In one of our previously published articles, accompanied with a neat infographic, we explained conversion rates – what they are, how to calculate them and why they so important for the success of your site. Now, we would like to expand on that topic. This article puts a focus on Conversion Rates Optimization (CRO). It’s a beginners‘ guide to make your page stand out from the crowd on the Internet. We will explain the basics of CRO and provide information and tools which can help to improve the performance of a website. Warning: a lot of technical terminology and jargon ahead. But fear not, we will do our best to explain it in a common language with a help of another infographic, which will, hopefully, assist you in boosting your site’s conversion.
WHAT IS CONVERSION RATES OPTIMIZATION (CRO)?
Simply put, one can think of Conversion Rates Optimization as a detective work: figuring out why visitors aren’t converting and fixing it. The goal is to understand what users are looking for when they arrive at the site and then giving that to them.
It is a structured and systematic approach to improving the performance of a website based on analytics and user feedback. Optimization should be tailored to website’s unique objectives and needs. Each website has its own desired actions and tracks metrics which are important to the respective business. That is why CRO takes many different forms, based on the specific conversions one is trying to improve. However, what works for one site doesn’t necessarily need to work for the other – therefore it is advised to put some time and effort into a custom-tailored CRO Plan for each website.
According to a study conducted by Econsultancy, most companies are not satisfied with their online conversion rates. Those that are, though, study shows, had an Optimization plan put in place and did on average 40% more tests than dissatisfied ones. So why don’t companies test? There are three most likely reasons: either they don’t really know what conversion optimization is or how to do it or they think it’s too complicated or they believe it takes too much time. Truth is, it’s not that complicated or even time-consuming. Also, it’s an integral part of the business. Businesses exist to make money. Optimizing makes more money for the business. So it should take a high spot on the priority list.
Benefits of having a well planned and executed Optimization Plan are numerous (see picture below) and, most importantly, help maximize the profits! Traffic on the site is paid for – one way or another, and a high conversion rate means a better return on that investment (ROI). CRO helps identify problems in the conversion funnel which need to be addressed and provides solutions for them.
Any CRO strategy should begin with looking closely at your site from user experience standpoint; especially its Conversion Funnel. And what is a conversion funnel, you might wonder?
Conversion Funnel is the journey a consumer takes through an Internet advertising or search system, navigating a website and finally converting to the desired action.
To determine the funnels we need to analyze user’s experience of the page – from the points where users enter to the points they exit – and everything they do in between. The goal is to identify the “missing links” or barriers to conversion. Where are the confusing or difficult points? These are the barriers standing in visitors’ path to conversion. Finding out where the users abandon the page can help us improve.
In practice, there are to ways to implement Conversion Rate Optimization:
- applying popular CRO tactics or
- building a Conversion Rate Optimization plan.
CONVERSION RATE OPTIMIZATION TACTICS
Conversion Rate Optimization tactics are one part of a real conversion rate optimization (CRO) plan. They provide with a toolbox of suggestions and quick fixes. In a nutshell, CRO tactics rely on tips and tricks that have worked for others and hoping for the best. They pay little attention to analyzing customer behavior and are mostly focused on elemental concerns.
Why would companies bother with a conversion rate optimization plan when they could just change the color of their buttons once in awhile and increase conversion by three-digits percent?! There are numerous similarly amazing results from other small changes in case studies. However, here’s the thing, those results are feasible only on an unoptimized page, and definitely not on a consistent basis. Furthermore, a single tweak won’t fix all the website’s problems. And it is good to keep in mind that every small improvement in conversion rate can add up to tens of thousands of profit in reasonably sized businesses.
CONVERSION RATE OPTIMIZATION PLAN
CRO tactics provide a good starting place, but no further plan of action. Therefore, it is recommanded to have an Optimization plan. CRO plan is a methodical system that will lead to continuous improvement in conversion rate and profit. Every business should have one.
How to go about constructing that plan? Planning is divided into phases which do not have a strict progression from one to the next. Rather, they are part of a cycle and each of them is often revisited in order to continually address the needs of the users over time.
PHASE 1: ESTABLISHING A BASELINE
Before beginning any optimization strategy, it’s necessary to define user actions and metrics to be tracked, measured and attempted to optimize as well as to understand what drives these conversions. The only way to really understand what drives conversions is to isolate each variable on its own and measure how users behave under each set of circumstances, i.e. test it. The purpose of this phase is to assess the current position. It allows one to take stock of what assets they have and identify areas that could be improved.
A sound conversion strategy is based on some important metrics and a lot of user input. But in order to work from that information, one first needs to understand where they’re starting from. This is called a baseline. Only by establishing current performance one can measure the changes to achieve improvement.
How to establish a baseline for comparison:
- Identify the goals
- Look at the metrics related to these goals. What is current conversion rate?
- Which are the best sources of traffic for this conversion?
- Run a user survey to understand if these goals are being met and what can be done to improve it
- Employ user testing around these goals to establish how successful the site is at meeting them
To start, we will select conversion optimization data-gathering tools of choice and install them on the website. There are many analytics tools out there, but the minimum required at this stage is:
- A basic user analytics tool like Google Analytics
- A conversion analytics tool like KISSMetrics or Mixpanel
- User interaction software (i.e., heatmaps) like CrazyEgg
After installation, they should run for at least a few days to collect data. And, a note, having too much data is a much better than having insufficient data.
PHASE 2: ANALYSIS
With data at hand, now it’s time to look at the baseline and identify biggest barriers to conversion. In the next steps will be identifying the problem areas, implementing our tools to investigate, and then design and run some potential tests.
