The Magic of Conversion Rate Optimization: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

by Cydney Hatch January 9, 2019

Fancy websites and landing pages for your business…

Some see them as the sole solutions for your marketing needs, magic wands if you will, that will magically convert prospects into leads , but there is one truth every business owner needs to know:

Landing pages and website designs are marvelous but they’re not magic! (especially if you don’t do it right).

Today, most marketing teams drive traffic towards websites, but unfortunately, many of these site don’t work well enough to get the conversions they are shooting for. This is where conversion rate optimization (CRO) comes in and makes the digital magic happen!

Unlike click-through rate or cost-per-click, conversion rate describes how good your marketing is at getting people to do what you want them to do and how easy you made it for them to do those things. Generally speaking, the higher your conversion rate, the better your marketing is! In this article, you will learn from a comprehensive guide that discusses what conversion rate is and everything you need to know to make it effective for your business.

If you are looking for marketing magic, you have come to the right place!

What the Heck are Conversions in Marketing?

First and foremost, you are safe from any type of baptism, splashing or dunking! Conversion means something quite different in marketing than it does in other contexts we are familiar with.

A conversion in marketing occurs when a visitor to your website completes a desired business goal, such as sharing your content on their social media pages or making a purchase. Many times people think conversion relates solely to monetary goals, but there are many types of engagement people can have for their target audience like:

  • Making a purchase
  • Sending you a DM
  • Adding an item to a wish list
  • Starting an online chat
  • Subscribing to an email list
  • Downloading content
  • Participating in a poll and or survey
  • Upgrading services or products
  • Leaving comments
  • Sharing content on social media
  • Using a sale discount code
  • Any other KPI your company finds valuable

There are plenty of ways potential customers can engage, but generally, a conversion is a measurable action that progresses a potential customer towards your business goals (whether that is wanting revenue sales, subscribers, etc).

How Do I Calculate Conversion Rate?

To calculate your conversion rate, all you have to do is divide the number of conversions you get during a certain time frame by the total number of people who visited your site or landing page and multiply it by 100.

 (Conversions / Total Visitors) X 100% = Conversion Rate %

For example, if you had 10,000 visitors to your site in one month and it had 1,320 conversions, your conversion rate is 13.2%.

Easy enough, right?

Another great thing about conversion rate is that you can be as specific or as broad with your conversion rate as you want to be. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) can also be conducted on landing pages, category pages, or any other customer touchpoint. Here are a few different types of conversion rate you can use and ways you can use this data to examine performance:

  • Overall conversion rate (How well does your website convert traffic from multiple sources?)
  • Marketing channel conversion rate (is Google AdWords or Instagram Ads more likely to convert?)
  • Page-level conversion rate (Which page performs the best?)
  • Campaign conversion rate (Did my targeting convert?)
  • Individual ad conversion rate (Is my content and ad copy efficient?)
  • Keyword conversion rate (Which keywords bring the most traffic?)

Generally speaking, conversion rate is a great metric for evaluating the performance of almost any aspect of your online marketing. Driving clicks is great, but if those clicks don’t end up doing something that is beneficial for your business, what is the point of you advertising?

So, to make the most of your online marketing, you really need to become aware of your conversions! One thing to keep in mind as you calculate your conversion rate is the quality of your data.

Below are three additional formulas to help you figure out how to tackle better conversion with your business sites, and what goals to set:

  1. New revenue goal ÷ average sales price = # of new customers
  2. # of new customers ÷ lead to customer close rate % = lead goal
  3. Leads generated ÷ website traffic X100 = % conversion rate

If your traffic numbers are not there yet, you might not get a really great feel for how well your site is doing due to low count. The rule of thumb to start testing and gathering data is around the point where a 5% improvement in performance will deliver enough new value to justify investing in CRO.

Conversion Rate Tracking

While conversion rate may not be the “bread and butter” of measuring your success, it is an awesome tool to track overall performance and helping you to see ways in which you can improve.

Fortunately, most online marketing platforms make it easy to track your conversion rate. With all of the possible conversions and platforms out there, here are some the ones to start out with:

Setting up conversion tracking is easiest if you have a good developer around, but there are tons of YouTube tutorials that can also help you walk through the process. It might not be easy at first, but good conversion tracking is worth every effort. You can’t improve if you do not understand your own website results! Tracking allows you to see what is working and what is not working, allowing you to constantly tighten and improve your marketing approach.

