Journeys. Experiences. Delight.

Sometimes, the world of product management can seem a little... whimsical.

And, to some extent, it should. After all, the products we build every day are often designed to solve problems, empower our users to do the things they want to do, and generally make people's lives (and, hopefully, the world) better.

For all its aspirational language and idealism, however, product management is a discipline firmly rooted in cold, hard numbers. To gauge the success or failure of their products, product managers (PMs) rely on a dizzying array of performance metrics, among the most important of which is conversions. Many products live and die by their conversion rates, which is why conversions themselves are often given disproportionate attention.

But what about microconversions?

With so many stakeholders to manage in the face of often-high expectations, it's all too easy for PMs to focus solely on conversions associated with revenue: new sign-ups, upgrades from free to paid subscription plans, ad campaign click-through rates––the list goes on and on.

However, microconversions––those smaller, but often crucially important, touchpoints such as visiting a pricing page or inviting a friend or colleague to sign up via a referral program––can be just as important (if not more so) than those big, North Star-metric conversions when it comes to the overall success of a product.

In this post, we'll be looking at why you should care about microconversions as a PM and how you can start leveraging what they tell you about your users.

Microconversions 101

Microconversions are individual actions taken by the users of a product that typically signify the user is tracking toward a bigger goal or objective, often referred to as a macro conversion.

Macro conversions are directly relevant to the business objectives of a website, web page, or product. More often than not, macro conversions also have a significant, direct impact on revenue. Some examples of macro conversions include:

  • Submitting a form to request additional information
  • Signing up for a free trial or freemium account plan
  • Upgrading from a free trial to a paid subscription

However, as any experienced PM could tell you, there are often many smaller touchpoints and steps that users must take before crossing the line to a macro conversion.

Those smaller steps are microconversions.

For SaaS products, there are potentially hundreds of microconversion opportunities in a product experience. These might include:

  • Exporting a file from one software product for use in another
  • Integrating a software tool with a third-party application or plugin
  • Successfully completing an onboarding UX flow
  • Requesting a live demonstration or consuming video tutorials
  • Requesting or viewing pricing information on your product's website
  • Inviting a friend or colleague to use a product via a referral program

When examined by themselves, microconversions might seem inconsequential or even trivial. However, while microconversions may lack the monetary value of your macro conversions, they're actually vital steps that your users will take throughout the customer journey.

Put another way, when we start looking at microconversions as a way to increase macro conversions, they start to become a lot more important.

Author and business consultant Bryan Eisenberg first coined the phrase “micro-actions” way back in 2001 to describe the small but vital steps users must take on the road to macro conversions:

“Every page on your site should focus on getting the visitor to take an action—even if that action is simply to move on to the next step in the process. Conversion rates suffer when sites fail to drive customer micro-actions and maintain momentum through the sales path. Once the path is defined and each of the micro-actions described, you can work on optimizing the most effective call to action for each step.”

Classic conversion funnels are already fraught with peril for unwary PMs. While there are several crucial bottlenecks at which you're at the greatest risk of losing a potential conversion altogether, microconversions can serve as a way to plug the holes in the typical conversion funnel, ultimately increasing your macro conversion rate.

Think of microconversions as small but impactful preemptive measures you can take to minimize prospective conversions slipping through the cracks––and invaluable insights into how people are really using your product.

The Two Types of Microconversions

Generally speaking, microconversions are smaller steps or actions that users take as they progress through the customer journey toward a revenue-focused macro conversion.

UX consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group categorizes microconversions into two distinct subcategories, neither of which is revenue-based:

Process Milestones

The first type of non-revenue-focused microconversions is process milestones. These are actions taken by the user that lead directly to a primary business goal, or macro conversion.

In addition to serving as vital steps toward a bigger goal, process milestones also reveal a great deal about how your customer journey and UX flows can be optimized to reduce attrition and improve the overall user experience.

Secondary Actions

Unlike process milestones, the second type of microconversions––secondary actions––don't necessarily serve as smaller steps toward a larger goal. They do, however, build trust and brand awareness over time and can even be reasonably reliable indicators of the likelihood that a user will complete a macro conversion later on.

