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CRO best practices and meaningful tips from 25 experts
In November 2018, we interviewed 25 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?
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:
Conduct qualitative and quantitative research on your unique site to identify problem areas.
Use your research to come up with test and experiment ideas.
Prioritize those test and experiment ideas using a prioritization method, like ICE or PXL.
Begin running the highest priority test or experiment.
Record or archive the results of the test or experiment.
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 webpage 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 website 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 Duris - Director 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 to 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 SEO/organic, email, and referral) and how you must tailor the CTA (call to action)/offer to that traffic.
You can't use display traffic (which is cold traffic) and send that to a hot CTA button 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.
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 Validately’s 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/potential customer 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:
Focus on one user goal per page - what is the single action that you want your user to take?
Eliminate aspects of the page that distract the user from taking that action.
Eliminate any unneeded steps in the process of the user reaching their goal. Every step you add increases the users likelihood to abandon.
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 find, emphasizing savings per product in a shopping 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 is to 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.
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.
❗️ Want to learn how to make your website fast? We collaborated with the experts at HubSpot Academy on their free Website Optimization course. Take the course to learn how to make your website perform fast for your visitors.