By making this extra effort, you are already setting yourself apart from many other businesses and marketers. In fact, at Disruptive Advertising, we’ve audited over 2,000 AdWords accounts and discovered that 42% of AdWords advertisers aren’t tracking any conversions!

Crazy huh?!

Does Good Conversion Tracking Matter? [Infographic] | Disruptive Advertising

So, if your competition is one of those who doesn’t have good conversion tracking in place, they can’t optimize their campaigns for maximum profitability, which means more wins for you!

If you are stoked about becoming more data-conscious in your website activities, let’s take the next step and learn about optimization.

What is Conversion Rate Optimization?

Knowing what a conversion rate is and how to track it is being book smart, but like most things in life, it works best when you can find a practical application for it!

We all know that websites are designed to convert website traffic into customers. These conversions occur all over the website—on the homepage, services and pricing pages, blog posts and landing pages— but like anything in marketing, it can all be tweaked to be better! All conversion goals can be optimized for a higher number of conversions and this process of optimization is is exactly what CRO is!

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) allows you make changes and optimize your landing pages and website to—you guessed it—produce more conversions from your traffic!

CRO is focused on minimizing friction for your potential customers so they can easily take the desired action you want them to take on a webpage, website or within a campaign. If your potential customers need to think about what they need to do, how to work your checkout or are inconvenienced by anything during their experience you are doing something wrong. CRO helps you minimize problems for your potential customers so they can consume your content in the easiest and personalized way they prefer!

At a very high level, the CRO process involves:

  • Testing areas on your website and identifying problem areas
  • Conducting qualitative/quantitative research to collect data about broken areas on your website
  • Checking out your competition to gain insights into what is working on competitors’ websites
  • Create a conversion road map for your website (what pages need to be fixed)

By doing some level of this process, you are improving not only your website, but helping potential customers have less friction when navigating your site. Happy customers = more purchases = happy YOU!

Can you see why CRO is such an important part of your online marketing strategy? If you’re not optimizing your conversion rate, you are wasting money and pissing people off with inconvenient elements on your site.

Benefits of CRO

CRO can become one of your best marketing friends and it brings a lot of beneficial insights to your marketing. While SEO can help you to get more traffic to your site, more traffic doesn’t always convert, let alone bring quality leads to your site. CRO can help you boost revenue from the traffic you already have, which is why it’s so cost-effective.

CRO can also give you more insight into your customers’ actions and preferences. A good conversion optimization strategy will help you:

All of this results in a better user experience for your customers, which builds trust, provides a better ROI on your marketing spend and helps you win more conversions.

Best of all, your site improvements are back by data, rather than guesswork! (which is what everyone else is doing). In the next section, we’ll talk about everything you should test to get a holistic view of your data!

What Should You Test and How Can You Do It?

If you’re new to this whole conversion rate optimization thing, it might seem a bit overwhelming, but there are a few elements you can start with to get your feet wet.

To identify some of the “basic” things to look for, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do most people come to my site?
  • What problem do they need to have solved?
  • What do I want people to do on my site?

Once you’ve answered these questions, look at your site through the eyes of a potential customer. Don’t get married to your designs, content or layouts. User experience is for “THEM” not “YOU.”

Ask yourself the following questions when you go through the different pages of your site:

  • How well does your site connect your visitors’ “why” to your “what”?
  • Does converting on your site feel like an easy, logical next step?
  • Is it hard to figure out how to convert?
  • Are there other ways that you could encourage people to convert on your site?
  • Are there “friction points” that distract or take away from the experience I want them to have?
  • Is the speed of my site affecting my user experience?

As you think through your conversion process, or user experience, you might want to also look at the following pages and actions on your page:

  1. Landing pages (is it specific to a certain conversion and business goal?)
  2. Home page (is it easy to navigate and does it educate the user on the business and actions they can take?)
  3. Checkout process (is this process easy and smooth sailing?)
  4. Conversion points (are my calls to action clear and easy to find on your site)

After going through these testing basics, let’s take a deeper dive into testing setup and processes.

Setting Up Your First Test

At this point, you probably have a few testing ideas you’d like to try based off of the information above. Now it’s time to put together your testing strategy. A good CRO strategy takes planning and documentation, but if you put in the work beforehand, your test(s) will be much more effective and useful.

