What Is CRO? A Beginner’s Guide

what is cro

Are you driving people to your website, only to have a tiny percentage of them complete the goal of that page?

You can have thousands of website visitors arriving on a daily basis. But if your website isn’t set-up to encourage conversions, you won’t convince site visitors to do it. That makes their entire visit almost worthless, especially if you don’t have a strong digital marketing strategy in place.

There’s one thing that can help with getting more visitors through eCommerce marketing: Conversion Rate Optimization.

In this beginner’s guide to CRO success, we’ll share:

  • What CRO is
  • Why it’s important
  • 6 beginner’s CRO tactics
  • The crucial things to remember when running CRO tests 

What is CRO?

The most important question to ask before you understand CRO success is, “what is CRO?” CRO is short for Conversion Rate Optimization, and refers to the process of optimizing your website to get a higher conversion rate. 

You can apply CRO techniques to any page on an eCommerce site, including:

  • Product pages
  • Checkout pages
  • The homepage
  • Blog posts

The goal of the CRO process is to improve conversions for each page, either in terms of purchase conversion, or by getting more sign-ups or products added to carts. (The conversion depends on the overall goal of the page; each can be different.)

CRO works by running tests and changing different elements to see which gets the higher conversion rate. Also known as A/B testing or multivariate testing, it’s how you test which small changes have the biggest impact on your overall conversion rate.

Why is CRO important?

Now we know what CRO is, let’s take a look at why every eCommerce site needs to think about the conversion process when creating (or improving) their online store. 

CRO and sales

Did you know that the average conversion rate for an eCommerce website is just 2.29%?

The vast majority leave without converting; for every 100 people who visit your website, almost 98 will leave without buying an item. 

CRO marketing helps make your website more appealing and user-friendly so that more people buy. You’re making small tweaks with more conversions as the end-goal. So, it makes sense to test different elements—such as the positions, colors, and messaging of things—to see which gets the most people to buy. 

Casey Halloran of Costa Rican Vacations explains:

“We have run experiments that seemed like kooky ideas that resulted in a 33% change in conversion rate. Results like that can mean the difference between a banner year and losing money. 

You just never know what’s going to work, so you need to make educated guesses and TRY things. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” 

CRO and digital marketing strategy

The people you’re driving to your site through social media, content, and email need to feel confident and comfortable to make a purchase. 

But poor CRO means you won’t get a strong return on your marketing investment. 

Why? Because although you’re getting people to your site with marketing campaigns, they’re not converting once they get there. You’re essentially wasting marketing budgets if your site isn’t set-up to convert the maximum number of visitors. Having a stronger CRO process and CRO strategy helps create more opportunities for business growth.

6 beginner’s CRO techniques to try

Ready to start taking advantage of CRO? 

You’ll need to start with split testing: a process that helps you test which on-page elements get the most conversions.

Here are six beginner’s CRO tactics to start with.  

1. Test website forms

Chances are, you’ve got a form on your website that asks visitors to do something. This can be anything from a generic contact form, right the way through to newsletter sign-ups or requesting a custom service quote.

Avoid creating the form and never touching it again. It’s the perfect way to start with CRO. You might find that more (or less) people fill-in the form, depending on:

  • How many fields the form has
  • Which fields are required

The best part? This CRO test is incredibly easy to run. Simply decide how many weeks it takes to get a meaningful number of submissions (100 at a minimum.) Then, change the number of form fields impact and leave the same amount of time to plan.

Monitor how many submissions you get, then repeat. You’ll see the optimal number of form fields you’ll need to have for maximum conversions from site visitors. 

2. Change your blog calls to action

You should never expect somebody to go out of their way to do something on your website if you haven’t explicitly asked.

For example: someone can land on a blog post and love the content you’ve given them. But if there’s no obvious next step (such as downloading an eBook or visiting a features page), it’s safe to assume they won’t do it on their own accord.

