An Introduction to Conversion Rate Optimisation.

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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.

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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.

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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: hello@sagittarius.agency or 01233 467800. 

 

Top of mind when ensuring your brand and business becomes Fit for the Future is efficiency. If processes feel lumpy then now is the time to look in the mirror. Even if things are running smoothly on the surface the approach still may not be optimal for the best possible results and outcomes. Here are my 5 Top Tips to becoming Future Fit by improving delivery efficiency whilst successfully maintaining a portfolio of projects. 

Our Sagittarius ‘Production Machine’ has stood the test of time. Yes, it’s continuously evolving with new technologies and processes but our framework remains consistent at its core. Crucial for us is the recognition of challenges and issues from our past experiences, learning from them and adapting to improve this next time around. With digital engineering and martech optimisation accelerating so rapidly the agility we adopt in our approach will become increasingly more important over time.

Having worked in Project Management, Programme Management and now Portfolio management there are 5 key things I believe you can do with relative ease to focus on improving the efficiency of your teams whilst working on a mixture of fixed budget projects and augmented teams with retained external members (like our Business Transformation Retainer model - BTR).  

When striking the right balance, the impact this has across Production can be considerable resulting in an increase in profitability and revenue - always a bonus! 

Production

Tip One: Utilisation  

We define utilisation in two parts - billable and non-billable utilisation. Depending on the type of organisation you are this might be better phrased as core business and supplementary or something simpler just to delineate the split between output that drives you forward fast vs standard working practices/exceptions that exist in any role. 
Both are equally important to understand team capacity. If there is a high proportion of non-billable work booked on a team, then there are generally three potential reasons – leave (sick, vacation, dependent), training or no billable work. 

Leave is necessary, training is an investment and non-billable work is manageable if you know this in advance.  

So how do we manage this? 

  • Understand your headcount target – what are they there to achieve? is your target in £ and hours or something else highly measurable?
  • Understand your available working hours per headcount – each month how many working days are available excluding public holidays and vacation. 
  • Benchmark acceptable non-billable time – review important must-have meetings against others and assess what is a realistic target to hit. Also, assess training and how this slots in within your team and project commitments. 
  • Understand what your sold or no fail commitments are each week/month and match this against availability. 

 

Tip two: Forward planning 

Like all businesses we have many projects and initiatives running across multiple teams and it’s key to assess those that are on track, require extension plus navigate new work scheduled to land. Sounds like a no-brainer but often in organisations this quite federated and not adhered to with any strictness. It's always the first thing that shows up in any time and motion study. Yes priorities change on a daily basis however we plan our baseline at the end of each month, then each week, we look at the movements or additions to this over the next 3 months onwards to ensure we have the right people, on the right projects for our clients. 


So how do we manage this?

  • Get the right tool in place. A tool that has all project plans, project scope, team skill sets, team members and real-time utilisation data all in one place.
  • Create genuine sight of the project/task pipeline and its shape well ahead of time. 
  • Focus on being proactive instead of reactive.
  • Assess anything that overruns (no matter how small) and cater for this in utilisation

Tip three: Budget management 

I’m not teaching you to suck eggs here. All good managers keep a handle on the finances but here perhaps go that extra mile and treble check if the money really does align to all the component parts of a project or campaign. This is relatively simple to do at the start and making sure this is right before the team begins is an important part of our Project Management role when handling fixed budgets. Warning - ‘creative accountancy’ maybe required. Our priority is to allow as much creativity and innovation within a set output for the greatest outcome. Generally the initial time-boxing presented to us within a project is a guide however the trick is to keep to this scope, total hours and costs in check to ensure profitability if you’re generating revenue or efficiency if you’re deeper inside a brand’s organisation. Poor planning and budget management can creep silently throughout a project and have a sometimes surprising knock-on effect on timelines, resources, and ultimately dissatisfied stakeholders - so our role is to stay on top of this. 

So how do we manage this?

  • Project plans should be done on a granular level with hours and costs attached throughout including a map of all levels of risk.
  • Actual time/production estimates are done on a granular level and monitored daily 
  • Budget management is done on a phase level and continuously cross-checked with the overall budget per skill set or department.  
  • RAG reports are submitted weekly for transparency and visibility.


Tip four: Scope and risk management 

This is an important requirement for any project we handle and tends to be ‘dialled up’ when the budget is fixed with zero contingency. This is not a factor in our agile BTR model as scope is moved to the backlog and product owners prioritise this with the team. However,  for fixed priced projects, a risk log is identified upfront and managed throughout the project’s lifecycle. The scope is fixed at the start, refined throughout and based on additional features/enhancements or by complexity.  

So how do we manage this?

  • All risks need to be identified no matter how small. Ask lots of questions and analyse; what is out of your control and which stages in a typical project may have a strong likelihood of growing (i.e., feedback stages, sign off stages and content population). This is documented via a Risk log and each risk identified has a mitigation plan attached. This is textbook stuff but so often overlooked.
  • The scope is assessed against the level of effort required and how this fits into the original deliverables, costs, hours, and the project plan given. For us we manage this via tools like Jira and Forecast. 


Tip five: Resource management 

When referring to resources, I mean exclusively people of various and specific skill sets that can be utilised to deliver a project or programme of activity. This ranges from Engineers and Creatives to CRO consultants and Scrum Masters and everything in between. Each has a level of experience and expertise and therefore depending on the project presented, we need to actively reduce lead time and ensure that the best suited talent is engaged. If this is not managed effectively then resources that are unable to achieve their outputs become a drain on efficiency.

So how do we manage this?

  • RAG reporting is done each week to Senior Management, and Leadership are kept in appraised of where we need to pivot or offer support to teams. 
  • Less experienced team members are overseen by Seniors. 
  • Training and skill set gaps are managed via training plans and PDP (personal development plans) sessions with Line Managers every 6 months. 
  • Team retrospectives are done either regularly across the delivery period. 
  • This ensures the teams are syncing, communicating challenges to each other and highlighting any support required. 

 As you can imagine there are other techniques that we employ but in summary, these are the core areas within a Delivery function to ensure  your ‘Production Machine’ is well oiled. It’s made up of many parts and when they all move together progression happens smoothly. If there is a piece missing or the fit is wrong, then inefficiency arises and can grind or impact other parts. Whatever processes you follow ensure you have the gauges or temperature checks baked in to warn you if something needs and urgent review. This has enabled us to grow and will help you do the same.


If you need support with your digital projects in any way or would like to talk more about our Business Transformation Retainers then speak to our team.

want to speak to one of our experts?

Nick Towers
Nick Towers
Co-Founder & Joint CEO
Co-Founder, CEO and self-confessed massive geek, Nick has been in digital since graduating from law and moving into technology many years ago. Through a combination of building awesome client relationships, crafting a formidable team of digital experts and consistently delivering results for our clients Nick has taken Sagittarius from being a successful small agency to the global digital customer experience consultancy and Sitecore powerhouse that it is today.
Nick Towers

Nick Towers

01 Dec 2017 - 8 minute read
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