Intro to Conversion Rate Optimisation

So, who is this article for?

  • someone who runs their own website(s) - or works for a business and manages the online side of things - and wants to know how to get more of thing that the site is there to do. That could be more revenue, more sign ups, more leads, more downloads, etc. CRO is not about getting more traffic - for that you want SEO.
  • someone who already works / consultants as a freelancer marketer, and is looking to offer CRO as an offering.
  • business people / marketers who are curious to know this new fangled thing called CRO and why it's hot right now.

Are you one of those people? Alrighty, let's get started.

Conversion rate optimisation has quickly become a buzzword. It promises the holy grail - more revenue, leads, etc. (i.e. growth) from your existing traffic without having to spend more money on advertising.

But here's the thing:

There is a ton of misunderstanding around what Conversion Rate Optimisation even means (and plenty of half-baked 'CRO gurus' passing themselves off as experts who are not doing good CRO).

This article is for anyone running an online business and wondering a) what is conversion rate optimisation and b) could it help my online business. I'm going to dispel the myths about conversion rate optimisation and give you a simple framework for understanding it.

So what is conversion rate optimisation?

Let’s establish one thing before we go any further: The term 'conversion rate optimisation' as the name for this discipline absolutely sucks.

Conversion Rate Optimisation (or 'CRO') isn't about 'optimising conversion rates'.

If the sole focus was to optimise conversion rates, we could implement a whole host of things on our websites that would, sure enough, increase conversion rates (we could just lower prices for example, or stick a big ’50% off today’ badge on our products). We'd see conversion rates fly through the roof, but our revenue plummet as a result. We don’t want that.

What is the goal of CRO then?

Conversion Rate Optimisation is the process of optimising websites so they sell more, or convert more leads, or increase engagement - whatever the objective of the site happens to be.

  • For e-commerce sites, the goal is to increase average order value.
  • For lead generation sites, the goal is to increase enquiry sign ups.
  • For affiliate sites, the goal is to increase clicks to affiliate links.
  • For content sites (blogs) the goal is increasing engagement.

Got it? Cool. So what actually is conversion rate optimisation then?

CRO consists of three phrases: 

  1. Research
  2. Ideation
  3. Testing 

Let's look at each in more detail...

1. Research

The most important part of any CRO work is to discover what actually matters to your customers.

As website owners we second guess what we think our customers want, feel and need. We think we know what they are looking for and how they behave on our websites. The uncomfortable truth is this: we more often don’t know why they chose, or didn't choose, to buy, opt-in, or whatever your goal happens to be.

By following a proper research approach, we can know.

Research consists of qualitative and quantitative research - finding out what the data is telling us, but also interviewing and listening to what customers actually say and think about our sites.

Quantitive Research

Imagine for a second that you take your car in for it’s annual service.

You’ve been up and down that highway more times this year than ever, so no doubt it’s going to need some attention. Your mechanic runs a series of diagnostics on your car. He connects it up to a mainframe computer. Within a few seconds he's got a ton of data staring back at him.

Now, you or me wouldn’t have a clue where to look. He looks at this stuff everyday, so he knows instantly when he sees on the ‘bio-system’ page of the report that the air conditioning unit is performing poorly, resulting in excess use of fuel (for example, note I haven't a clue about cars).

Yep, your air conditioning unit has been guzzling up gas.The mechanic flags a dozen or so issues like this. You had no idea, but it’s been costing you.

The very same thing applies to your website. There will be a dozen or so things that any website is failing on. The only difference is you’re not losing fuel as such, you’re losing money.

In the same way the mechanic gets data about your car, we can get data for how our websites are performing. This is called quantitative research.

Qualitative Research

Back to our mechanic story briefly. The mechanic asks you ‘is everything ok with the car?’.

What he’s fishing for is any anecdotal evidence.

Come to think of it, yes actually there has been an annoying rattle every time you stick the car into fifth gear on the freeway. You tell him that.

The technical analysis above didn’t pick that up, but sure as day, he checks the gearbox and sees the issue. Your discombulator is faulty. He adds it to the list of things that need attention.

In the same way that this bit of anecdotal evidence led to a finding that the mechanic wouldn’t have otherwise found, in CRO we solicit customer feedback because we can't base our research purely on quantitative data.

We gather this information from online surveys and user testing (asking someone to do something on the site and seeing how they manage it).

Then there’s what people say and think about your website, we call this qualitative data. We use them both to form an idea of what your customers think about your website - and potentially where you site needs work.

Together, this gives some really rich insights into how our site is doing, and where it's letting us down. It also teaches us a lot about our customer's behaviour, which is absolute gold.

2. Ideation

When we think we've hit upon a problem area on a site, it's easy to jump to a solution - but how do we know if we're right or not?

We could be dogmatic about it and say ‘we know that’s how people behave on the internet, our solution has to work’.

But experience tells us that however sure we think something's a 'dead cert', we've only ever got a 50 / 50 chance we're right.

And that goes for anyone who positions themselves as a CRO expert. Its like tossing a coin.

The best way is to form a hypothesis as to why you think that thing isn't working. And this is what we do in the ideation phase.

And how do we know if a hypothesis is correct? We test it.

3. Testing

Let's say we notice a check out is poorly performing. We see from the analytics that people tend to drop off at the point in our check out process when they have to fill in their home address.

Now, one hypothesis is that the home address form is too long. We have a strong hunch, as it appears to have too many fields, but we can't know that for sure until we test.

So we build an alternative home address form with fewer fields, and send half our traffic to that form, and the other half to the original form. And then see if our hypothesis was right.

Sounds cool, right? It is.

From the list of issues then comes the testing plan. In its simplest form, a testing plan is a list of tests that you deem worthy of trying, listed in order or priority.

How do we know what to test first?

That's where having a testing plan comes into play. There are usually dozens of potential areas we could test on any given site. How do we know which to test first?

It all comes down to prioritisation.

You need to list out all the possible tests you could do, and prioritise those that would (if the hypothesis turns out to be right) return the highest yield.

What happens when you get a winning test?

Well, once the high fives are done, we recommend pushing the variation to 100% of your traffic.

We then go back to our testing plan and choose the next priority and test that. And so on.

The process of constant improvement never stops.