That’s why you should play around with the calls to action you’re including in your blog posts to guide potential customers through the conversion funnel.

Run CRO tests on the call to action:

  • Colors
  • Position in the content
  • Messaging and copy

Again, set a timeframe for you to run the initial test. Use the same time period to collect data on the changes you’ve made. You’ll find that certain combinations tend to get the most newsletter sign-ups.

3. Add social proof to product pages

It’s proven that social proof gets more conversions. But with so many forms of social proof, it’s hard to know which your audience likes best.

Another beginner’s CRO test to try is judging which types of social proof get the most total conversions on product pages. You could try adding:

  • Testimonials
  • 5* ratings
  • “Featured in” logos
  • Celebrity endorsements
  • Earned media

But remember that your conversion metric isn’t always product conversions—even if you’re running the CRO test on a product page. 

You might want to monitor how many people add that item to their cart. It’s another metric you can use to judge which elements are convincing people to buy.  

4. Simplify the checkout process

The customer journey for most eCommerce websites isn’t straightforward. 

You can have the best-optimized product pages in the world, but almost 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned. Your checkout pages need to be subject to CRO split testing, too.

The simplest way to do this is by adding elements to the checkout page. For example, you could see whether the following additions impact how many people abandon their online shopping cart:

  • Chatbots
  • Reducing required forms
  • Allowing social log-in

This CRO test usually takes the least amount of time to run. However, it’s a tricky one. 

Making too many changes to your checkout page (or accidentally breaking it whilst you’re customizing the page) can lead to you having zero conversions.

Sure, it’s important to test which elements reduce your abandoned cart rate. But make sure you’re careful with any changes on this page.  

5. Change landing page headlines

Writing headlines and landing page copy is one of the hardest things to do. 

There are millions of combinations of words, phrases, and sentence structures to choose from when narrowing down how to create a landing page that will serve your business. The first option you create isn’t always the one that gets the most conversions from your website traffic. 

So, spend some time creating a handful of variations, each with slightly different:

  • Messaging
  • Formats
  • Lengths

Give each headline time to collect data, then change again. 

You might find that shorter headlines get more total conversions than longer. Or, that messaging focused on the product’s benefits gets more conversions than one about its features. With so many opportunities for testing, it may take time to establish the best landing pages that convert consistently for your business.

(Pull data from other sources to help with this. You might have Facebook or PPC Ads that performed much better than the others, for example. Check whether the messaging was any different. If so, use that as your starting point for landing page copy tests.)

6. Add live widgets to your product pages

If potential customers have questions when they’re shopping, who can they ask? 

As we briefly touched on earlier, you can’t expect somebody to go out of their way to do something on your website. You need to give them the option to do so (and make it obvious). 

That includes widgets which allows a website visitor to ask questions when they need help.

Rebecca White explains how Prana Brush implemented this test on their website:

“Based on my experience, my #1 tip for optimizing conversion rate is to implement a real-time chat window.

Our comparison of the data before and after showed that being available to our readers to answer questions immediately over chat dramatically increased their willingness to browse our site (increasing average page views), increased the time they spent on our site (increasing dwell time), and increased their confidence in our brand and their willingness to make a purchase (increased conversions). 

In general, we saw a 20% increase in average page views and dwell time and a comparable increase in conversions. 

Our advice for other companies is to consider implementing chat boxes, but being careful to do so cautiously. Chat boxes are only effective if you have the ability to monitor them and respond to questions in real time. 

If your resources are strained, it is better not to have a chat box than to have one that cannot be properly staffed as this may negatively impact a user’s perception of your site.”

The best part? You don’t have to be a coding wizard to use this type of technology.

An overlay using tools like ManyChat helps to answer questions and keep the user clicking to purchase or download. It can answer your most common questions automatically and give them an instant response for a frictionless customer journey.

4 crucial things to remember when running CRO tests

Running an A/B test isn’t as simple as changing your website and monitoring how your purchase conversion rate changes.

