Neil Patel

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7 Things You Should Learn From The Customer Who Doesn’t Convert

Everyone hates shopping cart abandonment.

It’s the boogeyman of Internet marketing, the nemesis of conversion optimizers, and the headache of Internet sales. We fight it tooth and nail. We test incessantly. We optimize, reoptimize, and re-reoptimize, trying to defeat the rising tide of abandonments.

But for all our frenetic battles against shopping cart abandonment, could it be that we’re missing some very valuable information?

I think we are. Shopping cart abandonment is not the pure and unadulterated evil that we think it is. It is an opportunity to learn.

Here’s what we should learn from the customers who choose not to buy. This isn’t an article on techniques to obliterate abandonment. It’s not even about abandonment per se. It’s about all your website traffic and those pesky customers who don’t seem to convert.

Is there anything we can learn from them?

1. Learn about the buying cycle.

One reason why customers don’t convert is that they’re not at the right point in the buying cycle.

What’s the buying cycle you ask? It’s not a misspelling of a two-wheeled transportation device. The more clarifying term, “customer buying cycle,” describes the process that a customer takes when they are considering a purchase.

Here it is in all its visual glory.

the buying cycle

There are five basic stages to the customer’s buying cycle. I made them all start with c- and sound the same:

  1. Conception: The customer is aware that she needs or wants something.
  2. Comparison: The customer considers the various places to obtain this product or service
  3. Consideration: The customer evaluates the best and safest decision for her particular needs and situation.
  4. Conversion: BUY! The customer makes the decision to act on this decision.
  5. Continuation: The customer likes the experience, and decides to do it again sometime.

The reality of a customer buying cycle is that a customer can only be at one point on the cycle at a time. Accepting this fact is a basic realization of non-converting customers. Why didn’t they convert? Because they were in the conception, comparison, or consideration phase, that’s why.

That’s not bad. It just is.

Understanding the buying cycle is a key lesson because you realize that the “lost” conversion may not be a lost conversion at all. It’s a future conversion from a customer who was in the conception phase of the buying cycle.

Obviously, not everyone is going to buy from your website the first time around. You wouldn’t want that anyway, because that would mean that you would have 1) far fewer return visitors, and 2) fewer future conversions.

The cycle, like most other life cycles, seems a little sad at first. But once you realize, hey, it’s a cycle, then you are able to deal with your grief and make more confident marketing decisions.

2. Learn that higher traffic does not equal higher sales.

Here is a saga that many SEOs and digital marketers have experienced.

The director of marketing says, “We need more traffic!” SEOs and writers start to hustle, working their magic and mixing their potions. Traffic starts to climb. KPIs are achieved. Goals are met.

And what happens? Sales plateau.

Why is this the case? Higher traffic does not equal higher sales. Normally, the more traffic you get, the more you tend to sell. In some situations, however, the increasing traffic is driving traffic that is not prepared to convert.

Look at the diagram below. There are three main types of searches, navigational, informational and transactional. If you increase traffic, you may be boosting navigational and informational searches.

types of searches

Informational queries and the resulting traffic is precisely the type of traffic that is often produced by greater content marketing efforts. Since the nature of the queries is informational, it is likely that it may not drive high-converting traffic.

It’s important to realize that content marketing for all its effectiveness is not a guaranteed route to higher sales. Content marketing agrees to meet customers on their own turf, in their own time, and on their own terms.

More traffic is great. But it just might not translate into immediate sales.

3. Learn that there is such a thing as search query intent.

In keeping with the point above, we need to realize the truth about search queries. Not all queries are created equal. Every query has intent, and that intent impacts whether or not the customer who lands on your website is going to buy or not.

