Conversion Rate Optimization

February 5, 2020 Jesse Stein Jesse has founded, operated and sold multiple Internet-related ventures over the last 20 years. Most recently, he started and ran DietSpotlight.com, a leading nutrition website with more than 120 million total visitors and 325,000 subscription-based customers. In 2018 Dietspotlight was an Inc 5000 fastest-growing company.

Getting people to visit your site is only half the battle. Your conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who decided to stick around and become part of your customer base. No matter what kind of site you own, learning how to optimize for conversion will help you understand your audience and increase your sales by real, measurable amounts.

What Is Conversion Rate Optimization?

Conversion rate optimization, or CRO, is the process of turning visitors into paying customers. Customers have “converted” when they agree with your pitch and join your mailing list, make a purchase, or reach out to your sales representative.

Conversion optimization isn’t unique to the digital world. In a brick-and-mortar store, a conversion is usually associated with a physical purchase. Customers might walk into your store, but they haven’t converted until they actually buy. Optimizing the checkout experience is a normal part of doing business in stores, on websites, and through any other venue that allows companies to interact with their customer base.

Every time you make changes to your website to enhance the user experience, you’re practicing a form of conversion optimization. CRO professionals are experts at identifying, testing and implementing conversion solutions that are beneficial to your sales process.

The Conversion Funnel

The conversion funnel is a metaphor for the steps between your first contact with a customer and the moment when they finally take the conversion action you’ve been looking for. No matter what your site looks like, your customers will need to go through the same thought process before they convert.

  1. Interest: You need to grab the customer’s attention before they interact with your pitch. Do this with a great PPC ad, a social media post, or an interesting piece of content on your website.
  2. Engagement: Now that you’ve got the customer’s attention, it’s time to pitch your value proposition. Explain what you can offer them and why they should care.
  3. Trust: Before they’re willing to invest, customers need to know that your offer is legitimate. Find a way to prove that you can follow through on your claims.
  4. Action: Don’t leave your customers hanging. The bottom of your funnel should contain a simple call to action. From joining a mailing list to buying a product, make it easy for the customer to follow through.

As you craft your own conversion funnel, remember that it’s important to lead the customer through these steps in order. If you make a bid for trust before you’ve even introduced the value of your product, the customer might start to wonder why you need their trust so badly. But if you create a logical path from interest to action, the customers who stick around will have a legitimate amount of engagement with your brand.

What Counts as a Conversion?

A conversion occurs when a customer completes a predetermined goal. You can define any action as a conversion as long as it’s tangible, trackable, and beneficial to your business.

Your company’s definition of a conversion depends on the nature of your business model. An eCommerce site might define a conversion as adding an item to the cart or completing a purchase. B2B sites often define conversions as joining a mailing list or filling out a contact form.

The common thread between these conversion definitions is that they bridge the gap between company and customer. Customers who have converted are actively interested in your product or service. Because they’ve already provided you with contact information, they’ve indicated that they’re willing to continue the conversation. Giving these customers your time and attention is very likely to result in a sale.

Calculating Your Conversion Rate

Your conversion rate is the percentage of site visitors who have completed your conversion action. To calculate this rate, you’ll need to be able to measure your site’s traffic and compare it to your conversion goals.

As an example, assume that your site had 100 visitors in the last month. Out of those visitors, 5 joined your mailing list. This would give you a conversion rate of 5%.

When you’re counting the number of visitors, make sure you consider whether a customer can convert every time they visit your site. If you run an eCommerce site, the answer is simple: visitors can convert every time they make a purchase. But if your conversion goal is making an account or joining your mailing list, then visitors who come back to read more of your content don’t have a reason to convert a second time. In cases like this, you should only use unique visitors for your conversion rate.

Your conversion rate is meant to guide your company’s sales process. You can choose which numbers to include and which to leave out; just make sure you end up with a meaningful metric that you can use to make intelligent marketing decisions.

Measuring Conversions with Google Analytics

Google Analytics is one of the most useful tools for monitoring your site’s traffic and understanding user behavior. If you know how to use it, you might not even need to install any other CRO software.

First, set up tracking, and get to know your way around the Google Analytics platform. Make sure you understand the audience categories and can identify the difference between unique and repeat visits.

Next, set up a goal. You can find this section under Admin > View > Goals. Google will walk you through the process of identifying and tracking a conversion goal based on the structure of your site. Available goals include links, forms, videos, and other on-site events; you can identify as many goals as you like.

Once everything is set up, check back with Google Analytics regularly. The platform will tell you how many people have completed your goal and even calculate your conversion rate. Use this data to make intelligent decisions as you continue to optimize your site.

The Link Between CRO and SEO

Conversion rate optimization and search engine optimization are closely intertwined. In fact, many SEO professionals offer CRO services as a package deal. But although these fields are related, they’re not actually the same thing.

SEO is the process of driving traffic to your site. A great SEO professional knows how to filter potential traffic so that you’re only paying for visits from real, qualified leads.

CRO is the process of turning your visitors into paying customers. This can involve changes to your content, your site’s layout, and even your overall marketing strategy.

