Even with a refreshed focus on conversion rate optimization (CRO) best practices, some marketers still struggle to find results. In the past decade, companies wasted $870 billion on direct-response digital ad clicks. And with conversion rate averages as low as 4%, you can imagine how much money they left on the table. It’s time to take some of that back.
The solution is a lot more straightforward than you think: Take time to understand and implement conversion rate optimization (CRO).
This post discusses everything you need to know about conversion rate optimization, the milestones you need to achieve and what it takes to develop an effective CRO strategy. Applying these conversion rate optimization best practices will help you realize noticeable gains and unlock CRO success that will take you through this quarter, the fiscal year, and beyond.
Let’s get started.
What is conversion rate optimization? Here’s a refresher
There’s a reason so many digital marketers fixate on CRO (and also get frustrated by all the advice they receive on how to perform it well). Mastering this process allows you to achieve critical milestones on the path to business success. Even with all the challenges, marketers face in today’s market, learning CRO best practices can be the difference between your business getting ahead of industry standards or falling behind.
Conversion rate optimization is the process of improving your ad campaigns’ quality so you maximize the percentage of times visitors take a desired action, or convert.
The core foundation of CRO in digital marketing is developing an advertising plan that continually informs your processes and decisions as you strive to improve campaigns long-term. You want a strategy that’s simultaneously effective and flexible. That means maximizing conversions, yet being able to quickly respond to market and technology changes.
More specifically, mastering CRO will allow you to:
- Develop effective, scalable advertising strategies to help you meet your short- and long-term business goals
- Leverage data-driven insights to extend your customer reach
- Provide customers with the shortest path from ad to conversion
- Improve the buyer’s journey by offering engaging, valuable content
- Develop brand loyalty and long-term relationships with your customers
- Maximize both return on ad spend (ROAS) and return on investment (ROI)
So, let’s jump in and discuss the different components that make an effective CRO strategy.
Developing an effective CRO strategy
CRO incorporates short-term goals on a pathway to long-term success. This tricky balance can leave most marketers wondering where to even begin. It’s the perfect question to start with, since there is a clear beginning point to this process: strategic development.
Developing your strategy involves accomplishing five essential milestones:
Developing your strategy involves accomplishing five essential milestones:
- Milestone #1: Identify your audience using data-driven insights
- Milestone #2: Define your marketing goals by leveraging key metrics
- Milestone #3: Clarify and establish your value proposition
- Milestone #4: Construct a hypothesis to reduce points of friction
- Milestone #5: Conduct A/B testing
Let’s start our top-down assessment with #1: Identifying the people you need to reach.
Know your audience using data-driven insights
How well do you know your audience? You’d be surprised how many marketers make major digital advertising decisions based on little more than a hunch. One is that you’ll waste ad dollars on people who aren’t interested in your brand; the other is that you’ll be missing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who are.
The ability to identify your audience goes deep. It’s not enough to analyze spreadsheets of demographic data. Data like gender, shirt size, and general location are useful, but keep in mind these are broad data points. Not every person wearing an XXL shirt in Nashville will behave the same. These shallow-level insights will hurt conversion rates and lead to stereotyping and inherent biases. Finding customers who are truly ready to convert requires access to more nuanced, granular data.
The information you need for a more complete picture of your target audience is psychographic data. It’s powerful, because it allows you to speak to your audience’s self-perceptions. With psychographic data, you can learn about customers’ pain points, values, hobbies, and daily habits, as well as their buying intentions. This data is a must-have if you seek a more personal connection with your customers.
Never disregard an opportunity to directly get to know your customers. Consider using surveys, user interviews, and focus groups to ask pointed questions about their wants, needs, behaviors, and awareness of your brand. Present your customers with opportunities to leave feedback and testimonials.
Create buyer personas
The final process of getting familiar with your audience is to create buyer personas, also called customer, audience, or marketing personas. They’re profiles of fictitious individuals you create based on amalgamated audience data. These personas help you get a vivid picture of a target audience segment so you can develop campaigns that will resonate.
In creating your personas, you’ll assign each a name, a look (using a stock photo or illustration), and descriptions of their buying habits, professional and personal activities, interests and attitudes, as well as where they are in the advertising funnel. It might feel silly, but it’s a great practice for helping you see your audience as real people and not just data.
