Conversion Rate Optimization, or CRO, refers to the improvement of certain aspects of your website and messaging to motivate your visitors to convert. These improvements are based on deep data analysis and calculated experimentation to try to find how certain changes, whether large or small, impact the end conversion rate.
While most digital marketing strategies revolve around bringing traffic to a certain site, CRO is one of the only strategies that primarily focuses on converting this traffic to revenue. Once you understand how conversion rate optimization can improve the various elements of your website, you will not only see how to turn your site into a reliable revenue-generating machine but, also, get a better understanding of the mechanics of digital marketing, as well as learn more about your customers.
While many eCommerce merchants turn away from CRO because the amount of analytical analysis and experimentation can seem intimidating, it can be an incredibly rewarding process once you get into it. You don’t need to be an expert to improve your conversion rate. There are a handful of great tools available that take care of the heavy analytical analysis and present findings to you in a digestible and actionable way.
What Is CRO?
Conversion rate optimization is a structured testing process designed to make a website more user-friendly for its target audience, with the goal of increasing the end conversion rate. A website that does a great job at converting users usually excels in optimizing a few key components, such as their checkout, category pages, and product detail pages.
In order to conceptualize conversion rate optimization, think of your website as a leaky bucket. When your website isn’t optimized, your visitors are arriving at your site, but are leaving without converting. In order to make sure you are able to convert as many consumers in your bucket as possible, CRO focuses on trying to plug each hole, one by one, through a series of analytical tests and iterations.
CRO is not a set of best practices that can be replicated to great success through a variety of different industries. It is the process of using data analytics, heat maps, user tests, and more to understand visitor behavior and designing experiments to discover whether user assumptions are true or not.
Although a scientific approach to testing a single variable at a time can be benchmarked to similar CRO campaigns, these experiments and results will be unique to each website and their target audience. This is why there aren’t any real universal best practices, and everyone must figure out the best approach by themselves. Optimization is by definition tailored to each website unique audience.
CRO for eCommerce
Few industries can make as good use of conversion rate optimization as eCommerce. Since each minor tweak can directly translate into revenue, many eCommerce merchants are constantly experimenting with ways to prime their sites for more conversions.
CRO helps you become more data driven in your business. Without actively looking at growth metrics and KPIs and attempting to improve them, you will primarily be trying to compensate for your lack of optimization by spending more on strategies to get more traffic, as opposed to figuring out how to best convert this traffic into revenue. This leads to a poor return on your advertising investment.
Additionally, CRO helps you to understand your customers better. By knowing your customers’ likes and dislikes, you can provide an overall better process for both new and repeat consumers. This makes it easier for them to purchase from you and, if they had a pleasant experience, they will likely turn to your business for similar needs in the future.
By utilizing CRO and streamlining the user experience on your site, you will also receive fewer usability related customer service calls and emails, which will, in turn, save you more time and effort spent answering problems that could be corrected with simple design and content tweaks.
Most importantly, eCommerce businesses utilizing CRO are able to increase revenue. The average eCommerce conversion rate is 2%. Imagine if you could increase this by just 1%. You would increase your online revenue by 50%!
Since CRO improves the user experience (UX), and a good UX is a critical component of Google’s search engine criteria, CRO can also provide the indirect benefit of helping your pages ranking more efficiently in search engine results pages.
Where Do You Employ CRO?
Conversion rate optimization can be applied virtually anywhere in the buyer journey and at any touchpoint, but the biggest eCommerce offenders are problems with the checkout, site navigation, and product detail pages. In order to do this, it’s helpful to first outline the customer journey.
The Customer Journey
Customers land on your pages from a variety of places:
Organic listings in search engines
Paid listings in search engines
Social media advertising
Referral traffic (links & content)
Word of mouth
In order to prime your CRO efforts, you must first understand with what type of traffic you are dealing. Are they ending up on your landing pages in search of a certain solution? Then make sure your landing pages are able to deliver on that search query while also converting your traffic into your desired goal.
Before the Customer Visits
CRO starts before a potential customer even lands on your website. Here’s how to prepare your eCommerce website for CRO work.
Clean up your analytics. Good research is the foundation of doing conversion optimization. This means making sure your analytics spam is filtered out and that you have a proper goal tracking setup.
Get quantitative and qualitative data from your visitors using usability testing tools. Try starting with tools like Google Analytics, Hotjar, & User Testing.
Identify your biggest problem areas and begin work on those first. Consider a conversion assessment to find them.
Once you’ve taken care of these preemptive tasks, your conversion rate optimization efforts will work much more efficiently. Here are a few principles to live by that will make your CRO efforts much easier:
Your visitors are typically visiting for one of two reasons. To research a product or to purchase a product so all of your efforts should be focused on helping them do just that.
How can you help them complete their goals as quickly as possible on your site?
After the Customer Visits
After your customer visits, things start to get interesting. Here are the things merchants need to do.