You need to be smart with the things you’re testing and the way you test them.

Here are four crucial things to remember before you start. 

Know your success metrics

The purchase conversion rate is the most common success metric for CRO testing. 

After all, convincing visitors to buy your products is one of the most important things for any eCommerce site.

But not everyone landing on your website will be ready to buy. They might be higher in the sales funnel and need extra information before they purchase. 

Your CRO tests can target them whilst they’re still in the top of the conversion funnel. For example: if you’re using blog posts as a way to drive new traffic to your site, optimizing the calls to action—and getting them on your newsletter—is more realistic than having them buy an item.

In this case, purchase conversion rate wouldn’t be your success metric. It’d be newsletter sign-ups, instead.

The bottom line? The conversion goal depends on the page you’re optimizing, and the micro conversions for that individual page. It’d be the percentage of people adding an item to their cart for product pages, or the number of form submissions for a contact page. 

Don’t always assume purchase conversion rate is the most important. Think about the goal of the individual page, not the entire website. 

Only change one thing at a time

If you change two things at the same time and your conversion rate increases by 5%, how do you know which change was responsible?

The answer: you don’t have a clue.

It’s crucial to stick to changing one small thing at a time—such as your call-to-action button color—and measure that first. You’ll see the impact that color change has on your success metric, without it being tied into the results of other on-page changes.

You can run several tests after one another, each testing a single element. But stick to one thing at a time to make sure your data is accurate (and attributable.)

Use CRO software

You don’t have to manually analyze the data from your CRO tests.

Tools like Google Analytics or Google Optimize help run your A/B tests, and can clearly show which changes had the biggest impact on your conversion rate, as Deborah Varon of Consilium SEO explains:

“Use a tool like Google’s free Optimize platform to easily set up an A/B test to pit your two options against each other. Once you have a winner, you can implement that change onto your site for all visitors. 

Approaching CRO like this takes the risk out. If a particular idea doesn’t pan out, you don’t have to make the change on the site. But if your hypothesis ends up helping, you can boost your conversions, which can equal improvements to your or your client’s bottom line.”

Extra paid tools like Hotjar, Unbounce, and CrazyEgg are also worth having in your toolkit. 

They give you access to more data such as heat maps, user testing, and customer feedback forms—all of which show how real visitors engage with your site, including:

  • Which areas of the page they look at before exiting and should be prioritized for CRO testing.
  • What people are looking for when they visit your site to make sure you’re delivering that (and making it easy to find.) It’s especially important to know how to make a website mobile-friendly in order to accommodate users browsing on a smart device.
  • The reason why people leave without converting so you can fix it.

That’s all valuable data you can use to make smarter CRO tests—and make sure you’re prioritizing things that will have the biggest impact. 

Know when to end your CRO test

Running CRO tests is more a matter of science than art.

The duration of your test is one of the most important factors to consider. Why? Because running the test for too long could waste time using the wrong combination. But not giving it enough time you won’t have enough data to make sensible and accurate decisions. 

The key is to end your test once you have statistical significance, as Optimizely explains:

“Statistical significance is the likelihood that the difference in conversion rates between a given variation and the baseline is not due to random chance.”

Some CRO tools can analyze the statistical significance for you. 

But, as a general guideline, make sure your sample sizes are large enough to collect meaningful data. Aim for an element to beat the other by at least 95%. That way, it’s safe to assume that the winning result has actually won. 

Start your CRO strategy today

As you can see, CRO isn’t just another fancy marketing word that you don’t need to pay attention to. 

Every eCommerce website should be running A/B tests to make sure each page on their site is best-optimized to convert people landing there—be that in terms of making purchases, subscribing to newsletters, or adding items to their online cart. 

Remember to know your success metric in advance, and stick to changing one thing at a time. You’ll soon start to see the importance of optimizing your site.

Ready to start converting?

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