To get started, you can work with persona templates that you can modify and create a picture that serves your marketing needs. Once you do, you’ll have the tools to craft campaigns your target audience will find engaging. The next step is to employ critical metrics to define your advertising goals.
Define your goals by leveraging key metrics
Defining your conversion goals may seem easy at first, but it can be tricky as you dig in. You may understand your desired results, but what tangible goals have you laid out to get there? You need measurable outcomes defined by your resources, customer segments, and knowledge base.
Vague objectives such as “maximize conversions by next quarter” or “boost ROI by 30%” won’t provide the kind of guidance you need for planning. Measured steps and tangible goals help you keep progress moving and on track instead of wasting time on blind footing.
If you’re struggling to formulate some goals, start with simple curiosity. Read on for some goal-making best practices to keep in mind.
The magic of metrics
Performance is the only way to define measurable outcomes. If there’s no way of assessing your goals’ performance, it may not be tangible enough. Pinpoint which metrics best demonstrate your campaigns’ effectiveness to keep you guided. These measurable values can help your business reach month-over-month targets, whether you’re looking to track social media growth, SEO parameters, or a particular campaign’s performance.
Be selective in determining whether you can meet your goals and drive growth. It takes time to analyze this data, so pick metrics that will offer the most revealing insights. Consider what information is most valuable for your company and goals—social media engagement, ROI, customer retention, customer lifetime values?
Some metrics are so revealing, few marketers can do business without them. Here are must-have metrics to incorporate in your goals:
- ROAS: One of the most valuable measurements in your toolset, ROAS tells you what you’re spending for each dollar your ads bring in. You calculate it by dividing campaigns’ revenue by their cost.
- Sales and marketing qualified leads: Qualified leads—people who may be interested in buying a product or service after having engaged with your site—are an essential yardstick to measure your success. Keep in mind, it’s up to you to define what makes a lead qualified or not. It could be as simple as someone who has attended your webinar, signed up for a newsletter, or booked a consultation.
- Conversion rates: Tracking conversion rates is a must. To derive this, divide the number of completed conversions by the total number of website visitors. Track all conversions, not just those that result in a sale. That can include signing up for an email list or filling out a form to require a product demo. Many platforms use conversion tagging including time of conversion functionalities for your ad campaigns, so be sure to take advantage of that if it’s available.
- Bounce rates: The percentage of visitors who viewed a page and didn’t convert. As disheartening as this metric can be, it’s important for understanding why customers are leaving your pages and not taking a desired action.
- Cost per lead (CPL)/cost-per-click (CPC): Many marketers focus on these metrics, and for a good reason. They determine what you’re spending for every lead or ad click generated. Both metrics are invaluable when determining whether to invest more or less into particular campaigns.
- Share of voice. This metric measures how much exposure your brand is getting. It tracks the success of your awareness-raising efforts, such as social media posting, blogging, and hosting online events.
Now that you’ve defined your audience and your goals, you need to answer two vital questions:
- What’s your value proposition?
- Are you communicating it well to your audience?
Clarify your value proposition
We all know that even the most valuable products and services don’t sell themselves. It’s up to you, the marketer, to explain to prospective customers how a particular product will improve their lives.
You need to clarify your brand’s value proposition—to get across why your target audience should take interest, learn about a product, and ultimately, convert.
Clarifying your value proposition starts with asking—even if you think you already know the answers. Trusting broad assumptions and hunches is not enough to fine-tune value messaging. If you later realize you neglected to make a few crucial clarifications in your messaging, you’ll end up with wasted time investments and costs you can’t recoup.
Here are some questions to help you and your teams get clear on value proposition:
How unique is our offer?
Chances are, you’ve got competition. What makes your product stand out? Don’t merely consider qualities like materials—think about how your product could benefit a user’s life more than your competitors’ do. Showing people you understand their needs in the ways alternative options don’t is a significant driver of value.
Are there marketing opportunities we can take advantage of?
Your competitors might be ignoring a segment of prospective customers. Can you reach that segment in a unique way? Try to define precise micro-audiences to target and fine-tune your messaging to include deeper personalization for these smaller segments.
Can you explain your value proposition in 10 seconds or fewer?
If not, maybe you’re not as definite on your brand’s offerings as you think. Ask your target audience members what they find valuable about your brand, perhaps through a survey. If there’s a lot of ground to cover, consider breaking down your value proposition into smaller focuses. Choose which focus is critical to what audience segment, and tailor the messaging for each. You can always introduce your customers to new information later on in the marketing funnel.
