What Is Conversion Optimisation and Why Does It Matter?

Conversion optimisation is the happy marriage of user experience and business growth.

Done properly, it’s the well-oiled machine that can drive you ahead of your competitors on an otherwise level playing field.

Getting it right, however, is a science and not an art. Mindset, methodology and momentum are the keys to success.

What Exactly Do We Mean by ‘Conversion Optimisation’?

Conversion optimisation is a bit misunderstood. And it’s easy to see why. The name ‘conversion rate optimisation’, or ‘CRO’ as it’s commonly known, sets the expectation that it’s a process of solely working towards higher website conversion rates, at the expense of everything else.

But if that were true, everyone would reduce their prices to £1 for every product. There may be a resulting spike in conversion rates, but you would soon go out of business.

So, how should we think about conversion optimisation? A better way to describe it is growth optimisation. It’s the process of turning more of your website visitors into happy customers, in a sustainable way.

Fundamentally, this is achieved through optimising the online experience, so that we remove unnecessary barriers in the way on their path to purchase.

Sounds straightforward, right?

Well, this is where a lot of businesses come unstuck. There is a mindset and methodology that underpins conversion optimisation that is essential to its success.

Randomly changing features on your homepage without an understanding of what drives your users simply won’t create the results you need. In fact, it may make things worse. There are a million different things that you could change on your website, so how do you narrow down your options?

The Mindset and Methodology of Conversion Optimisation

Luckily, there’s a framework that we can follow, which is well established and is proven to work. But that’s only half the puzzle. First, we need to adapt our way of thinking to get the best out of the process.

This mostly involves leaving behind what we think we know and trusting in the data. Hard as it may be to accept, when it comes to improving your website experience, your assumptions and opinions don’t matter.

You are not your customer. Ego-driven decisions might be the biggest blocker to growth in your business.

Instead, we need to be led by the data. For some businesses with entrenched views, this might be the hardest part, but the quicker we can give up our preconceptions and start from a place of ignorance, the better.

Then we can begin a four-stage process: analyse performance data, understand user behaviour, turn insights into hypotheses, and run prioritised experiments.

And when we complete one cycle, back around we go. The process acts as a virtuous circle. As we learn more, each cycle increases the beneficial effect of the next.

Ultimately, our aim is to move from unsupported opinions to data-informed hypotheses. We need to move away from random guessing and focus instead on knowing what’s happening and understanding why it’s happening. So, we can plan on what to change and measure the outcome.

Finding the Leaks

A website without conversion optimisation is like a leaky bucket, or so the old analogy goes. No matter how much water you tip into the top, you’ll still be losing customers through holes.

Those holes could be caused by all sorts of things that you can’t see. Conversion optimisation is, in part, the process of finding and mending those holes. To do that, we start by looking at what’s happening on your website under the bonnet.

With a robust Google Analytics setup, we can find out just about anything. Asking a business question first and then turning to your analytics for insights will always produce more useful results than just clicking around reports, waiting for something to pop out at you.

Are we selling more in our core markets? How do our landing pages perform compared to last year? With your business question, we can then check funnel performance and user flows; see conversions by device, browser or traffic source; or pinpoint high-traffic, low conversion landing pages.

The list goes on. The key here is having a purpose to your analysis.

Understanding User Behaviour

Now you have a good idea of what’s happening on your site and where the leaks may be. Next, we need to understand the cause that’s resulting in the negative effect. Why are your users behaving in the way they are?

This requires a thorough understanding of who your customers are, what makes them tick, their attitudes, behaviours, goals, and pain points. This way we can start from a place of empathy, by putting ourselves in their shoes.

Once you have your target audience narrowed down, digging up the insights is surprisingly simple: get them to use your website and describe their experience. Watch them perform tasks and see where they get stuck.

Ask them to explain why they do or don’t want to buy your product. Use surveys to find out why they are abandoning. User behaviour analysis can make it sound remote and sterile, but every user behind a screen is a human. And every human is different. Their experiences and opinions will always surprise you.

Turning Insights into Hypotheses. Test, Test, Test!

You’ve collected quantitative and qualitative data and uncovered some good, some bad and some downright nasty features of your website. Great work.

But having a deluge of insights can soon become a problem if you’re not able to prioritise. Scoring all your suggested changes by their impact and ease to implement will allow you to achieve the bigger wins and leave the low priority items until last.

Once you’ve picked your testing platform, you can get straight to testing the issues to validate and learn. Give your tests enough time to collect a statistically significant result.

Always test a specific hypothesis. That way you never fully fail. With experience, you begin to realise that you sometimes learn even more from tests that did not perform as expected.

Keeping Up the Momentum

The final piece is momentum. Conversion optimisation is not a quick fix, it’s an ongoing process. You and your website don’t operate in a vacuum. While you’re not making incremental improvements to your website, your competitors will be. Not only that, the market and your customers are always changing.

Is your site well optimised for the new audience you’re targeting? Do you know how your customers’ device habits have changed in the past year? Ongoing user research is essential for drawing fresh insights. You must constantly stay in check with the landscape, or it will shift under your feet.

To give yourself the best chance of establishing a long-term conversion optimisation program, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, make sure there’s someone responsible for driving it forward internally.

Set targets and KPIs to measure its success. And most importantly, make sure that they have the support they need to get the results, whether that’s a team or an experienced agency. Once you start to see the positive effects, you’ll have no trouble getting more internal buy-in.

Looking at the Wider Customer Journey

While we’ve mostly been talking about the online experience, there’s a danger in focusing too much on website metrics. Optimising for conversion rate can only lead to problems further down the customer journey.

Leads that aren’t properly qualified and customers that have been misled about the nature of the product. If that happens, you can expect a higher churn rate, higher customer service costs and lower satisfaction scores.

This is the conversion rate fallacy. Focusing so much on a single metric that it blinds you to the wider picture.

So, what’s the solution? We need to take a broader view. Any conversion optimisation program should always work towards improving every step in the journey, from one stage to the next. Converting a cold prospect into a warm lead, then a customer, and finally a lifetime champion.

Customer satisfaction scores, as well as lifetime value, should be a success metric to any conversion program. For some fully digital businesses, the website forms a large part of the entire customer experience. For others, it could only be one small fraction in a long, winding journey.

The best conversion optimisers understand this. They will go beyond the scope of a website and look at the context that surrounds it. Conversion optimisation should aspire to be customer experience optimisation.

Final Thoughts

Conversion optimisation isn’t guesswork, instinct or random. The process is designed to separate yourself from your bias and rely on data to lead our actions. Luckily, there’s never been a better time to be scientific in your approach.

Web analytics tools are accessible and readily available and remote user testing is an affordable option for most. If you can get the right mindset and keep up the momentum, then you’ll see results in no time.