As marketing teams have found their budgets squeezed amid the uncertainty of coronavirus and Brexit, there’s been a greater focus on making the most of existing platforms and traffic than ever before.

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Online channels in particular present a great opportunity to drive growth, as customers that have shifted to these spaces as a result of the pandemic look unlikely to move back fully to physical methods any time soon. All of which makes a strong case for investing in a programme of Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO).

What is CRO?

Focused on reducing friction throughout key customer journeys and funnels, as well as enhancing the value of your digital products and services, CRO activities can deliver a wide range of benefits for organisations and audiences. Increasing conversions will of course have a direct impact on your bottom line, while improvements to the customer experience can help increase satisfaction to drive greater loyalty, return visits and word-of-mouth referrals.

As conversions can refer to a wide range of activities, the benefits of CRO will be felt by organisations across practically all industries, and particularly areas such as ecommerce where the conversion – purchasing – is at the forefront. Ecommerce organisations have the potential to realise big gains from even small improvements (think of the impact a 1% increase in conversion rates would have for a multi-million turnover online retailer), in addition to crucial competitive advantage (average cart abandonment rates are almost 70%, according to recent research from the Baymard Institute).

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However, realising the success of your CRO programme requires a strategic and consistent approach, based on an ongoing cycle of ideation, testing, analysis, implementation and iteration. If you fail to approach CRO in a considered way you risk missing valuable opportunities and wasting investment in unproven and unaligned actions – get it right though, and the gains can be impressive. So, what makes for successful conversion rate optimisation?

How to run a CRO programme

1. Set your hypothesis first

Creating a hypothesis for your CRO experiments is a crucial early step, as without a clear understanding of the outcome you expect (and hope) to achieve, you won’t be able to effectively analyse the impact of any changes you make, and may even find that you don’t have the tools you need to deliver the required metrics and insight. Taking the time to define and validate your hypothesis will also help ensure that your predicted results align with your strategic and business goals, enabling you to prioritise your experiments according to expected impact and helping drive maximum returns from your investment.

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Note that while gut feel and best practice can play an important role in defining your initial hypotheses, you must be prepared to keep an open mind and follow the data – just because something works for other organisations doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right choice for you. You should also avoid testing too many different hypotheses at once as this will make it harder to understand the impact of the changes you are making (a clear plan will help here, and is something I’ll cover a little later in this post).

2. Be clear on your success measures

Your hypothesis should help you define how you’ll measure the success of your experiment, as well as informing what changes you’ll make to help drive improvements. Make sure these success measures are focused tightly on your initial hypothesis as well as the wider goals it is expected to support – it can be tempting to be lured in by vanity metrics that don’t give a full or accurate picture of results. For example, increased traffic or even purchases may look appealing, but if you’re actually hoping to grow order value and your experiments don’t move the needle on this, or affect it negatively, then you may end up worse off than before.

Another common pitfall when measuring success is to be led by findings that aren’t statistically significant, leading to low-impact or even harmful actions as a consequence. This can be caused by checking results before the test has been completed or testing with too small a sample size, so make sure you validate the significance of your results before you take action (there are tools available to help you with this, such as VWO’s A/B Split Test Significance Calculator).

Having clear success measures also means that you can get valuable insight even when your experiments don’t work out as you expect them to, by showing exactly where the points of failure are and helping you understand what you can do better next time.

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3. Interrogate the full conversion journey

When embarking on your conversion rate optimisation project, it’s natural to focus on macro conversions first – those form submissions, checkout processes and other elements that contribute directly to your goals. Indeed, this approach is recommended by the majority of CRO experts, as it will help deliver the biggest returns in the shortest possible time.

However, if you want to make sure your website or application is working as hard as it can for your business you can’t afford to ignore the smaller actions leading up to your primary goal, known as ‘micro conversions’. Think of a typical ecommerce journey, for example – your checkout process can be fully-optimised but if users aren’t clicking through to products from your search page then you’ll still be missing out on valuable conversions.

Looking at your analytics can be useful in pinpointing priority opportunities for micro conversion improvement by revealing common drop-off points across key conversion journeys, while supplementary qualitative insight can highlight barriers to completion and desirable value-add features. Make sure though that any feedback is representative of your real-world target audience, for example by using on-site surveys and conducting additional user research activities.

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Improve the most important conversion funnels across your website or application for demonstrably improved ROI.

