Intro to CRO

Why people visit your site and leave without doing anything

 

engagementIs this a familiar experience?  You have a great looking site, (which wasn’t cheap), you’re creating super-helpful content and offers, and yes, people click on them and look around for a few seconds but then most of them just leave.

It can be one of the most disappointing and frustrating experiences for any marketer – but don’t despair – if this sounds like you, there are lots of things you can do to turn it around, all bundled up in the blanket term, Conversion Rate Optimisation. 

 

What is CRO?

The purpose of CRO is to improve the conversion rate of anyone engaging with your company – whether that is becoming a customer, a subscriber, a follower, or leaving details in a form for you to follow up. 

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Goals vs Events

The industry uses terms quite specifically and we will be following the industry norms so that if you read more widely around CRO you won't be lost in the jargon. 

  • Your goal might be for 20% of visitors to a landing page to complete a form
  • The event describes a user's interactions e.g. completing the form

Once you start to dive into tools like Google Analytics, understanding this will be important

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CRO is a process – or a series of processes which use data about the behaviour of your visitors, clients, readers and target markets to encourage more people to engage with your business. 

In practice, this usually takes the form of creating an experiment, tracking the statistical variation and implementing findings.  Practitioners will repeat this cycle again and again to gain incremental improvements to the rate of conversions.

CRO & Website Traffic

 

But what if you don’t have much traffic?

There are different views on this, but fundamentally, CRO is a data-driven exercise which we do by looking at existing behaviour and experimenting to see how this behaviour changes. Once we’ve examined these results we can implement the results of experiments that we like and try again with the results that we don’t like.

If you’re only getting one sale per month from 25 visitors per month, you will have to wait a very long time before you can say that an experiment has increased your sales , or if an unrelated external factor has made a minor change to your sales because that will have a disproportionate impact on your conversion rate.

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This will lead you to draw false conclusions from your testing.

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The most important thing you can do is increase the data pool you’re working from.

There’re a couple of ways to do this, but first you need to know what is statistically relevant and what is not. The rule of thumb that I’ve used successfully is the “rule of 25 per day”.

If there are fewer than 25 conversions occurring per day, you won’t be able to make statistical claims about it. This means that if you’re getting fewer than 25 sign-ups/day to your landing page, you won’t be able know how changing the colour of the CTA button makes an impact on sign-ups. If you’re getting fewer than 25 clicks per day on your ad, you won’t know how changing the copy will affect click through rates. 

This rule of thumb is extremely rough and the scientists amongst you will recognise that this doesn’t come close to a true calculation of statistical significance (you can find how to do this here) but in the interest of speed and simplicity it gets you where you need to go.   

So, if we know that you need a statistically significant amount of data before you can begin to implement a true CRO strategy and there are a couple of ways of achieving this. The first and most obvious is to simply increase the amount of traffic that you are working with. The more traffic you have, the more conversions will be taking place and the greater the accuracy of your experiments.

 

What you can do right now.

Whilst you build up traffic to your conversion funnel, you can start by optimising the events at the top of funnel where the greatest amount of conversions are already taking place.

For example, a company that is generating 10 sales from 100 leads from 500 sessions from 10,000 ad-impressions might have a table like this:

Ad-impressions Website Sessions Click-through Rate Leads Visitor - Lead
Conversion Rate (CVR)
Sales Lead-Sales CVR
10,000 500 5% 100 20% 10 10%


For this company it will be very difficult to optimise the lead-to-sale conversion rate because there simply isn’t enough data to play with. However it will be  very easy to evaluate experiments designed to improve the ad-impression-to-session conversion rate (a.k.a clickthrough rate or CTR.)

All things being equal, if your conversion rate doubles anywhere in the path and all the other conversion rates stay static, your revenue will double. So, if you don’t have enough sales to  optimise the conversion rate of a target event, focus higher up the funnel and you will still make an impact.

