Web PagesIf you’re building a business that uses a website to sell a product/service or to collect information from visitors then you’ve probably found out that getting people to your website is just the first step in a long process.

Once they’re on your site you need to make sure they do what you want. That might be buying a widget, subscribing to your mailing list or – as in our case – registering to try the software.

For us there’s a further step  – converting the trialist to a paying customer, but we’ll leave the detailed discussion of that for another time.

So once you have some traffic coming to your website the next thing you need to do is find out how many of them are doing what you want them to do – “converting” – and then work on improving that conversion ratio.

Goals and Funnels

Initially we started using a free service from Google called Google Analytics.  By putting a small piece of javascript on all of your web pages you can get some useful insights into where your website visitors come from and what they do once on your site. You can then set up numerous “Goals” and measure how many people complete those goals. A goal being the desired action such as buying or registering.

You can also measure effectiveness of what Google call a “funnel”. A funnel is usually a goal that consists of a number of steps/pages.

So for us we measured how many people go to our registration page and then how may of those actually complete the registration page. It turned out that of everyone that visited our registration page, only 45% of them actually went on to complete it. So over half of everyone that looked at our registration page sailed off into the sunset never to be seen again.

We’ve managed to gradually improve that to almost 70% by trying a few different things.

  1. advertising a free e-book on marketing if they completed the page
  2. stressing that we wont spam them or pass on their email address to third-parties
  3. splitting the form in two so the first page doesn’t look so daunting

The free e-book never made much of a difference. It was 2) and especially 3) that made the big difference.

Feeding the Funnel – Measuring effectiveness of different headlines

With the registration funnel now converting at a respectable level, the next thing we had to do was improve on the number of website visitors that went into that funnel – that is, actually go to the registration page.

At first we changed the headline and/or other elements on our homepage and watched Google Analytics to see what happens to the overall Goal conversion rates after the change. The problem with this approach is that there are often too many other factors that interfere with the experiment.

What we really needed to do was a split-test. In a split test you test two pages side-by-side at the same time. Half of your website visitors see one headline and the other half see another headline. You can then measure them against each other without other factors being involved.

Google Analytics has nothing to help here but a different free tool from Google does, enter Website Optimizer.

There are two options. A simple A/B test and a more complicated Mulitvariate experiment. We went with the former.

We created two versions of our home page with just one difference – the headline. Our original said “Easy to use, jargon free Accounting Software” and our alternative page said “The easier to use alternative to Sage and Quickbooks”. Website Optimiser then led us through setting it all up.

All you need to do is paste some javascript code into the two pages and on your conversion page (for us, that’s the page you see once you’ve completed the registration). Google takes care of the rest.

Now a large dose of patience is needed. You need a high volume of traffic and conversions to get a meaningful result.


In the above graph you have time on the x-axis and conversion ratio on the y-axis. It shows that over time the new page (orange) consistently outperforms the original (blue) by an average of 20%.

Interestingly this also demonstrates what I was just saying about external factors. There was a general upwards trend throughout the month on both pages. If we’d just switched from one page to the other and looked at the Goals in Google Analytics we’d have concluded that there was a larger improvement than there actually was.

So we’ve now dumped the original headline and adopted the alternative headline instead. We’ll now start experimenting with other aspects of the page, or maybe other headlines to see just how high we can push the conversion ratios.

Simultaneously we’ll continue working on improving the conversions of trialists into paying customers,  a ratio we’ve improved by 100% already so far this year.

Kicking myself

I’m really pleased we’ve found the time and tools to do this. What really irks me is that we didn’t do this ages ago. I could sit down and calculate what our revenues and customer numbers would look like if we improved conversions like this years ago – but I’m scared to.

Every day that you’re not actively working on improving your conversion ratios is a day of lost opportunities.

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