Marketing Conversion Research

Now that never happens. You need to diagnose the patient before you know how to treat him. Sounds plain obvious, doesn’t it? Not so in the conversion world!

There are plenty of people (some who call themselves optimizers) who claim to know immediately what’s wrong with a website, and how to improve it.

Sure, some problems might be plainly obvious. But you might be wrong — your personal preferences and bias get in the way. And — the better the website, the less obvious the problems are. So you’re left with opinions. But the problem is …

…your opinions don’t matter

It’s true, they don’t. Would you rather have a doctor operate on you based on opinion or careful examination and tests?

So every optimization project has to start with conversion research. It’s where you diagnose a website, and figure out where and how it’s leaking money. Once we know that, we can go ahead and start plugging the holes.

What conversion research consists of

Largely we can categorize it into three parts:

Experience-based assessment

  • Site walkthroughs
  • Heuristic analysis
  • Usability analysis

Qualitative research

  • Online surveys with recent customers
  • On-site polls
  • Phone interviews
  • Live chat transcripts
  • Customer support insight
  • User testing

Quantitative research

  • Web analytics analysis (e.g. Google Analytics and other quantified data tools like Adobe Analytics, KISSMetrics, MixPanel, Heap Analytics)
  • Mouse tracking analysis

CXL highly recommends that you use the ResearchXL framework for conducting conversion research:

For Brand New Businesses: Customer Development

How do we go about conversion research if this is a new business, a startup? No customers to survey, no data to analyze yet?

If that’s the case, forget about CRO. What you need is customer development — figuring out which product to build and for whom. Most businesses fail because they build something that no one wants. Customer development is what helps you minimize risk and improve the chances that this new business will make it.

This conversion course becomes valuable to you once you get traffic and data in. Until then… talk to people!

This is one of the mantras of Steve Blank, the father of customer development and author of The Startup Owner’s Manual.

When I talk to people starting a new business and they complain about conversions, the first question I ask is “how many customers have you talked to?” Usually, the answer is “none”. Hmm?

Once you have your first customer profile written down, go out and meet these people or businesses. Talk to them, observe them in their natural habitat and learn all you can.

What if you learn that your current business assumptions are wrong?

It’s not uncommon at all that a company starts with an assumption of who the target audience is and what they want, and changes course once they learn more about the market. In Lean Startup methodology, it’s called a pivot. Many well-known companies have changed direction, from Paypal to Groupon.

Site Walkthroughs

You won’t believe how many conversions are lost due to poor cross-browser and cross-device compatibility issues. While some might consider this a technical issue and not a conversion issue, I say otherwise. Anything that we as optimizers can do to boost conversions is an optimization issue. And these are low-hanging fruits.

Questions we’re trying to answer here:

  • Does the site work with every major browser?
  • Does the site work with every device?
  • What’s the user experience like with every device?

Technical issues and poor user experience will kill conversions.

Consider this:

  • There are ALWAYS gaps in desktop / tablet / mobile experiences. What are the gaps? You can only discover it by doing walkthroughs.
  • Most companies don’t walk the key journeys. They assume their developers have got it right. They’re often wrong.
  • Desktop only journeys often fail mobile and tablets. Just because the site works well on your laptop, doesn’t much for mobile devices.

Create a custom report to see conversions per browser:

We can see here differences between conversions. We can immediately spot that mobile browsers tend to do much worse. While it’s to be expected for smartphones, tablet conversions should be similar to desktop conversions (if they’re not, tablet UX must have serious problems).

Next up, we should look at conversion rates by browser version. Here’s IE:

We can see that IE8 performs quite a bit worse than IE10 or IE9, and IE6 does not convert at all (but that’s okay since it’s just 26 unique visits). However, there are more IE8 users than IE9 users. While there might not be any causation here (e.g. the real reason could be that people using IE8 are less tech savvy and have less money to spend), it’s worth checking it out to see if the site works with IE8.

“Who cares about IE8, not worth it!”

Well, lets see here. How much revenue does it bring in right now?

It looks like it’s just short of $21,000 per month. If the conversion rate would be 6.5% instead of 4.6%, how much extra revenue would that be? About $8500 extra dollars per month, over $100,000 per year. Yeah it’s worth it. Find IE8 and conduct a thorough walkthrough. Try to run into every possible scenario you can. If that’s too much work for you, hire a professional tester.

What you need to do:

Conduct thorough walkthroughs of the site with all the top browsers and each device category (desktop, tablet, mobile). Pay attention to the site structure, and definitely go through the checkout / form filling process. The goal here is to put yourself in the customers’ shoes and see what they’re experiencing. It’s also a great way to familiarize yourself with the site and its structure.

  • Walk through the site in question
  • Make note of URL structure & handling
  • Check page URLs when moving around (useful for measuring flows etc)
  • Build a picture of site navigation flows
  • Identify key points of interest for analytics: all the suspicious stuff should be checked later with data
  • Find bad / suspicious pages or parts of the site
  • Check if the URLs are shared/split for different flows (e.g. if the site sells 3 different products, do they have unique funnels — can each funnel be measured separately?).

As you walk the site, takes notes — call this your ‘Areas of Interest’ document. Use this work to drive an analytics inspection later on.

Make sure that all key devices are tested — desktop browsers (and their different versions), tablets (iPad and Android), smartphones (various). When you choose which devices to test with, besides all iOS devices pick the most popular Android / Windows / Blackberry devices to test with. Check your Google Analytics mobile devices report to see what your audience is using. Note: the data is not perfectly accurate.

  • Find PPC and organic routes for mobile, tablet, desktop. Walk the journeys starting with “landing page zero” — Google results, ads etc.
  • Walk the three journeys — iPhone+Android, iPad+Android and a non-primary desktop browser (e.g. IE8)
  • Walk the real journey, not the analytics data. It might be tempting just to check user flows within GA, but you need to experience the site as users do. It will be 10x more insightful.
  • Is the journey part device centric or all device centric?
  • Make a note of areas of interest for later


  • All the findings will be very practical: you get a series of prioritized fixes
  • Easy wins! If you’re doing work for a client, getting quick wins early on helps you build a relationship while delivering client value

Full disclosure: I’m taking the CXL Growth Marketing Minidegree as part of a scholarship, on the basis that I write one review post per week, over twelve weeks. If you’re interested in reading a really in-depth review of the Minidegree, keep an eye on my Medium page over the next 3 months. 🙂




Data-driven Digital Marketer & Photographer|| Based in Lagos, Nigeria. Find me at

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Anita Princewill

Anita Princewill

Data-driven Digital Marketer & Photographer|| Based in Lagos, Nigeria. Find me at

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