The purpose of this phase is to identify pages that have a high value in the conversion funnel. For the smaller sites, it may be obvious which pages are the most valuable in the funnel. For the sites whose value is not that obvious, it is necessary to calculate the value of a lead through each stage of the funnel. What it means is to calculate revenue or profit per conversion metric. Depending on the business, this can get pretty complex, so it’s all right to make a few assumptions if exact numbers aren’t available. Then we calculate potential value of each page over a certain recent period and rank pages in order of highest to lowest.
The next step is to pick one of these pages and analyze it. Over time, as many of the pages as necessary can be tested – but it’s wise to keep it simple. An analysis is conducted by looking at the chosen page in all the individual tools.
From user analytics tools we can conduct the quantitive analysis. Special attention needs to be given to the metrics (see picture).
Not all conversions are created equally and therefore each needs to be evaluated separately. The goal is to identify the most valuable conversions and optimize those. This is what we refer to as the conversion rate.
From the user interaction tools (heatmaps) we can conduct qualitative analysis:
- Are users finding the information they are looking for?
- Are users paying attention to the most important elements (like a form or button)?
- Is there any unnecessary distracting information (pictures no one looks at, or sections people scroll over, buttons no one clicks)?
We finish up by summarizing the research and make specific notes for every issue discovered.
PHASE 3: FORMING A HYPOTHESIS
The information gained from analysis and user surveying is now used to form a hypothesis that attempts to explain why no one is sticking around on that page. It is the time for brainstorming a testable hypothesis with alternative solutions which might improve problems in the conversion funnel.
When doing the first Optimization, chances are that there are at least several issues and that page is not converting even close to its potential. For each issue, we need its own hypothesis offering a solution. Likewise, each hypothesis needs to be tested separately.
PHASE 4: TESTING
In order to solve each issue discovered by our analysis, we need to create a test strategy. One testing for one hypothesis. Therefore, we need to prioritize: we start by making a list of priorities – biggest issues first and smaller afterward. It is important to be methodical and precise here – to check the numbers multiple times and be certain that priorities are straight.
There are two main options to test a page:
- Testing a completely different page: If there are too many areas that could be improved, it might be wise to start from scratch. It’s possible to get a drastically different conversion rate, which one can then use as a new foundation and start fine-tuning.
- Changing one (or few) elements: If there is a solid base, this is what testing entails most of the time. The goal is to identify one (or a few) problems and then attempt to improve them. This involves A/B or multivariate split testing.
A/B or Split Testing
The testing of one version of a page or interface element against another version of the same thing. Each element is measured by its effectiveness in comparison to the other. For example, a red button measured in effectiveness to a green button. In A/B testing only one thing is tested at a time.
Multivariate Testing (MVT)
The testing of multiple variations of many different page elements in various combinations to determine the best performing elements and combinations. For example, a multivariate landing test may test many variations of the pictures, copy, and calls to action used on the page in many combinations to find the best performer. Note that multivariate testing involves testing more than one element at once, which means that the test will take longer to complete.
For testing to be successful – being methodological is crucial: it’s necessary to double and triple check that there is sufficient tracking in place in order to be able to interpret the effects of the test. Also, when a sample size is once set – it’s important to stick to it in order for testing to be consistent and numbers comparable!
The key is to always have a purpose behind the testing and being able to articulate the what one is doing. Before any test, blanks of the following statement should be filled:
By [making this change (or these changes)], the conversion rate will increase because [problem it fixes].
It’s important not only to concretely state the hypothesis but also to record it. Keeping records of the changes made, reasons behind changes and the expected outcome of the test and taking screenshots of all variations will be very useful in the further process. Optimization is an on-going process, and the more useful data is being recorded, the easier it will be in the future to optimize the pages, which means more profit.
PHASE 5: EVALUATION
Success is measured against the established baseline. The baseline is site’s pre-optimization “average.” The data resulting from the test, when compared to baseline, will tell us where to go from here. However, when evaluating our results, it’s crucial to stay goal-focused. Testing provides us with a lot of information and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why it’s important never to lose sight of what we are trying to improve.
If this test was a success, we can consider if there are further improvements to be made; or think about how we can apply foundings of the test elsewhere; or we can focus on other problems we identified. But how do we know which tests are a success? In order to be certain that we found a winner, test results need to be statistically significant. This means that the margin of error is low. In general, the larger the sample size, the smaller the margin of error.
If this test wasn’t a success, we learned one way that doesn’t work – and need reexamine the data, form a new hypothesis and design and conduct a new test. Then we need to repeat that process until we get a satisfactory result.
Regardless of the outcome of an initial round of testing, it is wise to think of optimization not as an end goal but as an ongoing process. Because the way we do business, it is always evolving and customers’ needs change over time. One will never reach the point where they’ve run “enough” tests.
In conclusion, Conversion Rates Optimization is a long-term strategy and not a one-and-done tactic. The best optimization efforts are cyclical and continuous: as one issue gets sorted out, we think of the ways how this particular element of the site can be further optimized or jump to the next issue. There is no ultimate optimization goal, no perfect version of a website. We can only make it better. However, many small improvements will add up to an incredible increase in profits and, as a result, a more successful business.
- The Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization
- Conversion Rate Optimization Report 2017
- People and processes hold key to conversion rate optimization: study
- A 5-Step Framework for Conversion Rate Optimization
- What you have to know about conversion optimization
- 39 Quick Ways to Increase Your Website’s Conversion Rate
- 13 Ways to Increase Your Conversion Rate Right Now
- 53 Ways to Increase Conversion Rate
- 10 Marketing Tactics To Increase Conversion
- Maximizing conversion rates
- Our Top Picks for Your Conversion Optimization Toolkit