Recently I was in a meeting with a potential client, as I was asking him about his marketing and how it was performing he got rather dismissive “oh that doesn’t work” he proclaimed when I asked him if we used Adwords to advertise his products.
It’s quite a common answer to any question about what advertising is working, so normally I dig a little deeper and ask “what doesn’t work?”, is the cost per click too high? did you get any conversions? how did the visitors perform on your site? how did they perform compared to free traffic or other paid traffic?
This is when they start stuttering, the problem is they don’t know the answer to any of the questions because they didn’t delve deep enough to find the truth.
They didn’t really have a traffic problem…
They had a Website Conversion Rate,Testing and Optimisation Problem
Mainly that they weren’t doing any of the above, like so many business owners they were stumbling around in the dark, relying too much on intuition, hunches and opinion and allowing these to make critical decisions about their business.
In the rest of the post I’m going to give you a simple plan for testing, optimising and basically knowing what the hell is going on with your traffic sources and how they interact with your site — It will even include a rather embarrassing case study from my own site on one of my advertising fails but more importantly how I identified the route cause of the problem and turned it around.
The first step to finding a solution to a problem is knowing what the problem is.
Once you know the route cause of the problem solving it becomes a hell of a lot easier.
To get to the route cause we need to dig into the analytics data and look at how the traffic source you are testing is behaving on your site.
Recently I ran some Facebook ads to my blog as part of a marketing experiment, I was driving the traffic to a blog post I had written and then planned to re-market to the readers of the post on Facebook. Quite a common tactic and quite powerful when you get it right — the problem was I wasn’t getting it right!
This is were I noticed the first problem, the traffic source above is from facebook.com/ referral in my haste to get the ad set up I hadn’t tagged the link the traffic where going to, this meant I couldn’t differentiate the traffic from the paid ads with that from other links on facebook directed to my site.
Luckily I spotted this error early on — This is one of the biggest issues I find with analytics data when looking at clients sites, the traffic sources that are driving people to the website going aren’t tagged correctly so you can’t tell it apart from other sources.
It just gets jumbled up and if you can segregate the data you can’t possibly make an accurate hypothesis or find a solution to the problem.
Once it’s tagged correctly you can separate the different sources of traffic better.
Now I knew I was looking at the paid ads being driven from Facebook — I had tagged them with “Facebook / CPC”
Next I noticed another problem — although I was getting clicks from Facebook at a reasonable price per click I was getting very little time on site, the Avg Session Duration segment was stuck on zero.
This was an even bigger problem, if the people visiting my site were not reading the content it may prove completely hopeless to re-market to them later. I needed to dig deeper into what was going on.
What could be the problem?
Several potential issues sprang to mind…
- The demographic I had targeted in Facebook simply weren’t interested in the content.
- There was some issue with the reporting.
- The premise of the ads didn’t match the content.
- The content was crap
I needed some better more qualitative data, luckily I have Hotjar running on my site — if you are not using Hotjar get it, they provide some really powerful user insights such as…
Heat maps indicate were people are clicking on your site/page it can give an indication of problems, for instance if people are clicking on something that isn’t a link, or if people are clicking on content further down the page, it can also help you to arrange product categories so that the ones people are clicking on are further up the page — the hypothesis being that more people could click through to the product page if it’s higher in the order.
This report shows how far people are scrolling down your pages. This is great for showing you how people are interacting with your content, are they reading all the way to the bottom or not getting past the fold?
Scroll maps are great for giving you some quick qualitative data to better inform your decision making process.
The recordings show you what people are doing on your site. It’s amazing to be able to see user sessions, you can learn so much by watching how people interact with your pages, these recordings can give you fast and cheap user insights.
Hotjar.com also has other great tools such as in session surveys, funnel reporting, form analytics and several others — I could write a pretty lengthy post just about how to use tools like this to get great conversion increases.
For getting clarity on what the hell was wrong with my traffic/page I used 2 reports (this gave me enough insight into the problem)
- Scroll depth
- User recordings
From these 2 reports combined with the analytics data I could see the problem was clear.
My blog post was crap
Nobody was getting far past the opening of the post, which indicated that either they didn’t like the content or the beginning was too weak to pull them into the rest of the post.
