Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization to maximize conversions
It is not enough to do traffic: attracting visitors to our website is only the first part of the challenge to achieve our goals, financial and otherwise. True success is measured in terms of conversions, with visitors interacting with the content and becoming customers, buying the product or service we offer or taking a meaningful action, such as signing up for a newsletter or downloading a white paper. This is one of the cornerstones of digital marketing, a complex ecosystem of channels designed to drive people to our content, with the ultimate goal of generating leads and revenue for the brand. But how can we ensure that visitors not only get to our site, but also take the desired action? This is where CRO or Conversion Rate Optimization comes in, a set of strategies and techniques designed precisely for conversion rate optimization, which help us increase the chance that more and more visitors will convert into customers and is a powerful growth engine for our business. In this article, we will explore in detail what CRO means, how it works, and how it can help our business achieve its goals.
What is CRO or Conversion Rate Optimization
Conversion Rate Optimization, more often presented by the acronym CRO, is a process that aims to improve the effectiveness of a site or digital marketing campaigns to increase the number of visitors who make a conversion.
More precisely, CRO is the work of conversion rate optimization, a systematic process that serves to increase the percentage of visitors who take a specific action or goal on site pages, social channels, mobile apps, or other online marketing campaigns.
These desired actions can be of various types, depending on the type of site, and include, for example, purchasing a product, clicking “add to cart,” signing up for a service, registering for a newsletter, downloading a white paper, filling out a form, or clicking on a link.
CRO is therefore an organic set of techniques, both diagnostic and experimental, that involve as a crucial element understanding how users interact with content, navigate within the site, and ultimately take actions that result in leads and revenue for our business.
What is the conversion rate
A digression on the definition of conversion rate, which is a key indicator of the effectiveness of a website or advertising campaign, is needed at this point.
Conversion rate is a metric that measures how effectively a website, advertising campaign or landing page succeeds in driving visitors to take a specific action, what we precisely call conversion.
To give a clarifying example, we can imagine a website as a physical store: every person who enters the store is a visitor, but not every visitor will buy something. Those who actually buy a product become “converted” customers, and the conversion rate is essentially the percentage of visitors performed the desired conversion.
As we know, the type of action and conversion depends on our strategic and business objective: if we run an online store, a conversion might be buying a product; for a blog, it might be signing up for a newsletter; for a service site, filling out a contact form. In essence, a conversion is any action we want visitors to take.
How to calculate conversion rate
Conversion rate is then used to track the amount of conversions on a web page or marketing campaign, depending on what we have decided to monitor.
From a “numbers” point of view, it represents the percentage of visitors who complete a goal, as set precisely by the site owner, and is a value that can also be found Google Analytics
Specifically, it is calculated by taking the total number of conversions, divided by the total number of people who visited the website and multiplying this figure by 100 to generate a percentage.
For example, if our website receives 100 visitors in a day and 15 of them sign up for the email newsletter (the conversion chosen to be measured), our conversion rate for that day is 15%, or 15/100 = 0.15 x 100 = 15%.
Thus, the site’s conversion rate is the number of times a user completes a goal divided by the site’s traffic: if a user can make a conversion on every visit (e.g., by purchasing a product), we will simply divide the number of conversions by the number of sessions (the number of unique times a user arrived at the site); if we sell a subscription, we will instead divide the number of conversions by the number of users.
Calculating the conversion rate allows us to set a benchmark for the performance of the web page or campaign-that way, all changes made and the corresponding results generated can be measured against the original conversion rate. A higher conversion rate means that a higher percentage of visitors are taking the desired action, which is a good sign. On the other hand, a low conversion rate could indicate that something is wrong, such as a confusing website design, an unclear marketing message, or an unattractive offer.
Understanding the metric: average conversion rate and ideal values
It is still important to know that there is no such thing as a single universal figure that qualifies as a “good” conversion rate and, in reality, even what is considered as an “average” conversion rate varies depending on the sectors, niches, campaigns, specific conversion targets and beyond.
Usually, however, we read that average conversion rate is between 1% and 4%, but this figure is somewhat meaningless, since the conversion rate varies greatly depending on the conversion target and, in addition, each website, page and audience are different.
