Posted on Jul 18, 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Website Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) sounds complicated, so let’s put it into simple terms.

Your website’s conversion rate represents the number of people who arrive on your pages and take an action you want them to take – whether that’s making a sale, completing a lead generation form, subscribing to your email newsletter or performing any other specified task – relative to the total number of people who could have completed the task.

Conversion Rate = Number of Desired Actions Taken / Total Website Visitors * 100

Optimization, in this case, means getting more of your website’s visitors to take this action. So if you’re a webmaster who wants to get better results out of your site, conversion rate optimization is a technique you’ll definitely want to take advantage of.

Here’s how to get started…

CRO Step #1 – Identify Your Target Metrics

Conversion rate optimization is most effective when carried out on your website’s highest-order metrics. Theoretically, CRO could be used to improve any action on your site, but imagine the difference between testing the number of orders you generate from new customers versus testing the number of people who click a button on one of your pages.

While button clicks may eventually lead to sales, it’ll have a far less direct impact on your business’s bottom line than increasing your sales. Take a look at the graph below from Hubspot that demonstrates what increasing your website’s conversion rate can do:

Website Conversion Rate Examples

Each of the three companies above receives 10,000 monthly website visitors, but because Company C has a conversion rate that’s three times higher than Company A, they generate three times as many customers – and, consequently, at least three times as much revenue (not accounting for future upsells, cross-sells or repeat purchases).

In order to begin a conversion rate optimization program, you need to focus on a metric that has the highest possible impact on your business’s performance. Down the road, you may be able to expand to measuring multiple metrics. But if are just starting out, you’re better off focusing on a single measurement as you build your CRO skills.

CRO Step #2 – Look for UX Roadblocks

Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve, it’s time to look at your website to find any factors or features that could be interfering with its user experience (UX).

For example:

  • Are your website’s calls-to-action (CTAs) clear? Are they visually distinguishable from other elements on your site, and are they worded in such a way that it’s clear what the benefits to your visitors are for completing your desired action?
  • Does your website answer any questions a visitor might have? Especially if your target metric is a purchase, you’ll need to ensure your site provides whatever information visitors will need to overcome their objections and feel comfortable buying.
  • Can your site be easily navigated? Lost visitors won’t proactively search for the information they need. Instead, they’ll click away in the hopes of finding the answers they’re looking for on another website.
  • Does your website look credible and authoritative? Would you feel comfortable handing over your credit card information to your site, based on its appearance? Security seals, credentials, authoritative content and other trust-building features make users feel more comfortable engaging with your company.
  • Are there any broken links or usability issues that could be deterring visitors from completing your target action? Walk through the process a visitor would go through before converting, watching out for any broken elements that would disrupt the process.
  • Does your website incorporate testimonials or product reviews? These two types of social proof can create a powerful incentive for users to decide to work with your company.

This list isn’t exclusive. The issues facing your site that threaten to disrupt user engagement will be different than those that other webmasters must tend to. Spend some time giving your site a complete audit. There’s no reason to move on to a formal testing program until you’ve resolved any issues that will be uncovered by this process.

CRO Step #3 – Develop a Testing Program

With your site working as effectively as you can get it on your own, it’s time to undertake a formal testing program.

Formal testing involves identifying key variables on your website to split test, carrying out these experiments and continuing to make changes based on what your customer data shows you. We’ve already covered the process of split testing pretty thoroughly in this article, so rather than rehash the same content, we’ll use this article to show you how to make split testing a part of your ongoing testing initiative.

Split testing, as you already know, involves creating an experimental version of an existing web page on your site and splitting your traffic between the two in order to determine which variation produces more conversions. If you sell products, for example, this might mean testing different colors, text and placements for your “Buy Now” button. If your website serves to capture leads for your business, you may test the location of your form or the number of fields involved.

But how do you use the process of split testing in a strategic way? Split testing isn’t a “one and done” process that you can run once and then forget. Instead, it needs to be a regular component of your larger, ongoing conversion rate optimization program.

There are a few schools regarding the way webmasters should select specific elements to test. However, Michael Maven, writing for the Kissmetrics blog, is quick to point out that basing your testing plans on personal assumptions isn’t the best way to build a CRO program:

“In fact, previous experiments have taught us that more than 71% of self-created “assumption” designed split tests will not increase conversions, and may even reduce conversions.”

Instead, he recommends a process he’s coined the “SplitGen Process.”

SplitGen testing for website

The SplitGen Process involves choosing split tests to perform based not on the opinions of a select few marketing employees but on measurable, strategic insight, including:

  • Heat maps or recorded user sessions (like the kind offered by UserTesting, Inspectlet and other similar tools) that reveal where users are encountering trouble accessing your website.
  • An understanding of your company’s conversion funnel that measures when and where people enter, where they fall off, and how many go on to convert. Conversion funnels can be modeled and measured in Google Analytics.
  • Competitive research that shows you what others in your industry are doing well, and which tactics of theirs may be worth emulating on your own site.
  • Opportunities to make big changes that could have a dramatic impact on your site’s performance (for instance, changing your prices, rather than changing your button colors).

How you weight these individual variables will depend on your objectives, your industry and any data you’ve already gathered; there’s no “one-size-fits-all” recommendation about how to prioritize the specific split tests you’ll conduct.

However, by considering the factors above, you should be able to develop a plan of action that’ll ensure your CRO resources are allocated to the tests that are likely to have the biggest possible impact on the target metric you identified in Step #1 of this process.

The Limitations of CRO

Ask any webmaster who’s dabbled with conversion rate optimization without much measurable improvement to show for it, and you’ll quickly learn that CRO can be easy to understand in theory and far harder to actually implement.

With that in mind, it can be helpful to understand some of the limitations affecting CRO performance. For example:

  • All the CRO in the world won’t help you if visitors don’t want your product or service. If you haven’t yet made sales or built a book of business, your efforts will be better spent getting initial sales and proving your product-market fit.
  • CRO is tough to do when you don’t have much traffic. Similarly, because CRO requires a certain number of impressions and conversions to determine statistical significance, you may be better off growing your incoming traffic flow than investing in extensive CRO campaigns right off the bat.
  • “Best practices” don’t universally apply to all website. Google “CRO” and you’ll find lists upon lists claiming to identify the split tests and tweaks that’ll have the biggest impact on your site. These may or may not apply to your website; unfortunately, you won’t know for certain until you test them properly.
  • Factors outside of your control can affect your results. Recalls in your industry can shake consumer confidence. Recessions (or even the threat of them) can reduce spending across the board. Trending news stories can trigger a run on certain products or services, or dry up demand for others. Consider your split test results in context of the broader picture of your industry before making final decisions based on your results.

Like so many other aspects of digital marketing, conversion rate optimization requires ongoing learning and lots of practice. If we can offer you one piece of advice, it’s this: start simple. Choose one metric, and commit to taking small steps towards a fully-fledged CRO campaign every week. Over time, the cumulative results can have a major impact on your business’s bottom line.


Header Image Source: Flickr