Everyone wants to drive more traffic to their website and landing pages. But what happens once you get people onto those pages is just as important, if not more so.
This is where CRO (conversion rate optimization) comes into play.
CRO amplifies the effectiveness of your site traffic and can significantly lower your CPA (cost per acquisition. This makes CRO absolutely vital for anyone using Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or any PPC platform for that matter.
In this guide, we’ll detail what CRO is and why it’s so important to your business’ success.
Let’s get started.
What Is CRO?
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the art and science of increasing the percentage of website visitors who take some desired action.
This desired action might be any number of things:
- Direct purchase
- Email signup
- Phone call
- Form submission
- Clicking a button
And there are often multiple desired actions on a website, with different levels of priority.
Every website should have one priority or objective that its online customer journey is built around.
- For product businesses, this is usually a direct sale.
- For service businesses, this is usually a lead form submission.
- For businesses with a long nurturing period, this might be an email signup.
In most cases, the top goal of Conversion Rate Optimization experts is to increase total website sales. They will typically achieve this by improving the customer journey and making it easier for visitors to understand the offer, take specific actions on each step in that journey, and become paying customers.
If total sales increase, the CRO expert has done their job. That’s ultimately the ONLY objective that matters.
But that’s not the entire picture. Achieving that main objective requires a customer journey that will often include numerous actions along the way.
For example, if your goal for the entire site is to sell a product, the customer journey to get there might include:
- Clicking a button on the homepage that takes them to the product page
- Clicking the “Add To Cart” button
- Selecting “Checkout”
- Entering the information at each stage in the checkout process
- And finally, finishing the process by completing the purchase
Each one of these actions is a potential tripping point or bottleneck for overall sales.
- What if your homepage is really bad at getting people to your product page?
- What if the “Add To Cart” button is bugged and doesn’t work 5% of the time?
- What if your checkout process is too long and causing people to second guess and leave?
All of these things can decrease your sales, and these are the things a CRO specialist looks for when attempting to improve that overall sales number.
What differentiates CRO from other forms of marketing or growth strategies is that it is not focused on increasing the number of incoming visitors to a site. Instead, it is focused on better utilizing the existing traffic and increasing the rate at which visitors convert into leads, sales, donors, subscribers, or some other desired end goal.
Why Is CRO So Important?
There are two primary reasons that CRO is important.
The first and most obvious reason is that sales are important.
If you have a conversion rate of 0.00%, it doesn’t matter if you have a million monthly visitors… you aren’t going to make any money.
Similarly, if 2.03% of your visitors are purchasing from you (the average eCommerce conversion rate), simply increasing that rate to 4% DOUBLES your sales.
In other words, most online businesses can make massive leaps in their total sales with even modest improvements to their conversion rate.
And of course, if sales aren’t your goal, you can easily replace sales with whatever action goal you have in mind. Whatever your goal, you’ll want to maximize the rate at which visitors take that action.
The second reason is a bit more complex but equally intuitive. In short, CRO is important because traffic is expensive.
If you’re using Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or any other pay per click platform to drive traffic to your website, then you know how expensive it can be. CRO helps you convert a higher percentage of your paid traffic and maximize your ROAS (return on ad spend).
Regardless of how you choose to channel traffic to your website, there are going to be significant costs involved, and these costs trend upwards each and every year.
For websites and businesses that are in their first three years, increasing traffic is usually the priority. After all, even a 100% conversion rate probably won’t do much for you if you only have 5 visitors per month.
But once your business has built out a few traffic channels and is receiving a reasonable amount of monthly visitors, CRO becomes the more cost-efficient path to increase sales.
Let’s say you have 100k monthly visitors and they are converting at the eCommerce industry-standard 2.03%.
You want to increase total sales by 50%.
Which of the following two options will be more expensive?
- Increasing monthly visitors by an additional 50k visitors per month?
- Having a CRO specialist improve your site and increase your conversion rate from 2% to 3%?
In most cases, it will cost an established business significantly less to hire a CRO specialist or agency to get the same results they would get from a dramatic increase in traffic.
