The Ultimate Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization (2019)

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ultimate guide to conversion rate optimization

It’s no longer just about driving more traffic to your website to increase sales. To really increase sales you need to optimize your website experience to convert more of your visitors. This new technique is called conversion rate optimization (CRO), and many websites already gain great results from it.

Are you ready to take advantage too?

This guide helps you quickly benefit from CRO – and it’s not a basic CRO guide.

While it starts with the basics, it reveals the essential aspects of CRO, including the four main elements of CRO, the importance of conversion research, and a CRO process flow to maximize your success.

I created it based on my 10 years experience with CRO and it will help signficantly increase your website sales or leads, without needing more traffic. It’s a long guide, so here is a table of contents:

What is conversion rate optimization (CRO)?

Conversion rate optimization is the art of converting more visitors on your website into your goals (e.g. sales or leads). By increasing your conversion rate, you increase your website sales or leads without actually needing more traffic.

What are the benefits of doing CRO for your website?

The biggest benefit is that it helps you generate much more revenue from your website. Here is how:

  • Generates more leads or sales on your website, with the same traffic you already have, which means you don’t have to spend more money on traffic.
  • Helps maximize the return on investment from your marketing spend, and reduces the cost per sale or acquisition.
  • Improves your website so that it engages more visitors, and increases the chances of them returning and converting in the future.

What kind of results can I expect from doing CRO?

This depends on how much effort and budget you put in, and your level of expertize. With modest efforts you can increase conversion rates by 5-10%. This may not sound much, but it often has a big impact on your online sales. If you maximize your efforts with CRO you can get  amazing results like these:

  • GetResponse.com increased sign-ups by 153% with CRO
  • CrazyEgg.com grew revenue 363% by doing CRO
  • TheGuardian.co.uk increased subscriptions by 46% by doing CRO
  • Moz.com generated an extra $1 million in sales doing CRO

How is conversion rate calculated?

Your conversion rate is the proportion of your website visitors that convert for your main website goal, which is quite often a purchase or a signup. This is how it is calculated for an ecommerce website:

Ecommerce website conversion rate
(Number of orders / number of website visitors) x 100

This conversion rate is often setup by default in tools like Google Analytics. They also track ‘goal conversion rate’ for specific goals like signups or leads.

What are the main elements of CRO?

CRO is made up of four overlapping main elements – conversion research, user experience (UX), website persuasion, and A/B testing and personalization. Making strong use of these will increase your chances of improving your conversion rates, and therefore your sales or leads.

CRO main elements

  • Conversion Research: Gather insights and improvement ideas from conversion research. This comes from web analytics, heat maps, visitor recordings, surveys, user testing and expert CRO reviews. This is the most essential piece of CRO, and cannot be done effectively without it.
  • Website Persuasion: Don’t just hope your website converts your visitors. To engage and convert many more of them, use copywriting best practices and influence techniques, including the usage of social proof, scarcity, urgency and reciprocity.
  • User Experience (UX): Improve your website user experience so visitors can browse and convert more easily, including using best practices for improving your website navigation, forms and user flow. Without it, it doesn’t matter how good your website looks or how persuasive it is.
  • A/B Testing & Personalization: A/B tests and personalization techniques are used to discover and show the highest converting experience for your website. This is very useful, but not essential, particularly because so many websites don’t have enough traffic or conversions for this.

All of these elements overlap and feed into each other to gain better results from CRO, particularly conversion research. For example insights from conversion research feed into better ideas for A/B testing and personalization.

Why is conversion research so important?

Don’t just guess at what to improve on your website, or only listen to what your boss wants to improve, as this often fails to get good results on your conversion rates and sales.

Conversion research is essential for determining what needs improving and why, and is gathered from visitors and analytics tools.

There are 6 elements of conversion research that you need to use to gain the best results:

  1. Web analytics. Tools like Google Analytics are not just for reporting on traffic and KPIs. Doing in-depth analysis forms the quantitative part of conversion research, and reveals pages and traffic sources with the highest potential to improve.
  2. Visitor recordings. Use these to watch EXACTLY what visitors do on your website. They are great for discovering visitor issues, like page elements or form fields they find hard to use. Always gain insights from these recordings for pages you want to improve.
  3. Heat maps. These are a good compliment to visitor recordings. Don’t just presume you know what visitors click on or how far they scroll – check these for your key pages. Great for revealing CTAs, images and content that should be clicked on more.
  4. Surveys and polls. The voice of your visitors is THE most important thing in CRO. Essential to find what they like and don’t like with surveys and polls. Create single question polls for specific feedback, and send customer surveys.
  5. User testing. Gain feedback from your target audience while they try to complete tasks on your website and ask them questions. Great for discovering what people think of your website, their issues with it, and what needs improving.
  6. Expert reviews. This is done by an experienced CRO expert (often called heuristic analysis), and is a fast effective way of getting CRO insights and recommendations. These are offered by CRO experts including myself, CXL and WiderFunnel.

