Conversion Rate Optimization

How our test site improved its overall conversion rate by 41.8%


We recently released the audio recording of our clinic on this topic. You can listen to a recording of this clinic here:

Conversion Rate Optimization

This research brief will answer the following questions:

  1. What is conversion rate and why is it important?
  2. What is the most important technique utilized to optimize your conversion rate?
  3. What are some changes you can implement to improve your conversion rate? (24 proven techniques)

1. What is conversion rate and why is it important?

Conversion rate is the percentage of users who take a certain desired action on your website, and is one of the key performance indicators that you must measure. This desired action might be for users to make a product purchase, to sign up for a paid subscription, or to submit their contact information.

Conversion rate can be used in a number of ways:

  1. Overall Conversion Rate – This measures the total conversion rate for the primary goal or desired action of your entire site.
  2. Point-Specific Conversion Rate – This measures how users convert in response to a specific call-to-action on your website. For example, you might break down what percentage of users sign up for your email newsletter, what percentage purchase a specific special-offer product or service, or what percentage get to a certain key location on your website.
  3. Condition-Specific Conversion Rate – The measures conversion under a specific set of conditions. For example, you might implement a micro-test to measure the conversion rate for a special offer or for a specific email campaign. You might also measure the specific conversion rate for your PPC advertising campaigns separately from your overall site conversion rate.
  4. Conversion Rate Trends – This measures conversion rates over time and can be used to infer knowledge about your site’s seasonality, sources of traffic, or campaign optimization success.

One goal of most online businesses is to refine and optimize their websites to achieve the highest possible overall conversion rate for the available traffic. Although it is not the only important website metric, it is a critical factor in the long-term success of any online venture.

In this brief, we will look at a number of techniques to help you optimize your website’s conversion rate.

2. What is the most important technique utilized to optimize your conversion rate?

In section three of this report, we present a number of techniques that can be used to optimize your order process. However, because a seemingly minor change can have a significant impact on your conversion rate, nothing substitutes for the ability to implement careful micro-tests to evaluate specific changes you make to your site.

Because traffic sources, seasonality, and other time factors can affect conversion, it is important to be able to evaluate changes in real-time. The best way to do this is to implement an A/B split test that will alternate serving two different pages to every other site visitor. Visitor 1 will see Page A, visitor 2 will see Page B, visitor 3 will again see Page A, and so on.

KEY POINT: A simple A/B split test is the single most effective micro-testing technique that will help you optimize your conversion rate.

In our own testing, we use A/B split tests to evaluate conversion optimization efforts for dozens of test sites. Several recent tests are included below.

Conversion Rate Optimization Test 1:

  • We set up an A/B split test to rotate two order pages.
  • Order Form A was the basic form our test site had been using for months. Although it had been otherwise improved in the past, it did not include any means of accepting ACH online check payments.
  • Order Form B was identical to Order Form A except that it included ACH payment capability and a clear notice that such payments were acceptable.
  • The testing period was two weeks.

Here are the results of our A/B split test:

Conversion Rate Optimization – Test 1
Order Form A Order Form B
Order Displays 17,598 17,682
Completed Orders 1056 1151
Conversion Rate 6.00% 6.51%


What You Need To UNDERSTAND: By adding ACH payment capability, we increased the conversion rate of our test site from 6.00% to 6.51%, an increase of 8.5%. The 87 additional orders were worth approximately $2600 in added revenue.

If you are unfamiliar with ACH payments, an overview is available here:

This test illustrates that a seemingly minor change to a site’s order form can have a large impact on overall conversion. We will cover a number of these improvements in Section 3 below.

Conversion Rate Optimization Test 2:

  • We set up an A/B split test to rotate two order page sequences for a health-related service provider.
  • Each order form used a three-page sequence to collect all relevant data.
  • Order Path A was the sequence before optimization.
  • Order Path B featured optimized copy. Specifically, we lengthened the copy in a number of key areas and gave examples of how the service could help save the potential customer time and money.
  • The micro-test was conducted over a 10-day period.
Conversion Rate Optimization – Test 2
Order Path A Order Path B
Page 1 Unique Visits 3908 2762
Page 2 Unique Visits 1374 1026
Conversion to Page 2 35.16% 37.15%
Page 3 Unique Visits 43 42
Conversion – Page 2 to Page 3 3.13% 4.09%
Completed 19 19
Overall Conversion Rate 0.49% 0.69%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: This micro-test produced a 41.8% increase in overall conversion rate.

By improving the copy on this three-page order process, we were able to significantly boost conversion rate. Website copy is often the most important element contributing to how well a site can create new customers. For more on website copy, see our report on Long Copy vs. Short Copy.

