The e-commerce conversion funnel: what it is and how to optimize it to improve and increase sales


Users make it to your website, they visit 2 or 3 pages, and then they leave. How infuriating! After all the effort you put into just getting them to visit your e-commerce shop, they leave without buying anything.
Well this is precisely what you can avoid by working on your conversion funnel.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means or how it can be applied to an online store. In today’s post we’re going to explain everything you need to know to sell more thanks to funnels. Let’s get started. 😉

What is a conversion funnel?

Every website—a shop, membership site, forum, or whatever type it is—needs to have a goal. That end goal, which for e-commerce may be “to get recurring sales from loyal clients”, can be broken down into smaller objectives or phases.

The conversion funnel is the process through which users must go on their way to the end goal (typically a purchase).

The goal may change over time since working with a new e-commerce isn’t the same as working with an older one that already has authority and is making sales.

One example

If you have just launched your e-commerce and your brand is 100% unknown, trying to get those first few visitors to buy is an unrealistic goal.
As an alternative, your goal could be that visitors look at a minimum of 3 products or that they give you their email addresses (lead).

What is a conversion funnel for?

The main purpose of defining a funnel is to discover and avoid exit points. The same way a plumber looks for where water is leaking from a pipe, we need to find out in which phase of the funnel users are leaving and refine our strategy accordingly.
When we have a broken pipe, we can increase the water flow so that more water makes it to the end. The same can be applied to funnels and we can increase the number of users at the beginning (AdWords, Facebook Ads, SEO…), but until we solve the problems, we will be wasting resources.
Advantages of understanding how a funnel works:

  • Knowing where exits are coming from: later we will see how to check the pages that lead to more people leaving the shop with Google Analytics.
  • Better allocation of resources: once you have optimized the funnel, you can focus on getting more qualified traffic to your shop.
  • Breaking down costs: when you know the phases that users go through, you can break down the costs of getting them through each of those phases (customer acquisition cost, lead cost, or the cost of each sale).

You won’t only better understand your users’ behaviors; the conversion funnel will also help you mentally organize the structure and objectives of your business.
Now that we have explained the context, let’s start with the different phases of a conversion funnel. 😉

Funnel phases: what users do before they buy—step by step

We are going to use two different funnels: a generic one that can be applied to almost any online business and one that’s more specific to e-commerce.
If you started reading this post to find a conversion funnel for online shops, you won’t want to miss this part.

1. Generic funnel

The phases through which the average user passes in most online businesses are similar:

A. Visibility

This is the wider side of the funnel; on this side we see visitors arriving from all the organic traffic sources that we are working on:

  • Google AdWords (SEM): we pay Google so that it shows our ad when people look for our products. Read this post.
  • Organic traffic: thanks to a good SEO strategy and good content, we get organic visits. Here you have a guide about it.
  • Social networks: this could be either paid ads on Instagram, Facebook Ads, or by means of posts, pictures, etc.
  • Prospecting (looking for new clients): this term that is often used in offline world can also be used here. It means reaching out to contacts, networking, or any other strategy you can use to attract interested people.

Now that they are all inside the funnel, we have to go a step further.

B. Lead

A lead is a person who has given you their personal details (their email address, for example) so that they can be added to your mailing list.
Why is it so important that they leave their email address?
You’ll understand in the next step.

C. Lead nurturing

How many times have you bought something the first time you visited a website?
Probably not too many.
And there is an obvious explanation for that. You’ve just visited a new shop and you need to get to know the product and the shop better before deciding to buy from them.
You need to trust them.
This is why you need people to give you their email addresses so that even if they leave your website, you can contact them later and explain why they should buy from your shop.
It’s the best part of funnels combined with email marketing and an autoresponder.

D. Clients

So the user ends up buying something from your catalog.
This may seem like the end, and in many situations it is, but the truth is that there is much more beyond this point.

E. Fostering loyalty

Remember the goal that we defined before?
We were talking about loyal clients and recurring purchases both from those clients and from the people they recommend your shop to.
In this step you need to encourage every client who has bought something to buy again. Read these two posts:

Although we have already explained this generic funnel applied to e-commerce, let’s take a look at another one designed especially for online shops.

2. Phases of an e-commerce funnel

While there may be other objectives, the main goal of a shop is to sell, to sell more, and to sell for as much money as possible. Saying the opposite would be a lie.
These are the different steps that users normally take starting with the moment they see your website on the Google results page to the moment they enter their credit card details.

  1. Going to the website: this is no different than the previous funnel—the traffic sources are the same.
  2. Choosing a category: the most common way of organizing a website nowadays is with categories, especially those which aim at driving organic traffic. Users land on the home page and there they find different categories to visit.
  3. Looking at a product: after the basic category users can find a specific product card where they can see all the detailed information about an item.
  4. Adding it to the shopping cart: when users like a product, they click on it to add it to the shopping cart.
  5. Checkout: if everything goes well and our almost-client doesn’t regret it, they will then enter their details into our payment gateway and complete our conversion funnel.

As you can see, the concept of a funnel can be taken out of the physical shop context: the shop window catches the attention of passersby—you go in, you come back a second time, you buy something, and after a while you end up buying all your Christmas presents there.
The difference is that with an online business you can measure each of those interactions.

What to do in each phase of the funnel?

For users, the funnel is like going uphill, so the best thing we can do is assign actions that help push them through each step. Let’s see some examples.

