Conversion Optimization

The 6-step process to optimize your conversion funnel in 2021

Want to boost your conversion rates? It starts with your conversion funnel. Here is a founder focused guide to building an optimized ecommerce conversion funnel.

The 6-step process to optimize your conversion funnel in 2021

Don’t be intimidated by the term ‘conversion funnel’.

If you run a business, you already have a conversion funnel in place. 

And that’s a good thing.

Now, all you need to do is optimize the conversion funnel to make the most out of it.

Don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered. 

In this post, we cover the basics of a conversion funnel, the different stages involved, and some of the best strategies to optimize your conversion funnel for higher conversions.

So, what is a conversion funnel?

In simple terms, a conversion funnel is a journey each customer goes through consisting of different stages on the website that ultimately leads to conversion.

The different stages being homepage, product pages, cart page, and checkout page. There is a significant drop-off of the visitors at each stage and the number becomes smaller as you get closer to conversion. 

As an ecommerce business owner, your job is to discover weak areas and optimize them so there’s a lesser drop of customers at every stage. 

The conversion funnel is divided into three stages: upper funnel, mid-funnel, and lower funnel.

ecommerce conversion funnel stages

Upper Funnel: The upper funnel or top of the funnel is when the users get to know about your brand. They might come to your website to check the products, pricing, and for overall experience, and then could go to a competitor's website to compare. 

Mid-funnel: At this stage, customers actively know about your brand and explore the offerings at a deeper level with a greater likelihood to purchase.

Bottom funnel: This is where magic happens. Leads become customers, which increases your conversion rates.

The 5 stages of an eCommerce conversion funnel  

A standard ecommerce funnel usually has five stages. 

You can use this marketing funnel to understand where your customer is and what can be done to move them to the next step.

AIDA stages of a conversion funnel that every ecommerce founder must know 

1. Awareness

This phase is where you’re working to attract customers who might be interested in buying your product. 

Here, visitors get to know about the brand. They look at the products or the services you offer and decide if they like the brand and what you have in store for them.

This stage requires educational content from you. You need to tell customers why your brand is better than others. 

Take help of inbound and outbound marketing, blogs, webinars, guides, social media, etc. — anything that can make visitors aware of your products and services.

While you can reach out to many users at this stage, make sure that you’re targeting the right audience who is more likely to make it to the next step. Otherwise, you’re spending your time, energy, and thousands of marketing dollars for no real impact. 

As you move forward, keep your target audience in mind who are more likely to give you conversions in the near future — if not immediately. 

2. Interest

This is where you want to attract customers to your products or services.

Your website, content, and social media channels are the most powerful medium here. At this stage, you’re looking to create a relationship with your customers. One of the ways to do so is by capturing their email IDs.

  • Send them blog posts, newsletters, in-depth guides, etc. which can tell them what you do and what you can offer to them.
  • Come up with attention-grabbing copy and creatives to get people to turn their attention. 
  • Have a well-executed layout on the website, blogs, product pages, and homepage for the right impression. Formatting can affect what customers think about the brand and therefore, impact the conversion rates.

3. Desire 

Once you’ve got customers interested in your brand, the next step is to make their desire stronger towards your products/service. 

At this stage, customers are looking at the problem you can solve and how your solutions are different (and better) than what other companies are offering.

Once you have customer’s attention, talk to them about the benefits of the products, not features — to build their interest.

Use higher-level attention-grabbing methods to get them really close to the product purchase. This would mean including high-resolution images, product description, and a product video to entice customers to place an order. 

Make sure you gain some customer reviews after making a sale. This will give visitors an unbiased opinion of your products, and also provide other necessary information they need about the brand.

4. Action

It’s time to get those Benjamins rolling in. This is the stage when you want your prospective customers to add products to their shopping cart, type in the payment information, and finalize the transaction. This is also the stage where most dropouts happen. 

Focus on your product pages and remove any kind of friction that can lead a customer to drop off. Examine your checkout page and make sure you have only included relevant fields to make the process quick and simple. Just making these small tweaks can make a significant difference in your conversion rates.

5. Bonus stage: Re-engage

Most standard conversion funnels miss out on this stage but it’s extremely important for your business.

