5 business must-haves for successful conversion rate optimization

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So, you want to start your A/B testing program…

Keep testing.
Mr. T’s words of wisdom.

You’ve learned about the benefits of conversion rate optimization and you’re ready to take the plunge.

If you’re like most marketers entering the CRO game, you’ve probably got one question on your mind: Where the heck do I start?

When WiderFunnel launched in 2007, CRO was a foreign concept. Today, “conversion optimization”, “CRO”, “growth hacking”, “lean enterprise”, “growth optimization”, and “optimization strategy” are all buzzwords in the marketing world.

Most companies understand the importance of optimization (and the negative impact of missing this train).

But, as one of WiderFunnel employee pointed out in a moment of Twitter-truth: “CRO is a beast.”

If you jump into conversion optimization before you’re ready, you risk seriously hurting your conversion rates and wasting precious resources, time and money. Even more importantly, you could kill the organizational support for testing you’ve worked so hard to create.

To help you avoid just such a disaster, this post outlines the most important foundational elements of a successful CRO program. Each is vital to the long-term survival of your company’s optimization strategy.

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1. The culture fit

R-E-S-P-E-C-T data

Data are everyone’s business. Forward-looking companies are integrating data into their day-to-day operations. They are placing data at the heart of almost all important decisions.

Avinash Kaushik coined the term HiPPO (highest-paid person’s opinion) on his blog in 2006 and Chris Goward expanded on this idea in his book You Should Test That! to include the Black Turtleneck opinion.

HiPPO = Highest Paid Person's Opinion
Watch out for un-tested HiPPOs.

Both caution against marketing that relies on an opinion rather than on data. It doesn’t matter if that opinion comes from the top down (as with the HiPPO) or is backed by many years of experience (as with the Black Turtleneck): opinion-based marketing will always lose out to data-driven marketing.

Why? Because, as conversion copy pro Joanna Wiebe points out, “your best messages don’t come from inside your head.” Your prospects will tell you exactly how to sell to them, if you’ll simply listen.

From surveys to analytics, click maps to questionnaires, your company must celebrate and embrace data in order to implement and grow a working CRO program.

But don’t take our word for it. Let the data speak for itself.

In 2014, as stated in Forbes, Aberdeen reported that data-driven organizations experience a 27% year-over-year increase in revenue, compared to 7% for other organizations.

The numbers don’t lie.

Humility is key

One of the scariest things about testing? Your tests could reveal that you are wrong.

You may think clever copy and and a beautiful UI are what your visitors want (because why would they want anything else??), only to discover that what they really want is super simple language and a basic design.

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Organizational humility is a must when venturing into conversion rate optimization. You’ve got to take ego out of the equation, you’ve got to relegate your seasoned ‘gut’ to the back of the room and listen to what your visitors are telling you.

A bruised ego isn’t nearly as painful when your conversion rates are soaring; be brave enough to let the data lead the way.

Note: We’re not telling you to disregard your gut instinct when it comes to testing, but rather to test without anxiety around the outcome. A losing test, if structured properly, should always provide winning insights.

2. Senior-level support

For a CRO program to be successful, your entire organization must be on board with testing, from the very top, down.

No matter how compelling your results are, you’ll face an uphill battle if you don’t have senior-level support. HiPPO’s can be a powerful force. Many of your co-workers will look to this person for cues as to what to support.

These upper-level managers also control the purse-strings and decide where to allocate your precious marketing resources.

Because conversion rate optimization requires a lot of effort and resources, it can be difficult to convince a skeptical higher-up to back the idea. So, you’ve got to speak their language.

Find out how your senior-level managers are incentivized so you can show how optimization will help them reach their goals. If you can help them look (and get paid) like rock stars, they’ll support your projects and reward you in return.

Along with appealing to their wants, appeal to their rational side: build a business case for testing. With directly measurable results, the case for testing is easy to make. Show the conversion rate lift that other organizations are getting, and estimate the return on investment (ROI) for a testing strategy.

For more tips on how to get your whole organization excited about CRO, check out 9 strategies for becoming the marketing optimization champion your company can’t live without.

3. Adequate resources

You’ve got the will, you’ve got the support, but do you have the resources? While anybody can test, an effective CRO program requires the following:

The basics: traffic and budget

The higher the traffic to your website, the quicker your tests will complete. It’s possible to test with as few as 1,000 visitors per month, but you’ve gotta be prepared for your test to take a very long time to reach statistical significance.

While a long-running test is better than no test at all, you may not see a big or immediate impact. If you receive fewer than 30,000 monthly visitors to a page, you may want to start with something very simple.

As for budget, if you have a higher-traffic site, you should have more revenue to justify the added investment in creating more frequent tests. Higher traffic + higher revenue = more frequent tests & more rapid ROI.

