So you’ve just started getting to grips with analytics for your e-commerce business – and your overall conversion rate has you worried. It’s been dropping for the last few months, and you have no idea what you can do on-site to reverse the downward trend.

Don’t panic! First of all, it’s important to understand what conversion rate is, and what a bad conversion rate actually means. Conversion rate is the number of conversions (in this case, sales) over a particular period, divided by the total number of visits in that period. So if you had 250 sales and 2500 total visits in January, your overall conversion rate for January would be 10%.

A drop in your conversion rate does not always mean a drop in sales and/or a drop in your business revenue. For example, let’s say you’ve just launched a weekly blog section on your site, and your analytics data for this month shows a big spike in traffic and a much smaller rise in sales. Your overall conversion rate has likely gone down, regardless of the fact that your sales have actually gone up and you probably have a lot more users who now know you exist (and might purchase from you in the future).

By the same token, a rise in your conversion rate doesn’t necessarily translate to more sales and/or profits – it might even indicate there’s something wrong. Let’s say this month, you suffer a huge drop in traffic, but it turns out it’s just non-converting traffic; your number of sales have only gone down by a tiny amount. No problem, right?

Well, since old customers are more likely to convert than new users, and since new customers are more likely to discover you via your marketing channels than old customers who will already have your site bookmarked, this could be a sign that one of your marketing channels isn’t doing too well.

Divide your traffic data up by the different sources from where it came, and you’ll probably uncover the particular channel which needs fixing. Perhaps Google have given your site a ranking penalty, so you’re getting fewer new users finding you via search. In a similar vein, perhaps you’ve gone over your budget for PPC and your ads have abruptly stopped showing to users.

Notice how we’ve uncovered the bigger picture by looking at smaller segments of your data, comparing them with other performance metrics and working out how they fit into known user behaviour patterns? This is necessary if you want to determine the root of your conversion rate problem (or ascertain if there’s even a real problem in the first place).

Here’s a few more examples of smaller conversion issues which your overall conversion rate might be hiding from you, and some of the actions you can take to optimise your e-commerce site.

Make product pages more visual

A particular manufacturer’s products just aren’t selling. You’re getting plenty of customers viewing the products, but next to no one is adding them to their baskets. It can’t be the products themselves – they’re getting good reviews elsewhere and they’re a good fit for the types of customers you’re attracting. Meanwhile, on the page, the content is informative and engaging and the trust signals and CTAs are in full view. So why aren’t they selling?

The weak link might be the images the manufacturer in question has supplied for you. All product pages should offer crisp, clear, high-resolution images of the item from multiple angles. For most products, it’s also wise to have a few shots of them being modelled, so the customer can get a better idea of how they’ll look/work if they purchase them.

This is obvious for clothes; people need an idea of how a particular clothing item will look and fit on them before they commit to buy. However, it also works for furniture and gadgets – by showing them in realistic settings, users can get a sense of their scale and function, helping them to visualise how they’ll fit into their own space and daily life.

Videos and interactive viewers are also a great way of demoing a product, while also making the buying journey more enjoyable, engaging and memorable.

(While we’re on the subject of visual appearance, make sure there’s a consistent page layout shared across all your product pages. The title, description, price, CTA and other elements on the page should be in the same place no matter what product you’re looking at. This helps customers find their way around your site easily, and also makes comparing products easier.)

Adjust your SEO strategy

You’ve looked into your search traffic, and you’re getting a healthy amount of visitors – but your conversion rate is still very low. What could be wrong?

A lot of businesses make the mistake of investing too much in SEO, and investing too little in their conversion. The result is, all your search optimisation efforts essentially go to waste.

Perhaps users are clicking on your site expecting one thing and receiving another. There are a number of potential causes for this, but they often share one common theme – you’re optimising for the wrong keywords.

Maybe you’re targeting (read: spamming) lots and lots of search phrases with no connection to who you are or what you offer; in which case you should stop, right now. All you’re doing is tricking people who probably have no interest in buying from you into visiting your site. (In any case, your SEO strategy won’t work in the long run; you’ll take a big hit to your ranking once Google spots what you’re up to.)

