You're in a store, armed with cash, and ready to buy that product, but can't find the item anywhere. You could travel to another store, but then you'd have to walk out to the parking lot, fight the traffic, pay for the gas and find another parking space.
Now picture this scenario online where in a fraction of second, a click of the right index finger will take you to a different store.
As a general rule, the longer it takes your visitor to find their desired product and get to your checkout page, the less likely they'll stick around and buy. There are a number of reasons why your "distance to sale" may be too long: Complex navigation, incomplete information, or lots of products with no search feature. Your best source for determining problematic areas like these is your web analytics.
First, let's explore why visitors might tend to hop around your site. According to the Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines developed in part by the US General Services Administration, there are some highly relevant parts of a site that could impact your distance to sale.
Your web analytics makes it quite easy to determine the level of your website's complexity. In "Conversion Analyst", there's a report called "Clicks to Pages" that shows the number of pages visited prior to visiting a specific page.
Suppose you've experienced a decline in online sales from your PPC campaign for a particular product from the same period 12 months ago and have investigated numerous metrics in an effort to determine what may have been the causes.
You're interested to see on average how many clicks (or pages) does it take your visitor to arrive at the shopping cart page. Your report from 12 months ago shows that the average "clicks to pages" metric was 5 pages.
In running the same report for the most recent month, however, you notice that the average has increased to 8 pages.
It's rather easy to get important data regarding our site's complexity from "Conversion Analyst". After logging in, go to REPORTS, "Navigation", "Clicks to Pages", and "By URL" or "By Title".
In the report, you'll notice 2 data columns - Number of Visits and Average clicks. For our example, we'll want to locate the URL of our shopping cart page, cart.asp.
We can see that for the time period reported that the average clicks to our shopping cart page was 8. Let's get a little more information that will help us determine why our visitors are taking more pages to find our shopping cart.
By placing our mouse over the magnifying glass to the left of the cart.asp line, we see that one of the options we have is to view the "path to here". By clicking on "Path to here", we're taken to a path analysis chart showing us the pages that were visited prior to arriving at our shopping cart page.
In Conversion Analyst after drilling down, you'll see a path analysis chart similar to this that graphically lists the pages that were visited prior to arriving at our shopping cart page.
Now if we run this same path analysis report for the same period 12-months ago, we'll be able to look for any additional branches of activity between our primary entry page and the checkout page. These added branches may be an indication that our customers are confused or not getting all of the information they're expecting. Also, note how many visitors exited our site from one of those new branches of activity.
Once you've identified the new branches, take a look at the primary entry page and those new branches for any changes you might have made in the content or navigation. Also consider our visitor's expectations prior to their visit. If we're driving traffic to this primary page from a PPC campaign, check that there is a strong degree of continuity between our ad creative and the content on the page. A change in our PPC ad copy could influence our visitor's navigation behavior.
Note that depending on the size of your site, a path analysis chart may become difficult to manage due to the numerous possible navigation paths. So it's important to focus on the path navigation for specific products or pages, one at a time.
When it comes to optimizing your distance to a sale, remember that not only are you testing your visitor's level of patience, but you're also competing with any offline distractions that could take your potential buyer's attention away. The longer it takes for the sale to be completed, the better the chance that any interruption, even a phone call, can foil the sale.
On the other hand, one less click for every potential purchase could improve your conversion rate, resulting in more profits and revenue from your existing traffic without any further ad investment.
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