Increase conversions: your guide to improving conversion rate in 3 simple steps

December 13, 2018 by Fio Dossetto

Forget about best practices and quick hacks: to increase website conversion rate, your best strategic move is to understand your visitors, users, and customers, and give them what they need.

In this guide, we dispel a few myths about conversion optimization, talk to 20+ conversion experts, and give you a free, downloadable 3-step CRO plan to help you gather the data you need to improve your conversion rates over and over again.

 

Your free CRO action plan

Take a look, make a copy (it's a Google document), and follow the rest of the guide to improve your conversion rate. 

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 cro spreadsheet

Table of contents

Part 1 - What is conversion rate optimization?

Part 2 - A 3-step CRO plan to improve your conversion rate



Part
#1

What is conversion rate optimization?

 

Conversion rate optimization, often abbreviated to CRO, is the practice of increasing the percentage of users who perform a desired action on a website. Desired actions can include purchasing a product, signing up for a service, or clicking on a link.

CRO is important because it increases the value of existing website traffic and users without the need for additional marketing costs, which can in turn reduce customer acquisition costs (CAC) and increase revenue per visitor (RPV).

How to calculate conversion rate

Conversion rate is calculated by dividing the number of conversions (desired actions taken) by the total number of visitors and multiplying the result by 100 to get a percentage.

How to calculate conversion rate

For example, if your website page had 18 sales and 450 visitors last month, your conversion rate is 18 divided by 450 (0.04), multiplied by 100 = 4%.

What is the average conversion rate?

Depending on what you read, the average conversion rate is anywhere between 1% and 4%.

But let me come out and say it: this figure is sort of meaningless, since

  • Conversion rates differ wildly depending on the conversion goal (ad clicks, checkout completions, newsletter signups, etc.)
  • Every website, page, and audience is different
  • Most people don't share their conversion data publicly anyway

Averages may be useful as starting points for benchmarking, but what do they really have to do with YOUR website?

There is no actual, ultimate industry figure you can rely on or compare yourself against with 100% confidence. Obsessing over an average percentage figure, and trying to squeeze as many conversions as possible just to stay in line with it, is not the best way to think about conversion rate optimization.

So let me give you…

An alternative definition of conversion rate optimization

Standard definitions of CRO, like the one I gave you above, place their emphasis on conversion percentages, averages, and benchmarks. They also generally encourage you to treat people as numbers—the more you look at spreadsheets full of conversion data points, the less you think of the individuals behind them.

Focusing on the final action—the conversion—is obviously important; but in reality, a lot happens before that point:

  • Specific DRIVERS bring people to your website
  • Specific HOOKS persuade them to convert
  • Specific BARRIERS make them leave

The conversion rate action plan

So here is an alternative, more holistic way of defining CRO: think of it as the process of focusing on understanding what drives, stops, and persuades your users, so you can give them the best experience possible—and that, in turn, is what makes them convert and ultimately improves your conversion rate.

The truth about conversion optimization best practices

In the world of digital marketing, a CRO best practice is a commonly-held belief that a particular optimization action will guarantee an increase in conversion rate, for example:

  • Use a strong color for all CTA (call-to-action) buttons
  • Place CTAs above the fold
  • Use urgency (e.g., time-limited offers) to drive sales
  • Always display testimonials
  • Use fewer form fields on your forms

Are these best practices good for improving your conversion rate? Meh.

First of all, best practice is—by definition—past practice: it's something that worked in the past for someone else. You can’t guarantee it’s going to work today.

Second, just because it worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you.

Blindly applying existing best practices puts companies in a perpetual state of playing catch-up—while more progressive and experimental businesses are busy improving and making the changes that will be recognized as 'best practices' in a few years.

The truth about conversion rate optimization best practices

THE PERFORMANCE DECAY (IN RED) OF A COMPANY BLINDLY FOLLOWING
AND APPLYING BEST PRACTICES (IN BLUE)


📚Useful extra reading: here is our philosophy about best practices, and how following them blindly can end up being counterproductive and hurt a business.


There is, however, one core principle I can recommend as always valid: spend time understanding your users and customers—or, as we like to say around here at Hotjar, build a customer-centric culture by obsessing over your users and customers. They are the people who matter to your business and have the answers you need to improve it. Fixate on their needs and desired outcomes, learn as much as you can about their concerns and hesitations, and then deliver solutions that address them.

In the long term, what leads to growth is not blindly applying best practices that you see on other blogs or hear from your boss(es). The winning approach is investing in understanding and learning from your users and using the insight to build an optimization strategy that continuously improves your business.

How to do this in practice is covered in part 2 of this guide; before then, let’s take a rapid look at the tools that will get you there.

The best conversion optimization tools

It may sound weird coming from a company who sells a tool that helps people optimize websites—but, as a principle, we believe that the best optimization tools are free.

The best conversion optimization tools

the best optimization tools are free


Your brain, ears, eyes, and mouth are the primary tools you need to understand your customers, empathize with their experience, draw conclusions based on the data,
and ultimately make the changes that improve your conversion rates.

(sidenote: here is a great example of what can happen when you don’t use these tools, make assumptions about what people need, and build something that nobody uses.)

How do you use these free tools?  