Therefore, the best measure of what is considered “average” is to calculate past and current conversion rates and compare them with future results for our specific activity: instead of focusing on achieving a value that we consider optimal, It is more useful to investigate what motivates our target audience and then provide the value they are looking for, so that then the conversions will naturally follow.
Examples of online conversions
Conversions are, as mentioned, the result that we get when users take action from us specially designed on the website or marketing campaign.
Ultimately, a conversion can be “any action we want a user to take that results in the collection of their information, the sale or the acquisition of insights on how they interact with your campaigns” as Jessica Foster suggests on Search Engine Journal.
These actions may include:
- Purchase of a product.
- Registration for a free trial.
- Adding a product to the cart.
- Filling out a contact form.
- Click on a link.
- Download a content resource (like an ebook).
- Registration for a service.
- Subscription to the newsletter.
CRO today: focus (also) on user experience
CRO is the systemic process of optimizing this conversion rate, what we try to do to increase the number of people who actually complete the action.
Conversion rate optimization then takes place after the visit has arrived at the site and must necessarily pay attention to user satisfaction in their relationship with the content.
In recent years, in fact, we have moved beyond the standard definition of CRO, which focused on a “numerical” approach based on conversion rates, averages, and benchmarks, and have expanded the work to include understanding the people behind this data.
In this sense, then, CRO has been reinterpreted as the process that focuses on understanding what drives, stops and persuades users so that we can offer them the best possible user experience, which is why they convert and which ultimately improves a website’s conversion rate.
As they explain from Hotjar, in particular, many things happen before that coveted final action that we need to know and evaluate, such as in particular:
- The specific Drivers that bring people to the website
- The Specific Barriers that drive them away
- Specific Hooks that persuade to conversion
Marketers have therefore begun to realize that CRO is not just about the numbers, but also (or especially) about the people behind that data, thus pointing to the process of understanding website visitors: who they are, what they want, and how we can make their experience on the site as easy and rewarding as possible. This means that instead of focusing solely on numbers, we need to take the extra step of trying to understand user behavior, their motivations, and their needs.
This shift has led to a more holistic approach to CRO: instead of making changes based only on averages and benchmarks, we need to understand the context behind the data, using tools such as user testing, interviews, and surveys to get a deeper view of our users, and then use this information to make the changes that will not only increase conversion rates, but also improve the overall user experience.
History of CRO
The optimization of the conversion rate arises from the need to improve the performance of the site by e-commerce marketing professionals, in particular following the so-called “dot-com bubble”, when technology companies began to be more aware of their expenses, investing more in website analysis.
In the wake of the spread of the Internet and the possibility of creating websites easily, in fact, at the end of the 1990s there were tons of pages with a negative user experience; already in the early 2000s, however, increased competition and the availability of website analysis tools led to increased awareness of the value of website usability, pushing online marketers to measure their tactics and improve the user experience provided by the site.
Subsequent tools have allowed you to start experimenting on site design and content variations to determine which layout, text copy, offers and images work best, and today optimization and conversion are key aspects of many digital marketing campaigns: a research study conducted among Internet marketers in 2017, for example, highlighted that 50% of respondents believed that the CRO was “crucial to your global digital marketing strategy”.
The benefits of CRO and its relationship with SEO
Wanting to summarize, then, CRO aims to maximize our visitors’ conversions by leveraging as much of the incoming traffic on the site’s pages as possible to achieve concrete results. It is therefore not directly related to attracting organic traffic to the website or ranking on a search engine’s results page, and thus seemingly seems “far removed” from SEO work, but in reality, effective CRO activity can also bring unique SEO benefits that have been experienced by both practitioners and the companies they work with.
- Increased user engagement
Conversion rate optimization also serves to optimize the website and campaigns for better engagement and, ultimately, conversions.
Increased engagement metrics can provide valuable insights into campaign performance and what causes users to interact with content.
- Better ROI
CRO leads to higher conversion rates, which means we can make more use of the resources we have and improve ROI by getting more return from marketing-that is, we can acquire more customers without necessarily generating more traffic or increasing the marketing budget.
