As you know if you’ve tried to do any CRO yourself – there are a lot of ways you can get lost on the way to a good strategy. A LOT.
But, after over a decade of working with industry-leading brands to improve their conversion rates, I have some solid tips for how to get started.
In this article, I will first cover what conversion rate optimization actually is, because a lot of folks get this muddled.
Then, I’ll tackle two laws of CRO. The first one will be a bit more conceptual and really geared toward re-focusing how you think about CRO. And the other will give you a bit more tactical information to work with.
Now, all this will, of course, only take you on part of your journey. We can’t arrive at great CRO in just a short blog.
So, I will also share a discount for my book, Opting In To Optimization, to help you continue on your journey. Hopefully, you walk away with three important pieces for the rest of your CRO journey: new thinking, new approaches, and my book as a guide.
Let’s dig into the new way of thinking, starting with what CRO really is.
What is CRO (conversion rate optimization)?
True CRO can deliver amazing results. Some of the results our team has generated include 132% year-over-year growth, 659% mobile revenue growth, and an 86.7% increase in return visitors.
Here’s how we define that kind of CRO.
Real CRO is a data-backed system for increasing the percentage of website visitors that convert into customers, or more generally take any desired action.
Let’s focus on the first piece. Data-backed.
CRO isn’t about trying random tactics or best practices. It’s about using data, both quantitative and qualitative, specific to your brand.
Which is why our first law is this.
Law #1 Best practices are for beginners.
Best practices are a bit like training wheels. They can add a lot of value when you’re a beginner (And there’s nothing wrong with being a beginner!).
But the problem is most brands keep best-practice training wheels on for far too long. And that can have some negative effects.
Interestingly enough, wine actually shows us a pretty good picture of this.
After spending over 15 years analyzing business and wine, a professor of strategy and management at ESSEC Business School in Paris came to this conclusion. Adopting best practices is a good way to achieve average results. Worse, if you apply a practice that isn’t suited for your business, you can actually destroy value.
So, what does this look like in ecommerce?
Brand collaborations were a best practice that really took off in 2020. It took off, in part, because it worked for really well some brands. When Justin Bieber merely mentioned a Croc collab, he sent their stocks soaring 13%.
Now, it’d be easy to attribute causation there if you’re a footwear store. And say, “okay, then, collabs with cool names drive sales, let’s do that.”
But then you get something like the Slack and Cole Haan footwear collaboration.
In theory, this was a good application of best practice. The laid-back sneaker was going to appeal to casual at-home workers, which was most of us in 2020. It was also supposed to tap into the twelve million professionals using Slack. That’s a lot of people.
But just because best practices show a correlation between a certain action and a certain result in some brands, like Bieber and Croc, doesn’t mean it’ll cause the same result in others.
In fact, the Cole Haan and Slack collab didn’t at all do what it set out to do. Why? Partly because this was a big audience miss. Slack is a big, cool brand. But folks who use Slack aren’t the same as a Slack community.
The Slack audience doesn’t function like a celebrity audience.
Ultimately, reviews were brutal, and Haan only managed to sell out after slashing prices by 50%.
A total audience miss like this is just one inherent danger of best practices. They’re generic, so they rarely fit YOUR brand, cultural moment, or even, in some cases, geography.
To zoom out a bit, part of what we’re talking about here are two different cycles you can live by. And this framework has been particularly helpful for me.
Applying best practices and trends is like prescribing before you diagnose. It’s like going to the doctor and, instead of hearing out your symptoms and history, the doctor immediately prescribes the top three most popular medications for you to try.
You hear that and cringe, right? It’s dangerous malpractice.
The same approach is just as foolish in CRO.
The alternative approach, the one effective CRO takes, is diagnosing and then prescribing. In this scenario, the doctor hears you out. If necessary, she runs some tests. She gathers the context and information she needs, then she makes a diagnosis. She diagnoses THEN prescribes.
This is an effective approach to CRO, too.
So, to bring home the big idea of this first law…CRO isn’t a one-and-done guessing game. And it’s not based on trends or best practices. It’s a scientific process based on iteration.
Which brings us back to our CRO definition.
We know we need data-backed inputs, not best practices or trends.
And then, according to our definition, we also need to put those inputs into a system.
That takes us to our next law.
Law #2 - Scientific method, not silver bullets.
The scientific method is the system you use for making sense of your data:
- Contextual baselines instead of generic benchmarks.
- Exploratory testing instead of sweeping redesigns.
- Continuous improvement over massive tests.
