Conversion Rate Optimization: Worth the Hype?

2015-07-14-1436845951-7274799-AdamRoozen.pngAdam Roozen is a former developer, marketer, and program manager and continues to be a successful business builder and leader. With roots in small-town southern Minnesota, he gained his corporate chops at the Wal-Mart Home Office leading marketing and operations for Samsclub.com, and is currently CEO at a leading eCommerce agency, Echidna, Inc.

Every company has a website, and every website has a conversion goal. Your conversion goal might be for a user to buy a product, to subscribe to a newsletter or to contact your salesperson. When you compare the number of visitors to your website to the number of times you achieve your goal, that's how you find your conversion rate.

It makes perfect sense that improving your conversion rate is critical to your website's success. As someone who has worked in e-commerce for almost 20 years, I've seen that many companies have adopted the practice of Conversion Rate Optimization, or CRO. CRO involves a constant work stream of cyclical activities to increase your conversion rate over time. You analyze your site for conversion issues, identify solutions to those issues, implement the solutions then analyze again. CRO is becoming more popular as both consumers and businesses spend more time learning, "liking" and buying on the web.

It sounds like a silver bullet of a process, right?

Don't believe the hype. Instead, let's take a fresh look at our website's goal. Your company succeeds when it delivers on its value proposition, and your company's value proposition is more than this single conversion goal. You also need to meet other important goals: you will want your user to buy more products (and more expensive products), tell friends about your newsletter and provide some qualifying information to your salesperson. Beyond that, you want your user to feel good about what he or she is doing, to feel connected to your brand, desire to come back to your website, and generally to feel that you make his or her life better in some way.

I'm not suggesting that you should avoid CRO; you absolutely should implement a CRO process for your company. However, you should consider it as just one rung on your ladder to success. You should also recognize that all of the rungs must be strong for the ladder to get you to the top. Adopt a process that focuses on cyclical improvement for multiple goals that, when combined, deliver on your value proposition.

Step 1: Make Sure Stakeholders Back Your Idea

First, you have to ensure your stakeholders buy into a cyclical improvement process like CRO. Many executives think of technology in terms of projects with a start and end date. I've seen far too many companies bet everything on a single redesign in hopes that it will instantly move them from "poor" to "great" conversion. You need your stakeholders to buy into the fact that constant and consistent improvement will yield better business results than a once-every-five-years overhaul. To do this, focus your narrative on the ever-changing digital ecosystem and the constantly-changing consumer expectations. Then contrast that with a fixed website design. As time passes, consumer expectation will move farther and farther away from the design you initially implemented.

Step 2: Define Your Objectives

Now that you have everyone on the same page as it relates to continuous improvements, it's time to get on the same page regarding goals. In most cases, conversation rate optimization is not your only goal. If casting a broader net for your brand is important, then impressions are a key metric for your business. If you are selling a complex product, it's essential to track time on site to ensure your prospective customers are taking the time that it takes to become acquainted with your product. Define your key performance indicators -- they're not always obvious.

Step 3: Determine the Lifecycle 

Depending on your current site experience, you may or may not want to start with a complete redesign. It is common and valuable, and can get your site onto a new and stable foundation. Once this happens, define a repeatable cycle for continuous improvement. I highly recommend a quarterly research lifecycle, though it depends on your line of business. Ensure that your lifecycle allows for competitive analysis, heuristic analysis, analytics analysis, business objective analysis and ends with insightful recommendations.

Step 4: Prioritize Your Goals

Don't assume that you will execute on all of these recommendations: most digital companies have a large set of competing priorities. You'll need to prioritize against strategic initiatives, IT upgrades and fixes, pet projects and many other things. Prioritize your goals just like you prioritize any of these other items on your list. The most impactful ones will naturally make it onto your roadmap, and the "nice-to-haves" will not. That's the natural order of things, and that's OK.

Congratulations, you are on your way to something more valuable than CRO!