As a marketer, it’s your job to create an optimal visitor experience—a smooth, easy, well-designed path that leads directly to the cart (or the opt-in page, download button, or whatever marks a successful transaction for your site). But, of course, not every customer obediently follows the path you’ve laid out. Some drop off early in the process, while others make it to the end only to change their minds. Either way, you’re left scratching your head and wondering what went wrong.

The answer won’t be the same for every customer, because every customer came to your site with a different intention.

In a previous post, I talked about ways to turn abandonments into opportunities. Today, I want to cover another key aspect of boosting conversions: understanding visitor intent.

No two visitors are identical—which means no two intentions are the same. Everyone who comes to your site has a problem to solve, whether it’s finding the right dress for an upcoming party, getting a good deal on a flight, or just staying entertained during a long subway ride.

With so many different intentions, how do you align your offerings to meet them?

Most likely, you’re already looking at some key indicators in your current testing schema, such as site search strings, time spent on site, and previous purchase behavior. But to truly get into your customers’ heads and understand what’s driving them, you need to go straight to the source.

What Do You Need to Know?

To get accurate, relevant answers, you need to ask the right questions. Start by making a list of what you wish you knew about your customers and prospects. I’ve listed just a few suggestions below, but your list may look very different.

  • What brought them to your site, and how did they get there?
  •  Were they able to immediately determine what you offer?
  • How easy (or difficult) was it for them to find the products, services, and/or information they needed?
  • Did visitors find the “flow” of the site to be easy or confusing?
  • Is the checkout or registration process too lengthy or complex?
  • Is the site equally friendly to veteran and first-time users?
  • Have you created a welcoming, reassuring, and helpful environment?
  • What is the most important thing your customers look for in a shopping experience?

Stop Guessing and Start Asking

Now that you’ve identified the right questions, it’s time to ask them. One of the most effective ways to pinpoint visitor intent is through personalized surveys. Most customers love talking about themselves, and they have strong opinions about their shopping experiences. The key is to provide the right mechanism for them to share all those valuable insights.

Before launching a survey, use a tool like Adobe Target to define customer segments so you can easily gauge trends among certain groups. For instance, you might send one survey to cart abandoners to find out where you’re missing the mark. Another version could go to your highest value customers, to determine which intentions you’re satisfying for them. You can then use these segmented responses to optimize for the various groups.

In addition to emailing a survey, you might consider implementing an on-site survey. By capturing real-time feedback as customers are shopping, you can get fresh feedback about what brought them to your site, what they’re finding or not finding, and what you can do to move them along the path. This is a great strategy for determining why a specific page has a high abandonment rate—are visitors confused about an element of the design, or are you failing to provide the information they need?

Turning Connections into Conversions

After you’ve gathered feedback from users, act on it. If visitors tell you the registration process is too complex, simplify it. Are they unconvinced of your product’s benefits? Spell it out with well-written copy, photos, and videos. The key is delivering the right experience, product, and/or service to meet their needs, with a minimum of hassle and uncertainty.

Every visitor comes to your site looking to solve a problem or achieve a goal. When you understand their intention—and then readily respond to it—they’ll be much more likely to choose your solution.