Website Traffic Generation Strategies

Whilst focusing on the top of the funnel is a good approach for companies who are not making enough sales to run CRO experiments at the bottom of the funnel,  being able to focus on the bottom of the funnel will allow you much more flexibility in your experimentation and has a greater immediacy in impact on the bottom line, so it makes sense to focus on improving traffic generation above everything else at that point. You can do this in a number of ways such as:


  • Display Ads
  • Native Ads
  • Content Marketing
  • Social Media publishing
  • SEO and backlink generation

We’ve covered many of these topics in our FinTech Lead Generation topic page

If you are in that start-up phase where nothing seems to be flowing or working like you were promised it would, and believe me, nearly everyone goes through that stage, there are a number of ways to approach the problem:

  • Understand your target market as deeply as you can
  • Position your company with a unique positioning statement or value proposition
  • Generate your buyer personas
  • Re-visit your site with a laser-like focus on helping your client (strip away the fluff and be as helpful as you can be all the way through your site – NB helpfulness includes clarity, honesty and usability)
  • Decide what offers will delight your clients at what stage in their buying journey
  • Be transparent and open about your services and pricing
  • Become discoverable – through Social Media and SEO – apply a good technical foundation to your site to make sure your content is getting the results you need
  • Develop your content and channel strategies
  • Become a regular blogger

As well as generating traffic some of these are fundamental to optimising your site and your content for conversion, so you won’t be losing out by focusing here first.

Do you really need CRO?

Go back to our definition for a moment:

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The purpose of CRO is to improve the conversion rate of anyone engaging with your company – whether that is becoming a customer, a subscriber, a follower, or leaving details in a form for you to follow up. 

CRO is a process – or a series of processes which use data about the behaviour of your visitors, clients, readers and target markets to make more people engage with your business. 

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Good thingsIn other words, CRO is doing something good with what you already have and this provides the benefit of improving revenue without needing investing in more expensive traffic generation strategies.   

You’ve done all the groundwork, so it’s  like tending your allotment, growing the most delicious fruit and vegetables, creating a sumptuous feast and leaving it congealing in the kitchen! If you’ve spent the time and effort on getting users to your website, failing to optimise conversion rates is the same as leaving your feast for the dogs.

Calculating CRO Impact on Revenue

 If you look at our business at Flagship Marketing, we provide a range of growth services to clients on a retainer basis. 

Hypothetically, using some easy-to-parse numbers, let’s say our current marketing spend generates 10 good leads a month from our website and from these leads we get one customer. We can calculate our conversion rate with the following formula:

 

1 new client per month / 10 leads per month = 0.1 (or 10%) Conversion Rate (CVR)

 

Let’s also say that our clients stay with us on average 36 months and that an average retainer is £5,000 per month.  My current revenue would be:

 

1 new client x £5,000 per month x 36 months = £180,000

 

Now, if I double my conversion rate to 20% and do nothing else to increase traffic to my site, I will still get 10 good leads a month to our site. But because the conversion rate has changed, it now looks like this:

 

10 leads per month x 20% conversion rate = 2 new clients every month

 

Using the same parameters of client retention average of 36 months and an average retainer of £5,000 per month my total revenue is now:

 

2 new clients x £5,000 per month x 36 months = £360,000

 

If you double your conversion rate, all other things being equal, you will double your revenue.

CRO, Profit and the Four Types of Costs

So now we've shown the impact of CRO on revenue, but we know that revenue is not profit and we need to consider costs as well, to come to a useful assessment of the importance of CRO. So let’s look at that.

If you consider the types of costs Flagship Marketing has, there are 4 elements that we would consider:

  1. Fixed costs which don’t change whatever we do. These are not impacted by CRO.
  2. Variable costs that do change.

It costs us more to service two clients a month than it does to service one client a month.  However, there is nearly always excess capacity in any business to accommodate more demand without having to invest in additional resources, so the increase in variable costs is invariably less than the increase in new revenue.

So, for example, the demand for ad-spend, channel identification, content generation and outreach may increase in response to winning new business, but personnel costs, including client service costs, may not.  And if you are a service or a software business, the rise in costs may be smaller still as you won’t have to deal with manufacturing and transportation costs which tend to be much higher.

