Uncovering Conversion Landmines Through Mystery Shopping

By Julie Bacchini | @NeptuneMoon | President, Neptune Moon, LLC

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) has been quite the hot topic lately. Sadly, I was not able to attend this year’s Hero Conference, but I did follow it closely on Twitter and CRO was all over the place!


While optimizing parts of your account to maximize quality conversions is essential, it got me thinking about another aspect of conversion optimization that happens outside of our PPC accounts – mystery shopping.


What do I mean by mystery shopping? I mean actually going through the process to become a conversion. For all we talk about optimizing conversions, how many of us actually try to complete the process? Or have other people with less inside knowledge than us or our clients attempt to complete the process? I’m guessing not nearly enough.


What Can You Learn?


A lot.


Maybe you have mobile device page problems. Maybe you have a shopping cart problem. Maybe you have customer service problems. Maybe you have human or staff problems. Mystery shopping can uncover all of these issues.


When we don’t test the full process, we are doing our clients a massive disservice. I can assure you, that most of your clients have not or do not regularly test this stuff. They probably did as part of the web site’s development and launch, but most rarely test again after that – which I just find stunning.


An Example


If you’ve read any of my posts or even seen a presentation I’ve given, you probably know that I work with clients in the Plumbing and HVAC vertical. Our primary goal for their PPC campaigns are telephone calls. We are targeting issues that are in the critical/emergency type categories and want PPC to drive calls.


But, knowing that not all people like to call, we also have a link to an online service appointment form. As part of our mystery shopping process, we of course made calls and reported back to the client about the experience with their customer service reps on the phone. And we filled out the form.


What did we find? Several of our clients were not responding to the forms in a timely manner and sometimes, not at all! We put the information together into a handy dandy spreadsheet for them and reported our findings in a meeting. They were, as you can imagine, quite dismayed.


Why Is This Important To PPC Pros?


Because client satisfaction with bottom line results is a huge part of how satisfied they will be with the services we provide to them. Technically, by getting a searcher to fill out the form, we had done our job. We had taken a searcher from generic service search to filling out a “please call me to schedule time to send one of your techs to my house to sell me stuff” state. That was, in fact, what we’d defined as a conversion.


If we’d just rested on what we were seeing in our data, we’d be feeling quite good about ourselves. We had people clicking! We had people calling! We had people filling out the appointment request forms! We are awesome!


But, the bottom line results that the clients were seeing were not up to the potential of what it could have been if the response to the forms problem had not existed. By testing the entire process and alerting them to this major breakdown, we helped them to increase their sales from PPC generated leads. And, we helped create a more accurate picture of the revenue generating impact their PPC efforts were having on their businesses.


Where To Start


Mystery shopping a client’s conversion process can be quite simple or very complex. Here are some easy places to start:


Ecommerce Sites


  1. Do selected products transfer correctly into the shopping cart?
  2. Are shopping cart pages properly utilizing https?
  3. Are there any error messages generated while trying to complete the process?
  4. Are coupon or promo codes functioning properly?
  5. Is payment successfully made?
  6. Is an order confirmation generated?
  7. If account creation is required, does the process work properly?
  8. Can a user edit a cart easily?
  9. Is customer service available to assist in completing a transaction?
  10. Can a shopper easily maneuver between the cart and additional shopping or browsing?


Lead Generation Sites


  1. Is it clear what you want a person to do when they reach your landing page?
  2. If trying to drive phone calls, does someone answer the phone?
  3. Are the people who answer the phone knowledgeable about the product or service?
  4. If an answering service message or voicemail is left, is there a returned phone call? When?
  5. If you have a form on your page, does it function properly?
  6. If filling out the form is supposed to provide access to something (a white paper, a demo, etc.) can the person access the promised item?
  7. Do the completed forms reach the person(s) at the client who are supposed to be getting them?
  8. What, if any, follow-up do you receive from the client after completing the form?
  9. Is there an auto-responder email that is generated after a successful form completion? What does it say?
  10. Do auto-generated emails come from an unmonitored email address?


What To Takeaway From This Post


Part of what separates good from great search pros is an ability to view the big picture and to step outside of our direct wheelhouse to help put paid search into the proper context for our clients. Mystery shopping their desired conversion processes is a fantastic place to start! Whether you do it yourself or hire a mystery shopping firm to handle it – give it a try. You and your clients might be very surprised by the results.