According to a survey by VentureBeat of 2,938 CRO tool users across 3.1M websites and 36 vendors, websites utilizing CRO with the help of a CRO tool (virtually all CRO campaigns use CRO tools) are seeing an average ROI of 223%.
While large aggregate numbers like this won’t go far in predicting your own success, we can at least clearly see the trend that CRO tends to be a cost-effective solution for those who choose it.
This holds true in the PPC world as well, where the average PPC conversion rate across all industries is only 3.75%. By increasing your conversion rate, you can get a significantly better return on your ad spend.
So now that we understand why CRO is such a big deal, let’s dive into how it works.
How Does CRO Work?
In our definition of CRO, we said that CRO is both an art and a science. Like most forms of business, marketing, and eCommerce expertise, it’s mostly science with a little bit of art.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into that and explain exactly how CRO works.
There are three core components to the CRO process:
- Website & Customer Analysis
- Website Experimentation
- Experiment Analysis, Implementation & Evolution
Let’s break these down one by one.
1. Website & Customer Analysis
CRO starts with analyzing both the existing site and the behavior of its visitors. The goal here is to understand what visitors are doing and why, in order to formulate a better, higher converting experience.
You are evaluating both quantitative and qualitative data during this stage, and there are numerous tools incorporated into the process.
To go back to our opening example, this is where you would review the homepage, product page, and checkout process.
The first step would be to analyze user behavior to identify where the bottlenecks are.
- Does the homepage have a very low conversion rate?
- Does the product page have a very low conversion rate?
- Does the checkout process have a very high bounce rate?
You always want to find the outliers first. You’re looking for obvious problems that you can fix for a big initial win. Once we move past the big, obvious problems, CRO starts to become a lot more resource-heavy for much smaller wins.
For example, if the homepage was receiving warm traffic and it was converting click-throughs to the product page at only 2%, that’s probably a red flag that something is off. The next step is to identify what the problem is.
You might try some of the following:
- Standard user testing
- Evaluating customer feedback
- Live, recorded user testing
During user testing, you might find that there is a bug on your homepage that pops up 20% of the time and causes people to leave the site. Fixing that bug then results in a 20% lift in your conversion rate.
Or you might find through customer feedback or live user testing that the homepage copywriting is too vague and confusing. Rewriting the copy then results in a 50% increase in your conversion rate.
Once the obvious problems are fixed, it’s time to start looking for weak points that can be strengthened. This follows the same process we just described, but instead of looking for outliers, you are just looking for reasonably performing areas that you think can be made better.
Once you’ve identified the areas that you want to improve, it’s time for step #2.
2. Website Experimentation
When you are fixing obvious problems, it’s usually as simple as making the fix and then enjoying the results. Improving weak areas, on the other hand, is a much more complex process.
The main reason for this is that it’s impossible to accurately predict how a change will impact user behavior. Even for CRO specialists with 20+ years of experience, predicting changes results is, at best, an educated guess.
And while a veteran CRO specialist will often have better guesses than a novice, more importantly, they will understand that their guesses are just guesses. Rather than getting hung up on one way of approaching the problem, they will come into the experimentation phase with multiple plans of attack in case their initial ideas prove ineffective.
This is why you are now entering the website “experimentation” phase. You are no longer just making changes. Every change becomes the hypothesis in a scientifically valid and statistically significant testing process.
The most basic version of this is called “A/B testing” (or “split testing), where you test two versions of a page against each other and see what happens.
For example, let’s say that your homepage copy is converting at 10% and you feel like it can be improved. You identify the issue as being a weak value proposition copy. Here’s how the A/B testing process would look:
- You hire a copywriter to rewrite the value proposition.
- You use software to display the original value proposition to 50% of homepage visitors and the new one to 50% of homepage visitors.
- You run the test for a predetermined length of time intended to account for time-based variance and get the tests in front of enough visitors for a statistically significant result.
- You evaluate the results and decide what to do next.
A/B testing is the simplest form of website experimentation. You are just comparing one change or batch of changes against the original.
An A/B test could be as simple as reordering sections or swapping out an image.
Multivariate testing, personalization experiments, API-based testing, and multi-platform testing are all website experiments that entail increasing levels of complexity and require increasing levels of expertise to execute.