All the search traffic that is rushing into your funnel can be categorized in one of three ways:

  1. Transactional Queries – People who want to buy. They are looking to make a purchase right away or very soon. Many of these searchers will convert.
  2. Navigational Queries – People who are trying to find your website. They may or may not be ready to buy. More often than not, they’re doing pre-purchase research.
  3. Informational Queries – People who are looking for information. These searchers are the least likely to convert right away, but they comprise the largest percentage of website traffic.

navigational informational transactional

Brightedge estimates that a whopping 80% of searchers will land on your website with a desire to get information, not to buy. Only 10% are looking to buy, and therefore likely to convert.

search query classification funnel

Every searcher starts with intent. This intent, one of the three above, will cause them to act in different ways when they encounter your website.

intention search consideration action

The better you understand the different types of queries, the better you’ll be able to attract just the kind of search traffic that is most likely to convert.

4. Learn that conversion optimization is important.

All these points lead to an overarching lesson: Conversion optimization is really important.

Why? Because conversion optimization looks at the customer who doesn’t convert and says, “How can we make you more likely to buy?”

Rather than rely on guesswork, conversion optimization begins a rigorous process of research, analysis, and optimization to turn that non-converting traffic into major conversion improvements.

Conversion optimization techniques “improve the effectiveness of your site to boost sales with the same amount of traffic you’re currently receiving.”

You don’t need more traffic to boost your sales. You just need to improve your website.

How does it work? By testing changes. Normally, conversion rate optimizers (CROs) test versions of a website, compare them, and use the one that converts higher.

It’s A/B testing, and it’s insanely effective.

A/B testing, also known as split testing, can produce shocking results, but only if you do it.

Conversion optimization is the path to higher sales.

Sure, the non-converting customer is no fun. But moving the needle on conversion rates through some patient testing is amazing.

5. Learn more about your customers.

When you discover that your “customers” aren’t really customers, after all, you start to wonder, what are they doing? That’s a great question. But it begs a deeper question: Who are my customers anyway?

One of the most effective methods of gaining more sales is understanding who your customers are. How do you do this?

You read their minds.

Reading your customer’s minds isn’t as sinister as it sounds. You can do this effectively, safely, and with zero hypnosis experience. It’s called the persona.

A persona in commerce is defined as “the ideal visitor you want to have to take a specific action on your site.” The most popular way for digital marketers to shape personas is by using demographic characteristics such as age, income, location, gender, etc.

Here are some example personas.

personas at a glance

Look at how those personas define the ideal customer. They are focused. They’re not going after “men, aged 35-45.” They’re going after James, 37 who lives in San Francisco and likes to watch Friends.

A persona needs to be specific because your product is specific. A persona needs to be specific because you aren’t trying to sell to a mass of incoming search traffic. You’re trying to sell a product to the customer who needs and wants it.

Your persona can be as detailed and as visual as you want. This example persona uses a problem statement to define why the customer is visiting the site. The problem statement is “I’m just not sure what I need to know to get my first mortgage. How do I know I made the right choice?”

persona detail

This persona problem statement is helpful because it allows marketers to hone in directly on solving the customer’s problems.

Different analytics platforms including Google Analytics can help you understand your customer demographics in order to make better marketing decisions.

6. Learn more about your competitors.

If your customers don’t convert on your website, then whose site are they converting on?

It’s time to scope out the competition. Chances are, you probably know who your competitors are. But do you know why your potential customers might be defecting to them?

What I recommend is spying on your competition, legally of course. You can use the same tools that you use to analyze your own website. Most of them are free. These tools and techniques can furnish you with a huge amount of information that puts you in complete control of the competitive landscape.

The more you know about your competition, the better you can respond.

7. Learn that testing is important.

This is one of the most obvious things to learn from the customers who don’t convert: Testing is important.

Split testing is easily one of the most powerful techniques ever to happen to digital marketing. Although I’ve already spent some time drooling over it in this article, I want to point out here that testing indicates exactly what’s wrong with your website and what fixes it.

The moment you run a test, identify a winning variable and make a permanent change, things happen. You realize, “Wow! This is powerful stuff!”


If your customers aren’t converting, don’t panic. It’s typical. Instead of responding with frustration, dive in deeper. Discover the information that will make you a more informed and effective marketer.

Non-converting customers are one of the most valuable assets because they can tell you what’s not working and how to fix it.

What have you learned from customers who don’t convert?

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