How much have you spent on getting people to your website? Not just money on digital marketing—also think about how much work and time you’ve invested in earning website traffic. It’s a lot, right?
All those dollars, all those hours—what are they worth to you if your visitors click away soon after their first visit and never come back?
The answer’s simple: nothing.
For your traffic to have any value, your website visitors have to do something beyond landing on your website. In marketing terms, they have to convert.
Conversion rate optimization is how you make website traffic valuable.
To turn website visitors into followers and, even better, customers, you need to make sure your website is designed to optimize conversions. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the practice of doing so.
Developing a CRO strategy isn’t as straightforward as you might think. . Predicting how people will behave and what they’ll respond to is difficult. But by employing the right digital marketing tactics to get a higher conversion rate on your website, you can ensure that the money you spend on marketing actually pays off not only in sales, but also in building long-term relationships with each and every website visitor. .
13 Conversion Rate Optimization Best Practices
The CRO process is made up of a number of different tactics and strategies you can use to gain an understanding of what your audience responds to and improve your website based on data. Here are a few of the top tips to try for your website optimization.
1. Focus on calls to action (CTAs).
CTAs are one of the basic building blocks of conversion optimization. . The concept behind them is simple: when someone lands on a page on your website, what do you want them to do next? Instead of hoping they’ll do it on their own, encourage them to take that desired action.
Including a CTA on every page of your website is a good practice, but you’ll want to use different ones based on the specific goal you have for that page. For example, the CTAs on a product page will be focused on urging people to buy now or add the item to their cart. A blog post will be more likely to have CTAs pushing visitors to sign up for the email list or download an ebook.
Figuring out the right CTA for each page is important. But a big part of the CRO process is also figuring out how to word and present the CTA in the most effective way possible. A slight tweak in wording, or changing out the color of a CTA button can produce surprising results.
One of the best ways to have a higher conversion rate is to make sure you know the next step you want your visitors to take, and work on paying careful attention to how you ask each site visitor to do so.
2. Simplify UX
UX stands for user experience and it’s another big part of CRO. It’s also important on its own—it’s the practice of making sure your website visitors find your website intuitive and can easily do what they need to on it. When it comes to CRO, a big part of improving UX is considering how to reduce barriers.
People are impatient online. That’s not a criticism, just a natural part of how browsing the web works. Think about it, have you ever considered consuming a piece of content, downloading something, or making a purchase and then stopped when you realized it required a slightly higher time commitment than you expected? Or just a little bit more effort? This is how online user behavior works.
In practice, that may mean reducing the number of fields you require someone to fill in on a form. More people will complete a field asking for a name and email address, than one asking for those things plus age, gender, business title, and company size.
It also extends to the checkout process. It may be surprising, but someone who wants an item enough to pay for it, may not want it enough to spend time filling in more information to complete the process. Making it as easy as possible for people to provide their shipping and payment information by, say, letting them create an account that auto-fills it in next time, or accepting a payment method their browser remembers, is a simple way to increase conversions.
3. Use heatmaps and session recordings.
You can imagine how you think visitors will interact with your website as you’re building it. But at that stage it’s simple guesswork based more on your own behavior than that of your audience. Heatmaps and session recordings are CRO tools you can use to better understand how visitors to your website actually interact with it.
Heatmaps highlight where a visitor’s attention is drawn when on the page, how far they scroll, and where they click based on aggregate visitor data. They can help you understand whether an important CTA is getting overlooked, or if a less important part of the page is serving as a distraction.
Session recordings allow website owners to view what specific user interactions on the website looked like—what actions they took, in what order, and after how long. They can supplement the data you get from heatmaps.
Both tools can be powerful for understanding how well your website is doing its job in general, and which specific parts of it are working or not.
4. Consider and use micro conversions.
The word conversion can describe a wide range of actions. The most obvious and important for businesses are those that directly relate to profits—making a sale, choosing an upgrade, becoming a repeat customer. But few consumers make a purchase the first time they visit a website.
More often, that first visit is a chance to win them over and give them a reason to stick around for a while and come back again later. Micro conversions are all the smaller wins that help you achieve those goals in advance of a purchase. These include things like clicking on an internal link, following your brand on social media,signing up for your email list, and downloading an ebook.
While these actions aren’t as important to your bottom line as a purchase, they matter. And a good CRO strategy will include them as well.
5. Understand the conversion funnel.
Effective CRO is more complicated than just tracking and testing as many different conversions as you can. You also want to understand how they all connect.
If a certain blog post regularly drives conversions to your email list, but most of those later unsubscribe without ever taking another action, that blog post isn’t as valuable as the conversion numbers make it look. If another post drives fewer email sign ups, but more of them take further actions with your brand, that one’s more valuable.