A proper testing tool

If you’re new to A/B testing, you’ll want to purchase a testing tool. These tools are generally a pretty big investment, but if you want to test properly, a reliable tool is a necessity.

Optimization is hard: technical skills and expertise are required to run even the simplest of tests, which is why you need a platform.

We recommend Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer for various reasons including their clean user interfaces and APIs that make them easy to work with. They’re also the best tools at eliminating FOOC (Flash of Original Content).

Strategy skills

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While a quality tool will save you tons of headaches, it won’t eliminate the need for one or several strategy-oriented minds. You’ll need to make sure you have at least one person on your team who can spearhead your conversion rate optimization program.

You can glean some skills from several great resources, but the best way to learn is to start testing with an open mind and build your test archive. It may take some time and patience, but always continue to read, learn and test.

If you don’t have the time to teach yourself CRO, get an expert in the door to help you lay the groundwork.

4. A proven process

Best practices are easy to digest and they have a supposedly high success rate. After all, it’s hard to argue with ‘10 tricks that’ll make you millions’.

But, best practices will disappoint you because your business is unique — what works for Amazon may not work for you.

Instead of tips and tricks, you should adopt a process, a framework for your CRO strategy.

The LIFT Model™
At WiderFunnel, the LIFT Model™ informs our hypotheses.

Our framework, the Infinity Optimization Process was developed after nearly a decade of testing. It’s a continuous cycle wherein two phases feed each other: the Explore phase and the Validate phase.

Data-collection informs the Explore phase and is centered around our framework for understanding customers’ conversion barriers and persuasion opportunities — the LIFT Model™.

Early in my digital marketing career I came across this model [the LIFT model], which has provided the basis for virtually every conversion rate optimisation change I’ve made ever since.

– Marcus Taylor, Founder, Venture Harbour

Process works.

Whether or not you decide to use this particular process, you should use a framework when laying the foundations for you conversion rate optimization program.

Tips will expire, what works well today may not work well tomorrow, but a framework will provide you with a stable way of approaching and resolving problems in the long-term.

CRO is not a one-time project. There isn’t a moment when you’ll find that your site is optimized. It’s an ongoing process and needs a structured framework behind it.

5. Leverage a specialist agency

Ok, you’re convinced that you need an optimization program. You’ve decided to allocate budget and resources to conversion rate optimization, knowing that it has been shown to get higher returns than other marketing priorities.

You’ve heard about the huge conversion rate lifts and ROI and don’t want to waste any more time.

But, how do you avoid making mistakes that could kill the strategy before it has a chance? How do you make sure you’re testing in the best way possible, right off the bat?

We didn’t really have a lot of confidence in [our] tests…we never really understood how much opportunity there was on our site.

– Shane Hale, ‎Site Optimization & Conversion, DMV.org

(By the way, check out their case study to find out how they continue to see big wins from their optimization program after more than three years of testing.)

As with any new skill, any new program, it helps to learn from an experienced teacher. Hence, the conversion rate optimization agency.

As CRO maturity develops, our relationship with our clients evolves into a thriving partnership.

Conversion optimization takes a lot of work, coordination, development, design, and strategy. Operating your CRO team well requires deft handling and experience.

Without an experienced team you could easily find yourself spinning your wheels, testing weak hypotheses, going over-budget, losing focus of core business functions, missing your CRO deadlines and, after all of that, not seeing results.

Leveraging a specialist agency means that you put the burden of designing, launching, running and analyzing your experiments on the shoulders of a team that, in our case, has almost a decade of CRO experience.

In time, as you are able to hone your own strategy skills, this reliance will become a thriving partnership where ideas are exchanged and fresh hypotheses are constantly in the mix.

You’ll have built your own company-specific testing archive, while also gaining access to industry-wide test results: the best of both worlds.

For a more detailed look at how you can build your own successful and scalable CRO program, check out the guide below.

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  • Mario Rodriguez

    Great post Natasha, totally agree with considering CRO a beast, and very difficult to educate even great companies about its value for their business. As a conversion rate optimization evangelist my easiest way to generate interest in some clients is starting from their business goals and showing how analytics reveal their failures. Thats a good starting point for deciding what to optimize first. Thanks for all the resources and guidelines to Widerfunnel

    • Thanks for your kind words, Mario! And I agree, it’s difficult to argue with numbers that show clear weaknesses (making a thorough examination of the analytics very compelling). We make recommendations to our clients about where to test using the PIE framework (http://www.widerfunnel.com/how-to-prioritize-conversion-rate-optimization-tests-using-pie/) which takes an analysis of the analytics even further, allowing us to prioritize in a really efficient way. And I’m glad you’re finding the resources helpful – we don’t plan to stop creating ’em 🙂

  • Great stuff and amazing tips