If we’re supposed to optimize what’s closest to the money, what is the value in optimizing for micro conversions?
Many blog posts have espoused this as a way to incrementally increase revenue and final conversions, but does tweaking stuff unrelated to purchase actually assist your bigger goals?
There are many different opinions on this question.
What Are Micro Conversions?
Micro conversions are actions a user completes that are either on the path to revenue-generating conversions or not directly related to revenue generation.
What does that mean in practice? Micro conversions, depending on your business-type, could be any of the following:
- Viewing your “Request a Quote” page
- Visiting the checkout page
- Clicking the ‘View pricing’ link
- Adding a product to the cart
- Commenting on an article
- Watching an explainer video
…and on and on. There are tons of micro conversions you can track, just know that they are things not directly related to the final goal on your site, whatever that may be.
Bryan Eisenberg wrote about micro conversions (or micro-actions) as early as 2001. According to Eisenberg, “conversion rates suffer when sites fail to drive customer micro-actions and maintain momentum through the sales path. Once the path is defined and each of the micro-actions described, you can work on optimizing the most effective call to action for each step.”
He describes micro conversions as opportunities to patch up holes in the leaky bucket of your website, and in the process, increase your macro conversions and revenue.
We can actually further divide micro conversion into two functional categories. According to NN/g, the two types are:
- Process Milestones – these are the conversions that tend to lead to a primary macro-conversion. According to NN/g, “monitoring these will help you define the steps where UX improvements are most needed.”
- Secondary Actions – there aren’t primary goals of the site, and they aren’t linearly related to the primary conversion. They are, however, desirable actions that usually indicate a potential future macro-conversion.
- Micro-step conversions (add-to-cart, visit to quote form, etc)
- Micro-indicator conversions (whitepaper download, social media interaction, etc)
Different terms for the same thing, really.
Process milestones lead a user towards a macro-conversion. They are incremental steps, such as placing a product in the cart, or viewing the pricing page, that users must accomplish before they make the final purchase.
The benefit of tracking process milestones is in the segmentation of the customer journey. Instead of an opaque journey to a final purchase, you’re able to witness falling-off points and bad usability, and fix them. Here’s how Jennifer Cardello from NN/g put it:
“If you are running experiments to test design changes within steps of a process or a linear interaction, looking for statistically significant changes in macro-conversion rates can be fruitless and can lead to discarding good design ideas. In an environment where users undertake multiple actions to eventually reach a macro-conversion event, there are many junctions at which the design can be improved. Micro conversions help identify where UX improvements are most needed. They also help us determine if UX changes are having the desired impact.”
For example, if there’s a large drop off in any one step, the goal with tracking micro conversions is that you can run tests to fix that particular thing. Here’s an example of Amazon’s mobile checkout flow, all leading up to a macro-conversion (purchase):
Secondary actions are a little different. They don’t explicitly lead to a purchase, but they are indicators of interest that tend to build trust and credibility with your brand. Some examples of secondary actions could include:
- Commented on a blog post
- Subscribed to your newsletter
- Watched a webinar
- Checked out a white paper
- Viewed 3 (or whatever number) of pages
For example, you don’t have to download an e-book to start using Optimizely’s testing tool. However, by doing so, you’re indicating your trust and interest in the brand.
The hope, then, is that you’ll eventually make that macro-conversion and become a paying user of the product.
What About Macro Conversions?
I’ve already explained macro conversions in passing, but to define more thoroughly: Macro conversions are the main conversion goal of your website – the goal action that is most closely tied to revenue. As Kevin McCaffrey put it, where secondary conversions are business supporting conversions, primary conversions are business driving conversions.
So if you’re running an ecommerce site, a macro-conversion would be a completed order. If you’re doing lead generation for sales, then a completed lead form would be a macro conversion. SaaS? A free trial sign-up, as well as a paid upgrade, would be macro conversions. They all tie directly to the money.
Don’t Obsess Over “Conversion Rates”
Obsessing over conversion rates in general might be confusing the whole macro vs micro debate. What matters is growth, not optimizing for conversions. As Peep always says, “Revenue matters, conversions don’t. If you want higher conversion rate, just cut your prices in half!”
So what if you increase conversions on a supporting step, but it doesn’t lead to an increase in RPV? If it keeps your revenue stagnant, increasing your micro conversions doesn’t really mean much.
Lukas Vermeer put it well in a previous blog post:
Avinash Kaushik wrote about conversion rates as a metric a while back, explaining that there are a lot of other things to track to measure the health of your business:
In any case, conversion rates can be misleading if you’re focused on the wrong ones – especially the ones that aren’t tied to your final conversions or RPV.
Tracking Micro Conversions vs. Testing Micro Conversions
Be careful when you read blog posts about micro conversions because there’s a big difference between tracking them in your analytics tool and optimizing in attempt to increase them exclusively.
It’s beneficial to track micro conversions for the reasons stated above. It offers a holistic picture of your user experience, and it allows you to break down which parts of your website are stopping-points.