Multivariate testing allows you to test entirely new landing page variations.
This type of testing shortens your testing timeline and help you find what works quicker than singular A/B split tests. However, the test itself may take longer to reach statistical significance because you’ll be splitting your traffic between three or more pages.
But we aren’t finished with the testing itself. On the contrary, we are really just getting started.
3. Experiment Analysis, Implementation & Evolution
Once the first round of tests is in the books, it’s time to analyze the results, implement the findings, and set up the next round of testing.
The statistics of A/B testing are too deep for us to go into here, but let’s say, for the purpose of our previous example, that 200 people see the original page and 200 people see the new page.
If 20 out of 200 people (10%) convert on the original homepage, and 35 out of 200 converts on the new version, that is a statistically significant result, and you will likely choose to replace the original value proposition copy with the newly written version.
In this example, there is enough data to determine a winner ?
If only 25 out of 200 converts on the new version, then you can only be 79% certain that it is a better performing page. There’s a 21% chance that the increased performance was due to chance, and that means you should do one of the following:
- Make some tweaks to the new value proposition and run the test again
- Run the test again as-is for a longer period and a higher volume of users
- Completely rewrite the value proposition and run the test again
Now let’s say a good 35 out of 200 converts on the new version, giving you a statistically significant improvement. What then? Now you have even more options to consider.
- Write another value proposition and see if you can get even better performance
- Try rewriting the copy for the entire page
- Look into adjusting the offer to better fit the higher-performing value proposition
- Apply the changes in the value proposition to other areas of the website and see if it improves performance on those pages as well
Despite what popular blog posts and case studies would have you believe, CRO and website experimentation are never about a single A/B test. Real results come from a systematic process of creating and testing new iterations over time.
An experienced CRO expert will understand this and know exactly how to execute that systematic process. They will understand that the goal isn’t to know the right direction, but rather, to use every piece of provided data to evolve the ongoing optimization campaign in a profitable direction.
Key CRO Elements
CRO isn’t a one size fits all solution, but there are certain elements that impact performance more than others. Understanding these elements and how they affect performance will help guide you through each stage of the CRO process.
These are the key elements that you can optimize.
Since your first priority is functionality, navigation is key.
However, depending on your traffic source and conversion goal the optimization process could differ greatly.
For example, organic traffic to your home page might be bouncing because it’s too difficult to find what they want. Whether that’s to book an appointment, buy a product, or learn more about your team it’s your job to make your site easy to understand and navigate.
On the other hand, if you’re using Google Ads to send traffic to a specific landing page then no navigation might be your best option.
Crafting high-quality website or landing page copy is a skill in and of itself.
There’s a lot of hype around writing persuasive copy, but honestly, the most important element of copywriting is clarity. If you have a good product or service you don’t need to convince or attempt to manipulate people. All you need to do is clearly communicate what your product or service does and explain how it fits what they already want.
Normally you will have three different types of copy: headlines, subheadlines, and body content.
Let’s break each of them down.
- Should communicate your offer in as few words as possible
- Need to be large and easy to read
- Highlight features and benefits for easy skimming
- Support the primary headline
- Should be clear and concise
- Elaborates on or explains your headline and subheadlines
- Answers questions users might have
- Is legible and easy to understand
Testing and improving the clarity of all three copy types will have a huge impact on your conversion rates.
If you’re in the lead gen space then forms are where the rubber meets the road. So it’s no surprise that optimizing your forms can greatly improve conversion rates.
Form optimization not only increases lead volume – it can also improve lead quality.
So here are a few different form types to test out:
- Long forms (more form fields)
- Short forms (fewer form fields)
- Multi-step forms (two steps or more)
CTA (Call to Action)
Your call to action is what asks customers to take action and like the rest of your copy, it should be concise.
Normally CTA text appears on buttons or just above a form.
Websites can have many different CTAs since they need to suit many different customer needs, but landing pages should be focused around a single goal and have only one CTA. This prevents people from getting distracted by all the different choices. They either have to convert or leave that’s there only two options.
Since your landing pages are completely focused around one CTA testing different ones can result in big improvements.
