Published: 01 December 2017

If you’re in digital marketing, or responsible for the performance of a website, then conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is likely to be a significant part of your life and if it’s not, it probably should be! But what is CRO really?

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What is Conversion Rate Optimisation?

Conversion, put simply, is getting people; customers, prospects, fans or the curious, to perform a specific, measurable action. This could be anything from reading a piece of content, downloading a brochure, requesting a quote to buying a holiday through your ecommerce store.

Rate, is how many conversions and sessions you receive per year, your users per month and page views per minute. Generally, the rate contains three things: a set conversion, per an amount of defined activities, over a specific time period. You want the rate to be meaningful and comparable to previous periods so that you can compare month by month, year by year, etc.

Optimisation, is where we start the process of improving the rate of conversion. Where to start though… well, optimisation means making the rate of conversion as good as it can be and there are a few things we need to consider...

How to Conduct CRO

Firstly, you need to define what good looks like and good is ultimately determined by what do you need to achieve. Is ‘good’ 100 quote requests a month? Or is good 5000 successful checkout completions or deposits taken? ‘Good’ will be determined by a number of things and these include your business objectives, what others in the market are achieving, your sales cycle and where you are now.

In order to assess ‘good’ you need to establish where you are now and define where you want to be. For example, if you’re getting 100 brochure requests per month then good might look like 200 brochure requests per month or 300. This is really up to you, based on what your business needs to achieve, however, the process is always the same. Benchmark your current performance or, if it’s a new conversion point (e.g. you’ve introduced a new video you would like people to watch), then launch the new conversion point and monitor its performance under the status quo for a significant period until you have enough data to have an initial understanding.

In some cases you can look at what others are doing in your space – how many conversions do the brands that you aspire to achieve? Sometime this data is difficult to come by and ultimately it might not help you as other brands have different budgets, different audiences with different levels of digital experience and comfort.

Once you’ve defined what good looks like for your brand and you know how you’re currently performing you can then start the optimisation process. Once you’ve hit this target you can then say you’ve optimised your conversion rate.

The next question is then how do you optimise a conversion rate?

An Example of the CRO Thought Process;

How we optimise is where an adequate understanding of the conversion process comes in and how we measure conversion through the sales process. Consider a tour operator’s website, there are lots of conversion points that we could measure and optimise, including:

1. Tour searches completed
2. Quote requests made
3. Brochures requested
4. Bookings made
5. Trip pages viewed

Now, I’ve deliberately put these in a random order but the reality is that these, for the majority of users, have an order to them and when we start looking at conversion rate optimisation one approach is to consider the previous conversion point completed and focus the customer on the next one. an-introduction-to-cro-2
The diagram above is called a ‘chain of marketing’ or a goal path. The idea being that goals can be linked together into natural flows working towards a defined outcome. For example, if a customer has searched for a trip but not viewed a trip page, then maybe we need to consider the results that are being returned – are they right and if they are, are they displaying the right data with the best call to action? If they have searched and viewed a few trips, can we make it easy for them to get back to those search results or trip pages on the devices that our customers use?

It might be even more complex, whereby a reasonable looking conversion rate is actually the average of a small group who convert really well and a large group who convert at a lower rate.

Consequently, when optimising a conversion point, it is good to understand your audience, their patterns and behaviours, their needs and motivations and use these to create segments. You can then look at the specific user experience for each segment and adapt it as necessary.

When defining segments, start by looking at whatever data you have to hand. In digital we look at three types of data:

1. Explicit Data – the data that we can record from the customer’s visit(s), then, using this to create and analyse segments by it. Examples here include device, referring website, time of day, pages viewed or page views per session and Goals Completed. Tools like Google Analytics can give you a lot of this data through its standard reports and ‘Segments’ functionality.

2. Implicit Data – this is the data that we earn as users use our websites and digital channels. If we can analyse the content that a customer consumes we can start to segment our audience into subjective groups based on interests, reading habits, product preferences and experiences.

3. Augmented Data – this is where we add further data about a user from a third-party source. This could be by using something like 51 Degrees to really understand the devices a customer uses or, increasingly commonly, CRM data such as calls to call centres, support calls made and previous purchases in-store.

