Conversions in marketing, the factor for measuring online success
In the digital sphere, a conversion is an action that a user completes on a website in a brand’s app that leads to a benefit for the company.They are therefore a key element, both because they produce concrete results and because they allow us to measure the success of a digital marketing campaign. Depending on our site and strategy, a conversion can be completing a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, downloading a resource or contacting us to request information, and measuring these interactions is not only possible, it is crucial: analyzing the conversions and the flow that enabled these actions can in fact help us achieve marketing goals and improve the effectiveness of future campaigns.
What is a conversion in the digital sector
In the context of web and digital marketing, conversion is the final step in the process by which a user takes a predefined action on the website, app or digital platform, which leads to a desired outcome for the company and transforms (converts, precisely) the user into a customer or lead. The type of conversion varies depending on the nature of the site, and examples include purchasing a product, signing up for a service, registering as a user, or even just viewing a particular page or landing page.
The term “conversion” is used because it refers precisely to the path by which a person goes from being a mere visitor to becoming a customer or potential customer, realizing a company’s desired goal and converting his or her interest into a concrete action.
Through conversion analysis, it is possible to understand which campaigns are generating the most results and which actions users take most often, and in this way it is possible to obtain the information needed to achieve marketing goals and improve the effectiveness of future campaigns.
Conversion Rate is the percentage of people who took this action, while CRO or Conversion Rate Optimization is called the set of conversion rate optimization strategies that can help us get more conversions and grow the business.
The importance of conversions in digital business
Imagine having a physical store and seeing a constant stream of people coming in, looking around, but then leaving without buying anything. This scenario, which would be a nightmare for any merchant, is what many websites experience every day because they fail to convert users.
Conversions are therefore critical to the success of any digital business, because they give value to the traffic our pages get: as mentioned, they identify the moment when we turn website visitors into customers and generate revenue for our business.
In addition, these actions also have meaning and value for the customers themselves: when a person makes a conversion on a site, they are saying that they find value in what they are offered, they are choosing to engage with the brand in a meaningful way. And that is a powerful signal that we are actually doing something right.
What are conversions: types and examples
As mentioned, in the online landscape a conversion can take many different forms, varying according to the specific marketing objectives of the site, platform or app on which it occurs. For example, a company that sells products online might have as its goal to increase sales, and in this case the conversion might be the conclusion of a user’s purchase of (at least) one product, converted into a customer. Another company might have as its goal to increase the number of newsletter subscribers: in this case, the conversion might be a user signing up for the newsletter, which converts to a lead.
The most frequent types of online conversion include:
- Purchase of a product or service. This is the most obvious example of conversion. When a website visitor or app user purchases a product or service, a conversion has occurred.
- Newsletter subscription. If a website visitor signs up for a newsletter, this is considered a conversion: the user has in fact expressed an active interest in the brand and has agreed to receive further communications.
- Downloading reports, white papers or eBooks. If we offer downloadable content such as white papers or eBooks, downloading these materials is a conversion. This is because the user has shown an interest in the proposed content and provided their contact information to receive it.
- Filling out a contact form. If a site visitor fills out a contact form, this is considered a conversion. This is because the user has expressed an interest in the brand and provided his or her contact information for further communication.
- Booking an appointment or event. If we offer consulting services or events, booking an appointment or event is a conversion. This is because the user has expressed an interest in the services or events and has made a commitment to attend.
- Registration of a user account. If a site visitor or app user registers a user account, it is considered a conversion. This is because the user has expressed an interest in the brand and has agreed to create a closer connection with us.
- Displaying a key page. In some cases, simply viewing a particular page on the site can be considered a conversion. For example, if we have a page detailing services, we might consider it a conversion if a visitor views that page.
The distinction between macro-conversions and micro-conversions
Still on the subject of definitions and explanations, in the digital arena it is often used to distinguish conversions into two categories: macro-conversions and micro-conversions, to simplify and better understand the customer journey and optimize the user experience to maximize results.
In this view, macro-conversions are the primary goals of the site or mobile application, the end results we want our users to achieve. For example, if we run an online store, a macro-conversion might be purchasing a product; if we run a blog, a macro-conversion might be signing up for a newsletter.
