Optimization Tip: Start at the Beginning of the Funnel

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Earlier today I was having a conversation about SEO and website optimization and I realized that there's a very important concept that we haven't really talked about yet on this blog. Starting your website optimization efforts can be really overwhelming. There are thousands of different things you might want to try, but you have to start somewhere. Well here's a quick tip to help you figure out what to do first: just start from the beginning.

If you imagine a new visitor coming to your site, you can generally visualize the user experience as a funnel. Every site is obviously different, but here's an example of how this funnel might look for a normal e-commerce site (like Amazon.com):

Sales funnel

As you can see, the funnel gets smaller the later you get in the sales process. This is because you start out with a large pool of leads, and only a subset of that pool makes it to the next step. Then only a subset of those visitors make it to the step afterwards.

This is a pretty important concept which I'll try to talk about more later, but for now I just want to point out what this means about optimization. When you're trying to optimize a site, you need data more than anything. The more people you have hitting your pages, the more accurately you'll be able to judge the effectiveness of your changes.

When you think about where to start your optimization efforts, it generally makes sense to start at the top of the funnel because that's where all your data is. When you test out different landing pages, you'll be able to collect meaningful data from 100% of your traffic. If you try to test the final stage in the sales funnel, you'll only have a small fraction of the data to work with which means it will take you much longer to understand the impact of your new ideas. It also increases the chances that you'll misinterpret your data and make a bad decision.

After you successfully optimize your landing page, you'll have more data to analyze on the next step of the process. This means that it will be easier to optimize the second step. After that, you'll have the compounded increases from optimizing the first and the second steps which will make it even easier to optimize the third step.

Let's make up some example numbers and see how this works. We'll say in the example funnel above, there are 100 visitors a day. 25% of the visitors make it to the "product info" page, 25% of those visitors add an item to the shopping cart, and 25% of those people actually complete the purchase. In this example, only a few people ever get to the checkout page each day. What would the point be of optimizing a page that almost no one sees in the first place?

If you start by optimizing the landing page, you'll be able to collect data from the 100 visitors each day which will make it a lot easier to try different ideas and measure the results. Let's say you spend some time on the landing page and double the number of people that click through to your product page. Now instead of having only 25 hits per day with which to test the product page, you'll have 50. That will let you optimize that page twice as fast. Then you move on to the next page, and so on. By the time you're ready to work on the checkout page, you could easily have 10 times as many visitors reaching that page because of all the improvements you made to the pages earlier in the process. Instead of testing new ideas on three visitors each day, you'll be able to test on a dozen people each day.

So to summarize, this post was just a long way of saying that if you're not sure what parts of your site need improvement first, it's generally a good idea to start with the first page that your visitors see.

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