New! Local SEM Competitive Intelligence
Discover Your Competitor’s PPC Keywords & Ad Copy
Enter your #1 competitor's URL

The One Mistake That’s Causing Your Conversion Rate to Flatline (and How to Fix It Right Now!)

When it comes to conversion rate optimization, you may feel like you’ve got the basics nailed down. You’ve got your landing pages set up, and your offer is irresistible. You’ve got an unbeatable USP, and you feel like nothing can stop you.

You’ve even honed in on precisely what your customers want and have tailored your pages to match their language by having them describe what your product does and how it works, rather than filling your site with corporate tech-speak and buzzwords.

In short, you’re pretty proud of yourself. As you should be.

But there comes a point when your conversion rate holds steady. Test after test yields minor improvements, but no major breakthroughs. You’re banging your head against the split testing wall, asking yourself what else you could test. You’re starting to micromanage things. Would a teal button work better than an orange one? Should I put an arrow on the button in front of the CTA copy?

And it’s slowly starting to drive you insane.

Can You Have a Stagnant Conversion Rate?

The answer is yes. And it can be particularly frustrating when it seems like your competitors are passing you buy, shoving new and in-demand features out the door and building those coveted customer relationships. So how do you fix this?

Two words: User Testing.

The Problem: Fast and Easy Don’t Always Work in Your Favor

Now before you rush off and sign up for every user feedback system in existence (and there’s no shortage of them), it’s important to realize precisely what you’re getting into. For example, some systems, like Feedback Army, let you design survey questions and get answers in a few minutes at a cost of only $40.

Feedback Army -- Screenshot

While it focuses on ease of use and fast results, it may not be as complete as you’d like. For example, you can’t follow the user’s logic path as they use your site. So if you’re having them search for women’s evening gowns, you might wonder why they’re looking under Clothing > Dresses instead of Clothing > Special Events.

And unfortunately, you don’t have any idea as to their thought processes during their search. This can cause serious gaps in your conversion optimization strategy, since knowing why visitors do certain things is crucial to removing friction points that could cause them to abandon their shopping carts or leave your site altogether.

The Problem: Getting Too Bogged Down in Specifics

There are also usability testing tools that let you get right down to the nitty-gritty of specific areas on your site like content and navigation. Optimal Workshop’s Treejack, for example, helps you understand how users would sort and search through your site to find specific information.

Optimal Workshop

This is an ideal test to run while you’re still in the brainstorming stage and before you hand things off to your user interface designer. If users know where and how to find things, chances are they’ll stay on your site longer and ultimately complete their purchase (or whatever action it is you want them to take).

Another service run by the same company is Optimal Sort, another type of card-sorting mechanism that lets users structure things like content and navigation before you begin the design process.

Optimal Sort

And while both of these tools certainly have their place in the information architecture and usability spheres, they still don’t give you the kind of insights you need as to why your conversion rate isn’t improving. For that, you need to get into the user’s head.

It can be far too easy to get sucked into the specifics without having a really broad, “big picture” overview of who you’re serving and what they want.

“You Read My Mind!” is another usability testing service that actually records and lets you playback user interactions with your site. You assign specific tasks and ask the user to complete them, as well as what they thought of them or what they’d have done differently. The difference is that you get to hear their thought process the whole time they’re interacting with your pages.

To see just how valuable this kind of information is, GetCourse founder Neal Taparia ran a UserTesting session as well as a run-through with Feedback Army and got vastly better results from using UserTesting. He shared a few of his examples in an article on Forbes. Here are the highlights:

  • No one understood clearly what GetCourse does. Specifically, our headline read “Make your presentations smarter.” We found that people read the first word “make” and instantly assumed our product allowed you to make presentations. It influenced their interpretation of everything they later read. GetCourse, does not allow you to “make” presentations. Instead, you add questions and get deep analytics on existing ones.
  • People paid attention to our background image of a woman on their tablet. The image communicated to user testers that GetCourse was a business product, but many thought it worked specifically with tablets. This also meant the background image distracted them on our product, feature, and benefit text which is entirely more important.

Those tidbits of information are probably the last thing the test publisher was expecting to hear when he conducted the review. Oftentimes, photo choices and headlines are scrutinized far back in the design process and get little attention after launch.

As you can see, what you consider to be a no-brainer as in “Here’s what we do and here’s why you’ll love it” may be a completely baffling experience to your users. What’s more, the imagery you choose may further reinforce the wrong kind of impression, such as showcasing someone using new technology (and implying that your service is on the cutting edge) and people mistakenly thinking it’s a mobile-only service or app.

Another added benefit of UserTesting is that participants are specifically selected based on the criteria you specify. So if you’re the head of usability at ACME Insurance Company and you only want users who have an open claim and have used your web-based dashboard, chances are there’s a pool of active users on UserTesting who fit those criteria—although you should note that you may not get results as quickly as you’d like, the more specific you are.

What Kinds of Questions Should You Ask?

This can trip you up when you’re doing your first usability test, but it doesn’t have to. Instead of focusing on questions, focus on the tasks you’re having the user perform and ask them to envision certain things. For instance:

  • Let’s assume you’re in the market for an app and you want [enter further description here]. What features make it a must have?
  • What do you think this site is about? Where would you click first?
  • How would you add an item to your cart? Please think out loud and tell us what you’re thinking during the process…
  • What stands out most to you about [enter further description here]? What do you feel is missing?
  • If you could change anything about this site, what would you change and why?

Author Kara Pernice has written an excellent article for the Nielsen/Norman Group on how to conduct live usability test sessions and how to make sure that you, as the test facilitator, aren’t inadvertently skewing the answers with your own feedback. She also covers how to properly engage them so that they give you the answers you need, rather than what you want to hear.

Also, watch their behavior as they interact with your pages. No one wants to look stupid when browsing the web or completing a task, so oftentimes they’ll tell you that they had no trouble doing X, when you can tell from their behavior and audible cues (hmms and huhs) that they might have encountered problems.

It’s Always the Little Things…

The thing about conversion optimization and making major breakthrough improvements in your conversion rate isn’t always about testing the big things. Sometimes it’s the small things that make users incorrectly think that they’re not the target audience when they really are.

Nailing down the basics will get you a good part of the way to your goal of measurable, actionable conversion results. But getting real insight from your users (and not just your friends or your marketing department) is what will truly carry you over the threshold of stale numbers and jumpstart some life back into your analytics.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Have you used usability testing in the past to improve your website? What were your results like? Did you gain any insightful actions that in turn boosted your conversion rate? Share your thoughts and comments with us below!


120x120 Gary VicGary Victory is the go to business analyst at Elite Group Marketing. He works with both startups and multi-national brands focused on business marketing strategies and technology. He’s a contributing writer to KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg, Social Media Examiner, Elite Group Marketing Blog, and others. Follow him on Twitter @GaryVictoryLDN.