There are 3 basic parts to an effective conversion rate optimization strategy:

1. Create a Customer Journey Plan

Remember, the point of CRO is to get more people to do what you want them to do on your site. If you don’t have clear, measurable goals, you won’t really know if your test results are meaningful.

Before you put your testing strategy together, you first need to ask yourself the following to make an effective plan:

  • What does my ideal customer look like?
  • What is my ultimate marketing goal?
  • Am I trying to increase conversion volume or conversion quality?
  • How will my test help me to achieve my overall goal? 

If you really want to increase sales, think about tests that will directly correlate to that specific conversion. A lot of things on your site lead to the final sale, but make sure you are testing the right combination of things! A good testing strategy is designed to help you achieve your real goals, so it’s important to clarify your goals before you start running tests.

2. Understand Who You’re Targeting

Every good marketing effort starts with a solid understanding of your target audience. One of the best ways to get to know your target audience is to create a detailed buyer persona. The better you know your audience, the easier it will be to come up with new designs and content that meet your target market’s needs.

Here are some basic things you should know about your audience:

  • What are their personal goals and how your business or services can help them achieve those things?
  • What are their current pain points and how does your business or services resolve them?
  • What is your general target demographic? (age, sex, location, nationality, financial situation, likes/dislikes, etc).
  • What are selling points your target audience can get behind? (price, color, usage, etc).
  • What is their price point for your product or service?

The key to successful testing is figuring out what your target audience wants and how you can easily give that to them. CRO is all about people pleasing and making sure that your traffic aligns with your brand and their experience with your site is positive.

3. Create a Hypothesis

Once you know who your audience is and what you want them to do, you need to come up with something to test on your site.

For some, running through their pages and experiencing it themselves raises some flags, but if you are overwhelmed and need some help getting your testing juices flowing, consider some of the following reasons why conversions might not be happening on your site:

  • You have too many or competing CTAs on landing pages: If you want to address different types of traffic, you don’t need more CTAs—you need more landing pages
  • You have a copy-offer mismatch: If your audience is looking for a simple solution and ends up on a complex page, that will create friction and confusion—or, if your offer is complicated and you don’t address an important point, that can create unnecessary doubt
  • You have poor usability: Forms are difficult or too long, CTAS are hard to find, sites not being mobile-friendly, visual clutter or bad color choice, slow loading time
  • Your content is confusing : Content might be placed in the wrong places or it is unclear/poorly written
  • They are disappointed: Your audience is looking for something specific and you gave them generalities
  • You aren’t connecting: You might have not created a personal connection they can identify with in both content and experience
  • Your page seems sketchy: Your site might have poor design, lack of social proof, safety certificates or outlandish claims people cannot trust
  • The intended actions are not clear: Your call-to-action may be hard to find, uninspiring or difficult to understand
  • You don’t have quality leads: Even the most effective site won’t convert uninterested trafficimproving your traffic quality will dramatically improve the effectiveness of your tests

There are unlimited opportunities to test and optimize your website and landing pages and this list is just the start in helping you come up with hypotheses to test in your conversion rate optimization plan! Be sure to log your progress and findings along the way to better understand what variables to consider!

Testing Your Website

Now that you understand CRO inside and out and you have a plan in place, you can then start testing things on your site. Here are a few ways to start doing CRO on your website today:

1. Create a Dedicated Landing Page

Many websites make the mistake of leading people to generic information pages for products and services whereas you can have a more directed approach to specific information users are looking for.

So, if you are doing any sort of paid advertising (Google Ads, Bing Ads, etc), you should be sending your traffic to a dedicated landing page. There are so many good reasons to do this, but the biggest reason is page optimization. If you’re going to pay to get traffic to your site, you want to send them to a page that is designed to sell and to give them the content they were looking for.

Landing pages are also the easiest type of page to do CRO on as well, so why not make it easy for yourself?

2. Come Up With a Hypothesis

All good CRO tests start with a testing hypothesis and plan and when you make estimated guesses on site elements that affect your conversions you are taking your first step! To help, you might want to also consider looking at the following elements as they are some of the “hot spots” for problems:

  • Headline: Your headline needs to sell and sell hard.
  • Offer: Your audience isn’t you, so they don’t always respond the way you think they will. Try to create content that resonates with them.
  • Call-to-Action: Like your offer, the right call-to-action (CTA) may take a few tests to discover. Try more descriptive CTAs instead of generic phrases (such as click here, sign up, download here)
  • Media: Sometimes a new picture or video can make all the difference. Do not underestimate the power of visuals!