Your goal is not only to get one-time traffic but make these people come to you again. 

Retaining customers is the crucial aspect of growing a business and this step enables you to do that.

Invite these customers to sign up for newsletters and social media channels that will encourage repeat purchases. Send them a coupon code or discounts via email. Include personalized notes in the packaging to make a lasting impression in their mind. 

Make sure you’re not bombarding them with newsletters and promotional campaigns. That can negatively affect your brand’s image and can lead customers astray.

The 6-step process to optimize your conversion funnel in 2021 

We have seen how a customer moves from one phase to another in the conversion funnel.

The next step is to identify where the customers drop off and to fix these ‘leaks’.

1) Make your site really easy to navigate

There should be a clear path for a customer to follow. Whichever page a customer lands on, make sure there are clear steps after that. 

Every product page should highlight a shopping cart. The shopping cart should lead to a checkout page

Each step of the conversion funnel should be designed to provoke action from the customer for the next step.

We saw a traditional conversion funnel above but this varies for different businesses. It can be as complicated or simple, depending on the steps and processes you want to analyze. 

Visitors arrive at the homepage or product page, add items to the cart, make the payment, and then checkout. Seems easy, right?

No. Because not every visitor takes the same path. 

When you’re mapping a conversion funnel, keep in mind there’s an ideal path you want a customer to take and then there is a path that customer takes, which needs to be mapped and accounted for in the funnel.

example of website navigation

You can create these different funnels when you are aware of user behavior and how you can convert them into customers.

If you attempt to push everyone through the same funnel, you’ll see no significant improvement in conversions because people may be taking different paths to reach your site.

Work backward. Understand what’s the most important goal of your website. It could be sales, lead generation, or getting customers to sign up. 

Then look into what actions a customer should take to complete the step. 

2) Set goals for soft and hard conversions

Once you’ve established a flow for customers, the next thing you should do is measure how users are moving through your site. 

One of the easiest ways to do this is by setting up goals in Google Analytics. 

To measure how your conversion funnel is performing, you need to set goals at every step.

Each stage should have at least one goal and you can even set more if you want to. 

Set up goals for all major conversions — sales, email opt-ins, newsletters opt-ins, subscriptions, and resource downloads.

Log into Google Analytics and go to Admin Settings. Select the view or the concerned page, and then click on ‘goals’ from the drop-down menu.

goals in google analytics

Next, click on “New Goal” on the upper left side. It should appear like this on your GA:

creating new goal on google analytics

From here, you will have different options to set up your goals. 

choosing a template on google analytics

On the top, there are different templates to choose from. These include online registration, submitting content, referring friends,  reading reviews, etc.

If any of these options match with conversions you want to measure, set up those templates and assign yourself a goal. 

For metrics that don't show up here, you’ll have to create custom goals. Google Analytics allows four ways to do it:

  • Destination: When users visit a particular URL
  • Duration: The amount of time spent by the user on the site
  • Pages per session: Number of pre-set pages viewed by a user
  • Event: Action taken by the user on the element tracked by JavaScript

With each new goal, you can also add a funnel. This means you can add a list of pages that users visit before completing the action, which can later help to measure conversions more effectively.

3) Find channels that drive relevant traffic

Once we have set up the right metrics, we need to minimize drop-offs that happen at every stage. The first step to doing so is bringing in qualified leads who are genuinely interested in your products or services. 

When you are targeting broad, you’re casting a wide net and trying to poach people who may not be interested in your product or service. Of course, there are latent customers who need a slight nudge to convert, but the majority may be visitors who will possibly never buy your product because they don’t need it. 

Unless your funnel is specific and crisp, you will see larger traffic on your landing page but significantly higher drop-offs with only a fraction of customers making it further.

To attract leads that have the possibility of becoming customers, you need to figure out where your best traffic is coming from. 

The answer lies in Google Analytics’ referral source reports. 

Go to your Acquisitions → Overview, and you’ll see a report similar to the one below:

 Google Analytics referral source reports

On the top, you can see the channels bringing in the most traffic to your site. In this example, it’s Direct. 

Next to that, you can see the average session duration, pages per session, and bounce rate. In the last section, you can see the channels bringing in the most number of conversions for your site.