- Valuable Insights on Users
The CRO process requires a better understanding of the audience, which will improve marketing efforts and content in general, identifying what language or message best fits their needs and supporting the identification of the right customers for our business.
We will be better equipped to reach the right customers with the right messages at the right time.
- Improved user experience
The website is our brand’s first “salesperson,” and just like “human” teams, it must be professional, courteous, and ready to answer all customer questions. When users feel completely comfortable on a website, they tend to stay there: the CRO studies what works on the site and starting from these positive aspects we can work to expand them and improve the user experience.
- Increased customer trust
Many actions require users to provide their contact information (email address, name, phone number, etc.) or directly their credit card in exchange for content, products or service information.
This means that users must necessarily trust our site before releasing their information.CRO helps us build and strengthen customer trust and leave a positive impression on potential customers.
Even if we have a limited pool of potential customers to draw from, CRO allows us to get the most out of existing audiences to attract new customers. Audiences are not infinite: by turning more visitors into buyers, we will be able to grow our business without draining the pool of interested prospects or exhausting our resources.
How to do Conversion Rate Optimization: the three possible paths
Working on CRO requires a combination of data analysis, testing and optimization: we should start by examining our data to understand where we are losing visitors in the conversion funnel, and then test different changes to see which ones have the most positive effect on conversion rate. Finally, we should implement these changes and continue to monitor our data to see how they are affecting our conversions.
The basic concept is that to optimize conversion rates we need to know where, what, and for whom to optimize: this information is the cornerstone of successful CRO strategies.
There is also a common myth about CRO to dispel, namely that it can only serve e-commerce sites: in fact, any website that presents a desired action for visitors can benefit from CRO, whether it is a blog that wants more newsletter sign-ups, or a service site that wants more quote requests.
Before describing the methods for doing Conversion Rate Optimization, however, we need to talk about the possible approaches to this activity, which Moz distinguishes into the “analytics, people-based, and bad” method (analytics, people, bad).
- The analytical approach
Also called quantitative data analysis, this method provides tangible data on user behavior on the website. It all starts with using a robust web analytics tool, such as Google Analytics, to which conversion tracking can be added. Adopting an analytics-based CRO strategy can provide answers to crucial questions regarding user interaction with the site, and in particular, quantitative examination offers details such as:
- Where people access the site, i.e., the first web page(s) they visit.
- What features they interact with, such as where they spend their time on a page or within the site.
- What channels and referrers directed them, i.e., where they found and clicked on a link to the site.
- What devices and browsers
- Who the customers are (age, demographics and interests).
- Where users leave the funnel, i.e., at what point or during what step users leave the site.
This data will allow us to identify areas on which to focus our efforts, and by working on the pages that are most engaging and valuable to users, we may achieve the greatest impact.
- The people-centered approach
Starting with quantitative analysis is particularly beneficial if we run a large website with varied content, because it provides numerical insight into areas and points toward which to focus efforts. However, once we understand how users interact with the site, it is possible (and useful) to investigate the “why” behind their behavior.
This type of user-centered approach, known as qualitative data analysis, is more interpretive one: we always start with quantitative data, which we will use to identify who to target. We cannot optimize for all users, so we aim for the prototypical ideal user (somewhat like the buyer persona), that is, the user we find most valuable to capture as a customer.
We can use various paths to obtain this data, such as site surveys, user sample testing, or customer satisfaction surveys.
Qualitative analysis helps optimize conversions by providing information about users and, in particular:
- Why did they engage? Why did they decide to visit the site or access a specific page? What attracted them to the page or product?
- What do they feel is unique about the site compared to competitors? Is there a feature or service offered by the company that makes purchasing a better experience?
- What words do they use to describe products, services, and pain points they face? How would they describe the product or service to a friend? Basically, how do they talk about what we do and offer?
There is some information that raw, purely numerical data cannot provide about what brought a user to the site or how to improve their experience; however, by combining this information with analytical data we can gain a much deeper understanding of the pages of the site that present the best opportunities to optimize and engage the audience we wish to reach.
