This Beginners Guide to Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) is aimed at small business owners who want practical tips to develop their CRO performance. Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) refers to optimising website performance to convert visitors into customers.
Following on from the Beginners Guides to Technical SEO and D2C Strategy, this further guide is an in-depth look at how to improve a website’s conversion rate, and ultimately improving sales, generating leads or achieving other goals.
Beginners Guide to Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)
There are around 6 million SME companies in the UK, most of which are owner-managed and on-average employ fewer than 50 people. Unlike large corporate companies, who are likely to have several CRO experts sitting alongside senior managers in UX, CX, SEO and a plethora of other acronyms, smaller companies need people with a broad range of skills (see my own range of skills as a retail consultant) and something like SEO & CRO tend to fall to the outsource route or onto the never-ending to-do list. Both of these are expensive to a small company, either in terms of cash payments or loss of business.
This free CRO Beginners Guide is aimed towards SME companies but can be used by anyone looking to learn the basics of conversion optimisation and tips & tricks that can be used to improve website conversion rates. Welcome to the art of CRO.
What Is Conversion Rate Optimisation & Why Is It Important?
Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) refers to optimising website performance to convert visitors into customers. In a pure eCommerce environment, these customers are likely to buy something, and thus effective CRO increases the likelihood of conversion. Other websites may have different aims, for example, increasing sales leads or capturing customer details for marketing purposes.
Fully optimised websites should maximise the commercial opportunity because you may not get a second chance.
Moz.com has a good graphic that demonstrates the simplicity of conversion rate, in that it is calculated by dividing the number of web orders (or goals) by the number of web visitors, and presenting it as a percentage.
The commercial value on eCommerce websites is the orders generated from converting visitors to customers, multiplied by their average order value (AOV), measured over the lifetime of the customer.
What is a realistic conversion rate for websites?
It’s well known that Amazon have one of the best conversion rates in eCommerce at 13%, which is significantly higher than the 3.3% average. This means that all things being equal on traffic volume and average order values (AOV), Amazon orders are 4x times higher than anyone else. The reality of course is that their traffic and AOV are also considerably higher, helping them to deliver outstanding revenues each year.
Before you get too despondent, let’s go back to the 3.3% average. How does your business compare?
You can improve this today, simply by ceasing any activity that results in a low conversion rate. However, before you rush to implement this, large traffic volumes converting at low conversion rates may actually be a large source of revenue. Averages are just that, a blend of all activity, each of which contributes to the total.
What’s important is that you recognise the quality of the site visitors in regard to it’s intent. For example, someone visiting a website selling musical instruments from a generic search term like ‘guitars‘ is not showing much buying intent and is unlikely to convert (on this visit). However, this is much more likely to be someone at the very early stages of their shopping journey. The goal for these customers is perhaps to capture their email address (sales lead) or to engage them using rich content (brand advocate).
CRO Executive Summary
What is CRO?
Why do CRO?
When to do CRO?
However, before you rush to implement all of the wonderful tips & tricks listed below, first ensure you are clear on your site goals. This may allow you to reduce spend on traffic sources that are not aligned to these goals, and reallocate spend to more profitable areas.
Who does CRO?
How to do CRO?
More info in the Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO): A Guide to Strategy & Tactics section.
Guide to Conversion Rate Optimisation
Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO): A Guide to Strategy & Tactics
So let’s move on from the background to conversion optimisation and start to look at strategy & tactics to improving conversion rate (CR) and delivering your goals. And in a strange twist as though it was intended, step one is to establish goals. Afterall, how would we know if our optimisation techniques were working unless we were to measure them. Here’s how to develop a CRO strategy …
- STEP ONE: Set Goals (for each page type)
- STEP TWO: Identify & Remove Barriers to Achieving Goals
- STEP THREE: Repeat, Refine & Review
1. Set CRO Goals
As already mentioned, goals may be customer orders or absolute sales but it can also be to generate sales leads for off-site sales staff to follow-up or data capture, anonymously through analytics software or specific customer details.
Whilst it is feasible for you to have several conversion goals, too many will confuse and dilute efforts. Having said that, if you have clearly defined traffic routes and separate landing pages, you can easily construct multiple strategies, quite independent from each other. Just ensure you thoroughly A/B test each variant and analyse the results against your predefined conversion goals.