3. What are some changes you can implement to improve your conversion rate? (24 proven techniques)

  1. Accommodate as many payment types as possible. As we saw in the first micro-test above, adding just one additional payment type increased conversion by 8.5%. At a minimum, you should be able to accept all major credit cards, online checks, and other payment options considered vital to your industry or niche.Many companies will also benefit by being able to accept orders via phone or fax. Make sure all of these payment options are clearly visible on your site.
  2. KEY POINT: A/B split micro-tests are the key technique to optimize your conversion rate. But during your testing, be careful not to change too many elements of your website all at once. In order to optimize each element on your site, you should test them individually. While this can be a tedious process, it creates the most potential for improvement.There is one caveat, however: Some site elements will only work well in combination with others. Use your best judgment to determine what elements should be tested together against a control group.In an upcoming report, we will study A/B split testing in much greater detail.
  3. Site copy is of prime importance. Sometimes changing a single word or phrase can positively impact conversion rate. Again, micro-testing is key; what works for one company may not work for another.
  4. Reduce the number of steps in your order process and remove any extraneous elements. Also, tell users how long it will take to complete their orders. For most retail sites, the order process should be simple enough that the average order takes less than two minutes.Order Process Tested
  5. Minimize the number of required fields. The order form should not only be short and easy, it should “feel” short and easy.
  6. Do not ask customers to provide information that can be automatically collected. This includes dates and other data that can be propagated from other fields.
  7. Collect essential contact information (email address and perhaps also phone number) in the first step of your order process. This will allow you to contact users who abandon their orders. The approach and tone used should be that of customer service: you will contact these potential customers to assist them to complete their orders.Shopping Cart Recovery Tested
  8. Reserve key page locations for the most important information for new customers. Use white space and strategic placement of graphical elements to guide the prospect.
  9. Guide the customer’s eye-path through the order form. There are at least 5 ways to do this:
    • Numbered Steps
    • Size
    • Shape
    • Position
    • Color
  10. For retail sites, position the link to the cart in a consistent and easy-to-find location on every page.
  11. Enable the customer to change the item details in the shopping cart. Make certain that the cart automatically recalculates tax, shipping, etc.
  12. Remember the customer’s contact information so that subsequent orders require less manual entry.
  13. Optimize your page weight. Reducing the load time of pages and graphics can significantly boost conversion rate, especially for particularly meaty sites.Page Weight Tested
  14. Optimize your offer pricing. Test a variety of price points to maximize conversion rate and (more importantly) total profit. It’s generally better to start high and reduce your price in subsequent testing to find the level that maximizes profit. However, we’ve also found cases where increasing price can actually increase conversion by changing the perceived value of the product.Offer Pricing Tested
  15. Consider experimenting with free-trial offers if your site is service- or subscription-based. For certain products, a well-conceived free-trial offer can yield dramatic increases in conversion rate. Products that are new or unfamiliar are good candidates, as are most newsletters.For much more on designing and implementing free trial offers, read our recent article on that topic.Free Trial Offers Tested
  16. Be aware of how seasonal trends might affect your conversion rate. Many market sectors experience fluctuations in traffic and sales during the holidays and other key seasons. Each sector is different and you will come to recognize your own seasonal fluctuations over time.There is a twofold benefit to studying your seasonal variations. First, you will be able to distinguish seasonal fluctuations from optimization-driven changes. Second, you will be able to leverage key seasons with special promotions and other techniques to have an even greater positive impact on your conversion rate.For more on understanding seasonality and using a marketing calendar to maximize profit, download the PDF of our 2005 calendar and report:

    2005 Marketing Calendar

  17. State any order limitations early in the process. If you are unable to ship overseas, for example, say so up front.
  18. Help your customers anticipate total delivered cost. Do not surprise them with hidden or excessive charges, which are a leading contributor to cart abandonment.
  19. Pre-qualify your site visitors as much as possible. Don’t bid on search terms that aren’t relevant for your offer. Optimizing the ROI of your PPC campaigns will automatically increase your overall conversion rate.However, this is where it is important to understand that conversion rate is not the sole measure of marketing effectiveness. Free sources of traffic should not be forsaken simply because they don’t convert as well as other sources. Thoughtful design of metrics and site tracking can permit utilizing sources of less qualified traffic without sacrificing the accuracy of your most qualified traffic.
  20. Whenever a form field is sensitive to formatting (credit card expiration date, for example), provide a drop-down menu to minimize errors.
  21. Place extra notes and instructions near “problem” areas on your order form.
  22. Provide a clear privacy policy that makes your potential customers feel safe shopping with you. Use credibility indicators such as customer testimonials or a high Yahoo! Store customer-satisfaction rating for the same reason.
  23. Place your toll-free support number on every page of the order process.
  24. Consider using incentives to encourage users to continue or to come back and complete an abandoned order.

Refining your website with these techniques (and others that you will discover in the process of testing) will optimize conversion rate and maximize the value of your existing site traffic. Improving your website’s conversion rate today will improve the results of ALL future marketing efforts.

Related MEC Reports:

As part of our research on this topic, we have prepared a review of the best Internet resources on this topic.

Rating System

These sites were rated for usefulness and clarity, but alas, the rating is purely subjective.

* = Decent | ** = Good | *** = Excellent | **** = Indispensable


Editor — Flint McGlaughlin

Writer — Brian Alt

Contributors — Jimmy Ellis

HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer

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