“CRO today is what SEO was five years ago.” While this comparison might be overly simplistic, it captures the current state of conversion rate optimization (CRO): it’s now a fairly standard digital marketing service, with an established set of best practices. But getting the greatest benefits of conversion rate optimization requires an approach that goes beyond mere best practices.

What Is Conversion Rate Optimization?

“Conversion” often refers to an online sale, but the term can also apply to any action that moves the user farther down the conversion funnel. Requesting content assets, filling out a “Contact Us” form, or viewing a “Where to Buy” page all count as conversions. A fairly common definition of conversion rate optimization is “a series of tests whose goal is getting more users to perform a desired action on a website.” Most current definitions of CRO tend to have a narrow focus on numerical outcomes and very linear user behavior paths. By comparison, we define conversion rate optimization as “a systematic process for identifying and aligning the perceptions, needs, and goals of a company and its website users to create a mutually beneficial experience.” This larger, more holistic view looks beyond immediate data points to encompass a company’s unique goals, objectives, and audience(s), and how they affect potential conversion paths.

Why Conversion Rate Optimization Is Important

The most obvious reason for the importance of CRO is that, when done well, it increases revenue and customer volume. But increasing the conversion rate on your website through CRO can deliver other benefits as well:
  • Scaling up digital marketing investment: CRO is “a rising tide that lifts all boats” because it increases the ROI for all digital marketing activities that deliver website visitors, such as paid search advertising, SEO, earned and paid social media, etc. These higher returns can be used to justify increased investment in such activities.
  • Greater understanding of customers: CRO helps you identify, learn more about, and successfully target your ideal customers. Best of all, you gain additional insights with each tested hypothesis, whether or not that hypothesis is proven correct by testing—insights that can be used throughout your business.
  • Your competitors are already using it: Most large and enterprise companies in the U.S. have adopted CRO, through in-house teams or agencies. Also, 8% of companies using CRO plan to make it a higher priority this year. This means that your competitors are actively improving their websites and user experiences; if you’re not doing that, you’ll be left behind. CRO is definitely no longer a nice-to-have; in almost all cases, it’s a must-have.

When Conversion Rate Optimization Isn’t the Right Choice

Of course, “almost all cases” isn’t the same as “all cases.” CRO will be less effective, and possibly even counter-productive, if any of these issues are present:
  • You don’t get enough visitors to have statistical significance for tests: New sites and many niche sites simply don’t have the traffic to produce enough conversions for a control and at least one variant, meaning that running a single test could take months to get results. Before using conversion rate optimization, those sites should increase traffic through SEO and/or paid media advertising.
  • Your website has fundamental technical or design issues that damage the user experience: Testing CRO hypotheses on a site with excruciating page load times or navigational dead-ends is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Make the website functionally sound, then investigate ways to increase conversions.
  • You don’t have end-to-end tracking to ensure that conversions have a proportional impact on revenue: A lot can happen between a website conversion and revenue collection, especially for companies with long or complex sales cycles. For a CRO strategy to be truly effective, conversions must have an accurate dollar value attached.

When Conversion Rate Optimization Was Absolutely the Right Choice: A Case Study

An energy provider in the western U.S. was frustrated with the outcomes of their paid search advertising: they were getting great traffic to their site, but those visitors weren’t converting into signed-up customers. The company was considering drastic measures: redesigning their whole website or removing the online enrollment process and calling leads to enroll by phone. Enter (un)Common CRO. Rather than jumping in with half-baked tests like trying out different button colors, we spent a month gathering and analyzing data from the client’s site. Several high-abandonment areas jumped out immediately, especially the page in the multi-step enrollment process where customers were asked to enter ID and financial information. Utility enrollments often require highly sensitive customer information and sometimes a deposit as well. The customer must trust the utility company to protect this information and use it judiciously. However, when analyzing this page, we realized that it offered no explanation of why sensitive data was needed, nor did it display any “trust symbols” to reassure customers that their data would be secure. The hypothesis for this page became that addressing a “trust deficit” would decrease the exit rate for this step in this conversion funnel, and thus increase conversion rates. Two changes were tested:
  • Adding trust symbols in the form of a Better Business Bureau logo and lock icons
  • Adding “Why do we ask for your Social Security Number and Driver’s License?” to the top of the form
Each of these elements had explanatory text that appeared when the user hovered over them:
  • The BBB logo detailed how long the company had held an A+ rating
  • The lock icons described data security measures
  • The question about sensitive information elaborated on why a refundable deposit might be required, and reassured customers that their data would be protected
Screenshot of two different online enrollment forms, one with trust symbols and one without This test ran for a month and delivered impressive results:
  • Form abandonment decreased by 13.5%, more than twice the amount predicted in the hypothesis
  • Completed enrollments increased by 8%, nearly twice the amount predicted in the hypothesis
To show the bottom-line impact these changes would have, the numbers were applied to a typical year’s performance, then multiplied by the client’s average customer lifetime value from a new enrollment. The resulting amount of additional annual revenue generated by making these simple changes was more than $1.07M. Over the course of the CRO engagement, we identified additional improvements that produced even more cumulative revenue, justifying the client’s investment in CRO hundreds of times over. In this case study, the source of the traffic to the client’s website didn’t matter. Whether the traffic was from paid media, organic search listings, social media posts, email marketing, etc., CRO made it all more valuable. If you’re not pursuing conversion rate optimization, you’re essentially leaving money on the table – more than $1 million in the client’s case! If you suspect your website might not be delivering as many conversions as possible, let’s talk about how CRO can increase the ROI of all your digital marketing and put more revenue into the bottom line.