Your Conversion Rate Optimization Crash Course

Chanelle Smith
Chanelle Smith

Last updated on

June 9, 2023

Conversion rate optimization, or CRO, isn’t about you; it’s about the user. It’s about understanding the way users interact with your site and using that information to make improvements that encourage conversions. Implementing CRO best practices is a start, but because not every business’s target customer is the same, the CRO strategies that work for you probably won’t be the same as anyone else’s.

With that being said, everyone has to start somewhere! So if you’re just starting to explore CRO, this post is for you. It’s a crash course in conversion rate optimization with expert tips and tricks as well as common pitfalls you should be sure to avoid. Let’s get started.

What is Conversion Rate Optimization, Really?

What is Conversion Rate Optimization

As we hinted at above, conversion rate optimization all boils down to pleasing the user. Once someone visits your site, you need to do what it takes to get them to stay longer—rather than bounce—and convert by making a purchase, downloading something, signing up for an email list, or similar. Here’s how our experts define CRO:

Conversion Rate Optimization (or CRO), is a complex set of instruments that increase the likelihood of visitors taking a certain action that brings them closer to being your customers.

If you generate enough traffic from organic search, pay-per-click ads and social media, but your conversion rate seems frozen, or even worse, is decreasing, it means you need a different approach. While a conversion could be a purchase made by a prospect, it could also be any predetermined action completed by a visitor, such as creating an account, downloading an app or PDF, or subscribing to your e-mail newsletter.

Conversion rate is a very important KPI used by online shops to evaluate their performance, reflecting the number of visitors from your website's total traffic that complete a specific action. Therefore, the higher the conversion rate, the higher your revenue.

-Adrian Sarpe,

As I see it, conversion rate optimization is turning as many website visitors as possible into business opportunities. That can mean anything from turning blog visitors into email subscribers who you can later sell to, to turning product page views into purchases.

-Brennen Bliss,PixelCutLabs

I would define CRO as the art of converting an opportunity into business. A good CRO technique can drastically improve the number of leads a business gets and thereby increases sales.

-Sam Makwana of Traffic Radius

CRO is designing and improving your website to convince users to take a desiredaction. This could cover anything from signing up to a mailing list, to downloading an ebook or buying a product.

-Katie Keith of Barn 2 Media

First of all, it is important to understand the concept of ‘conversion’. It is usually understood as a sale, but it is more than that: it’s any goal you want visitors to complete on your site. The conversion rate is the number of time your visitors complete that goal divided by your site traffic. And Conversion Rate Optimization is a process to increase the number of visitors and lead them to the desired conversion. CRO differs from Search Engine Optimization and PPC Strategies because it focuses on what happens after the visitor reaches your website.

-Danny Star of Websites Depot

Conversion rate optimization is all about making net positive improvements to a web site in order to increase metrics such as: leads, signups, sales, revenue, engagement and referrals. The best optimizations can be defined by requiring the least effort, and having the greatest impact (ROI).

-Jakub Linowski of Good UI

Conversion rate optimization is the process of aligning the goals and expectations of a company’s site with the goals and expectations of their customer. It’s a learning process focused on identifying current gaps between the two parties and testing new hypotheses to remove or lessen those gaps.

-Josh Cuttill of 360 Partners

As I see it, every Conversion Rate Optimization project has two goals:

  1. Create a better user experience. Ultimately, user experience drives conversion rate - and that's why I don't really like to call it "Conversion Rate Optimization." That doesn't sufficiently represent the user-focus. The researcher's mindset should be more like "User Experience Optimization."
  2. Make more profit. This is something we can't affect directly; again: what we have a direct impact on is the user experience. If that is great, it will lead to higher conversion and to higher profit.

I'd say these two things are equally important in a CRO project. Better user experience is the goal, and higher profit is a great outcome.

-Tomi Mester of Data36

A conversion can mean multiple things. It really depends on what you do as a business. If you run a webshop, then a purchase can be a conversion. If you offer a service, a trial subscription can count as a subscription. If you run a marketing campaign, then an ebook download, newsletter subscription can count as a conversion.

In a nutshell, when the visitor of your website does something that is desirable, we can say they have been converted to a customer. Your main goal is to encourage people to repeat the desired actions you have defined.

