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September 2, 2021 - By Sara Grier

CRO: The Complete Guide to Conversion Optimization

Conversions of the lifeblood of every business. A conversion is the process of turning visitors into prospects and paying customers. A healthy website that converts well makes the process easy for your website visitors. If your website isn’t optimized for conversions, you’re essentially sending visitors away without giving them the opportunity to become clients. 

The Conversion-Rate Formula

A conversion rate is the percentage of people who complete an action you want them to take on your website. Conversions can include buying a product, signing up for a newsletter or registering for an account (the latter two are typically considered to be micro-conversions). When a person has completed the action, they have essentially converted to your brand’s side.

To calculate a conversion rate, divide the number of conversions in any time period by the number of visitors you had to your website for that same period and then multiply this by 100: 

CR = Visitors/Conversions × 100

If you had 1,000 visitors yesterday from a product ad campaign and 20 people bought a product, then the conversion rate is  20/1000 × 100 = 2%.

What Is CRO? 

Conversion-rate optimization, or CRO, is the process of adjusting your website to get a higher conversion rate. With a better conversion rate, you’ll get more sign-ups, more customers and more sales from each dollar you spend on marketing. 

It is possible to increase conversions without increasing your conversion rate, but if you take this approach you need to increase your website visitors, which means more marketing and more money spent on advertising. Conversion-rate optimization, on the other hand, makes it more appealing and easier for existing visitors to convert, without having to attract more website traffic or invest more in marketing. 

Improving a 2% conversion rate to 4% is the same result as increasing your traffic from 1,000 to 2,000 visitors per day. Doubling website traffic is no small feat. Whether you’re buying ads, posting on social media, working on your SEO or writing blog posts, you would have to essentially double those efforts to get the same results as you would from optimizing your conversion rate.

Conversion Overview: The Customer’s Journey

Before you can start improving your conversion rate, it’s important to look at the customer’s journey toward that conversion button (“buy now,” “subscribe,” “register,” “contact us,” etc.). 

This is often called the user experience, but the word “journey” more adequately describes that experience, like a customer walking into a retail shop, walking through the aisles, looking at the items on display and then leaving, either happily with a purchase or disappointed and empty-handed. Almost nobody goes into a shop or visits an e-commerce website hoping to leave empty-handed. 

There are three phases to this journey: 

  • Getting to your website: The ad, social media post, email or whatever else has the link to your website, which they visit.
  • Navigating your website: Specifically, the landing page and any pages between there and the order confirmation page.
  • Returning to your website: Anyone leaving your website without converting should be given the opportunity to return.

If you use a website analytics tool, like Google Analytics, you can see this journey by examining sources of incoming traffic for each of your pages, the pages where people spend the most time and the pages where they choose to exit your website.

Exploring the stats in your website analytics tool will give you an indication of where the bottlenecks might be for your conversions. If most customers are leaving right after looking at your landing page, that is probably a problem. If they’re clicking the link and going to the shopping cart and then leaving, that’s likely where the problem is.

Examine Incoming Links

Before getting into the details of your website, take a look at the links you’re using to attract visitors. The content surrounding those links needs to be consistent with the landing page. As an extreme example, if you’re posting pictures of dogs on your social media page and linking to a landing page with cat toys, your bounce rate is going to be close to 100% and your conversions will be zero. Similarly, if you’re advertising “low, low prices” in your ads and offering luxury clothing on your landing page, the average visitor will leave with a bad taste in their mouth.

Optimize Your Landing Page

Your landing page is where visitors arrive on your website. Years ago, a landing page was like an airport terminal in a city, where people would arrive before setting out to explore all the great content you had to offer. Today, practically no one will browse around, unless you give them a really great reason to do so. 

Use In-Text Links in Content Pages

If you want visitors to go from a blog post to a sales page, use in-text links to direct them there. Put the link near the bottom of the article, where they will see it when they’ve finished reading. If you post the link at the top of the article, they likely won’t remember to scroll back up. 

Pop-ups triggered when a visitor is about to leave a page can often work well, but you should test them before rolling them out.

Use A/B Testing

Testing your landing page is one of the most effective ways of improving conversions. An A/B test involves making two different versions of your landing page. Run two identical ads and send half of your traffic to landing page A and the other page to landing page B. After a day or two, eliminate the page that has fewer conversions, modify it and run another test. 