But as you can see, this is sorted by the general channel type. 

So, the details such as which search engine you are generating traffic from and what’s included in the ‘other’ sources aren’t specified.

To view that information, open your ‘All Traffic’ report on GA. Something like this should appear:

 All Traffic report on Google analytics

Click on “secondary dimension”, choose “source/medium” and that will give you the breakdown of the search engines and other details about where you’re getting the best traffic and what can be done to leverage them more.

If you notice some of your ad campaigns bringing in traffic that is ultimately converting, invest more in those campaigns that can help to maximize visitors on your site who are looking for your product, and are genuinely interested in buying it.

4) Identify where micro-conversions happen

Not every customer who visits your site will ultimately convert.

But the fact they found your page and spent time exploring is a micro-conversion in itself. There are many micro-conversions that happen along the way that moves a visitor closer to the purchase. 

So, when you develop a funnel, look into the micro-conversions that need to happen before the macro conversion — of the visitor turning into a customer.

Some common micro-conversions can look like:

  • Newsletter sign-up
  • Browsing specific pages such as product pages, category pages, homepage, etc.
  • Adding products to the cart
  • Product launch sign-ups, etc.

Your micro-conversions can include as many actions as you like, depending on the business type and site.

Whatever the action might look like, your content will be essential to drive visitors from one step to another in the funnel.

They will need to know more about the brand, where you are based, what products/services you sell, and how you are different from your competitors. 

For this, you need to regularly create content on your site, social media channels, and elsewhere, to build authority, recall, and credibility.

But again, not every kind of content will work for all customers. 

You need to segment what content the customers will see on different stages that will prompt them to move ahead. 

At awareness or top of the funnel stage, you should look into blog posts, newsletters sign-ups, email campaigns, etc., to educate customers about your brand. Don’t focus on promoting the brand but on educating customers why and how your brand is different from others.

This will mean you’re not looking for visitors to immediately convert, but leaving an impression with repeated exposure.

Middle-of-funnel content requires you to take it a notch higher. Here you’re trying to establish the credibility of your brand for those visitors who know about you but haven’t bought anything from you.

Testimonials, case studies, social media marketing, and ad campaigns can help customers move closer to knowing your products, and therefore, buying from you.

Unlike the top of the funnel, your message here should be promotional telling customers clearly why they should choose you over others. 

Bottom of the funnel is where users come close to becoming a customer. Discounts, free shipping, freebies, loyalty programs, referral marketing, etc. can give the user a final nudge to make the purchase.

5) Find where shoppers (generally) drop off

When a customer enters the marketing funnel, you want them to make it to the end.

But in reality, only a few do.

So, where do other users go? Why are they not making it to the end?

That’s because each step in your conversion funnel has holes.

Think of it this way: Each level of funnel filters out users who aren’t interested and qualify the other ones to the next level. There are many users who leave by the side. 

These holes are called exits or leaks in your marketing funnel. 

While some of the users may have left your funnel because your product/service doesn’t serve their purpose, the other fraction may need a nudge to move further in the conversion funnel. 

Sometimes, your website doesn’t do the best job moving them to the next step in the funnel. 

So, how to identify these leaks?

Open the sweet GA again. If you have added funnels to your goals in GA previously, you can go to the Funnel Visualization Report to check this.

Select “conversions” from the Analytics menu and then click on “funnel visualization”.

funnel visualization on google analytics

Once you come here, you’ll see a detailed visual representation of how users move through your website.

 visual representation of how users move through your website

The above screenshot is a breakdown of the journey a customer has taken on an online ecommerce store. Users have gone from adding items to the cart to billing and shipping, and then finally making the payment before they leave a review to complete the transaction. 

You can see here at what stage you are losing the visitors. You can see what steps they’re exactly taking rather than staying on your website.

The right column in the picture tells you where the visitors are going when they don’t move further on your site.

From here, you’ll have to weed out what leaks are causing a significant dropout and which ones don’t make any difference. For example, some visitors are coming to your destination page in the above screenshot and then moving to the sign-up page. This means they have an account on your site and are likely to return to the checkout page from their account. 