-Robert of Capturly

Conversion rate optimization is when you optimize your website to increase the percentage of visitors that are converting to customers or subscribers. The optimization could include designing your website as such that it forces the visitor to convert.

-Moeez of WP Blog

Conversion rate optimisation is an iterative process of gradually improving your product presentation that leads to selling of the product. For us, as well as for any other SaaS business, the ultimate goal is to get customers. Even when you define registrations and subscribing to a trial of your product as conversion, your primary measurement should always be the conversion into paying customers.

-Eugene Krall of SendPulse

Mistakes You’re Making to Hinder Your Conversion Rate

Conversion Rate Optimization mistakes

Like we mentioned, there are many best practices that can potentially improve your conversion rate, but it may take trial and error to figure out the perfect strategy for your ideal customer base.

That could mean adding things, like including links to related content at the bottom of a blog post, or removing distractions—like removing links to your social media channels from a landing page, for example. You may not hit the mark right away, and that’s okay—this is where the “optimization” part of conversion rate optimization comes into play.

Let’s take a look at some common CRO pitfalls you might be facing and how digital marketing pros recommend you handle them:

Not Thinking Like a Visitor

One thing that many website owners do is to create a site that looks great, but without thinking as a buyer would think. Your site may be too cluttered or too confusing due to a poorly designed navigation system. As you plan your website, think in terms of a buyer; make it quick and easy for them to find what they’re looking for.

The biggest mistake is not caring for customers, whether we're talking about prospects or existing customers. Too often I have encountered entrepreneurs, business owners or marketing professionals that treat all prospects the same (no segmentation, no behavioral analysis, little to no nurturing in the conversion process) or make no efforts to engage their existing customers to improve their retention rate(no personalized content, communications or offers to increase their loyalty to the brand, new content sent weekly or twice per week on subjects that impact their daily lives or offer a solution to their problem).

-Adrian Sarpe

The biggest mistake you can make to hinder conversion rate optimization is publishing website content without putting yourself in the mindset of the visitor.

-Brennen Bliss

My observation is that people can sometimes over-optimize their pages to get conversions. This can be confusing for visitors. My recommendation is to focus mainly on one major conversion channel that brings you most leads. Whether it be phone calls, email leads or eCommerce sales.

-Sam Makwana

The biggest mistake that hinders people's CRO is making users click through too many pages to achieve their goal. For example, some websites have a separate newsletter signup page instead of letting users subscribe from the page they're already on. if you're an e-commerce website then you can lose conversions by making people click through to a separate page to buy each product.

-Katie Keith

Ineffective Testing

Another thing that can hinder your conversion rates is making poor testing decisions. This could mean anything from changing too many variables at once to having too narrow of a testing focus. Find the middle ground—test what matters, and don’t be afraid to change what isn’t working...just be sure you only change one thing at a time!

One of the biggest mistakes in conversion optimization is setting a very shallow focus. For example, when people start their first experiments, they tend to make the mistake of only measuring clicks (or next page visits). A better practice is to track the full funnel all the way from beginning till the end (e.g. visits to a product page, adds to cart, sales, and revenue).

By tracking the full funnel, what we find is that there might be changes which only impact shallow metrics, but have no deeper follow through into sales. Setting experiments in this way helps us to understand which changes are only skin-deep and which actually motivate people to take the action we want.

-Jakub Linowski

A common mistake is focusing too much energy on testing and not enough energy on learning. The more educated you are on your customers’ behavior and how your website impacts those behaviors, the higher rate of success you will have in developing effective tests. Boiled down simply: test smarter, not harder!

-Josh Cuthill

I see too many companies running broken A/B tests. Either the test setup is buggy (flashing web pages, non-mobile-friendly A/B test design) or the creators of the experiment fail to adhere to the principles of A/B testing (using proper randomization, looking at the significance rate before drawing conclusions, etc).

False A/B test results are very dangerous because they paint a false image of the user journey. And when they get implemented, over the long term you will see neutral results or worse results than before. That's not good for anyone. A/B testing should be done right or shouldn't be done at all.

-Tomi Mester

Making too many changes is a common mistake. I often see people making changes to their CTA color, font family, navigation, and copy...ALL AT ONCE. When you make so many tweaks at once, the reasons for changes to your conversion rate become unidentifiable.