Insights from these elements of conversion research then feeds into better ideas for the other elements of CRO, including A/B testing.

Conversion research is often neglected or not well understood, apart from web analytics, so you have huge potential to take advantage of this element of CRO in particular.

How is website persuasion used in CRO?

You need to persuade your website visitors to purchase or sign up – don’t just hope they will. Therefore you need to use this newer technique of website persuasion, which is one of the 4 main elements of CRO.

Compelling copywriting plays a huge part in persuasion, particularly headlines, bullet points and CTAs. Mention how your website solves pain points and benefits. My copywriting guide gives many best practices and techniques to use.

Social proof, urgency, scarcity, reciprocity are essential influence techniques to use, as made famous by Robert Cialdini’s ‘Influence’ book.

Social proof is particularly important to show prominently, including reviews and ratings, testimonials, ‘as featured in’ and logos of well known customers. Doing this will increase the chances of visitors thinking your website is liked by others, and also using it.

Showing urgency and scarcity messages can also work well. People don’t like to feel like they may miss out, so this messaging can help convert visitors. UseFomo.com is a great tool for doing this (but don’t go to travel website extremes though!)

Why is user experience (UX) essential for CRO?

It doesn’t matter how good your website looks or how persuasive it is, if visitors find it hard to use they will not convert very often.

Therefore you need to ensure you adopt website usability best practices to improve your website user experience. Navigation, forms and user flow elements are very important elements of UX  to improve, and here are some good examples:

  • Use tool tips for fields or pieces of content that require explaining.
  • Improve error handling on form fields to ensure greater completion rate.
  • Make buttons and links fat finger friendly on mobile devices.

Best practice UX improvements should be just launched and don’t need A/B testing first. UX trends should be A/B tested first though.

Can you do CRO if you don’t have enough traffic for A/B testing?

A/B testing is certainly a part of CRO, along with personalization, but it is not essential. While it is very useful for discovering which versions of your website ideas convert better, many websites don’t even have enough traffic to do A/B testing (you need at least 5,000 unique visitors per week to the page that you want to run an A/B test on, and at least 200 website conversions per week).

If you don’t have enough traffic you should just launch your website improvement ideas and then monitor their impact on your website conversion rate. Here is a great guide that explains how to do CRO if you have a low traffic website.

Do I need to A/B test all CRO improvements or just launch them?

You don’t have to A/B test every CRO improvement you want to make to your website. This would require a lot of traffic, time and effort. Most importantly though, there are improvements you can just launch, even if you have enough traffic to A/B test them. These are considered best practice and will improve any website, so should just be launched without needing A/B testing first. This frees up time to A/B test other elements with higher impact.

Launch it – website improvements to launch instead of A/B testing:

  • Usability fixes and improvements (improving confusing or difficult navigation)
  • Prominent unique value proposition elements on key entry pages
  • Purchase risk reducers like guarantees, free shipping and free returns
  • Social proof like reviews and ratings, ‘as featured in’ and third party ratings

You can certainly do follow up A/B testing to fine tune these or iterate on the exact location or style of them, but the key thing is to just launch them first because they are so important to have.

A/B test it – website elements always worth A/B testing:

Any time that it is unclear which improvement version will perform better, particularly when it comes to elements regarding psychology and influence, these are definitely worth A/B testing to find the one with the highest conversion rate. Here are some examples:

  • Headlines (these have a huge impact on visitor engagement)
  • Website copy on key pages like the homepage and service/product pages
  • Call-to-action wording on buttons
  • Influence and persuasion elements mentioning scarcity or urgency

How to make best use of personlization for CRO

Don’t just do A/B testing, move beyond this by also doing personalization to improve your conversion reates. Instead of a one size fits all, you need to personalize your website to engage and convert more visitors. Headlines and hero images on key entry pages have particularly good impact for personalizing.

One of the best ways to use personlization is to target visitor segments with more relevant content:

  • Returning visitors with content relating to what they saw previously
  • Frequent purchasers with loyalty content like rewards or discounts

This personalization can be done with any A/B testing tool, like VWO or Google Optimize.

However, it doesn’t matter how well personlized your website is if it doesn’t have a good user experience or doesn’t persuade them to convert. Therefore to see best results from personalization you need to ensure your website has first been improved with the other elements of CRO.

