Conversion Optimization

Author: Khalid Saleh & Ayat Shukairy
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2010
Pages: 272
ISBN: 978-1449377564
Aimed at: Marketing and e-commerce professionals, web developers and designers and website owners
Rating: 5
Pros: Clear explanations of sound ideas
Cons: Runs out of steam before usability testing
Reviewed by: Sue Gee

How do you turn visitors to your e-commerce website into paying customers who increase your profits? It's not as straightforward as you might think.  


Unsure what this book is about? Then here's  the extended subtitle, "The Art and Science of Converting Prospects to Customers: Converting Your Website Visitors into Customers". Also the cover of the book isn't the one shown here - instead its a magnet attracting iron filings which seems much more apt.


If you normally skip prefaces make an exception for this book as it sets the scene - a case of a phoenix rising from the ashes - the disaster being a team of 20 developers building a feature rich website with a $15 million budget  that led to a great-looking site that attracted the expected tens of thousands of visitors within its first few hours of operation but a scant 10 orders.

What was missing was conversion -  turning visitors into customers.

At a result of this experience the authors developed a Conversion Framework based around eight principles which are each fully explored with plenty of real examples, mainly from clients of the practice run by the authors.

Before embarking on the framework the first two chapters of the book look at more general issues.

Chapter 1: The Journey From Clicks to Sales considers some of the basics of conversion optimization with statistics to prove just how difficult it can be. One of the good points about this is that it is going to temper expectations.  The figures from 2007-2008 show that conversion rate averages for different types of sites ranged from 0.7% to 4.6%,  although the top sites can do considerably better. For example, while most online retailers convert 2.3% of visitors into customers, Lane Bryant converts 24%. This chapter discusses landing pages and concludes with a case study that looks at conversion bottlenecks - discovering that in the example cited it was the checkout process that accounted for the failure to convert.

Chapter 2 looks at the numbers behind your website, explaining jargon such as bounce rate and KPIs (key performance indicators). It distinguishes between macro conversions - overall or ultimate conversions - and micro conversions - the smaller steps required on the way. It covers questions like how much should the company spend per click? and what is the minimum conversion rate for a campaign to not lose any money? and looks at issues such a quality of traffic and traffic sources.

Chapter 3 is devoted to the first step in the conversion framework - understanding your website visitors through persona creation. If this is a new idea to you it explains that personas are models, examples and archetypes that humanize and individualize a specific target market. It also distinguishes persona development from market segmentation, something with which it can be confused.

We move on to the Four Temperaments originally proposed by Aristotle in 325 BC ( hedonic, proprietary, dialectical, ethical) and by Galen in 190 AD (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic). Combining these with Carl Jung's 1921 theory that humans used four functions for dealing with the world (sensing, intuiting, thinking and feeling) and his introvert/extrovert dichotomy David Keirsey (1950) divided the four temperaments in a study of human behavior as:

  • Artisans - observant and pragmatic; their primary objective is "Sensation Seeking".
  • Guardians - observant and co-operative; their primary objective is "Security Seeking".
  • Idealists - introspective and co-operative; their primary objective is "Identity Seeking".
  • Rationalists - introspective and pragmatic; their primary objective is "Knowledge Seeking".

The authors then use the concept of the four temperaments in the process of persona creation and define:

  • Logical Persona (Guardian)
  • Impulsive Persona (Artisan)
  • Caring Persona (Idealist)
  • Aggressive Persona (Rational)
After the theory there follows some real world examples that seem convincing - but possibly didn't need all the justification provided!

Chapter 4: From Confidence to Trust looks at issues such as value proposition and continuity. Its message is that establishing trust takes four steps - awareness, knowledge, liking and trust based on a positive experience with delivery and returns policy.Social proof and external reputation are among the topics discussed.
We consider Buying Stages in Chapter 5 - typically there are five and together they make up the "buying funnel", a term that has already cropped up in the book. The stages are: need recognition; information search; evaluation of alternatives; purchase; post-purchase evaluation.The chapter asks "How can you stand out from the competition?" and looks at the impact of the complexity of the product.

Chapter 6 "FUDs" - the acronym for fears, uncertainties and doubts - looks at what puts potential customers off - from site errors and 404 errors, through long forms with too many fields, browser compatibility and even discount codes. Chapter 7 looks at using incentives - low prices, freebies, buy one get on free and product bundling being examples. There are many helpful tips here. Engaging the visitors to your website is the topic of Chapter 8 and concludes the list of six principles of how visitors interact with websites.  

There are two more planks of the framework - testing the changes you make to your website and a long term commitment to conversion optimization by being willing to iterate the testing process. These are the topics of Chapters 9 and 10 and along the way it provides details of "Forty-Nine Things You can Test on Your Website." And it also explains why you should confine yourself to change only a few variables at any one time.

This book is a good mix of background theory and psychology and practical hints and tips well illustrated with examples. It is also well written and therefore highly readable. I particularly enjoyed a box out "A case against Multivariate Testing" which includes an aside about Edsger Dijkstra. Although in the context of the book it was a bit contrived it worked for me to boost the book's authority.

If you are in any doubt about how to make profit from an e-commerce website read this book. The framework it presents is well formulated and it does not make extravagant or unrealistic claims.


Geometrical Vectors

Author: Gabriel Weinreich
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Pages: 126
ISBN: 978-0226890487
Print: 0226890481
Kindle: B01EYG40HO
Audience: Mathematicians, physicists and engineers.
Rating: 5
Reviewer: Mike James
Geometrical Vectors - are there any other kind?

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software 2nd Ed

Top Book 2023
Author: Charles Petzold
Publisher: Microsoft Press
Date: August 2022
Pages: 480
ISBN: 978-0137909100
Print: 0137909101
Kindle: B0B123P5GV
Audience: General
Rating: 5
Reviewer: Mike James
Code! We all need to know about it.

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Last Updated ( Monday, 20 December 2010 )