How to Improve Your Conversion Rates

How to improve conversion rate optimization

Now that you know what not to do in pursuit of better conversion rates, here’s what our experts do recommend.

Retarget Website Users

With retargeting software, you can conduct personalized outreach to prospects to keep your business top-of-mind. One common example of retargeting is to email users that have abandoned their shopping cart with items in it, reminding them it’s not too late to make a purchase.

Treat prospects/visitors as what they are: individuals, with unique tastes and preferences. Statistics show that only 2% of prospects convert on their first visit on a website. A retargeting software can help set you apart from competitors through personalize messages to your prospects, reminding them about your products and services. If you are not retargeting prospects who abandoned their shopping cart containing a product they wanted to purchase, you are missing out.

Check your website's eCommerce analytics and observe how many abandoned carts you had in the last month. Would you like to magically convert 26% of cart abandoners into customers? Do the math for the last quarter and the previous year as well. Do not beat yourself up too hard about the business you’ve been missing, just use a retargeting software to capture it going forward. Retargeting software will only continue to get better and better as technology evolves, so do not miss this train!

-Adrian Sarpe

Optimize Your Landing Page Forms

You already know the importance of landing pages, but how much attention have you paid to your landing page forms? With forms, it’s important to find the right balance between providing a seamless experience for users and collecting enough information to be useful for you.

While it's an industry standard to "ask for as little information as possible," you can actually have the best of both worlds. You do this by creating something called a "2-step form" where the visitor fills out basic information that you record on the first page; and, after submitting basic information, the visitor is directed to a second page to optionally add any other information that will help you in your sales process.

-Brennen Bliss

From my experience, one of the best conversion techniques is to have a highly engaging form on the landing page which is immediately visible to the viewers when the page loads. We have observed with many of our clients that simply putting a reach-out form on the top of the landing page can almost double the number of leads they get.

-Sam Makwana

Analyze your users' conversion journey, and take steps to reduce the number of clicks. For blogs, add MailMunch signup forms wherever people are most likely to subscribe. For e-commerce websites, use the WooCommerce Product Table plugin to create a one-page order form and improve your conversion rate.

-Katie Keith

Offer Real Value to Your Visitors

It might seem obvious, but incentivizing users is a key technique for improving conversions. Offer them a deal or a discount, an enticing upsell, or just more free information that’s relevant to what they came to your site for. Try not to let visitors leave your site without engaging them and capturing their contact information—just make sure you’re giving them something in return.

Once a user is on your website, the best thing you can do is engage them in such way they want to perform the action you’re looking for. Incentivising feedback with a deal or a discount is always appealing. If you are trying to optimize an eCommerce website, give people clear numbers about your pricing and discounts. Make sure to use the right language as well: ‘value price’ or ‘special offer’ are always better options than ‘cheap’.

-Danny Star

Apply eCommerce strategies to lead generation problems. For example, the end goal of a landing page should not be to collect a customer’s information, but rather to drive them further in the buying cycle. Instead of using your thank you page to merely thank them and give them their promised information, provide them with an “upsell” with an opportunity to continue their customer journey right away. This can be through another offer, opportunity to schedule a call, trial or demo, etc

When a user fills out a form fill you now have something rare and valuable – an engaged and captive audience. Take as much advantage of that time before you release them back into the wild.

-Josh Cuttill

Focus on the Big Picture

Don’t be afraid to use multiple analytics strategies and tools to measure the behavior of your website’s visitors. Knowing how visitors interact with your site allows you to understand where you may be going wrong in the conversion process and make changes to provide a better experience.

Never draw conclusions from only one piece of the puzzle! When running a CRO project, you should use multiple research methods. A UX test, a Google Analytics report, a Five Second Test or an A/B test—these different research methods show different angles of the same user story. But you will only see the full picture if you see all these perspectives. So, never conduct only one experiment or only one analysis and then make your final decision based on that…always use multiple research methods!

-Tomi Mester

Start focusing on the bigger picture. Website owners are often stuck at focusing on changing the color or the placement of their CTAs, text and so on. What they should focus on is the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is the user experience, credibility, mobile-friendly website, branding and message delivery. Focusing on these elements can have bigger and long-lasting impact on your CRO.


The bottom line of conversion rate optimization is this: once you start thinking like a customer and use proven strategies like smart testing and retargeting to improve the user experience, conversions and sales will follow.

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