How Do You Measure Usability and Success Before the Sale?

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Most marketers who work on e-commerce are aware that there’s more to conversions than reducing the funnel drop-offs and testing the landing page that makes the sale, but not everyone pays attention to all the other tasks. Budgets are easier to grant to areas with clear ROI, easy-to-measure attribution, and direct dollar values tied to the goal.

For most web sites, however, conversions are nowhere near that simple. For the 98% of people who did not buy something, there are important questions to ask:

1. What are their tasks?
2. Did they find what they need?
3. How likely are they to come back?
4. Can you continue the communication and relationship with them?

The problem with tracking just the sale as the conversion metric is that it belies the complexity of the web experience - and will ultimately leave money on the table.

Tracking Multiple Conversions

This blog has talked about the different types of non-sale conversions in the past; many of the web site’s goals - and many of the things you should be tracking and paying attention to - should be about people in the attention and interest stages of the decision process, rather than just the desire and action stages.

To some degree, marketers and analysts measure some of this using Google Analytics or other clickstream tools. Many review statistics like the ones below:

1. Bounce rate
2. Time on site
3. Return rate

This tells part of the story. For people who are looking to get educated on a topic before considering a sale, for instance, it’s great to know how many of them left the web site off the bat. For those who stayed, it’s important to know how long they stayed.

This is better than not tracking anything, but tracking just those areas can also be problematic. Do visitors stay because they like your site, or do they do it because they can’t navigate your site effectively? Are visitors bouncing off because your site is not usable, or are they leaving because they have tasks that your site does not support? (that is, your search engine optimization efforts are drawing in the wrong crowd)

At a minimum, you should be looking at those things. But no matter how many customizations you do with your clickstream tool, it will not give you the complete picture.

Measuring Usability

To know how usable your site is, and to track many of the pre-sale goals, you need a full view of the decision process:

Bounce rate, time on site, and return rate are things your clickstream tool should be telling you about the attention and interest stages. The other two, visitor tasks, and task completion, are qualitative things your quantitative tools are not designed to extract.

There are a few ways to get these. If you have projects that deal with functionality or navigation changes, you should be getting these from usability tests. These are going to be tasks that you are asking a small set of users to perform - and you can use aggregate errors, time on task, and total task completions to measure the user’s ability to find information.

The other way you can get these is with qualitative feedback on the live web site - there are survey tools in the market that you can use for these. Resist the urge to ask why the visitor left the site. Instead, focus on the areas below:

1. What are you trying to find on the web site?
2. Did you find it?

That should provide you with insights not just about the success rates of people on the web site, but about the different types of tasks your visitors are trying to accomplish. Once you know those, figuring out what conversion goals you should be tracking should be easy.

Closing the Loop

If you know all the different pre-sale tasks your visitors have and how effective you are at each one of them, you can double down on areas that need the most help. Figure out a way to communicate with early stage leads, and while not every one of them will be there to convert come the time for the sale, you’re still improving your chances that they might return to you.

Now it's your turn. What pre-sale tasks have you found worth measuring? We'd love to hear your comments.