Jeremy Smith Apr 7, 2016 4:30:27 AM 25 min read

Part 1: Relevance - Matching User Intent

Part 1 of 5  - Optimizing For Conversions:  Increasing Relevance 

What You'll Learn in This Post

How to make your site relevant to users at every step of the purchase funnel.

Lack of relevance is the No. 1 reason a website visitor will hit the dreaded back button.

The relevance of a site’s content to the user’s needs, plus the user’s motivation and the value proposition of what’s being offered from the Conversion Triangle, the foundation of all conversion optimization efforts.

Relevance is also one of the main factors Google uses when determining search rankings. If your site isn’t relevant to typical searches in your field or industry, you’ll have few site users to begin with.

Lack of relevance stops conversions cold. If you’re a marketing director or the in-house conversion optimization expert, that’s money lost that you’ll be asked to explain.

Below, I’m going to explain to you how, if you research who is coming to your site and develop a message personalized for them, visitors to your site will recognize its relevance to their needs right away.

Being relevant to users’ needs will increase the potential for conversions and revenue gains.


What Makes Relevance Pertinent to CRO?

When a visitor comes to your website, they already have a picture in their mind of what they’re going to find. Usually it is an answer to a question of some sort.

Therefore, it is vitally important that visitors to your site recognize right away how it is relevant them. It must promptly address their primary concern: Can you can fulfill my needs?

Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between marketing departments or those in charge of creating messaging for a website or its landing pages and those who come to the site looking for the one answer that gets them on to the next thing.

As a marketer, you want site visitors to move on to the next thing in the purchase sequence. But if your site content isn’t relevant to their needs, that’s not going to happen.

The closer you come to matching the user’s expectations, the more relevant your site is and the more likely they are to stick around long enough to convert.

In terms of conversion optimization, achieving relevance requires:

  • Understanding the user’s intent and matching the site’s message to that specific intent, and
  • Measuring (qualitatively) whether that message is received properly and the value proposition is understood.


A Relevant Website is One That Knows Its Users

Being relevant to the user is an active pursuit. You have to learn and understand what motivates your site users, and the intent and motivations of various user segments. They differ among new and returning visitors, desktop and mobile users, men and women, young and old, and according to many other factors. They change over time.

You have to understand your customer base, or customer personas, before you can identify relevant user segments. Understanding what various user segments are looking for (intent), is how we deliver relevance in the form of personalized content.

A Citrix optimization team hypothesized that making content on the homepage industry-specific would increase engagement and decrease overall bounce rate, because visitors would see content as relevant to their individual business needs.

They created personalized banners for the homepage, with copy, imagery and a CTA that were specifically for the healthcare, education and finance industries. After testing the new pages for the three separate verticals against the original in A/B tests, they found an overall decrease in bounce rate of 7 percent and a 30 percent increase in clicks on the new homepage banners.

There was also a 10 percent increase in pageviews per session, indicating that visitors were navigating to more pages after they saw a homepage more relevant to them.

The more personalized any answer to a user’s question or need is, the more likely they are going to continue through the site’s conversion/purchase funnel to the end goal.


Is Your Landing Page Relevant?

Whether it’s through paid or organic search or any other channel, most visitors to your site will come to a landing page that was suggested by a keyword string that states their need or poses their question.

Your page is but one of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions in a SERP with their hands up, ready to answer. You’d better get it right if you’re called on.

Hands up

(Image source)

The landing page headline is one of the first things a visitor to your site will see. It’s the best place to give a strong, succinct answer that says,Yes, I have what you want, and if you’ll read on, I’ll prove it.

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy,” advertising guru David Ogilvy said. “It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money. The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit.”

The landing page’s main image, or “hero image,” is the second most important indicator of relevance. It’s kind of like “Show me the money!” It’s hard to get it wrong, but websites do just that all the time.

Let’s say I want to find some Crocs. The first ad on the SERP is for the official Crocs site. Perfect. But they barely show me I’m in the right place:

Crocs homepage screen shot

There’s no “Crocs” headline other than the relatively small page header, and the Easter sale banner blots out most of the page above the fold. Fortunately, the pink Croc below the banner stands out. I know I can get Crocs here.

But at the No. 2 SERP spot, I see ShoeMall’s ad offering 20 percent off all orders:

ShoeMall web ad


This is a better deal than the Crocs site offered, so I want to check it out. But where are my Crocs?

ShoeMall landing page screen shot

These are sandals. I don’t remember that Crocs has a full line of shoes, and though I see the headline that says “20% Off,” I don’t see where it says “Crocs” nine times on the page.

I’m looking for the clunky old “classic” Crocs, and I am outta here because this is not relevant to me. Yes, I missed the one in the lower left because in the few seconds I was on the page it was overshadowed by five sandals leading my eyes to the right and two puzzling image placeholders.

Crocs actually offers all sorts of clothing these days, and maybe most shoppers have moved beyond “classic” Crocs. But not me. And at Amazon, they make sure the instantly recognizable Croc style is front and (almost) center where I won’t miss it:

Amazon Crocs landing page screen shot

It’s a kids’ shoe, but when I click on it I’m taken to a description of it (with a big pic) and, with a quick, almost reflexive scroll, photos of more than a dozen more in a variety of colors.

