What Is Conversion Optimization? A Crash Course

What Is Conversion Optimization? A Crash Course Featured Image

You’ve probably heard a lot about conversion optimization over the last few years.

While search engine optimization, pay-per-click, and email marketing have been forerunners in the online marketing space for a very long time, conversion optimization has only recently begun building traction.

And that’s a very good thing.

Because while SEO, PPC, and email marketing definitely have their value — they are meaningless if you can’t convert visitors.

It’s conversion optimization that should be the first piece of the online marketing puzzle.

There is no point in spending thousands of dollars getting your site ranked at the top of search engines or bidding on keywords to bring in traffic if that traffic doesn’t convert in the end.

Invest your money first into getting your conversion rate up. Then, and only then, does it make sense to start paying the big bucks to bring that traffic in.


What Is Conversion Optimization?

Conversion rate optimization, also known as CRO, is the science and art of getting a higher percentage of website visitors to do what you want them to do once on your website.

In essence, this means turning them into customers. However, sometimes you just want more people to sign up for your newsletter, download your white papers, or pick up the phone and make a call.

It’s part science, because analytics plays a huge part in ascertaining why visitors aren’t converting. It’s also part art, because it takes creativity to develop ideas that persuade.


Best Practices

Before delving any further into why visitors aren’t converting, you need to make sure your website follows CRO best practices.

One best practice you should follow is having your call to action above the fold so visitors will see it without needing to scroll to the bottom, because not all stay on a page that long. Another good practice is to use a call-to-action button, and in a color that stands out to visitors against your page’s background.

Other best practices include making your contact info clear, using relevant images, and having a clear privacy policy. Using the magical word “free” has also been proven to increase conversions, especially if your goal is to get visitors to sign up for a newsletter.

But simply following best practices isn’t a guaranteed method of improving conversion; not every practice works uniformly for everyone. That’s why it’s important to run split tests to find out exactly what works and what doesn’t work for your visitors.


Split Testing

While best practices are good, they don’t always work perfectly and a best practice recommendation fails a split test. That’s right. By implementing it, conversions go down.

I’ve seen a case where adding testimonials actually lowered conversions. It’s possible in this instance that best practices resulted in too much clutter on the page.

And while it broke my heart, it’s still good to know that nothing is definitive. Testing should always be done to see what your visitors prefer. This is where split testing is good to use.

Split testing takes versions of a page and tests them against each other to see which one converts more visitors.

Different visitors will see different variations of the page.

VWO Example of conversion optimization
via VWO

There are two common types of testing: A/B and multivariate. A/B split testing is where only one element of the page is changed, while multivariate testing is where several elements of the page are changed.

Multivariate testing can be a little harder to come up with definitive answers. Suppose you changed three things on a page. What if separately, one of those things alone lowers conversions while the other two lift conversions?

Which testing style you should use largely will depend on the amount of elements you are considering changing. If you’re only looking at potentially altering up to four elements, then A/B testing is the most effective.

Multivariate is great if you’re looking into redesigning several elements on a page and you are not in a rush. This testing method requires that your website sees substantial traffic on a daily basis to adequately determine what changes have the most positive effect.


Analytics Tools and Analyzing Visitor Behavior

Google and Bing Analytics

Analytics software, such as Google and Bing Analytics, is useful to start mining for information that your visitors won’t necessarily tell you.

Analytics software helps you find out a multitude of things that visitors are doing on your site. You can see precisely where they are dropping out of the marketing funnel. You can see if they’re primarily viewing your site on a desktop or mobile device and from what browser.

Analytics also allows you to see what pages potential customers visit while on your website and in what order they view them, which could help you determine what is most important to your visitors. Advanced Segments in Google Analytics will show which of your efforts led to conversions, whether it is paid or organic traffic.

Heat Mapping

Heat mapping is a quick and easy way to get a visual representation on where your visitors are clicking, hovering the mouse, and how far down the page they are scrolling.

Heat Mapping
via Crazy Egg

Analytics is great; you can see how many people are visiting a page, however, it won’t show you what people are actually clicking or focusing on.

So, heat mapping is useful because sometimes you can see that people are trying to click on an area that has no clickable link. It tells you that maybe you should put a link or button there to satisfy your visitors’ needs or desires.

Visitor Playback Sessions

Visitor playback sessions goes beyond heat mapping, because you can see exactly what visitors are doing throughout their time on your site.

By watching the recorded sessions you can see all of their mouse movements and scrolling behavior during their time on your site.