What tools do you need for CRO?

For doing conversion research and A/B testing, you need three key types of website tools:

  • A web analytics tool. This tool is essential because it helps you monitor your current website conversion rate and success metric performance. It also helps you to gain great visitor insights and find poorly converting pages for improving. A simple web analytics tool like Google Analytics needs to be setup and used for this.
  • Visitor feedback tools. Getting great feedback from your visitors is essential for really understanding their needs and for gaining high-impact ideas for improving your website and conversion rates. The most important tool to use for this is Hotjar.com. User testing tools like Userfeel.com and UsabilityHub.com are essential too.
  • An A/B testing tool. Ideally you need to test different versions of your content (like different call-to-action buttons or different page layout) to see which version increases your conversion rates the most. A low-cost A/B testing tool like VWO is a great place to start, and here is a review of common A/B testing tools.

Is there a process I can use to get better CRO results?

CRO shouldn’t be done randomly or only as a project – a continuous CRO process is needed for success. I created a CRO success flow that helps ensure you get the best results for improving your conversion rates and website sales. Here are the 5 steps of this process:

Step 1 is to do in-depth conversion research, this is essential and was discussed earlier in this guide.

Conversion research then feeds into CRO ideation step 2 where ideas are created for improving your website, along with ideas from website persuasion and UX elements (2 of the other parts of CRO).

Prioritization of CRO ideas in step 3 is important to ensure you launch ideas with highest impact. Use my website prioritization tool in my CRO toolbox to help you do this.

Next in step 4 you launch the website improvement or A/B test it (if you have enough traffic).

The last and very important thing to do for step 5 is to review, learn and iterate from what you have launched or tested. This then feeds back into forming more conversion research, and the process continues again.

What website elements have biggest impact on CRO?

Unfortunately there is no silver bullet that will work every time. Depending on your type of website, your unique value proposition and your type of visitors, there are hundreds of website elements that contribute to increased conversion rates. However, here are some things to improve that often have a big impact on increasing your conversion rates.

  • Call-to-action buttons. These important call-to-action (CTA) buttons that influence visitors to take an action on your website have a high impact on your conversion rates. To improve their effectiveness, improve the wording, style, color, size and even the location of them on your pages. Dual CTA buttons can be used effectively when there is more than one main goal, as can adding useful related text very close to the button. Here are some good examples for your inspiration:
  • Headlines and important text. If your text doesn’t grab the attention of your visitors and intrigue them to read the rest of your content, then there will a greater chance of them exiting your website, lowering your conversion rates. Test improving your headlines by keeping them simple  wording that solves for visitors needs or explains benefits. You should also condense long blocks of text, and use bullet points instead – these are far easier for visitors to scan and understand quicker. Here is an example:
  • Shopping cart and checkout pages or signup flow pages. These are key because if your visitors struggle with these pages (regardless of how good their prior experience has been on your website), then they will abandon your website, lowering conversions and potential revenue. In particular you need to make your forms simple to complete, remove non-mandatory fields, improve your error validation, and use risk-reducers like security seals, benefits of using your website, guarantees and shipping/returns offers.
  • Your home page and key entry pages. These are often referred to as your landing pages, and usually get the most traffic on your website, so often have the biggest impact on conversion rates. Making sure these are focused, uncluttered and solve for your visitors main needs will greatly improve your conversion rates. Using targeting for your tests on these pages to customize your visitors experience will meet their needs better and increase your conversion rates too.

For more details on these, and hundreds of other ideas to improve your conversion rates on many types of web pages, check out my CRO course, or check out my book.

What is a good conversion rate?

This last CRO question is a very common question, and sorry to disappoint you, there is no simple answer. This is because conversion rates are hugely dependent on your website type, your unique value proposition, and your marketing efforts.

For a rough benchmark though, 2% is average for an ecommerce website and anything above 5% is considered very good. But to prove my point, it’s not unusual to have conversion rates above 50% for good, focused paid search lead generation landing pages.

Also, don’t compare your conversion rate to your competitors or what you have read in a blog or a report – it’s risky because it may set you up for a fall or set incorrect expectations to your boss. It’s more important to increase your current conversion rate – never stop improving!

Resources for deep diving into CRO

To help you learn even more about this growing subject of conversion rate optimization, there are a number of very useful resources you should check out, from great training to courses. You will find these very useful.

Conversion rate optimization training and courses:

So there we have it. The Ultimate Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization. Hopefully you found this very useful – please share this with your colleagues, and feel free to comment below.

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