Thinking about running #1

20th July 2017 – on a train from Birmingham to London

I finally got around to reading Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ this week (whilst on another train to and from Leeds), it’s a really great read, an interesting insight into the man and also articulated a lot of the things I think and feel about running (it was also interesting just how much I didn’t really recognise around his motivations and frustrations, but he is in his 60s, and Japanese, and a different person, so maybe that is to be expected, afterall being ‘a runner’ is not a consistent, universal state of being).

Reading that book also made me think about how I feel about running, and writing. I’ve tried to write about running a bit in the past – some pieces have been more successful than others (this one tries and partly fails to capture a transcendental run I went on in Switzerland in 2012). But I liked the idea of a running-focused diary of sorts, so I’m going to try and do a bit of that. To what end I don’t really know but I think I’m someone who realises what they think and feel about something by talking or writing about it so, if nothing else, it’ll help me work out what my opinions are.

It also made me realise that, more than anything else, I define myself as ‘a runner’. I’m not a husband, or a father, or any of the things that people seem to define themselves as. But I am, most definitely (in my own head at least) a runner. Maybe this desire self-definition is a modern thing, the natural result of a thousand different channels all asking you to summarise yourself in a 100-word bio.

Anyway, last night when I got home from Leeds I went for a run with my brother. We’re both training for a marathon later in the year (the same marathon) but we do a lot of running together, running is the strongest thing we have in common. We own a flat together so we live together, but often the only real time we spend in each other’s company, is on a run. And it’s nice, it’s uncomplicated, we go out for a run, we chat a bit, but mostly we just run.

We’ve run lots of races together, in lots of different countries. It’s a weird unspoken thing that we never really seem to question too much, we both run – a lot –  we are runners, it is something we are both serious about, but not obsessive over. I couldn’t tell you why he runs, and I doubt he has much to say about my motivations. But I know he loves running as much as I do. So it’s nice that we’re once again training to run the same marathon (we’ve run marathons together in Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Berlin, we also went running in the French Alps last year) in York later this year.

Over these longer distances he is better than me, there’s no getting around that fact. I’m not a particularly competitive person but when it comes to running it’s difficult to say that’s still the case. But my brother, over anything longer than a half marathon, is quicker than me. His body just seems to work that way, he starts and can hold a pace for far longer than I can. He has run a few ultra marathons (distances over the 26.2 miles of a ‘traditional’ marathon) and this week finally convinced me to do one, so next January we will be running 48 miles from somewhere in Suffolk to the coast in Norfolk. I fully expect it to be very very difficult. But when I first started running I never imagined that I’d be able to run a marathon, and now I’ve run 5…I think, I can’t quite remember: London, Edinburgh, Chester, Copenhagen, Berlin. Plus some longer things like the time I ran from Salisbury to Southampton carrying a film canister in the cultural olympiad. So really it’s just a case of putting in the training and your body will probably be fine.

One of the great things about running a lot, in fact doing any endurance exercise that pushes you (I’ve also done some longer distance cycling like riding from John O’Groats to Lands End and cycling across Wales) is you discover a lot about your body and what it’s capable of. These adventures also teach you a lot about who you are, what you’ll tolerate, what your motivations are. I’ve learnt that my body is pretty resilient if I do something approaching the right training and I can be surprisingly bloody-minded – I never used to think of myself as particularly gritty but I’ve put myself in enough difficult situations to know that I will see something through to the bitter end if I can, no matter how much I might not be enjoying it at the time. I suspect the ultra marathon will be one of those times, horrible at the time but a good story to tell once you’ve finished it.

Putting the fun in funnel analysis

No, really.

Typically at Substrakt the primary aim for our sites is simple: sell tickets. What a customer sees as an organisation’s website is often comprised of two (or more) separate systems, this can make funnel analysis tricky, and may limit the amount of conversion optimisation you can do.