  1. Marketing costs, (In Flagship's case, our own marketing costs are a part of variable costs, but they're worth separating from the customer service costs). Because we haven’t tried to generate more traffic these don’t change – we are just optimising what we already have.
  1. CRO costs (again, part of activity-related costs but worth singling out here). Whether we carry out CRO activities in-house or outsource it, there will be a cost associated with CRO that we need to take into account.

Where does this leave us?

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Fixed costs won't change

variable costs will almost certainly not rise as much as revenue,

so profits will increase as we practice CRO.

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And that is CRO in a nutshell.  It’s not about spending more to generate more leads; it’s all about realising the potential that we have on our sites now. 

If that excites you, we have some work to do!

CRO: Assembling the Pieces

There are a number of elements to put together before starting a CRO project and here we look briefly at some of the key ones.

People – your team

You are going to need people to do this – either in-house or externally and probably both.  Use your best people – it’s worth it.

It always starts with analytics; personas, channel identification, client journeys on your site and content, CTAs and offers. You need someone to make sure you understand the landscape and has a handle on how people are engaging with you at the moment – and of course why they sometimes don’t.

You will need fantastic copywriters to create the content you will use to attract your prospects.

You will need someone to design your website and content so that it is as optimised as it can be, and maybe a web developer to implement changes at a functional level.

Tech – and analysis tools

You need to decide what tools you are going to use to help establish your current optimisation rates and show you where you can improve.  If you’re not already using a suite of analytical tools here is a shortlist of ones we like.

  • Google Analytics is an obvious place to start for any organisation serious about understanding the customer journey on your website.
  • We use WebsiteGrader to keep an eye on your website performance – loading speeds, security, responsiveness and so on.
  • We use SimilarWeb to compare your results with your competitors
  • SEMRush is a great SEO tool to help discoverability – also has strong competitor analysis
  • HubSpot is our favourite marketing automation tool plus it includes a variety of full funnel analytics systems that connect directly to the CRM allowing more detailed user-behaviour tracking than is available in Google’s free offering
  • Some kind of way of implementing A/B testing for elements on your website. This will differ depending on the technology stack that you’re using but HubSpot offers this out of the box on their Marketing Pro tier and Google Optimize is also a good option for running experiments.
  • We have also used Unbounce landing page designer. It also offers easy A/B testing facilities good design features for landing pages.

You may already be using others - it doesn’t really matter as long as they work, and you are familiar with them and ready to use them to analyse your data in this CRO endeavour.

 

A Guide to A/B Testing

Understanding A/B Testing

A/B testing is the most fundamental tool in conversion rate optimisation. Guesswork is the enemy, facts and data are our allies, and testing everything removes guesswork from the process.

So how does A/B testing work? For each type of asset that you might find in a conversion path, the methodology for A/B testing will differ slightly, but overall the principle is to show two randomly selected samples of users two different assets whilst measuring the behaviour of users interacting with them. For example, on a landing page, you may wish to run an A/B test that evaluates impact that having a required form field for phone numbers. In order to do this you will drive a number of randomly selected users to a version of the page that has the required field and a number of different (but also randomly selected) users to a version of the page that does not have that field. By measuring the difference in conversion rates from landing page visitor to form submits, you will see how many leads you win or lose from the required field. At the end of the test you will know the impact of having the required field and you can make a data-driven judgement as to whether you want to keep it or reject it. 

It is worth pointing out that, just like CRO is not a magic bullet to increase conversion, A/B testing is not a magic bullet to increase engagement.

In their seminal book, Making Websites Win, authors K. Blanks and B. Jesson say A/B testing is like a stopwatch that measures an athlete’s performance.  That’s a perfect simile. 

If you take one of your adverts, copy it and change something in one of the copies, you can now measure the relative performances of the adverts.  But that will not make your better performing advert a good advert.  It could mean it’s just a tiny bit better than a really bad advert! And when you started this process, A/B testing did not even tell you what you had to change in your second advert to make it better than the first – for that you would have needed other insights, or it may be you just guessed!  Ouch!!

But, A/B testing will tell you what is working better than something else and that’s a key signpost to incremental improvements.  Done regularly, A/B testing will show you what to keep and what to discard or change, and that’s powerful and valuable.   

