Understanding Goals and Conversion Optimization

Goals1If you use Google Analytics, you’re probably familiar with the terms Goals, and Conversions. Those two items are in just about every report that is available, and they aren’t there just for decoration, or extras. These features are pretty much the only reason to use Google Analytics as opposed to some other simple stat counter.

What are Goals and Conversions?
Basically, a Goal is what you want someone to do on your site, and a Conversion is when that user actually does what you wanted them to do. Conversions are good!

Goals are not just for people who sell stuff…
When you think of Goals, you may think of selling a product, making a reservation, or other simple transactions that result in your getting paid, however, there are tons of goals that don’t end with payment, that are equally as important, if not more important.

I’m talking about things like: Subscriptions, registrations, downloads, and even something as simple as encouraging users to comment on your blog. Unlike the goals I described earlier, these are the sort of goals that will keep on paying for the long term.

Conversion Optimization
For any goals, there are things that you can tweak on your site that will increase or decrease conversions. This is called Conversion Optimization, and it can be as simple as changing the color or style of a word, and can be as complex as redesigning your whole site. At any rate, the key to success with conversion optimization is to test, test, and test some more.

A Real Life Example
Not long ago, I decided to add a forum to one of my sites (dnScoop.com). The main site was popular, but I thought it might be a good idea to give users somewhere else on my site to go, instead of just leaving when they were done using the tool.

I installed the forum, and added a link to the main site menu that said “Forums”. Time passed, and, not much happened. I had the random registration here and there, but it was hardly enough to start an online community.

So I decided to add another link from the home page to the forum. This time, it said “Join the dnScoop forum”. I placed it in a pretty prominent place, and noticed that I started to get a few more sign-ups.

I think it was at this point that I realized that getting users to join my form needed to be treated as a goal. I had recently heard about Google Website Optimizer, a really great conversion optimization tool that Google offers. It’s officially part of adWords, but you can use it for testing anything on your site.

I tested several versions of the “Join the dnScoop forum” link, with different words, colors, and even images.
As you can see by the results, I had a clear winner at with a .47% conversion ratio. I tested 3 variations with buttons, and two with just text links, and this is the variation that won:

I definitely could have further optimized the link, but with the traffic the main site was getting, new users started to really pour in.
dnScoop Forum Stats
In under 5 months, the forum has gone from pretty much nothing to over 2000 Members. It’s a full on community now, and that definitely a result of setting Goals and testing.

Conversion Optimization Tools and Resources
Google Website Optimizer is one of the best tools I have found for testing conversions. It allows you to simotaneously test muntiple versions of your copy, and that makes testing go a lot faster.

The only drawback to using Google Website Optimizer is that installation and setup can be a little tricky. You should also be aware that this tool is geared toward testing only within your own site. So if a conversion involves a user leaving your site, you’ll need to try one of the other tools.

Google Analytics is another great choice for testing conversions. It’s not as specialized as GWO, but is a lot more flexible, and does a lot more. With Google Analytics, you test conversions by setting goals, and making changes to increase conversion rates. Unlike GWO, you can’t easily simultaneously test multiple versions of one test, but you can test conversions on external links by using the urchinTracker() function.

CrazyEgg.com is a really useful tool for testing different versions of content. You’ll have to pay to use the full functionality of CrazyEgg, but their free version is more than enough to get started with.

Just install the code on the page you want to test, and it records each click on the page. The click data is then presented in a really cool heat map format. To test 2 versions of content, you would just run 2 tests and compare the heat maps for both.