Although they’re separate fields, there is a certain amount of overlap between these two strategies. SEO might require changes to your site design, and CRO might suggest that you use different text for your PPC campaign. That’s why most lead generation companies have both SEO and CRO experts on their staff.

SEO drives people to your funnel. CRO makes sure that the funnel is well-constructed. When the two work together, the result is a streamlined customer experience that starts at the first point of contact.

Conversion Optimization and Copywriting

Great marketing requires great content. The most beautiful site in the world won’t do a thing if customers can’t understand what you’re all about. You’ve probably already researched your audience and identified a great tone of voice for your company. Now, you need to learn how to leverage that information to convert visitors into sales.

Your Value Proposition

Your value proposition is what you’re offering to a customer. It should include a definition of your product and a reason why your company is better than the rest.

The value proposition of a restaurant might be “delicious sandwiches at great prices.” In that one phrase, you can learn what the business offers – sandwiches – and understand that they have competitive prices.

Although the information behind your value proposition stays the same, the actual text can and should change depending on how you’re communicating with the customer. Your value proposition should appear on your landing pages, in your advertisements, and even as a header above your final call to action. Find catchy ways to re-word your proposition to keep from sounding like a broken record across your marketing campaign.

The Importance of Accessible Language

The next core principle of conversion optimization is accessibility. If a customer can’t understand what you’re saying, they won’t continue through the conversion funnel.

Most users respond well to natural and colloquial content. Do your best to avoid industry terms and technical jargon unless you know it will appeal to your target audience. Stick to clear and concise descriptions that could be understood by any random visitor to your site.

If you aren’t sure whether your copy is accessible, run it by a friend or family member who knows nothing about your job. Your goal is to create simple copy that the average person can understand and relate to.

Writing for B2B

CRO for business-to-business audiences it a little different from CRO for business-to-customer. If your company is B2B, you’ll usually be looking to engage with educated professionals who are deeply familiar with the industry they work in.

B2B copy should still be natural and accessible, but you should make sure to use industry-specific terms and professional language. Don’t waste time with drawn-out introductions and appeals to empathy; B2B professionals want information quickly so they can make their own decisions.

Spelling and Grammar Errors

Spelling errors will increase your bounce rate – the number of people who leave your site immediately – by as much as 85%. When you’re trying to improve conversions, that’s a pretty terrifying number.

The solution is to rigorously spellcheck every piece of content before publication. Don’t trust your word processor – it will catch minor errors, but it won’t notice homonyms and problems with your sentence structure. Ask a friend to help you edit, or use your favorite grammar-focused software.

Conversion Optimization and Site Design

Great site design will reduce your bounce rate, improve your user experience, and result in more conversions than you know what to do with. Once your copy is finalized, most of your optimization work will involve tweaks to your site design. Understand what visitors are looking for, and you’ll soon have a website that generates a surprising amount of sales.

Site Layout

If you want users to make it through your conversion funnel, they need to be able to see the path. Your site layout determines how easily visitors can access your content. A great layout will lead them intuitively from the first landing page straight to your call to action.

Site layout depends greatly on modern conventions. Although creativity is encouraged, customers will typically expect your site to look and function like the sites of other businesses in your industry. Using a standard template makes it easy for visitors to find the site features they’re looking for.

No matter what kind of site you’re running, choose a design that is smooth, flexible, and easy on the eyes. You should also choose a site model that’s easy to update so you can make changes to it during your A/B testing phase.

Landing Pages

A landing page is a place where a customer ends up when they click on one of your ads. Landing pages are extremely useful for conversion optimization because they allow you to create a unique experience for each of your audience groups.

In general, your landing page should include the following elements:

  • A hook or reason why visitors shouldn’t immediately bounce
  • An explanation that includes your value proposition
  • A piece of engaging content like a video or an image
  • A call to action that links to your conversion goal

Of course, including these elements won’t guarantee conversions; that’s where the design skills come in. Play around with different versions of your landing page to see what gets the best results. You’re looking for a design that catches interest and encourages the visitor to learn more about your product or brand.

Color Theory

Conversion experts love color psychology. Does changing a button from green to red really increase sales? Should your links stay that default blue color, or should you change them to match your website?

Obviously, the right colors to use depend on your brand, your audience, and your conversion goal. In general, bright colors like red, orange, and yellow will create a sense of energy and urgency. Colors like blue and green create a feeling of security, trust, and vibrancy. Colors like black and purple appeal to a sense of power, wealth, and professionalism.

Mix and match colors to create the right statement for your website. Remember to consider whether a color should be in the background or work as an accent.

CTA Buttons

Most calls to action are represented with a large button that users can click on to convert. Your CTA button should be easy to notice and easy to click. You can design any button that you like, but it should probably have the same three qualities.

  • Big: Bigger buttons are easier to click on. Get as large as you can without negatively impacting the rest of your design.
  • Bold: CTA buttons need to stand out. Use bright colors and loud text to grab user attention.
  • Bordered: Borders help customers realize that they’re looking at a button. Create as much contrast as possible between the button and the rest of the page. Try adding a drop shadow to make your button jump out from the screen.

