The Marketing Operations Guide to Web Conversion Optimization

What is Web Conversion Optimization and Why Does it Matter?

In a world where email effectiveness is in continual decline and digital media is experiencing growing competition (resulting in increased cost), it is no surprise that businesses are looking to make more of what they’ve already got. Content marketing was heralded as the answer, yet marketers have found that ‘create and they will come’ isn’t necessarily true. Marketing Automation was supposed to drive far greater results, but it cannot create a larger market. And then on top of this, GDPR blew a hole in most companies' marketable database.

For most companies, organic search is the largest source of traffic and lead volume. It all comes from the website, an asset that is owned. However, the vast majority of effort (and money) is actually spent getting them to the website – not worrying about how to convert them. In addition, if you are thinking about how to convert them more effectively, are you doing it in a way that actually supports the business in creating demand, or are you just capturing an email address?

This is where Web Conversion Optimization (WCO) comes in. WCO is a little different to conversion rate optimization (CRO) which is a method to increase the percentage of visitors to a website that take a desired action on a webpage or more specifically convert into customers. Web Conversion Optimization takes a broader view on conversion – and ultimately considers what is going to assist the business in creating demand.

So, What’s the Challenge?

You’ve already got a website, you’re probably already producing content, gating assets and building campaigns. Yet, they take too long to get to market and once they’re there it is too hard to change anything. The web development team have an ever growing backlog of requests, the marketing operations team are too busy launching the next campaign, the campaign manager just wants their campaign launched. And together, they’re actually just doing stuff. Sometimes really complex stuff, when in fact it could (and should be) pretty straight forward.

“Web Conversion Optimization is the systematic approach driving greater contact acquisition and demand from a website”

The Challenge is Actually Who Owns Web Conversion – and Why?

  • Does the web team own it? After all, they own the website and UX
  • Does the marketing operations team own it? They own the data that is captured and where it is stored
  • Do the global campaign owners own it? The forms capture leads for their campaign
  • What about regional and field marketing? They also capture leads specific for their needs
  • Or even the analytics team? They want insight on customer behaviour to inform the business
 
And here lies the problem. There is no single owner for web conversion. Nor should there be. The point of conversion is so critical to so many stakeholders. Yet, it is a hygiene factor. It needs to just work and in terms of priority, it isn’t sexy so getting buy-in is challenging. The irony is that it is probably the most critical aspect throughout the whole marketing funnel. If the point of web conversion isn’t functioning effectively (let alone optimally) then it hinders the ability to be successful.
 
If the form UX isn’t optimised, you’ll be spending effort and money bringing prospects to the site but fail to convert. Or at best, convert less than you should.
If the data isn’t passed into analytics platforms correctly, then you won’t understand what is or isn’t working. How can you measure performance, let alone improve it.
If the form is complicated to deploy, you’ll actually create fewer forms and gates than you should. This limits the opportunities for conversion and ultimately the conversion rate. You also won’t be able to make changes even if you know they’ll improve performance.
 
If you’re capturing the wrong data or storing it incorrectly, then you won’t be able to market throughout the funnel to them. You may not even be able to route a sales enquiries effectively. Given all of these commercial drawbacks how do you make sure that you’re optimising your web forms? Step forward  Web Conversion Optimization.

The Web Conversion Optimization Process

The Web Conversion Optimization process can be split into four areas covering: how you drive users to a web lead form, how your encourage them to complete the form, what data you are collecting and how you are measuring the whole process.

Step 1: Attraction

  • Where are your forms?
  • What content are you leveraging?
  • How easily can your team deploy forms?
  • Step 2: Conversion

  • How easy are your forms to use?
  • How big are the barriers to conversion?
  • Are your forms global?
  • Step 3: Orchestration

  • How actionable is your submission data?
  • How connected are your web forms?
  • How compliant is your data?
  • Step 4: Performance

  • Do you measure form performance?
  • Do your forms measure ROI?
  • Do you perform ongoing testing?
  • Attraction

    The first thing to look at when analyzing form conversion rates is how you are driving customers to those forms and where you are placing them. Think of your website visitors as an untapped cloud of potential leads that just need a reason to start engaging with you.

    What Content are you Leveraging?

    High Value Content

    A web form conversion is the process whereby a user becomes known and tracked by your marketing technology systems. For a user to give you their information they need a good reason. Your content needs to offer sufficient value and insight and compete with your competitors content marketing efforts. Invest in high value content pieces that can be leveraged in social and paid media channels to drive engagement. Balance gating strategies against perceived value. Measure content performance and try to understand what content is driving your best conversion rates.