Forming test hypotheses specifically to increase pageviews per user is different than analyzing that piece of data in correlation with the overall revenue per visitor per segmentation.
Tracking Micro Conversions Allows Greater UX Insight
He explained this really well by giving an example of a photo sharing website with a conversion rate of 1.72%:
Not bad, but the founder also wants to track micro conversions. In this case, he’s tracking things that lead up to a final conversion or build brand credibility (registrations, members publishing photos, people who sign up for premium content, and people who sign up for announcements):
This, according to Kaushik, represents a more holistic picture as to the health of the site. NN/g agreed, saying:
“Micro conversions provide essential visibility into the holistic user experience. Focusing solely on macro-conversion measurement risks adopting only design and content changes that result in instant, large shifts in conversion rate. These shifts are often short lived. Sites that optimize for long-term returns need to focus on all the components that provide a positive user experience and business return over time.”
Should You Optimize for Micro Conversions?
So, tracking micro-conversion metrics is beneficial. But what about optimizing for micro conversions? Most of the time – without keeping the large goals at the front of your mind – that’s not a good idea.
The most common reason people want to optimize for micro-conversion is that it speeds up the testing process. As such, it is often low traffic sites (e.g. startups) that want to optimize for micro conversions.
The length of time needed to run your A/B test depends on the level of traffic and conversions you get. Of course, you’ll get more micro conversions that final conversions in most cases (e.g. more people will click ‘add-to-cart’ than will move on to purchase, logically).
Here’s how Jakub Linowski from goodui.org put it (also, check out this post where he outlines metric depth):
Though, sometimes optimizing for top-of-the-funnel micro conversions can be misleading, even detrimental, to your revenue. Chris Goward of WiderFunnel gave a great example of how this can happen. So, imagine you have a typical gated form that a software company uses to generate leads for a sales team. The conversion funnel might look like this:
From there we move on with the assumption that, if the home page gets 100,000 visitors monthly, the counts for each other page in the scenario could be:
- Download Page: 20,000
- Gate with Form: 15,000
- Thank-you Page: 5,000
You have to decide which of the following your experiment goal will be:
- visit to the download page
- visit to the gate page
- download completion.
Because the download page gets 20k visitors a month, you might be tempted to test that because you can get an experiment done faster. However, that might be a mistake.
The false assumption most people make is that the funnel dropoff will be the same on each variation. Many times, that’s not the case. Here’s the example that WiderFunnel gave:
As you can see, there are different winners depending on which goal you’re tracking. Even though variation C would have won on the micro-conversion level of getting to the download page, it was the worst variation in overall completed conversions.
Had you optimized for micro conversions, you would have lost revenue.
Here’s how Chris Goward summed it up:
There is, of course, a balance here – a way to mitigate the risk of a potential revenue loss while increasing volume to a micro-goal in the funnel. Justin Rondeau from Digital Marketer gives a great example:
Do Micro Conversions Correlate With a Revenue Increase?
Okay, so that’s just one hypothetical example. In general, do micro-conversion increases correlate with increased revenue generation?
However, if you’re only testing for micro conversions and you don’t have enough transaction volume, it’s difficult to see the impact on the larger goal of improving macro-conversions. Here’s how Peep put it:
The “Free Beer” Illusion
Here’s a test: replace your ‘schedule a demo’ CTA with copy that reads “Click here for free beer”
While you may very well increase your click through, you’re simply shifting the problem to the next step of the funnel. They’re still gonna drop out of the funnel (probably at a higher rate because of the message mismatch).
Optimizing for micro conversions can lead you to believe that you’re making progress, when in actuality you’re shuffling papers, shifting things around and never solving the true problems with your website.
To put it another way, I could change all of my Tinder pictures and bio to that of Ryan Gosling. If my potential matches believed that I really was Gosling (not likely, but stick with me), I’m sure my matches (micro conversions) would increase precipitously. But as soon as my matches find out that I am not, indeed, Ryan Gosling, my bottom of the funnel conversions will most certainly tank.
Of course, these are both extreme examples based on deception, yet they both show how, with a little message misalignment, you can increase micro conversions while simply pushing the product further down the funnel.
The simplest advice to give would be to measure your micro conversions, but don’t optimize for them as you won’t know if it has any positive business impact or not.
While they can inform the greater good of your website, myopically focusing on one small step of the funnel can sometimes have the adverse effect of decreasing revenue. In other cases, sometimes it just simply moves the problem to the next page, so you’re basically shuffling papers and wasting time.
Avinash Kaushik said it well: “Focus on measuring your macro (overall) conversions, but for optimal awesomeness identify and measure your micro conversions as well.”
At CXL, we measure our micro conversions of course. But only alongside the things that matter, as another method of informing us with UX insights. In the end, if what you’re optimizing doesn’t move the needle (CR or RPV), you’re not really optimizing anything. I think Justin Rondeau from Digital Marketer summed it up really well here: