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How to Drive Conversion Rate by Understanding Visitor Intent: Article 3 of 4

by Sean Ellis  |  
September 6, 2013
  |  4,439 views

In part two of this series, I discussed how to use insights gleaned from analytics to identify opportunities for conversion rate improvement in your acquisition funnels. In today's installment, I want to help you go from analytic-based insights—which is way ahead of the curve for most testing plans—to the rarefied air of understanding visitor intent.

Intent is at the heart of conversion rate optimization. How do you effectively harvest intent from the Internet?

Your potential customers are seeking for solutions to problems you solve. When you can create strong alignment between the value of your offering and the intent of the visitor, you have your best chance at conversion success.

In the past, people have used various proxies to determine intent. Search keywords, for example, are a popular proxy; time on site might be another—and so on. But for all of the benefits of those proxies, they can't actually speak for your visitors.

To really understand your visitors' intentions, you need to get out of the building to hear directly from them. To get out of the building means to get out from under your own preconceptions about what your visitors want, and to talk to your customers and visitors to learn what they're really trying to accomplish when they visit your site.


Once that's known, you can optimize things like on-site messaging—and ultimately product features and experience—to meet the needs of your site visitors. You align your offering to best meet their intentions, creating win-win scenarios that improve your conversion rates.

Surveys are a great way to determine intent. They allow you to quickly and efficiently target and question your customer base and site visitors to provide real feedback based on which you can optimize.

Three types of surveys are effective in unearthing intent and needs: custom, user satisfaction (or net promoter), and on-site.


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Sean Ellis is the founder of GrowthHackers.com and CEO of Qualaroo, a technology company that helps marketers better understand the needs of website visitors and improve conversions. He has held marketing leadership roles at breakout companies, such as Dropbox, LogMeIn (IPO), Uproar (IPO), Eventbrite, and Lookout.

Twitter: @SeanEllis

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  • by Matthieu Dejardins Fri Sep 6, 2013 via web

    Great article summarizing the challenges for marketers while doing CRO.

    To measure the intent of people reaching your website, I like the 4Q from iPerceptions.
    It's a basic true permission based on-exit survey with 4 questions:
    1. What is the purpose of your visit to our website today?
    2. Were you able to complete your task today?
    3. If you were not able to complete your task today, why not?

  • by Steve Young Fri Sep 6, 2013 via web

    I love it Sean especially the question about how you would feel if we did not exist.

  • by writerroxanne Fri Sep 6, 2013 via web

    Incredible. You'd think by now we'd all get the point that one of THE best ways to understand your customer is by ASKING them what you need to know. My all-time favorites are "How did you learn about us?", and "Why did you (or, why didn't you) complete your purchase of this item today?"
    If you need to sweeten the pot with an incentive (Simply answer these two questions and you'll get XYZ for free!), then by all means- Do It! Anything to get at the heart of what motivates your customer and which channels drive your customer to your doorstop.

  • by DMBeckmann Tue Sep 10, 2013 via web

    Your article circles me back to the days of taking 6 months to do focus groups to get an answer. I love the idea of real time questions. Looking at some of the interaction logic available in marketing automation tools, one might build dynamic content to be served according to the users answers. This was thought provoking! Thanks

  • by Sean Ellis Wed Sep 11, 2013 via web

    Agree with all... No reason to run big research projects or guess about user needs. Plenty of solutions today that make it really quick and easy to just ask people about their intentions and anything they find confusing with the website.

  • by Gracious Store Mon Sep 16, 2013 via web

    I don't know how possible it is to be able to know your visitor's intent, rather you hope you will be able to meet needs of those who visit your site

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