Getting to Grips With Conversion Rate Optimisation

When it comes to improving website conversion, not every CEO, product manager, in-house SEO or sales director fully understands CRO, at least, not where to start, or what to do first. It’s a big initial challenge for us when we first engage with a new CRO client. Today I’d like to share a “10,000 ft view” post on how newcomers to the CRO process should perceive the activity, and how they should be aware of their own attitude towards conversion.

Understand your customers

Let’s start with an analogy (in fact, this is my favourite analogy at the moment). Imagine you work at high street retail store and you’re charged with improving the sales revenue made at the till. What would you do first to increase sales?

Look at these options, and try to pick the best fit answer.

1)      Think about the type of products people might want to purchase, and display more of them in the shop window
2)      Paint the door a different colour
3)      Improve the layout of the shop window to appeal to more people
4)      Change your logo
5)      Decrease your prices

Thinking about your own online business, which would you choose? If you picked any of them, you’ve started out wrong. In terms of your website, “Paint the door a different colour” might be changing the navigation bar colour, for example. What problem might that solve for your customers? It’s unlikely that it will solve any, unless you have evidence to the contrary.

How much do you really know about your customers?

Most CEOs and site owners think they know a lot about their websites and the people that use them. Really, many of them have become successful because they have a “feel” for what works. What “works” might be based on observation, such as “we displayed a banner on the homepage and sold a particular product very well that month”. Some people call this experience, and they’re right, to a point.

The problem is that these types of experience are often built on gut feel, or the principle that because two events correlate, they must have a causal relationship. What if seasonality or other external factors played a role in that increase in sales? And anyway, haven’t you forgotten about the people that did not buy the product?

To really know what to do to improve your conversion, you have to work out why people aren’t buying. Then, fix those problems! I agree with Stephen – there’s no trick, and some big wins can be achieved using a relatively simple process.

The very core of CRO

Studying the usability of your website is an important initial step when trying to discover areas to improve your conversion. Let’s imagine you were on a site which had an assortment of errors and poor navigation, how long would you stay on the site? Most users are impatient and will look elsewhere. Tools such as and are useful in detecting usability problems and testers can be segmented to match your site i.e. by gender or age.

Far more fundamnetally, Conversion rate optimisation is about understanding the objections your customers face and finding ways to overcome them. In fact, if you can only focus on one activity, it should be learning about your customers. Survey Monkey and Kissinsights are amazingly useful tools when implemented at a page or on-exit level.  Let’s imagine the surveys reveal that your visitors find the decision to purchase as too risky then utilise risk reduction strategies. If your visitors find that your product is too complicated to learn, then utilise techniques in your design that reduce the learning curve.

Tools we use

In some cases the barriers to conversion may not be obvious and you may need to apply professional selling techniques and infuse your information architecture (IA) with persuasive design and messaging in order to enhance your conversion. Learning persuasive design and content writing techniques (try starting here) could make a significant difference to the way you perceive your site as a sales tool, but that’s the point.

It’s not guesswork, it’s about the evidence

Don’t guess! Don’t let your ego get in the way. It’s ok not to know the answers! Build an evidence base. Gather the qualititative and quantitative data and think carefully about how you might solve the problems you identify. One very successful example of this was an on-exit survey we ran that revealed potential customers were finding the same product elsewhere – despite our clients having the better price, they were not offering a free delivery option, where our competing site was. Setting a free delivery threshold to encourage users to complete their purchases reduced checkout abandonment by 70%! Until we’d gathered a meaningful evidence base, the business owner was largely unaware of the depth of impact this seemingly small objection had. Average order value increased, the number of sales improved therfore, so did conversion.

Assumptions and guesswork will at best get you nowhere. Stop guessing – or imagining that you truly understand what’s happening on your site without constructing the evidence base first. We call this the IB/IS approach – identify barriers, identify solutions. As soon as you have a series of objections and barriers to conversion to overcome, test them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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10 thoughts on “Getting to Grips With Conversion Rate Optimisation

  1. Innes says:

    From our experience, we have had a great deal of success through constantly testing the website and on the whole that really is the name of the game when it comes to CRO. There really is no point in having the visitors and the traffic if you cannot keep them on the site and convert them into business / sales for you!

  2. 100% agreed – test, and test again. Our biggest wins tend to come from the qualititative data – glad to hear it’s working for you :-)

  3. Adam says:

    Good article, but not fully complete without a mention of one of the most important weapons in your CRO arsenal: never forget to ask your customers / user what they think about the website, how it works / doesn’t work and what could be improved.

  4. Great article! We have several larger e-commerce sites we look after. For me video has proven the most powerful tool in conversion rate optimisation!

  5. Innes says:

    Absolutely, for sure a good point. I have seen other websites having in place their own questionnaires and this is something we are all looking into at the moment as a means to go forwards on the performance of how well we can convert our current web visitors.

  6. Thanks Todd – absolutely, especially a benefits rich demo – always the benefits!

  7. Innes says:

    Like our website, I’d imagine for you that this must be of great importance as an e-commerce website is what carries the business; in most cases it is the business! If the website doesn’t generate transactions that it! and at the end of the day it needs to welcome and convert the visitors. As you say, this is very powerful stuff indeed

  8. Jim Jersild says:

    You are right it is tough sometimes to get CEO’s to think about this. Another good book on the subject if you haven’t already read it is “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug.

  9. Great post on conversion rate. Can any one do analysis of our website, to review and give feedback that why it is not getting enough conversion.

  10. Nurse Jobs says:

    People keep talking about CRO like it’s new???

    Any good SEO should know that this should all be achieved through good SEO web design and website structure. As with any business you have to appeal to the masses in a generic way and that’s hard to work out but regardless of tests and changes percentages generally stay the same or trend at different times.

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