A Straightforward Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization
by Aden Andrus • January 24, 2018
Any online marketer wants more conversions from their website. Most of the time, people assume that the answer is to get more traffic, but there is another way.
With conversion rate optimization (CRO), the goal isn’t to improve your advertising—your goal is to improve a potential customer’s experience in a way that makes them more likely to convert.
The point of a business website is to get people to do something (submit a lead form, call you, sign up for a newsletter, etc). These conversion actions are the key to turning prospective customers into paying ones. Not all conversions lead to sales, but every conversion is a step towards making a purchase, so the more of your traffic you can convert, the more value you get out of your website and marketing campaigns.
The key to a good conversion rate is understanding what your potential customers want from your site and use that to convince them to convert in a painless way. If you do it right, you don’t need more traffic to get more conversions—all you need is a little conversion rate optimization!
What is Conversion Rate Optimization?
Conversion rate optimization is a scientific approach to getting more people to convert on your site. Essentially, the goal of any good CRO effort is to identify why people aren’t converting and either remove obstacles to conversion or add incentives to motivate people to convert.
If you’re like most businesses, there’s a good chance that you’ve toyed around with this idea from time to time without even realizing it. Many businesses try to improve their site experience by completely redesigning their website every few years. While this isn’t bad, it also doesn’t usually do much for your conversion rate.
Why? Because you are not your target audience.
Just because a certain site or design element would make you more likely to convert, that doesn’t mean that your customers will respond the same way. The only real way to figure out what your traffic likes is to test out different ideas on your audience and see what works.
Like any good scientific process, good conversion rate optimization is all about coming up with hypotheses and testing them. If your hypothesis is right, your conversion rate will increase. If it’s wrong, your conversion rate will go down. In either case, you learn something about your audience and you can use that information to create a website design with a great conversion rate.
What Should I Optimize?
If you’re new to this whole conversion rate optimization thing, there’s a good chance that every element on your site could use a tweak. However, on most sites, there are low-hanging CRO opportunities you may want to focus on first.
To identify your low-hanging fruit, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do most people come to my site? What problem do they need to have solved? (this can be as simple as “they want more information” or as complex as “they need a comprehensive IT solution that addresses X, Y and Z issues”).
- What do I want people to do on my site? (you may want people to do different things on different pages or sections of your site).
Once you’ve answered these questions, walk through your site experience.
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 set up your conversion process or encourage people to convert on your site?
As you think through your conversion process, pay particularly close attention to the following areas:
Landing pages are the first pages people encounter on your site. They click on a link and end up on a landing page. Since your landing page is a new visitor’s first experience with your site, optimizing your landing page can have a huge effect on your conversion rate.
Like your landing pages, your home page can make or break your conversion rate. However, in many cases, your home page has to do a lot more than most landing pages, so what works well on a landing page may not be right for your home page.
If you’re an ecommerce business, a smooth checkout process is vital to the success of your business. After all, when potential customer that starts your checkout process and then bails, it’s like having money yanked out of your pocket. A little checkout process optimization can have big financial implications.
Like your checkout process, any conversion point—from a form to a click-to-call button—is a critical part of your website. The point of your website is to get people to convert, so if the conversion process isn’t optimized, you’re just making things difficult for yourself.
If you’re like most business owners, reading through this section has already given you several testing ideas. But, if you want to take an even closer look at things, click here to check out the “Launch Analysis” Disruptive uses to identify key testing opportunities for our clients.
Quantitative CRO Tools
Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes is a great way to find testing opportunities, but as we mentioned before, you are not your audience. To really understand how your audience interacts with your website, you need data.
Quantitative CRO tools track how people move through your website, allowing you to spot potholes on your road to conversion. For example, if 90% of people get to your key lead form page and then bounce, you’ve probably just identified a good CRO opportunity.
Here are a few quantitative CRO tools to consider:
- Google Analytics. It’s free and you probably already have it set up on your site. If you aren’t including Google Analytics data in your testing decision-making process, you should be.
- Kissmetrics. Kissmetrics is great for understanding who is doing what on your website. With Kissmetrics, you can look at specific user or cohort data to see how people move through your site on their conversion journey.
- CrazyEgg. Want to see how people are interacting with a particular page? Heat mapping software like CrazyEgg gives you a visual representation of what people do on your pages. You can see how far people are scrolling down your page and even where they are clicking, which can be incredibly useful insights for important pages like your home page or landing pages.
