Why your conversion rate doesn't tell you everything...

George F.
June 21, 2022

Let’s take three product teams:

Team A ignores conversion metrics and focuses only on KPIs related to active users (MAU and DAU), retention (CRR), and customer satisfaction (CSAT).

Team B is fixated on product conversion rates, using the numbers as a North Star for understanding features or pages that trigger or block user actions.

Team C pays close attention to conversion rates, but as a springboard for diving deeper, getting inside users’ heads, and understanding why they do or don’t take actions that lead to conversions.

There’s a clear winner here.

By neglecting conversion rate optimization (CRO), Team A misses out on a key indicator of whether users are engaging successfully with their website or service.

By relying too heavily on quantitative conversion rate metrics, Team B has a false sense of security in their knowledge of user behavior—but they’ve barely scratched the surface of what their customers are thinking or feeling.

By using conversion rate as a starting point, Team C got valuable insight into their users' key conversion events or obstacles—but that was only the first step.

This article will show you how to be like Team C. How to go beyond conversion rate and dig deeper to uncover the real treasure: nuanced, user-driven insights that can optimize your product workflow to meet customer needs.

Why conversion rate matters

Conversion rate is the percentage of users who take a desired action on your site or product, which might mean:

  • Completing a purchase
  • Using a certain app feature
  • Downloading a trial software or app
  • Actually using the software or app
  • Signing up to a newsletter or subscription

Conversion rate measures people’s behavior once they’ve started using your website, app, or program. It provides you with a valuable overview of the proportion of users who make it through the full customer journey and the proportion that drops off along the way.

Conversion rate is a potential goldmine for data-hungry product teams and digital marketers looking to measure customer engagement. But note the word potential: both product and marketing teams need more insight and context to extract real meaning from the conversion rate.

How product teams vs digital marketers use conversion rate

Product management teams and digital marketing teams view and act on conversion data very differently. By understanding the distinctions between CRO for marketers and CRO for product teams, you can create a product-specific strategy for optimizing conversion rates and improving the user experience (UX).

Marketing teams look at conversion rates to:

  • Get a sense of whether their marketing targets the right audience.
  • Lots of traffic but few conversions could mean they’re pulling in the wrong customer profile—people who’ll use their website for research, for example, but never buy or subscribe.
  • Determine whether web content engages consumers—if most visitors aren’t converting, overly complex or fuzzy messaging may be to blame.
  • Test whether new marketing strategies or content entice more visitors to take a key marketing action like signing up to a newsletter or completing a purchase.

Product teams look at conversion rates to:

  • Validate product or design changes by seeing if they increase or decrease conversion rates, which helps you decide which tasks or features to prioritize.
  • Monitor the customer journey, and see whether website users are moving with ease through different steps in a funnel.
  • Identify bugs in key conversion events
  • —a sudden decrease in a goal conversion rate could mean something’s wrong with a specific tool or feature.
  • Get a broad sense of user-friendliness and effectiveness of new features or redesigns by tracking whether users take a particular conversion action.

CRO for product teams

Members of product teams use conversion rates differently depending on their role.

For example, product designers may be especially interested in pinpointing roadblocks in the user experience, while developers might be looking for an indication of a bug or coding issue—and product managers might look at conversion rates to get a sense of how overall conversion feeds into broader user behavior patterns.

Aspects of product-focused CRO

Product-specific CRO isn't about quick fixes like flashy banners or pop-ups, which may boost immediate conversion but won’t make any meaningful difference to UX and product usability.

Product-specific CRO is about optimizing conversion rates as part of a comprehensive, long-term strategy that puts user experience above all else.

This may involve:

  • Making the user path through your website or product clearer—with redesigns and improved navigation—to entice users to click on new pages or interact with new features.
  • Streamlining the design of key conversion events to remove friction for your users. This could include registration forms or trial software downloads.
  • Flagging and fixing design issues that are blocking your users.
  • Gather info from everywhere you can—with a broad arsenal of quantitative and qualitative tools—to understand where and why users are dropping off. (Keep reading: we’ll show you exactly how to do this.)
  • Validating redesigns and new features by tracking conversions and making changes where conversion drops.
  • Using conversion info to inform your design of new products or features.

Why your conversion rate doesn’t tell you everything

Conversion rate is a useful way for product managers to get a birds-eye view of patterns in user behavior.

The next step is converting this user behavior data into hypotheses and putting them to the test to learn whether a decent proportion of users are successfully navigating user paths or whether something’s blocking them.

But conversion rate alone doesn’t give product teams insight into what that something could be.

A conversion rate decrease could mean there are confusing steps in a website purchasing funnel or a redesign hasn’t landed well. But it could also mean a thousand other things, from marketing issues to software bugs.

Let's say you've confirmed that a confusing UX is blocking conversions. That's great, but you still don't know why users are confused or where exactly they’re getting stuck. Are mobile users experiencing scrolling or freezing issues? Is there low visibility for key features or web pages along the user path?

In the sophisticated, competitive landscape of product management, guesswork just won’t cut it.

Without additional information, you won’t be able to validate your hypotheses or feel confident you’re making the right decisions to increase conversion rate and other product experience metrics. You’ll have major gaps in your understanding of how users are thinking and feeling while using your product—and how that impacts their behavior and conversion decisions.

More reasons you can't rely on conversion rate alone:

  • Obsessing about conversion rate means it’s tempting to use one-size-fits-all CRO tactics for a quick percentage boost. Fixating on conversions shifts focus away from long-term customer satisfaction, retention, and brand loyalty. It can distract you from finding out what users really want from your product.
  • Conversion rates vary wildly based on visitor type, channel type, and conversion goal, which means it’s hard to pin down any standard industry benchmark to compare your conversion rates to.
  • If you focus on product conversions at all costs, you miss out on valuable opportunities to engage, build trust, and empathize with your customers.

Quantitative tools to go beyond conversion rate:

  • Heatmaps
  • Customer satisfaction surveys
  • Net Promoter Score surveys (NPS)

How to use qualitative tools to go beyond conversion rate

Quantitative tools put conversion rate data in context—they give you an in-depth understanding of how users are acting and which aspects of your product are (or aren’t) meeting their needs.

But to understand the why behind user behavior, you need to dive deeper. Without qualitative data, you’ll still have a major gap in your sense of what your users are thinking and feeling.

Qualitative tools like session recordings, feedback tools, and panel testing get you closer to your users and increase your confidence in your product decisions.

How can product teams optimize conversion rate?

Product teams should avoid quick-fix conversion rate optimization (CRO) and use long-term strategies to improve user experience and boost conversion.

These strategies may include:

  • Redesigning your product or website to make the user path more enticing to follow.
  • Removing friction for users by streamlining the design of key conversion events like registration forms.
  • Flagging product issues that are blocking your users.
  • Gathering data on where and why users are failing to convert to inform your product strategy.