The Ultimate Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization
Last updated by Rich Page | 7 Comments
These days it’s not just all about generating as much traffic as possible to your website through SEO. Smart online marketers are realizing that to increase 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.
- 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’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:
- Conversion rate optimization tips from top 10 online retailers
- How to increase your conversion rates on any website in 45 minutes
- Demonstrate the value of conversion rate optimization to any boss (or client)
- Infographic guide to conversion rate optimization
- Introduction to A/B and MVT: Optimization Testing 101
Great conversion rate optimization case studies:
- Lessons learned from 21 case studies in conversion rate optimization
- Increase your conversion with these A/B testing case studies
- How Conversion Rate Experts made $1 million for SEOmoz
- Using video on landing pages to lift conversion rate by 100%
- How to write a call-to-action that converts (with case studies)
- How the New York Times generated a 1,052% conversion gain
Conversion rate optimization books:
- Website Optimization: An Hour a Day
- Landing Page Optimization: 2nd Edition
- Conversion Optimization: Art of Converting More Prospects into Customers
- Always Be Testing
- Convert: Designing Web Sites to Increase Traffic and Conversion
- Call-To-Action: Secret Formuals to Improve Online Results
Conversion rate optimization training and courses:
- Conversion Optimization Training and Certification at Market Motive
- Conversion Conference (in cities worldwide)
- Landing Page Optimization Workshop
- Conversion Rate Optimization Toolbox (my new toolbox)
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. If you really want to know almost everything, you should consider buying my conversion rate optimization book called ‘Website Optimization: An Hour a Day’ — it’s 360 pages long, and covers related topics like website testing, web usability and web analytics in much more detail – all you need to truly optimize your website and conversion rates!
Now its over to you – do you have your own favorite conversion rate optimization resources? Comment below and share so everyone else can learn!