In contrast, we call micro-conversions the smaller actions that users take along the way to a macro-conversion, which may include such operations as viewing a particular page, clicking on a link, adding a product to a shopping cart, or spending some time on the site.
Micro-conversions are important because they provide valuable information about user behavior: for example, if we notice that many users add products to the cart but then do not complete the purchase, there may be a problem with the checkout process. By analyzing and optimizing micro-conversions, we can be able to improve the user experience and increase the likelihood of macro-conversions.
Measuring conversions: mix of art and science
Now that we know at least on a general level what they are and what the most common conversions are, it is time to launch into the practical part of analysis.
Measuring conversions is not only possible, in fact, but it is a fundamental aspect of any digital marketing strategy, because it allows us to possible valuable information about user behavior and the effectiveness of the campaigns we are investing in, providing us with concrete data to understand which activities are working best and which, on the other hand, are not bringing the desired results.
Using various tools, starting with Google Analytics, it is possible to track conversions and understand where they are coming from, which pages on the site are most effective in generating conversions, and which marketing channels are bringing the best results.
The information thus obtained will in fact serve us to improve the user experience and to achieve business goals: for example, if we notice that a particular web page generates many conversions, we might decide to invest more in ads that lead to that page, to strengthen it further, possibly reallocating resources previously allocated to other pages that did not get positive responses instead.
But measuring conversions is not just a matter of numbers, because it also relies on some interpretation and the art of applying insights strategically: if, for example, we notice that conversions come primarily from one marketing channel, it might be tempting to focus all resources on that channel, but that might not be the best choice, because in reality the other channels might still bring high-quality visitors to the site who do not convert immediately, however, but who might do so in the future-because they may be at a different stage of the funnel, a concept we will discuss shortly.
The tools for tracking and analyzing conversions
As mentioned, we have multiple ways and tools to measure conversions.
The simplest method is to use a web analytics tool, which serve precisely to website traffic and identify the pages that generate the most conversions.
The immediate reference is certainly Google Analytics, which performs precisely these operations and is one of the best (certainly the most widely used) tools in the segment. Especially in recent times, however, a number of critical issues related to the use of this tool have emerged, such as the difficulties in approaching it with the new standard version (GA4), the impossibility of analyzing websites that are private or that are accessible only to a selected group of users, or the tracking limited only to websites that use Google Analytics tags (and thus incompatibility with other web analytics tags).
Therefore, various alternatives for tracking and analyzing conversions, traffic, and behavior of online audiences are gaining ground, such as:
Formerly known as Piwik, is a free and open source web analytics platform that offers a comprehensive alternative to Google Analytics, suitable for professionals and organizations of all sizes. Matomo can be hosted on its own server or on a third-party server. Its functionality and features include web traffic analysis, conversion tracking, performance reporting, user behavior analysis, A/B testing, and data anonymization (through cookie-free tracking and adherence to users’ Do Not Track settings).
Basically, Matomo is considered an excellent choice for companies that want an alternative to Google Analytics that is more respectful of user privacy, as well as being an ideal solution for companies that want to host their own web analytics tool. One of Matomo’s main strengths is its flexibility: being open source, it can be customized to meet specific needs and can be self-hosted, thus allowing full control over the data.
Among the most common criticisms, however, is some difficulty in approaching the tool, especially for beginners.
- Adobe Analytics
Adobe Analytics is an enterprise-grade web analytics solution that offers deep data analysis, developed by the giant Adobe. Known for its powerful segmentation features, it is more flexible than Google Analytics, allows data to be split into specific groups for more detailed analysis, and also offers data prediction and modeling capabilities, which can help you work on future trends. In addition to being usable for a fee, however, this tool is also more complex to use than competing tools, making it challenging especially for beginners or professionals with reduced skills.
Kissmetrics is an analytics tool, for a fee, that focuses on tracking individual user behaviors: thus, it allows you to see exactly how users interact with the site and what paths they follow toward conversion. Kissmetrics also offers email marketing and automation features, which can help engage and convert users. Again, the limitation is in the complexity of use.