1. Lead magnet

It’s a hook used to get something from users, usually their email addresses. It has to be something they can download and that helps them solve the problem that led them your website in the first place—and that’s related to your product or service.
For example, at Doofinder, in addition to the 30-day free trial that we offer so you can try the search engine out, we also have a free guide about how to sell more:
>> Click here to see it.
Here you have some more examples:
If you sell products for animals, a good magnet would be a PDF or video containing “tricks to reduce your dog’s barking at home”. You offer a valuable item in exchange for their email address, which will help you gain their trust and nurture the relationship.
This helps you speed up the process of getting them through the funnel.

B. Time-sensitive actions

A pop-up that shows up when users are about to close the window, a chat window that offers help after a user spends more than “x” minutes on the same page, or a banner on the homepage are some example of these actions that can help you improve your conversion rate.

C. One-time offers

People don’t like to miss out on opportunities.
If you offer visitors to your website a time-sensitive offer that will disappear a few minutes later, users will be curious and it will help you get more than just a sale.
It’s also useful to do some cross-selling in order to increase the average checkout price.

Funnels and Google Analytics

Even though there are more specific tools, Analytics is more than enough to cover your needs at this point.
The first thing that can be really useful is the Behaviors / Exit pages section.
That’s where you’ll find your website URLs from which people leave.
In addition, if you set up Enhanced Ecommerce, you’ll be able to define your own funnel phases that will then be shown in the Goals section.
Not only will you see which phases you lose people in, but you will also see the whole trajectory of those who end up buying. This is really useful in order to find out which source of traffic you should focus on.
Recommended post: Analytics tutorial for e-commerce.
Once you have detected where the leak is coming from, it’s time to fix the problem. In order to help you, we’ll point out the most common problems that cause people to jump ship from the conversion funnel.

Why isn’t my funnel working?

To reduce the percentage of people who abandon your funnel, you’ll need to know why they aren’t continuing in the first place. If users don’t even make it past the home page, these could be the reasons:

1. Your online store does not load or load slowly 

Today, this is an unforgivable error. No one is willing to wait more than 4 seconds for a page to load before leaving.
Do you want to know what time charging your business?
Tools like Web Page Test or Pagespeed Insights let you know this and other parameters to see if you should take measures such as optimizing images or reduce unnecessary lines in your code.

2. The design of your e-commerce is not attractive at first glance

Colors, typefaces, selected elements fail to capture adequately the visitor’s attention or, conversely, get overwhelm, causing leave your page before any other action.
To prevent this from happening, creates comfortable to look at, with colors that keep visual harmony with each other and represent your brand.

3. The pop -ups blocking access to your e-commerce quickly and easily

Often it tends to incorporate different pop – ups to warn of promotions, discounts or invite them to subscribe to the newsletter after loading the web, which is somewhat inconvenient to visitors who do not want to have to be closing different pages to enter.
You can use these tools but head : wait a few seconds before releasing them or adding them elsewhere in your site in which it is not so annoying.

4. Mobile and tablet devices that does not have a responsive design has no future.

Users want to see your online store at any terminal in an optimized manner , without having to move from one side to the other of your website. Having an adapted design is essential to keep visits .

5. Your website is chaotic

When a user first enters on a page, it is necessary that elements of it are in places where they are supposed to be.
For example, it makes little sense to place the menu on the right side or the cart that displays the number of products added in the lower part thereof. That is why you should not innovate in the placement of these elements because all you get is confuse consumers.

6. The photographs used are of low quality or are not well planned

Again we have a bug that you can not afford to make. Choose the photographs that best represent the product you want to sell and more attractive to potential buyers.
Do not neglect the resolution nor the technical quality. A good image sells more than a thousand words.

7. Poor product descriptions

Either because they are too generic, because they do not provide enough information or even because the font used is not appropriate, a description of inadequate product can make a visitor decides to stop seeing your products.
Help is simple:invest time in improving your descriptions, carefully choose the font and size used and the problem will cease to be .

8. Product page to shopping cart

Users can not find what they want . Still not a suitable offers on search engine, to filter your products, show the results that best suit your searches and allows the user to find quickly and easily what you want?
Just with this problem today, install Doofinder free for 30 days and see how it gives results.

9. Broken links

When a user clicks on a product, expected to be shown without any failure. If this does not load or displays an error , it is very possible that the user chooses to close the page.
Check that all the links of your products and other pages within your store function properly and, if not, thus modifies those who do not show an optimal result.

10. Shopping cart to checkout

To pay, you need to register.
This is something that irritates the nerves of many consumers. If once you have decided to make a purchase in your online store you force them to register on your site to complete the purchase , many of them not completed this process, leading to an abandoned cart .
The solution is simple: do not set the record on your site as a prerequisite to buy. Used other means to get data from consumers like promotions, contests or lead magnet.

11. Your shipping policy and/or return is unclear.

From the first moment , the user has to be clear how much it will cost the shipment of the products and how they can return if not to be in conformity with the order.
If you advertise your homepage free shipping you have it because you offer truth , do not lie.
With return policy same thing happens: you should be clear on how , deadlines, refund or exchange , etc. Do not give surprises to your potential buyers and do not carry your not any.

12. You do not offer variety in terms of payment

If you simply accept 2 or 3 methods of payment , it is more than likely to lose buyers.
Today there are many ways to make payments on the network and consumers expect that your e-commerce is adapted to them, do not disappoint them and study what payment methods are the most used by your target audience.

Are you ready to start your own funnel?

You already know what it is and what it’s used for.
Take advantage of these tips that we’ve provided to analyze why people leave your e-commerce shop and then take the necessary measures to reduce them. We can assure that you’ll regret not having discovered these funnels earlier! 😉