  • Listen to what your users have to say about your product/service
  • Immerse yourself in the market
  • Watch how people use your service
  • Talk to whoever designed and built the product
  • Speak to the staff that sell and support it
  • Draw connections between different sources of feebdack

All the other, traditional optimization tools are simply the means that help you do it. And they help in three ways:

Quantitative tools to uncover what is happening

Quantitative tools allow you to collect quantitative (numerical) data to track what is happening on your website. They include:

  • General analytics tools that track website traffic (e.g., Google Analytics)
  • Website heat map tools that aggregate the number of clicks, scrolls, and movement on a page
  • Funnel tools that measure when visitors drop off from a sales funnel
  • Form analysis tools that track form submissions
  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) tools that measure customer satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 10
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) tools that measure the likelihood of people recommending your website/product to someone else on a scale from 0 to 10

Qualitative tools to uncover why things happen

Qualitative tools help you collect qualitative (non-numerical) data to learn why your website visitors behave in a certain way. They include:

  • Website feedback tools (on-page polls, pop-ups, surveys) where visitors are asked questions about their experience
  • Website session recording/replay tools that show how individual users navigate through your website
  • User testing tools where a panel of potential or current customers can voice their thoughts and opinions on your website
  • Online reviews where you can read more about people’s experience of your brand and product

Tools to test changes and measure improvements

After you’ve collected quantitative and qualitative feedback and developed a clear sense of what's happening on your website, testing tools allow you to make changes and/or report on them to see if your conversion optimization efforts are going in the right direction. They include:

  • A/B testing tools that help you test different variations of a page to find the best performer (recommended for high-traffic sites, so you can be certain your results are statistically valid)
  • Website heat map + session recording tools that allow you to compare different variations of a page and the behavior on it 
  • Conversion-tracking analytics tools that track and monitor conversions
  • Website feedback tools (like visual feedback widgets or NPS dashboards) that help you collect qualitative feedback and quantify it, so you can compare the before/after response to any change you made.

Part
#2

A 3-step CRO plan to improve
your conversion rate

 

Imagine you're playing a game of chess. Your ultimate goal (aka your conversion) is to checkmate your opponent; but before you get there, or even make your next move, you need to evaluate the whole board.

Repeatedly.

Conversion rate optimization is like a game of chess

 
The same goes for your site: before making any sort of move, you need to look at the big picture. As I mentioned in Part 1, at Hotjar we've found there are three things you need to know in order to get a full overview:

  • The DRIVERS that bring people to your website
  • The BARRIERS that might stop them or make them leave
  • The HOOKS that persuade them to convert

We’ve also found that the best way to get the big picture and make your next move(s) is to narrow your focus and go through specific actions. We organized them into the 3-step CRO action plan you see below: by the end of Part 2, you will be able to fill it in completely and start making impactful changes to your website.

Hotjar's CRO action plan

 

Note: you can use the all-in-one tools from Hotjar to fill in the worksheet (we have a free 30-day trial), but you can just as easily rely on other tools. The ultimate goal here is helping you optimize your website plan—how you choose to do it is entirely up to you 🙂


Make yourself a copy by clicking on 'Make a copy' below, and when you get on the document, clicking on File > Make a copy. Let's get started!

 

Access your free CRO action plan.

Make a copy of the plan and start learning about your users to increase your conversion rate. It's a shared Google doc — we won't ask for your email! 

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 cro spreadsheet

 

The 3 steps to increase conversion rate:

  1. Find what drives people to your website
  2. Find what might stop potential users
  3. Find what really persuades visitors to act

Step 1: find what drives people to your website

If you want to convert your traffic, you need to understand why people are reaching your website. They could be coming from a specific Google search for your product, simply doing some research, or following someone’s recommendation without knowing anything about you—if you treat them all the same, you cannot tailor the experience and prioritize the right messages for the demographics that matter most to your business.  

Instead of guessing or making assumptions, find out your visitors’ DRIVERS by asking them to describe what they are looking for, and why they want it, in their own words.

Define your top personas and what they need from your website

increase/improve conversion rate  05-poll

Why: user personas are realistic representations of your visitors that help you get a better sense of who your users and customers are, and what they need.

How: set up a quick on-page survey (at Hotjar, we call them Polls) with three open-ended questions on your most visited page and ask your visitors:

  • A question to identify the DEMOGRAPHIC that matters most to you:
    How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
  • A DRIVER-related question to understand what is driving them:
    What’s the main reason for your visit today?
  • A final question to identify what may be stopping them from doing something (you can re-use this data in the BARRIERS step of this guide):
    What, if anything, is stopping you from [action] today? 

Keep collecting answers until you reach a number that makes sense for your traffic: for example, if you have little traffic, 100 clear answers might be enough. 


Next: follow the steps outlined in this article to identify the user personas who represent your user base, and organize all the answers into a list of the main things people want to accomplish through your website.

Fill in the action plan with your top 3 drivers and personas

increase/improve conversion rate CRO-drivers

The drivers and persona section is on the left-hand side of your action plan


Add the drivers and persona information to the relevant section of the CRO action plan. Once you’re done, move on to investigating what might be causing visitors to leave.


Step 2: find what might stop potential customers  

Without knowing where and why visitors are leaving your site, you cannot really improve their experience and (ultimately) your conversion rates. Instead of making changes based on opinion or standard best practices and hoping for the best, put on your detective’s hat and focus on finding the biggest barriers to conversion.

Identify where people leave your website

Your first step towards understanding and defining BARRIERS is assessing where you are losing the most people. We’ll start by identifying your most problematic pages, and then we'll zoom into their weakest parts.