The post was a list “10 Reasons To Obsess Over Conversion Rate Optimisation” so I decided to test changing the list around a bit.
I moved one of the stronger bullets in the list to the top – “More Customers For FREE”
This more powerful opener completely changed the data in analytics, as soon as I made the change I started seeing average time on page increasing and Hotjar was showing people scrolling past the fold and longer session recordings.
A very simple change made a whole world of difference to the performance of the blog post and the ads, it still never fails to amaze me how little things can yield big results.
That is in essence what Conversion Rate Optimisation is all about, finding the problems and testings potential solutions, if you don’t test you won’t know.
You can use the same techniques to identify problems with your ads, instead of writing off an advertising source as “oh that doesn’t work for me” dig a little deeper to find out the Route Cause.
It could be that the problem isn’t with the ads, it could be with your site’s conversion process. If you don’t really understand what is going on you won’t be able to solve the problem.
A handy process for getting to the bottom of a problem is Route Cause Analysis which basically just uses the management tool 5 why’s.
In essence 5 Why’s is a pretty simple process for identifying the real causes of a problem, some might even go as far as to say it’s “just common sense”.
The problem is that Common Sense aint always so common and regardless of common sense or not we all tend to let emotion and ego get in the way of our critical thinking. Often we choose the easy route to finding the cause of a problem and declare the “problem” really fast, then if we are lucky we get feedback quick enough to realise that the problem we thought was the problem wasn’t the problem, it was just a symptom of the real problem.
All to often though we aren’t lucky enough to get that feedback early on and we carry on in the belief that we have identified the problem (which we hadn’t) this can go on for years and this inaccurate problem solving causes £millions upon £millions of lost revenue, I’m sure there have also been countless thousands of business’s that have gone out of business due to wrong diagnosis of problems.
I see this all the time with websites, as in the example that opened this post the business owner had dismissed adwords as not workable, but the real reason for the lack of results hadn’t been un-covered.
5 Why’s coupled with the tools I mentioned previously can help to illuminate the route ahead and get to the cause of problems so you can make intelligent “data lead” decisions.
I was first introduced to the 5 Why’s over 12 years ago while I was working for Unilever, we used it to identify the problems that were holding up efficiencies with the production lines.
If you haven’t come across the 5 Why process before it goes like this, when you come across a problem that you want to get to the route cause of you ask WHY 5 times and the more you question the answers the closer you are to the truth.
So with a typical example from my engineering days we could have a machine that stopped production due to a breakdown, once the machine was back up and running we would analyse the problem.
- Why did the machine breakdown? — Because a part failed
- Why did the part fail? — Because it wasn’t correctly oiled
- Why wan’t it correctly oiled — Because it wasn’t checked the week before.
- Why wasn’t it checked — Because production was running flat out to cope with a large order.
This example only needed WHY to be asked 4 times to get to the route cause, you don’t always need to ask 5 times – sometimes you may need to ask more times to get to the bottom of a problem.
It would of been easy to write the problem above off and put it down to “part failure” but as we demonstrated that wasn’t the problem it was just a symptom of the problem.
The real problem was hidden under several layers of symptoms.
Without using 5 Why’s the real answer wouldn’t of been uncovered and the factory would of carried on blissfully un aware of the real problems and blindly stumbling around in the dark.
How can you apply this thinking to your website? what truths about your website may turn out to be false?
Don’t sit there in the dark…
Once you have an indication of a problem start to use the 5 Why’s process and combine it with the tools I mentioned earlier…
First identify and individualise each and every different traffic sources pointing to your website – make sure were ever possible your links are tagged — this is especially important when you are using paid traffic, you want to make every click count so don’t loose the data amongst the generic clicks.
Once you have identified all the different traffic sources dive into the data and see how each of them are performing, use quantitative tools such as analytics as well as qualitative tools to get user insights such as Hotjar.
Then when you have some better information about what the real Route Cause of the problem is you will find it a lot easier to come up with a successful solution.
If you apply this kind of Critical Thinking to every part of your business you will find it is a lot easier to get great improvement results and build upon success.
Approaching things in this way could create a fundamental shift in your business — I have seen it many times and will do so many more.
Let me know in the comments how you have used this kind of Critical Thinking to generate Conversion Improvements in your website.