Conversion-rate optimization (CRO) can be intimidating.

For many marketers just starting out in this area, one of the hardest things to find can be clear advice on how to avoid common pitfalls, generate strong ideas, and run tests that get real results.

With his new book, Website Optimization: An Hour a Day, author and optimization consultant Rich Page lays out a framework that nearly all marketers can use to improve their conversion rates.

I asked him to elaborate on a few key areas of the book, and he responded with some excellent insights in our Q&A.

Hunter Boyle: Your book cites studies by Forrester and eMarketer showing that for every $80 spent on driving online traffic only $1 is spent on converting that traffic (Chapter 1). What are some reasons for that disparity?

Rich Page: I think it's because, traditionally, the easiest and quickest method of increasing online revenue is by throwing huge sums of marketing dollars to drive more traffic to your website. Think of the grandiose excesses of the dot-com boom era, like how wasteful those sock puppet ads were!

Fast-forward to today, and conversion rate optimization enters like a knight in shining armor to save the day. Unfortunately, it hasn't made a big enough impact on this ratio yet because it's still a relatively new field, with many online businesses not understanding its true ROI or best-practices, like investing in the right tools and resources to ensure success. And when they don't get great results from their CRO efforts (no surprise there), companies simply revert to spending huge dollars on marketing to increase online revenue. That hasn't been helped by sexier and cooler methods of driving traffic, like social media!

HB: What are some of the biggest obstacles that keep marketers from testing more? How can they get past those obstacles?

RP: To sum it up, the biggest obstacles are animals that wallow in large pools of mud: HiPPOs. These "highest-paid persons' opinions" in organizations often don't really understand the true benefits and ROI of effective CRO, and they believe they know what's best for their website and visitors. This reduces effective testing, leading to poor results and ROI. Sound familiar?

The best way to help overcome these HiPPOs is by taming them with education and peer pressure. For education, you need to present to them the potential revenue and ROI from doing CRO on your website (with examples of pages on your website with great potential), not just the impact on conversion, as they probably won't be well-versed in conversion rates.

For peer pressure, you need to gain an executive sponsor at the senior level to help champion the benefits and help with test prioritization. That will make it much easier to get testing done quickly and effectively. Gaining and building support from key department heads like those of IT and Marketing will also help increase the pressure on your HiPPOs that your business should be running CRO. And combine that with showing them proof that your competitors are doing effective conversion rate optimization, and your HiPPOs will soon turn into mice...

HB: Where do the best test ideas come from? Can you provide a few examples of recent tests that you found inspiring?

RP: One thing is for sure: the best test ideas usually don't come from random ideas! Overall, there are three main sources of great test ideas:

  • Your web analytics data. This is a goldmine for great test idea insights, for example finding leaks in conversion flows (like your signup process pages), and other problematic pages that need optimizing, like your top entry pages with high bounce rates.
  • Feedback from your visitors. This really is key; don't just presume you know what is best for your visitors. The best way to gain such feedback is from frequent usage of visitor surveys (using tools like Survey Monkey or Qualaroo) and running cheap and effective usability sessions (UserTesting.com is great for this). Do a survey every time you launch something major on your website—to gain new ideas!
  • Competitive website analysis. Spend some time each month analyzing what your website competitors are doing and improving on their website in terms of new functionality or content. Doing so can help form some great test ideas for your own website. Don't rip them off, though, and don't presume what will or won't work well on your website.

HB: You recommend looking for the "low-hanging fruit" to start or gain traction from testing. What are some common areas on sites that fit this description?

RP: Yes indeed! Great examples of low-hanging fruit are testing simple, easy-to-change elements on pages that relate to your conversion goals and also have high amounts of traffic. For example, testing wording such as headlines on product pages involves little effort to change quickly, yet it still can have a high potential impact on conversion rates. That's the opposite of running tests involving major overhauls of pages that are difficult to change, like checkout pages, as these often need considerable effort from IT teams to implement and run tests on.