Once you’re clear on your value proposition, craft a message that will resonate with your target audience. Here are some tips:
- Stand out: Use your ads and landing pages to demonstrate why your offer is better than something else on the market.
- Create urgency: Describe what makes your product indispensable and why your solution is the best option for solving a concerning issue.
- Speak in your customer’s voice: Every brand has a “personality” they express through tone, language, and visual elements. Communicate in a voice your audience will relate to.
- Adjust for where customers are in the funnel: Carefully craft your message based on buyer receptivity. Customers at the top of the funnel are on the fence about their interest, while customers deeper in are ready to make a decision. Build interest when capturing customers, and trigger conversions when interest is at its peak.
Now that you’re set on your messaging and ready to communicate with your audience, it’s time to construct your hypothesis.
Construct a hypothesis
A hypothesis is an attempt to explain a phenomenon with the intention of conducting further investigation. The word comes from the Greek “hupothesis,” which means “foundation.” For marketers, learning how to construct a hypothesis is an essential process to eliminate customer friction points and increase conversions.
A hypothesis has three components:
- Identifying the issue
- Proposing a possible solution
- Predicting a better outcome
Analyze the buyer’s journey. Look at your ad and landing page content as if you were one of your prospective customers and ask yourself—what’s working well, and where are breakdowns occurring? Are there specific areas where visitors are dropping off and bouncing?
Next, you’ll set up an A/B test to see if your hypothesis has legs.
Conduct A/B testing
With the right preparation, A/B testing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to optimize conversions. As the name implies, this method of gathering insight to aid in optimization involves two testing processes:
- A test: Observing outcomes of the original design, which serves as the control.
- B test: Observing outcomes of an alternate design, also called the “variation.”
After running both tests, you see which one performs better. You can A/B test all aspects of your campaigns’ messaging and design, such as headlines, page layout, form fields, page length, trust indicators, images, and CTA buttons.
A/B testing can be costly, so it’s vital to be selective about what to test. It is also not a cure-all to your optimization struggles. You can get false positives or negatives, and it can be challenging to ensure outside influences don’t interfere with the results. There’s also a phenomenon called “regression to the mean,” in which random outlying events skew results without detection.
Don’t bother testing something that’s already proven to have a specific outcome. For example, we now know that including navigational links on landing pages decreases conversion rates, so you can avoid using them altogether and focus on more impactful questions in your tests.
Here’s how to establish viable A/B testing scenarios:
- Investigate an easily adjustable weak link. Maybe you’re unsure where to place your CTA, or how well your headline is standing out with that font.
- Time isn’t an issue. Since A/B tests need time to generate meaningful results, you need to be ready to wait weeks or even months before achieving actionable data.
- You have experience and expertise on your side. You need to understand how to control the testing. Outside factors can sometimes interfere with results, causing false negatives. Knowing how to avoid these outside threats is critical to not wasting your investments.
Here are some tips to get meaningful results from A/B testing:
- Set your A/B test goals. Decide what you want to test and base this decision on reliable user-behavior data.
- Test one element at a time. It can get complicated to test more than one element, which might lead to errors and wasted time. Therefore, select only one element to test in most instances.
- Verify that you can reach statistical significance. Most testing is only worthwhile when you are working with a fairly large sample size and you can feel confident your statistics are significant. That means you can guarantee at least 80% of the results are due to the change to the “B” page.
- Eliminate confounding variables. Just like with lab tests, outside factors can “contaminate” A/B tests, so you must control for them. Examples include holidays, weather incidents, and unforeseen traffic sources. Limit variables by testing your content under consistent criteria. Adjusting things like budget or target audience while trying to see which CTA converts better won’t deliver accurate results.
- Keep testing. Even though you may have improved your conversion rate, that doesn’t mean you’ve found the perfect combination of elements for your landing page. Remember, your audience and their needs are constantly evolving, so you need to build on success and continue fine-tuning your strategy.
- Don’t give up if a test fails to show results. All data has a story to tell. Even if what you were testing doesn’t lead to increased conversions, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. At least you’ll understand what’s not resonating with your audience—and then work on discovering why.
Personalize your outreach
It’s hard to imagine an aspect of digital advertising that has more of an impact on CRO than personalization. We’re such firm believers in what advertising personalization can accomplish in this guide.
