Micro Conversions - Definition, Relevance and Measurement

Do you measure the micro conversions taking place on your website? If you answered "No" to this simple question, you may be missing out on a large amount of potential income. This is because micro conversions can show you what visitors are doing before they complete your macro conversion. Not measuring and analyzing this data therefore means that you are not making full use of the full set of visitor data that is available.

What are micro conversions

A micro conversion is a small step on a visitor's path to your primary conversion goal. This primary purpose is usually called a macro conversion. For most websites, such a macro conversion is making a sale, getting a donation, or acquiring a lead.

What is a soft conversion?

The term soft conversion is a synonym for a micro conversion. In concrete terms, this means that a soft conversion is a relevant step in the customer journey, but that this does not yet concern the last step (purchase, lead, donation). The English term soft conversion is also regularly used and describes the same phenomenon. Examples of soft conversion goals are discussed later.

What is a hard conversion?

The term hard conversion is a synonym for a macro conversion. This specifically concerns the primary conversion goal defined by the organization for that website. For lead-gen websites, the hard conversion is acquiring a lead, for ecommerce web shops this is generally a new sale, and for foundations the hard conversion is usually obtaining a donation or recruiting a volunteer.

Different types of micro conversions

As mentioned by Jennifer Cardello of NN Group, micro conversions can be divided into two types.

  1. Progress milestones are conversions that show linear movement towards the primary macro conversion. Monitoring this type of micro conversion will help you define where UX improvements are most needed.
  2. Secondary actions are not the primary goals of your website, but they are desired actions that can be indicators of possible future macro conversions.

Often tracked micro conversions

These are the following things (with arguments where you should also measure them).

  • Read RSS feed: While this secondary action doesn't give you a direct method to connect with your target customer, it allows you to reach them with your content. While some may argue that RSS feeds are dead, the popular RSS feed manager Feedly has more than 12 million users. When you also consider that most blogging platforms such as WordPress or even static blog generators such as Jekyll offer RSS feed options or plug-ins, there is actually no reason not to offer them to your visitors.
  • Subscribe to newsletter: A visitor who signs up for your newsletter is often also interested in what you have to say or offer, but is not yet ready to convert. By offering you an email address, they give you permission to stay in touch and slowly build a relationship with them. Because the average sales cycle spans several months (especially for B2B websites) and includes multiple visits to your website, having a way to stay in touch with a prospect is extremely important.
  • Create an account: By creating an account on your website, a visitor has shown the intention to try out what you offer or possibly shop on your website again. Keep in mind that creating accounts should be optional for visitors who want to purchase your products or services. An in-depth analysis of the topic of guest checkout can be found in this excellent article by Peep Laja: How to Design an eCommerce Checkout Flow That Converts.
  • Each step in the funnel: To analyze the influence of a change in the checkout funnel, you need to measure each individual step of that funnel. For example, if you discover that a large group of visitors are adding items to their carts, but only a small percentage of them proceed to checkout, it could mean that there are issues in your cart that are keeping them from checking out. However, be aware not to over-analyze these types of micro conversions when running an experiment and to only draw conclusions based on targets where a statistically significant difference between the different variations has been observed.

The other 98%

While you probably shouldn't compare conversion rates because it's like comparing apples and oranges anyway, it's generally accepted that the average conversion rate for e-commerce websites is around 1-3%. This means that any website that does not measure micro conversions in any way probably has about 98% of its visitors no idea why they are not converting. Compare this with website owners who do measure micro conversions, and you will quickly see the difference why measuring micro conversions and analyzing micro conversion data strongly benefits these organizations.

Why are micro conversions relevant?

Many of the websites I analyzed do not measure micro conversions at all. In fact, some of these websites don't measure conversion data anyway, but that's a story for another time. By not using this data, many websites remain in the dark about the current state of the customer journey that visitors are in.

Missed opportunities

As mentioned earlier, by analyzing these conversions you can get a more complete picture of what is happening on the website. With an overview like this, it's much easier to spot opportunities for optimization, gain new testing ideas, or spot issues that prevent visitors from converting.

Conversie ratio

Optimizing webshops with low traffic

Measuring micro conversions is also an excellent tactic for websites that have little traffic and/or conversions. This is because with small numbers of visitors or low numbers of conversions, experiments sometimes need to run for many months (or more) to achieve statistical significance. If you want to discover how long the experiment should run on your website, check out this A/B testing runtime tool.

Not-significant macro conversions

Because a soft conversion is much more common than a hard conversion, in most cases you will be able to extract actionable data from it. The problem with this, however, is that with low traffic you often won't see statistically significant differences on the hard conversion (usually the 'Thanks' page). If no significant difference can be observed between the test variations on this hard conversion target, then in some cases one will not be able to confirm or reject the testing hypothesis. As a result, it will sometimes not be possible to choose a winning variation. However, when soft conversion goals are also measured, this can provide additional insights.

Qualitative testing

For smaller websites it is therefore recommended to also use qualitative testing methods such as user testing, interviews, or focus groups. Find more advice on how to best do conversion optimization for low-traffic websites in these articles on CXL and Moz.

Targeting multiple phases of the purchase phase

If you want to know how far a visitor is in the purchasing cycle of 'Awareness - Consideration - Purchase', you can use this information to support him or her in the conversion process.

Use targeted content

Knowing which stage of the purchasing cycle a visitor is in can enable you to offer targeted content. In addition to using techniques such as recommendations and showing cross-sells at the appropriate time, an awareness of the current stage of the purchasing cycle a visitor is in can allow you to offer targeted content. For example, a visitor who is well aware of your solution and the benefits it offers is likely better off with additional customer reviews and references. A visitor, however, who is unaware of the benefits your solution offers is likely better served with detailed information about your product's options and the benefits those options offer him or her in solving their problem.

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How to track micro conversions?

Micro conversions can be measured in different ways. The most common way to measure micro conversions is to track them in a web analytics platform such as Google Analytics. This tool allows you to save micro conversions such as events or goals, both of which will be discussed below. Alternatively, micro conversions can also be saved in testing tools such as Optimizely or VWO.

Track in Google Analytics

As events

Micro conversions can be tracked in Google Analytics by adding them as events. By adding micro conversions to your web analytics data, you can compare them to other data points such as keywords and traffic sources.

As goals

In Google Analytics, you can view the steps a user takes in your checkout process by saving these individual steps as goals and creating a conversion funnel based on these steps.

Track in testing tools

When you run A/B testing, having data about your micro conversions that users achieve in the different variations will be extremely valuable. For example, you might discover that moving an image on the product page has the (unexpected) effect of increasing the number of items added to the cart by a significant percentage. However, if you had not measured micro conversions, this change might have been overlooked and this variation would potentially not have been declared a winner and there would have been no significant impact on the primary macro conversion rate.

About the author

Theo van der Zee (MSc, Psychology) has been building and optimizing websites and web shops for more than 20 years. As a freelance conversion specialist, he helps companies to improve their websites based on research and experiments.

Read more about Theo

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