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What Is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)?

Looking to improve your website’s conversion rates, but not sure where to start? Here we provide a complete guide to conversion rate optimization (CRO), covering what it is, how to get started, and top methods for success. If you’re looking for tips on how to improve conversion rate optimization, read on!

Conversion rates are one of the most useful indicators of how well your website is performing. Many people invest vast amounts of cash and effort into the process of driving traffic to their sites. Visitors come, traffic spikes… but nothing happens.

Why didn’t those visitors sign up for your services or buy your products?

It’s likely because your site isn’t properly optimized to convert your traffic. And that’s why every website owner needs to invest in conversion rate optimization – to reap the benefits of their traffic converting.

What Does CRO Mean?

What is CRO? CRO stands for conversion rate optimization. Simply put, this is the process through which businesses increase the percentage of their web visitors that perform a desired action. That might be converting on an available offer, filling out a form, providing contact details, or becoming paying customers.

To this end, you need to implement an effective conversion optimization campaign. CRO will aid you in increasing the amount of desired actions (conversions) taken on your web pages.

To improve your CRO process, you need to understand the user experience on your site. This covers everything from how potential customers are moving through your website, the actions that they take, and – most importantly – what’s blocking or preventing them from converting. Only then can you plan a campaign to reduce the number of drop-outs and increase the number of conversions.

Why Is CRO Important?

CRO, when implemented correctly, is one of the most effective and quickest methods to turn the web traffic you already have into a new base of paying customers.

You may be familiar with the excitement of a sudden surge in traffic to your website, only to be disappointed when you realize that nothing came of it. No actions taken, no-one bought anything, no subscriptions made, no email opt-ins… What went wrong?

That’s where CRO comes in.

CRO makes the most of that traffic. It helps you work out why users are not continuing through to the final sale or desired action. CRO methodologies help you increase the likelihood that website traffic becomes conversions on your web pages. Effective CRO will cause a rise in the overall percentage of incoming visitors that convert.

CRO can include a wide array of strategies, so we’ll first be taking a look at a few simple questions and definitions before we go into detail.

CRO vs SEO

There are plenty of acronyms flying around in the world of digital marketing, so it’s important to note the differences between the most prominent ones: CRO and SEO. Both are forms of website optimization but perform different functions.

SEO stands for search engine optimization. SEO improves a website in a strategic way to get higher search engine rankings. It also aims to enhance the quality and quantity of traffic driven to your website through search engines such as Google.

On the other hand, CRO focuses on transforming website traffic into users completing desirable actions. CRO tests changes to your website to see what works, and what doesn’t. Often, it is the next step in the process after SEO, focusing on what happens to that traffic after SEO has driven it there. Ultimately, CRO increases the probability of a user becoming a paying customer.

One key difference is, therefore, your focus. While SEO is primarily designed to improve metrics, CRO is all about user experience and understanding how real customers react to your website.

Never consider CRO and SEO to be mutually exclusive. Both are essential in making sure that your website is performing and converting at the highest possible level.

What’s a Conversion?

Conversion is a term used to describe a website visitor who completes a desired action on your website. In other words, they fulfil your site’s goal. What that goal is depends on your aims and the service or product that you are offering.

If you are offering a subscription-based service, for example, a conversion would be when a visitor signs up for that subscription. If you have an ecommerce website, a conversion would be when a customer visits the site and makes a purchase.

Macro-conversions

A macro-conversion occurs when a visitor completes the primary goal of your website.

Let’s say the chief purpose of your website is to sell a product. That’s where your sales funnel is aimed. Your main goal, therefore, is for people to buy that product. When they do, that’s known as a macro-conversion.

Micro-conversions

Sometimes, there are smaller steps in the process before site visitors complete macro-conversions.

Depending on your sales funnel, you might offer an email-subscription or free download to encourage visitors in the right direction. These are known as micro-conversions – the smaller goals of your website.

How Do You Measure CRO?

Measuring CRO will tell you how successful your website is at converting visitors.

Here’s how to work it out in different scenarios, depending on the kind of business you operate.

Basic Measures Outline

So, we’ve covered what conversions are. But what do we mean when we talk about the rate of conversion?

In its simplest form, the rate is calculated by taking the number of conversions that take place on your site and dividing it by the total site traffic. This simple calculation will show you the percentage of people who convert from all of your website’s hits.

If you sell a product, a user can convert on each site visit. In this case, you would divide the number of conversions by the total number of sessions. “Sessions” refers to the number of single times a particular user visits your site.

