report under Behavior in Analytics can help establish exactly how users are interacting with specific pages. Where are they clicking on the page? What percentage of visitors is interacting below the page fold? If you find that users are drawn to click on specific areas of the page, consider moving your most important links – that is, calls to action or other links that you know are more likely to lead to conversions – to that area, even if this means rearranging navigation menus or page structure. If you find that users are tending not to travel below the fold, try moving any conversion-critical elements to a more prominent position on the page.
In the Site Search reports under Behavior, you can find out what visitors are searching for using your on-site search (Search Terms) and where they’re searching for it (Pages). Are there patterns in what they’re looking for? Consider adding that content to the site, or creating clearer navigation to it if it already exists. Do they often search for the same thing from a specific page? This can alert you to possible shortcomings on that page. Give users what they’re after, or make it easier to find, and they’re that much less likely to want to go elsewhere for it.
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