I have recently been doing some funnel analysis across all of our sites to look at the user journey that supports that primary goal (i.e. the purchase pathway) – initially just to see if there were any noticeable trends or patterns that stuck out. And two things did:

1. Mobile traffic wants to be booking traffic. The amount of mobile traffic that gets 50-75% of the way through the booking pathway and then drops out is staggering (there will be some valid research-related reasons for these drop-outs, but the volume of traffic starting but not completing this journey indicates a broader, underlying issue) on many of our sites mobile traffic accounted for the majority of entries into the booking pathway, but usually the smallest number of transactions (when traffic was split by device).

2. There is a huge discrepancy in how good ticketing web products are at converting mobile traffic. Arts websites are usually comprised of two main ‘bits’ the ‘content’ side of things (which is what Substrakt build) and the ticketing web product (which we can usually style and implement some basic UX tweaks in, but our options are very limited).

purchase funnel
(an example purchase pathway)

Our clients use a range of ticketing platforms including, but not limited to, Toptix’s eSRO, Tessitura’s TNEW, Spektrix, and Access’s Gamma. When looking at traffic going from clicking a booking button on the ‘content bit’ through to completing a transaction on the ‘ticketing bit’ I was staggered at the divergence in mobile conversion rates. The worst performing system had an average conversion rate of under 3% on mobile whereas the best was converting mobile traffic at an average rate of over 25%. This is a huge difference. For comparison desktop conversion rates ranged from ~19% to ~36%, and tablet from ~15% to ~35%.

What this does show is that some ticketing web products are actually quite successful at converting mobile traffic, and some are not very good at all. The reasons for this quickly become clear when you try to use the various products on a mobile – some aren’t responsive at all and others are but are lumbered with an almost completely baffling user experience.

Hopefully the next wave of updates to these products will see improvements in this area but what these numbers show is that some are failing to achieve their core purpose when it comes to the fastest growing area of web traffic, and that’s a worry.

I thought some supporting context may be helpful.

This shows the growth of mobile traffic (as a proportion of total web traffic), averaged across our clients (over the past 4 years) it also shows the growth of mobile transactions (as a proportion of total web transactions), averaged across our clients over the same time period.

This shows how the proportion of traffic from each device type is changing over time (tablet seems pretty static, whereas the growth of mobile – and the accompanying decline in desktop – is significant).

This last graph shows the split of sales by device, there is far less movement in these splits than we saw in the traffic data.

So what does this tell us?

This isn’t news, but the relentless uptick in mobile traffic looks to continue. Even if this rise begins to stagnate (as tablet traffic has), at current levels it is likely to be almost the largest proportion of traffic to your digital platforms.

I’m sure some people will say that this shows that people research on a mobile before buying on a desktop, which may indeed be the case (and probably is).

But if we accept that as true then that is a slightly precarious position to be in, the number of points of potential failure in your transaction process has just doubled if you’re expecting people to read about your product on one device before completing their transaction on another device.

I’m not convinced this is a particularly optimal user experience either, if this scenario is indeed the case then why aren’t people buying on mobile? I’d suggest it’s because the user experience is often not very good and it’s simply easier to abandon the purchase, or do it on a larger screen, where you have a mouse/trackpad and a keyboard (rather than a small touchscreen).

And lastly are we really willing to think that people ‘just don’t buy’ on mobiles? Because numerous other sectors show that this just isn’t the case.

How can we fix it?

There are likely to be many, many things you can optimise on your website (or at least the bits you have control over), alongside design and layout tweaks we often find that simple changes to language and microcopy can yield significant improvements.

Alongside this I would hope that the ticketing suppliers can begin to improve the web products they offer to the organisations they work with, because some of them are demonstrably underperforming – and that’s not good for anyone, supplier, organisation or customer.

If you’re interested in a free ticket funnel healthcheck then get in touch: All I’d require is access to your analytics and tag manager accounts and I can let you know how you stack up against the benchmarks, and what can be done to improve things.