#1. Find your high-exit pages

Increase conversion rate by finding your most problematic pages

Why: identifying the high-traffic exit pages where you lose most visitors helps focus your optimization efforts on the biggest opportunities. 


How
: build a conversion funnel using a conversion-tracking tool like Hotjar or Google Analytics; analyze the funnel to spot users who start on one page and how many of them make it to the next—so you can immediately see how many you’ve lost at that point. 

To build the funnel, start from the page that is most important to you (e.g., the one that brings in the most business) and work backward to identify the main pages that get people there; include them all in the funnel. 

Here are some typical funnel examples:

  • E-commerce sites: homepage > product pages > cart > checkout > thank you page
  • Blog: homepage > article pages > subscribe page > success page
  • SaaS: homepage > trial signup page > interface > upgrade page > thank you page
  • Lead generation: category pages > landing page with form > thank you page


Next
: wait for data to be collected (how long you wait depends on variables such as your site’s traffic or seasonality), and then note where your biggest drop-offs are.

Increase conversion rate - funnel

🏆Pro tip: if you have multiple drop-off points, start from the one closest to the end goal. It’s like fixing a leaky bucket—the holes at the bottom are the first ones to repair to keep the most water in. 


#2. Find the most problematic section(s) on your drop-off pages

Increase conversion rate - heatmaps

Why: once you know that people leave on a specific page, take a more in-depth look at what they are seeing (or not) and interacting with right before they drop off. 


How
: set up a heat map on the high-exit pages you identified with the conversion funnel. Wait for people to visit these pages so their clicking, tapping, swiping, and scrolling behavior can be recorded and rendered for you as scroll maps, click maps, and move maps.

🏆Pro tip: if you are new to heat maps, we have a comprehensive heat map guide with tools, examples, and case studies to get you started.


Next
: review the scroll map to see how far down the page people scroll—the redder the section, the larger the percentage of visitors who saw it. You can also compare heat maps for different devices, e.g., desktop or mobile device, looking for obvious differences in performance.

If you see sharp changes in color between sections, it means that a significant percentage of visitors stopped scrolling down, and left the page, at that specific point:

Increase conversion rate - scroll map

AN EXAMPLE SCROLL MAP WITH A SHARP CHANGE FROM GREEN TO BLUE

Continue by reviewing the click maps and move maps. Look for evidence that people are failing to see, interact with, and click on important elements such as links, buttons, and CTAs. This information will come in handy later, as you start investigating why people are leaving the page.

Extra tip: look for inspiration in these 8 heat map tests that help reveal visitor behavior, and learn more about how to use scroll maps to optimize UX.

 

✅Fill in the action plan with your top 3 barriers

Increase conversion rate - barriers

The top 3 barriers section is in the middle of your CRO ACTION PLAN


Fill in the section of the worksheet with the main barriers you have identified through funnels and heat maps, and move on to investigating why the drop-offs are happening.

Discover why people leave your website

After you determine the problematic pages, you must gather some context that will help you fix them. I’ll list three methods you can choose from; the more you use, the richer your assessment.

#1. Watch how people interact with each page

Increase conversion rate - session recordings

Why: watching how people on different devices browse pages, scroll through content, click on buttons, and eventually abandon your website lets you empathize with their journey and spot any issues they encounter. In turn, this gives you some of the visual data you need to fix and improve their experience.


How
: set up session recordings on your page and wait for new visitors get to the site and complete their visit. Depending on how much traffic you have, you might find yourself with tens or hundreds of recordings within a short amount of time, but you are usually able to filter them and only focus on the relevant ones. 


Next
: filter and find sessions that end on your drop-off pages. As you watch them, try to assess if visitors:

  • Hesitate when performing an action
  • Experience loading issues across devices/browsers
  • See all the content correctly
  • Can interact with buttons or clickable elements
  • Encounter bugs and/or broken elements

Do the same for sessions where your visitors make it to the goal page. Compare the two and look out for any obvious differences in behavior.

📚Useful extra reading: if you need an efficient method for watching recordings, here are some tips to get actionable insights from user recordings in under 2 hours.


At this point, you might be getting some hunches about why things are happening—now it’s time to use visual/on-demand feedback to take the guesswork out of your optimization efforts.

# 2. See what’s causing user frustration

Increase conversion rate - frustrations


Why
: when you give your visitors the power to tell you about their experience, they’ll show you exactly what is working, and isn't, right as they experience it.

How: set up an on-demand feedback widget on your site (at Hotjar, the tool is called Incoming Feedback) and wait for people to start leaving their feedback.

Next: filter for the high-exit and high-bounce pages you found in your conversion funnel, and start from the ‘hate’ and ‘dislike’ values (to see what this looks like in practice, here is an example of how our team uses Incoming Feedback to design a customer-centric product).

Make a note of recurring issues so you can later focus on them, but don’t forget to make note of the positive feedback—you don’t want to remove things people love 😉  

 

🏆Pro tip: if you have an extra 10mins to spare, take a quick look at all the feedback you accumulated via the widget, including URLs that are not your drop-off pages. It’s a great way to get a larger sense of what’s working site-wide, and very helpful to identify HOOKS during step 3 of this guide.


# 3. Ask your visitors to explain why they’re leaving

Increase conversion rate - why people leave


Why
: to find out why people are not converting on the page(s), your best bet is simply just... asking them.

How: create a 1-question on-page survey (at Hotjar, these would be Polls) that targets your drop-off pages and appears on exit or when people scroll halfway down the page. Ask straightforward and direct questions, using formulas such as:

  • Quick question – if you decided not to [action] today, what stopped you?
  • Quick question – what is missing on this page?
  • Quick question – what, if anything, is stopping you from [action] today?