If what you sell is a subscription, you should divide your conversions by the total number of users.

Scenario 1: Multiple Conversions Per User

Imagine an e-commerce store selling a range of products. Every time a single user visits, they could buy something new.

Your job is to optimize their experience so that they’re more likely to purchase each time they visit. If a user comes to your site on three occasions (in other words, three sessions), you have three opportunities to convert.

Let’s use an imaginary online bike store as an example and look at what might happen in those three sessions – focusing on the user’s behavior.

  • Session 1: The user visits the site, browses through several bike models that you sell, but doesn’t buy anything. There is no conversion.
  • Session 2: That same user comes back to the website and buys a brand new mountain bike. Great! This is a conversion.
  • Session 3: The user comes back once more and decides to purchase some extra handlebar grips and a bike lock. This is also a conversion! But, even though they’ve bought two products this time, it’s still a single unique order from one session. This only counts as one conversion.

To work out your conversion rate in this example, you need to divide the number of unique orders by the total number of sessions. In this case, two orders result from three sessions. Divide 2 by 3, giving you a conversion rate of 66%.

For your website, you can work out the conversion rate in the same way. Divide the total number of unique orders by the total number of sessions. If you get 1500 orders from 3000 sessions, that’s a conversion rate of 50%.

Scenario 2: A User Can Only Convert Once

If you run a subscription-based business, a user can only convert once. This is because they visit the site and sign up for the subscription over a specific period. While they still may visit the website on other occasions, they wouldn’t be able to convert again.

Let’s use the same ‘session’ model as above to see how it’s different from when multiple conversions are possible. We’ll work with the subscription service example.

  • Session 1: The user visits the site, browses through the subscriptions that you offer, but doesn’t sign up on this occasion. There is no conversion.
  • Session 2: That same user comes back to the website and signs up to a monthly subscription. Perfect! This is a conversion.
  • Session 3: The user comes back once more, and reads some of your other content on the website. They can’t make a further purchase because they’ve already signed up for your subscription service. No conversion.

Because users can’t convert more than once, the amount of times that they visit doesn’t matter. You need to base your conversion rate on the number of visitors rather than the number of sessions.

Therefore, if you receive two unique orders from two new visitors (regardless of how many times they’ve been to your site), your conversion rate is 100%.

For your website, this simply means that you divide the number of new users by the number of unique orders you receive. If you have 1000 orders from a total of 2000 unique visitors, your conversion rate is 50% (1).

What Is a Good Conversion Rate?

Conversion rates are used as a key performance indicator (KPI) for online businesses. You may have worked out your conversion rate, but are still left wondering what it means in the bigger picture. How does it stack up to your competitors? Is it high enough? What’s the average?

While it’s natural to want immediate answers to those questions, there’s no straight answer. Several factors can influence your conversion rate, and one of the most significant is industry. For a general indication, consider the following findings on average conversion rate:

  • The average conversion rate for landing pages is approximately 2.35%. The top 25% of best performing websites convert at 5.31% or higher, while the top 10% of online sites convert at 11/45% or more. (2)
  • A study by Unbounce suggests that if you have a conversion rate of 12%, you’re outperforming 90% of your competitors. They came up with this figure by analyzing over 64,000 landing pages that span across ten industries. (3)

It’s important to remember that a ‘good’ conversion rate depends on a wide range of factors. These include the kind of product or service you offer, the industry you’re in, as well as your target audience. Therefore, when making comparisons, you should always try to stay specific to your niche or industry.

Two Basic Methods for Conversion Rate Optimization

Now you’ve got all of the information about what conversion rate is and why it’s important, it’s time to start optimizing.

Here we’re going to be looking at two conversion rate optimization strategies you can use for your website. These simple steps will help you improve your conversion rate.

1. A/B Testing

What Is It?

A/B testing is also known as bucket testing or, more commonly, split testing. You compare two versions of a webpage against each other to see which performs better. This is, in essence, an experiment of variables: two or more variations of a page are shown at random to users, and you then use statistical analysis to decide which of them performs better concerning your conversion goal.

Running A/B tests that make a direct comparison between a variation and a current user experience gives you invaluable insights into what is most effective. Better yet, you can ask focused questions about the changes that need to happen to your web pages, and you can gather data on the impact that the change(s) have.

How Does It Work?