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat – Sun Tzu
2. Identify & Remove Barriers to Achieving CRO Goals
Barriers start with undefined goals. Without definition, it is likely that there are a number of obstacles littering your customers’ path to achieving the website goals. This may be as simple as the Brand projections taking priority over the commercial objectives.
A simple example of this is the Gymshark homepage. This is such a great brand, with great products but their homepage is dominated with big brand images. Aesthetically, there’s nothing wrong with the images. However, they are large file sizes which add significant time to fully load the page, potentially causing some customers to abort their journey before completing your goals. The solution is to optimise the images and reduce the file size.
Conversion Rate Barriers
Conversion Rate Experts Dr Karl Blanks & Ben Jesson talk about barriers to customers buying a new product, and list the following as likely reasons;
- You don’t know what it does
- You know what it does but you don’t know why you’d need one
- You aren’t convinced that it’ll do what it’s claimed to do
- You don’t know whether it’s compatible with your existing technology
- You think it’s too expensive
- You don’t trust the company
- You’re going to think about it
In traditional retail, this would be much easier. We’d talk to customers in-store and hear their objections. Online retail is less direct but we can gather the answers, albeit with a little effort. Try some (or all) of the following;
- User Testing: watch recordings of users on your website, try screen-sharing, eye-tracking, clickmap or heatmap software
- Exit Surveys: add an exit survey to your website, for example, ‘what stopped you from making a purchase today?’
- Talk to Customers: small customer groups talking face-to-face can be very informative or alternatively, use LiveChat functionality
- Talk to Staff: staff in customer facing roles, sales teams or customer service staff, are a great source of information
- Google Analytics: pretty much everything you’d want to know about your visitor data (see below for more on this)
3. Repeat, Refine & Review CRO Activity
A large part of the refinement process is testing, ideally a combination of A/B testing and multivariate testing but the focus must be on the predefined goals. Maintain clarity on what you’re trying to achieve and review each action after every test, with only improvements moving beyond the test phase.
Google Analytics Tool to Research Conversion Barriers
An essential part of the research phase is using Google Analytics (GA), which is a goldmine of user data. The golden nuggets of visitor data are found within three sections; Audience, Acquisition & Behaviour. The Conversions section allows webmasters to setup Goals for the site, which is a great way to track CRO goals and monitor your site’s performance.
This isn’t going to be a beginners guide to using GA, instead it is a user guide to using Google Analytics from a CRO perspective, and will therefore only focus on the aspects of GA that relate to this.
Part of improving a website’s conversion rate is to understand the site’s visitors. It’s hard to delight people if you don’t know them. For example, if you don’t ship products Internationally, it’s unlikely you’ll convert visitors from these locations into customers, thus skewing the conversion rate and potentially losing sales if you don’t change your shipping locations.
Rather than discount visitors from your conversion rate calculation, you should perhaps consider non-converting visitors as potential areas of sales growth; International shipping, product variants, range extensions etc.
Google Analytics has a really useful feature in that you can combine dimensions, enabling a plethora of data combinations. If you haven’t used this before, I’d strongly advise you to take a close look.
- Demographics: This provides data on visitor Age & Gender. If you sell one-gender products or services, this will impact your CR.
- Geo: Data for visitor geographic location and language. Content shown in a language not understood by your users will impact CR, likewise, shipping restrictions.
- Behaviour: This shows New vs Returning customers, Frequency & Recency and Engagement, all of which give a powerful insight into what user’s think of your site.
- Technology: Web Browser & Operating System in itself can be useful but when benchmarked against national average may give further insight, especially useful for some tech-based products and services.
- Mobile: Device data is probably the most important as it shows the ratio of visitors from mobile, desktop & tablet. The CR from each device is likely to be significantly different, with mobiles usually showing the lowest conversion rate.
- Users Flow: A visual representation of users’ paths through your site, with a wide range of options. This is such a dynamic part of a CRO Experts armoury.
The growth of mobile phone usage has seen a surge of web visitors from this device but it’s accessibility has increased non-converting traffic due to casual browsing. However, whilst visitors may browse your website via a mobile, they could return later to make a purchase so this isn’t non-essential traffic.
Web Designers, and of course CRO Experts, should pay close attention to how websites perform in all devices and on each web browsers.