You can test all sorts of different aspects of the page, including:

  • Color schemes
  • Fonts
  • Headlines 
  • Images or videos
  • Buttons 
  • Calls to action
  • Product descriptions
  • Reviews or testimonials
  • Pop-ups

You can do as many tests as you like as long as you keep improving results. Back in 2008, the Obama presidential campaign famously used A/B testing on their landing page for new email subscribers, running 24 different tests with four different buttons, three different images and three different videos. In the end they used a picture of the Obama family with a “Learn More” call-to-action button, with a conversion rate of 11.6 %, which was a dramatic improvement over the original 8.26 % conversion rate of their first design. 

Clearly Explain Your Value Proposition

Your landing page should clearly communicate why visitors should take the action you want them to take. If you’re offering an insider report to businesses, let them know what’s in it and explain what makes it different from what they could get by reading your blog posts or another website. 

If you’re selling products or services, list the most important features with bold bullet points. 

Customers also need incentive to take action now, not later. Let them know that the offer will expire if they don’t take action now. If you’re selling toys before Christmas, emphasize the low price, the fast shipping or the limited quantities. Everyone has seen countdown timers on landing pages. As annoying as they can be, they do work. 

Provide Social Proof

Practically every visitor, whether they convert or not, looks for some form of social proof before they will make a purchase. If you’re selling services, get some testimonials from your best customers and permission to post their pictures on your landing page. 

If you’re selling products, ask your satisfied customers to send you a picture of the product that you can add to the bottom of your product description page. If you need to offer them an incentive, like a discount on their next purchase, do so. The discounts should pay for themselves time and time again with those extra conversions they bring. 

Optimize Your Checkout Page

Your checkout page should be clean and fast and have as few barriers as possible. Imagine you’re a customer and you’re still on the fence about buying a pair of cool sunglasses, but you decide to do it. Now you have to:

  • Register with your personal details and create a password.
  • Open your email to confirm your account.
  • Close the email confirmation web page and go back to the checkout page.
  • Fish out your credit card and manually enter all of the numbers … on your phone.

Suddenly, those sunglasses aren’t as appealing anymore.

Customers should be able to make a purchase as a guest and use whichever payment method they want: PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay or credit card.

Optimize Your Registration Page

If you’re gathering leads, think carefully about how much information you really need. Are you just asking for their email address, or does your registration page read more like a survey or census form? Just like a checkout page, the more you ask people to do, the lower your conversion rate will be. 

Qualifying Leads vs. CRO

For some businesses, having a high conversion rate is less important than qualifying each lead that registers on your website. If part of your sales process, for example, is to have someone from your sales team contact each person who registers, then CRO needs to take a backseat to quality. It’s generally much better to get one or two qualified leads each day than to get 500. 

This is particularly the case if your company is in the B2B market. Asking qualifying questions like the person’s position in a company and their annual budget will help your sales department when the time comes to contact them.

Get Visitors To Return

One of the most powerful ways to increase conversion rates is to target people who expressed interest in your products and then left. Not all of them will come back, but a fair proportion just need one more incentive to get them over the fence. 

Use Retargeting Ads

Retargeting ads appear on numerous platforms, including Google and Facebook, only to people who have already visited your website. A retargeting ad with a limited-time offer, like a 20% discount or free shipping, will have a far higher conversion rate than any other ads you run. 

If you’re not certain what type of discount you should offer, take a look at your CPA, or cost per acquisition, for your current ad campaign. If it costs you $40 to attract each new conversion from a cold ad campaign, a $20 discount in a retargeting campaign should be quite affordable.

Use Email or SMS

Another great way to get visitors to return is to use email or SMS messaging. If you ask visitors to enter their email address or cell phone number on the checkout page, you can use their contact information to invite them back. A special, limited-time offer attached to these messages will have conversion rates of 80 to 90%. 

If visitors have given you both an email address and a phone number, use an SMS message instead of email. SMS response rates are much higher than email, and if the visitor does come back to finish the conversion, they’ll likely do it within minutes of receiving your message, rather than days or weeks.

Explore Conversion-Rate Optimization Services 

While these are some of the most effective ways of optimizing conversions, there are others. Which ones you use and how you should implement them depend on your sales funnel, your business model and the strengths and weaknesses of your website.

General rules and ideas are just the beginning of the CRO process. To get the full picture, you should ask a professional digital marketing consultant to have a look. At Hawke Media, your first consultation is on us!

David Weedmark is a published author and e-commerce consultant. He is an experienced JavaScript developer and a former network security consultant.


Hubspot: Conversion Rate Optimization Guide 

HotJar: Conversion Rate Optimization

Shopify: Conversion Rate Optimization

QuickSprout: Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Optimization

Facebook: Retargeting

Google Ads: About Remarketing