You take your current landing page (or page that you want to work on) and create a second version of it to modify. You change one thing per page variant. This can be something as simple as font size, the page headline, colors, calls-to-action, or buttons. Or, you can redesign the web page.

Once you have created the modified page, half of your traffic is shown the original, unchanged version (the control page). The other half is shown the changed version (variation). If you’re testing more than one change, your traffic would be divided accordingly.

For example, if you’ve got your original page and created two variations, your total pages to be displayed is three pages. Therefore, traffic is randomly divided into thirds.

Remember, the key is to change only one element on each variation. Then, when you look at the results, you can be sure which specific thing has had an impact.

Once your pages are up and running, you can begin measuring their effects. As website visitors view either the control or variation pages, you monitor their engagement with the different experiences through measuring, collecting, and analyzing it in an analytics dashboard and statistical engine.

From here, you can determine whether any of the changes had positive, negative, or no effect on the behavior of site visitors. Crucially, you can work out which change(s) had the most positive impact.

Why Should You Do It?

A/B testing allows you to consistently alter and fine-tune your website, based on real user engagement. You can make careful and considered changes to your visitor experience and collect valuable data from the results.

From this, you or your company can construct hypotheses, and learn about why specific elements of the experiences offered by your web pages’ impact user behavior, both positively and negatively. Sometimes, A/B testing can be surprising, and you might find that your opinions about what matters most in user conversion are wrong. You can learn a lot from your website visitors, making A/B testing a rich source of information.

You shouldn’t think of A/B testing as a one-off scenario. Instead, it’s something that you can consistently do to keep improving user experience and therefore increasing the likelihood that more users will convert.

How Long Should CRO Split Tests Run?

Tricky question. There are lots of factors that influence how long tests should run.

You need to make sure you run your tests long enough to be able to see significant results. We suggest that you should always run split tests for a minimum of 7 days, but ideally 1-2 weeks.

Industry experts also suggest that you need a big enough sample size, which can affect the length of time your test runs. For example, if you’ve run your test for seven days but only had a limited number of visitors in that time, you won’t have rich enough data to draw conclusive results. Therefore, it’s suggested that you need at least 1000 site visitors to draw meaningful insights from your testing (4).

2. Multi-Variable Testing

What Is It?

Multi-variable testing, also known as multivariate testing, is based on a similar premise to A/B testing. You make changes to your landing page, and then analyze how users interact with the variants. The critical difference is that you make multiple changes to the landing page in each test, rather than just one.

The main goal of multi-variable testing is to try and determine which combination of variations, out of all the possible combinations, performs the best.

How Does It Work?

Similarly to A/B testing, you start by taking your current landing page and making new versions of it to modify. This time, however, you create total landing page variants, rather than changing just one feature. You might change the wording as well as the font, for example, or introduce a new image.

Once you’ve created the variant(s), half of your traffic is shown the original page, and the other half is shown the new option (again, if you’ve created multiple variants, traffic will be divided accordingly). You then measure the effects, using an analytics dashboard and statistical engine.

Why Should You Do It?

Using multi-variable testing is a handy tool for when you want to improve a single conversion goal. You can alter several elements on the same page at the same time. If you conduct multi-variable testing properly, you get rid of the need to run multiple A/B tests on the same page.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t run A/B testing. A/B testing is much quicker at determining the impact of individual features on your pages. It will likely take longer with multi-variable testing for you to be able to draw any statistical significance from your findings (5).

5 Simple Steps to Implement Your CRO

Now that you know the primary methods for CRO, it’s time to think about the overall process that you need to follow to implement it properly. What are the steps of conversion optimization?

Here we provide a 5-step framework to help you get started with implementing your CRO strategy.

1. Research and Data Gathering

The first step is to gather meaningful data to inform your testing. This might seem like a long process, but it will save you time and prevent you from running into problems in the rest of the process. Your research should focus on the company, the website, and your customer base.

When thinking about the company, you should be thinking about the goals of the company and its unique selling points. Information on these areas will help you to focus your testing on hitting the company’s goals. Knowing your unique selling points will help you bring what you can offer (and what your competitors can’t provide) to the spotlight during testing.

Website research is a great way to gather data. Looking at analytics for your sales funnel will help you see where customers drop out, and what the main problems are. Secondly, have a look at your traffic breakdown. If you find, for example, that you aren’t receiving much traffic, then you may need a longer testing period.