    Content Formats

    What type of content are you using to drive web form conversions? Downloadable documents are the obvious type, but what about interactive elements like ROI calculators or web-based presentations. You can gate an entire webpage (using a lightbox effect), and don’t forget to treat sign-ups to webinars and events as web form conversions in their own right, that track prospects into the same technology layers as other web forms. Using content gating with video is a tricky consideration. Generally, freely available video is the best option to build top of funnel engagement, but there are some situations where the perceived value could justify gating e.g. webinar recordings, product demos, keynote talks. Leverage high value content regardless of content format to drive increased form submissions.

    Aligning with the Buyer Needs

    Is your content written to talk about your business or to help your customers? Seems obvious but most business buyers want to read information that is meaningful or helpful to their role, and your content should be written to exploit that fact. Content that is focused on your products and services is fine, but only as late stage information when you have already attracted engagement with disruptive or thought leading ideas. The killer whitepaper that helps prospects understand why they need to rethink things may not even mention your services. But it kicks off the business relationship and, if you gate it with a form, creates a contact record that can be nurtured down the funnel.

    How Easily can your Team Deploy Forms?

    Agile Marketing

    Marketing is and should be a fast paced game. Buyer needs evolve, products develop and markets get disrupted. How quickly can your marketing teams react to changing demand, deploying new strategies to acquire new prospects on the web? Do they have to utilize multiple technical resources to build pages, forms and scripts. Are those forms integrated and tracked to measure performance. What if they need to make changes or experiment with different content gating approaches?Many marketing functions are hamstrung by legacy or complicated infrastructures, or held up waiting for internal resource that is focused on other parts of the business. Developing a web form strategy that is fast and flexible facilitates an agile marketing approach.

    Content Gating on the Fly

    What do your marketing teams have to create to utilize content for form conversion? An intro page, a thankyou page, a Marketing Automation form, some JavaScript to talk to your web analytics layer? Leveraging content for net new acquisition should be more organic. Let’s imagine a marketer is writing an interesting blog and can think of a useful guide that was written two years ago around the same subject. Why not use that guide as a gated piece? If you have an agile gating mechanism (see above), your blog writer would be able to quickly add that gated item alongside the blog without having to employ technical resources or disrupt the users journey.

    Where are your Forms?

    How Many Websites?

    Most large businesses will have multiple web properties in play, this could be because some regional teams are running their own environment or because of reasons of legacy (acquisitions maybe). Also if you run a Marketing Automation Platform, it is common to build short-lived campaign pages within that system as an additional presence. Do all of those websites have the ability to effectively deploy a web form or content gating mechanism? And if so, how consistent is it and how much governance does the business have over the data collected or how that data is captured? To maximize conversion rates your teams should have the ability to easily deploy web forms in all web environments. Therefore, avoid binding your web form strategy to a single website or CMS and keep reliance on technical resource limited. Also avoid letting your regional teams work on a tangential path with an inconsistent data strategy.

    Leverage Organic Traffic

    Are your forms deployed to convert the visitors already coming to your site on a daily basis from web searches? Content gating forms most commonly feature in campaigns where you are driving users to a specific page. But if you are investing time and effort into SEO on your website, you are missing out on possible net new leads if you are not leveraging the organic traffic. Add content gating and web forms on areas which receive high levels of organic traffic. These would include areas such as product pages, solutions pages, resource areas and blogs. Make it easy for your content authors to be agile and leverage high value content where it makes sense for the user, not where it makes sense for your web developers.

    Resource Area

    Do you have a resource area where you make it easy for users to find and binge on your whitepapers, infographics, videos and guides? And do you leverage that area as a way of acquiring new sales prospects? Often valuable content is created as part of a marketing campaign or product launch and that content is utilized in silos. You are missing a trick if you don’t tag and pool your great content to build a resource center as an added feature on your website. And incorporating a light touch gating mechanism within that resource center will enable you to contribute to filling the top of your lead funnel from passing visitors.

    Conversion

    Once you attract people to your site and to your content you have to encourage them to complete the web form. This is a question of finding the balance between your needs as a business and their interest in your content, whilst providing an easy user experience.

    How Easy are Your Forms to Use?

    Form UX & Mobile Ready

    Are your web forms a pain to complete? If you are asking the user what country they are in, why not work this out for them using geo-location technology. Why not do the same for their international dialing code. How mobile friendly are your forms? Mobile web usage is increasing across all web user demographics and web forms can be notoriously fiddly or buggy on touch screen technology if not implemented and tested correctly. Any small inconvenience or those few extra seconds of effort can reduce your conversion rates through web forms. Your forms user experience should be as frictionless as possible across desktop, laptop and mobile platforms and across all modern web browsers.

    How Big are the Barriers to Conversion?