They’re still not what I want, but now that I’m here and know they have lots of Crocs, I’ll look around and maybe figure out that I need to run a search for Crocs in Men’s clothing.

On the other hand, if I was looking for sandals and thought of Birkenstocks, my needs would be met right away.

Birkenstock online ad


Yes. I can get a pair of sandals here:

Birkenstock landing page


Stay Relevant Throughout the E-Commerce Purchase Funnel

Potential customers who stick around once they hit your landing page will act according to historical purchase behaviors, as well as cognitive biases and social influences (fashion trends, brand popularity, etc.)

It is crucial to establish relevancy at the start and maintain, if not reinforce, it through every step of the purchase funnel:

Awareness: The user has found that something is missing from their life. To fill the need, if they don’t already know of a website than can serve them, they’ll conduct a search.

Relevancy starts with the keywords in your PPC campaigns, which should reflect the content of the landing pages your ads link to.

Research: Once on your website, the potential buyer wants to know whether the product or service offered will truly meet their needs. There are multiple factors that go into this evaluation, from size, color and fit, to price and speed of delivery  all of which are evaluated uniquely according to that customer persona.

The site’s content has to effectively present a resounding “Yes!” to every question the shopper asks. And it must immediately answer the first question: Do they have what I’m looking for?

If someone comes to your site for shoes, they expect to see some form of the word “shoes” in a headline and/or a hero image of the type of shoes they are seeking. Additional text and images should explain that the shoes the shopper is looking for are exactly what you sell at the price they had in mind, and that they can have them without undue delay.

Evaluation: Your excellent copywriting and beautiful photos have made the shopper fall in love with your shoes, but are they really a good buy? Hopefully, you’ve clearly spelled out your unique value proposition (finely crafted goods from renowned designers exclusive to your company …). It all sounds great, but she’s still going to need some validation.

Here is where customer reviews and rankings for the specific product your potential customer is considering can be crucial to a conversion. You should solicit this kind of targeted feedback with every purchase and post it alongside every description or image of the product it’s about.

Decision: If your shopper has decided buy, your next potential problem is that she knows there’s a better deal somewhere else. She may leave you for some comparison shopping. Maybe she’ll stay because you’ve created some urgency in her mind or, as your customer persona research indicates, she doesn’t have time for comparison shopping.

For the shopper who’s ready to buy, show any discounts you offer or any useful price comparisons you can make. Show that you offer multiple payment options that suit her, and that your purchase process is simple and fast. These are relevant to someone who wants what you’re selling.

Tell the shopper who is leaving that you know the items she has looked at and, if she’ll sign in (easily and quickly), you can save them for when she returns. Thank her for shopping with you; tell her you appreciate her time.

Purchase: If your shopper has decided to become your customer, make the process easy and relevant. Be ready to accept the credit cards she uses. Provide shipping options she is familiar with.

As your customer fills out an order form, score points by automatically completing fields with any information you’ve already collected from her. It’s easier on her and it shows you know her; it’s relevant to your relationship. One great programming step: require only the ZIP code to automatically select city and state. It’s a keystroke/time saver, and it subconsciously reinforces the idea that you know your customer.

After Purchase: Above all, you want return customers, steady customers. Remaining relevant to them after a purchase helps them continue to identify with you. Besides thanking a customer for their purchase, there are several things you can do to tell them you continue to be relevant to their shopping needs:

  • Similar purchases. Show your new customer additional items she may be interested in buying. If she bought seasonal shoes, what does she need for next season? If you sell other clothing or accessories, suggest items matched to what she just bought.
  • Email updates. Of course you collected her email address during the checkout process; now ask if you can send her information about sales, your newsletter or other communications. Meanwhile, keep her updated about when her order has been shipped and should arrive.
  • Ask for a rating/review. After your customer has had their shoes for a few days, ask them to rate them and/or write a short review for you. Supply all the relevant information about what she ordered and a link to the shoes on your site so she doesn’t have to remember or look it up.
  • Customer specials. Do you do anything special for customers, like discounts, advance sales, in-store events? Let her know that she now qualifies, and ask whether she’d like to be kept in the loop.



The most relevant point to what’s above is that the relevance visitors find when they come to your website must be a constant, reassuring companion throughout their time with you. Whether  your site is lead gen, e-commerce, SaaS or something else, the only way to establish and maintain relevance with your customers is to know who they are and what they expect.

This requires quantitative and qualitative research at each point of the purchase funnel and testing to determine what creates the best user experience.

Some of the largest, most popular brands can cut corners when it comes to making their relevance stand out at every point. But if you’re not already a market leader online, the time, effort and expense put into creating a better user experience for your customers will come back to you in their satisfaction and eagerness to buy from you.

Learn more from our series about the Conversion Triangle — how to use relevance, motivation and the value proposition to boost conversions, and how to eliminate conversion-killing friction and anxiety.


Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.