We’re also continually measuring the impact of personalization in digital advertising. In a recent survey, we asked digital marketers if they use personalization and were amazed by what we learned. It turns out that the marketers who implement advertising personalization benefit from increases in marketing spend efficiency, purchase intent, sales and revenue, and brand loyalty. More specifically, of the marketers surveyed:
- 95% met or exceeded their revenue targets
- More than half increased their marketing-spend efficiency by 20% or greater
- 6 in 10 achieved a 10% or greater lift in sales
No doubt, you’ve already been using personalization in one form or another. What’s paramount is that you’re getting to know your customers well and providing them with information they care about. The more you create campaigns with a personalization mindset, the more ways you’ll discover how to connect with your customers—and maximize conversions.
Earning your customers’ trust is integral to your CRO tactics. Ways to build trust include sharing information about your brand and company on your landing pages. Consider including an “About Us” or “Meet the Team” section. You can also demonstrate security by having a lock icon in your web address, showing that you’re SSL security certified, and displaying authority badges that indicate you are competent at protecting user data.
Another impactful way to build trust is by using a technique called social proof, which puts customers at ease knowing that others have had a positive experience with your brand. Post reviews, logos representing leading customers, star ratings, and testimonials on your pages to establish this credibility. When mobile shoppers see positive reviews, it increases conversions by 133%.
Tell a great story
Everyone loves a compelling story, and nowhere does it have more impact on a business’ ROI than in the advertising world. So it’s vital to get familiar with something called conversion storytelling, the practice of constructing highly personalized, connected ad-to-landing-page narratives, or “micro-stories,” that engage customers on an emotional level. This approach provides a strategic framework for focusing your narrative on the right elements for the right audience.
Conversion storytelling differs from traditional digital advertising by putting the focus on the human condition. It builds a narrative arc that contains three devices: building tension, arriving at a solution, and finding resolution.
The model often looks like this:
Design to convert
As you design your ads and landing pages, you’ll be making many decisions on how to represent your brand, and CRO should be top of mind. That means letting your metrics take the wheel. Use them when coming to any decision about how to curate your content and what colors, images, and messaging to use.
Ask for the minimum amount of information you need to collect leads, schedule a product demo, or whatever you want your form to do.
Optimize for the mobile user
Mobile usage now accounts for more than half of global web traffic, surpassing desktop usage, yet the growth rate of mobile conversions (1.8%) lags behind desktop conversions (1.98%) and tablets (2.92%). A significant reason for this disconnect is that many marketers continue the traditional method of designing first for desktop and then modifying for mobile use.
Considering how popular mobile is these days, you should consider going in the opposite direction—that is, opting for what’s known as mobile-first design. According to Adobe, brands that optimize using mobile-first approach triple their chances of increasing mobile conversion rates to 5% or above.
Here are some tips for going with a mobile-first design:
- Be selective about content. Plan for the least amount of content you need for customers to convert. If they have to spend time doing a lot of scrolling, they’re likely to bounce. Use menus to limit the amount of content on each page.
- Go with a clean design. Your page should be uncluttered and designed to attract eyes to valuable content. CTA buttons should have minimal text and be positioned where users can easily see them. Use high-quality images, and ensure nothing gets cut off. Copy should be scannable and easy to understand.
- Pay attention to page speed. Page speed is crucial for all landing pages, and it’s especially true for mobile, because 85% of mobile users expect pages to load as fast as on desktop. Only a one-second delay can reduce customer satisfaction by 16%. Remember, too, that page speed factors into your Google Quality Score, which means slow pages are likely driving up your cost-per-click rate. Try to keep your load speeds to no more than three seconds.
- Conduct a Google mobile-friendly test. Google offers a free mobile-friendly page test that analyzes your mobile page and identifies areas for improvement.
Instapage is your CRO partner
An effective advertising strategy is the cornerstone of mastering conversion rate optimization. As you continue to refine your strategy and implement essential CRO best practices, it’s important to share well-crafted content with your target audience, increase customer engagement, and improve your ROI over the long term.
As conversion experts, we at Instapage are continually amassing and analyzing data that we use to determine the most effective ways marketers can improve their ROAS. We’re ready to partner with you to show you where friction points exist and how to improve customer engagement and increase conversions.
Schedule a demo today and our team of CRO experts will discuss how to best implement conversion rate optimization in digital marketing, set up split testing, and use the many other features of the Instapage platform to maximize your campaign results.