Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is having a moment in the sun with startups and others. And it's long overdue. Why? Because CRO takes a resource you already have (the traffic to your website) and helps you do more with it, at little additional cost.

CRO is central to establishing a powerful marketing flywheel of momentum that can drive growth for your business. And, as the cost of online advertising continues to rise, CRO will only become more and more important.

Still, although the concept of CRO is gaining momentum, not everyone understands quite what it's about or why it matters.

Consider collecting water as an analogy: If you're thirsty and you're trying to capture water from a source, you're likely to use two things—a funnel and a bottle. If your funnel is broken, you have holes or gaps that let water escape before getting to your ideal destination (the bottle). If you have a perfect funnel, no water escapes, making your collection perfectly efficient.

To fix the problem of a faulty funnel, you have a couple of options: Pour more water through the funnel, or fix the holes so that you're not pouring water all over the ground.

The first option (pouring more water through the funnel) is analogous to purchasing more traffic. Yes, more water will reach the bottle, but you have to pay for that water, and a lot of it still ends up wasted. Conversion rate optimization, on the other hand, is an attempt to find and patch the holes so that you're not spilling so much water in the first place.

That analogy mirrors what's actually happening on your website in your conversion funnel. Those leaks are caused by slow load times, friction in your user flow, unclear calls-to-action, and literally anything else that might cause a user to give up before reaching the ultimate conversion point.

Most people intrinsically get this basic idea, but CRO can be a hard sell in an organization. It takes a different mindset, lots of people working together, and a rigor that is sometimes missing from marketing organizations.

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image of Sean Ellis

Sean Ellis is the founder of and CEO of Qualaroo, a technology company that helps marketers better understand the needs of website visitors and improve conversions. He has held marketing leadership roles at breakout companies, such as Dropbox, LogMeIn (IPO), Uproar (IPO), Eventbrite, and Lookout.

Twitter: @SeanEllis