Once you’ve collected data on visitors, review the results. These results are going to be your reference point for any improvements or fluctuations in your CRO efforts. Develop hypotheses by examining where your testing suggests your visitors are getting stuck.
One of the best ways to test changes is to formulate hypotheses and design A/B tests around single variables that will affect conversions. It’s important you focus on one thing at a time because it will help you keep you focused on a single issue at a time.
Remember, CRO is like that one big bucket with different sized holes that must be plugged up one at a time. If you try to plug more than one at the same time, you might not do a good job on the most important ones. You can do this with A/B testing tools like VWO, Optimizely, and others. Many tools have visual editors but, for some experiments, you may need the help of a designer or developer.
When you’re trying to decide what improvements might improve usability, think of changes that would improve your site in the following areas. It’s helpful to adhere to the following principles:
Simplicity – Is there too much noise on your website? Are your visitors getting lost in the noise?
Consistency – Are you using terms, layouts, copy, and design consistently across your site?
Efficiency – Is your site easy to use for a skilled advanced user? For folks who need to take shortcuts?
Workload – Are you making users’ work on your site easier?
Usefulness – Are you providing things that aren’t useful to your users?
There are countless case studies to which you could refer to see what experiments have worked for others. These can help you find areas to look at in more detail on your website, but don’t copy them wholesale. What worked for one person may end up working against you on your site. Test changes informed by case studies, don’t just make them. Here are some great case studies.
Convert on the Shoulders of Giants
Sometimes, the best way to benchmark your CRO efforts is to take a look at how other big players in your industry are performing. It’s important not to simply copy, but it’s great to use them to form hypotheses and tests to run on your site. While there are certain times that some of the strategies that an eCommerce giant such as Amazon won’t work for your specific niche, it’s still useful to understand what they did to help get you into that CRO mindset. The extensive amount of testing backed by multi-million dollar budgets can find strategies that other smaller players wouldn’t be as likely to stumble upon.
For example, one of the biggest CRO strategies that Amazon helped to pioneer is getting rid of the navigation header when someone is checking out from the website. Essentially, once a user enters the “checkout conversion phase,” by limiting the potential options on the page they tend to naturally continue the checkout process.
Simply by hiding the <div> for your navigation elements in the global header, once a user has shown a checkout intent, it can help to streamline the entire process. Now, it is worth diving into what we classify as an “intention,” as this can help form the basis of a CRO thinking methodology.
For example, “intention” can be construed as the moment someone adds something to the cart or when the user clicks “check out.” These are two different hypotheses, and it would be helpful to A/B test to see which one performs better when the navigation header is removed (if at all).
Amazon typically does this after the user enters step 1 of the checkout, but, again, results may vary for every specific industry. The hypothesis that must be accepted or rejected here is that “by removing the navigation element after the user enters step 1, they will be more likely to convert.”
First, you would want to understand what the conversion rate hovers around normally. Next, you would apply the change either in a split test campaign or for every user (it is recommended you do a split campaign), and then see if your conversion rate improved.
Next, it’s helpful to justify the improvement and, also, note any potential side effects that might occur. For example, although you may have increased the conversion rate for that checkout process, you could have decreased the potential for those users to go back on your site, add more items to their cart, and then check out.
Conversation rate optimization is a process that needs time in order to start seeing improvements. You likely won’t see incredible results overnight. While it is very important to stay patient to see your hard work come to fruition, you must also stay focused on what you are testing. A/B testing makes the CRO process much easier, but you can only test so many different variables at a time without getting the results confused with each other.
The bottom line is that the more you do CRO, the better you will get at identifying the high potential areas that can make a big impact on your site’s ability to generate revenue. That’s why you’ll typically see CRO firms highlight their conversion process rather than a set of best practices.
CRO almost should be viewed as a lifestyle that strives for constantly making a current system much better at functioning. Once you develop the CRO mindset to identify certain problematic variables or other strategies that can be included, you will be able to almost instinctively identify what can be done better. If a solution seems pretty clear but it is not backed by data, you can never be 100% certain.
Now, while there aren’t a bunch of best practices that will magically make your site convert better, there are a few things we’ve found to be true about ecommerce sites time and time again. These are a good place to start on your optimization journey.
Pop-ups might help you build your list, but the quality of those subscribers doesn’t tend to translate into sales. You’re better off with an exit-intent pop-up if you use one at all. This is because the pop-up gives your first-time visitors a negative perception of your brand by creating a frustrating first impression.
User reviews are some of the most powerful tools for conversions. Even negative reviews are helpful for visitors to discover whether sizing, fit, etc. will be good for them. If someone is upset, it’s also a great opportunity to showcase high-quality customer service with a helpful and kind reply.
Doing your own conversion rate optimization helps you to not only take control of how your site turns traffic into revenue but, also, to get a higher ROI from any other traffic-generating tactics you are pursuing.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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