Mixpanel is an analytics tool, for a fee, that focuses on tracking events, not page views: therefore, it tracks the actions users take on the website, such as clicking a button or filling out a form, and this can provide a more detailed view of user behavior and conversions. For example, it allows you to see not only how many people visit a particular page, but also what they do when they get there. In addition, Mixpanel also offers segmentation features, dividing users into specific groups for more detailed analysis, and in-app notification and messaging features, which can help engage and convert users.
Amplitude is a paid, product analytics platform that helps companies understand user behavior, indicated especially for companies that rely on digital products, such as mobile apps or software as a service (SaaS). It offers a range of features to track users through their entire journey, from when they become customers to when they become active users, showing what features they use, how they interact with the product, and what actions lead to user retention. It also has advanced segmentation features that allow users to be divided into specific groups for more detailed analysis.
Hotjar is a platform, for a fee, that offers both traditional web analytics and user feedback and can be used to track user behavior and identify areas for website improvement. Specifically, Hotjar allows users to see how users interact with a site and its pages through heatmaps, click maps, session recordings, and surveys, which can help understand why users behave a certain way and how to improve the user experience to increase conversions.
- Crazy Egg
Crazy Egg is a web analytics tool, for a fee, that offers heatmaps, scroll maps and other visualizations to help understand how users interact with the website; it also offers an A/B testing editor, which allows you to test different versions of a page to see which one generates the most conversions.
As you can see, each of these tools has its strengths and partial weaknesses: some are better suited for analyzing site traffic, while others are better suited for analyzing conversions or people behavior; some are better suited for smaller companies, while others are better suited for larger companies.
Choosing the best tool for analyzing conversions and site traffic therefore depends on the specific needs of the company, and the key is to choose the tool (or tools) that best fits our goals, skills and digital marketing strategy, carefully evaluating the features, functionality and strengths/weaknesses of each tool before making a decision.
The importance of conversion tags
While these analytics tools can be used to measure a variety of activities, including web traffic, user behavior, and traffic sources, there is another, more specific way to study conversions, which is to use so-called conversion tags or conversion pixels.
These are small snippets of code that are added to the website or mobile application to track a range of activities that users perform, including purchases, newsletter sign-ups, file downloads and page views. When a user takes a specific action, such as completing a purchase or filling out a form, the conversion tag sends a signal to an analytics or advertising platform to record the event.
Conversion tags can be added to any page on the website, and it is important to place these pixels precisely on the key pages for our strategy, those whose conversions we want to measure. For example, if we want to precisely count the number of purchases that occur on the site, we can add conversion tags to the checkout page.
However, these little snippets are more widely used in digital marketing to measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns: for example, if we are running a Google Ads campaign, we can use a conversion tag to track how many people click on ads and then actually complete a purchase on the site.
There are different types of conversion tags (and basically every social media outlet has its own specific pixel), which can be read by the analytics tools mentioned earlier or through corresponding software; some of the most common and widely used include:
- Google Tag. The Google tag (gtag.js) is a single tag that we can add to the website to use a variety of Google products and services: instead of managing multiple tags for different Google product accounts, we can now use the Google tag throughout the website and link the tag to multiple destinations, which will show useful data to measure the effectiveness of the website and ads. The Google tag is currently only accessible and configurable from Google Ads and Google Analytics 4.
- Meta Pixel. This code snippet is to be placed on the website to better evaluate the effectiveness of advertising on Meta platforms-namely Facebook and Instagram-and understand the actions people perform on the site, such as visiting a page or adding an item to a shopping cart. More specifically, it allows us to track customers who performed an action after seeing an ad on Facebook and Instagram, and this can also help with retargeting.
- LinkedIn Insight Tag. This tag allows you to track conversions that occur after someone has seen or clicked on an ad on LinkedIn.
- Twitter Pixel. The Twitter pixel allows advertisers to place a piece of code on the Web site to send conversion data to Twitter and thus derive data to measure return on ad spend by tracking the actions people take after viewing or interacting with ads on Twitter.
Conversion tags have several limitations and critical issues. For example, being blocked by some browsers or firewalls, and sometimes they can be prone to technical errors and difficult to implement (especially when we are trying to track specific or personalized events). Factor not to be underestimated, they can slow down page load time if not implemented properly.