Understanding your conversion funnel both enables you to assign more accurate value to different conversions, and allows you to see larger trends in what’s working. Knowing the relationship between different actions helps you learn what series of choices is most likely to lead to a purchase. That helps you structure your marketing strategy more effectively.
6. Use color to your advantage.
Stop signs and stoplights are red for a reason. Many humans respond strongly to visual triggers. Using bright, attention-grabbing colors for your most important CTAs can make them more noticeable to visitors. Or, choosing colors that contrast and stand out from the rest of your site (without clashing) can do the trick.
Try out different ways to use color to draw attention to the right places on a page to see what works best.
7. Perform A/B testing.
A/B testing is publishing two different versions of something, to see which one performs better. You can use it to test out a variety of hypotheses.
For example, which of two headlines will get the most clicks? Which color of CTA button leads to the most conversions? And how do conversion rates change if you add more required fields to a form?
A/B testing is a key CRO best practice for turning conjecture into data. Experts recommend only changing one part of a page at a time, so you get clear data about which element influences behavior. As you run an array of A/B tests over time, you’ll gain a number of takeaways about what your audience responds to that you can put into practice on your website.
8. Try (ethical) price testing.
People make purchasing decisions for a lot of different reasons, but we all know a big one is price. Pricing is complicated. Too low and you’ll miss out on money you could be making, too high and you’ll get fewer sales. Finding the sweet spot where people are willing to pay in large numbers and you get as big a slice of profits as possible is key to running a successful business.
eCommerce price testing is trying out different tactics to see how they influence sales conversions. Does switching to a price that ends in 99 (e.g. $5.99 versus $6) make a difference in conversions? Does providing a discount for spending more lead to higher per order amounts? Sometimes small pricing changes lead to big results.
But you have to be careful with price testing. If you offer different prices for the same items to different audiences, or to the same audience at different times (without framing it as a discount or special offer), it can look dishonest or unethical. Make sure you keep your price testing above the board, so you don’t alienate customers.
9. Promote coupons.
Coupons are a tried-and-true tactic for increasing conversions. If someone’s on the fence about whether to make a purchase, a few dollars off can tip them over the edge.
Pay close attention to the results each time you promote a coupon. How many new sales does it lead to? Do some channels lead to more coupon conversions than others (e.g. email versus social media)? Do some audiences take advantage of coupon offers more than others, such as those in your loyalty program versus those who have only made one purchase before? These types of questions lead to a better understanding of who your customers are.
10. Set up a sitewide sale.
If you want to bring in a lot of new sales at once, a sitewide sale is a good way to drive new purchases. Many eCommerce businesses use this tactic a few times a year to get all the discount hunters in their audience to cross the finish line.
While this tactic comes with the tradeoff of lower profits per sale for a set period, the influx in new purchases can make it worthwhile. And if you promote it to new audiences, it can potentially bring in new customers that turn into long-term ones, making their purchases worth far more than the initial dollar amount.
11. Do user testing.
While you can gain a lot of information about what your visitors respond to with tools like heatmaps and A/B tests, nothing replaces talking to them directly. User testing involves recruiting a few people who fall into your target audience, and having them go through the process of taking different steps on your website.
By monitoring what they do—what steps they take and any difficulties they have—and then asking them for feedback on their experience, you gain insights about the reasons behind the CRO data you’ve collected.
12. Send user surveys.
User testing will provide valuable information, but the scale of it is usually relatively small. The people you’ll hear from will make up a tiny portion of your overall audience. To fill in more of the gaps in your knowledge, send out user surveys. Any questions you have based on the data you’ve collected, send them to your customers and people on your email list.
Surveys that employ multiple choice answers can be turned into data points that help in your analysis. And by including spaces where people can provide comments, you also gain more detailed feedback on why your visitors behave the way they do.
13. Analyze the data you have.
So much of CRO is about collecting data. In order to turn that data into increased conversions, you need to devote time to analyzing it. Look for trends within the data. What can it tell you about the topics and products your audience cares about? Does it reveal insights into what drives their decisions?
Learning which CTA color or headline works best on one page can help you improve conversion rates on that one page. But analyzing why is how you extrapolate that knowledge to how you design the rest of your website and run your marketing campaigns.
CRO Best Practices Drive Business Success
Having the best product and providing great customer service are crucial to running a successful business. And maybe that used to be enough.
But in the competitive online space, applying savvy practices to encourage visitors to take specific actions when they visit your website can be the difference between a first-time website visitor never returning, or becoming a long-term customer of your brand.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.