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12 CRO Pros Share Their Secret To Optimisation Success

A/B Testing

I posed two questions to a selection of conversion rate optimisation (CRO) professionals from around the world. Among the group who responded are agency founders, department heads and internationally respected consultants.

I wanted to know:

  1. What underpins successful CRO and
  2. If that has changed over time.

The responses are varied but the one word everybody emphasises is data.

Q 1: What’s the no.1 step in your optimisation process?

Data interpretation

Brian Massey: @bmassey, ConversionSciences.com

“I’d rank data interpretation as the #1 step. We can’t do effective A/B testing unless we’re testing the right things. This requires data interpretation.”

Brian Massey quote on data interpretation

“User testing is important, but self-reported data is suspect. The gold lies in the interpretation. The “data” we interpret includes analytics, click-tracking and scroll-tracking, form completion, user videos, and split-testing results.”

Peter O’Neill; @peter_oneill, L3Analytics.com

“Always look at the data first. It doesn’t matter where you think you should start, look first to see where you can have the biggest impact.”

Paul Boyce; @paulmboyce, PopcornMetrics.com

“Without data you are blind.”

Paul Boyce tells how data is key to challenging your assumptions.

“It’s easy to assume what works, but without data you don’t really know if that’s a fact.”

Using the example of optimising one of Popcorn Metrics’ landing pages, Paul illustrated how data can clarify issues and provide the means for testing assumptions.

A landing page with a high conversion rate to try out Playmode (Popcorn’s ungated access to browse their analytics platform) in fact wasn’t translating to high conversions to start a free trial. Looking at either figure in isolation would have given entirely different impressions but Paul had the context of both.

“So, we made some assumptions about why that might be, testing messaging, a simplified flow, and stronger call to action (CTA).  As a result, our signups to Free Trial have more than doubled since we made our changes, all thanks to the data.

“A/B testing is essential to testing assumptions, to compare the status quo with the changes.”

Paul Boyce quote on A/B testing

“What I love about A/B testing is that you get solid facts so you know what works and what doesn’t and more, it’s liberating – because you don’t need to have all the answers! You can simply say – I don’t know, here’s my guess, let’s run an experiment and measure whether it improves conversions.”

Set a baseline of performance

Kathryn Aragon; @KathrynAragon, blog.crazyegg.com

“The number-one step in my optimization process is to set a baseline of performance.

Get an overview of everything being done currently: messaging, target audience, funnels, marketing channels, and, most importantly, the results of those efforts.”

Quote from Kathryn Aragon on targeting low hanging fruit

“I try to identify what’s working, what’s not, and where gaps exist. Then I look for low-hanging fruit that can create immediate success.”

Visitor usability feedback

Rich Page; @richpage, rich-page.com

“Getting visitor usability feedback. Insights from web analytics is important to find what your visitors are doing, but you really need to find out why they are doing what they are doing.”

Rich Page quote on user behaviour

“Create key tasks and ask at least 5 people (who match your target audience) to complete them. This gives you enormous insights into problematic issues and shows you how they REALLY use your website, which often different than you expect.

Also, you should ask them which aspects of your website they like the most, and like the least, and also to compare you to your main competitor websites.”

Do your prep work

Fabian Liebig; @FabianLiebig, Optimizely.com

“The most important task in the optimization process is doing the prep work. I hear and often see that people optimize blindly, testing buttons or images in areas of the website that do not really matter. While there is many potential areas for improvement on any website, it is essential to find the area with the highest impact on your business.

Ask your question: “Which is the #1 area or step in my conversion funnel where people struggle, don’t carry out the action I intend them to and ultimately exit?””

Fabian recommends following a structure of analysis > idea generation > idea prioritization > hypothesis generation > testing > analysis.

Don’t rush experiments

Dennis van der Heijden; @dennisvdheijdenConvert.com

“Take one or two full buying cycles in an optimization process before deciding if your results are not only confident according to your tool, but make sense in real-life as well. It would not make any sense, no matter how much traffic, if a test showed us after 3 days that our new homepage tagline had an impact on the amount of buyers we had.”

Understand what motivates your customers

Bryan Eisenberg; @TheGrok, IdealSpot.com

“The #1 technique hasn’t changed in over 20 years; understanding and communicating to the customer how they want to buy your product or service.”

Bryan Eisenberg on understanding your customer's point of view

“It is also about understanding the customer’s point of view and helping them accomplish their goals.”

Manuel da Costa; @Digital_tonic, Digital-Tonic.co.uk

“You have to understand the user, the journey they take on the website, the motivation behind why they visit the website and what leads them to stay or leave.