Urgency Plays

An urgency play occurs when you tell the customer that your offer is only available for a limited time. Urgency plays are effective, but they should also be used with caution. If the offer isn’t limited, you will quickly lose your customers’ trust.

Urgency plays work best on eCommerce sites. Try highlighting inventory amounts and letting customers know when there are only a few items left. You can also use an urgency play for sales and coupons, but again, don’t overdo it.

Chatbots

Chatbots are a useful conversion optimization tool because they help customers find answers more quickly. Most chatbots can pull up relevant site pages, initiate contact with a customer service representative, and even encourage visitors to complete your conversion goal.

You should only include a chatbot on your site if it actually improves the user experience. Avoid disruptive bots that prevent users from reading your landing page or interacting with important site elements.

Reviews and Testimonials

Product reviews and user testimonials are two important ways that you can build trust with your users. Product reviews are great for eCommerce sites because they provide honest feedback that informs a customer’s shopping decisions. Testimonials can work for any business model and are typically used to show off the number of satisfied customers or clients who have worked with your company.

As with any trust-building tactic, reviews and testimonials should be incorporated with caution and elegance. Testimonials can’t replace real product information, and a host of good reviews won’t help you if your product quality isn’t up to par. Find ways to include customer feedback in your design without overwhelming the information that your site visitors are looking for.

All About A/B Testing

How do you know if the changes you’ve made to your copy and your site design are actually working? Does a red button or a blue button result in more conversions? Which version of your value proposition earns the most clicks?

These questions can be answered through a practice called A/B testing. To conduct an A/B test, you need to make two versions of your site. Some customers will see the “A” version, and others will see the “B” version. After you’ve run the test for a few weeks, review the analytics for both versions, and keep the one that has the most conversions.

CRO professionals swear by the A/B test. Without testing, all of your conversion optimization tactics will be based on guesswork and statistics from other organizations. A/B testing is one of the few ways to find out what works for your unique audience.

Do You Have Enough Traffic?

Before you run your first A/B test, consider how much traffic your site gets. If you only see 20-100 visitors in a month, your sample size isn’t big enough to make a meaningful decision. 10 of those 20 visitors might prefer the color blue, but that doesn’t mean blue is a better choice for your audience as a whole.

Determining your ideal population size is a matter of statistics. Variable factors include your conversion rate, your current site traffic, and the degree of confidence to which you would like to conduct your test.

In general, you can start conducting A/B tests when you have more than 500 site visitors a month. The less traffic you have, the longer your testing period will need to be.

Only Change One Thing

The most fundamental rule of an A/B test is that you can only have one variation per test. Whether you change the text of a headline, the color of a button, or the placement of an image, it should be the only difference between the two versions of your site.

The reason behind this rule is simple: if you change multiple variables, you won’t be able to tell which change caused the increase in conversions. Was it the color of the button or the new text that made customers change their minds? You won’t be able to tell unless you run a different test for each of those variables.

A/B Tests and the Customer Experience

Most people will notice if they’re shown two different versions of the same site on two different visits. For this reason, most A/B tests use browser cookies to track repeat visitors. That way, you can make sure that each customer is only ever shown one version of your site.

When you’re conducting tests, you should also make sure that your variable changes don’t negatively impact the usability of your site. The same information needs to be accessible from the same locations for the test to work. A/B tests typically focus on cosmetic features, small copy changes, and other tweaks that won’t interrupt the way your site functions.

When to Make Permanent Changes

Some A/B tests have a clear winner. The red button performed better than the blue one, conversions are up by 5%, and you’re ready to make the change.

But in many cases, the winner isn’t quite so clear. That’s why CRO professionals need to be able to decide when an A/B test is no longer providing valuable information.

When you first run an A/B test, decide on a finite testing period that’s based on your average site traffic and your desired sample size. At the end of this period, review the data to see if there’s a meaningful difference.

If one version only performed slightly better than the other, change the parameters of your test so that more traffic is directed to the winning version. If your first test had a 50/50 split, switch to a 25/75 split instead. Run the test again; if the winning variable is still winning, you can go ahead and make the change.

A/B Testing Software

A/B testing is extremely hard to conduct without software that can display multiple versions of your site. There are plenty of options on the market, but try these popular programs to get started.

  • Optimizely is an all-inclusive CRO platform that will give you more data about your site than you know what to do with. Optimizely makes changing your site easy and provides test data in a simple and easy-to-digest format.
  • AB Tasty is a dedicated A/B testing software that comes with a host of other marketing features. Try incorporating AB Tasty’s dynamic widgets into your site design for even more user interactivity.
  • Hotjar isn’t an A/B testing tool, but it’s too useful to leave off this list. Hotjar records user behavior and generates a heatmap of the most clicked areas on your site. You can use this to highlight successful features, identify usability issues, and check to see if anyone noticed the new CTA button you added at the bottom of the page.

Conversion optimization is an ongoing process. As your audience evolves, so will the tactics that increase their chance to convert. As long as you make data-driven decisions that focus on user experience, you will continue to see an increase in customers who meet your conversion goal.