But in other cases, people are getting distracted by other pages on the site or they’re dropping off, and this is where you need to do the work. 

If you can see certain pages in your funnel bringing in higher conversions, you should focus on finding out what is working here that is not working for other channels. 

But before that, you may need to consider another parameter. What if your conversion funnel doesn’t accurately represent how users move through the site?

Well, the only way to find out is by looking at the Reverse Goal Path report.

This report shows you how a visitor arrived at the conversion rather than how they move through the funnel. 

You can also refer to the Goal Flow Report for similar insights.

Goal Flow Report

This report provides an analysis of the common paths taken by users from the beginning. Rather than telling you about their last actions, it helps you monitor them from the very start. 

This can help you learn more about visitors’ behavior and if their actions are in line with your conversion funnel, so you know if you should make any changes to your conversion funnel or not.

6) Heatmaps and A/B tests: always a good idea

At this stage, you’ve identified the problems in your conversion funnel, and now it’s time to fix them. 

In many cases, the leaks or drop-offs will be on key conversion pages. 

For instance, the average shopping cart abandonment rate is 69.23%. That means from every 10 people who add items to the cart, three of them purchase from you.

So, if you notice a lot of customers adding items to the cart but not completing the purchase, that should be your key focus area to improve.

So, what can you do that will push people to the checkout page from the shopping cart?

There might be many reasons that generally come into play why users don’t check out on your page.

But how can you tell which one is causing low conversions from this?

For that, we use Heatmaps.

But before you conduct a heatmap analysis, you need to do some homework.

You need to learn more about the people who took the action on your site and those who didn’t. Were there any roadblocks? Did you show discounts to some and not to others? Does the non-converting audience have any objections?

Once you have done your homework, look into heatmaps. These maps are a visual representation of where your users focus their attention on site and where they don’t. 

Check out this example:

example of heatmaps

The glowing areas are where the customers are focused. This means a majority of people are clicking on these areas. 

Since the purpose of this page is to drive more people to a CTA, it looks like they’ve done a good job in capturing customers’ attention & getting them to take action.

But what if that wasn’t the goal? What if they were supposed to go to another page? Then you know where customers are getting distracted and you can work on eliminating those distractions, so they can convert on the right page.

Now, say, this is how your heat map looks like:

heatmap with low interaction on the page

How are you going to figure out where your customers are most focused? You can’t. 

That means you have some serious work to do. You may have to remove a lot of distractions from here or make your CTA really stand out, so the customer converts where you want them to. 

Running heatmaps is the easiest way to gain insights into why your customers aren’t converting.

The other way is a rather obvious one. 

You should ask the customers yourself. Of course, we’re not suggesting dialing each of them individually, but you can look into creating surveys that will tell you why they are not taking the ultimate action on your website.

The more effectively you’re able to address the audience’s concern, the faster you’ll be able to grow and see the conversions rolling in. 

Once you fix the issue after looking at the insights on heatmaps, you need to take one more step.

A/B tests.

If you don’t know how A/B tests work, we will tell you.

You create two variations (Variation A and Variation B) and test them out against each other. After running the test, you see which variation generated more conversion against another. 

Here’s an example:

If you want to test which CTA will generate more conversions between orange and green, your test will look something like this:

A/B testing example

To run an A/B test, you need to divide your traffic between two variations, so you can collect data for both simultaneously. 

Every time you learn about the possible changes for your site, you can A/B test them to know which one has the scope to bring more conversions. 

While getting actual conversions is great, don’t lose sight of the micro-conversions you are getting on the website, as that is a victory in itself. 

Also, when you focus only on getting conversions, you are only looking at the bottom of the funnel. But when you consider the users who made it past the awareness stage and have the latest desire towards your product, you can move those users faster to the next step.

When more people move further in the funnel, your likelihood of conversion also increases. 

Wrapping up

Creating a conversion funnel can be challenging, but it becomes easier to patch the holes and bring in more sales with insights and data. Remember the four fundamentals of a conversion funnel — awareness, interest, desire, and action, and move up from there. 

Take your time learning about your audience and what they need to convert and then optimize your funnel depending on the results.

Customer’s journey is not linear — but the more you know about their behavior and history, it becomes more predictable and recurring.

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