Quantifiable data is great because it’s simple math. It tells you exactly what is happening on a given page or site. But, it doesn’t tell you why. It’s up to you to figure that out.
Qualitative CRO Tools
Qualitative information is a useful way to get at why people make certain decisions at certain points in your conversion process. Unlike your intuition or quantitative data, qualitative CRO tools actually try to get information directly from people who have used your website.
Here are a few examples of qualitative CRO tools:
- 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.
- UserTesting.com. Another great way to learn about your site experience is to watch someone else try to navigate your website. UserTesting.com 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.
Both quantitative and qualitative tools have their strengths and weaknesses. Quantitative data tells you what, while quantitative information tries to get at the why. Neither one gives the full picture on their own, which is why it’s often a good idea to try and use them together.
CRO Testing Tools
Knowing which parts of your site need work is one thing. To actually test your site (and get meaningful results), you will need a CRO testing tool. Essentially, CRO testing tools give you a way to split your traffic between different page or site designs and measure how people respond to each variant.
Here are a few of your options:
- 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.
If you are just getting started with conversion rate optimization, I’d recommend trying Google Content Experiments or Unbounce first. While they don’t have all the bells and whistles of Optimizely or VWO, they are cheap and easy to implement, so they are a good way to try website testing out.
Starting Your First Test
At this point, you probably have a few testing ideas you’d like to try and you’ve picked a CRO testing tool. 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 4 basic parts to an effective conversion rate optimization strategy:
1. Buyer Persona
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:
- Goals (what are they trying to accomplish? how does your product or service help?)
- Needs (what are their relevant responsibilities? what are they accountable for?)
- Pain points (what problem(s) does your product or service solve for a potential customer?)
- Age (on average, how old are they?)
- Selling points (what gets your customers—not you—excited about your product or service?)
- Budget (how much are they willing to spend? are there any price sensitivities you need to be aware of?)
- Gender (are they mostly male or female? evenly split across both?)
The key to successful testing is figuring out what your target audience wants and needs. Once you know that, the only question is, “What is the best way to give it to them?”
2. Define Your Goals
Remember, the point of conversion rate optimization 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, consider the following:
- What does my ideal customer look like? (is it a big one-time purchase? numerous purchases over time? something else?)
- What is my ultimate marketing goal? (if you answered, “to increase sales,” give yourself a gold star).
- Am I trying to increase conversion volume or conversion quality?
- How will my test help you to achieve your overall goal? (increase form submissions? purchases? email signups? phone calls?).
If you really want to increase sales, it might not make sense to run a test that is focused on getting people to watch your “about us” video (unless that’s a key part of your marketing funnel). 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.
3. Create Your Hypotheses
Once you know who your audience is and what you want them to do, you need to come up with some hypotheses to test. We’ve already talked about how to find specific testing opportunities, now let’s take a closer look at how to come up with alternative designs and content to test:
Here are some potential reasons why your audience might not be converting:
- 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).
- Your content is confusing (poorly written, hard-to-read content or awkwardly designed pages can make your page too difficult to bother with).
- The offer is wrong (your audience is looking for something specific and you aren’t giving it to them).
- You aren’t evoking the right emotion (if you don’t stir the right emotion in your audience, they won’t feel like you are a good fit for their needs).
- Your page doesn’t seem trustworthy (people are very wary of marketing, so over the top claims, poor design, lack of social signals or trust seals can seriously damage your conversion rate.
- The next step is unclear (your call-to-action may be hard to find, ambiguous or uninteresting).
- You have the wrong traffic (even the most effective site won’t convert uninterested traffic—this isn’t exactly a CRO problem, but improving your traffic quality will dramatically improve the effectiveness of your tests).
This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it should help you come up with hypotheses to test in your conversion rate optimization plan.
4. Document and Learn
The last step is to actually run your tests, document your results and then use what you learned to create new hypotheses and tests. Your documentation can be as simple or as complex as you want, but it is critical to document what you were testing and what your results taught you.
Here is a simple example of how you might document a call-to-action (CTA) test series:
If you don’t document and learn, why bother with conversion rate optimization? However, if you are documenting your results, you can use what you learn to greatly improve your conversion rate over time.
Amidst all of the research, hypothesizing and testing, it’s important to remember that 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.
Incidentally, if you’d like help identifying testing opportunities or want someone to help you optimize your website, let me know here or in the comments. I’d love to help!
How do you feel about conversion rate optimization? Have you tried it? What was your experience like? Any tips you’d like to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments.