The Ultimate Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

Conversion Rate Optimization, or CRO, has been quite the buzzword of the digital marketing world in recent years. Many marketers have regarded CRO as the marketing channel with the best ROI. Why? First, because it is significantly more affordable than other marketing channels, and can be totally free when done right. Second, implementing CRO is fairly simple assuming you already have traffic.

This guide will walk you through the key principles of CRO, as well as the necessary steps to implement CRO on your site. There will be necessary information to help you optimize the performance of your site, and the tools you will need for a successful optimization.

First things first, before we begin, let us discuss the definition and the key concept of Conversion Rate Optimization.


What Is Conversion Rate Optimization

CRO, in essence, is a method of using various data gathered from user feedback, surveys, and analytics to figure out what your audience are looking for. Then, based on that data, you give those needs to your audience.

CRO is often tied with sales conversions, and while it’s true that arguably the most important applications for CRO is to improve sales revenue, CRO can be used to improve any important metric on your website, which we often mention as KPI (Key Performance Indicators).

Besides sales conversions, CRO is commonly used to optimize registrations for free trials, number of downloads, sharing your site/social media channels, and other important, tangible conversions that can bring value to your business.

So. ultimately CRO is about optimizing the chance of your website visitors to experience the eureka moment that turns passive website visitors into valuable conversions.


Why CRO Is Important?

There are several reasons to care about CRO. First, traffic is getting more expensive with each and every year. Most likely, you are using a paid traffic source in one way or another, and a better conversion rate means a better return on that investment (ROI).

Also, it’s far more affordable to convert your existing leads (website visitors, among others) than generating new leads by attracting more visitors. Also, CRO helps combat bounce rate. We all know how visitors and even human being in general have very limited attention span on average, and by giving what they want before they get bored, we can keep them from leaving the site.

Also worth noting is the fact that CRO will only work when your leads are properly qualified. Even when your whole site is optimized, you won’t get much results if you are targeting the wrong audience. So, you might want to check out this guide by HubSpot on sales qualification to help you with this aspect.

Besides those mentioned above, here are the key benefits of implementing CRO:

  • There will always be room for more improvement, even when your site is already performing and your conversion rate is already relatively high. You can always optimize your conversion process to be more seamless and easier to drive better results
  • CRO is cost-effective, and when you do it right, it can be totally free.


Important Metrics To Understand Before Implementing CRO

In any effort for optimization, it is highly important to truly measure the current condition of the optimization object, and that principle also applies to CRO. Before we can optimize conversions, here are some of the key metrics to truly determine your current conversions rate, find the areas where you are currently lacking, and develop a proper strategy.

1.Conversion Rates

Seemingly obvious, since after all, we are optimizing conversions. Yet, there are a few areas to address here:

  • First, define “conversion(s)” for your business, which can vary greatly depending on your business model. For example, if you are a business focusing on e-commerce, sales is definitely your primary conversion. On the other hand, another business might value a free-trial demo registration as a conversion, or maybe a simple email newsletter registration.
  • Next, to get your conversion rate, you divide the total number of conversions based on the above definition(s) by the total number of visitors to your site.

For example, if your “conversion” is 50 new followers on Instagram and your total visitors are 10,000, your current conversion rate is 0.5%.

2. Average Dwell Time

Dwell time is an important metric directly related to conversion: the more time someone spent on your site, the higher the chance they will convert. Dwell time is also a ranking signal, if you are considering SEO. While there are many different factors that might affect dwell time, arguably the most important factors are the quality of your content and the overall user experience. Dwell time will be closely related to two other important metrics: bounce rate and exit rate.

3. Bounce Rate

Bounce rate, simply put, is the number of people who leave (bounce) after viewing just a single page, measured in percentage. A high bounce rate is really bad for your business. Your audience are not finding any valuable information from your site, and so they leave immediately.

4. Exit Rate

Quite similar to bounce rate, but here we measure specific exit rate for each page. With exit rate, we can figure out the last page a user view before they move on from your site. If a specific page has a very high exit rate, it will need major optimization.

4.Page Views

Average Page Views is an engagement metric telling you how many pages the visitor viewed before leaving your site. While more page views is generally a good thing, if conversion is not happening, it can also mean that your site is confusing and there is not enough clarity.


Factors Affecting Conversion Rate

While there can be many different factors that can affect conversion rate, and the fact that different site might have its own mission, challenge, and weaknesses, here are six important factors that are most vital in affecting conversion rate:

1.First Impression

First impression matters a lot in driving conversions, just as a lot of things in life. What is the first thing you see on your site? Is it relevant to your brand, core message, and value proposition (discussed below)? Is there any distraction on the page like off-target items or conflicting messages?

2. Value Proposition

Value proposition can be a very broad subject on its own. Yet, in its principle, value proposition is the promised value you propose to your customer so that they can experience it after the conversion/purchase. So, it’s the thing driving your customer’s attraction. Also, the cost of the conversion is an important aspect of value proposition, and ultimately it is about the balance between all the costs and benefits.

3. Clarity

How clear your value proposition is delivered, as well as your core message and call-to-action (CTA).

4. Relevancy

The content on your site should align with what your customers are expecting to see, based on your core messages and value proposition. Also, relevancy is about how closely your value proposition are matching the needs of your audience.

5. Urgency

Us humans are driven with a sense of urgency. If there’s not enough benefits, offers or incentives, they won’t move to action immediately. The better you can create a sense of urgency without being too pushy, the better you can drive conversions.

6. Uncertainty

The enemy of urgency is anxiety. If there’s anything on your page that can create uncertainty, the conversion might be held back.


Implementing CRO: Finding Current Barriers

At its essence, CRO is about finding out why visitors are not converting and fixing the issue. In short, it’s about finding the barriers and tearing them down. Remember that CRO is not about hunches and guesses, but a data-driven process bases on analytics. So, we should use the available analytics to put ourselves in our visitors’ shoes and look at these key areas:

  • Call-To-Action Placement

To encourage conversions, your CTAs must be clear, easy to find, and engaging. A good way to objectively measure the performance of your CTAs is by using A/B testing.

  • Graphic Design Aspect

Your visual assets should be relevant instead of distracting, well-placed, and align well with your brand/product. Consider eliminating unnecessary visual assets and texts (also misplaced ones). Again, use A/B testing to properly assess this aspect.

  • User Experience/Usability

UX is an art of its own, and this guide by Usability.Gov might help you further.Basically, users must be able to easily navigate your site to find what they are looking for. Also, if your site involves a payment gateway, make sure the path is easy to understand and seamless. In fact, you have to make sure all paths leading to any conversions are clear, simple, and easy enough without needing too many steps. An usability test can help in assessing usability.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Your SEO efforts must be up-to-date and relevant with your core messages and value proposition. For example, titles should be clear, accurate, and descriptive according to the content. Images should have proper names, and keywords should be relevant with the content and aligned with your core messages. If these are not done properly, your visitors might come to your site looking for something not readily available on your site. On the other hand, those who truly need your product/service might not be able to find you.

  • User Security

User security is a very important issue nowadays. If you are not properly sending the correct message that you DO care about their privacy and security, it can create a major uncertainty. Let your visitors know that their security is your absolute top priority, and make it easy to trust your site.

Keep in mind that these items are by no means comprehensive, and there can be other barriers on your site depending on your business model and/or industry type. Yet, by understanding the principle and using the six factor


Implementing CRO: The Step-By-Step Guide

Now that you’ve figured out the barriers preventing your visitors to convert, there are two different approaches you can take: attempt to fix each problematic area, or develop a comprehensive CRO plan to tackle all the issues in an objective way.

We should understand the fact that a single fix won’t be able to fix all your site’s issues, and especially since you are dealing with people, there can be numerous available ways to “fix” a single issue, often leading to an unnecessary trial-and-error process. Instead, by developing a clear CRO plan, we can gain continuous knowledge to better satisfy our users even when a certain tactic won’t work in the first place.

So, let us discuss how to properly develop a CRO strategy plan, which we will divide in several key steps:

Step 1: Defining Goals

As we have mentioned, different sites/businesses might have different definition for “conversion”. It is very important to clearly identify the important conversions for your business before we can plan an optimization strategy. Also, we should properly understand what we are measuring and attempting to optimize, based on the principles we have discussed above.

Let’s use an example to properly illustrate this step. Let’s say we are an SAAS company offering free-trial demo. This is a fairly common example, so I’m sure the most of you can understand the concept. So, here the registration for the free-trial is the conversion we want to measure and optimize.

So, what drives this conversion? An effective ad placement on relevant tech blogs? A gallery of user testimonies from happy customers? An incentive for trying the free-trial (i.e, offering discounts for a purchase during the free-trial period)? It can be one of these things, or something else entirely. Yet, as an example, this is the plan we can set up for the SAAS website:

  • Our main goal is to optimize the conversion of free-trial registration, which can often result in people actually buying the product
  • Based on your analysis, you conclude that adding user testimonies and reviews is the most effective way to increase the number of free-trial registration
  • You use A/B testing to properly compare the results before and after the placement of user reviews
  • You measure the actual number of free-trial registration after implementing the strategy

Step 2. Defining  Benchmark

You won’t know whether your optimizations are effective without comparing the numbers with the benchmark. So, to establish this benchmark, here are the key factors to consider:

  • Go back to the goals we have defined on the first step, and look at the key metrics related to these goals. Take notes on your current conversion rate(s).
  • List the best source(s) of traffic for these conversions
  • Use various user testing methods to properly measure how your site is meeting the goals
  • Run user surveys and interviews to gather objective data from your audience

In this step, you can use various tools to assist you:


  • Analytics: from the free and reliable Google Analytics to more advanced paid analytics tools like KissMetrics. You would want an analytics tool that has the conversion tracking and user segmentation features. User segmentation can help you track all the different data from the different user segments, giving you an easier time to locate the key issues
  • Surveys/Interviews: a more manual method, but is still handy to gain direct insights from your current audience. Don’t underestimate the value of real user feedback.
  • User Testing: various user testing tools like Crazy Egg, Reflector, or Optimizely can give you a clear data on how your visitors are interacting with your site.

Now that you have defined the proper benchmark for your CRO efforts, whenever you change something on your site, measure the numbers before and after. This is, ultimately, how you figure out whether you are doing the right thing, and you can adjust your strategy when necessary.

Step 3: Identifying Problems

Based on the benchmark numbers we have from step two, now we can identify the key barriers to user conversion. Identify gaps, key problem areas, and design some potential tactics. Again, let’s use the previous example to explain this step.

Let’s say that through your analytics tools, you learned how a high exit rate occurs on your knowledge base page. This can mean a few things, but especially the fact that this page is under-optimized.

So, you may decide to implement an on-page user survey on that specific page, asking what the visitors are looking for and how they feel with the current page, among others.You can also run several user tests to see how the visitors are interacting with the page: how far they are scrolling to the page before leaving, where they are clicking, etc.

Based on this information, you can identify the problem and begin to plan solutions.

Step 4: Designing Your Tactics

Here, you are going to use all the data you have gathered on the previous steps to design your tactic(s). You can start by listing your priorities, list your site’s biggest issues and problems that often mentioned on user surveys, as well as issues you’ve found through analytics and user tests. Identify which issues you would need to address first.

Keep in mind that it is essential to thoroughly check everything, and keep records of every efforts and changes.

Here are some key considerations in this step:

  • Begin with a simple A/B test and don’t change too many things at once. Or else, you won’t be able to identify which efforts are producing results.
  • Attempt changes that are not overly complicated to implement first, and make sure they are measurable. Yet, make sure these changes have the potential to improve the conversion rate.
  • You might need to get a second opinion. You might not be able to be objective with your assessments, especially if you designed your own site
  • You might want to simulate your efforts to see the impacts they might have. For example, if you can improve dwell time by 20%, what is the possible impact on conversions? Also, consider the direct impact on your revenue and profit margin.
  • Ultimately, CRO is about improving the trust of your customers. Probably you are forcing conversions too soon. Offer incentives and benefits to earn users’ trusts sooner.
  • Always check whether you have sufficient tracking in place, so that you are able to measure the effects of your tactics.

Step 5: Run Your CRO Initiatives

In this step, we execute the tactics we have planned in step 4, and measure the success against the benchmark we have set in step 2. The resulting data when compared with your benchmark(s) will determine your next step. If it’s performing well, you can move on to the next item or continue optimizing. If not, you might need to go back into step 1, or at least step 4 to re-examine the data and re-design a new tactic. CRO is more like a circle than a ladder, as there will always be room for improvement.

Regardless of the outcome of this tactic, keep a mindset that this step of optimization is not an end goal, but rather a continuous process. Besides, our site and our business are also evolving according to how the customers’ needs also change over time. So, we will never truly achieve a “perfect” optimization.


End Words

Now, we have learned the key concept of conversion rate and why CRO is so important for your site and business in general. Conversions will always be one of the most important success indicators of your business, and if you can increase the probability of a conversion, you can achieve growth in revenue and profit.

Remember that not only CRO is a continuous cycle, there are still many different tactics and methods you can implement. Stay tuned for more articles on specific CRO tactics and strategies in the near future.

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