What is Conversion Rate Optimization?

Why should you read this guide?

Discover how conversion rate optimization practices can optimize your marketing funnel, helping you not only gain customers but retain them as well

Find out the exact optimization steps you need to perform at different stages of the marketing funnel

Learn about the data collection strategies that help you measure the impact conversion rate optimization has on your funnel

See what’s trending in the CRO world this year with the help of real-world examples

What is CRO?

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the continuous process of ensuring that the marketing funnel works successfully, in that it converts leads into customers with the help of different optimization processes. These processes include A/B testing, improving on-page experiences, usability tests, etc.

This guide will provide a detailed account of what conversion rate optimization is, the importance it holds in your marketing campaigns, and how you can enhance each component of your CRO strategy to yield the best results. At the end of the guide, you’ll also get a list of trending CRO techniques.

The importance of conversion rate optimization for marketing campaigns

Just having an online ad, a post-click landing page, or a website will not bring you more customers, even if you have a consistent stream of traffic coming to your page through a variety of methods.

So, what do you need for conversions?

For prospects to convert, not only do you need to have a marketing funnel in place, you need to optimize the funnel.

Conversion rate optimization involves using elements of visual design, UX, psychology, testing, copywriting, and customer behavior to convince visitors to act at different funnel stages — which moves them further down your marketing funnel.

CRO is important for marketing campaigns because it helps maximize results. To maximize results, testing plays a significant role. Specifically, A/B testing and usability tests help improve your campaigns and ensures that you only show the best ad or page that gets the most audience engagement.

When you optimize your online experiences for your target audience, you convert more visitors into leads, and leads into customers. Hence, CRO lowers your cost of customer acquisition and retention.

Optimization is the key to getting visitors to act, and conversion rate optimization ensures that your visitors click the call-to-action button — no matter where they are in the funnel.

CRO tells you exactly which element (such as a headline or CTA copy) at each funnel stage generates the most engagement and which element needs to change for you to maximize conversions.

The next chapter will highlight the different stages of the marketing funnel, and later chapters demonstrate how CRO comes into play at each step.

What are the Major Components of a CRO Strategy?

Since conversion rate optimization mainly deals with optimizing every stage of the marketing funnel, it is important we discuss each funnel stage individually. The marketing funnel is divided into three parts or stages:

  1. Top of the funnel – Awareness or discovery stage
  2. Middle of the funnel – Consideration stage
  3. Bottom of the funnel – Decision or conversion stage

Each stage of the funnel carries a specific function; if one stage of the funnel is optimized, more prospects trickle down to the next stage, and this process continues. Contrary to what many marketers believe, the marketing funnel doesn’t end with a click of your post-click landing page call-to-action button. Instead, it continues down to the retention stage:

what-is-cro-marketing-funnel

Top of the Funnel Strategies

Top of the funnel content engages your prospects and helps them discover how your product is the optimal solution for the problem they’re experiencing. This is the funnel stage where you look for indirect customer acquisition and brand awareness (e.g., soft sell) — so the content used at this stage is primarily educational.

This content is recommended for soft sell content, i.e., the marketing materials work to acquaint prospects with your product or service without asking for too much personal information in return.

Easy to read, snackable content comprises the top of the funnel, so create content in a format that your prospects will engage with and promote all offers with dedicated post-click landing pages.

Top of the funnel marketing involves the following content formats:

  • Blog posts
  • Email newsletters
  • Ebooks
  • Guides
  • Videos
  • Webinar

The stage is about educating your audience and maximizing brand awareness. It’s not about convincing prospects to buy your product; that comes later in the funnel.

Middle of the Funnel Strategies

The goal at this stage of the funnel is direct customer acquisition because at this stage you’ve already engaged your leads with basic information about your brand — and now you need them to buy.

You should produce and promote content at this stage to align a buyer’s need with relevant products in your arsenal.

Some middle of the funnel content techniques are:

  • Targeted email marketing
  • Marketing automation
  • Product demo webinars
  • Live events
  • Case studies

The content at this stage revolves around customer-relationship management through segmentation. When you segment your audience based on age, gender, geographical position, professional role, etc., you are better equipped to offer them targeted content that interests them. Hence, they move further down the funnel.

It’s also worth mentioning that retargeting prospects who have shown some interest in your offer at one time is also included in this stage of the funnel.

Bottom of the Funnel Strategies

This is the place marketers want all of their prospects to end up as soon as they enter the funnel, and it can be achieved if you’ve checked all of your optimization boxes up until now. The conversion phase of the funnel deals with transactions with customers, which means you need the most targeted and valuable offers at this stage.