Do this with qualitative and quantitative methods (analytics, user testing, session playback etc). This is the base that helps you put together ideas for your tests.”

Matt Lacey; @matt_lacey12, PRWD.co.uk

“While A/B testing is absolutely fundamental to our conversion optimisation process in order to measure the direct impact of our efforts, we perhaps gain the most value from the in-depth consumer behaviour research that we conduct.”

Matt Lacey quote on identifying customer struggles

“By identifying customer struggles through qualitative user research, such as moderated user research, or quantitative methods, such as analytics and form tracking, we are able to make sure that we can prioritise hypotheses that have a greater chance of having a significant impact on performance.”

User research focuses your corporate objectives

Dominic Hurst; @dh_analytics, NICE.org.uk

“Has to be user research, without it we could be trying to improve something that isn’t that important. This helps with prioritising against corporate objectives.”

Research will reveal the winning solution

Joanna Wiebe; @copyhackers, @snapcopy, CopyHackers.com

Joanna’s role in conversion rate optimisation is specific to copy. However, you can see from her answer that no matter what aspect of optimisation is being addressed the process is the same.

Joanna Wiebe quote on research

“I allways start with research and discovery. The best messages are not hiding in my head or my client’s head. The best messages are out there, being spoken by our prospects and shared by our customers. Survey them, interview them, eavesdrop on them (in an ethical way). I always start there. We learn a ton before we write a word.”

Takeaway Point No.1

Start with research and investigation of the current state of affairs. Data and user research will tell you what’s working now and what isn’t. Make some educated guesses about what will work better and then test that assumption.

Q.2 Has CRO changed over time?

Testing tools are easier to use

Fabian Liebig; @FabianLiebig, Optimizely.com

“In the past 5 years tools for testing have become more available so that non-technical people can set up and run A/B tests. It used to take days or weeks to set up an online experiment, now this can be done with fewer resources and less time.”

Fabian Liebig quote on advancement of testing tools

However, Fabian also notes that optimising for mobile devices adds to the work and difficulty.

“The rise and importance of mobile will add more complexity as there is not only desktop, but also mobile websites and apps that must be optimized.”

The tools of optimisation are easier to use

Brian Massey; @bmassey, ConversionSciences.com

“The most effective techniques have definitely changed. It is a golden age of data collection in online marketing.”

Brian Massey quote "golden age of data collection"

Massey shared the running list of tools kept for My Conversion Lab.

“We have great analytics tools that are easy to implement and inexpensive. Split testing tools like Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer are very sophisticated now. It is inexpensive to record visitor interactions. Statistical tools are easier and easier to use. If you don’t know how to use these tools as a marketer, you’re going to be out of a job.”

Clients’ increased knowledge of CRO has change how we discuss optimisation

Dennis van der Heijden; @dennisvdheijden, Convert.com

“A/B testing has changed over last 3 years. Back then clients wanted to know about the visual editor, now questions are about how we apply two-tailed testing stats and how we calculate confidence levels.”

Dennis van den Heijden quote on client interest in A/B testing

“Clients are more informed now thanks to all the blogs and the importance conversion rate optimization gets in the marketing mix. We now have debates on calculation of stats and impact of blinking elements and that is what we did not see before.”

Optimisation has to satisfy more platforms and devices

Rich Page; @richpage, rich-page.com

Rich Page notes that both small and large screen sizes pose problems and the difference between browser types can make or break the user experience.

“It’s vital that you check how your website looks on the ever growing combinations of browsers and screen resolutions.

Even small variations in CSS by browser can make parts of your website look broken, and impact your conversions and sales. Using a tool like CrossBrowserTesting.com is essential to help you automate and monitor this.”

6 enduring copywriting techniques

Joanna Wiebe shared 6 content techniques that never get old:

  1. Refining your value proposition and making it customer-facing.
  2. Telling a unique, relatable brand story.
  3. Putting the customer well above yourself – stripping your ego out of marketing entirely.
  4. Using urgency and scarcity to drive sales for those prospects and customer with high awareness of your offering.
  5. Tapping into herd behaviour: people are more likely to do as the crowd does than to act as a lone wolf.
  6. Connecting emotionally (and authentically at that).

Takeaway point No.2

Most of my CRO pros agreed, the basic process of optimisation hasn’t changed. Technology changes but the first step, thorough evaluation, isn’t affected. It’s easier for less technically minded people to conduct research and run tests. The cost of such activity has also gone down so CRO is becoming more ingrained in marketing than ever before.