How the Hierarchy of Conversions Can Help You Optimize the Checkout Experience

The importance of an optimization roadmap and the roadmap used by the team at The Good to help their clients generate millions in revenue.

Natalie Thomas

Aug 21, 2023

If you’re optimizing your site without the guidance of a logical roadmap, there’s a good chance you’re wasting time and burning your cash. 

I don’t mean to be alarming, but I see it all the time from website managers: a haphazard list of “tests” that fail to address the big issues. 

Will they stumble into success at some point? Maybe, but who knows how long it will take and how many resources they’ll burn up along the way. 

Conversion optimization isn’t about instinct or gut feelings. It’s a focused process that systematically reduces friction and incentivizes your customers to buy.

Nowhere on your site is this more important than your checkout page. Checkout is the point where a shopper becomes a customer, so this page deserves thoughtful attention. 

In this article, I’m going to explain what an optimization roadmap is and why you need it. Then I’ll offer the roadmap we use at The Good to help our clients generate millions in revenue. 

Building a Roadmap for Optimization

An optimization roadmap is a blueprint you follow to improve the performance of your website.

The purpose of an optimization roadmap is two-fold:

  1. Identify what needs to be optimized.

  2. Prioritize the order of your optimizations.

One of the key mistakes ecommerce managers make when optimizing their store is focusing on changes that don’t move the needle. They get caught up in making superficial changes when there are higher-value opportunities on the table.  

For instance, many will test different button colors to find the one that converts best. While color does play a part in conversion, it’s far less important than, say, a website that customers find untrustworthy, or a website that takes ages to load. 

These kinds of misdirections waste time and resources. They also mean lower returns. 

By starting with the changes that affect the most users and create the biggest impact, your optimization program can get some big wins right away. 

Not everything will be a home run, of course. Over time, the results of your optimizations will grow smaller as you clear away the big issues and turn your attention to smaller details and more subtle changes. 

But that’s how a good optimization program is supposed to work. 

Keep in mind that conversion optimization is compounding. Each conversion optimization you make boosts the success of the next optimization, just like the way each interest payment from your bank increases the next one. 

“Okay, so I need a road map,” you’re probably thinking. “How do I know how to prioritize my optimizations?”

We’ve got a framework for that!

The Good’s Hierarchy of Conversion Optimization 

model for the hierarchy of conversions

The Hierarchy of Conversion Optimization is a visual model that represents different optimization categories. It also informs the order of your optimization roadmap. 

Basically, it tells you which changes have the biggest impact and the order to implement them.

Each level of the pyramid represents categories of changes we could make to a site. As we optimize a website, we progressively work our way up from the bottom to the top.

The lowest level of the pyramid represents changes with the widest reach. These will have the biggest impact on the largest portion of your audience. 

As you work your way up the pyramid, the audience you’re speaking to gets smaller, but the improvements you made below impact them as well, so the efforts are compounding.

Let’s go through each level of the Hierarchy of Conversion Optimization.

Level 1: Trust & Security

Trust has the greatest impact because it affects everyone, from web-savvy shoppers to those with less experience buying online. It’s the most critical component of the checkout experience. 

We’ve seen double-digit percentage point gains within months for some of the sites after making basic changes that improve trustworthiness.

We address trust first because it’s a requirement for conversions. That said, just because someone trusts you doesn’t mean they’ll give you their money. More is needed to convert. 

As you can imagine, trust is most important at the checkout page. Customers want a professional, sleek, fast page that appears to take good care of their personal information. 

What erodes trust? Bugs and errors, low visibility of who’s behind the company, or an unconventional checkout process that feels insecure are the top reasons. Basically, anything that makes users second guess your authenticity or security. 

The challenge here is that users may not be able to explain - in their own words - why a website or checkout page feels untrustworthy. They can say, “Something is sketchy about this,” but they don’t know why. 

However, my team can look at the same page and quickly identify what seems a little off. We might notice a missing order summary, a change in URL, or a change in the overall design that makes people wonder if they’re on the same website. It takes a trained eye to spot the elements that erode trust.

Level 2: Pain-Free UX

A painless user experience means removing all of the micro-frustrations that prevent people from moving forward. We focus on the pain points that get in the way of people who are already willing to buy. 

It’s smart to look for any place we can mitigate annoyance, reduce repeated tasks, or simplify convoluted purchase funnels. This might include confusing navigation, bad product categorization, a poorly functioning search box, etc. 

These kinds of issues may be small individually, but a user may not have the patience to overcome them all put together. Mobile users are especially intolerant of friction. 

In the checkout experience, painful password resets are conversion killers. If a customer tries to use Apple Pay or PayPal to check out, they might get lost on a long password reset journey. 

Rally’s one-click checkout makes this simple. Once a shopper goes through a Rally checkout once, they can checkout with a single click at ALL Rally checkouts. Even on other websites.

Level 3: Content Rich

This is the category most people mean when they think about conversion optimization. 

Content refers to the images, words, value propositions, comparison charts, and other assets that promote your products and services. This is where ecommerce managers spend most of their time and effort. 