For alternative question ideas, check out this beginner's guide to website feedback with 10 use cases to choose from, and also this list of 5 questions to ask when your product is not selling


Next
: go through all the answers (this 5-step method to analyze open-ended questions might come in handy) and identify the top reasons visitors are abandoning your website.

Fill in the action plan with the top 3 reasons people leave your site

Increase conversion rate - reasons why people leave

The top 3 reasons why section is in the middle of your CRO ACTION PLAN

After reviewing insights from recordings, the on-demand feedback widget, and the on-page survey, you should have more clarity about the most common reasons people leave your website. Fill in the relevant section of the worksheet, and move on to identifying what persuades visitors to convert and the fears/objections you need to address.


Step 3: find what really persuades visitors to act

Knowing what persuaded your existing users and customers to act gives you a clear picture of what you need to double down on, and also stop doing, to convert even more of your future visitors.

Define the top hooks and fears/objections your users experience

# 1. Ask your customers what persuaded them to convert, and what almost caused them not to

Increase conversion rate - fears and objections


Why
: asking people who have just converted what persuaded them to act will help you discover conversion-boosting insights you can then emphasize for all other customers. You will also hear about elements that almost stopped them, which you can similarly address for potential future customers.

How: set up a post-purchase survey to show up as soon as a customer sees the ‘thank you’ page. Ask three questions

  • 1. How would you rate your overall experience?
  • 2a. If the answer to question 1 is positive, ask: What did you love the most about the experience?
  • 2b. If the answer to question 1 is negative, ask: What can we do to improve the experience?
  • 3. What almost stopped you from completing your purchase?

Next: go through all answers to question 1 and calculate an average score; analyze the answers to questions 2 and 3 (use the 5-step method to analyze open-ended questions I mentioned before) to identify the top reasons visitors are abandoning your website.

 

🏆Pro tip: you can collect the same information by emailing people off of your email list and inviting them to fill in a survey a few days after purchase. You lose some immediacy but gain the ability to ask a couple more questions.


# 2. Ask your customers to elaborate on their top 3 fears or concerns 

Increase conversion rate - surveys


Why
: asking recent customers if they had any concerns or fears before eventually converting helps you take action and address them for your future visitors.

How
: send customers a survey via email a few days after purchase. Ask the following questions:

  1. What was your biggest concern or fear before buying our product?
  2. What should we have done to improve your experience?
  3. On a scale from 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to a family member or friend?


Next
: analyze answers 1 and 2 looking for trends and actionable insight. Question 3 is a typical Net Promoter Score (NPS) question: if your survey tool does not have a built-in calculation function, you can calculate your NPS using a spreadsheet or inputting the values into this NPS calculator.

🏆Pro tip: if you’re just getting started, polls and surveys are more than sufficient—but when you are ready to take it to the next level and collect more in-depth information, I recommend that you recruit users and customers and run remote user testing sessions and/or in-person user research interviews. 

Check out the ‘own the relationship with your customers’ section of this article on product/market fit for a few practical tips on how to get started with it.


Fill in the action plan with the top 3 hooks and fears/concerns people experience

Increase conversion rate - hooks and concerns

The top 3 hooks and fears/concerns section is on the right-HAND side
of your CRO ACTION PLAN


In addition to reviewing insights from your surveys, go back to the ‘love’ and ‘hate’ results from the on-demand feedback you reviewed in the BARRIERS step and look for any additional information on what persuades people or scares them away. Afterward, complete the hooks and fears/concerns section of the worksheet.

At this point, your one-page plan will look something like this:
 Increase conversion rate - CRO action plan example

A COMPLETELY FILLED-IN CRO ACTION PLAN

What are the next steps?

As you fill in the CRO one-pager, you will find that your conversion issues and opportunities start to come into sharper focus. Some areas might need further exploration, but you should have enough insight to understand how your conversion optimization strategy should unfold, and why.

Present your findings to your boss/colleagues/clients using the completed worksheet. Summarizing the key information on one page usually helps stakeholders empathize with the situation and your customers at a glance; you can also share additional visual examples of heat maps, recordings, and survey answers to illustrate your points further: it's hard to argue with visual evidence that comes directly from your users.

Use the completed worksheet to build a case for your boss(es) or client(s) about the fixes you need to apply and the changes you want to make. Focus on the easiest-to-implement, most impactful solutions first (they are represented by the green dots in this graph):

Increase conversion rate - ease and impact

If you have the traffic for it, we highly recommend A/B testing any changes you make, so you can scientifically measure their impact on your conversions and determine their short- and long-term impact.

We don't have a separate guide for A/B and split testing (yet), but here is a great resource for you: 

📚The 2018 book by Conversion Rate Experts, Making Websites Win, is extremely useful when you know what to fix but are not yet sure how. The book comes strongly recommended by our CEO, David Darmanin, who even posed with it for some extra social proof: 
Increase conversion rate - david darmanin

Hotjar CEO David Darmanin

 

Read more: if your website gets a lot of its traffic from non-desktop users, take a look at this guide on how to improve mobile conversion rates.

7 tips to increase conversion rate [from 20+ experts] 

To give you some extra tips and inspiration, we interviewed 20+ conversion rate experts, agencies, and consultants, and asked them ONE question: 

what's the one thing you recommend to people working on improving their conversion rate (the no-nonsense way)?