- The wrong approach
There are some forms of CRO that are not effective from the outset because of underlying errors; for example, working on:
- Hypotheses, hunches and visceral feelings
- Imitation strategies (doing CRO because the competitor is doing it)
- Making changes based on the opinion of the “highest paid” person or person with the largest role
Have something in common. These are not data-driven methods and may even be random shots in the dark. It is better to spend time collecting and analyzing data so that you can create meaningful tests based on clear information, not least because no one likes to run tests that fail.
How to do CRO: the process for optimizing conversion rate
Conversion rate optimization is accomplished through a process of optimizing the site, landing page, or marketing campaign to increase the likelihood that a user will take the desired action.
This optimization work collects insights about past user behaviours, customer information and CRO best practices, and generally the basic process of CRO is as follows.
- Audience research
Examining the audience and deepening the analysis of past customers’ behavior serves to understand what users are interested in, what they have difficulties with and how they interact with our brand.
Use of the insights collected during audience research to optimize campaigns or pages for conversions.
This work could include writing more compelling texts, adding attractive call to action, redesigning the site for a better user experience (UX) or otherwise removing bottlenecks from the sales funnel.
- A/B Tests
Most CRO changes do not complete on a single occasion: it is necessary to measure the adjustment interventions with respect to different components to see which ones really move the bar.
In this sense, the classic A/B test is useful to verify the effects of corrections: for example, we can experiment with two types of call to action to see which has a better return, that is, has a higher conversion rate, or check if a change to button colors produces different effects and so on.
Data collection is also crucial, so we recommend using analytics software (such as Google Analytics) to measure the success of campaigns.
In particular, experts suggest to create goals to monitor conversions and then calculate the conversion rate by comparing it with total traffic numbers.
- Corrections in progress
The optimization work goes on over time and we must use analytics to monitor the success (or failure) of campaigns or pages, making the necessary changes to improve the conversion rate in progress.
The best practices of CRO
We described the best working process to intervene on conversion rate optimization, but in the world of digital marketing there are some widespread beliefs about CRO best practices – and, in particular, that performing particular actions can ensure an improvement in the rate, such as:
- Using a strong color for all CTA buttons.
- Placing the call to action above the fold.
- Using urgency (like time-limited offers) to boost sales.
- Always show customer testimonials.
- Use as few fields as possible in the forms.
The use of CRO best practices would be useful to improve every conversion rate, a belief at least questionable for a number of factors; first of all, by definition, these practices are old, or something that worked for someone else in the past and is not guaranteed to work today. Besides, and more importantly, just because one technique has borne fruit to someone else doesn’t mean it will work for us.
And so, the real best practice is to invest time to understand our users and customers, building a customer-centric culture, because they are the people who matter to our business and have the answers we need to improve the results.
The components of a successful CRO
CRO is therefore a complete process, involving a variety of components, from the landing page design to the contact forms we use; a successful CRO campaign requires an in-depth analysis of the target audience, more tests to measure performance and continuous optimization to ensure maximum results.
During this process, you will likely find some key elements that can be optimized to bring higher conversion rates:
The appearance of the website and target pages plays an important role for the CRO: it is likely that an aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate design improves usability and facilitates conversion by users.
During the design of a landing page it can be useful to work with a web designer who understands CRO and how users generally browse a website.
Basically, the site should be accessible on mobile devices, include readable fonts and interactive menus and allow visitors to easily find what they are looking for.
- Site speed
The fast loading speed of the website is an essential part of any website optimized for search engines and is also a component of the CRO. The longer it takes to load a page, the more likely it will be that users will leave the page and visit a competitor’s site.
Ideally, a website should load in less than 3 seconds on both desktop and mobile devices; To achieve this standard and ensure fast loading times we can reduce the size of the image file and remove slow-loading site items, for example: only this can increase site conversions.
As copy we refer to the words that users read on the website and on the target pages: expert copywriters are able to create texts that meet the specific needs of the target audience, and it is not enough to simply write “on the arm” and hope for the best.
Comes into play – again and forcefully – the audience research: if we know what are the criticalities with which you compare our audience and the solutions you are looking for, we will be able to communicate the value of our offer, its features, advantages and more.