    Gate Levels

    The height or level of a content gate refers to the amount of information a user has to provide in order to pass through the gate (to gain access to the content). The level of the gate will have an influence on how likely people are to complete the form, as will the attractiveness or value of the content. The level of the gate should find a balance between the value of the content and the amount of data required by sales or marketing to progress that buyer towards a sale. A lower value piece of content may only necessitate a lower gate with the understanding that we may have to ask for more information later in that buyer’s journey.

    Progressive Profiling

    Progressive profiling is the method of incrementally asking only a few questions every time a user completes a form, thereby over time building up enough information about a user to satisfy sales and marketing requirements. Typically the minimum questions you would ask on a first gate (first step in the progression) would be email (as a key field) and country (for privacy purposes). Following this, user profiles would be expanded out with name, company, job title and any other questions key in following up or further marketing to a lead.

    Pre-population or Auto-opening Gates

    If a user has already provided information to you recently, why ask for that information again? If a user is returning to your site and completing a different form, save them time by pre-populating information you already have for them. You can still offer them the option to change that information if necessary, but saving them those extra seconds to complete the form is going to boost conversion rates against that particular form. Also, if you are deploying a form to gain access to high value content, and a user has already provided all the information you are asking for in that form, why not just skip the form for that user and give them the content without showing the form. The user is saved the trouble of completing another form and you are distributing your marketing content. If you still want to measure performance of that form or content asset, submit the form in the background blind submission) without inconveniencing the user.

    Are you forms Global?

    Multi-language Forms

    The height or level of a content gate refers to the amount of information a user has to provide in order to pass through the gate (to gain access to the content). The level of the gate will have an influence on how likely people are to complete the form, as will the attractiveness or value of the content. The level of the gate should find a balance between the value of the content and the amount of data required by sales or marketing to progress that buyer towards a sale. A lower value piece of content may only necessitate a lower gate with the understanding that we may have to ask for more information later in that buyer’s journey.

    Country Independent Forms

    Progressive profiling is the method of incrementally asking only a few questions every time a user completes a form, thereby over time building up enough information about a user to satisfy sales and marketing requirements. Typically the minimum questions you would ask on a first gate (first step in the progression) would be email (as a key field) and country (for privacy purposes). Following this, user profiles would be expanded out with name, company, job title and any other questions key in following up or further marketing to a lead.

    Orchestration

    Optimizing your forms doesn’t stop when the user clicks the submit button. The data you collect should be optimized to allow you to leverage that data for marketing, re-marketing, audience analysis, tele-sales, direct sales, insights and reporting.

    How Actionable is your Submission Data?

    Data Normalization

    Data normalization is the process of limiting data responses to a standard schema or set of values. In a world of increasing automation and data processing, the more normalized a data set is the easier it is to leverage the insights within it. For example, if you capture Job Role in your lead forms but leave the entry free-text you will end up with hundreds of values within that field (not to mention the multiplier created when you factor in multiple languages). Leveraging that data set for nurturing, personalization or audience building (for programmatic advertising) will require a lot of heavy lifting. Devising a sensible number of Job Roles which are normalized into a drop down list will create a data set which you can leverage straight away within automation or advertising platforms.

    How Connected are your Web Forms?

    Sales Alignment

    How aligned are your marketing forms to your sales process? Forms designed for lead generation that don’t ultimately provide everything your sales team needs to action a lead are not optimal. Does sales route leads by territory (and if so to what granularity) or vertical? If they are doing a BANT qualification process, what are the critical data-points needed for that? Is there a tele-qualification process? In which case do we ensure phone is a prevalent field across all our lead capture forms? Does sales adopt a persona approach? In which case what is the key question to segment contacts by persona group? Ensuring sales alignment in this regard is a process of communication, team collaboration and governance across your web infrastructure. Achieving it will optimize conversion rates down your lead funnel.

    Web Analytics

    Web analytics is a key tool in optimizing conversion rates in your web lead forms. If your web forms are connected to your analytics layer correctly you can mine that information to improve lead numbers. Analytics will typically have knowledge of the origin of a user session i.e. social, paid or organic search. Having form conversion information within that environment will allow analysis of conversion rate against marketing channel, campaign or message. To enable this, all your web forms should push form interaction events into your web analytics in a consistent and standardized way e.g. when a user is presented with a form, when they start completing a form and when they submit a form.

    Account Data

    Normalizing company or account information can be critical in modern digital marketing. Account based approaches to marketing can require matching of contacts or audiences to specific company names or groups. Using smart form lookup services to match against standardized company names (e.g. Dun and Bradstreet lists) will make it easier to automate matching and collation of contacts into accounts. Lookup services can also enrich account data in the background to support optimization of sales qualification. For example capturing company revenue data or territory information.

    How Compliant is your Data?