Let’s quickly look at each of these in turn.
Contextual baselines instead of generic benchmarks.
Benchmarking, in theory, tells you where your website stands compared to industry-wide averages.
And it’s something I discourage our clients from looking at.
First, these averages are faulty. Most brands don’t share their true conversion rate. Those that do rarely know how to accurately calculate it. Or use bad data to do it. Or use totally different methods to get their final numbers. (We see this all the time when we get “inside” a client’s data.) Plus, there’s no way to confirm the accuracy of whatever number they share.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s say the numbers are remotely accurate. Even in that scenario, lumping together “like” brands for a shared benchmark rarely makes sense.
For example, we’ve worked with three glasses companies at various points in The Good’s history.
One catered to heavy computer users. The second to older adults and stylish readers. And the third to sports enthusiasts. All three of these were “glasses companies” but they had totally different audiences, advertising strategies, channel mix, and seasonality.
Yes, they all sold glasses, but comparing their conversion rates would’ve been like comparing apples to pineapples to papaya — it wouldn’t have made sense or helped any of them.
That’s why you don’t start with benchmarks. You start with your baselines and aim for a conversion rate that’s always improving.
Exploratory testing instead of sweeping redesigns.
Next, you’ve probably experienced or seen this cycle: a website frustrates users, traffic stops converting into revenue, and someone starts a redesign.
The problem is, this is a bit like burning down an apartment building when you stop selling units. A redesign torches the building to the ground and starts again on the ashes. You wind up with new units — but there are no guarantee families in the area will want the style or layout you’ve chosen (even if YOU like it). In fact, there’s no guarantee you’ve solved the original problem at all.
The other option is a slower, more measured approach. A scientific approach. With this method, you remodel room by room. You revamp one unit and gather feedback about what appliances, color schemes, and types of windows your buyers want. Then you take what you learn and apply that to the next unit — and the next, and the next — until you’ve remodeled every unit in the building.
In both cases, you wind up renovating the building.
But in the first approach, you make a lot of risky guesses. In the second approach, you run small experiments, gather data, and learn as you go. You rebuild around what your buyers want and are guaranteed to move more units because of it.
The same is true of your website.
Don’t throw the whole thing in the trash and start from scratch. Work piece by piece.
Continuous improvement over massive tests.
And third, the misconception that the size of the test is proportional to the size of the results.
We’ve changed one word and improved conversions by 200%. Ad we’ve run giant tests that improve conversions very little.
In fact, we now have a 1-10 rating system for the tests we run. 1 is a small test you can run immediately, and 10 is a full-page redesign kind of test that will take days or weeks to build. We were curious which size test has the biggest impact. So, we looked at our data – over a decade of it – and we discovered level 10 tests weren’t more fruitful than small, compounding tests.
So, to sum up the law of scientific method, not silver bullets.
CRO isn’t a “one and done” guessing game based on faulty data like best practices or benchmarks; it’s a scientific process based on iteration and data.
For More On The Laws Of CRO: A Special Discount On Opting In To Optimization For Tydo Readers
As I mentioned at the start of the article I want to help you arrive at a place of great conversion rate optimization. And we can’t do that in a short blog post.
While you now hopefully have some tools for thinking about CRO, I have a special offer for Tydo readers to continue your journey.
My book, Opting In To Optimization, condenses over a decade of optimizing for industry-leading brands, into a handful of immutable laws.
Get your copy at 50% off with the code TYDOXTG by visiting: Opting In To Optimization.
- What to pledge
- How to improve
- Which tools will set you up for success
I think the most important thing brands can do in 2023 is to better manage their customer data—both ethically and effectively. There’s an opportunity for brands to know their customers better than ever before—a clear benefit for both the customer and the brand. When you manage your data correctly, you’ll create stronger and more personalized ads, creative, site experiences, and so much more.
This is a classic: Let the data guide you. Go where the buyers for your products are and communicate with them on a personal level (i.e. by persona and funnel position) and nurture those relationships (past, present, and future customers). It’s possible—all through data.
We recommend that Shopify brands analyze and update their websites using data-driven decisions. Using analytics tools such as heatmaps and scrollmaps can help brands better understand how customers are interacting with their store.
Store owners tend to make assumptions about the way customers interact with their website. Most never go back and analyze their design choices to find pain points or areas of opportunity. By using heatmaps and scrollmaps, they can see where real customers are clicking and concentrating their attention. Leveraging this data, brands can start to iterate on design and make their online store experience streamlined and intuitive.
