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10 Things You Must Know about Conversion Rate Optimization (Before You Start)

This is a guest post by Jeremy Smith. Jeremy is a conversion optimization consultant at JeremySaid.com

I’ve been doing CRO for a while, plus telling other people how to do CRO. Conversion Rate Optimization requires a lot of data, a little bit of science, a ton of knowledge, and a load of patience. But it’s really not that complicated — as long as you go into it with the right mindset.

But what is that “right mindset?” How do get your head screwed on right as you prepare to dive into the mysterious, dark, and untamed jungle of Conversion Rate Optimization.

The question I frequently get, whether I am training folks for online marketing or speaking at an event is, “what is conversion optimization really all about?” That’s a very loaded question. Actually, I wanted to break it down in its simplest format and explain what conversion optimization is all about.

You’re about to read the answer to these questions. I asked myself, “What do people really need to know about CRO before they start?” And then I developed an answer. Let’s dive into ten succinct points that give you brass tacks about conversion rate optimization.

Let me give you my big idea: Conversion Rate Optimization is not about tricks, techniques, or dark arts. It’s about your entire website, presence, and marketing. It’s bigger than just hiring a CRO consultant to do some voodoo on your site. You need to step back and take in the whole picture.

Now, let me break it down….

1. Your CMS matters

You can’t do any conversion rate optimization if you have a crappy web platform. I don’t care how expensive or proprietary it is. If it doesn’t let you change stuff, test stuff, and do coding tricks, it’s going to be really frustrating.

Everything starts right here at the foundation: the Content Management System. Let’s do a quick checklist of features that your CMS will need to do:

  • Change the organization and structure of the shopping cart.
  • Change prices.
  • Easily change button size, color, font, style, etc.
  • Add or subtract homepage elements at will.
  • Change text as needed, anywhere on the site.

In CRO, you’re going to be changing a lot of things. Don’t let your CMS get in the way.

Bottom line: Pick the right CMS. It’s going to save you thousands of dollars…in Advil and prescription sleep pills.

2. The costs are much higher than you might think.

CRO costs a lot of money. I make a good living off of CRO consulting, and for good reason. I increase companies’ revenues and bottom lines. I’m not greedy; I’m all about win/win.

Look at one Internet marketer. In a year and a half, he dropped a quarter million bucks on conversion optimization.

Waste of money? Nope. He plainly explains that it “produced a positive return on investment.”

CRO costs money because there are high-level things that need to be done. You’re not just making a button green instead of orange. You’re shaping your entire online identity, structuring a conversion funnel, enhancing your brand presence, and improving your PR. Conversion Rate Optimization is holistic, not myopic. Big moves require big money.

Bottom line: If you aren’t prepared to spend money, you aren’t prepared to make money through CRO. Have a nice day. Come back and see us again!

3. Think SEO before you think CRO.

You can only get conversions if you have traffic. And you can only get traffic through search engine optimization.

I feel like this article is on repeat track, but that’s because there’s a point to be made: conversion rate optimization is a big issue that gets you into all kinds of other big issues. One such issue is SEO. You need to wrap your mind around the concept, do it right, and bring in some traffic.

I can’t have a coherent conversation about CRO unless we’ve first discussed SEO. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my problem lack of conversions or lack of traffic?
  • Where does my traffic come from? Paid ads or organic? If it’s PPC, you need to do some SEO.
  • What are visitors doing on my site? Are they bouncing or browsing? If they’re bouncing, do SEO. If they’re browsing, do CRO.
  • If I sustain my current traffic, and have a conversion rate of 2%, will my business stay afloat? If not, then you need to do SEO, not CRO.

Bottom line: First, get your traffic up, then we actually have some conversion rate to optimize. How do you get more traffic? It’s called search engine optimization. First things first.

4. You need to get comfortable with testing.

CRO is all about testing. Chris Goward of WiderFunnel explains that the number one CRO question is, “How do I figure out where to test first?” His PIE framework approach is helpful, and serves to drive this very important precursor to conversion rate optimization as a whole.

conversion funnel

 

Image: Wider Funnel

Testing is the name of the game. You’ll be faced with A/B testing, multivariate testing, testing platforms, and testing out the wazoo. There is only one road to CRO, and it’s called testing.

If you thought that you left testing behind in college, think again. Conversion rate optimization is about many things, but at its core, it’s testing.

Bottom line: Be patient. The conversion optimization will come. But first, you must test, test, test, test.

And then test some more.

5. CRO is about big change.

If you’re uncomfortable with change, then you’re going to be uncomfortable with CRO.

Let me share an example. One cautious company decided to implement conversion optimization rollout at the approximate rate of a snail that ran out of slime. Through committee meetings, subcommittee meetings, and sub-sub-stupid committee meetings, the process took a grand total of six months.

Another company, poised to make big changes on small timetables, implemented the same action in thirty minutes.

Guess which company is doing CRO better.

Conversion Rate Experts, a CRO consulting company that worked with CrazyEgg made some sweeping changes to the website’s homepage. Here’s a pictorial example of the kind of “big change” we’re talking about.

conversion rate optimization test

 

Image from http://www.conversion-rate-experts.com/optimizing-your-testing

As you can see, the control and test page are significantly different. How would you feel about altering your homepage, by, oh, about 95%?

Until you feel like you can stomach the rollercoaster of epic changes, slashes, explosions, cuss words, and screams, then don’t think about CRO. It’s a wild, wild ride.

Bottom Line: Effective CRO requires such big changes that it’s going to make your stomach hurt. Hang on.

