No matter what you market or sell online, if you are in the business of converting a website visitor into a paying customer one of your most important metrics will be your conversion rate. Conversion rate optimization or “CRO” is the systematic approach in which you analyze how, where and why your customers are converting and work to improve in those areas in order to earn additional sales. As you can imagine, every change or tweak that results in a higher conversion rate is incredibly valuable – especially if you are paying for your traffic via online advertisements.

Below you’ll find our newbie’s guide to CRO, where we introduce the concept, share tips for developing your initial CRO strategy and explain how to get your prospective customers moving through your sales funnels. It’s a lengthy read, but one that we’re sure you will enjoy.

What is CRO and Why is It Important?

As the name implies, conversion rate optimization is all about improving the conversion rate of some call-to-action that your customers are performing. For example, if you are running Facebook Ads which drive visitors to your website where they purchase a product, your “click-through rate” will be the rate at which those who view the ad actually click on it to move to your website and the “conversion rate” will be the rate that those visitors purchase a product or complete a sale. If 1,000 visitors were to visit your website and 50 of them made a purchase, you could state that your website is converting at a conversion rate of 5 percent (50/1000).

Conversion rate optimization is about making changes with the goal of getting that above 5 percent figure to rise. Whether you’re paying to acquire your visitor traffic or your visitors are arriving from a search engine like Google or Bing, CRO is a critical part of improving your business in order to extract the maximum amount of sales from any given block of visitors.

As you can imagine, a heavy focus on CRO can pay off significantly. Using the above example, if your average visitor spent a total of $100 while shopping on your website and you were able to raise your conversion rate from 5 percent to 7 percent, you would earn an additional $2,000 in revenue without having to spend any additional money on ads or traffic acquisition.

Getting Started with CRO

Getting started with conversion rate optimization couldn’t be any easier. Simply run yourself through the same series of actions that a prospective customer or visitor would take in order to convert into a sale. There are a few items that you want to analyze:

Calls To Action – Where are your call to action buttons, such as your “BUY NOW!” button. Do they stand out from the webpage in some way? Are they easy to find, or does the visitor have to hunt around in order to make a purchase?

Webpage Usability – Consider the overall usability of the webpage. How is it laid out? Is it possible for the visitor to click links by mistake and end up directed elsewhere? Is all of the necessary information to educate the visitor before they complete the sale clearly visible? Do they know where to turn when they need help?

Mobile vs. Desktop – How does your website or landing page load on a mobile phone versus a desktop or laptop computer? Have you tested it on an iPhone, various Android smartphones, an iPad, a Nexus Tablet, a Windows Phone and a BlackBerry? Does it render quickly and provide an easy buying experience?

Website Security – Is your webpage secured using SSL and HTTPS technology? Many visitors wouldn’t even consider entering their credit card data into an unsecured form, so your conversion rate will suffer unless your website is fully secured. It costs just a few dollars a year for a security certificate from a decent vendor – an investment well worth making.

While there are many other areas in which you will analyze as you move forward, the above are great starting points and for most businesses will provide quite a bit of analysis and testing.

Devising Your Initial Optimization Strategy

Now that you’ve made a quick list of areas where some adjustments can be made, it’s time to devise a plan. The most common types of conversion rate optimization tests are known as “A/B” tests, which means that a set of users are shown the original webpage and another set of users are shown the same webpage with the change you are looking to measure active. Equal numbers of visitors are run in the A and B groups, and after you have reached the end of the test the numbers are analyzed to see which version performed better. A/B testing is simple in practice but becomes far more complex when the various changes that can be made start to impact one another.

Your goal should be to start small and work your way up to larger, more complex issues. Try changing something simple like the size or colour of the button used to purchase an item. Get used to the idea of making small tweaks and analyzing how they can make a significant change in your conversion rate.

Using Surveys to Find Starting Points

While you can use your website analytics and shopping cart data to determine where your visitors are dropping out of the purchasing process you won’t actually know why they left your website or decided not to complete the sale. Survey tools that pop up or run on the page can greatly assist with your testing as you can quite literally ask your visitors what they think of a page, or what their intention is, or why they decided not to purchase today.

If you’re going to use surveys in any way, ensure that they are short. A quick pop up window in the bottom corner which includes a single question with YES or NO answer buttons is far more likely to be answered than one that includes multiple questions and asks for an email address.

Test Everything, and then Test It Again

It’s worth mentioning that absolutely everything on a website or landing page should be tested to see how it affects conversions. Did you change the colour of the “Buy Now!” button from green to orange and noticed a few more users converting? Great! Now try changing the various hues of orange, the shape of the button, the “Buy Now!” text to other pieces of copy, and more. Try using rounded corners and see how conversions compare with square corners. Any webpage where your visitors have the opportunity to purchase something should be relentlessly tweaked and optimized in order to squeeze every last bit of sales productivity from it.

Ending Your Testing and Watching Your Analytics

At some point in your testing you’re going to need to call a winner so you can move on to other areas. There are a few schools of thought on how long you need to test something in the CRO world; some believe that it takes as few as 100 clicks to compare differences and others prefer larger sample sets in order to get the most accurate result. When you call an end to a specific test will largely be dependent on how much visitor traffic you have and whether or not there’s a clear winner. If it takes you a week or more to generate 1,000 visitors to a landing page in order to conduct a test you may decide to call a winner after 250 visits. Conversely if you receive thousands of visits a day you may decide to let a test run for a full day to determine the results.

Whatever you choose, don’t rely on the perceptions or judgments of those on your team. You need to use real data in the form of webpage analytics in order to see how users are reacting to your changes and whether or not they are worthwhile. For example you may find that a change increases the rate at which visitors make a purchase but drastically reduces the amount of Facebook shares that they complete. This change could end up costing you in the long run as you’ll see fewer visitors as a result of sharing and thus no conversions.

CRO is an Ongoing Process

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that by its very nature “optimization” is a never-ending process. At some point you may feel that you’ve hit a wall with your ability extract a higher conversion rate on a particular landing page or website, and perhaps that’s true. However you must always continue testing, trying out new tweaks and tools, and seeing how different user demographics respond to the changes that you’ve implemented. Unless you have reached the mythical 100 percent conversion rate there is always room for improvement.

If you’ve made it this far you’re clearly interested in how to extract the most value from your websites and your landing pages. Here at Riverbed Marketing it’s our goal to help you improve both the quantity and quality of visitors that your web properties receive. Contact us today at 1.855.858.7500 for a brief consultation and we’ll show you how we can improve the return on your investment in online marketing. We look forward to meeting you!