The Conversion Path

We’ve been talking about conversion rates, conversion rate optimisation, A/B testing and more for a while now, but there’s one more fundamental piece we need to define in order to understand your user’s buying process and that’s the conversion path.

 

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The conversion path is the route by which the user becomes a customer.

In other contexts this is sometimes referred to as the Buyer’s Journey, but a conversion path refers to the behaviour of a user on online properties instead of the more abstract Buyer’s Journey which can refer to a number of actions, mental stages and the psychological aspects of decision making

 

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Thanks to tools like Google Analytics it is very easy for us to visualise the conversion path of a given website. Looking at the acquisition tabs will give you a good idea of where traffic is coming from and looking at the behaviour tabs will tell you what a user is doing on your site. If you’ve set up Event Tracking, you’ll even be able to define certain actions that you want users to take and map them against the path they took to arrive there. The easiest way to visualise this is through the Behavior Flow report in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics Behaviour Flow Screengrab

As you can see from the screenshot above, it shows exactly how users who arrive on your page are using your content.

By observing this information carefully you can deduce what your customers are looking for and reduce the amount of work they need to get it. This smooths out the path that a user needs to take in order to become a customer.

By identifying pages within the conversion pathwhere a high percentage of users drop out, you will have a very good idea of how to adapt the website in order to improve your traffic-to-customer conversion rates.

Defining, creating and optimising your conversion paths is key to understanding where you are capable of influencing user behaviour, reducing friction and ultimately getting your user to the pages you need them to be on.

Everyone does more research than they used to, before making purchases so providing them with the information they need, when they need it, is the key to creating the best possible experience for them.

If you understand what information users need in what order, you can create a conversion path that helps them through the journey in the most efficient and pleasant way possible.

 

Define your strategic focus

Whilst a conversion path is the journey a person takes from becoming a complete stranger to becoming a customer. Many people have made the point that however you lay out the path you want your prospect to follow, it’s likely they’ll choose a different way!

But don’t let that put you off. Your visitors may take detours and come to you in some different ways, but once they have become customers you can see how they behaved; what content was compelling, what CTA worked, what landing page finally captured them. 

Try not to think of the conversion journey as a series of pages visited, but in terms of the responses and behaviours of your clients to the choices you presented to them; offers, CTAs, forms, landing pages, gated content, ungated content, long and short-form reads, videos, educational pieces…

What are the most successful things you presented that moved your prospects forward in their journeys?   Perhaps you want to focus here: “How can you improve those elements?”

What were the least successful elements?  You can throw them away and leave yourself with a very limited number of exceptionally high performing elements, or you can work on your weaknesses to create a bigger range of elements that perform pretty well.   

One final thought on the non-linearity of a conversion path is that you should be aware of the tools that exist to bring users back into the path when they have abandoned the process.

All of these can help you get your user to your ideal end-point efficiently:

  • Retargeting / remarketing advertising channels to bring abandoned users back 
  • Smart-content that changes the look of web pages for returning visitors
  • Pre-filled and dynamic forms to help enrich your data about returning leads
  • CRM and analytics integrations that help alert, categorise and identify returning users. 

Getting started with CRO

You probably have two or three questions by now:

  • How long will it take before I see results?
  • What sort of results should I expect?
  • What are the next steps?

Let’s look at those:

How long will it take?

Given that we know that CRO is a ongoing process and not a single event, we should expect improvements to happen incrementally, but regularly. 

There are  blogs that talk about huge uplifts in conversions, and we see they do happen, but not all the time.  A more likely outcome is a series of small uplifts that happen within two or three months, followed by some breakthroughs that give bigger increases.  Looking back over a year of continuous activity, you should see exactly this pattern. 

What sort of results should I see?

I deliberately didn’t ask “What results will I see?”  That would be dependent on so many variables, including your own goals for CRO, that it would be impossible to answer. 

What I can say is that as you become more efficient in acquiring customers, your cost of acquisition goes down.  Or put another way, your revenue increases and your profits increase even more. 

Applying the Principles

Calculating your conversion rate

You may have come across the terms macro and micro conversions (or sometimes just ‘events’).  Simply put, micro conversions are commitments that are less than a sale.  Macro conversions are the conversion of a lead to a customer.