Once you have your data, you can build your segments and a segment might be based on one more data points. For example, we might want to assess the conversion rate of mobile users, who like our content about the best places to eat and have previously spoken to a call centre operative about a potential trip. If we can identify this group we might discover that there are specific needs and motivations that we can target and address the user experience.

If they have viewed a trip page then we need to offer them the next step, request a brochure, ask for a quote or book. Again, we can optimise each of these points by understanding who our customer is, what else they’ve looked at on the website and any other factors such as time of year, are we near a payday or is the trip getting booked up already. These are just examples but the point is, the more we can match the prospective customer’s needs, motivations and point in the journey the better we can optimise the conversion point to create a positive outcome.

How CRO Relates to Your Channels, and The Funnel

Lots of CRO tools focus on what’s happening at the point of conversion on the platform, consequently, the natural conclusion of many people is to look at the user experience on the platform – the app or website. However, what happens pre-conversion and post-conversion can be just as critical, or arguably more so, than what happens at the point of conversion.
There are various metaphors and analogies that I use when discussing this but my favourite is the dating game. Think of the customer journey being like any other relationship and the process that you work through to go from being a stranger to a lover (or a very loyal friend!). All relationships start with a period of cautious courtship, short exchanges where you ask questions and learn more about each other in a fairly unobtrusive way – think of this like someone visiting key landing pages, searching for products and maybe comparing you to other suppliers. If you’re lucky you might get a social share, connection or a brochure request/newsletter sign up!

Over time these interactions become more regular and your appreciation of one another grows. Eventually, these relationships then go one of a number of ways; the best ones continue to grow and develop, the good ones settle into a consistent pattern, the less good ones become sporadic and one-sided or, the bad ones die and you never hear from that person again. Your job, as the CRO expert, is to avoid the latter two scenarios! If you can achieve the first two scenarios then you are well on your way to developing long-term, solid relationships built on trust and respect and advocated where and when possible.


I believe it’s important to recognise that as much as we sometimes focus on ‘platform’ and beautiful experiences, these experiences 99% of the time, start elsewhere – maybe with a search, a paid ad, a beautiful/funny/creative/engaging piece of display advertising, an email, a social media channel… I think you get the idea. They start elsewhere and span multiple channels and touchpoints.

The point here is that CRO, therefore, starts off-site in most instances. Consequently, it’s important to know how your channel campaigns impact your CRO performance. Google Analytics has some great free tools and platforms like Sitecore include really good analytics to help you understand how CRO goals change based on channel, campaign and message.

Quite often, when we start analysing CRO we can see some obvious trends – e.g. paid search on Google generates more direct sales (and higher value) better than paid media ads on Facebook. The reason for this is that often people are searching for something they are more likely to buy opposed to people who are scrolling through their timeline and seeing sidebar Ads for the same product.

and the reason for this is often that people searching for something they are more likely to buy that thing than people who are checking in on their friends who see an Ad in a sidebar or content stream for the same product. 

The key is that the intent of the customer, at the time of brand engagement, is different. Understanding this within CRO is really important. If you have channels which are ‘top of funnel’ and therefore focused on generating volumes of prospects but not directly converting them, then you will see lower conversion rates for goals that are really ‘bottom of funnel’ – aka Outcomes.

The trick then, building on our idea about goal pathways, is to ensure that you have achievable goals through the entire funnel and not just at the bottom. This way you can build a more accurate picture as to how your channels impact your primary goals and outcomes as you’ll understand the ‘soft’ goals that have been scored along the way. Some of these goals might be off-site, for example reading a piece of content on a third party website, or downloading an app as part of a software product purchase.

When planning to optimise your conversion rates then be aware of the channels and messages that drive people to these conversion rates. Small adjustments here to the quality and/or quantity of prospects that are channelled into your goals can have a significant impact on your rate of conversion and the value of that conversion too.

Consequently, when considering your goals, think about the Channel goals – clicking an ad, using a specific keyword, opening an email etc and feed these into your goal pathways so that you can start to really understand your customer’s brand experience and journey.

Optimising your conversion rate is much easier once you understand where the customer has come from, their experiences to date on site and off site and the level of interactions that they had with you along the way.

Interested in finding out more about how your business could benefit from CRO? Get in touch today and we’ll be happy to discuss your digital marketing objectives: or 01233 467800. 

Nick Towers

Managing Director


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