Other simple "low hanging fruit" test ideas include adding simple imagery like trust and security logos in the header or guarantee logos (risk reducers). The key is to make sure the related pages have adequate traffic and are seen somewhere along your main conversion flow, like service signup pages, or on multiple pages, like navigation elements.

HB: Why are personas and use cases so important to website optimization, and why do so many organizations overlook them?

RP: Without website visitors, your online business would not survive for very long: They are the most important elements to any website! If you meet their needs better and make them happier, the result is higher engagement and conversion rates.

The best way to meet their needs is by first understanding the major types of visitors that will come to your website (e.g., information seekers, deal hunters) and then recreating their characteristics in your Web analytics tool (usually referred to as segments) and analyzing them for differences or areas for improvement. Then, based on those personas, you create major use cases for them (major tasks your visitors want to achieve) and make sure your website solves those easily (e.g., searching for specific products or looking for returns information). Tools like Loop11.com are great for analyzing the completion rates so you can understand what your site need to improve. That analysis becomes an excellent source of high-impact test ideas.

Many online businesses perceive personas and use cases to be "light and fluffy," because unlike brick-and-mortar stores they rarely get to meet the visitors on their website. In turn, they skip this stage, thinking they already know their visitors and their motivations (see HiPPOs above). Don't be like them! Put yourself in the shoes of your visitors, create personas and use cases, then make sure your website is satisfying these tasks. You will soon notice improvements in your conversion rates.

HB: Describe how using segments in tandem with targeted content can improve testing and conversions.

RP: Ah, targeting, the secret sauce of websites and CRO agencies that do an amazing job of increasing conversion rates! Rather than just building a one-size-fits-all website, to better engage and convert key segments of your visitors you need to target them and show them content that's more relevant to their needs.

Those segments should be high-value groups of visitors, like repeat visitors or newsletter visitors, and you'll often have those already in your analytics tool. Create tests showing content variations that are more likely to better meet their needs: for example, showing first-time visitor guides to new visitors in a homepage module.

Another simple example of using targeting to increase engagement and conversion is by running content-affinity targeting—where you show content or products that relates to what a visitor has previously seen most on your website. You can also do this targeting for email visitors, by making sure you show them content on your website that relates to what they saw in the email.

Even after your tests end, you can use segmenting to improve conversion rates. How? By analyzing your test results to find segments that have dramatically better conversion rate winners, and then pushing those winning variations live on your website. (Note: don't just push one winning version to all of your visitors; that's too much like a one-size-fits-all solution.)

HB: What are some realistic increases a site can expect from following an effective system for optimization?

RP: Great question. If the right testing resources and best practices are used, the sky really is the limit. It also really depends on how well your website is currently converting: If it's poor, then you can easily gain 100% increases in conversion; but if it's a website that's been created with many usability best-practices, it will be much harder to gain results as high as that. However, even modest increases of 5% can be significant when you equate them into revenue (music to a HiPPO's ears!).

Finally, I would add that you shouldn't compare your website conversion rates to others that you read in case studies or reports. There is no perfect conversion rate; every website is different, with a unique blend of value proposition, marketing, and types of visitors. Comparing yourself will often lead to unrealistic expectations and goals, particularly from senior executives.

HB: Anything else you'd like to mention?

RP: Don't forget about optimizing different mediums of your website and its messaging. For instance, your mobile website version and email marketing efforts are essential to test and optimize, to ensure higher conversion rates across all aspect of your online business.

Hunter Boyle leads business development for email powerhouse AWeber. A veteran content marketer and conversion optimization strategist, he's helped organizations improve their digital ROI since the dot-com days. Connect with Hunter on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn.

Rich Page is a passionate website testing and conversion rate expert. He is the author of Website Optimization: An Hour a Day and co-author of the second edition of Landing Page Optimization, with Tim Ash. A consultant, Rich is available to help improve conversion rates for all types of online businesses.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Hunter Boyle

Hunter Boyle leads business development for email powerhouse AWeber. A veteran content marketer and conversion optimization strategist, he's helped organizations improve their digital ROI since the dot-com days.

Twitter: @hunterboyle

LinkedIn: Hunter Boyle