Mike Ruins Conversion Rate…Because It’s Ruining Websites

Conversion Rate is a beloved metric…and for some good reasons…

  • It’s what brings in the cash.  If you can improve it, it brings in MORE CASH and Mike_Ruins_Digital_Marketingwe can do a happy dance.
  • It’s easy to measure.  It’s one number, found directly in any good website analytics tool.
  • It feels really good to improve.  If you see your Time on Site improve, that’s not telling you a ton.  Maybe people are staying on your site longer because they’re finding what they’re looking for and engaging more.  Or maybe they’re staying longer because they’re having more trouble finding what they’re looking for!  When you improve Conversion Rate, you’re getting more of the people that come to your site to buy (assuming the amount of visitors stays the same).  That feels better.

Focusing on conversion metrics IS rational.  After all, the ultimate goal of your site is to acquire and keep customers.  But when it comes to Conversion Rate, there’s just so much it isn’t telling you!


Most users aren’t there to buy

OK, so 2% of your visitors completed the ultimate conversion action on your site.  What actionable insights does that give you?  Should that number be higher?  If it should, WHY isn’t it higher?  Why didn’t everybody else do what you wanted them to do?

If it shouldn’t be higher, why not?  What’s going on with the other ninety-whatever percent of people that didn’t buy?  What are THEY doing?  Why aren’t THEY buying?

The fact of the matter is, most users that come to your site aren’t there to buy.  There are other things on their minds.  Maybe they’re researching a product or service, looking for how to return something, seeing if your store is open on Sundays, or looking for information to present to someone else.  It’s different for every site and business.  Whatever it is, there’s 0% chance most of the people that come to your site are going to convert on their visit.

Should that be included in the Conversion Rate number?  Of course not!  How can you call it a failure when you never had a chance in the first place?  They may have had a fine experience and found exactly what they were looking for quickly and easily.


Websites are customer service tools

Your site doesn’t exist just to sell, but to serve.  When you focus solely on only one of the reasons people come to your site, it will inevitably lead to bad decisions with your design and marketing strategy; resulting in more bad experiences for your customers.

You’ll prioritize marketing channels where more people’s task is to buy while others take a back seat.  You’ll make decisions on your site that alienate those who aren’t there to buy.  In the end, your focus on selling can have the exact opposite effect of what you desired – more sales.

To-Do-ListInstead, focus on ALL the reasons people come to your site and whether or not they had a good experience completing their task.
  We call this Task Completion Rate.  Out of all the people who came to your site, what percentage of them had no problems/issues/frustrations completing their task, whatever it was?  Now you can gain insights.

If a person comes to your site looking to see if your store is open on Sundays and they have issues completing their task, that tells you something.  Maybe your decision to have a large homepage slider highlighting all of your sales and the latest press you got while burying your store hours at the bottom of the page in gray-on-black text wasn’t the best one :).

Or if a person needs information for a presentation to their boss to buy your product and they can’t download or print or email it because that just didn’t come up in your site design plans, you’ve just learned something quite valuable.

Avinash Kaushik clues us in to how serious of an issue this is in his article Stop Obesessing About Conversion Rate when he says…

There is perhaps no other single metric that is abused as much as Conversion Rate, none that is perhaps more detrimental to solving for a holistic customer experience on the website because of the company behavior it drives.

Wow, strong stuff.  You can see how important this really is.


Move from Conversion Rate to Task Completion Rate

If you can move your company from focusing on improving Conversion Rate to focusing on improving Task Completion Rate (hint: use surveys, usability testing, etc. to actually communicate with your customers about their experience on your site!), your website will be much more successful in driving value to your business over the long haul.

Make sure to check out more posts in the Mike Ruins Digital Marketing series, where I challenge the status quo by tackling digital marketing topics that most practitioners have all wrong.

Mike Fleming

Mike Fleming is a Senior Client Manager for Point It, and has been managing PPC accounts of all kinds for over 6 years; with a strong emphasis in Analytics and Conversion Optimization. He’s a respected digital marketing blogger and speaker whose articles can be found on industry blogs like SEMRush.com and SearchEngineGuide.com. He also contributed to a published book called The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music, playing basketball and investing. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

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