Another challenge is data privacy: with increasing concerns about data privacy and the introduction of regulations such as GDPR, it is important to make sure that conversion tags comply with privacy laws.
Finally, conversion tags can sometimes provide inaccurate data. For example, if a user clicks on an ad but then completes a purchase on a different device, the conversion tag may not be able to track the event correctly. This is known as the cross-device attribution problem.
Quick tips for measuring conversions
Being able to properly manage settings for tracking user actions and mastering data analysis software is therefore not a “basic” task, but it is still a strategic activity if we want to aim for online success and provide a satisfying experience for our visitors.
In particular, measuring conversions is an ongoing process that allows companies to improve their performance and achieve their marketing goals, and there are at least four general and generic tips that we can stick to:
- Define the goals to be achieved with marketing campaigns.
- Choose the right tools to measure conversions.
- Analyze the data and identify the pages that lead to higher conversions.
- Optimize marketing campaigns based on the results obtained.
The relationship between conversions and SEO
In addition to being a decisive element in understanding and evaluating the ROI of marketing activities, conversions are closely related to SEO, which on the other hand has among its basic goals the increase in quality traffic to the website, which in turn should lead to an increase in conversions.
In this sense, SEO can help improve conversions in several ways: if a page appears in the top positions in search results, it will more likely get clicks from interested users, which will increase organic traffic. More specifically, however, if we work strategically on optimizing content in relation to and in response to search intent, we can intercept the right users at the right time, that is, improve the quality of traffic and attract visitors who are already genuinely interested in the products or services offered, and thus ready for action and conversion.
Reversing the perspective, conversions-and the work of analyzing user activity-can strengthen and influence SEO in less direct ways. First, it allows us to focus on improving the user experience, which is something that can influence rankings; also, completing a conversion that starts with a click in SERPs can send Google a signal that the website is of high quality and relevant to that search.
How to improve performance: the weight of site performance
Considering SEO to be a holistic subject that is about overall site improvement, then, there are also the technical aspects to take care of that can have concrete and noticeable effect on conversions.
In particular, a valuable and interesting insight by Lina Hansson focuses on the value of speed, demonstrating how page performance optimization interventions can turn into increased conversions.
In her Twitter bio, Hansson describes herself as a “Conversion Specialist at Google, focused on mobile CRO and site speed”- the ideal skills to launch into a practical explanation of why sites and SEO professionals should pay attention to speed metrics, with a series of examples calculating the relative mobile conversion rate.
What is relative conversion rate
The relative conversion rate is a useful metric because it quantifies the effects of website optimization efforts by excluding external factors such as marketing campaigns, which can skew results. This metric can be influenced by some of the site’s own characteristics, such as speed and usability, but also by external factors such as the aforementioned marketing campaigns, seasonal events, and the mix of marketing channels and tools.
The relationship between site speed and conversions
According to Googler, site speed affects conversions, and this factor is most evident for browsing from mobile devices.Hansson’s advice is to not only look at the conversion rate from mobile, but to analyze the relative conversion rate for mobile devices (Rel mCvr), which is calculated by dividing the conversion rate from mobile devices by the desktop conversion rate.
Such an approach reduces the disruption from external factors, which tend to affect both desktop and mobile, and makes it easier to see whether any increases in mobile site effectiveness actually result from speed improvements.
How to do conversion rate analysis
The expert also describes a standard process for analyzing the conversion rate using Google Analytics and Excel calculation tools (or Google Sheets), importing Ecommerce Conversion Rate values from mobile and desktop onto spreadsheets, dividing the results to get, as we said before, the Relative Mobile Conversion Rate. By inserting a graph, moreover, it is possible to visually study the trends of the factors of the speed optimization interventions, the average page load time and the economic returns generated by mobile users during the period under consideration.
Calculating returns on optimization interventions
The next step is crucial: Hansson explains how to calculate the returns the site would have achieved without improvements. One must divide the actual return by the current Rel mCvR, and then multiply by the value of Rel mCvR in the period before the speed optimization. Subtracting the revenue the company earned from what it would have earned without improvements in Rel mCvR gives the weight of the speed interventions, i.e., the superior performance generated by a site that has become faster and more mobile friendly.