Once you’ve got a hypothesis and design/ content variables to consider, it is time to test!

3. A/B Test

The easiest way to start measuring and optimizing is through something called A/B testing.

A/B testing is exactly what it sounds like. You take item “A” and you test it against item “B.” The version with the highest conversion rate is the victor.

You can also do this type of testing in pay-per-click marketing where you can optimize our campaigns and make sure that you have all the best performing elements running rather than a bunch of duds.

To run a successful A/B test, all you have to do is set up two different variants of a page and or content piece and split your traffic between them. Half of your traffic goes to variant A and half goes to variant B.

To split your traffic, you’ll need the help of some sort of CRO software. Google Optimize is a great place to get started because it’s free, although not always the best tool. If you are looking for mid-range to high end CRO software I would suggest VWO, Optimizely or the great kahuna of Adobe Target which will be your most expensive option.

If you’re serious about CRO, eventually you will want to invest but do not feel pressured to hit the ground running with the best of the best! Each of these testing platforms will allow you to test different versions of your website or landing page and see which version has the best conversion rate.

CRO Tools You Cannot Go Without

Here are CRO testing tools that will give you a way to split your traffic between different page or site designs and measure how people respond to each variant but will also give you insights into behaviorism:

  • Google Content Experiments. Google Content Experiments is actually a free tool inside of Google Analytics, so you really don’t have any excuse for not testing. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that GCE doesn’t give you real-time results, so it may not be a great option for everyone.
  • Unbounce. If you only need to test a landing page, Unbounce is the way to go. It’s a powerful and easy-to-use system that allows you to quickly create and test a variety of landing pages.
  • Optimizely. Optimizely is a more expensive option than Google Content Experiments, but it also has some extra features that provide additional insights into the results of your tests.
  • Visual Website Optimizer. Visual Website Optimizer (VWO) is slightly cheaper than Optimizely and has a very intuitive interface, so it’s one of our favorite CRO testing tools at Disruptive Advertising.
  • Qualaroo. The easiest way to learn what people did and didn’t like about their site experience is to ask them. Qualaroo automates this process by providing on-site surveys that users can complete before they leave the site. Of course, not everyone will fill out an on-site survey, so you should take these sorts of results with a grain of salt, but on-site surveys can give you incredibly helpful insights into your user experience.
  • Another great way to learn about your site experience is to watch someone else try to navigate your website. will send you recorded videos of people trying to do specific things on your site. In these videos, users talk through their thought process, so you can get a feel for what they are thinking as they try to interact with your site. However, these users won’t necessarily be part of your target audience, so their insights may not be particularly helpful if you are marketing to a very specific niche.
  • Feng-GUI. Rather than using data from actual people, Feng-GUI attempts to predict how people will respond to your website using an algorithm based on data from thousands of eye tracking studies. Obviously, there are limitations to this approach, but Feng-GUI is a lot cheaper than paying for an actual eye-tracking study and can offer a lot of the same insights.

There are lots of resources available so make sure to use as many as you need to get a holistic view of your data.

6 Steps To Consider For Better Conversions

1.Remove Distractions

As I’ve mentioned before, CRO is all about eliminating friction and frustrations on your website. Think like your customers and step into the shoes (or screen) of those visiting your website.

Look at your pages. Do they flow well? Can you navigate easily? What about the call to action (CTA)? Is it clear, concise and compelling? Do you even know what the end goal is per page?

See what stands out on the page versus what doesn’t. Anything important should be easily seen, such as links, phone numbers, and of course, the CTA.

Anything you see above the fold that isn’t related to the main reason people came to your page is a distraction. These can take many forms, but the most common offenders are things like “related offers” on e-commerce sites, promotions that are displayed site-wide, ads, links to other pages or sidebars.

Keep things simple and if you must build more offers, send them to specific landing pages!

2. Make the Next Step Obvious

If you think about it, your potential customers really don’t know what they are supposed to do on your site. They come to your page for a specific reason, but then it’s up to you to convince them to convert.

But, if you want people to convert, you need to make it clear what they need to do to convert. Unfortunately, very few sites do this well—and a big part of this problem starts with your designers.

Designers love to design things that match. I mean, they really love it.

