Conversion Rate Optimization: Marketing’s Most Underused Secret Weapon

I attend and speak at some of the best digital marketing conferences all over the world, and I can count on one-hand the number of sessions I’ve seen that offered quality content about Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). This marketing specialization just always seems to fly under the radar in marketing circles.

Yes, there are a number of great websites and resources dedicated to CRO. There are also some excellent CRO-specific conferences out there and I’ve attended most of them — but the real problem is this: The only people talking about conversion rate optimization are CRO experts at CRO conferences and CRO bloggers on CRO-specific websites. Digital marketing generalists and marketing departments don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it, and they certainly don’t give it the respect it deserves

And believe me, it deserves more respect.

I’ve personally seen CRO campaigns contribute millions in revenue to online brands, for pennies-on-the-dollar compared to costs of other marketing channels. In fact, at the software company (where I lead the marketing teams), one recent iteration of A/B testing lead to a 49% increase in conversions. Gains that big are rare, so when you find a marketing channel yielding such positive returns, you can’t afford to ignore it.

Yet still, CRO is an underrepresented specialty in today’s marketing industry, and because of a general lack of understanding about the field of work, it often loses out (in budget and resources) to more popular marketing channels like Pay Per Click, Social Media, and Search Engine Optimization.

I’ve made it my personal mission to help expand the reach of conversion rate marketing, and that starts with us talking more about what CRO is, and how it can help other marketing teams.

Understanding the ways in which users navigate your site and become customers is what CRO is all about—and improving that process means more sales. A good, basic understanding of key terms and metrics is important to understand the necessity of CRO.

Here’s a quick CRO crash course in case you need a little refresher:

Key Terms and Metrics

Conversion is the term for what happens when an online visitor becomes a paying customer. Conversions take many forms: buying an item, subscribing to an email, requesting a quote, or creating a user account.

Your conversion rate is the total number of conversions divided by the total number of user sessions. If your website has 20,000 user sessions a month, and you receive 500 orders in that month, your conversion rate is 500/20,000 = 2.5%.

Bounce Rate

Your bounce rate is the rate at which a visitor arrives at your website and leaves without taking any actions. If your website is providing information (say, ‘how to increase CRO’), then a high bounce rate isn’t inherently bad—it means the visitor received the information and left. If you’re in the business of selling products or services online, you want visitors to take on-page actions.

Call to Action

Calls-to-action (CTAs) tell the customer how, where, and what to buy. They enable you to understand where in the conversion funnel performance can be increased. If visitors are not clicking on the CTA, it could be an indication of poorly written copy or unappealing design.

Shopping Cart Abandonment

Shopping cart abandonment by customers is frustrating, and rightfully so: losing out on the potential sale at this final stage means missing out on significant revenue. Tracking abandonment rate is part and parcel of successful CRO implementation.

These metrics are at the core of any website analysis for improvements that could come from a successfully implemented CRO campaign.

Analyzing Your Website for CRO Improvements

To determine how to most efficiently implement CRO, it’s a valuable exercise to analyze your current website and identify any glaring areas that need improvement. Color contrast levels, CTA location, and video inclusion are just a few areas worth exploring.

Unclear value propositions, weakly worded or misplaced calls-to-action, and difficult checkout procedures are some of the big red flags for companies with lower conversion rates.

Most of all, be sure to bring as much data as possible.

Your Google Analytics dashboard is positively loaded with conversion rate metrics.

To name a few:

• Traffic from Target Market (Traffic Sources)

• Return Visitor Conversion

• Interactions Per Visit

Traffic from target market is of particular importance—narrowing down your dataset to your specific target market is how you separate potential customer traffic from overall visitor metrics.

Doing the work to analyze your website, where CRO can best provide an impact and fully implementing CRO is only part the battle.

The Challenges of CRO

The actual functional work of implementing CRO isn’t overwhelming, but there are some common hurdles that get in the way when teams try to roll out a their first conversion marketing program:

Challenge 1 – CRO is Resource Intensive

CRO is not budget-expensive per se, since there are not advertising costs involved like you would see in other marketing channels. However, the work does involve a large amount of human capital, which can be a major problem for companies with limited resources. The following people are commonly involved in a CRO campaign:

Marketing Staff: to analyze website usage data, form the hypotheses, and set up the test in the split testing software.

Design Staff / Front End Developers : to design page variants and turn the hypothesis into working web pages.

Content Writers: to craft new messaging for page variants.

SEO staff: to ensure testing does not cause any organic problems (duplicate content or similar pages can create problems for Google).

Data Scientist or experienced CRO Practitioner: to ensure testing is statistically sound, and to interpret the results.

This leads into the next challenge of CRO: complexity.

