4 Simple, Yet Effective, Steps to Optimize Your Conversion Funnel

Your Conversion Rate demands unity

Did you know that prospects, the individuals who have yet to purchase from you but you’re hoping and praying they will, visit your website 7-9 times before actually making the decision to buy?

They’re often comparison shopping or considering their options or even just waiting for some sort of divine intervention to take place to convince them to purchase.

Unfortunately, and all too frequently, there’s no intervention at all — divine or otherwise. But there should be.

Considering the increasing amounts of traffic digital retailers pay to drive to their businesses, that intervention, or guidance, is crucial. Ultimately, growth doesn’t boil down to a single ad campaign, a generic email capture experience, or a few well timed email blasts. It comes down to ensuring that the traffic that engages through those unique channels does more than engage – they convert (and, ideally, keep converting).

How do you do that? Start by understanding how people shop and why they shop in that way. With that knowledge, you can begin to optimize your conversion funnel in a way that nurtures and motivates every prospect to continue deeper into the funnel at every step in the journey. Let’s walk through 4 crucial steps to get you started.

Step #1: ‘Prime’ Customer Expectations (and then match them)

Priming’ is a Psyc-101 concept that says people typically have a stronger and better response to messages and experiences after you’ve preemptively called their attention to it.

Let’s say you want someone to select a banana out of a bowl of mixed fruit? According to Psychology Today, you should mention the world “yellow” right before you ask them to choose their fruit of choice. With all things yellow top of mind, the individual’s fingers will likely jump to the banana.

Translate this to retail and think about the advertisements typically play in the physical world (TV ads, billboards, signs, etc.). The goal of an ad is to peak some sort of interest in the user, after which we simply hope and pray that individual takes action on their interest.

That said, thanks to the internet and the loads of data available to us, we don’t have to simply hope and pray.

Think back to my banana example. Imagine that I’d primed the individual with the word ‘yellow’ and then handed him a bowl of apples, oranges, and grapes to choose from. My priming would have been useless because there’s no connection between ‘yellow’ and the action I asked him to take.

Brands currently treat their digital traffic in much the same way, often serving an engaging ad that clicks through to an irrelevant page.

eCommerce optimization opportunity lies in priming the clickthrough experience of ads. This graphic illustrates how many retailers don't create seamless experiences between ads and the onsite experience.

(Image Source)

But, again, thanks to the internet and its plethora of data, brands can create more seamless (and profitable) experiences for their traffic. When a user clicks through an ad online, retailers should react based on the ad that individual just clicked through.

So, here’s how it should work: A visitor is browsing Facebook when a new product ad catches her eye. She’s attracted to the content featured in the ad, in this case sandals, and the ‘Free Shipping’ offer associated with it. When she clicks through the ad, the onsite experience should match the expectations she was primed with from the ad.

eCommerce optimization tactic graphic illustrating a seamless experience after clicking through an ad. The website imagery and messaging reflects that of the ad.

(Image Source)

The onsite experience aligns with the initial expectations set up by the ad. The purpose of the ad was to ‘prime’ expectations, and now the individual is engaged and ready to shop for exactly what interested her when she saw the ad.

In fact, ‘priming’ customers has been proven to decrease costs in AdWords and Facebook, since it directly impacts the respective Quality and Relevance scores.

This priming and message matching experience shouldn’t be limited to ads, however. Whether your traffic is arriving from social, search, or even email. The onsite experience should be one that matches their expectations and furthers the journey they began before they reached your website.

Step 2: Make it easy to choose (like really easy)

Sheena Iyenger infamously found that less is often more (and much easier to work with). From her Jam Study, she learned that while more jam flavors initially lead to more interest and attention, ultimately that same jam display with a plethora of options resulted in six times less sales than when she offered fewer options.

Choosing, it turns out, is hard. So, if possible, don’t make people do it.

Dollar Shave Club, for example, has a fully fledged online store. They offer twelve different kinds of shaving cream! (Who knew that many types even existed?)

But their onsite experience doesn’t reflect these options. Rather, the page simply features three blades – no more, no less. It looks more like a SaaS pricing page than fully-fledged eCommerce category page.

Graphic illustrating how simplicity is often the stronger option for eCommerce retailers looking to optimize their websites.

Instead of being immediately presented with dozens of options when you arrive to the website, the journey is clear. It starts with selecting a razor – 1 of 3 types, etc, etc. Now, visitors aren’t left overwhelmed by the number of options, or wondering why they should choose this one over that one. They’re focused on the journey before them with clear direction on the decision that needs to be made.

According to author Steve Krug in his best-selling book on website usability, Don’t Make Me Think, thinking is cognitively stressful. It opens up room for all sorts of hesitations, stressing out the visitors and having a negative impact on your business. The solution, according to Krug, is simple: Don’t make your visitors think.

Of course, with a more focused product selection, it’s easier for the likes of Dollar Shave Club to create a more focused consumer journey. But larger retailers can do it too.

Take a look at the average product page for an eCommerce website:

Product page graphic depicting the need for product page optimization. Product pages today are typically too busy and distracting.

From the overwhelming product descriptions to the seemingly random product recommendations to the mystery coupon flashing at the top of the page, it almost seems like they want to distract you from clicking the Add to Cart CTA.

What should eCommerce retailers do instead? It’s pretty simple. They should keep it simple. This is especially important on the pages where you’re trying to convince engaged traffic to take a crucially important action like adding an item to cart.

Step #3: Emphasize Value (Stop hiding it)

Conversion friction, defined as any experience with your business that causes a consumer to pause, hesitate or abandon, occurs at various points throughout the journey to conversion. Sure, it could be the result of a mistimed email or an irrelevant ad, but often times it merely the result of your visitor’s humanness.