Optimizing for content basically means addressing the questions customers are asking about the company and products. You’d be shocked to learn users still don’t know after 10-15 minutes of looking at a website! 

When it comes to optimizing content, we follow a “Show what you can, tell what you can’t” philosophy. For instance, instead of writing measurements in a bullet-point list, show a schematic or an in-situ photo that represents the scale. 

There isn’t much content on the checkout page, but it’s still important. For instance, the order summary is a key piece of content that should always be part of the checkout experience so customers can verify their purchase. 

Level 4: Guided Path

While it’s true that your visitors have the autonomy to visit any part of your site they like, many need a bit of guidance. Otherwise, they’ll struggle to decide on their own. 

In ecommerce, this guidance might include wayfinding cues, banners, clear calls-to-action, curated collections, landing pages, or anything that’s designed to help them navigate smoothly. 

Categories, for instance, are a quintessential example of guiding their path. They help visitors zero in on what they need, rather than looking through pages of products.

In the case of one client who sold sit-stand desks, we had data suggesting we should create more meaningful categories to help new customers understand how people use the products. 

After interviewing customers, we came up with unique categories that described how customers would use the products, such as “Best for maximalists” and “Small but mighty.” In this case, we created a guided path for new customers. 

A well-guided path should extend all the way through checkout, including clear calls-to-action and the minimization of as many steps as possible. 

Notice how Rally’s checkout page keeps the flow simple. You can use express checkout, or follow the column down, through the form, and to the final call-to-action. 

Level 5: High Incentive

High Incentive can mean a lot of things, but its purpose is to address the part of the audience who wants to make a purchase but needs a little more incentive. 

They trust the site and they’ve already found what they need, but need some extra motivation.

What you use as a high incentive depends on your brand, your products, and what your customers find compelling. Discounts and sales are one way, but bundle pricing, loyalty programs, warranties, and a free gift with purchase are some other examples.

Post-purchase offers are another effective high incentive. These are low-risk ways to increase order value because the customer has already made a purchase (so they won’t spoil the conversion). 

Level 6: Untapped Opportunities

Untapped opportunities, the final level of our Hierarchy of Conversion Optimization, refers to something special that’s unique to each brand. 

Finding these untapped opportunities requires digging into an audience to find out what motivates them to buy. We never know what this entails until we start working with a client, but it’s inevitable that we figure it out along the way. 

In the case of one client, Snow Peak, we learned that their customers valued exclusivity. We leveraged that exclusivity into conversions.

You see, Snow Peak was an international brand that struggled with stock issues across its different websites. They often had items on their site that were sold out for months. 

Generally, out-of-stock messages are friction in the buying process, but Snow Peak’s customers didn’t care. In fact, the limited supply created an air of exclusivity. So our recommendation was to lean into it. 

We added messaging throughout the site that basically said, “These are limited runs, made with care. When we say it’s the last one, we mean it.” 

We also added more visibility to the product guarantees in order to associate the limited stock to quality manufacturing. Then we started waitlisting for sold-out products. The results were incredible!

As you can see, that untapped opportunity only works for Snow Peak. Each brand has to find its own opportunities. But if you study a customer base enough, you’ll find them. 

How to Use the Hierarchy of Conversions to Optimize the Checkout Experience

Now that you understand the Hierarchy of Conversions, your next step is to use it to optimize your website’s checkout experience. You can use this framework for your entire ecommerce store, but for the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on the checkout page.

Using the framework is simple, but not easy. Start at the bottom of the pyramid. Where can you add trust and security to the process? How can you make customers feel comfortable that you won’t abuse their personal and financial information? 

A/B tests are valuable, but user interviews can help you identify exactly what makes your customers trust you. 

Once you’ve exhausted your ideas at the bottom level of the pyramid, move upward. Climb the hierarchy until you reach the top. Explore any opportunities that have presented themselves throughout your climb or other interactions with customers.

And then… Start the whole process over again. Conversion optimization is an iterative process. There’s no end to it. The only difference is that you get to begin each cycle with new learnings, data, and insight. 

Does this mean every optimization is worth your time? Not at all. There’s often a point where the issues become so small that they create diminishing returns. If a change costs $100,000, but will only bring in $10,000 in revenue this year, you should table it for another day. 

Optimize Your Ecommerce Website with Expert Strategy from The Good

The Hierarchy of Conversions is suitable for new and experienced brands, no matter where they are on their conversion optimization journey. If you consistently work your way up the pyramid, you’ll always be moving toward a higher-performing, higher-converting website. 

Our pyramid is one of many frameworks and strategies we use at The Good to support enterprise brands with optimization. Powered by over a decade of industry-leading conversion rate optimization, research, and strategy, our services deliver an average 9:1 ROI.

We can help you identify why your site isn’t converting and build a strategy to fix it. Check out our services and schedule a free consultation with us to learn more about how we can help.


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© 2024 Rally Commerce, Inc.


Get the latest on Rally, delivered right to your inbox.

© 2024 Rally Commerce, Inc.


Get the latest on Rally, delivered right to your inbox.

© 2024 Rally Commerce, Inc.