Tools for discovering and evaluating the importance of site speed
Ultimately, Lina Hansson’s guide offers a number of useful pointers for those seeking to improve their site’s conversions, starting with technical interventions to optimize performance and speed. The Relative Mobile Conversion Rate is a valid and inexpensive way to estimate the concrete impact of speed optimization and the effect on revenue, without having to perform, for example, server-side or slow-down testing. Quantifying the relationship between performance and revenue can help document the value of development projects, the benefits of which may not be immediately clear to non-technical stakeholders.
The conversion funnel: accompanying the customer to conversion
There is also another useful resource on web.dev dedicated to the relationship between site performance and conversions, which allows us to go beyond determining the real impact of speed on user actions: in fact, Martin Schierle‘s contribution goes technical and clarifies how site performance can have an effect and improve people’s conversions, specifically presenting the conversion funnel, which we also show here in graphic form.
In short, the process starts with discovery (discover), goes through engagement, reaches conversion, and finally proceeds to re-engage.Schierle’s guide (who is Mobile Solutions Consultant at Google) addresses the different ways in which a website must optimize performance to achieve maximum conversions at the end of the funnel.
The Discovery Phase
First load and speed: how to improve first load
The Googler reminds us that speed can be a direct ranking factor, such as on web search, ad campaigns, or social networks, and urges us not to overlook the fact that new users discovering the website for the first time receive an uncached first load, which is basically the worst possible experience! This can be especially frustrating if you spend money to get the user to the Web site and the process breaks down because of a long first load.
Schierle offers a suggestion to avoid this inconvenience and make the first load more effective: first of all, you have to use the tools to check these parameters made available (also) by Google such as Pagespeed, because performance is an SEO factor and, from a human point of view, if already the first load is slow, the user may never wait for the next loading or stay on the site to look at the products we propose.
In general, website loading times are associated with a positive bounce rate, which in turn is often correlated with good conversions, which is why action needs to be taken on these aspects of on-page SEO.
The Engagement Phase
We have succeeded, the first step is accomplished: users have discovered the site and reached our pages. Now the second phase, engagement, begins: we need to engage them with quality on-page content, checking all the parameters of session duration, time on page, pages per session and user flows, then using the Google Search Console tools to have this data at hand.
Take action on content and user flows
In addition to the various user experience optimization practices, the key to engagement success is to provide a smooth, fast and responsive experience: if optimizing a site for discovery means working for first loading, in engagement it is crucial to offer fast navigation and fast repeat loads. Specifically, one must control at what step flow users stop, correlating this parameter to the speed metrics for these navigations.
The conversions stage
This brings us to the crucial stage of the funnel, the one that can determine the success and survival of a website, especially if eCommerce: conversion. Generally, site conversions are the consequence of good work in the discovery phase and excellent engagement, but it is still necessary to point out some aspects.
The obstacles to conversions
In standard user expectations, hero images load quickly, call-to-actions buttons are rendered and labeled quickly, the page is responsive, and there are no layout jumps. A user won’t buy anything if they can’t click the “Buy Now” button because of a busy CPU or a jumping or unlabeled button. Schierle recommends measuring and tracking action time toward a conversion or subgoal, such as the average time it takes buyers from landing on your site, to viewing a product, to completing payment.
The re-engagement phase
According to some studies, only 2 percent of users convert on their first visit – it is critical that the other 98 percent come back and re-engage through content.
Modern Web sites have several ways to accomplish these re-engagement tasks, such as through email messages, custom display ads in remarketing, or notifications. For the Googler, the process works best if the flow from re-engagement to the Web site is as smooth as possible; unfortunately, it is not always successful because, for example, mail apps often open links in their in-app webview, slowing page loading and making logins more complex through different caches and cookie storage.
Thus, the advice is to optimize the site for fast repeat loads and make UX flows more natural to increase the chances of re-engagement.
The conversion funnel, final tips
Martin Schierle’s article is useful for us to set some key concepts to maximize the chances of conversion on the site and to positively complete the purchase funnel.
Each step in this funnel must be optimized for website speed to minimize bounce rate and abandonments, and for each step there are different things to optimize, different pitfalls and culprits.