    Global Data Governance

    Global privacy standards are becoming ever more complex. The advent of GDPR within the EU was a watershed moment in the capturing of lead data for marketing purposes but it is not the only legal framework to consider. Central marketing functions have the problem of ensuring compliance with the different legal frameworks in place whilst keeping lead capture flowing. If your forms are not seeking consent to market in the appropriate situation your efforts of achieving form conversions are wasted because that lead data will not be actionable. As discussed above, web forms should be country agnostic and understand when to seek marketing consent based on the country of the user.

    Disclaimers and Privacy Statements

    As well as seeking consent at the right time, forms have to present legal information to the user in the form of disclaimers and privacy statements. If you are a global enterprise containing multiple legal entities, showing the right legal information can be technically challenging. If a user is on the page owned by a legal entity in one country but resident in another (and followed-up by your local field team) which legal disclaimer should you show? Getting alignment with your legal, marketing and sales teams is critical in this regard. And then ensuring all your web forms present the correct disclaimers at the correct time and situation.

    Performance

    How are you measuring and interpreting web form performance? Web conversion optimization can only work if you are measuring the right things.

    Do you Measure Form Performance?

    Form Interaction Tracking

    If you aren’t measuring what people are doing on your forms, you can’t optimize them. Not just when the user clicks submit, but when they see the form, when they start filling it in, if they submit or if they get a validation error. Collate that information into performance metrics like conversion or error rate. Cross reference against gate level or content type.

    Content Consumption Tracking

    If you are gating your content, ensure that the content is being consumed. Track downloads as well as form submission. If you trial gating and not gating an asset, you can see the effect the gating has on the download numbers. If you are gating a video, measure when a user completes the video. Ultimately the performance of your content has a direct influence on the performance of your lead forms.

    Do your Forms Measure ROI?

    Inbound Attribution

    Inbound attribution is a major factor in successfully measuring ROI and operating a revenue performance model for marketing. This typically involves capturing URL parameters on inbound links and passing them through to sales and marketing platforms. These parameters record the inbound channel (social, paid search etc.), media platform, campaign, messaging or content. Your web forms should always capture these tracking parameters whenever a user starts a browsing session through an inbound marketing link. An example standard of this approach is the UTM parameters adopted by Google, with an example URL being www.mywebsite.com?utm_campaign=campaign1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin

    Full Funnel

    Passing inbound tracking parameters down the lead funnel will give full funnel attribution. Successful implementation will allow analysis of closed won sales opportunities by channels, campaigns, messaging, search keyword or even target advertising audience.

    Do you Perform Ongoing Testing?

    Experimentation

    An agile marketing approach should enable marketers to experiment with how they are generating leads. Web forms offer an opportunity for experimentation. Experiment with gating levels (how many fields are in your forms), messaging, form styling, which content is gated, which areas of the site you are gating. Experiment, measure and optimize.

    Split Testing

    A/B testing provides a great way to automate the experimentation process. For example, try providing an asset gated and non-gated, see how it affects conversion performance. If the drop off is minimal, your content is performing well and should be leveraged more.

    Conclusion

    WCO is the systematic process of increasing the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action, the advantage over CRO is the greater emphasis on leveraging your website and not just an isolated conversion path. Marketing Operations teams are often in a better position than web development teams to increase conversions, they are the closest to understanding insights around customer data. The WCO process can be split into four areas.

    Attraction

    Driving customers to well-placed forms.

    Conversion

    Striking a balance between business needs and user experience.

    Orchestration

    Optimizing data to provide even more ROI.

    Performance

    Ensuring effective measurement and creating valuable insights.

    A detailed understanding of these four areas and how they apply to your own organization is essential to improving your WCO, discovering new insights and ensuring a healthy return on your investments.

    The Future of Form Solutions

    Historically, web conversion optimization activities sat with technical media teams optimizing single landing pages or a web team testing layouts and messages. Yet in the modern data-driven world B2B marketing now finds itself in, the marketingoperations and demand centre functions are hampered by their ability to execute. The dependency on web teams for form building and marketing technology integration creates a dependency on technical resources within the business. The limited availability of these skilled resourcesoften creates a barrier to effective marketing with agility, productivityand performance all limited.Many aspects of web and digital modern marketing are now commoditisedand the same is becoming true of online lead generation forms. A seriousenterprise would not dream of developing their own Content ManagementSystem, Web Analytics Platform or Inbound Call Tracking Application. Theincreasing importance and complexity of web conversion will drive businessesto seek off-the-shelf form management solutions that provide scalability, agility and governance at global scale.

    How much you could improve your web conversion by?

    By analyzing your current web conversion rates and optimization practices, we can estimate the projected uplift in leads you can expect from working with GatedContent.com.