Some offers created for the bottom of the funnel are:

  • Customized content (e.g., emails, newsletters)
  • Free trials
  • Live demonstrations
  • Competitor comparison sheets
  • Q & A sessions
  • One-on-one live chat
  • Customized pricing

With the help of conversion rate optimization, you can design a marketing funnel that doesn’t have any conversion friction, and the prospect seamlessly transitions from one funnel stage to the next.

Here’s what a standard conversion funnel flow looks like:

  1. The prospect clicks an ad (this could be display, PPC, or banner) or a link (this could be in an email or your homepage)
  2. The prospect is sent to the post-click landing page
  3. The lead comes to a thank you page, from where they can go to the company’s website via a link

Your ad, post-click landing page, and homepage are the most important pit stops in your customers’ journey. Optimizing them guarantees an increase in conversion rates, which is what CRO helps you achieve.

The next chapters of this guide will show you how to optimize your ads, post-click landing pages, and homepage and increase your conversion rates.

Components of an Optimized Ad

There are essentially two types of ads:

a. Search ads:

    • These ads are generated by a search engine after a prospect types in a search query.

b. Display ads: These ads are also known as banner ads and they appear as a prospect is browsing online — not searching for your product or service. These ads are prompted by search history and online behavior.

Let’s look at the optimization processes of both of these ads individually.

Optimizing Search Ads

This is what a typical Google search ad looks like:

cro-search-ad-example-one

These are text ads and include (from top to bottom) a headline, display URL, description, and ad extensions (The number and type of ad extensions can vary depending on which extensions the advertiser has activated in their paid search campaign.)

Since the ads have a length limitation, it’s important that your ad copy includes the relevant keywords (based on the user’s search query) and explains your service in a way that persuades them to click the ad. You can then optimize your Google paid search ads by adding a relevant description.

Another great way to optimize your ads is to apply extensions such as the location extension and review extension to share additional information about your business with the prospect.

Consistency and message match are essential characteristics of an optimized search ad because they create personalized advertising experiences for the search user. The more they see what they’re looking for from ad to post-click landing page, and the ad explains the service based on their search intent, the better chance you have at converting search users on your offer.

Optimizing Display Ads

The main difference between a search ad and a display ad is that the former is displayed only in search results while the latter are shown on sites within the Google Display Network, such as Forbes and Wall Street Journal. Display ads also include an image and a CTA button.

This is what a typical display ad looks like:

cro-search-contently-display-ad

The ad contains the brand’s name, an image, a headline, and a call-to-action button.

Relevancy is the key to creating an optimized display ad because the headline, image, copy, and CTA button must all complement each other to tell a single story.

Optimizing your ads gives you a better chance of catching your prospect’s attention when they see the ad, ensuring that your marketing journey starts correctly.

Components of an Optimized Landing Page

Post-click landing pages are standalone web pages that promote a single offer and fulfill one conversion goal. The conversion goal of your post-click landing page depends on the type of page you’re creating. For example, a lead generation page is created to collect leads, whereas a webinar post-click landing page is created to get registrants to sign up for the webinar.

All your post-click landing pages should have a conversion ratio of 1:1 because post-click landing pages have one conversion goal. They should only have one clickable element—the CTA button.

Every post-click landing page typically has the following elements:

  1. Primary headline
  2. Secondary headline
  3. Unique value proposition
  4. Trust indicators
  5. Call-to-action buttons
  6. Images
  7. Video
  8. Lead capture forms

However, simply including these elements doesn’t guarantee conversions. For your post-click landing pages to be optimized, the page elements should perform the following functions:

Headline

The headline should clearly explain your service’s UVP, and ideally, it should let the visitor know how your service will solve the problem they’re facing. You can also include statistics in your headline and get numerical proof to work in your favor.

Copy

The copy should highlight the product or service’s benefits and what makes it the best solution for the visitor’s problem. post-click landing page copy should also be displayed in a readable way, such as bullet points or numbered lists, so visitors can quickly scan the information (instead of getting lost in large blocks of text).

CTA Button

The call-to-action button is the most important post-click landing page element because it is the place visitors have to click for a conversion to happen. CTA buttons should:

  • Be placed at the optimal position on your page
  • Be designed in a contrasting color
  • Call out to the visitor to click it
  • Include personalized copy

You can have more than one CTA button on a longer post-click landing page, as long as the buttons focus on one goal.

Lead Capture Form

The form fields should be labeled and arranged so that they are easy for visitors to fill out. Also, the form shouldn’t ask visitors for too much information. However, the amount of information marketers can request from prospects depends on the funnel stage of the post-click landing page’s offer. The lower the offer is in the marketing funnel, the more personal information can be requested.

Customer Testimonials

Testimonials help provide social proof to your post-click landing page. Reviews from real customers are the most trustworthy and help persuade visitors to click the CTA button, especially if they include the reviewer’s headshot, title, and company.

