The Ultimate Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization

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ultimate guide to conversion rate optimization

It’s no longer just about driving tons of traffic to your website through SEO to increase sales. Smart online marketers are realizing that to increase sales and online revenue you need to optimize your visitor’s onsite experience and convert more of them for your goals, and not just your rankings in search engines. This focus is known as conversion rate optimization, and if done well can have some amazing effects for your online revenue.

And yet conversion rate optimization is still not as common as internet marketing subjects like SEO, web analytics and usability. People just aren’t as aware of it. They don’t completely understand what it is or how it could benefit them or how they should use it. This article is meant to be the best guide you will ever need for conversion rate optimization, and to give you a great kick-start with your efforts.

What is conversion rate optimization (CRO)?

Conversion rate optimization is the fine art of converting more visitors on your website for your goals, whether that’s increasing sales or signups, or increasing visitor engagement. It involves using web analytics tools to understand and monitor your conversion rates, and using website testing tools to test alternate versions of your website to see which versions convert visitors better. The ultimate goal of this testing is to increase your website conversion rates so that you generate more online revenue.

What are the benefits of doing CRO for your website?

In a nutshell, the biggest benefit is that it helps you generate much more revenue from your website. Here are some of the many excellent benefits of doing CRO:

  • Generate more leads or sales on your website, with the same traffic you already have (means you don’t have to spend more money on traffic)
  • Helps you maximize the return on investment from your marketing spend (paid search, social media etc)
  • Improves your website so that it engages more visitors, and increases the chances of them returning (cheaper than acquiring new visitors)
  • Will give you a competitive advantage if your competitors aren’t doing it

I recently wrote an article that lists many benefits of CRO for your website, so you should check that out too.

What is a conversion and when does it happen?

A conversion takes place when a visitor on your website completes a major goal of your website, for example purchasing a product or registering on your website. This conversion is tracked by your analytics tool (once you have added tracking for it), and is tracked in your testing tool.

This conversion will vary depending on your website type, and what your goals are for it. Here are some types of conversion for major website types:

  • Ecommerce website - a conversion occurs when an order has been completed by a visitor (e.g. order confirmation page).
  • Lead generation website – a conversion occurs when a signup has been completed by a visitor (e.g. thanks page).
  • Media website – a conversion is less defined here; when a visitor hits a high page views per visit or a signs up for a newsletter for example.

How is conversion rate calculated?

Basically, the higher the proportion of your website visitors that are converting for any of your website goals, the higher your website conversion rate will be. Your overall website conversion rate can be calculated fairly simply, using the following equation:

Overall Website Conversion Rate:
(Number of website conversions / number of website visitors) x 100

Example for ecommerce website conversion rate:
(Number of orders / number of website visitors) x 100

This overall conversion rate can easily be set up in all good web analytics tools (for example in Google Analytics for any of your site goals – see screenshot below) and can easily be setup in website testing tools too.

Are there more specific ways to measure website success?

While your overall website conversion rate is the most important measure of success for your website, it’s important to realize there are many more micro-level success measures (depending on your website type). These are called success-metrics and are great for diagnosing and improving more specific parts of your website other than your overall conversion rate. Here are some examples of good success metrics:

  • Shopping cart abandonment rate. This is the percentage of visitors who start but don’t complete your shopping cart flow.
  • Signup form completion rate. This is the percentage of visitors who visit your signup form page and complete it.
  • Page views per visit. This is the amount of pages that a visitor sees per visit, and is great for media websites in particular.
  • Homepage bounce rate. This is the percentage of visitors who arrive on your homepage and immediately leave it without seeing other pages.

What tools do you need for conversion rate optimization?

To get started with conversion rate optimization, you need two key types of website tools in particular, plus some others:

  • A web analytics tool. This tool is essential because it helps you monitor your current website conversion rate and success metric performance, and to find poorly converting pages for testing. It will also help you gain great visitor insights to create better test ideas and help priortize which pages needs optimizing the most. A simple web analytics tool like Google Analytics needs to be setup and used for this.
  • A website testing tool. This tool is critical because you need to test different versions of your content (like different call-to-action buttons or different page layout) to see which version increases your conversion rates the most. A low-cost testing tool like Visual Website Optimizer is a great place to start, and here is a review of the main low-cost testing tool choices (and I suggest you don’t use Google Content Experiments because it’s very limited in its current new state). Expert testers should use advanced tools like Adobe Test&Target.

Ideally you also need a several other website tools to help you gain even greater insight from your visitors into how to increase conversion rates (usability tools like UserTesting.com and survey tools like SurveyMonkey). There are actually over 75 tools listed in my new book that can help you optimize and improve your website!

What else you need for conversion rate optimization?