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4. Test regularly and often

As you may have gathered, at Box UK we don’t view CRO as a one-off process, but instead see it as an ongoing, incremental process, in line with our wider culture of agile continuous improvement. The results of your experiments provide a wealth of insight to help inform future optimisation activities, and A/B and multivariate testing approaches enable you to blend elements from previous winning experiments to find the most effective combination.

A focus on continuous improvement goes hand-in-hand with the need to look at the full journey/customer experience, balancing the impressive and immediate results delivered by large changes to priority areas with the longer-term returns and vital marginal gains that come from improving supporting pages and elements.

Tools such as a Boston Matrix can help you plan the order in which you’ll tackle your experiments by highlighting the expected return vs. effort of different actions, and a CRO calendar is useful to ensure these are scheduled in the most efficient and effective way.

Example Boston Matrix showing tasks categorised by importance vs difficulty

Example Boston Matrix

It’s also important to document your conversion rate optimisation process to provide a standard format for future activities, as well as the results from any previous experiments to share knowledge and provide valuable context into the decision-making process.

5. Implement the right tools – and culture – to support your CRO efforts

CRO tooling is a vast topic, and could probably be a blog post all of its own. At a high-level though tools for conversion rate optimisation fall under a few broad categories:

  • Analytics: tools such as Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics that provide quantitative data on traffic, page views and conversions across your website or application, helping identify performance trends, common conversion journeys and broad behavioural patterns.
  • User behaviour: these solutions provide enhanced insight into specific user interactions across your site to define the problem that needs to be solved, and include heat map tools (such as HotJar), eye tracking software (such as Tobii or Pupil Labs), and tools to record visitor sessions (including clicks, and finger gestures for touch screen devices), often as part of a wider programme of usability testing.
  • Implementation: the running of your experiments can be managed by these kinds of tools (such as Google Optimize, Optimizely, VWO and more), which will serve different versions to your audience as you specify, to help automate the process and maintain control and visibility of testing activity.
  • Feedback: you can gather qualitative feedback from users via on-site tools such as Usabilla, to understand how your audience feels about new designs and features and gather ideas for future experiments.

There are many platforms available that offer these tools in a single, all-in-one platform, but you can also mix and match to find the right combination for you. Whatever solution you put in place, consider how your team will use it, and create a plan for any training that may be needed to support this (working with an experienced CRO partner can help reduce this ramp-up time, and provide you with access to the tools you need as part of your package).

You can also help maximise and sustain the impact of your CRO initiatives by educating stakeholders in the benefits of conversion rate optimisation, and the importance of a user-centred, iterative approach to improvement. Demonstrating the expected returns from your experiments is vital here, as is communicating any success – focusing on how it supports the bottom line.

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6. Consider the full scope of conversion rate optimisation

With multiple factors influencing conversion rates, there are many things you can include within the scope of your CRO activity, and it’s important to look at the total experience you are delivering to understand where opportunities for improvement lie.

Commonly-understood elements such as your landing pages, navigation, forms and copy are of course crucial, but are there additional features and functionality you could implement to encourage conversions, such as social proof or personalisation capabilities?

And how might the performance of your site be affecting conversion rates? Page speed has been found to rank at the top of users’ UX hierarchy of needs above qualities including findability, simplicity and attractiveness (source: Google), and numerous studies have shown a clear correlation between fast page load and improved bounce rates, conversions and sales. (To learn more about the importance of page speed and the actions you can take to improve this, check out our recent webinar on the subject.)

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It’s also important to think about how your site performs and displays on smaller screens, as more and more users become comfortable using mobile devices to complete complex tasks – look into your analytics to find out which devices your audience are using to interact with your services, and let this insight guide your optimisation plans.

Making changes to make a difference

Conversion rate optimisation is a fantastic way to maximise your marketing investment, delivering you greater returns from your digital platforms and increasing profit margins while reducing acquisition costs. In turn, this frees up more of your budget to focus on growing your audience and driving more traffic to your optimised site or application, through search engine optimisation, advertising, sponsorship and other activities.

At Box UK our multidisciplinary teams combine business analysts and software consultants, user experience and design professionals, expert developers and more to support clients throughout the full conversion rate optimisation process, and we can help you in defining robust hypotheses, conducting testing, and implementing successful designs and features. Find out more about how we’ve helped organisations in the past, and get in touch to discuss your CRO requirements with a member of our team today.

About the Author

Allie Brock

Allie Brock is Lead Business Analyst and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) at Box UK. Most recently, Allie acted as Product Owner on delivering an ecommerce platform and underlying technology ecosystem for OKdo, which serves seven country sites in six languages from a single installation.