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Monday, Nov. 10, 2008 at 9:00 am

Realistic Expectations For Conversion Rate Optimization

By Jeffrey Eisenberg
November 10th, 2008

Customers say the darnedest things!

What can you say when the owner of a company that had a 4.12% conversion rate improves it by 17% to 4.82%  in less than a quarter and says “we’re sort of disappointed“?

Even when clients can’t commit very much budget or resources to execute our optimization recommendations they may still have very high expectations.

Has FutureNow became a victim of of our own success? Our process has made FutureNow very successful; we have many third-party documented case studies where our clients achieved extraordinary results.

Bryan and I spent part of the weekend discussing this. Bryan wanted to republish a ClickZ column “The 5 Percent Solution” but I wanted to address this issue more directly than we did in “How To Get Buy-in For Conversion Rate Optimization“. We never addressed the real issue: commitment.

What Are Realistic Expectations For Conversion Rate Optimization?

Sales people will dance around this issue but I won’t. It depends on you!

I have never seen a website where with the right amount of time, energy and resources you couldn’t get at least a 30% improvement in conversion, but 10% is a slam dunk even without our advice.

Time, energy and resources!?!

If you are willing to commit yourself, with or without expert advice, you can consistently improve your conversion rates. We hear virtually every day about people who read one of our books and publications and went on to make huge improvements to their business. They make us as happy as client successes do.

Nevertheless, if you are focused only on 100% improvements or better it’s hard to celebrate a 10% gain. How sad.

You need to walk before you can crawl. For every huge success we have there are dozens of other happy stories. That’s why I asked Bryan to give me a list of successes he collected recently from our analysts.

I want to celebrate these successes:

  • Increased client’s overall website conversion rate 10.5%, resulting in $250,000 additional revenue annually.
  • Optimized a checkout page to increase conversion rate by 6.25%, leading to $150,000 additional revenue annually.
  • Increased overall conversion by 27.5% with an A/B test on the product page.
  • Doubled the number of sales with a Shop with Confidence assurance test.
  • Achieved an 8% lift in sales from redesigned product page.
  • Increased overall conversion rate by 51.49% over a 3 month program.
  • Redesigned homepage and category pages to increase overall sales by 6%.
  • Helped client realize a 108% increase in sign-ups for an e-course.
  • Making one change to the flow of a client’s checkout process increased shopping cart conversion by 6.5% leading to an estimated increase of $55,000 monthly revenue.
  • As a by-product of our conversion recommendations increased organic traffic visits by 19.91%.
  • Improved conversion on a client site by 24% simply by changing product page layout.
  • Increased a client’s funnel conversion rate by 24.40%.
  • Increased visitor registrations by 12.5% by recommending changes to landing pages and the flow of the sign-up form.
  • Increased overall website sales conversion rate from 3% to 7%, that is 133%, over a quarter long engagement for an online jewelry retailer.

Every one of these stories is worth celebrating. I praise our clients for the hard work they’ve done. I want to praise them for their commitment. I want to encourage them and you to continue improving your website and campaigns.

Stop Wishing and Start Doing!

If you get a 10% improvement and add 10% to that and then 10% on top of that you’re well on your way to 100%. Make up your mind and get started. Devote the right amount of time, energy and resources. You’ll learn a lot on the journey and the destination is so worth it.

I hope that helps.

Add Your Comments

Comments (37)

  1. I’m agreeing with this. 100% looks daunting and like a lot of effort, and well, pretty impossible. If you just start and see that 10% is a great start.

    You should be right on your way!

  2. Jeffrey – i totally agree to your statements.

    We did a lot of testing during the last months. We never achieved a CVR improvement of (relativ) 100% – most of them are between 3% and 20%. But even if you monetarize even a 3% CVR improvement: it is a very huge improvement that makes the management board very, very happy.

    Keep on testing – Testing rules.