Here’s what they came up with:

 

7 ways to increase conversion rates:
 

 

1. Look at the big picture


Shanelle Mullin, Acquisition Optimization, Shopify

Everyone’s looking for a quick and easy golden nugget they can implement for instant 10x growth. A button copy tweak here, a color change there. While tactics and growth hacks might be sexier than systematic processes, you should rely on the latter.

Why? Because everything is highly contextual. What works for Amazon or Best Buy might not work for you, for example. You can’t bring someone else’s solutions in and expect them to solve your site’s problems.

The process is a bit different for everyone, but it generally looks something like this:

  1. Conduct qualitative and quantitative research on your unique site to identify problem areas.

  2. Use your research to come up with test and experiment ideas.

  3. Prioritize those test and experiment ideas using a prioritization method, like ICE or PXL.

  4. Begin running the highest priority test or experiment.

  5. Analyze the results of the test or experiment.

  6. Record or archive the results of the test or experiment.

  7. Use the insights from your most recent test or experiment to come up with smarter test and experiment ideas.

Ben Jesson, CEO and Founder, Conversion Rate Experts

People are always asking us about best practices for conversion. You know the kind of thing: magic buttons that convert, “killer” copywriting words, winning layouts, etc. Unfortunately, that little box of tricks doesn’t take you very far. In fact, it sometimes takes you nowhere.

The real best practice isn’t a particular type of page element at all. It’s a well-defined, systematic approach to CRO. To see an example, we've published our methodology, which is significantly different from the best practices most people are following. It doesn’t involve shoot-from-the-hip guesswork, and it doesn’t have the excitement and appeal of magic buttons. It's designed around a simple but powerful mindset: developing an empathic understanding of your visitors and customers.

So, when it comes to improving your website, don’t guess what the blockages are. Find out. The key question is 'Why aren’t visitors converting?' The answer typically comes from research in the following core areas:

(i) understanding different visitor types and intentions

(ii) identifying user-experience problems

(iii) gathering and understanding visitors’ objections.

It may sound like a lot of work, but with the right tools and workflows, it doesn’t take long. Then start to plan your A/B-tests based on the knowledge and understanding you've gained from the research. Once you’re A/B-testing, you’ll quickly start learning what your visitors respond to.

Ryan Kulp, Founder, fomo.com

First, separate 'conversion rate' from 'how many people sign up.'
Every step in your buyer's journey—often called the funnel—has a conversion rate that can be optimized. Marketers often define CRO as signups divided by visitors, and celebrate a 2% increase when they change the colors on their email registration form.
To be a world class performer, recognize there may be bigger gains in a previous step, like traffic from your homepage to the signup page itself, for example.

Sue DurisDirector of Marketing & Customer Experience M4 Communications, Inc.

We live in a digital age where the buyer journey is non-linear. When we understand what the buyer experiences, we can paint a more accurate picture of how they behave in different moments and we’re better able to determine how to improve each of these moments and to connect the dots so buyers have better experiences and want to convert.

Knowing the journey your buyer takes will help you help them be successful and will shorten the time from awareness to conversion quite substantially.Focusing on the key moments of truth in a buyer journey is key.

  • The zero moment of truth is the first moment a consumer realizes they have a problem and they go about searching for a solution. Many moments occur here because of the buyers’ quest to learn, discover, watch, or do something. Customer expectations are high and this is the point where decisions are made and preferences shaped. You need to be at this place.

  • The first moment of truth is when a customer first comes into contact with you and your products. It's the impression they form of you, it’s the point they decide to buy/not buy from you. What impression do you want to present? Do you want to show empathy? Desire to help them? Emotionally engage with them?

Through understanding buyer behavior, for example by surveying and engaging with them, you will craft an accurate journey map, know their moments of truth, and be able to give them the right content at the right time.

2. Learn about your users


a) Understand the market



Margo Aaron, Copywriter and Founder, That Seems Important

Pay more attention to what your market actually wants. 
Not what you want to give them.
Not what you think they need.
Not what your boss wants to show off.
Not what your manager said you need to give them.

What. your. market. actually. wants.

Conversion is all about the mechanics of desire. If you want me to opt-into something (by clicking, giving you my email, etc) then you need to be giving me something I want in exchange for it. I'm not going to sign up get your whitepaper just because you think it's an interesting white paper that makes you look impressive. There needs to be a compelling reason that I value for why I choose to go from a stranger to a prospect.

And to get to that reason, you have to pay attention to what your market wants.

The best way I know to improve CRO the non-bs way is to actually listen to your market. Instead of steamrolling over them with what you want or think they should care about - actually meeting them where they are and showing them that you're the solution to their problem (using their own language and desires - NOT YOURS). Too many companies are tone-deaf when it comes to who their market is and what they want. And that's why their CRs suffer.

 

Johnathan Dane, Founder, Meetkite and KlientBoost

Understand compliance psychology and PPC temperatures. This is the single biggest thing we do at KlientBoost.com to dramatically bring up conversion rates for search, social, display, and video traffic.

Compliance psychology is the art of eventually getting to what you want (the conversion) as a marketer, by getting visitors to accept/say yes to much smaller requests first. The Breadcrumb Technique is what we use to get the visitor's foot in the door and then convert them at a higher rate - so even when you add more steps and more form fields to a landing page/website, you can increase conversion rates by asking non-contact related questions first, and therefore get them to engage and ultimate finish your conversion process.

