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A 3-step CRO plan to improve your conversion rate
If you were playing a game of chess, your ultimate goal (aka your conversion) would be to checkmate your opponent; but before you got there, you’d need to evaluate the whole board carefully, and repeatedly.
It’s the same with your website: before making any sort of move, you need to look at the big picture—and this is how it works.
Last updated27 Sep 2021
What is a CRO program?
A CRO program, also known as a CRO plan, is a digital marketing strategy that businesses develop for improving the conversion rate of their website or app. CRO programs involve analyzing an entire website to find obstacles to conversion and then optimizing web pages to improve conversion.
A 3-step CRO plan
At Hotjar, we've found there are three things you need to know to get a full overview of your website so you can optimize it efficiently:
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 this page, you will be able to fill it in completely and start making impactful changes to your website.
You can use the behavior and feedback 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 🙂
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The 3 steps to increase conversion rate:
Find what drives people to your website
Find what might stop potential users
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 (this is where SEO can be helpful), simply doing some research, finding you on social media, or following someone’s recommendation without knowing anything about you—if you treat them all the same, you cannot tailor the user 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
Why: user personas are realistic representations of your visitors that help you get a better sense of your target audience and what your customers need.
How: set up a quick on-page survey 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
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 dive into user behavior analysis to find 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
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 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.
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
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.
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 devices, 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:
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.
✅ Fill in the action plan with your top 3 barriers
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
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 to 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.
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
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 😉
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
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 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
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' experiences
# 1. Ask your customers what persuaded them to convert, and what almost caused them not to
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.
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.
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
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:
What was your biggest concern or fear before buying our product?
What should we have done to improve your experience?
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.
Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.
If you’re just getting started, on-site and external link 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
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:
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):
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:
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.
How do you know if you have been successful?
After doing the CRO action plan research and testing/implementing changes, you will know that you have been successful if:
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.
You have improved the overall customer experience, because you have achieved the three elements above. 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.
A final piece 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.