- Traffic Channels: A breakdown of visitors by source; organic search, paid search, direct, referral & social.
- Traffic Treemaps: A graphic visualisation of visitor traffic, filtered by various dimensions.
- Traffic Source/Medium: Data showing visitor traffic immediately before they hit your website, for example, a search engine or a specific website. This potentially contributes to buying intent, and thus impacts CR.
- Referrals: The specific source of visitor traffic.
- Google Ads: Detailed data driven from paid adverts.
- Search Console: When GA accounts are linked to Google Search Console accounts, this shows additional visitor data. For example, Landing Page details, ie. which pages visitors see first, which in turn may reflect the originating traffic source, and thus the impact on CR.
- Social: Detailed data based on social media traffic.
Paying close attention to conversion rates from each element with GA will help to identify conversion rate opportunities. Keeping an open mind and challenging the data, continually asking why will help to improve CR.
- Behaviour Flow: A graphic showing landing pages, starting pages and drop-offs, ie. the point at which a visitor stays a visitor and is not converted into a customer.
- Site Content > All Pages: Page specific detail and an invaluable source of visitor insight, even more so when goal conversion is setup.
- Site Content > Landing Pages: These are the first pages visitors see and may well be the last (see bounce rates) unless you convince them to stay on the site.
- Site Content > Exit Pages: On their own, exit pages may give a false-negative, in that you see this as failure. Conversions rarely happen after just one visit.
- Site Speed: Technical data is important in understanding site performance but be careful how you interpret this and don’t make any rash assumptions.
- Site Search: An invaluable insight into what visitors have searched for, which may indicate a need to change your site design, navigation or add products / services you don’t currently offer.
Google Analytics is an incredible source of rich visitor data and insight into your current conversion optimisation.
Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO): Tactics, Tips & Tricks
This section is very much the hands-on approach to improving conversion rates and details a wide-range of things to consider. On first viewing, you may consider that some of them aren’t relevant, and you may be right, but take time to walk through each point before you move on to the next tip, just so that you don’t miss something.
Design & Content Optimisation Tips
Getting the right balance between brand, commercial, operational & UX objectives is a challenge and one that will undoubtedly cause plenty of internal discussion. The key is for everyone to agree on the site’s core goals, allowing decisions to be based on this clarity and an overall cohesive approach.
- Fonts: Whilst there is perhaps no one right answer in regard to which font to use, there are certainly plenty of wrong ones. Serif fonts tend to improve trustworthiness whereas fonts like comic sans should probably be avoided. Typically, content written in a 12-point font-size and dark colours are more readable.
- Titles: Page impact will be achieved with punchy titles but avoid ambiguity and over simplifying the message as this may lead to confusion. SEO is incredibly important but don’t let this detract from the CRO goals, which everyone needs to agree to, and adhere to.
- Images: A picture may speak a 1,000 words but one of comparable file size won’t. Images can readily convey a key message but take time to get the balance right between design and time to download the image. JPG file format tends to be quicker to load than PNG.
- Video: It’s equally important to ensure videos don’t slow page load times to such an extent that visitors fail to even load the first page. The video content may also distract visitors from the primary site goal so it’s critical to get this one right.
- Colour: Such a subjective topic and one that is so easy to get wrong. Black on white is easy to read but may not deliver sufficient impact and is perhaps unlikely to be in the brand guidelines. Subtle colours may be washed out whilst bold colours may be off-putting. Consider limiting the number of colours to a primary colour and a supporting secondary colour. Amazon use minimal colours for a reason.
- Page Layout: Lots of content on a page may have visual stimulus but can also blind visitors from the core message, commercial, brand or navigation. The key here is to focus on the goal and ensure the message isn’t diluted. Test. Test. Test again.
- Call to Action: A slightly animation on a call-to-action button may encourage visitors to click on the button, taking them to the next part of the goal funnel. Subtle but effective.
- Copywriting: It is so important to get this right, tone of voice, length of message, sense of urgency or passive subtlety are all key factors.
Trust Optimisation Tips
Visitors will only convert to a customer if they trust the website so it’s imperative that you establish this right before they complete the final step (giving you their email address, credit card details or other personal info).
- Company: Adding company information to the footer will help to establish trust and build credibility. Basic data should include company registration number & address for Limited companies.