Now add in PPC temperatures (in other words: the 'cold' traffic that’s never heard of you versus the 'hot' traffic that has already bought from you before or already way down the conversion funnel to become a user or client) and you'll start understanding different types of traffic (even organic, email, and referral) and how you must tailor the CTA/offer to that traffic.

You can't use display traffic (which is cold traffic) and send that to a hot CTA and expect a conversion. Everything else in regards to copywriting, layout, etc comes secondary to the above.

b) Build relationships with your customers


Bianca Darie, Conversion Optimization Specialist, Cyberghost

What I would recommend to everyone who is working on conversion rate optimization would be to translate it into non-online relationships. The main mistake that everyone at some point is making is that they are forgetting that behind every website/product build is another person that will interact with it. Not a robot, but instead a REAL HUMAN BEING.

As it is in a non-online relationship, to make new friends (translated in CRO – conversion), there is a long journey which is an ongoing process:

1. Know your website - Know yourself

Learn about your website/ product inside-out. Understand their strengths, weaknesses, potential and so on. Because in the end, you can’t 'sell' something that you don’t know anything about.

2. Know your users - Know your friends

Think about your users as your friends. Try to understand them and treat them differently depending on their needs.

•    How they behave on the existing flow? What are their pains?

•    What would make the exiting flow easier for them?

•    Are they trusting you?

3. Invest in continuous improvement - Build a long-lasting relationship

The 1-time conversion is not always a win on a long term. Make sure that you are still in touch with your customers in a human interactive way. As it is in a non-online environment, at first, it's all about how you treat the people around you, and they will treat you back in the same way.

c) Speak to your customers


Joel Klettke, SaaS + B2B Copywriter, Business Casual Copywriting

The number one thing I recommend is speaking to customers—whether on an interview or via survey. In my experience, those trying to optimize for conversions tend to be overconfident in their ability to empathize with their audience or view their offering in an objective way. We tend to put too much stake in raw analytics, ignoring the people behind the numbers. Structured conversations with leads, customers, and churned customers will always be the fastest path to true understanding—and sadly, probably the most ignored.

Joanna Wiebe, Founder, Copyhackers and Airstory

Start by trying to get one individual to say yes. Just one. Not one summarized group of people. Not one persona. Just one individual.

Listen to what that one individual says. Notice where the one individual is sitting or standing. Ask that one individual what they're going through in that moment. Listen to what she or he says. Ask some more. Present options for solutions based on that listening exercise. Listen to their reaction to it. Refine. And repeat.

This is Sales 101. And that's really all we're talking about in CRO: optimizing online sales. There's a whole lotta junk and BS that people throw into the mix to confuse matters, but if you can sell to one individual, you stand a far better chance of scaling to sell to many individuals.

Sujan Patel, Founder at Mailshake and Voila Norbert  

Test your button color. Red makes your customers angry, blue makes them sad, so split the difference and try purple. They'll likely be overcome with a confusing mix of emotions that they'll mistake as a profound love for your product.

...Kidding.

The most obvious answer is to talk to your customers, learn what obstacles they have to buying your product, what words they use to describe their pain points and what they're looking for, and tailor your marketing materials around what you glean from that.

Turning that into a practical next step: set a reasonable goal for how many customers or potential customers you can talk to per week, and make that one of your non-negotiable tasks that you complete every week.

Record the conversations (with their permission) so you can review them and take notes and listen for patterns in the way they talk about their pain points and what they're looking for. All of the conversion optimization efforts you take should build off of these conversations.

In the early years of Mailshake the traffic was too small to to do traditional CRO so we focused on talking to customers and getting qualitative feedback which not only lead to higher conversion rates (as we identified and removed friction points) but also improved the overall customer experience which lead to more active users and reduced churn.

 

d) Run 1-2-1 user research sessions


Sarah Gurbach
, Senior Account Manager, Seer

Never stop asking ‘why’? ...and then use research to figure it out.

User research starts with data. CRO provides an abundance of data that paints the picture of what does and doesn’t work. It can uncover areas of opportunity for improvement, but it stops there. It doesn’t tell you what’s needed to make the most of the opportunity or what’s needed to improve. It doesn’t tell you why something works or doesn’t work. It’s up to you to go one step further in your analysis.

This doesn’t mean you have to engage in some deep market research initiative (although it helps). It just means that you have to ask (we call this lean market research). You can use basic research methodology to uncover insights and use those findings to create testing scenarios. Yes, it’s an extra step, but it allows you to leave assumptions at the door and get your answer straight from your customer.

Here are a few ways I recommend to gather those insights:

  • Feedback Polls: Hotjar offers some great options for on-site polls. There are settings to have a poll pop up when the user exhibits behavior indicative of possibly leaving without converting. Some questions like, 'what’s missing on this page?' or 'what were you looking for today?' can help you identify if there are any gaps in the expectation of your user and the content on the page.

  • Online Observation Sessions: use Validatelys screen-sharing capabilities to watch your customers or potential customers go through a series of on-site tasks. Ask them their thoughts and opinions along the way to identify gaps, roadblocks, or confusion.

  • Customer Interviews: interview your customers or people who fit the typical profile of your customer. Just ask them outright what information they need on landing pages and the type of experience they’d prefer. Then, test out those findings to see their impact on conversion rate.

Once you’ve gathered your findings, create a list of hypothesis you’d like to run, prioritized based on what is the biggest priority or has potential for the biggest impact on your business. Use the information from your customers to build out content or UX changes and run with it.