Conversion rate optimization isn’t as easy as you might think. You need more than just the tools – to be most effective with your conversion rate optimization efforts you need much more. Here are some of the main other vital ingredients for conversion rate optimization long term success:

  • Expert resources to help you create and run tests. If you have the tools, but don’t have expertise and resources to make best use of them you will be missing your true potential. Ideally you need to a web analyst to help you create test ideas, and then someone dedicated to creating and running your website tests. This will make it much easier to test quickly and efficiently the most impactful things on your conversion rates.
  • A great understanding of web usability best practices. Testing and optimizing these on your website will have a big impact on increasing your conversion rates – for example, making your navigation menus easy and intuitive to use, and using good options for sorting and filtering on browse pages. Using this website usability knowledge can make or break your website conversion rates, because your visitors will go to a competing website that is easier to use if yours isn’t.
  • Knowledge of persuasive online marketing techniques. These techniques will help you better engage, influence and convert your visitors. For example, you need to be able to write headlines that grab the attention of your visitors, and then write good call-to-actions that will quickly inspire them to take action and convert on your website.
  • Support and buy-in from the rest of your online business. Unless you are a one-man website, you won’t get very far with your conversion rate optimization efforts if you don’t have support and buy-in from key people in your organization, particularly from your boss and senior stakeholders. To do this, you need to educate them on the benefits of conversion rate optimization, and particularly the likely positive impact on revenue (and show them case studies and proof your competitors are testing).

What website elements have biggest impact on conversion rate optimization?

Unfortunately there is no silver bullet that will work every time. Depending on your type of website, your unique value proposition and your type of visitors, there are hundreds of website elements that contribute to increased conversion rates. However, here are some things to focus on that will often have a big impact and give you a good kick-start for increasing your conversion rates:

  • Your call-to-action buttons. These are found on most websites, from signup buttons to checkout buttons, and have a high impact on your conversion rates. To improve their effectiveness, test the wording, style, color, size and even the location of them on your pages (place them above the page fold so visitors can see them without having to scroll). Here are some good styles and wording for your inspiration:
  • Your headlines and important text. If your text doesn’t grab the attention of your visitors and intrigue them to read the rest of your content, then there will a greater chance of them leaving exiting from your website, lowering your conversion rates. Testing improving your headlines by keeping them simple, short and to the point, and try using wording that solves for visitors needs or asks them good questions. You should also test condensing long blocks of text, and try using bullet points instead (see example below) – these are far easier for visitors to scan and understand quicker, and often increases conversion rates.
  • Your shopping cart and checkout flow pages or signup registration flow pages. These are key because if your visitors struggle with these pages (regardless of how good their prior experience has been on your website), then they will abandon your website, lowering conversions and potential revenue. In particular you need to test making your forms simple to complete, remove non-mandatory fields, improve your error validation, and testing using risk-reducers like security seals, benefits of using your website, guarantees and shipping/returns offers.
  • Your home page and key entry pages. These are often referred to as your landing pages, and usually get the most traffic on your website, so often have the biggest impact on conversion rates. Making sure these are focused, uncluttered and solve for your visitors main needs will greatly improve your conversion rates. Using targeting for your tests on these pages to customize your visitors experience will meet their needs better and increase your conversion rates too.

For more details on these, and hundreds of other ideas to improve your conversion rates on many types of web pages, check out my new book.

What is a good conversion rate?

This is a very common question, and sorry to disappoint you, but there is no perfect answer. This is because its hugely dependent on many things, for example what constitutes conversion on your website, your unique value proposition, your marketing efforts, and the main types of visitors on your website.

Also, don’t go comparing your conversion rate to your competitors or what you may have read in a blog or a report – it’s risky because it may set you up for a fall or set incorrect expectations to your boss. For a rough benchmark though, 2% is about average for a overall website conversion rate and anything above 5% is generally considered very good. But to prove my point, it’s not unusual to have conversion rates above 50% for good, focused paid search lead generation landing pages.

Conversion rate optimization do’s and don’ts

To help improve and kick-start your efforts to optimize and increase your website conversion rates, here are some things to make sure you do, and some mistakes you need to ensure you don’t do.

Do’s:

  • Invest in using good testing tools and expert resources, as discussed earlier, otherwise you won’t succeed in the long run with your conversion rate optimization efforts. Consider outsourcing initially to a conversion rate optimization agency to give you a good kick start (for example SiteTuners, WiderFunnel or Adobe Digital).
  • Always iterate on your website tests and do follow up ones to improve your conversion rates even further. Don’t just simply test and optimize one thing and then move on to another completely different thing, as you will be missing out on huge potential for further conversion increases. Follow-up tests are often the best way to increase conversion rates.
  • Always set targets to try and beat for your conversion rate. A realistic target would be a 10-20% increase over your current conversion rate. As mentioned earlier, this is much better than trying to beat a conversion rate you may have read about in a report, or a competitor’s alleged conversion rate.
  • For an advanced way of increasing your conversion rates even further, use targeting in your tests to provide your visitors with more relevant content, for example target and show new visitors first time visitor benefits, and target and show repeat visitors content relating to their previous browsing patterns.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t just test and focus on what your boss says they want to improve on your website (known as a HiPPO – highest paid person’s opinion), as this often leads to suboptimal conversion rate improvements. Educate them on what will have highest impact – they often don’t know best for conversions – its your visitors that know what they want.
  • Don’t rush into picking winners of a test – you need to gain enough statistical significance for your test, usually at least 7 days worth of results. You will also need 100 conversions for each version you are testing, and to wait for any fluctuations to die down. If you rush, you may end up making a mistake by launching a version that isn’t actually the highest converting (and may even lower conversions!)
  • Don’t presume you know what tests or test variations will have the biggest impact on your conversion rates. Remember it’s your visitors who decide what version converts them best in your tests, not you or your boss. Gain your visitor’s opinion on what needs improving most using survey tools and usability tools, as this will often lead to much higher conversion rate results for your tests.
  • Don’t treat conversion rate optimization as a project, your online business should live and breath optimization and testing. It’s an ongoing process, just like SEO is. You should strive to always try to improve your conversion rates, and don’t just test once a year before your highest traffic periods.

