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Understanding Which Website Conversion Rate to Use

By Charles Nicholls, Founder and CSO of SeeWhy, Inc.

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by SeeWhy Team
August 13, 2010

SeeWhy Team

About SeeWhy SeeWhy is the industry's only real-time shopping cart recovery service to follow up in real time via email and social networks. SeeWhy's services (SaaS) deliver the highest ROI in ecommerce by responding immediately to shopping cart and web form abandonment with behaviorally triggered 1-to-1, real-time messages. Powered by a unique "in-memory" event processing engine, the SeeWhy suite of real-time web analytics is delivered "on-demand." Remarketing to abandoned visitors using the SeeWhy Conversion Manager service converts up to 50 percent of visitors that had abandoned their shopping carts, online forms, applications and registrations. SeeWhy is a Red Herring Top 100 Company, was selected by AlwaysOn as an OnMedia 100 company in 2010 and was highlighted as a cool company by Gartner, Inc. SeeWhy has also been featured in publications such as The New York Times; Inc. Magazine; and TechCrunch. SeeWhy was incorporated in 2003 and is headquartered in Andover, MA. More information can be found at http://www.seewhy.com/.

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Website conversion rates are bandied about the ecommerce industry all the time, and despite many being familiar with the concept, I consistently find that a lot of people are a bit fuzzy on their website conversion and abandonment rates. This blog is intended to define the different website conversion rates and explain how to use them—and how not to.

Whatever your particular goal, getting visitors to engage and follow a path to conversion is at the heart of driving value from your website. While most web teams track website conversion, the diversity of potential factors that affect conversion (and its evil twin, abandonment) makes this a very hard process to manage.

The biggest of these factors is promotions, which can cause massive changes to your website conversion rate. Equally, your competitors’ promotions can also have a big impact on your website conversion rate. Seasonally, customers have become conditioned to expect promotions at certain times of the year; as a result, looking at your conversion rates without considering these factors is a bit like stumbling around in the dark looking for the light switch.

In the early days of the web, we focused first on page views and bounce rates, and finally on the website conversion rate, which has become a core method of measuring site success.

Website conversion is usually defined as a percentage as follows:


Desired Actions / Unique Visitors * 100

Of course, there isn’t just one website conversion rate. There are several, and this is one of the challenges when it comes to comparing your website conversion with other sites’ website conversion rates.


Here are the three most common website conversion rates:

Visitor-to-Sale / Visitor-to-Goal


The visitor-to-sale website conversion rate currently averages 2-3 percent for most ecommerce sites. It’s a simple measure of the percentage of visitors that land on your website and purchase in the same session. Divide the total number of sales/goals by the total unique visitors. By contrast, top-converting websites currently convert 23 percent of visitors to sale, and what they do differently is worth understanding. SeeWhy recently published a free eBook titled Lessons Learned from the Top 10 Converting Websites, and this is well worth reading. The visitor-to-sale/goal website conversion is the easiest to compare with other sites.


Funnel Conversion Rate


The funnel website conversion rate looks at the proportion of visitors that complete your conversion process. If it’s a shopping cart, then the start of the conversion funnel is usually when a visitor places an item in the shopping cart. In a web form, this would be arriving at the first page of the form itself. The funnel conversion rate is probably the most widely used rate when people are talking about their ‘website conversion rate.’ It’s a simple percentage: divide the number of sales/goals achieved by the number of visitors that started the process. SeeWhy tracks conversion rates across approximately 9,000 ecommerce sites. This data shows that website conversion rates can vary wildly, but the average funnel conversion rate is 29 percent, meaning that more than 7 in every 10 visitors that start conversion processes do not complete them. The average abandonment rate is 71 percent (i.e. 1 minus the conversion rate).


Page Level Conversion Rate


The page level conversion rate is the proportion of visitors that arrive on one page and subsequently progress to the next stage of the conversion funnel. It’s typically used to examine the performance of each step in the conversion funnel itself to ensure each step is performing well and to eliminate bottlenecks.


If you’ve got a problem with one of the pages in your conversion funnel, it will show up on your page conversion rate. Running a split test (using Google Website Optimizer or similar) will enable you to test two different versions of the same page and see which one works better.


Of these three website conversion rates, the most useful is the funnel conversion rate. This tells you what proportion of the traffic that demonstrates intent to buy, actually go on to buy in the same session. In many ways, it is one of the most important measures of a site’s effectiveness.


If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I recently discussed conversion strategies with a panel of industry experts—Danny Dover of SEOMoz.org, Tim Ash of SiteTuners.com, and Loren McDonald of Silverpop. You can view the webinar recording here; select ‘View’ under ‘The Conversion Leaders Summit.’




Web analytics visionary Charles Nicholls is founder and chief strategy officer of SeeWhy and author of “Lessons Learned from the Top 10 Converting Websites” which can be downloaded here and “In Search of Insight” which has established a new agenda for the analytics industry. As a veteran of the analytics space, he has worked on strategy and projects for some of the world’s leading ecommerce companies, including Amazon, eBay and many other organizations around the globe. Incorporated in 2003, SeeWhy helps companies improve website conversion rates by bringing back up to 50 percent of visitors that abandon sites prematurely. Learn more at http://www.seewhy.com and the SeeWhy blog at http://www.seewhy.com/blog. Contact Charles at charles.nicholls@seewhy.com, and follow the company on Twitter at @seewhyinc and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SeeWhyInc.


Please feel free to publish the above commentary in full or in part with attribution according to the Creative Commons license, or link to http://bit.ly/bF7yuN.




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