Trust Indicators

Trust indicators help establish trust on your post-click landing page and lower conversion friction. Some common post-click landing page trust indicators are statistical evidence, customer badges, privacy policy links, and third-party seals.

Remember, your prospects can arrive at your post-click landing page in various ways (clicking a search ad, display ad, social media post, email link, etc.). And even though message matching is key to convert them, just because they arrived on your page does not mean they will convert on your offer. Your post-click landing page must include the optimized elements in this chapter to get your prospects to act on your conversion goal.

Components of an Optimized Homepage

Your homepage is about the visitor’s browsing experience — providing all the information about your company. So even though the homepage is not optimized for a single offer, it’s still an important part of your marketing funnel.

An optimized homepage must have all of these core functions:

  1. Showcase value to visitors
  2. Be easy to navigate and use
  3. Capture visitor’s interest with useful and interesting content

Similar to chapter 4, let’s look at some examples of company homepages and explain why each example is optimized.

Company Logo

Your company logo is the visual representation of your brand. The company logo should be placed in the top-left corner of every page on your website. When visitors click the logo, they should immediately be returned to your homepage.

Navigation

A homepage is essentially a map of all the other pages on your website. And since a homepage typically presents multiple offers and pages, the navigation menu should be designed so visitors can easily find the page they’re looking for.

Another way to implement your homepage navigation is with a hamburger menu, a series of three horizontal lines that open up the menu tab when you click it.

Headline

Your homepage is the place for you to showcase all the services your brand offers. So, your homepage headline should be written to encapsulate those services. You could also choose your UVP and showcase that through the headline.

CTA Buttons

Homepages can feature multiple CTA buttons. Like post-click landing page CTA buttons, homepage buttons should be contrasting and written with persuasive copy.

Images

Your homepage images should be relevant to your brand and services. The images should also be engaging enough to capture your visitor’s attention. One way to do this is to use alternate media formats such as gifs.

Trust Indicators

Trust indicators on homepages perform the same function on post-click landing pages, i.e., they reduce conversion friction and put the visitor at ease.

Copy

Since homepages are generally busy promoting all your services, the copy should be formatted properly — written in short paragraphs or a bulleted list so that it’s easily readable. It should also be benefit-oriented, explain what benefits your service will provide visitors and how it can help improve visitors’ lives instead of just focusing on the features.

The homepage browsing experience is such an important touchpoint for potential customers that you can’t afford to leave its design to chance. Once you optimize your homepage with the critical elements listed above, you’ll have a better chance of engaging visitors and converting them into customers.

Components of an Optimized Post-Click Experience

Just because your post-click landing page and homepage may be optimized for conversion does not mean that is the end of your visitor’s journey with your brand. To retain customers, it is paramount that you optimize the landing page, too.

You do that by optimizing your thank you pages and thank you emails.

A thank you page is where customers should be directed as soon as they click the call-to-action button on your post-click landing page or homepage.

An optimized thank you page and email perform the following functions:

  • Thanks the visitor for completing the conversion goal
  • Reaffirms and validates their click by showing a personal message to them
  • Provides information about what’s going to come next, if anything
  • Gives them a chance to share and distribute your offer to others who they think would also benefit from it
  • Increases trust and establishes a personal connection with the visitor
  • Helps customers proceed down your funnel by making them feel appreciated and giving them the right information
  • Promotes your other relevant offers tastefully

An optimized post-click marketing experience should be focused on the prospect or customer, not just the offer.

Don’t let a conversion opportunity pass by failing to optimize your post-click landing page. Start optimizing your thank you pages and emails and you’ll have more engaged prospects and customers.

Components of Optimized Remarketing Campaigns

Remarketing, or retargeting, is a form of online advertising that enables advertisers to show ads to users who have previously visited their site or taken a specific action on their site.

So, the display ads you see following you around after you’ve visited a website—are remarketing ads.

Remarketing ads have one fundamental purpose — to get visitors who came to your website or post-click landing page, and exited without performing an action, to return and complete the action. With remarketing, you’re ensuring that you stay relevant in your prospect’s mind — even though they’re not on your page.

This visual by Retargeter sums up retargeting perfectly:

The goals of a retargeting campaign are simple:

  1. Inform visitors about your offer
  2. Get them to click the CTA button on your page

Your retargeting campaign starts with a retargeting ad similar to this one:

The ad is a display banner ad that includes a headline, an image, copy, and a CTA button. Optimizing your remarketing ads follows the same procedure as optimizing your display ads, i.e., with benefit-focused copy and headline, relevant image, and a contrasting CTA button.

To optimize your remarketing campaigns, you need to connect all your remarketing ads with targeted post-click landing pages instead of busy homepages.

Give visitors the best chance to convert on your landing page and make it easy for them to take action. Optimize your remarketing campaigns by connecting your display ads with relevant, targeted post-click landing pages.