When gathering data on your customers, you should be looking for qualitative and quantitative data. You can find out where people drop out of the sales funnel by looking at your website analytics, which gives you valuable insight into customer behavior. You can also use consumer surveys and customer feedback to find out their main objections that they have and what’s stopping them from buying.

2. List Your Hypotheses

Use the information that you’ve gathered to work out how your tests are going to be organized. At this stage, you should be asking yourself three main questions:

  • What are you testing? Use your research to decide what it is that you would like to test, and what will be most useful to test. The best place to start is to look for common themes in customer feedback, and see how you can address them in your testing.
  • Who are you testing? Not only do you get different demographics of people visiting your website, but you also get people at different stages in the buying process. You shouldn’t test brand new customers in the same study as returning customers, because they have different mindsets. Returning customers have already bought from you, so know about you and liked your product/service enough to buy it. New visitors, on the other hand, may have never heard of you. Therefore, you need to decide where your tests are aimed.
  • Where is the testing taking place? This simply refers to your website: which pages are you going to test? It might be a landing page or a set of multiple product pages.

From this, you should be able to set up a set of hypotheses for your testing. These are things that you want to find out regarding how you can improve your conversion rate. You might format each prediction in the IF, THEN, DUE TO model:

If we do X (e.g., make the copy shorter), then Y (e.g., conversions should go up as more people will see the CTA) should happen, DUE TO whatever research this is based on (e.g., data showed people weren’t scrolling to the bottom of the page to see the CTA).

4. Implementation and Testing

Depending on your circumstances, you may need to do wire-framing to get your new test plans signed off. If you don’t need to, you can move on to the testing phase of your CRO.

This is where you will put into place the different testing methods we discussed above: your A/B testing, which is the most popular method (6), or multi-variable testing.

Now that you’ve done the research and set up your hypotheses, you will be able to adapt these tests to your specific circumstances and have them do what you need them to do.

5. Review: Was the Hypothesis Correct?

Once you’re sure that you’ve reached statistical significance (7), you can return to your hypothesis and see if it was correct.

If it was, then you’ve found a great way of increasing the likelihood of conversions.

If it was not correct, you might need to go back to the drawing board – but don’t be put off! If one thing doesn’t work in the way you thought it would, then it’s something you can cross off the list in the quest for the perfect user experience.

In summary, when you’ve established whether a hypothesis was correct or not, you can take the following steps:

  • If it was right, roll out what you did in your testing widely
  • If it wasn’t correct, review what you found out
  • The most important thing is to move on to more testing, using the findings of this round of testing to inform what you do next (8).

No matter the results of your testing, you’ve gained some immensely valuable information – so don’t let it go to waste! CRO is undoubtedly a learning curve, so embrace the opportunity to learn from your testing and keep going.

When Should I Use CRO on My Website?

Again, when to do conversion optimization depends on you and your site. CRO can be useful to businesses at any stage. You may be established and seeing success, but want to perform testing to increase the conversions on one particular product. Or, you might be a start-up and want to know why you’re managing to drive lots of traffic, but not getting any sales.

We think that CRO testing should be an essential part of any digital marketing agenda, but there are some specific circumstances when it can be especially useful:

  • You’ve got a brand new website/are launching a redesign: you’re probably immensely proud of your new design, and rightly so, but don’t be afraid to get immediate feedback. Testing at this point will let you know what works and what can be improved.
  • You don’t know your customers well enough: CRO is a fantastic method of learning more about your customers, which can inform a multitude of your business goals. Better yet, the more you can find out and learn from your testing, the quicker success you’ll have.
  • Your conversion rate has gone static: If you’ve checked your analytics and your conversion rate has been the same for a while, no matter what else you’ve tried, it’s time for CRO (9).

Conclusion

Conversion optimization can be an immensely useful tool for digital marketing when done right. By following a smooth process, monitoring results carefully, and learning from experience, you’ll see a difference to that bottom line!

Remember, the critical steps to effective CRO are:

  • Research – what does the data say? What needs testing, and why?
  • Hypothesize – what are you going to test?
  • Understand A/B testing and multi-variable testing – consider different methodologies and which is most appropriate to the tasing you want to do.
  • Implement your tests – roll out the tests in line with your hypothesis, and make sure you allow enough time for the data you gathered to be meaningful.
  • Review and learn – see whether your hypothesis was right, and if not, ask why not? Continue with testing and development.

We cannot stress enough that this should be an ongoing process rather than a one-off test. There are always things to improve on, so you should look for opportunities to test anything and