Surveys provide you with the opportunity to ask your visitors the questions you wish you could ask if you were face to face.

Whether you offer a long-form survey or a simple exit poll, you can learn about the issues that are frustrating your visitors and fix them.

User Tests

Conducting user tests allows you to see how easy it is for visitors to use and understand your website or product. I particularly like user tests. I think one of the most important pieces of conversion optimization is to be able to think like a visitor.

How else can you truly find out what your visitors are experiencing during their time on your website without running user tests? It’s pretty presumptuous not to.

I’ve had some pretty strong debates on some of my conversion optimization recommendations by clients. They thought, “No, that’s not a problem on our site.” Well, at least that’s what they thought until the user tests came in and confirmed the problems I previously identified.

It’s actually why I wait to look at user tests last. I don’t want to be biased first by what they say. I also want to use them as somewhat of a quality control on what I’m recommending.


Understand the Core Conversion Optimization Principles

All of the above are important. But it’s also necessary to understand the principles that must be in place to get any site to convert well.

Value Proposition

Your value proposition is what sets you apart from your competition and makes potential customers choose you.

If you think you have great products and your visitors will understand and that’s enough — you’re wrong. Your competitors might have great products too.

Your visitors have thousands of websites to choose from. They’re clicking through sites at rapid speed — waiting for that thing that grabs them. In most cases it’s a clear value proposition.

Why should they choose you? Your competitor might be the better choice.

Help them decide in your favor. With a strong value proposition in place, you help visitors to commit to engaging further with your website and ultimately become a customer.

Build Trust

In order to convince new customers visiting your site for the first time that they should convert, you need to build trust.

If the goal is to get them to make a purchase, prove to them their information is safe. One easy way is to use the services of a verification company that will also provide your website with a visible security seal that will assure visitors that their information is safe and secure.

Other ways to build trust with first-time visitors is to provide a real phone number they can call, and even a physical address — if possible. This shows customers that they have a real way to contact you should the need arise.

Providing written or video-recorded testimonials on your site, such as Trust Pilot, will also go a long way to reassuring visitors you are a legitimate business.

Increase Relevance

Are you speaking to the right person about the right stuff at the right time? If not, they probably won’t be all that into you.

Use Web analytics to determine exactly who your audience is and their motivation when they land on specific pages. Learn what their buying patterns are and their demographics. Once you understand who your audience is and their desires, craft relevant copy specifically targeting them.

One method is to use dynamic messaging, which will display certain copy depending on a visitor’s behavior while on your website.

Amplify Desire

You can present your offer — or you can really present your offer. It’s going to take some persuasion and getting your visitors excited enough to pull the trigger and convert.

Hey, even free offers take some persuading. Just because something is free doesn’t mean everyone is willing to provide their email address to get it. And what you’re offering might be something that just takes up more space in their inbox.

By this point, visitors should know about all the features of your product, so now is the time to reel them in. You need to create persuasive copy that explains exactly how they would benefit should they convert.

Add Urgency

If you let your visitors know that your offer ends in three days, do you think maybe they’ll buy it now rather than later? Maybe.

This is why it’s good to add a little urgency to your offers. Adding a visible countdown can help increase the urgency. Potential customers will be more apt to act immediately if your offer has a visible expiration date.

Provide Clarity

Don’t confuse your visitors with inconsistent or error-filled website copy. You’ll quickly lose potential customers.

Make sure your website copy is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Also make sure that the important info — specs, features, etc. — about your products or services is crystal clear.

Be sure to let them know what to expect when converting. If signing up for your service requires downloading software, be up front about that.

Once they start feeling annoyed about your site, visitors are likely to back out.

Eliminate Friction

Friction is one of the biggest conversion killers.

Businesses assume that their visitors have the time and patience to fill out those long forms that ask for way too much information.

Or that they’ll stick around waiting for your monstrous page to load. Sure they may show up as traffic on your stats. But did they stick around for the nine seconds it took to actually see your page? If not, they can’t really be considered traffic at all.



As previously mentioned, conversion optimization has really begun to build traction over the last few years.

Marketers are beginning to truly understand its inherent value in increasing conversion.

They are also beginning to understand that spending money to buy traffic that isn’t likely to convert is a waste of money.

It’s important to get this piece of the puzzle addressed first. Your focus should be on improving your site’s conversion rate before spending money on bringing in traffic.

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Images courtesy of VWO and Crazy Egg.

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