    Moritz – (German Weblog about Website Optimization, Web Analytics, User-Centered-Design)

  3. In a word: “Refreshing!”

    How true! It should be obvious that major gains starts with small victories. Commitment is the number one issue. It’s not the fact “web analytics is hard”, like so many other projects cultural changes, web analytics and business optimization is about changing the culture much more than about the tools being used. I so often run into situations where early recommendations (the low hanging fruits) aren’t implemented after 6 months it’s a shame. I’m now starting to tell those clients to call me back when they have done “something”… harsh reality!

  4. That’s the difference between absolute and relative percentages.

  5. The hard thing here is not to oversell yourself during the sales stage of an engagement with a prospect. Everyone has “case study” results that are usually out of the park.

    It’s also important to build realistic expectations so that clients will understand that site and conversion optimization is an ongoing effort just as any other marketing effort (paid search, banner advertising, etc.).

  6. Too true, Jeffrey!

    Expert help in developing tests will certainly give you the best chance at large improvements, but the improvement potential depends on several factors. Those factors all combine to create the site’s ‘Conversion Rate Elasticity.’

    You’ve sparked an idea for a new blog post for me. Thanks!


  7. [...] a recent blog post from Jeffery Eisenberg (Realistic Expectations For Conversion Rate Optimization) made me once again think about how a lot of companies fail to really commit to testing and site [...]

  8. Every client in unrealistic unless you, as the sales person, realistically set your (and their) expectations.

    You may not get every sale when you’re “honest”, but you will build a solid reputation as delivering on your promise = credibility, referrals, repeat business.

  9. Grant – I couldn’t agree more with you. We try very hard to keep expectations aligned. It does kill some sales but it’s the right thing to do. Occasionally though all human beings hear what they want to.

  10. Right on Jeffery! Like Stephane said, a refreshing look at the whole process of conversion optimization. I think a lot of practitioners have become used to the Ronco ‘set it and forget it’ mentality that a lot of vendors preach when it comes to online marketing software.

    Whether you go with a paid for or in-house initiative, growing your conversion rate will be directly proportional to the work you put into it. Given how the economy is affecting the web right now however, that work will probably have the highest ROI a digital marketer can do right now though.



  11. Another great source for data is this Forrester research article:,7211,46499,00.html



  12. There are worse fates than to be victimized by your own success. Setting the appropriate expectations with prospects is difficult; certain people only want to hear certain parts of your message. Walking away from prospects who’s expectations may not be properly aligned with the service you are offering is difficult but it’s the right thing to do.

    One thing that many of these unhappy clients may not be thinking about is the return on investment that you as an agency have helped them achieve. If the annualized impact of the change that was realized is 10 times greater than the resources that were used to create it, then one should likely be happy with the service they have received and want to go through the process again, even if the lift in conversion rate was on 5%.

  13. It’s like the Yankees or the New England Patriots. Nothing short of an outright championship will do. Making it to the playoffs is not enough. Your clients now are expecting you to take them to the very top. Tough place to be in but better than anything less demanding.

  14. The conversion improvement process is never-ending. And there are so many ways to improve conversion you can only tackle this one step at a time. “Never eat an elephant whole” is what you hear and no more so than with conversion. Set the expectation to motivate excitement and be realistic! If you aim for 15% and hit 10%, even though it is still an increase you’re setting yourself up for a negative reaction.

    However for those that look at annualised (the ‘s’ over a ‘z’ is deliberate!) conversion I beg to differ that this is the correct measure of success. I’ve recently debated this with an agency of mine in that there are so many external factors: traffic, product demand, marketing etc etc that to our business the annualised increase is far less relevant than a daily increase. Our business targets are daily leading to weekly and monthly targets which eventually brings in the yearly target. We’re not eating the elephant whole after all!

  15. It’s OK knowing you’re being expected to shove a camel through the eye of a needle as long as you know it before you start! The title of your article is a hint to future client undertakings/note to self, “Set realistic expectations for the client”.

