Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Measuring conversions on non-transactional websites

If you have an e-commerce or transactional booking site, you have an easy job tracking profitability, efficiency and the success of your website. One of the key metrics you use is conversion rate — the number of users that end up buying something.

But most sites are not transactional sites. How can a company site or an information site track conversions? In this context we talk about "mental conversion" — referring to any choice the user makes on the site that is beneficial to your company. The challenge has always been, what are these choices and how do we measure them?

Levels of Conversion

I operate with 4 categories of conversion when measuring non-transactional websites. This fits neatly with the limit of four goal conversions in Google Analytics, a nice bonus.

  • Interest
  • Subscribe
  • Share
  • Contact

It is important to note that the appropriate sites for this model is not product oriented sites that easily could have been e-commerce sites. For product oriented sites, Contact should be replaced by Store Locator or Where to Buy.


At this level the user is showing an interest in your company and/or your content. This includes:

  • Bookmarks/Favorites
  • Writing down to URL for later visit (offline bookmarking)
  • Saving the page
  • Printing the page
  • Adding the page to "Read it Later"


At this level the user is interested in you and in getting updates from you in the future. This includes:

  • E-mail newsletter
  • RSS subscription
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Become a fan on Facebook


At this level the user finds you interesting enough to share his or her discovery with others. This includes:

  • Tip a friend
  • Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites
  • Blog about
  • Adding a widget to the Vista Sidebar or Mac OS X Dashboard


At this level the user makes direct contact with you. For non-transactional sites this means that a conversion can happen offline. This includes:

  • Phone
  • E-mail
  • Fax
  • Letter
  • Physical Visit

Note that it is only in step #4, Contact, that we will be able to convert the user into a customer. The implication is that all your communication in the steps #1-#3 should seek to push the user to a higher degree of mental conversion.

Measuring Conversion

On e-commerce sites we have the luxury of having an exact conversion rate, and exact statistics on how much each user creates in revenue. It's quantifiable. Unfortunately, measuring mental conversion is a more qualitative exercise.


To measure bookmarking, written down URLs, writing the URL from a printed article, etc… we can assume that visits that are Direct (without referrer) and also a return visitor is from a bookmarked URLs.

Unfortunately this does not catch all visits.

  • Visitors that revisit after 30 days will not be return visitors
  • Visitors using online bookmarking services like delicious or google bookmarks (this has a sharing perspective also and its debatable if they are bookmarks in a traditional sense)

To measure printing of the page it is possible to count printer friendly versions of the page and depending on browser it might be possible to count loading of print stylesheets.


E-mail subscription is easily trackable through either the confirmation page or the e-mail subscription list itself. RSS feeds can be tracked with Feedburner. Other types of subscription like microsummaries, widgets, follow on facebook, follow on twitter, etc… needs different measuring techniques. The numbers are readily available, but I have not found a good product that consolidates them.


Common sharing techniques like tip a friend and share on is easy to measure. It is important that you also tag traffic generated from sharing so that the value of this functionality can be evaluated later. People that share by using bookmarklets or copying the url is a little more difficult to track. Implementing technologies like Trackback is one solution.


E-mail — either through a form or through a direct mailto link is possible to measure.

Tracking phone calls is expensive and difficult, but it can be done. By having a large pool of phone numbers you can show a random number to each user. The phone system will then feed back to the web statistics when a call is received on the number. An easier way to catch at least some phone traffic is functionality for having the user supply his phone number so you can call him.

Measuring actual visits that comes as a direct result of a web presence is doable by using traditiona surveys in the physical locations. A number of companies can do this in any city of sufficient size and there are experts that should be consulted in order to formulate the questions.

Surveys on the website can be used to supplement your statistics in order to gain an understanding of mental conversion. Always remember that surveys is a field of expertise and random free surveys with questions from management is not going to give you anything substansial.


Measuring mental conversion is not an exact science and it involves both quantitative and qualitative data. It is possible to By following this model you will be able to be more exact than before in putting a value on your users and website.