You can calculate your conversion rate on either of these things:

Total goals achieved (micro or macro) / total visitors x 100

e.g. 75 clients / 5,000 visitors x 100 = 1.5%

You will need to use this formula to measure a variety of conversion rates across the whole length of the conversion path.

 

Collecting data

The next step is to collect the data you will need. This is where those analytics tools come in, but first we need to know what data is relevant and then how to measure and understand it.

Defining your conversion rate between any two steps in your conversion path requires two data points. The number of users who saw the conversion offer and the number of users who converted with that offer.

In this context I'm using the concept of conversion offers to cover everything from clicks on ads to whitepaper downloads, sales and anything else you can think of to measure. But these two numbers only give part of the story. If you’re trying to attract people to your site with a blog and then trying to capture their lead information with a workbook behind a gated landing page, you will need to know:

  1. The number of people who see the link to your blog post in the wild
  2. The number of visitors to the blog post
  3. The number of visitors to the landing page
  4. The number of people who filled out the form to download your workbook.

If you know that lots of people are clicking the link to arrive at the blog post but no one is going to the landing page, you can see clearly that the bottleneck that needs to be addressed is within the blog page itself, but you can’t necessarily see what the bottleneck is.

This is where having a few more data points is going to be helpful. You could always experiment blindly and look at the incremental increases in conversion rate that result, but a more strategic approach will pay dividends.

So in the case of our blog post -> landing page click through conversion goal, we can go to Google Analytics to see what’s up.

 

Page views

Unique page views

Avg. Time on Page

% Bounce Rate

% Exit Rate

234

171

0:03

92.86%

96%

 

Imagine that we see the above stats when we look at our Google Analytics. Take a moment to try and decipher what they’re telling you.

If you guessed that the quality of the content was low, you’re absolutely right. We can see here that whilst we’re getting a good amount of traffic to the blog post, no one is staying on the page for very long and the vast majority of them are leaving the page without clicking through to anything else (much less the landing page link that we want them to arrive on.) So what are the causes of this?

Obviously, the causes of a problem with any given piece of content are myriad and I’m sure that you can add your own thoughts onto these, but here’s where I would start to diagnose your problem.

  • The content doesn’t match the promise of the link that the user clicked to arrive on the page. Nothing annoys a user quite as much as arriving on a page that doesn’t answer the question that they were posing. If you’ve written an ad that promises to teach them how to set up Google Analytics, you better make sure that your landing page delivers this content. If not, the user will close the page and move on to find something that will answer their questions.

  • The content on the page is difficult to consume. This is a problem you see all the time on news websites – particularly on the pages owned by the titans of old media who are used to generating a certain amount of ad-revenue from their expensive content. This happens when the content that you’ve promised a user is hidden or obstructed from view by other elements on the page. This can happen for any number of reasons but I’m sure you will have seen sites that are unusable because of intrusive newsletter sign-up pop-ups or a bad user-experience on mobile. Either way, if you make your content difficult to consume, the user isn’t going to stick around to do your job for you.

  • The call-to-action from blog to landing page is misconfigured or placed poorly. There’s lots of information on the web about the best way to position and write calls to action, but one thing everyone agrees on is that you need to make it obvious what you want the user to do when he arrives on your page. If you don’t help your user to follow your conversion path, they won’t do it.

There are hundreds of other data points that you can use to help guide your CRO optimisation and hundreds of gurus anxious to give you their advice on how to have an impact on your conversion rates, but really the only tip you need is to put yourself in the shoes of the user.

Look at the data, assess how they are behaving and follow the path to figure out what roadblocks you need to remove to turn your under-performing content into a customer generation machine.

Ian is the former group CMO of Euroclear SA/NV, a co-founder of QPQ an Ireland-based FinTech and CEO of Flagship Marketing, a Fintech growth agency. He holds a Law degree from Cambridge University (UK) and postgrad diploma in digital marketing from the Institute of Digital Marketing. He is also a trustee of the Children's Charity, The Giraffe Project
Ian Dalton CEO Flagship Marketing

Ian Dalton Flagship Marketing

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