What is Conversion Rate Optimization? The Basics

In today’s competitive digital landscape, it’s more important than ever for businesses to maximize website performance and convert visitors into customers or leads. Conversion rate optimization is one of the main levers for achieving that goal. But what is CRO, and how can you use it effectively? In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into the world of CRO, discussing its role in digital marketing, how to measure and optimize conversion rates, and the tools and resources available to help you along the way.

Understanding Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

The goal of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is to increase the proportion of website visitors who complete a desired action, such as making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter or service, clicking ‘add to cart’, filling out a form, clicking on a link, or downloading a resource. The objective is to enhance the probability of visitors engaging in a desired action on a webpage, consequently improving the site’s conversion rate.

The primary aim of Conversion Rate Optimization is to maximize the likelihood that visitors take a desired action on a website, thus improving its conversion rate.

Understanding Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) – The Three Stages

The first thing to note is that CRO is a methodical process inspired by the lean manufacturing tradition. The three basic steps you follow for any CRO project are these:

  • Research
  • Testing
  • Implementation

1. Research

The most important part of any CRO work is to discover what actually matters to your customers. As website or product owners, we live in a world of second-guessing what we think our customers want, feel and need. We think we know what people are looking for and how they behave on our website. The truth is 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. The purpose of analyzing user behavior is to gain insight into what motivates, impedes, and encourages users, thereby allowing businesses to make informed decisions regarding website optimization. Businesses can get an understanding of how different elements on a website are impacting user activities. This can be conducted by using visitor behavior analysis tools, including:

Qualitative Data Research Methods

Behavior analytics tools provide valuable insights into website visitors’ behavior, allowing businesses to make informed decisions regarding website optimization. Popular behavior analytics tools and techniques include:

  • Heatmaps: Heatmaps visually represent where users are clicking, scrolling, and spending the most time on a webpage.
  • Session recordings: Session recordings capture the actual user sessions on a website, allowing businesses to observe user behavior and identify areas of improvement.
  • Customer surveys: Customer surveys provide valuable feedback from users, helping businesses understand their needs and preferences.
  • Face-to-face usability testing and interviews

Quantitative Data Research Methods

These web analytics tools are part of the technical analysis research stage.

  • Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Piwik PRO, etc.
  • Form Analytics Tools

These track a variety of metrics for CRO, such as Bounce Rate, Time on Site, Pages per Visit, New vs. Returning Visitors, Devices, Conversion by Device, Conversion by Source, Website Traffic and Visitors per Page, Website Search, Exit Percentage, Goal Funnel, Site Speed, and Content Experiments. These help you make data-driven decisions about website optimization.

By using these qualitative and quantitative research methods, businesses can identify patterns, trends, and areas of improvement in user interactions, ultimately leading to more informed decisions about website optimization.

2. Testing

When we think we’ve hit upon a conversion issue, 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 “it will probably work.” But however sure we think we are, we’ve only ever got a 50/50 chance we’re right. And that goes for anyone who positions themselves as a CRO expert. It’s like tossing a coin.

The solution therefore is to test your ideas using A/B testing or multivariate testing. We create the solution we “think” is better (what we call the ‘variation’), and show it to 50% of the traffic to the website, while the other 50% see the current website (what we call the “control”). Over time we’ll see if our solution was better.

Here’s an example of where the variation (the red line) is beating the control (the black line):

A/B testing and multivariate testing are essential techniques for assessing the effectiveness of various website elements and determining their effect on conversion rates. You can test most things, such as:

  • website copy (especially CTA copy)
  • form questions and layout
  • offers
  • placement and size of images
  • webpage layout (above the fold vs below the fold)

There can (and often are) many conversion goals.

Now, one thing to note, not everything needs to be tested. If the research phase brought up something that is broken (let’s say our checkout doesn’t load correctly on the Safari browser on an iPhone 5) you don’t need to test that, just fix it. But for a hypothesis like “I think our customers may prefer a menu with roll over pack shots rather than a text based menu’” we can’t know whether our hunch is the right one. We need to put it in front of our website visitors and test it.

The length of time you need to let a test run can vary considerably, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the velocity of visitors to the experiment.

By conducting effective A/B tests and multivariate tests, businesses can optimize their website elements and drive higher conversion rates.

3. Implementation

The third and final stage of a CRO project is implementation. Once we’ve followed the steps above: research > hypothesis > test and find a winning solution, the next step is simple: we implement the winner to 100% of the website’s traffic to start benefiting from the improved solution. As soon as we can, you want to get it hardcoded into the site, but for most large sites, that’s not usually an immediate thing. Depending on release dates, it could be days or weeks away before you can hardcode it.

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.

The formula for calculating conversion rates

So, how do you calculate the conversion rate? It’s simple. The calculation is done by dividing the number of conversions by the total number of visitors, followed by multiplication of the result by 100. In the previous quarter, if you had 500 submissions and 20,000 visitors, your conversion rate would be 2.5%. This shows how effective your marketing strategy was. This formula provides a vital understanding of your website’s conversion rate in transforming visitors into customers or leads.

The 100 in the formula for determining conversion rates is utilized to convert the result into a percentage, allowing businesses to express the conversion rate as a percentage of the total number of visitors or leads. This makes it easier for businesses to compare conversion rates across different campaigns, web pages, or time periods, and identify areas for improvement or optimization.

Factors affecting conversion rates

While the idea of “best practice” is flawed (you should always be testing), there are several broad factors that influence conversions, including industry, niche, goals, traffic channel, and audience demographics.

User experience plays a crucial role. If a website is difficult to use or navigate, it is less likely that users will take the desired action. Businesses should focus on creating intuitive, visually appealing, and above all, functional and easy-to-navigate interfaces for a positive user experience.

Content quality can directly impact conversion rates, as it influences user perception of a website. Poor quality content will likely result in fewer users taking the desired action, while informative, engaging, and relevant content can lead to higher conversion rates.

The Role of CRO in Digital Marketing

CRO is a critical element of digital marketing plans, designed to enhance user experience, heighten conversions, and maximize return on investment (ROI). Kickstarting CRO involves:

  • A focus on comprehension of the target audience
  • Analysis of user behavior
  • Website element optimization for improved user experience and increased conversions

Implementing a successful CRO strategy involves:

  • Determining key metrics and your target audience
  • Gathering user feedback and data
  • Executing A/B tests to optimize website elements
  • Using various optimization tools

This approach guarantees that businesses optimize their digital marketing efforts and drive maximum conversions.


In conclusion, conversion rate optimization is a critical aspect of digital marketing, helping businesses maximize website performance and drive conversions. Businesses can optimize their websites, boost conversions, and achieve sustainable growth.