Resources for deep diving into conversion rate optimization

To help you learn even more about this subject of conversion rate optimization, there are a number of great resources you should check out, from great blog posts to great training and courses. You will find these very useful!

Great conversion rate optimization articles:

Great conversion rate optimization case studies:

Conversion rate optimization books:

Conversion rate optimization training and courses:

So there we have it. The Ultimate Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization. Yes, there really are endless things to know and learn about the topic of conversion rate optimization.

Now its over to you – do you have your own favorite conversion rate optimization resources? Comment below and share so everyone else can learn!

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  • Jacki

    Hi there Rich-

    Great article- thanks for sharing it. I’m about to go and check out your book :-)
    A question though…
    I work with small professional health practices here in Australia. Our primary conversion goal is to generate a telephone call to the practice. I have been testing call tracking phone numbers (but only for traffic which arrives via Adwords: tracking organic traffic is more difficult because the installation of a tracking number on the website sends a different Name-Address-Phone signal to Google Local, and we have the potential of losing the client’s Google Local rankings).
    Having reception staff keep records of incoming calls generated from a website is generally a very poor tool for measuring conversion.
    So my question (after two paragraphs of text!) is: can you offer any other ideas for measuring phone calls as the optimisation goal?
    Cheers from Down Under,
    Jacki

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.grainger Dan Grainger

    Nice article…

    A favourite resource of mine has to be Crazy Egg (I notice you’ve used their CTA as one of your examples!). For me the “heatmaps” that come as part of Adobe Clickmap just don’t do a good enough job and Crazy Egg wins hand down – aside to the fact that it’s an exceptionally good tool from an ROI perspective given it’s low cost.

    There’re some really good bullets in your “What else do you need for conversion rate optimization?” list…though I’d like to suggest another, namely “a supportive, flexible and efficient business structure”. In my opinion, the business structure has a great bearing on the ability to run a high quality optimisation programme.

    I’ve worked in a company at one end of the scale where the business is totally siloed – analysts are analysts, marketers are marketers, IT devs are IT devs, etc, and all of these different people feed into different areas such as marketing, IT and sometimes finance. Different areas = different targets = different priorities! Unless well managed (and there’s no guarantee this is always the case!), this structure simply leads to a sluggish and inefficient optimisation programme whcih is controlled by a ticket system and, sometimes, peoples’ opinions rather than the facts.

    At the other end of the scale, I’ve had the fortune of working in a business structure whereby the optimisation programme is controlled by a single team. This team contains marketers, designers, analysts, devs, etc, all reporting into the same business area and all having the same targets. In this scenario, the expectation is that everyone will wear multiple hats and essentially become “optimisation specialists” – just because you may be an analyst doesn’t mean you won’t develop marketing, design and usability skills! Granted, this structure is in theory more difficult to sustain (what happens when one of your top all-rounders leaves? Surely it won’t be easy to replace them?), but I believe the rewards speak for themselves, namely a fast and efficient optimisation programme.

  • Shiv Ettes

    Conversion rate optimization makes so much more sense to me on a gut level than SEO. Because who cares how much traffic you have if they aren’t engaged? Sure if you get a ton of traffic you can sell ads — but it’s more likely that you want revenue from products, etc. Or that makes sense in my head anyways:P Thanks for all the tips!

  • George Baily

    Fantastic article. Perhaps more the “ultimate *introduction* to CRO” and your book is the guide… haha. CRO is a thing at the moment because it’s so neglected, but I guess soon more businesses will be confirming the importance by having general “on-site marketing and UX” area, vs social/SEM/inbound as a separate discipline.

  • Eric Bloom

    Rich, great article on conversion rate optimization. My company (Abine) is currently working on improving our landing page conversion rate and I had a question for you: what becnhmark data do you use for landing page conversion rates? I am trying to gather as much information as possible so I am curious as to what you would consider a bad / good / great conversion rate?

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Glad you liked it George! And yes, I also like to think its a great introduction to my book :)

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    High Eric – Great question. There isn’t really much benchmark data around because it really all depends on what (or if) you are selling on your landing pages, and the quality of your traffic. Definitely over 30% conversion rate could be considered very high though, and less than 5% could be considered low. But if you are just generating leads, I would say over 30-40% is very achievable. Hope that helps!

  • http://rich-page.com/ Rich Page

    Glad that you agree Jenny! It’s all about engaging and converting your current levels of traffic before doing more SEO or social media.