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Alternative Goals: Converting that other 97%

by Justin Palmer - August 21st, 2008

I recall a memorable staff meeting in company I worked for when the following question was directed to me, “What percent of visitors to our website actually by make a purchase?” Upon responding that our website converted about 3% percent of traffic, a panic went off in the room. “What’s happening to the other 97%!?” many wanted to know.

Because we’re so focused on the primary conversion goal of our website, we often forget many of our visitors come to our website with a different agenda in mind. Although we’d prefer that 100% of our visitors make a purchase or generate a lead, its in our best interest to help visitors complete the task that’s most important to them at the time.

FACT: Your ability to convert visitors for secondary goals affects your ability to convert visitors for your primary goal.

For example, if a customer tried unsuccessfully to find a store location on your website, how likely are they to make an online purchase? Judgments are made quickly about your site, so if a simple task can’t be accomplished, some may assume your site is broken or poorly made.

What type of alternative goals are we talking about? Here’s a few that come to mind:

  • Finding a store location
  • Checking for new products
  • Learning about the company / brand
  • Researching in-store purchase
  • Finding a job
  • Tracking an order
  • Contacting customer service
  • Finding an answer in an online knowledge base
  • Adding a product review

So how do you go about optimizing for alternative conversion goals? Here’s quick checklist:

  1. First, identify all your alternative goals. To help with this, study your navigation paths from the top entry points on your site. You may also consider directly asking visitors their intent, using a survey tool such as Avinash Kaushik’s excellent 4Q tool.
  2. Setup Google analytics goals or similar tracking through your analytics software, allowing you to see visitors as they funnel their way to the goal in mind
  3. Looking through the lens of this goal, try to identify possible obstacles. For example, if you learn that 10% of your site visitors are looking for a store location, but your locations page is buried in the footer of your website, you’ve found a potential stumbling block.
  4. Determine the goal completion page. In other words, after a visitor completes this goal, where do they end up?
  5. After a visitor reaches the goal completion page, ask yourself “How can I steer this visitor towards the primary goal of the website?” For example, after a customers adds a favorable product review, you can suggest similar items to the one they just purchased.

Potentially, you could have hundreds of various alternative goals on your website. Start with optimizing the most common ones, and go from there. If you delight your visitors in these areas, you’ll undoubtedly build a bridge to future conversions.

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