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The Growth of Conversion Rate Optimisation: A View Inside Starcom MediaVest & PRWD

Conversion Rate Optimisation

A few months ago I asked 12 website optimisation experts how they thought conversion rate optimisation (CRO) has changed. Many said the principles and path to success hasn’t changed while others highlighted the wealth of easy to use tools now available.

CRO is all about letting data lead your optimisation strategy and measuring the success of your campaigns with data. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for intuition or creativity but it does mean it’s easier to spot the biggest problems first and takes the guess work away.

The nature of CRO may not have changed much but the industry and the enthusiasm for it has. This year even marked the first ever international CRO Day.

CRO in 2015 – is it as predicted?

I recently stumbled across 6 predictions on CRO in 2015 made by Christian Holst, co-founder of the Baymard Institute.

He speculated, way back in 2010, that by 2015 we’d see:

  1. Larger consultancies that specialize only in conversion rate optimization.
  2. Small niche consultancies that specialize within subsets of conversion rate optimization, e.g. video optimization and email lead generation.
  3. A general shift from project based optimization to retainer deals.
  4. Most large companies will get in-house employees specialized in conversion rate optimization.
  5. A more clear division between the conversion rate optimization companies and usability research companies.
  6. New conversion rate optimization-specific service providers.

I think we’ve yet to see some of these predictions be fully realised, such as large specialised consultancies and very niche consultancies. However, there have been several calls to realise conversion rate optimisation is more than just a project.

Large companies such as AO, Skyscanner and RentalCars.com now have in-house teams of conversion optimisation specialists showing both ecommerce and non-ecommerce companies owning CRO.

Holst’s final prediction regarding the rise of specialist providers is illustrated by our tool, which concentrates one area of optimisation, form analytics. More single-service offerings, such as  remote user testing and session replay, are helping to refine the industry.

Starcom MediaVest and PRWD on optimisation as a service

I wanted to know how two, quite different, agencies viewed and handled conversion rate optimisation in their agencies. The lovely teams at Starcom MediaVest and PRWD answered a couple of my questions.

Starcom MediaVest push CRO with in-house specialists & 3rd party tools

Starcom MediaVest (SMG) describes itself as the Human Experience Company. They’re also one of the largest brand communications groups in the world.

Q. How important is conversion rate optimisation to your service offering?

“Conversion rate optimisation is an important factor for us as it has a direct impact on the performance of the media we plan and determines how far our budgets will go.

In order to maximise our client’s return on investment we know that optimising the media plan to the nth degree is not enough, we need to work hand in hand with experts in the field of conversion rate optimisation to get the most out of our campaigns. To do this we leverage expertise from within our organisation, such as our team of web analysts who identify the barriers across the conversion funnel or our in-house web designers who create optimised landing pages and run multi-variate testing.”

We need to work with expert CROs to make the most of our campaigns

SMG work with expert CROs to achieve success

“Alongside these specialists, we work with a number of 3rd party tools to deliver CRO to our clients as an integrated part of our offering. A lot of the work we are doing in this space is still in early stages of development but there is much appetite from our clients and is set to become a significant growth area for our business.”

SMG’s adoption of third party tools echoes Holst’s prediction for the industry and shows confidence in specialist applications.

I also wanted to know, where is the drive toward CRO was coming from?

Q. Who’s leading the growth of CRO – you or your clients?

“The growth of CRO is being driven from both sides and varies between clients depending on the nature of their business, the on-site conversion journey, and the complexity of their web strategy.

The changes our clients face in converting visitors also vary across the board: that includes clients that lack proper tracking and need support with implementation, clients with badly optimised forms or confusing journeys that need help understanding the barriers to conversion, and clients that need more specialist support when it comes to mobile and how you tackle conversions across devices.

Regardless of the client’s unique challenge, we are certainly pushing CRO higher up the agenda from our side as we believe it plays a critical role in the success of a campaign – it doesn’t matter how perfect the ad placement is and how many visitors we can drive to site, if the on-site experience is poor, then this can result in a lost customer.”

Great ad placement and site traffic coupled with a poor on-site experience can still result in a lost customer

Great ad placement and site traffic can be ruined by a poor on-site experience

PRWD push the boundaries, challenging the industry to advance

PRWD is a small agency in Manchester, just 12 employees and one main service offering, optimisation. In many ways they stand in contrast to SMG. However, PRWD handle optimisation for some very big clients and are esteemed by the international CRO community.

Katie Brunt, Marketing and Operations Manager at PRWD, gave me these insights into the business and PRWD’s perspective on CRO.

Q. You’re a conversion rate optimisation agency, how do you compete with ‘digital’ agencies?

“We generally drop “Conversion Rate” and refer to what we do as “Optimisation” because what we do is about so much more than just conversion rates. It’s about generating substantial business growth. The work we do for clients not only improves their onsite experience to increase ROI, it improves profitability, increases market share, and provides customer satisfaction and understanding that can be used in a range of areas across the business.

While what we do currently sits within digital marketing we see it as a fundamental strategic activity for businesses.”

What we do sits within digital marketing but optimisation is a fundamental business strategy

Optimisation is fundamental to business strategy

“Where we differ from traditional agencies is that we bring together skills from a range of different areas than is usually found in a full service agency, such as specialist research, psychology, data analysis, and development. Plus we only do optimisation.
We’re pretty flexible in what we offer, while we have our own methodology, each business and client is different so what we offer changes regularly depending on what’s going to deliver the best results. The same goes for tools; we’re premium partners with a range of tools but use what fits the needs of the client.”

Q. Who’s leading the growth of CRO – practitioners or clients?

“There are a handful of businesses at the pinnacle of optimisation but these guys are few and far between. We work with a mix of clients at different levels of maturity but there is definitely only a small number at the transformational end of the scale in terms of what can be achieved through optimisation.”

A handful of businesses are doing optimisation well but very few

Few businesses are doing optimisation well in-house

“We’re lucky enough to have a team made up from some of those businesses at the top of their game such as AO.com and Shop Direct. Their experience helps to show less mature businesses how we’ll get them from beginning optimisation to making it a fundamental part of their business growth.”

The mention of AO.com and Shop Direct reminds me of Christian Holst’s prediction regarding large companies growing in-house CRO departmments. That PRWD have taken on these specialists indicates to me the quality of in-house teams is good.

“In terms of who’s leading the way, The Global Conversion Alliance is a forum for the world’s leading agencies (we’re lucky enough to be the UK representative). The founders of which come together to innovate and share learnings throughout the year.”

If you haven’t heard of The Global Conversion Alliance before it’s an alliance between the world’s most progressive and ambitious conversion optimisation agencies. The aim of the alliance is to collaborate on optimisation programmes together and learn from each other.


For both these consultancies, conversion rate optimisation is a selling point (more fundamentally for PRWD). They are the authority that their clients turn to for guidance rather than simply a service to fulfil a task.