How to Collect Data for CRO

We’ve talked at length about optimizing the entire marketing funnel. Discussed the techniques to use with your ads, website, post-click landing pages, thank you pages, and remarketing campaigns to make it easy for visitors to take the desired action at each step.

However, conversion optimization isn’t only about a list of practices; not every website or post-click landing page simply needs a bigger, brightly colored CTA button to get more conversions. Knowing the best optimization techniques to use in your funnel helps in creating a more action-oriented funnel. But, finding out and solving your particular funnel’s conversion problems is what makes your own funnel optimized.

In this chapter we’re going to focus on the second part of conversion rate optimization — that is collecting and testing data to improve your marketing funnel conversions.

Let’s look at the techniques you can use to gather data from your marketing funnel:

Heuristic Analysis

Heuristic analysis is an experience-based assessment of a web page. It can be done relatively quickly and involves reviewing the page to identify problems with usability and the user interface (UI) design.

Three main frameworks are widely used in heuristic analysis: The Neilsen Norman Group’s Heuristic evaluation, Marketing Experiments’ Model, and the LIFT model.

Visitor Behavior Analysis

With visitor behavior analysis, you can collect data on what visitors do when they’re on your web pages. This allows you to understand if they are having any problems with any specific page elements — such as clicking something that’s not clickable and changing those elements accordingly.

Heat maps and user session replays can help track visitor behavior.

Heat Maps

Heat maps are the visual representation of data, and these help you record what visitors are doing with their mouse or trackpad when they’re on your web pages.

The heat map can be in monochrome, with the values ranging in black and white. However, heat maps are mostly designed in the following five color gradients from lowest/coldest to highest/warmest:

  • Blue
  • Cyan
  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Red

To ensure that the data you collect from heat maps is accurate, you must have an ample sample size before you start generalizing results and making changes to your web pages.

It’s recommended you have at least 2,000-3,000 page views per screen and per device (desktop and mobile) before you start generating heat maps–because heat maps won’t be as beneficial and uncover as much for you if your page has low traffic.

Changing website elements based on data collected from a heat map with very little traffic and data isn’t going to help you make any optimization decisions.

There are different types of heat maps that you can use.

User Session Replays

In contrast to heat maps, user session replays don’t require color interpretation. Instead, user session replays (or user recordings) give you a video account of what visitors did on your website and post-click landing pages. Simply watch a video of how visitors are interacting with your web pages. All the data you collect with user videos is qualitative.

User session replays help you identify any usability and optimization issues affecting your websites and post-click landing pages. You can find out which elements your visitors are responding well to and which elements are still not being interacted with. For example, if user recordings show visitors exiting the web page after attempting to complete the form, it’s probably best to look at optimizing your form.

Some tools you can use to generate user session replays are Inspectlet, Hotjar and Mouseflow.

A/B Testing

A/B testing allows you to create, measure, and then test variations of your web pages to determine which combination of elements on a page are more successful at converting visitors.

You can use A/B testing to improve conversions on your website, post-click landing pages, and marketing emails.

Before you begin A/B testing, though, you must have enough traffic on your web pages.

All A/B tests start with the original version of your post-click landing page. This is also called the “control” variation. Once you have a control page, there are four steps to follow when conducting A/B tests:

1. Set Conversion Goals: Your conversion goal depends on the current campaign you’re running. For example, if you’re setting goals for your ebook landing pages, the conversion goal would be ebook downloads.

2. Create Variations: You can create page variations simply by changing one element in the original variation. For example, if your control page has an on-page form, your variation could have a two-step opt-in form.

3. Start Testing: When you begin testing, the testing platform you use will randomly send equal amounts of traffic to both variations to make the results generated more accurate.

4. Analyze Results: After your test reaches 95% statistical significance, an average A/B test takes approximately 4 weeks to run. Only then can you begin to analyze the results. Keep in mind, that the results you get also depend on the A/B testing platform you’re using because different tools test for different metrics. Most tools calculate metrics such as unique visitors and conversion rates.

Collecting and analyzing data is an important part of conversion rate optimization because, with data, you can see exactly which element of your website and post-click landing page is underperforming. You can only understand what needs to be fixed to create a more optimized marketing funnel.

Want to take a data-driven approach to CRO to make informed decisions about where to focus your optimization efforts?

Let Instapage help.

Instaapge is a landing page platform that offers on-platform testing features to help marketers deploy all their tests from one place. The platform offers various templates and integrations to make creating and publishing landing pages quick and easy. Whether it’s A/B, testing, heat maps, form analytics, Instapage provides marketers the tools to track and improve their conversion rates from one convenient and seamless platform.

See how the platform works, sign up for an Instapage Enterprise demo today.

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