Ultimately, we can try to convince users that our service or product is the best solution for their needs.
- Call to action
As we know, the call to action is often a short and concise call for users to take action on the site. The most commonly seen phrases are “Contact Us”, “Buy Now” and “Work with Us”, but of course we can become much more creative.
For example, if we know that our audience is interested in a particular offer, the call for action can be more direct, such as “Buy X here” or “Download Y now”.
A good practice is to make clear what users will receive after clicking a link or submitting their information.
The structure of the site should be built with the main goal of making the entire site easy to navigate for users; generally, it consists of a layout of where the pages on the site exist and how they interact with each other.
Most sites adopt a hierarchical site structure, with the most important pages in the main menu and subpages in the drop-down menu. As a general advice, pages should not be “buried” more than 3 clicks away from the home page.
To optimize this aspect we can identify with the browsing path of a typical user, studying the contents to see how users pass from one page to another.
This path could look like:
- Page of services
- Individual service page
- Contact page
- Goal completion (to fill in a form)
Or, for an e-commerce site:
- Home page
- Page of products
- Product category page
- Page of the single product
- Add to cart
- Thank you page
Overall, creating an easy-to-navigate site is key to increasing conversions, building customer trust and improving customer loyalty over time.
Contact forms are the most popular tool used by site owners to collect information about users, especially for service sites and agencies. E-commerce sites, on the other hand, may have individual product pages and a typical shopping cart function.
Contact forms should be easy to use and functional: that is, users should be easily able to send their information and these forms should be collected within the website to ensure a quick follow-up.
There are also some CRO best practices to the correct use of contact forms:
- The fewer the fields, the better (generally, as already mentioned): we should collect information that allows us to promptly follow the leads; if we want to better qualify these leads, we can provide additional fields, such as Sector or Budget.
- Aesthetically-pleasing forms typically equate to a better user experience. You have to make the text easy to read, use a consistent style and make sure that the send button is clickable.
- Take into account the privacy of customers. With the introduction of the GDPR and other consumer privacy laws, it has become more and more important than telling users how their information will be collected and used. We should always include a disclaimer that indicates what users are subscribing to, how we will be in contact with them and whether they can unsubscribe at any time.
How to measure the conversion rate
There are numerous quantitative tools that allow us to collect data to monitor conversions on the site: general analysis tools such as Google Analytics, site heatmaps, sales funnel analysis, contact form analysis and more.
Basically, we can use to calculate the conversion rates any tool that allows us to monitor conversions or completion of goals and see the data on site traffic. Once we get the conversion rate, we will have data on site performance in the past and current performance: at this point, we can use a variety of CRO tactics to generate even more leads, customers and revenues for our business.
How to improve your conversion rate
The key to improving the conversion rate over time is to keep an eye on customer behavior data and monitor how users interact with our site.
In this sense, we can start with a heuristic analysis of website or e-commerce performance with tools like Google Analytics, which we can use to measure goal completions, traffic numbers, user engagement and more, But – as said for the best practices – there is no valid strategy for everyone to have an excellent CRO.
What works for our business will depend to a large extent on the interests and behaviors of our target audience, the offers we are promoting, the site layout and much more.
Having this well in mind, we can nevertheless examine some suggestions for the optimization of the conversion rate to improve the site over time: for example, include the implementation of UX best practices, CRO adjustments with A/B testing, Better sales texts or CTA enhancements for higher conversions.
Free tools to understand the audience and improve conversions
Then there are some free tools that are fundamental to CRO: our brains, ears, eyes and mouth, which we need to use to understand our customers, empathize with their experience, draw conclusions based on data and, Finally, make the changes that improve our conversion rates.
In practical terms, we can (and we must, if we want to increase conversions) listen to what users have to say on the site, see how people use the site, dive into the market by studying competitors, work closely with those who design and build the site product or service (or who has done so in the past), talk to the staff who sells and supports the product/ service and, last but not least, trace connections between different sources of feedback.
Ultimately, therefore, the winning approach is based on investing in the understanding and learning of our users and in the use of insights to build an optimization strategy that improves conversions and, more generally, allow our business to continuously grow.