Challenge 2 – CRO is Complex

Conversion optimization requires a general grasp of statistics, some of which can become confusing pretty quickly – at the very least you will need to understand P-values and statistical significance. In fact, A/B testing done wrong – results without statistical significance – can lead to false interpretations of data and cause misguided marketing decisions to be made.

As the saying goes: “The data will confess to anything if you torture it long enough.”

Here’s an illustration of why statistics matter:

Say you take the homepage of your e-commerce website and make an identical copy of it. You now have two pages that are exactly the same. Next, you run 50% of your web traffic to the original version (page A) and 50% to the identical copy (page B). You begin to run your A/B test, and you record which page generates more purchases.

After the first hour of testing, you notice page version B generated five purchases, while Page A generated only one, so you stop the test. Without an understanding of statistical significance, you could conclude that Version B is the winner! It’s a better page, with 400% more sales!

However, the two pages are identical. If you would have let the test run longer (like statistical mathematics dictate) then over time the numbers would have equalized, and you would have seen one-page page does not actually perform better than the other.

Statistics and timing are crucial in getting CRO right.

No matter how well prepared you may be to deliver a CRO campaign, it’s all pointless if you don’t have leadership buy-in, particularly from the C-Suite.

Challenge 3 – Getting Leadership Buy-in Is Difficult

If the technical challenges weren’t enough, It can be unbelievably difficult to convince C-suite leaders in an organization to put precious marketing resources towards Conversion Rate Optimization.

The scenario goes something like this:

Marketing Director: “I need extra marketing resources to implement a CRO program.”

CEO: “We don’t have budget to work on the website right now, we just need to focus on bringing in new business instead. Let’s revisit this next year…”

It can be hard for company leaders to understand how CRO could be as valuable to the bottom line as lead generation marketing that brings in new revenue. Luckily, the golden rule of C-suite persuasion applies nicely here: Tie it back to money. Convincing management to implement CRO doesn’t require technical language. Speak in terms C-Suite executives understand—profit, cost, and sales.

Sell CRO by selling results, and back those results up with proof. Few people have the time or willingness to understand what boosting a conversion rate from 2.5% to 5.0% means in technical terms—but saying you can double sales with a proper CRO campaign is something no one can ignore.

CRO is a process, and it takes quality data to sell long-term improvements to management. Look for case studies and examples from your specific industry—it’s hard to deny the value in CRO if your competitors are embracing it.

Frame the discussion in terms non-technical or traditional-minded executives understand. If a visitor walks into your brick-and-mortar store, you need to get them to spend money. Hiding the checkout queue, greeting customers, or offering financing are all ways stores try to convert their customers. Portray CRO as the digital equivalent of organizing a store, and even the most ardent C-Suite executive is sure to see the value.

Need a little additional ammunition to convince your CEO? Quote some of these case studies:


It would stand to reason Moz, one of the premier online marketing providers, would be a case study for effective CRO implementation. When Moz tweaked its approach towards CRO, it registered over $1 million/year in new subscribers. On its landing page, Moz changed its marketing and sales language from ‘buy’ to ‘why’. This new marketing approach demonstrated value (e.g., ‘here’s who eBay, Disney, and Marriott turn to…’) instead of trying to sell a product or service. Moz also clarified what customers would get with their subscriptions. Charts and images perform well with users and create interest in viewers. This reduced bounce rate and kept visitors engaged.

The company also emphasized video marketing content in lieu of pure written text—something viewers love to see. With Moz drawing in larger crowds with its improved landing page, the company tweaked its sales funnel by making it easier for customers to try their service. Revamped CTAs ($1 for 30 days of paid membership) and no-obligation product trial periods lowered the shopping cart abandonment rate and prompted more conversions.

Performable and 37Signals

CRO isn’t always flashy. Look at Performable—a simple color change for their CTA resulted in 21% more clicks. Another company, 37signals, chose to radically redesign their homepage to reduce clutter and emphasize a single customer testimonial. The result? A remarkable 102.5% increase in conversions. The lesson is clear: find areas to improve on, and run A/B tests to get quality data on what works. Oftentimes, the simplest changes lead to the best results.

Moving Forward with CRO

We know CRO works. Optimizing your website’s conversion rate leads to more customers and more sales. By reducing bounce rate, increasing CTA click-throughs, and reducing shopping cart abandonment, you’ll sell more—just make sure to pitch CRO to management in a language they understand.

At its core, CRO is about making it easier for customers to spend their money.

Help them do it!

Kris Hughes is the Senior Content Marketing Manager for award-winning project management software company, where he leads the company’s daily content and social media initiatives. In previous roles with digital publishers Wide Open Media Group and Rant Media Network, he led large teams of content creators and social media managers.