CX Insights

Finding The Why: Using On-Site Surveys To Increase Conversions

Finding The Why: Using On-Site Surveys To Increase Conversions by Usabilla
6 min read

Here’s an experiment: show your team a screenshot of a website, and ask them what elements would most frustrate users.

If you anonymize the responses (deterring conformity bias), you’ll likely hear all kinds of different responses. See, we humans love to tell stories. We weave narratives based on our own beliefs, experiences, and attitudes. These narratives don’t actually have an empirical base, so most of the time, they’re no better than guessing when it comes to optimizing your site.

Instead, a better route may be to mine the customer’s frustrations from their own words. Using on-site polls, you can gather qualitative data on your customers that can help find bottlenecks and optimization opportunities. Where digital analytics can tell you the ‘what’ and the ‘where’, qualitative research can provide ideas as to the ‘why.’   

Using Voice of Customer To Boost Conversions

Here’s an example from the ConversionXL blog.

Jen Havice was working on optimizing a client’s site, LearnVisualStudio.NET, where users subscribe to a membership to learn .NET programming. Here was the control they were working with:
Finding The Why: Using On-Site Surveys To Increase Conversions by Usabilla

So to start, they conducted two surveys:

  • An on-page survey to determine how visitors identified themselves (beginner, intermediate, or experienced programmer) and their primary goal when joining.
  • Email survey to recent customers to find out why they decided to join, their hesitations to joining, any questions not answered before joining, and what their biggest challenge was in finding the right solution.

From 200 responses on the on-site survey, they’d found respondents defined themselves as the following expertise levels:

  • 59% Beginners
  • 25.5% Intermediate
  • 15.5% Advanced

Clearly, the headline and sub-headline weren’t speaking to beginners or matching their expectations of what they would like to achieve. Now, take a look at the variation:

Finding The Why: Using On-Site Surveys To Increase Conversions by Usabilla

Conversions increased on the Courses (+9.2%), Plans and Pricing (+24%), and Curriculum (+23.9%) after three weeks and reaching statistical significance.

They didn’t stop there, though. Later, they dug through the survey responses to gather Voice of Customer data. They wanted to explain, in the customer’s own words, what visitors would be gaining by subscribing to the site.

Eventually they beefed up the value proposition with some language parallel to that which the customers used:

Finding The Why: Using On-Site Surveys To Increase Conversions by Usabilla

The results: this variation outperformed the original on the main call to action button above the fold by 66.3%.

How You Can Get Value From On-Site Surveys

Specifically in the domain of conversion optimization, on-site surveys are invaluable to find bottlenecks and develop hypotheses. There are, of course, many other uses for on-site surveys, like NPS, but for now we’ll just focus on the conversion research aspect.

A few things you can uncover with on-site surveys include:

  • Figure out who the customer is, feeding into accurate customer personas.
  • Decipher what their intent is. What are they trying to achieve? How can we help them do that?
  • Find out how they shop (comparison to competitors, which benefits they seek, what words they use, etc).
  • Process bottlenecks.
  • Fears, doubts, frustrations, clarity issues, questions.
  • Define different customer segments.

In general, there are three things you want to think about when planning to use on-site surveys:

  • Your objectives.
  • When you pop the question.
  • Which question to ask.

Define Your Business Objective

Without defining what your purpose is, on-site surveys can be a time-suck and a waste of resources.

With a clearly defined purpose, you can plan out your campaign to collect data that will ultimately improve your revenue.

Dustin Drees, optimization consultant, says this is biggest mistake he sees people make with on-site surveys. According to him, “this is a problem because it will create the more common mistakes; asking questions that are too broad in their scope to lead to actionable insights, presenting questions at the wrong time, over-surveying by asking the same question on every page, or asking the wrong questions completely.”

So ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Do you want to figure out last minute hesitations customers feel when adding to cart or checking out? Do you want to figure out who comprises your audience? Do you want to gauge overall customer satisfaction?

Plan and define upfront, or open up your process to bias and inaction.

When To Pop The Question

Since you can target when and to whom you’re showing the on-site survey, keep in mind two things when deciding:

  • Qualifying the visitor (is this a random visitor or someone actually considering purchasing?)
  • Asking the right question at the right time (e.g. if you ask someone why they didn’t buy right when they land at the site, there will be lots of friction and confusion, and zero insight gained)

When to pop the question is fairly straightforward if you’ve got your goals in order. Just don’t ask why someone isn’t buying on the home page – or don’t ask who they are when they’re about to check out (needless friction), etc.

Which Questions To Ask

This is maybe the most important step, because the answers you get depend on what you ask. Garbage in, garbage out, you know.

First off, the questions you ask should clearly flow from your initially stated objectives. It’s much easier to ask questions when you’ve figured out what you want to know. If you’re doing voice of customer research to inform copywriting, open ended questions are gold. If you’re trying to quantify customer experience, clear and unbiased ratings scales do the trick.

From there, it’s all about avoiding bias and producing actionable insights.

Here’s a list of example questions from which you could gain insight, depending on your goals:

  • What’s the purpose of your visit today? (establishes user intent)
  • Why are you here today? (also established user intent)
  • Were you able to find the information you were looking for? (can identify missing information on the site – best asked on product pages)
  • What made you not complete the purchase today? (identifies friction – only ask this as exit survey on checkout pages, and beware that some people are still considering the purchase.)
  • Is there anything holding you back from completing a purchase? Y/N (and then ask for explanation – again, this identifies sources of friction)
  • Do you have any questions you haven’t been able to find answers to? Y/N <– (identifies sources of friction, missing information on the site)
  • Were you able to complete your tasks on this website today? Y/N, and when No is select, ask “Why not” (identifies friction and missing info)


On-site surveys are incredibly valuable. They can give you insights as to what your customers and segments look like, what process bottlenecks your site has, what fears and frustrations your customers face, voice of customer for copywriting, and ultimately, insights that lead to better A/B testing hypotheses.

The better the hypotheses – the more data-driven – the likelier they are to win. And the more winning tests you have, the more money your site will make.

On Demand Webinar Conversion Optimization: What Should You Be Testing?

Alex Birkett
Alex Birkett is a Growth Marketer at ConversionXL. He lives in Austin, Texas where he spends the majority of his time optimizing sites and eating too many brisket tacos.