But, 9 out of 10 sites I have worked with have some version of the following on their site:

  • A color pallet or “brand colors” that include 3 or 4 colors that are used throughout the entire site.
  • Most of these colors are neutral colors, like grey and blue.
  • Headlines, buttons, links, and designed graphics will all use the same color
  • Nothing really contrasts the design, or jumps out and says “look at me!”

If you’re wondering whether or not your site does a good job of clearly communicating what you want people to do, open your page, get up from your computer and stand about 10 feet back from your monitor.

Can you easily tell what to click on? If not, you need to make some changes and that test didn’t cost you a thing!

Our brains are attracted to contrasting colors. If there is no color contrast, visually everything looks the same to our brains, so we are forced to try to read to figure out what to do.

When our brains feel forced to read to figure out what to do, it’s frustrating…and guess what? Frustration is not good for conversion rates.

3. Put the Right Content on Your Page

I have news for you—if your audience feels like they have to use the navigation to find the page they want, you have a problem with your site.You should know your audience well enough to know what 1 or 2 pages are the next best step for them in their customer journey.

That next step should be the call to action on your page.

If people are frequently using your navigation, that means they are having a hard time finding what they were looking for.

Don’t send them where you want them to go next—send them to the page they want to see next.

4. Resist the Urge to Test Too Often

When you’re A/B testing, there’s a strange urge to keep creating new variants, especially when your current test isn’t producing the sort of results you’re hoping for.

However, in the world of A/B testing, patience is the key to success. Not many pages (especially those with low traffic to begin with) will start to see results anytime soon after beginning a new test.

When split testing your pages, keep an eye on that confidence rate and don’t fool yourself or your client that a page is performing 200% higher than the champion when it’s only been two days. Give it time to even out.

If you hit 90-95% confidence a couple of weeks out and your new page still has a 200% better conversion rate, then you have permission to throw a party of epic proportions.

5. Make Your CTA Easy-to-Find

Every page on your site should include an obvious call-to-action (CTA) that takes the user to the next step in the customer journey.

Now, there are times when putting your CTA in a less obvious place can help your conversion rate, but in general, the more obvious your CTA is, the more likely people are to convert.

This is especially true for ecommerce-type companies, where the whole point of the page is to get someone to make a purchase. If you make it hard to figure out how to buy, people won’t be completing many transactions.

It’s not that people don’t scroll on websites—they obviously do. It’s that people don’t like feeling like they have to scroll on a page to find what they are looking for.

For most businesses, the CTA should be the first thing people see on a page. This gives them the reassurance that they already know what to do. Of course, if they need more convincing, the rest of the page is there to help them make the decision, but at least they know what they are deciding to do (or not to do).

6. Never Stop Testing

It probably goes without saying, but testing is a never ending process. Having a new champion variant simply increases your ability to further increase your conversion rate, leads and sales. Once you’ve discovered a winner, immediately begin thinking about what the next test will entail.

Similarly, there are no failed tests in A/B testing. If your new variant doesn’t outperform your original page, you’ve simply learned that your new idea isn’t better than your old idea.

In either case, if you can figure out why your winner, well…won, you can use that information to improve the performance of your current page and many other pages. This is often easier said then done, but there are some good practices to keep in mind when this situation arises.

For one, don’t repeat the same thing you just did. If your new headline was reason for the increase in conversions, leave that area alone for now and see what else can benefit your page.

Constantly put yourself in your audiences shoes and ask the questions that they would when browsing your page. These “pain points” will help you to think subjectively about your design and identify elements that might not be working quite right.

VOILA! CRO Was The Magic You Needed

Amongst the redesigns and testing, conversion rate optimization boils down to one simple principle: when your potential customers get what they want, you get what you want.

The trick is figuring out how to make giving you what you want easy for your potential customers.

Fortunately, if you know how to take a hard look at your site, it’s fairly easy to come up with and test variations on your website design and content. Those tests can help you fix problem areas and give visitors to your site the ideal experience.

If you want to learn more about CRO, testing or anything relating to your website, feel free to reach out to me here!

How do you feel about conversion rate optimization? Have you tried it and do you think it plays well with SEO? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

  • Site Optimization

Cydney Hatch

Cydney Hatch

Cydney is a polka dot wearing business owner, photographer, cupcake enthusiast and writer, who through her work, shares her personal passions about visual marketing, branding and business strategy.

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