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Why Traditional Conversion Optimization Just Died

Posted by Jeremy Smith on Sep 4, 2014 12:58:46 PM

The New Conversion Optimization

With the advent of mobile has come the demise of conversion optimization as we know it. In ever-increasing numbers, shoppers are on mobile platforms.

The conversion optimization we know and love is no longer. It’s given way to a new and more necessary form of conversion optimization: mobile optimization.

Conversion optimization is, by and large, myopically focused on desktop. Is that where your customers are spending most of their time, conducting most of their searches, and performing most of their shopping? If so, then keep optimizing those "desktop" landing pages.

However, if your customer base is engaging in mobile searches, browsing on mobile devices and disposed to mobile interaction, then you need to readjust your conversion optimization strategy accordingly.

If conversion optimization is focused on an arena that shoppers are neglecting, then conversion optimization is doing something wrong.

For the vast majority of B2C e-commerce retailers, mobile conversion optimization is de rigueur.

Why Mobile devices are central to online shopping.

Marketing Land recently ran a headline with this explosive news:  “Mobile Is Rising Star Of The E-Commerce Show:  Revenue figures conflict but mobile devices are now central to online shopping.”

Mobile commerce is growing faster than e-commerce

If you dig into the data beyond the hype of the title, you’ll grasp the core of the article's message: Mobile’s growth outstrips traditional e-commerce by a huge percentage.

More data poured in to corroborate the hypothesis that mobile is taking on more and more of the e-commerce action. According to ShopVisible, mobile purchases accounted for 18% of total orders in the first half of 2014.

Shop Visible, mobile purchases totaled 18 percent of total orders.

Other analysts, like Internet Marketer, pegged the number at 21% of global sales. AOL  settled on 31% of online conversions in selected verticals.

What are we to make of this? Several things:

  • Don’t believe every statistic you read.
  • Statistical data varies according to specific studies.
  • Mobile shopping is bigger than it’s ever been.
  • Therefore, mobile conversion optimization needs to be a bigger deal than it is.

However, I want to back up for a second.

I believe that the data that I just shared can be misleading. It can lead us to some incorrect conclusions.

After reading the above section you’re likely to think “Oh, fine. So maybe there’s 18% of my audience making mobile purchases. Why should I worry about that? Why not just pick the low hanging fruit of traditional CRO, and optimize my pages for desktop shoppers?”

That’s precisely the wrong viewpoint.

Here’s why.

More and more, shoppers are beginning their shopping on mobile devices. At the end of last year, the big news came in that everyone missed:  “Mobile devices surpass PCs in online retail.”

“Mobile devices surpass PCs in online retail.”

You see what’s going on? Consumers are doing their browsing and shopping on mobile devices — at the percentage point of 55%! Then why aren’t we seeing higher percentages of those mobile shoppers converting online?

Because they can’t. Because mobile landing pages, shopping carts, and UX are horrible. That’s why!

The Marketing Land article got it right in its opening salvo. “Shopping starts on a smartphone but later concludes on another device or offline.”

Why do the consumers shift to a desktop to finish the process? Because you’re not doing conversion optimization for mobile.

The Internet Retailer article nailed it.

But while U.S. consumers spend the majority of time interacting with retailers online via mobile devices, they are not making an equivalent number of purchases.

There’s a mysterious disjunction between the time spent shopping and the comparative low amount spent on mobile, including lack of conversions.

And that’s where the breakdown is occurring.

Meanwhile, most e-commerce retailers are A/B testing their desktop landing pages, not their mobile ones. They are leaving mobile conversion optimization to the happenstance of the perceived paltry few who might find them on a smartphone.

They’re not creating mobile landing pages, let alone optimizing for them. They’re hoping that a nice responsive design or mobile site will solve their problems.

And they are sorely mistaken.

Today’s huge conversion optimization myopia is in the realm of mobile optimization. We’re not doing it. And we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

Mobile pages explored: A test of mobile conversion optimization.

Is this really a problem? You decide.

In the remaining section of this article, I’m going to walk you through an experiment that I did  to find out how well or poorly mobile landing pages were at converting users. Obviously, I didn’t have access to the conversion data of these retailers, so I instead gave them a casual visual test.

  • The goal of the test: To determine how landing pages for a conversion-focused query would perform from a mobile perspective. I had to restrain myself from critiquing all conversion elements, and instead I focused on analyzing only the elements of the landing page that contributed to mobile UX.
  • My testing tool: I used an iPhone 5.
  • My testing process:  I opened up Safari, and searched for “buy headphones.” This is known as a transactional queryTransactional queries, as described by WordStream, are “ at the business end of the conversion funnel.” Users who input transactional queries are highly likely to convert. As the WordStream article points out, “these are exactly the kinds of queries that are most likely to deliver ROI in paid search.” In other words, users are read to pull out their wallet and buy, based on the results of a transactional query.

Here are the results:

Bose: No. 1 paid search result

Pass or Fail:  Pass

“Mobile devices surpass PCs in online retail.”4

Bose has a mobile-optimized landing page. Products were easy to view, and the buttons were large enough to click easily. The shopping cart icon was a bit cramped, however.

Too much real estate was given to extraneous exit paths such as “shop,” “support” and “stores.” Wasn’t I already shopping? Why would I need “support” from a paid ad for headphones? Whatever my complaints, at least the mobile viewability was there.

Overstock: No. 2 paid search result

Pass or Fail:  Pass

Overstock.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 2

Overstock commits one of the tragic landing page mistakes of many e-commerce sites — way too many choices. I don’t want to have to work to choose among 729 types of headphones. I just want to buy one freaking pair.