Product pages represent one of the major places for conversion friction to occur. Just think about all the questions a consumer asks himself once they’ve found a product of interest:

  1. Is it too expensive?
  2. Is it worth it?
  3. Could I find something better?
  4. Should I wait?
  5. etc.

So the question becomes, how can you rid your consumers of all these questions?

And the answer is simple — show clear and undeniable value. Make sure that you’re pulling out all the stops to ensure your consumers don’t feel risk but reward by clicking that add to cart button.

Most often, brands have something to offer — whether free shipping, free returns, rewards — that can and should be leveraged as part of the convincing process. But these value propositions are also most often hidden in the depths of Product Descriptions or the About Us page.

JackThreads is a great example of creating and emphasizing clear value to the consumer. The brand offers a unique program that allows consumers to ‘try’ products prior to buying them.

So, when an interested visitor reaches the product page for his item of interest, the ‘Try Out For Free’ value is clear. In fact, it tactfully begins the add to cart process. Good example of an eCommerce product page that shows the importance of making value clear to the consumer.

So, when the interested consumers hovers over the Tryout for Free button (because who wouldn’t), it changes to Please Select a Size, kindly telling him which action to take next.

Graphic illustrating the importance of telling consumers what they should do from Jack threads.

By emphasizing the ‘Try It Out For Free’ experience, Jack Threads makes the otherwise difficult process of deciding to add an item to cart significantly easier, soothing the conversion friction in the process.

While every business has values unique to them, the point is that they should make that value explicitly clear — particularly for the traffic they know is interested in what they’re offering.

Step #4: Follow up with your prospects (and make sure you can follow up in the first place)

A large portion of most retailers’ budgets are spent on ad campaigns driving new traffic into the top of your eCommerce funnel.

The problem with this strategy, as it stands today, is that most of these people are ‘leaking’ out of your site. The only way to bring them back is to allocate more of your budget toward retargeting those abandoners, and then hope and pray you reach the right people.

But that traffic was expensive enough the first time around, don’t you think? So, why not create an off-site connection to those abandoning individuals? It allows you to keep the conversation going, so you have the time and real estate to convince them to return at a later date.

Of course, not every individual who lands on your website is going to be interested in returning to your website. But if you focus on those medium to high intent individuals, your Digital Goldmine as we like to call them, you could unlock a world of value both for your prospects and your business.

But…that’s not going to happen as long as your only real estate for establishing an off-site connection remains hidden in the footer or at the very top corner of the page.

Remember, people don’t like to think. They’re definitely not going to embark on a search of your website to figure out how to sign up for your email list. So it should come as no surprise that header and footer email fields typically get a less than .01% capture rate.

Graphic screenshot of standard eCommerce website with the email sign up field hidden in the footer of the page.

They’re useless. And they offer no value for the user. So why should they submit their email address in the first place?

However, implementing the other extreme (as many retailers do) and using a mass-market approach for ALL new visitors with a single, generic opt-in, is equally bad.

Today’s email opt-in de jure is often a disruptive experience that blankets the screen the minute a visitor arrives. And it’s almost always a generic discount offered to all for the price of an email address.

Graphic screenshot showing the typical entrance email capture experience received by all traffic.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this approach — everyone is doing it, after all. In practice, however, there are quite a few problems to consider:

  1. If this person was arriving with ‘high-intent’, meaning they were properly primed with an offer that they’re trying to redeem on your site, an entrance email capture experience could have the opposite effect and interrupt the momentum started by the channel they arrived from.
  2. New visitors, not yet familiar with your website or product assortment, aren’t going to be swayed by a generic email capture experience. They’re still trying to get a lay of the land. They’re in discovery mode and not ready to purchase. A discount at this point is irrelevant.
  3. Throwing discounts around willy-nilly to all that enter is like giving away free money. You’re also devaluing your products, attracting those price conscious consumers who are only interested in discounts in the first place.
  4. In a world where this experience gets you a high submit rate, you’re likely filling your list with people who only signed up for the discount and are otherwise unengaged. It’s quite possible you’ll also see a spike in your unsubscribe rate as a result.

That’s not to say entrance email capture experiences or offer-based experiences are not to be used. It is saying, however, that segmentation is key. By understanding who’s coming to your site and why, you can use the email capture experience to create value both onsite and in their inboxes.

Start by targeting the traffic who is clearly interested in what you’re offering. Maybe they’ve made it deeper than the home page or maybe they’ve even begun the checkout flow. Then identify those specific moments when they’re most likely to give you their email address (and get you closer to a profitable website action).

Take a look at another Jack Threads example:

eCommerce Optimization tactics include creating valuable email capture experiences, as Jack Threads has created on their category page.

In this case, the email capture experience is targeted at those users who are clearly looking for boots. They’re most likely to submit their email address because the offer is valuable to them at this moment as they’re shopping.

It boils down to mapping all ‘high-intent’ behaviors on your site and rewarding visitors for their engagement while simultaneously nudging them closer to an eventual purchase.

And even if you can’t nudge them to conversion in that visit, they’re on your email list. So you can continue the conversation in the inbox as a means for motivating them to return.


eCommerce conversions don’t skyrocket after a single test or tweak.

Instead, a revenue driving eCommerce marketing strategy requires an understanding of your traffic first and foremost. Once you understand your traffic, you can create a coordinated cross-channel strategy to ensure seamless experiences for your valuable visitors regardless of how they choose to engage.

It’s called Behavioral Marketing, and it’s success lies in understanding how people are already shopping on your website, uncovering where any gaps or bottlenecks in your conversion funnel might be occurring, and taking action to fix it.