Hotjar provides a simple way to implement heatmaps, scrollmaps, and recorded user sessions on your site, helping you acquire incredibly informative user data. Additionally, it gives you the ability to create on-site surveys, which allows you to obtain direct and often critical feedback from users about their experience.
Test various attribution models and analyze the impact on your business. At Fifty Six, we are always here to help our clients identify and optimize their approach—a critical step in any successful marketing strategy.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times–Customer Lifetime Value. And even more importantly, Future Lifetime Value (FLTV). With the ever-growing importance of first-party data, it is crucial that brands take a good look at their CRM and FLTV metrics.
Stop allocating budgets to low-hanging fruit that doesn’t move the needle on conversion. Think about what’s really going to improve your CX and the return of undertaking different initiatives—not just on what’s top on your list of bugbears on the site!
One of the best ways to understand your customer behavior is by using HotJar. Their heat-mapping and screen recording tools shine a light on where customers are navigating to and from on your site, where they're rage clicking and experiencing frustration, and where conversion is dropping off within real life customer journeys and flows!
Understanding your customers’ pain points via data and analytics , will allow you to work with your CRO/CX Agency to solve customer frustrations and improve conversion.
Rewind backs up all product, customer, and order data for Shopify sites—essential since Shopify itself doesn’t provide this solution. It's saved so many of our clients time and money from administrative accidents.
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33% of customer service inquiries are pre-sale questions. What does this mean? If you’re not investing in customer service, you’re missing out on revenue-generating opportunities.
The benefits of elevating your customer experience:
- 10% to 25% increase in AOV for customers who engage with live chat pre-purchase
- 21x higher conversion rate for customers who reach out via Live Chat or SMS compared to other site visitors
- 87% of customers who have a great customer experience will make another purchase
- 72% of customers share positive experiences with 6 or more individuals
Gorgias is our favorite Helpdesk platform. They can reduce costs by 35%, primarily by decreasing the average ticket handle time. Their machine learning algorithms are trained on millions of ecommerce-related interactions across Gorgias’ customer base and provide accurate, automated replies for the most common ecommerce inquiries. This helps our agents resolve tickets faster, which provides the customer a seamless experience.
Trust your agency! Agencies do the same things across multiple brands and niches, so we see the trends and have the practice and experience!
Don't be afraid of data and insights. If customers aren't clicking on your emails, try a new CTA. If your ads are driving good metrics at a small spend, start scaling. If your customers are complaining about a product, look into QA! If the data tells you something isn't working, let it go and try something else!
I'm supposed to say Tydo, right? 😉
Double down on differentiation. There will be a lot of headwinds this year and standing out from the crowd will set you apart.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. A video? Probably millions. In ecommerce that value translates into engagement, acquisition, and retention—everything you need to impact your bottom line.
At soona, we've seen the we've seen the impact of creative and the continuous split testing of it yield results. Our resolution is to challenge ourselves and double down on innovation and creative optionality so that each brand we work with can distinguish themselves in a crowded sea of D2C ecomm. We'd love to see our brands share this resolution and keep pushing the creative limits.
Klaviyo. We're using it to power our email and newsletter at soona too!
Optimize your returns strategy! This can lead to valuable customer insights, enhanced user experiences, and increased revenue and customer loyalty.
Brands need to dive deeper into understanding their customers to set themselves up for success. Conduct research to gain insights into customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. By doing so, you can develop targeted strategies that will enhance customer experience and boost overall retention.
Right now I would say Gorgias. Having a good customer service tool is crucial to building strong customer relationships.
Start paying heavy attention to data, specifically around retention. We see a lot of effort put towards acquisition with the assumption that once someone buys, they are your customer forever. Instead, get to know your customer, understand their needs, and analyze their behaviors once they are on-site and judge their sentiment after they have visited. Work with a retention focused and data-driven agency to implement tools that contribute to repeat business and customer delight. It will pay dividends.
When surveyed, about 80% of ecommerce merchants think that they are delivering a great experience to their customers. However, when the same customers are surveyed, only 8% of those customers think that they are getting a great experience from the merchant. Now, more than ever, retaining loyal customers is an essential part of any online business and you should spend time with your customers to judge their experience with your website and products and offer improvements based on that feedback.
Tydo's report cards are an essential tool, along with Klaviyo for email and SMS, Recharge for subscriptions and memberships, Okendo for reviews and surveys, Rebuy for AI driven collections and upsells, Loop for self service returns... each tool is great on their own, but their strength as the ultimate tool comes from when they are used together!
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