- Contact: Another important element in establishing trust, is clearly accessible contact details, for customers to contact you by phone, email and even postal correspondence.
- Delivery: It is important to be upfront about delivery information; how long will it take, delivery costs, weight & dimension restrictions, delivery options, International shipping etc.
- Returns: Customers are reassured by company’s providing their returns policy pre-purchase.
- Warranties: If your products come with warranties, showcase the information.
- Guarantees: If you offer 30 day money-back guarantees, highlight this too (Distance Selling Regulations apply to return periods) but word them positively rather than negatively, eg. ‘the best burger you’ve ever tasted or your money back’.
- Reviews: This is probably the most important contributing factor to converting customers in regard to trust and you should ensure it’s highly visible.
- Endorsements: Celebrity endorsements can have a dramatic effect on conversion rates where the product and celebrity have synergy and credibility. Experts can also have a positive effect. The key on both is credibility rather than just celebrity status.
- Q&A: Companies offering customers the opportunity to ask questions, with answers coming from other customers and staff, add to the credibility of the pre-sale service offering.
- Post-Sale Support: Visibility of your post-sale support also adds to increased conversion rates.
Product Page Optimisation Tips
In the Design & Content optimisation section we saw the various elements that had an impact on conversion, each of which are important on product pages. There are also other factors which affect customers converting their browsing intent to adding an item to basket.
- Multiple Images: People like to see products from several angles, front & back for fashion items, rear-view for technical items with USB or HDMI ports etc.
- Videos: Products requiring installation can be facilitated by how-to videos, helping to convert orders by delivering post-sale instruction on the product page.
- Basics: Conversion is definitely helped by being upfront about delivery & return policies so including these on product pages ensures customers don’t have to search for them on your website.
- Product Range: Generic search terms offer websites lots of traffic but the buying intent for these mega terms is very [very] low. A broad product range can however increase the chances of converting a visitor and reducing your customer acquisition costs.
- Payment Options: Having a wide-range of payment options, including consumer finance, increases conversion rates. Credit cards may be the most common payment method online but peer-to-peer lending (P2P), Klarna and ApplePay are popular with next generations.
- Cancellation Options: Booking.com offer a free cancellation option on many of their hotels, meaning that if a customer’s circumstance changes, they’re reassured that they cancel at any time.
- Price: This is such a contentious issue in eCommerce but is probably the most important one in regard to conversion rates so focusing on this will be beneficial. Promotional pricing (was/now) is perhaps better than simply changing the price to a new lower price as customers may not have known it was previously at a higher price. ‘Buy This, Get That’ and ‘3 for 2’ type offers may also be considered as helpful ways to convert visitors.
- Stock Availability: Consumers are increasingly less tolerable in regard to waiting for products to be delivered so if you have items in-stock, highlight this for improved conversion.
- Descriptions: Adding unique product descriptions not only helps with SEO but also CRO. Avoid over technical phrases and acronyms unless you can support this with clear copy that anyone would be able to understand – Wikipedia pages are good at using plain language.
- Specifications: Many products have technical specifications that customers need; weights, dimensions, ports & sockets etc so ensure these are available.
- Features & Benefits: Some marketing experts claim that you should always state the benefits of a product rather than the features to emphasise the emotional connection with the user. However, this may not always be true and you should decide what’s the right approach based n the goals you’re looking to achieve and the specific product or service you’re promoting.
Website Conversion Optimisation Tools
Becoming a CRO Expert takes time but thankfully there are a number of useful tools available to help refine the art of conversion rate optimisation beyond the beginner stage.
- Search: Website platform built-in search tools are quite limited so adding additional search functionality is something that can significantly improve conversion rates.
- Navigation: Good navigation menus help visitors to find the products they are looking for, without having to resort to using the search functionality. Good navigation techniques should include both primary and secondary product categories, key products and shop-by-brand.
- Filter: Websites with an extensive product range and multiple options (colours, fabrics, sizes etc) require clear filter functionality. The easier it is for customers to narrow their selection, the higher the conversion rate.
- Cross Selling: ‘Customers Also Bought’ functionality improves conversion by offering alternative products and avoiding customers leaving your site prematurely.
- Add-on Selling: Offering add-on products helps to increase order size, improving revenues and ROI on marketing spend.