Thursday, August 23, 2007

Practical analytics: persuasion scenarios

A typical site is composed of several conversion objectives: registering to a newsletter, purchasing something, finding the nearest store, or any activity that represent a positive outcome for the user and the site owner. As Bryan Eisenberg puts it, those represents the "conversion points" of a "persuasion scenario":

Schema from Brian Eisenberg

Conversion Funnel

Conversion beacons represent the first and each of the steps leading to a conversion point. They are typically represented by a conversion funnel. On a typical ecommerce web site, the conversion beacons are the steps of the checkout process (a linear funnel) leading to a purchase (the conversion point).

What you should look for in the funnel:
  • Distraction: how many of your visitors engage in the conversion process but leave it to wander in another area of the site? Look for next-page flow that leads to other pages of your site.
  • Abandonment: how many of your engaged visitors are simply exiting the site? Look for the Exit Page metric for each of the steps of the funnel.
  • Errors: anytime an error condition is presented to the user, the likelihood he/she will exit the process becomes more significant. Look for page reloads ratio and next-page flow that leads to error pages.

Conversion beacons

A conversion beacon is a step within the conversion process. This step is more easily analyzed with a Form Overlay tool, where metrics are shown "on top" of the form. Each conversion beacon should be analyzed for:
  • User errors such as skipping a required field or using the wrong input format: eliminating errors as close to the user as possible is usually the best approach. Avoid round trips to the server for simple validations, implement AJAX calls to ease the process flow.
  • Abandonment at the beginning of the form: a typical indication of users being overwhelmed by the complexity or the length of the task at hand. Break complex tasks in manageable chunks and clearly tell the user about where they stand in the process.
  • Abandonment at the end of the form: a typical indication of fear of the unknown. Clearly label action buttons ("continue" or "place your order" or "confirm"?) and again, indicate where you stand in the process.
  • Clustered abandonment: high abandonment on a specific field (or group of fields) is a clear indication of misunderstanding (what do they mean by "Enter address category"?) or mistrust (why do they ask for my birth date to purchase a book?).
  • Abandonment anywhere in the form: once you've nailed down all the other aspects, there will be a number of inexplicable abandonment and there might be no rational explication behind those.

Points of resolution

Points of resolution are those pages that triggered the user to take action. Next in the analysis process is to find out which pages contributed the most to your conversion objective.
  • Previous-page flow: when looking at the first conversion beacon of your funnel, look at the previous page flow. This will indicate where people stood before entering the process.


Moving up another step, we want to see how each page contributes to the conversion. What used to be path analysis as become irrelevant in most cases because the number of combinations are virtually infinite and are not significant. So we rely on the Page Value instead:
  • Page Value (called "Page Conversion" in HBX or "$ Index" in Google Analytics): this is typically calculated by distributing the value of a conversion to all the pages that where viewed before the conversion. Even in a non-ecommerce site, specifying a conversion value (say, 1$ for every subscription) will be particularly useful to calculate this metric.

Funnel Points

Those are the pages that puts you in a position to influence the user toward the objective. They can be entry pages or specific pages that are specifically geared toward the persuasion process.
  • Entry Pages: Look for the entry points and how they contribute to your conversion.
  • Page Value: Again, the Page Value will help us identify our winning pages, but the next one might be even more interesting:
  • Pathfinder: Omniture SiteCatalyst offers "Pathfinder", this will basically identify a significant subset of the click path that contains specific pages (such as "what happened between my entry page and my first conversion beacon?").

Driving Point

Here, the goal is to find out which "source" brought us the most qualified traffic. This topic in itself represent one of the major web analyst tasks and typically consist of analyzing the following metrics as they relate to conversions (those who engage but do not convert) and bounce rates (those who stumbled on the site and did nothing else but leave):
  • Referrers: which web sites brings us the most qualified traffic?
  • Search Engines: where do people go to find about us?
  • Keywords and phrases: regardless of the search engine, what was in the mind of people that came to our site?
  • Campaigns: which of our marketing activities are the most successful. Be it banners, PPC or even offline activities.

Key Performance Indicators

A very common question is "Which KPI should I track?". Here we're talking about indicators that will instantly raise a red flag (or bright green light) if they change:
  • Conversion Ratio: Each of your persuasion scenario, be it a purchase, a subscription or any other valuable business activity, should be measured as a Ratio of First Conversion Beacon to Conversion Point. Have such ratios for each individual scenario. Example: Shopping Cart/Purchase, or Subscribe/Thank You.
  • Global Conversion Ratio: Regardless of the persuasion scenario (which transaction), track how successful your visitors are at accomplishing their goals (and yours!) by dividing Any Conversion Point/Visits.
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