6. Landing pages? Yeah, that’s only part of the equation.

I know some people — dear folks — who think “Oh CRO? Yeah, yeah, we should probably change up our landing page a bit.”

I hear that, and I shake my head despairingly. (Either that or face palm.)

Listen to me: CRO is not just about landing pages. Like “fix the car engine” is not about adjusting the volume on the car stereo system.

Landing pages are important, don’t get me wrong. Bruce Clay explained it this way:

CRO…starts by combining analytics and competitive research with landing page optimization.

So, yes, it’s a start, but it’s not the end all.

If you want to do some LPO, go for it. There are some handy guides available. But keep in mind that CRO is a way bigger animal than LPO.

Bottom Line: Before you start CRO, realize that it is more than just optimizing a landing page. It requires deeper changes and tectonic shifts.

7. The biggest CRO gains come from the back end.

I love this point, because it gets to the very heart of the eureka! moments in CRO. Plus, it proves my thesis that CRO is bigger than you thought.

Your site can ramp up conversions by improving the value of your existing customers. Conversion rate optimization isn’t just turning first time visitors into customers. It’s also about turning returning visitors into customers, and turning existing customers into repeating customers.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, a customer only makes a purchase when he or she is in the right phase of the buy cycle. Thus, a returning visitor has a conversion potential that differs from that of a first-time visitor.

Beyond that, you can optimize your conversions from the back-end for your existing customers. Increasing the lifetime value of customers provides you with the opportunity to focus on the 20% that produces 80% of the value. Hey, Pareto!

It’s easier and cheaper to perform CRO on the back end of a site, and thereby increase the lifetime value of customers. But it’s not necessarily the most intuitive aspect of CRO.

Bottom line: CRO has huge gains, but they often come knocking at the back door. Mind. Blown.

8. CRO is about constant change.

The thing I love about CRO is that things are always changing. Because I’m a change-happy kind of guy, this doesn’t bother me that much.

I think that anyone who works an online business is familiar with rapidly changing technology, search algorithm upsets, and the shifting tides of online shoppers. Change is expected.

In order to adapt to the technological ebb and flow, conversion optimizers must make rapid adjustments. Last-minute fixes and quick alterations are the MO in CRO. The sheer size of the change is bewildering, as mentioned in point 5 above. But the velocity of the change is the point here.

If you’re ready to take on the task of conversion rate optimization, then you had better prepare your change appetite. Things shift and change all the time.

You look at the data. You test your elements. You look at the data again. You write some more copy (by the way, Michael Aagaard is fantastic) You change, you adapt you pursue endless iterations of testing, and you succeed.

Bottom Line: Constant change at breakneck velocity is pretty much par for the course in CRO.

9. Revenue is the only real bottom line result you want to see.

Conversion optimization is a means to the end. The end goal is revenue.

Industry myopia is a curse. We get so caught up in the nitty-gritty of our cute acronyms — SEO, PPC, CRO, CM, KGO, LPO — and we get lost in the morass of pointless labor.

I’m a bottom-line, give-me-results consultant who doesn’t want to get bogged down with extraneous details or unnecessary busy work. I want results.

Everything that you do in conversion rate optimization should hone in with laser like precision on this one goal: Revenue. Revenue. Revenue.

Bottom line: Why do you want to do CRO? There’s only one right answer: Revenue.

10. You never give up. Ever. Ever.

Conversion rate optimization isn’t a one-off thing. It’s an ongoing process. Even if you fire your consultant and try to go it alone, you’re still going to need to do testing, analysis, regrouping, strategizing, more optimization, and more testing.

Starting with CRO is like beginning a journey that has no end. There’s always progress. You go as high and as far as possible, through continual testing/refining, testing/refining, testing/refining.

CRO should really become a core fixture of your business. Just like you have a “marketing budget” or an “accounting department,” you should also have an integrated and evolving CRO strategy. You just never, ever give up on this thing.

Bottom line: You start CRO with an eye to a long-term relationship. You don’t want to give up. You don’t want to slack off. You keep at it.

Conclusion

This article has not been a tutorial on CRO. It has been a preview on what to know about CRO before you start.

Here’s the skinny: Conversion rate optimization is a vast experience of improving your bottom line, raising your revenue, and increasing your brand. There’s more to the game than landing pages, button color, and one-liner copy changes.

  • There is the foundation to think about — your CMS.
  • There are costs to consider — fairly hefty ones, with solid ROI.
  • There’s the foundation of SEO that sustains your CRO.
  • There is testing, and testing, and testing ad infinitum.
  • There are major changes that will nearly make you choke on your own saliva.
  • There is more than just landing pages.
  • There’s the front-end, back-end, and middle-end to optimize. CRO touches everything.
  • There is no end to the change. It’s everlasting.
  • There is only one real definitive metric: revenue.
  • There is an unrelenting, unstoppable, unquenchable pursuit of doing more, doing better, and doing it right.

That’s CRO.

Conversion rate optimization is bigger and better than you thought.

About Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith

 Jeremy SmithJeremy Smith is a serial entrepreneur, trainer and conversion consultant, helping businesses like IBM, Dow Chemical, American Express, Panera Bread, and Wendys improve conversions and strategically grow their businesses. Jeremy’s experience as the CMO and CEO of technology firms has given him a powerful understanding of human behavior and profit-boosting techniques. Join thousands of in-house marketers by downloading a copy of his latest ebook: Landing Page Optimization for In-House Marketers. Jeremy Smith

 

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