5 Tips For A Successful Conversion Rate Optimization Program

If your CRO efforts are underperforming, chances are it's as much a matter of internal politics as external competition. Columnist Tim Ash provides tips for dealing with the former.

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If your business is struggling to compete online, it might have less to do with your competitive landscape than with your conversion optimization program.

The simple fact is that many companies can — and do — impede their website optimization efforts by having information silos, territorial teams, groups with tactical mindsets, aversion to change, and an unproductive focus on vanity metrics.

All of the above derail progress even before you factor in other companies who may have better or more mature conversion practices than your own.

Sound familiar? Here are five tips for tackling these internal conversion killers.

Tip 1: Start Small

People are afraid of change. Business organizations are no different. There’s a good chance that you’ll encounter some resistance while trying to implement your conversion rate optimization (CRO) program. Dealing with internal politics can be stressful, so it’s a good idea to have a plan for handling these challenges early on.

If you’re just starting out, it’s often best to keep your CRO initiatives small. This way, you won’t attract too much attention and won’t be too dependent on outside support. For instance, you can focus on testing and tuning unimportant landing pages first (e.g. a landing page from one of your marketing campaigns) and slowly build your case towards the more important, high-traffic ones.

The key here is to appear as non-threatening as possible. The last thing you want is to attract the attention of risk-averse constituents in your organization and get your project shot down (or shut down) before you have a chance to prove its merits.

Departmental silos and territorial thinking are among the biggest obstacles you’ll face in the course of moving your optimization projects forward. Conversion rate optimization requires a lot of teamwork, often from people who have disparate orientations and agendas. Even if you start out as one-person program, you’ll find that the future success and continuity of your program depends on getting more people on board, especially since the resources you need might be in another department.

By keeping your projects small at first, you can get things done with minimal help from designers or IT folks. Use these opportunities to make enough gains to help persuade the naysayers to support your efforts.

If you want your CRO program to move forward, minimize its scope and concentrate on demonstrating its value to the company. You can always increase the scope of your program when you’ve gained wider support.

Tip 2: Expand KPIs Beyond “Traditional” Conversions

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are metrics which let you know how near or far you are from achieving certain business goals.

Of course, one of the most valid KPIs for evaluating your marketing strategy is your conversion rate. But it shouldn’t be the only one you should be monitoring. It might be paradoxical, but the easiest way to fail in conversion rate optimization is to obsess over your conversions.

Taken as a single metric, your conversion rate won’t tell you about visitor intent, where people get stuck, or why users drop off without converting. Worse, if you have a high enough conversion rate, you can be misled into thinking that your website (or any of your channels, for that matter) is doing well even if your revenues are actually stagnant or down.

After all, you can just as easily increase your conversion rate by eliminating all non-converting traffic or drastically cutting down prices. Both are legitimate ways to boost your conversions, but they’re also not very smart.

If you want your optimization program to succeed, then learn to see how CRO fits into the big picture. And the only way to do that is to use metrics that matter to your business. If you’re an ecommerce retailer, for instance, you’d want to know the effect of your optimization activities on average order value and how many times a customer purchases from you. Or, if you’re in B2B, you might want to track conversions side by side with lead quality or the length of your buying cycle.

The key here is to focus on KPIs that are tied to profit improvements. This way, you’re not only bringing tangible benefits to your company, you’re also strengthening the financial case for conversion rate optimization in your organization.

Tip 3: Review Your Entire Funnel

Another downside to focusing just on conversions — and thinking of only purchases or leads as conversions — is that it’s a great way to chase obsolescence over time.

The top of the funnel matters. Sure, many of the people who visit your site to get a specific question answered will not become leads, and they will not become customers. But providing meaningful answers to people in that stage gives you a shot at getting remembered when the time comes that the visitor gets past the research stage and is ready to buy something.

PDF downloads, time spent on page or time spent reading for informational pages, blog visits – these are all things that you should pay attention to even if your calls-to-action, your lead forms, or your shopping cart were not necessarily in play.

Each part of the funnel has a different strategy attached – the top of the funnel may be search engine optimization and partner sites heavy, the middle of the funnel may involve keeping your promises upstream, and the bottom of the funnel can involve forms that do not ask for the world in return for a PDF, or a cart that people can understand and operate without giving them the urge to physically harm their laptops.

Each part of the funnel will require a different tactic, and a different success metric.

Tip 4: Know Your Tools & Tactics

It’s entirely possible to have a sound strategy but to fail at the tactical level. Companies with successful CRO programs have a knack for selecting and using the best possible tools to support their efforts.

If one of your objectives is to identify the sources of friction on your site, then your tactics could include primary user research and usability testing. If your objective is finding out what elements in your site attract visitor attention, then you’ll need the help of heatmaps and other visual analysis tools. Your tactics would vary depending on the objectives of your program (and, of course, your available resources).

The use of heatmaps like this one created by AttentionWizard is a good tactic for learning about visitor attention on your site.

The use of heatmaps like this one created by AttentionWizard is a good tactic for learning about visitor attention on your site.

In order to choose the right tactic, it’s imperative that you learn the strengths and limitations of the activities and tools at your disposal. Usability and accessibility testing, for instance, is very useful in uncovering the myriad of issues that your visitors encounter on your site; but, they’re not of much help if you’re trying to discover how you can make your website more persuasive in convincing visitors to click the buy button.

Likewise, A/B testing can’t give you meaningful results if your website is making visitors jump through a lot of hoops. Even the most persuasive copy will fail to move the needle if your site is plagued with a haphazard information architecture and visitors can’t find what they need.

So, aside from ensuring that your tactics correspond to specific objectives in your program, you should make sure that the prioritization of your activities makes sense. Remember that like most programs, your conversion rate optimization initiatives operate under certain resource constraints. It pays to pick the right tactics so you can prioritize budgetary and time allocations when implementing your program.

Tip 5: Don’t Forget To Monitor & Evaluate For Impact

Monitoring and evaluation activities basically involve checking your accomplishments against your KPIs. Monitoring helps you learn if your projects are going as planned, and if not, what difficulties are keeping you from doing things that need to be done. Regular monitoring therefore allows you to resolve problems as they arise, change tactics and direction when necessary, and revise and improve your strategy if it seems ineffective in attaining a goal.

Evaluations, meanwhile, are valuable sources of information on the short and long term effects of a CRO program on the organization. Evaluation activities are done not only to gauge how successful your program was in achieving the desired outcomes or goals, but also to identify unintended effects. As such, evaluations often involve looking at not just the financial outcomes but also the influence of the program on leadership processes and cultural elements.

Done right, the monitoring and evaluation of your CRO program can provide lessons for a smoother way of implementing program activities. More importantly, data from these activities can give you insights on which tactics were most effective (and which ones were not) in getting your desired results, which in turn helps you create a better program.

Understanding Your Business

Businesses face different sets of challenges related to conversion rate optimization. Some of them are benign and easy to work through — others, well, not so much. It helps to understand early on which challenges you will be facing, so you can gradually make your CRO program better.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Tim Ash
Tim Ash is the author of the bestselling book "Landing Page Optimization," CEO of SiteTuners.com and chairperson of the international Conversion Conference event series.

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