Lessons In Conversion Optimization


Back when Fish Finder Source was an online store, I had built the site to receive a pretty decent amount of traffic, but conversion rates were dismal at best.

I tried almost everything to improve the conversion rate, including the standard fare of:

  • Adding trust symbols such as SSL seals and PayPal verified seals
  • Eliminating extra buttons and fields from the checkout
  • Making it a one step checkout
  • Making the site ridiculously easy to use
  • Offering free shipping
  • Displaying trust symbols prominently in checkout and cart pages
  • Adding social proof/motivators near the “add-to-cart” button
  • Writing long-form, in-depth product descriptions
  • Making contact details easily accessible
  • Speeding up the site by eliminating unnecessary scripts and calls
  • Optimizing for mobile
  • Adding extra product images
  • Adding videos

As you can see, it was no small effort – but even after all of this, conversion rates were still pretty low.

I even signed up for heatmapping software and found that people did click the add to cart button, and every day, I’d see that quite a few people made it to the checkout page – but then immediately bounced.

Now, the products I was selling were expensive – so without a doubt, people would have jitters before buying – that was understandable. I figured that the jitters were compounded because a) the product was expensive and b) they were buying expensive products from an unknown site.

I was selling stuff similar to Andrew Youderian’s former site TrollingMotors.net – and as he mentioned in his post, his conversion rates weren’t too dapper either: 0.46% overall but they did hover around 1%-1.5% in the peak summer season. Mine weren’t even close to that.

The funny thing was, though, that I wasn’t converting well on accessories, either! The high-price hypothesis would have held up if I had been selling accessories well, but that wasn’t happening either!

At this point, you may be thinking “well, what about traffic sources? Maybe they weren’t qualified.”

I doubt that was the case – since that hypothesis would have been disproven by AdWords. I ran campaigns on and off for quite a while. Both using AdWords and exact match/phrase match keywords for that very product, taking the searcher to the product page, and using Google PLAs as well.

Conversions were equally bad regardless of traffic source.

Because of the store’s dismal performance, and decent traffic numbers – I had spent a good amount of time doing SEO to get this much traffic – I decided to switch it over to an Amazon Affiliates website.

As of now, it’s been about 3 months since the site has been fully on Amazon affiliates, and the conversion numbers are telling:

Over the last month, direct links from Amazon converted at 0.34%. This is around the same as the conversion rate of RCModelsWiz, a still-growing RC models store launched about one year ago, and just a little higher than HunterTreeStands, a store which sells hunting equipment.

Considering that a benchmark rate according to one study is about 2%, it seems that in this niche, Amazon is doing just about the same as the rest of us. It’s just the nature of the product and the price. Since it’s a more complicated item(as are RC models), and it’s more expensive(like tree stands), even people don’t buy it in the first go from Amazon.

Bear in mind that these are direct link conversions – which means people click an Amazon referral link from my site(where they can read reviews), and they are taken to Amazon’s product page. One-third of a percent of the time, they buy right away.

However, I then asked Perrin Carrell from Niche Pursuits about one of his Amazon affiliate sites which refers relatively inexpensive and uncomplicated products – and his conversion rate for direct clicks was right around the benchmark of 2%.

If I delve into the list of all the products I referred to Amazon, then I can see that I still ended up referring quite a few of my niche products, just not always through direct clicks.

This is because Amazon is a brand that sticks in your mind. You know what it is, and you shop there very often, so it’s highly likely that even if you don’t buy today, you will buy tomorrow.

The lesson to be learned for ecommerce stores here is that remarketing is key. The only reason Amazon got those sales a few hours after the original click was because Amazon is a brand that sticks in your head.

If you start remarketing your business(there are a number of services to do this, such as perfect audience or Google Adwords) and put yourself in front of your visitors elsewhere on the web, you are that much more likely to get sales.

I asked RCModelsWiz about this and this is what they had to say:

“In regards to remarketing from what I’ve understood you can’t expect a high conversion from that part of the campaign. It’s usually lower, but you’ve got to do it because you want to make sure to expose your brand as many times to your visitors so that it bring them to think that yours is a solid brand… and that will bring to convert. Many times what happens is that they see your ads but they don’t click on them, they come directly to your site.”

Another lesson to bear in mind is that if the nature of your products is that if they are complicated and/or more expensive, then your conversion rate is going to be lower than usual.

And that’s something you need to factor in when you are doing your research prior to launching your business. So when you are doing your math, cut your potential conversion rate by half or even a quarter.

Finally, the last lesson to learn is to focus on email marketing from the get-go. Don’t wait or dilly-dally to get an email campaign up and running. In fact, of all potential traffic sources, email has the craziest numbers: ROI of over 8000%, click-throughs of around 25%, and nearly 70% of people say they use coupons they receive by email. If you want to know about some strategies to increase your email opt-ins, check out this post here.

Email marketing goes hand-in-hand with remarketing – because you are putting yourself in front of your customers more and more. They may forget about you the first time, but as long as you keep showing up in their face(in a nice way, of course), then you’ll begin to stick.

If you’d like to read up more on “stickiness”, I recommend you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. The factors he discusses are worth noting and applying to your or your clients’ businesses.


Sometimes, it’s not just about following conventional wisdom and seeing marginal increases in conversion. While you may have a technically perfect site, that still may not be enough to convert your visitors.

To do that, you’ll have to inception yourself into their minds.

How have your experiences been with conversion rates? Share with us in the comments!

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  1. Great post Shabbir, I made the mistake of starting really late on email marketing. I still don’t put as much focus into it as I should. As far as remarketing, that’s something I will definitely will be putting more effort into. Our product is very complicated so re marketing will probabky really pay off. Thanks for the info and great idea on testing an Amazon conversion rate against yours!

    • Thanks Chris! Yeah, email and remarketing are solid traffic and awareness drivers. Let me know how your remarketing turns out.

  2. The content you share always blows my mind off! Super cool! I held remarketing in a low light, but now when I think of myself as a consumer, even though these ads keep popping up everywhere (which is a little annoying), they are the ones which do stick in my mind! And definitely, Email is a great source of traffic… Though many people avoid it ‘coz it’s time consuming.

  3. We have found that the best tactic to increase conversion rates are when stores utilize data-driven marketing campaigns like:

    1. Welcome series emails
    2. Post-purchase emails
    3. Win-back campaigns
    4. Abandon cart recovery emails (my favorite)
    5. Segmented email campaigns (instead of the batch and blast approach)

    The reason is that leveraging data in a real-time manner makes it possible for stores to provide improved communications and interact with their customers in a more in-depth manner, thus driving increased future sales and improving customer loyalty. After all, it is what the Amazon’s and Walmart’s of the world are doing.

    Learn more – http://www.springbot.com/2014/09/5-data-driven-marketing-campaigns-that-you-should-launch-before-the-holidays/


  1. […] out this awesome post by Shabbir of bootstrappingecommerce.com. Shabbir will be speaking at the Ecommerce Summit Dec.4th! If you haven’t registered you […]

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