Landing Page Layout
The way your landing pages are designed and organized also plays a big role in CRO, but there’s too much to cover in this post…
So we wrote another article to cover all the ins and outs of landing page layout.
Remember how we talked about how important functionality is? Well, page speed certainly plays a role in functionality.
The amount of time it takes for your website to load has a massive impact on conversion rates. A study by Walmart found that for every 1-second improvement in load time conversions increased by 2%.
So regardless of all other tests and optimizations you have planned be sure to test the load times of your website and landing pages. If they aren’t loading at the speed of light then make it a priority to fix that first.
In our experience, your hosting provider will have the biggest impact on your page speed. Think of your hosting provider like you would a car. Sure you could spend a lot of time souping up a mini-van, but it’s never going to be a Ferrari. In other words, you can optimize your image sizes and website caching all you want, but if your host is slow and outdated your load times will still suffer.
Measuring CRO Success
If you’ve read this far you might be thinking that CRO success boils down to one thing – increased conversion rates.
However, as it turns out there’s more to CRO than increasing conversion rates. You also need to pay attention to the quality of the conversions.
Unfortunately, not all leads will turn into sales and it’s likely that some of your eCommerce sales are more valuable than others. This means that increasing conversion rates and driving more total conversions isn’t the only way to measure CRO success.
Instead, CRO like all marketing efforts should be focused on increasing ROI (return on investment), because ultimately CRO success is defined by growth and profitability.
This means you need to look at your CRO results from more than one angle. Alongside improving conversion rates you should also look to improve the value of each conversion.
For example, offering free shipping and slashing your prices by 50% might skyrocket your conversion rates, but if all those extra sales aren’t profitable then it does you no good.
So take your time, plan your tests wisely, and don’t forget to do a quality check every now and then.
Common CRO Mistakes
Not optimizing your website and landing pages is by far the most common mistake, but even for those who are there’s plenty of room to err.
Luckily the most common CRO offenses are easily avoided.
Let’s take a look at the four mistakes we see most often.
Testing The Wrong Things
Making big changes to your landing page can be an intimidating task with potentially undesired consequences, but the big changes are seldom where people go wrong.
Many times the biggest mistake is making small unimportant changes.
Changing your CTA button color or making your font larger isn’t going to drastically improve your conversion rates. There’s definitely a time and place for these sorts of micro tests, but they shouldn’t be your go-to.
Bigger tests like adding a multi-step form, rewriting your headline, or reordering your page sections will result in more noticeable improvements and help you reach your goals sooner.
Too Many Changes
If you change everything about your landing page for each test then it’s going to be very hard to figure out which changes helped you and which changes hurt you.
Taking it one step at a time will help you stay on a path of consistent improvement.
It’s easy to make assumptions about how a landing page will perform and decide to skip the testing phase altogether.
But you really shouldn’t, because tests we think will win can lose and vice versa.
You should always take the time to test your changes even if you’ve recently changed your branding and want everything to match the new look. Changing the branding of your landing pages could have a huge impact on their performance and there’s no guarantee it will be a positive one.
Knee Jerk Reactions
Whether you’re manually calculating conversion rates or using a landing page tool like Unbounce it’s exciting when one of your tests starts to outperform the other. Especially when a conversion rate increase of 2% – 3% could mean thousands of dollars in additional sales.
Even a 2% increase in conversions can make a big difference!
And that can make it pretty tempting to jump the gun and choose a winner before the test has enough data to be statistically significant.
Generally, a 90% – 95% statistical significance score is needed to ensure your test results are valid. Without this level of assurance, your increase in conversions could be extremely short-lived.
So be patient and let your tests reach 90% – 95% before picking a winner.
In today’s world, there’s no such thing as free traffic even if you’re not paying for it directly via PPC Ads.
And like it or not driving traffic is not getting any cheaper it’s only going to get more expensive in years to come. Which means more than ever you’ll need to make every click count. If you can’t convert visitors then your PPC and SEO efforts are a waste of time and money.
No matter how your driving traffic to your website a good CRO strategy will get you more bang for your buck.
This article only scrapes the tip of the iceberg, but if you want to learn more about CRO, we have you covered! Give us a call or get your free proposal to see how we can improve your conversion rates.