Paul Rouke, Founder and CEO, PRWD

In my 20 years’ industry experience, user research is the most undervalued and underutilised marketing investment to help improve conversion.

Spending time 1-1 with your customers is 100% the most effective and direct way to start becoming truly customer-centric. 1-1 user research can uncover long-term strategic growth opportunities for your business; examples include:

  • identifying that your brand perception is different to what you would like or what you need it to be

  • uncovering customer evidence which exposes opportunities for your business to change your acquisition strategy

  • exposing ideas from your customers which expose the opportunity to enhance your LTV by developing customer account features which they are looking for

  • seeing your customers identify where your competitors are delivering a more compelling proposition, which can fuel your strategic planning    

  • uncover a wealth of hypotheses for your A/B testing roadmap and ensures that you have a genuine “Why?” behind each of your A/B test hypotheses


3. Focus on clarity and ease


Nicole Jackson, Digital Marketing Strategist, 
Foundation Marketing Inc

My advice can be summed up into one word - CLARITY.

Be clear about what you’re offering, be clear about what value it provides, and be clear about the action you want the visitor to take; whether that be 'download now', 'try for free', 'sign up today', etc. - your request needs to be evident.

When it comes to landing pages, keep your page simple and keep your primary ask above the fold. While there will be people who need a little more nudging and reassurance, you need to find a way to focus on getting to your main point with as few distractions as possible.

Tammy Duggan-Herd, PhD, Director of Marketing, Campaign Creators

My first warning when it comes to employing CRO 'best practices' and 'hacks' is that if a user has no initial motivation to take an action, whether that is buying your product, downloading your ebook, or signing up for a trial, it is highly unlikely that you can persuade or hack your way into a conversion.

Which leads me to my second warning: CRO hacks often focus too heavily on winning in the short term, while ignoring completely the effects of these practices on your long term relationship with users. Therefore, anything you do to 'trick' a user into taking an action they were not actually motivated to take will eliminate the user's trust in you, severely damaging any prospect of a long term relationship with them.

So what is a conversion rate optimizer to do if it's not applying short term hacks or tricking users into conversions? Make it as easy as possible for your user to take the action they are already motivated to take. A few simple things you can do:

  1. Focus on one user goal per page - what is the single action that you want your user to take?

  2. Eliminate aspects of the page that distract the user from taking that action.

  3. Eliminate any unneeded steps in the process of the user reaching their goal. Every step you add increases the users likelihood to abandon.

  4. When your user does meet their goal, reward them. This can be as simple as ensuring they land exactly where they expected - matching the user's intent. If it is the final action in your user flow, say 'thank you' or 'congratulations'. This will positively reinforce the behavior and make it much more likely that they will complete similar actions in the future.


4. Optimize and test your content & messaging


Claire Suellentrop, Marketing Strategy Consultant, Loveyourcustomers.co

First: always, always, always start with user research before running tests. Otherwise, you're just shooting in the dark.

Second: work on improving the content before toying with the design. Yes, having an understanding of good design principles is important...but you're not trying to create a pretty brochure here. You're trying to create a website that motivates people to take action. Your words play a mega-huge (often underestimated) part of that, often a larger part than the design plays.

Nichole Elizabeth DeMere, B2B SaaS Marketing Consultant

You don’t want to launch a landing page without a strong value proposition. I see this happen far too often — I go to a website, and the value proposition does not convey the product’s value. It’s generic, or vague, or not there at all. There’s nothing that tells potential customers, at a glance, why they should be interested in the product or how it helps them solve their pain points.

I recommend that anyone looking to launch a landing page and/or product first get the Value Proposition Design book and work through it. Although there are many ways to work on your value prop, this is my favorite. Two really good value propositions were recently on Lyft. They have a two-way marketplace, one for drivers, one for riders, and both value propositions are on point. The driver’s value prop is 'turn miles into money' and the riders value prop is 'meet your 5-star ride.' The first is stronger than the second, in my opinion, but that 'meet your 5-star ride' basically tells riders that they will, absolutely, have a great experience.

John Doherty, Founder and CEO, Credo 

There are two main things I recommend people as they focus on improving their conversion rates.

The first is to simplify and streamline messaging from your acquisition channels to your landing pages and finally to your conversion pages. For example, if you have a page that drives traffic for some specific keywords but you don't have a selection available on your form for their needs, you will not convert them. It needs to be clear what they are getting from the start if they give you their information.

Second, most people should focus on growing their audience before they begin optimizing their site for conversions. It is much easier to move the needle on conversions through onsite testing than on audience growth, so do the harder work of growing an audience will get you bigger results as your conversion tests will succeed or fail faster as you have a bigger audience.

Eddie Shleyner, Senior Copywriting Manager, G2Crowd

If you want to improve the conversion rate of a campaign, you must make a habit of testing your copy over time.

A/B testing, or split testing, your headlines, subheads, body copy, and micro-copy -- one at a time -- is the single most important step you can take to understand the angle that best compels your audience.

The more you test, the more information you will gather about what works and what doesn't. Keep the winners and discard the losers. Do this over and over. It works on emails, landing pages, banner ads -- anything that's designed to drive a response.

Of course, this process takes time. So you need to be diligent and consistent, patient. Rest assured, though, your effort will pay off in the end.

5. Emphasize value and credibility


Brian Cugelman, Senior Behavioral Scientist, AlterSpark

Source credibility which is the key to winning user trust and action. Its established by demonstrating honesty and competence. But the trick is to earn credibility by being ethical and always acting in the interest of the customer. Psychology can build from this foundation.