How to Track Microconversions

Regardless of whether you want to focus on process milestones or secondary actions, tracking microconversions is vital if you want to better understand how your users are really moving through and interacting with your product.

Tracking microconversions allows you to:

  1. Gain greater insights into your site traffic, lead generation, and customer behavior. As much as you may want them to, very few users come to your product with credit cards in hand, ready to commit to a purchase right off the bat. Tracking microconversions allows you to see how your users are really interacting with your products. This gives you a much better picture of the entirety of the customer journey––who your users are, why they visited your site or installed your app, what problems they're trying to solve––without having to wait for them to become paid subscribers before you can do so.
  2. Identify choke points and bottlenecks where you're losing people. We mentioned earlier that macro conversion funnels are, by their very nature, prone to “leaks”––points at which you're more likely to lose prospective and formerly active users. Tracking microconversions is a great way to find the holes in your proverbial bucket. By carefully monitoring microconversions independently of one another, you can start identifying the biggest contributing factors to your overall macro conversion rate. This allows you to prioritize tests and features that will have the greatest impact on the customer journey and improve retention.
  3. Create a wide-ranging view of website performance for project stakeholders, executives, and investors. Few things will smooth over a meeting with anxious stakeholders or C-Suite personnel more effectively than cold, hard data, and tracking microconversions allows you to paint a more complete picture for stakeholders. This, in turn, allows you to more accurately quantify and measure the work you and your team are doing, present more compelling arguments for specific design decisions, and develop more comprehensive overall strategies to preempt attrition and churn.

Incremental Improvement as a Vehicle for Long-Term Growth

During the past few years, the term “growth hacker” has become synonymous with startup product development and entrepreneurial growth. Companies large and small alike are all chasing “hockey stick” growth trajectories driven by one-off “hacks” to drive growth at scale.

However, while it might not be as trendy as growth hacking, incremental improvement can often be more effective a driver of sustainable, long-term growth than chasing one-off hacks.

Think of your macro conversion rate as the sum total of all the smaller gains and microconversions you're able to implement. By themselves, your microconversions aren't likely to move the needle all that much. They can, however, have an immense cumulative impact on your macro conversion rate and the success of your product over time. All you have to do is monitor them carefully, improve and optimize these small touchpoints, and, over time, your conversion rates are much more likely to increase.

Optimizing for Ambitious Goals

One of the pitfalls of microconversions is that it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and devote too much time to optimizing for microconversions. Put another way, the goal should be to track and monitor microconversions while optimizing for macro conversions.

This isn't to say that there is no value in optimizing or improving a product to encourage microconversions. However, as valuable as these improvements can be, optimizing a product experience to increase social shares or a website to drive webinar registrations takes time, and, ultimately, has little impact on revenue. This imbalance makes optimizing for microconversions a losing battle in terms of time and resources invested vs. the expected return.

By all means, examine and try to improve your product experience to encourage microconversions but don't get lost in the weeds. Make sure you always have those ambitious, bigger-picture goals and macro conversions in mind.

Sustainable Growth

No two customer journeys are exactly alike. Even two very similar products with very similar target markets can present users with wildly divergent pathways and experiences, which is why examining the impact of microconversions in the context of broader macro conversions is so important.

Microconversions allow you to break down big, ambitious goals into smaller, more manageable steps that can be individually tracked, quantified, and tested. While each test may only yield marginal gains compared to your bigger macro conversion targets, they can have a dramatic cumulative effect on the overall experience of using your product and how well it converts.

However, it's important to strive for parity between tracking microconversions and optimizing for macro conversions. It's also vital to remember that increases in microconversion performance may not necessarily translate into a higher overall macro conversion rate.

As with so many aspects of product development, conversion rate optimization––both micro and macro––is about achieving and maintaining a delicate balance. Improving microconversion touchpoints can genuinely delight your users, but focusing too heavily on these smaller improvements can be dangerous. By all means, strive to create the best possible experience for your users at every step of the customer journey, but be sure not to lose sight of the bigger picture.