    A 17% lift in sales, conversion, Dollars is good going but if the client’s “I’ll be the judge (jury and executioner) of that, thank you very much!” expectations are that you’d increase it by 100% you may never succeed.

    If they’re doing $100M online and you improve it 17% that’s a nice chunk of change. If the client WANTS 100% lift in sales, are they also prepared to do what it takes to create that level of hike.

    BTW we assume the 17% is statistically valid. Could you now try and improve that new control a further 17% and incrementally raise it again and again?

  16. One frustration with conversion improvement case studies presented is that they are always the easy sites, that sell either a definable product , or subscription or signup.

    Why not address a few more complex decision making sites, where personal taste is matched by choices.

    I face this challenge but find many of the ideas expressed in the case studies difficult to implement.

    I’d be happy to receive ideas and tips on my site.

  17. [...] have always tried hard to screen for toxic clients with unrealistic expectations. Our NPS scores are excellent and our client successes speak for [...]

  18. Continuous improvement and reasonable expectations go a long way to achieving success. I’m still struggling to get decent conversions (great SERPs though) but with help from this site and others like it, I’ll get there – one step at a time.

  19. [...] blog post; it’s a good read and it should help people become more realistic about their expectations for conversion rate improvements. Of course, there will always be those who want their money for nothing but while Bryan has often [...]

  20. [...] grow as an organization.  Many start off skeptical about the process of site optimization, or unrealistic about what can be gained in a given time frame.  But after working through some of the challenges, [...]

  21. [...] grow as an organization.  Many start off skeptical about the process of site optimization, or unrealistic about what can be gained in a given time frame.  But after working through [...]

  22. Great post
    Stop Wishing and Start Doing!

  23. [...] To give you some benchmarks while avoiding touting our own horn (in general, we are achieving much higher increases) we used numbers reported by an industry leader FutureNow: [...]

  24. Nice article
    Very useful

  25. [...] of improvements, so that when you come out of the dip you’re ready for the next cycle. Get realistic about your expectations and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. [...]

  26. [...] of improvements, so that when you come out of the dip you’re ready for the next cycle. Get realistic about your expectations and you’ll be pleasantly [...]

  27. Just for the record, my first optimization this year produced a 17% improvement. Not bad, but I know it could be better.

  28. I hear you on the setting-realistic-client-expectations front. The problem is, with the current economic climate, everyone is so desperate for a ‘magic bullet’ and mistakenly think SEO or website optimization is IT. This means that although all the other pieces in the jigsaw puzzle may be missing or flawed (eg, genuinely bad product, lousy customer service etc), there is only so much that a well-optimized site can do. Equally, it is one thing having the vision/ability to make recommendations for action, but if they aren’t acted on in a timely, decisive manner – what can you do?

  29. [...] To give you some benchmarks while avoiding touting our own horn (in general, we are achieving much higher increases) we used numbers reported by an industry leader FutureNow: [...]

  30. [...] To give you some benchmarks while avoiding touting our own horn (in general, we are achieving much higher increases) we used numbers reported by an industry leader FutureNow: [...]

  31. These are some impressive statistics. Congrats. It always amazes me how a few small tweaks here and there can make such a huge difference.

  32. I always try to have decent hits (although most of extradition), but with the help of this site and so on, I will – one step at a time.

    Stop wishing and start doing!

  33. Hi, what have you said is very deep analysys according to me. I like you analysis. Thank you

  34. This article really explains very well whats its all about. I usally dont do so much analysis like in this case.

  35. I just hate it when I am doing something for a client, and he absolutely isnt able to appreciate the work done. I just cant grasp this folks, I just cant grasp it.

  36. If you brink it back to dollars per year it tends to focus people’s mind and gives value to what you have done.

  37. I wouldn’t say 17% improvement (4.12 to 4.82) isn’t really bad. That’s actually 17% improvement in sales. Since percent can make big different for sure. Nice analysis.

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Jeffrey Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark. You can friend him on Facebook.

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