Devesh Khanal, Founder and CEO, Growth Rock

My #1 recommendation is to try to show value propositions that are currently hidden. What do I mean by that? Any website, whether it be e-commerce product pages or a SaaS marketing site, has to make decisions on what value propositions it will display in the limited screen space you have. Inevitably you make compromises.

The biggest conversion lifts we've seen are from adding pieces that show, emphasize, or in some way unhide value propositions that were otherwise very hard for the customer to find. For example, emphasizing a free shipping offer that was otherwise in the small print, emphasizing some product features that matter to the user that were hard to fine, emphasizing savings per product in a cart page that otherwise ignores that, all fall into this bucket. To do this well you need to have a good understanding of your users values. Hotjar polls can be one way to uncover this information. Testimonials are another way, and interviews are yet another way. 

6. Experiment and test 


Peep Laja, Principal, CXL

Conversion optimization is 80% research and 20% experimentation. Dedicate more time and energy on conducting conversion research, both qualitative and quantitative sides of it.

Only research into your specific audience and specific website will identify the very specific problems you have. Once you understand what the issues are and the severity of each of those, now you can plan out your experimentation road map. The goal for the experiments to is try to solve the issues you have identified, not to try random things. If you do that, your win rate will improve significantly.

Natasha Wahid, Marketing Lead, WiderFunnel.com

We've seen many firms struggle with moving the needle with conversion rate optimization because they've been taking an ad hoc approach, testing random ideas without considering if and how those ideas will actually make an impact. To continuously improve conversion rates on your website, you should take a systematic approach. 

Conversion rate optimization is a science and an art, and both mindsets are necessary: you need a space for expansive ideation, as well as a space for reductive validation. A repeatable process that guides your team through creative information-gathering and subsequent scientific steps is crucial—at WiderFunnel, our experts leverage the Infinity Optimization Process™, which cycles continuously between exploration and validation with the goal of generating an unending stream of insights and growth.

I would recommend starting in a focused area and scaling your program from there. Evaluate where the best area(s) are to start testing to improve conversion rates. Consider the PIE framework: the potential (how much improvement can be made), importance (how valuable is this page or experience), and ease (how easy is it to test here, technically and politically). If you can get your CRO program up and running in a strategic area and generate quick wins, you can build momentum and scale testing across the rest of your website, ultimately improving conversion rates throughout your funnel and customer journey.

Brian O’Sullivan, Head of Growth Marketing, Leadfeeder

1) Get to know the statistics. It's boring and unsexy but it's hard to be an effective conversion rate optimizer without knowing the stats.

In an ideal world, every test you run would triple conversion rate. In reality, you will have A/B tests which aren't definitive. You'll also have parts of the funnel or entire businesses which aren't suited to A/B testing due to low numbers.

You need to be able to identify these situations and make the best call. Sometimes you might want to sacrifice accuracy to get a quicker result, you don't always need to stick to predefined rules (95% stat significance for example) but you need to know when and why you are breaking those rules.

2) I find that the most difficult part of optimization is knowing what tests to run. It's part art and part science. You should start with the science part and you'll get better at figuring out the art over time. The science part is:

i) get to know your customers and their motivations and objections
ii) run tests to address what you found out in i)
iii) if your tests don't work try different implementations.

When you have more experience you'll develop better intuition for how to solve customers pain points and you also get a better sense for things to try that customers don't tell you.

 

7. Collaborate


Nina Bayatti, Conversion Lead, ClassPass

Find a group of fellow CRO specialists. Oftentimes, CRO teams run pretty lean to maintain a high testing velocity. Having a group whom you feel comfortable asking for advice and sharing learnings can help expedite the brainstorm, implementation, and management of your overall CRO strategy.

Plus, having a team who understands what you're talking about can help keep you out of BS territory.

 

Luca Tagliaferro, Senior Digital Marketing Specialist

Find a group of fellow CRO specialists. Oftentimes, CRO teams run pretty lean to maintain a high testing velocity. Having a group whom you feel comfortable asking for advice and sharing learnings can help expedite the brainstorm, implementation, and management of your overall CRO strategy.

Plus, having a team who understands what you're talking about can help keep you out of BS territory.

Final thoughts: how do you know if you have been successful?

After doing the CRO action plan research and testing/implementing changes: 

  • Your site pages clearly match your visitors' DRIVERS; people know where to find what they’re looking for as soon as they land on your site.
  • You’re amplifying HOOKS by addressing your ideal personas’ concerns and using elements that are highly persuasive for them (for example, you’re now using the same words and terminology your visitors had when giving you feedback).
  • You have minimized BARRIERS by addressing the fears, concerns, and usability issues your visitors highlighted for you. More people now make it through your conversion funnel.
  • Because you have achieved the three elements above, you have improved the overall customer experience. Looking through CSAT or NPS survey results, you might find that customers are more likely to remain on/return to your website and recommend it to their friends.

Final word of advice: remember that conversion rate optimization is an iterative process. Your job doesn't end after the first round. Once you have started making changes to address your visitors' DRIVERS, BARRIERS, and HOOKS... it’s time to go all the way back to Step 1 and start uncovering your next big opportunity.

 

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Fio Dossetto

An ex-academic turned editor, Fio manages editorial production for the Hotjar blog where she also writes about UX, optimization, and how to keep remote teams organized.

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