Perhaps your keywords are too broad in their meaning. Think about the term ‘conversion rate’, for example. In the context of e-commerce marketing, we’re talking about sales, but we could be talking about currency conversions instead. You should focus on specific keywords, and ensure your content provides the context to help both Google and users identify what you’re offering.

This problem can be exacerbated when it comes to retail, where many products have similar names (or share a common name across several different brands). You might consider adding a ‘similar items’ bar to your product pages, so customers who have landed on the wrong product page will hopefully have quick access to the product they’re looking for.

Localise your site for different markets

Let’s say you’re getting a large volume of traffic coming into your site from other countries, but those international users don’t seem to be converting. What can you do?

Firstly, ask yourself this: are you selling to an international market? If the answer is no, there’s not too much point in including this outside traffic when you calculate your conversion rates – they’ll skew your figures and make your outlook seem worse than it actually is.

(That said, if you’re getting a lot of traffic from outside countries, it’s worth investigating how and why they reached your site. There may be opportunities to expand your market, lying right under your nose.)

If, however, the answer is yes and you aren’t converting your international customers, perhaps it’s because your site is built solely for customers within your own country. There’s lots of things you can do to provide a more local experience for global customers – it just depends how deep you want to go and how much you want to invest in targeting them..

At the very least, you should provide accurate prices in a range of currencies on your product pages. Place the UK price at the top of the page, and place the same price in euros and dollars either next to it or beneath it.

Adding more local currencies will probably clutter your product pages –  so instead, you could provide accurate price conversions and shipping costs based on the location of the customer. You can get the customer to select their location manually (either via a drop-down menu on the page or during the signup process when they set up an account on your site). Alternatively, you can make the whole process seamless by using tracking elements to automatically detect their location.

It’s not just about prices. Think about the specifications for each product – are they available in different units for different regions? Do your product descriptions include cultural references which won’t mean anything to international users? Translating your site into different languages might be a stretch too far for smaller businesses; but on the other hand, there are a few automatic translation services which offer a more cost-effective solution.

Don’t forget about the checkout too. Are your address input forms compatible with a variety of address formats – and do you make it clear to users that they are compatible? For example, US users have ZIP codes instead of postcodes, so if you only use the term ‘postcode’ on your form, it implies you don’t ship to US addresses.

You can also set up different international domains and global hosting facilities for your site. These will reduce the loading times for far-away customers, preventing them from abandoning your site for a local competitor with a smoother site..

(As a last side note, if you’re not offering your products to international customers, make it clear in your content. It’s best to set up some kind of form validation at the checkout, to notify the user if they input an address you can’t ship to. Otherwise, you might end up with orders you can’t fulfil…)

Make your site more mobile-friendly

The number of users accessing your site from smartphones and tablets is increasing at a steady rate – but it seems they’re not buying from you. What’s going on?

If you keep up with the Advantec blog, you’ll know mobile users account for over 40% of e-commerce sales in the UK, and that figure is still growing. Hopefully, the news of Google’s looming ‘Mobilegeddon’ in April spurred you into action and you now have a shiny new mobile site; but if you’re not getting the conversions you want from your mobile traffic, you probably still have work to do.

Be mindful of how your desktop experience translates to mobile – just because it’s responsive and everything fits neatly on a smartphone screen doesn’t necessarily mean it’s optimised for mobile conversions.

For example, do your customers have to scroll through reams and reams of content before they even see an ‘add to basket’ button? Solve this problem by nesting the description inside a drop-down, which the customer can select if they want to find out more about the product.

You should also think about loading times, which are more of an issue when it comes to the relatively slow nature of 4G connections and the unreliability of public wifi. One way to address this issue is to serve up hi-res images for desktop users and smaller images for mobile users. After all, super-detailed images won’t look noticeably better on smaller screens – they’ll just drag down your website’s speed and convince your customers to abandon their carts.

As you can see, conversion optimisation is a balancing act. A well-intentioned change to improve conversions for one area of your site can end up reducing conversions in another area. However, with regular site testing and close attention to your analytics data, you can come up with solutions which suit everyone.


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