That complaint aside, I was content with my overall user experience. Although the shopping cart was again a tiny icon in the upper-right corner, the browsing experience was pleasant and uncramped.

BestBuy: Organic search result

Pass or Fail:  Fail

Once I reached the organic results, things fell apart. I knew that this group would be less eager to make an impression. After all, they weren't paying for my click or tap. But they are desperately losing out on conversions. Here’s why:

Bestbuy.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 3

With all due respect, I can’t click on those links. You lost me. Thankfully, I have a nice fat headline to look at — ”Headphones Buying Guide.” But I can’t read the text below. I’m going to bounce like a kid at a birthday party. Goodbye Best Buy.

Amazon: Organic search result

Pass or Fail:  Fail

Amazon.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 4

Thanks for all the content, Amazon, but you think I’m going to read it? Not on my iPhone. And you think I’m going to convert? Not this century.

The wall of text might look OK on my MacBook, but it looks scary on my iPhone. I’m looking here at a desktop-optimized landing page. This is not going to help me.

HeadRoom: Organic search result

Pass or Fail: Fail

headphone.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 5

To their credit, I think HeadRoom tried to make a responsive site. But it didn’t work out very well. That jumble of overlapping crap in the middle of the page might have tipped me off.

I’m not going to get into that shammy testimonial — “I’m so glad I went with headphone.com.” Really?!

Instead, I’m going to simply state that this is a page where no one in possession of their right mind would think of converting or even scrolling down to read the rest of that compelling testimonial.

Cnet: Organic search result

Pass or Fail: Fail

cnet.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 6

I hesitated a bit before throwing the fail at Cnet. Cnet isn’t a tech flunky. They know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, they’re trying to get me to download an app.

Mobile UX best practices stipulate that sites focused on content should provide a seamless and intuitive mobile web experience rather than shift users toward an app.

Apart from that cavil, however, Cnet’s image is broken. That’s a no-no. The main above-the-fold piece of content is a paid ad! That’s an iniquity that’s almost on the status of unforgivable. I can see the headline — “Headphone buying guide” — but it’s going to be an uphill battle for reading and converting.

Amazon: Organic search result

Pass or Fail: Pass

amazon.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 7

Amazon redeemed itself. Sort of. I can get over the fact that they gave me 47,275 results, because they have a nice mobile UI. Plus, they’re not pushing their app at me. Scrolling is nice. Searching is easy, and the shopping cart is in its own uncluttered realm.

Sears: Organic search result

Pass or Fail:  Fail

sears.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 8

Sears gets a huge fail. I want to publicly thank them for trying to redirect me to a mobile site (m.sears.com), even if it’s not responsive. However, I’m not even going to make it to their site, because I have to go to the trouble of turning private browsing off. That tells me that they want my cookies, which I’m not going to give them.

I prefer private browsing to cut down on history data buildup and the prying eyes of cookie monsters.

Sorry, Sears, but you didn’t even get a chance.

Head-Fi: Organic search result

Pass or Fail: Pass

head-fi.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 10

I give Head-Fi a pass simply because it’s a responsive site. Nothing more. I’m curious as to how this site got a first-page organic result, because it seems to seriously lack in quality. It’s more of a forum question from 2004. How is that relevant? I don’t know.

I do know that with an area population of 6.1 million, Atlanta is bound to have a few pairs of decent headphones for sale.

Flipkart: Organic search result

Pass or Fail: Pass

flipkart.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 11

The Flipkart site is optimized for mobile. I really don’t like the popup, but I do give them a pass since their site is optimized ... at least what I can see of it behind the popup.

Yelp: Organic search result

Pass or Fail: Pass

yelp.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 13

Yelp does a decent job, because they’re supposed to get mobile traffic. The result isn’t exactly the most compelling for purchases, but it’s possible that they’ll get some good CTRs and revenue. They also position their app bar at the bottom, which is preferred for user experience.

Samsung:  Paid ad (bottom position)

Pass or Fail: Pass

samsung.com example of mobile ecommerce. example 14

Samsung did it right. That’s a slick UI, and I want to scroll. Although the top menu is a bit on the cramped side, I can appreciate the fact that this site is primed and ready for mobile visitors like me. Conversion likelihood:  High.


The test proved to me that mobile optimization just isn’t happening. There are a few landing pages that clearly have mobile optimization done right. But there are plenty that simply aren’t getting the job done.

Conclusion: Let’s solve this problem.

I want to present this issue, because I think it’s too big to overlook. I think it’s time we go forward in an aggressive way to solve the paucity of optimization efforts in a mobile world.

A few years ago, Chris Goward, delivered a prescient SMX talk, “Conversion Optimization in a Multi-Device World,”  that addressed this very need.

As he stated it, marketers have five options to facilitate mobile marketing:

  1. Don’t customize for mobile.
  2. Build a mobile app.
  3. Build mobile landing pages.
  4. Build responsive landing pages.
  5. … Or, don’t decide.

Option 1 is stupid. Option 2 is outdated. Option 4 isn’t quite enough. And option 5 isn’t an option.

That leaves us with option 3.

It’s not easy, though. Option 3 puts many marketers in a very uncomfortable situation — admitting that they don’t know quite how it all works. What works on mobile? What can mobile designers do? What functionality is available in mobile development?

Traditional optimization is dead, and in its place is arising a brave new world of mobile conversion optimization. Let’s learn this thing, do this thing, and make an impact.


Topics: Conversion Optimization, e-commerce, Landing Page Optimization, mobile

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