CRO Experts Speak: Your Burning Questions Answered

by Sharon Hurley Hall

Last updated on August 3rd, 2017

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) 101 tutorials are useful, but if you’re a CRO newbie, one way to learn fast and get inspiration is to find out how the pros do it.

With that in mind, we’ve asked a panel of experts six of our burning questions about conversion rate optimization.

Meet Our Experts

neilpatel

Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, Stride, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue.

peep-twitter

Peep Laja

Peep Laja is the founder of ConversionXL, one of the leading conversion optimization experts in the world. He’s been doing digital marketing for over 15 years in Europe, Middle East, Central America and the US. Peep can help your company grow via his conversion optimization agency ConversionXL.agency.

Alex Harris

Alex Harris

Alex Harris (aka AlexDesigns) is an award-winning web designer and conversion marketing expert. He specializes in eCommerce conversion rate optimization and A/B testing for UX. His company AlexDesigns.com works with businesses to design and develop high-converting lead generation, subscription, and e-commerce stores.

jeremy smith

Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith writes about conversion optimization, web psychology, and what makes users click in the digital world. He is also a Google Certified trainer and avid online marketer. You can read more about Jeremy and visit his webpage here: www.JeremySaid.com

Lance Jones

Lance Jones

Lance Jones is a conversion rate optimization (CRO) consultant and is the co-founder of CopyHackers and Snap. Lance is currently Chief Marketing Officer of a new team task management tool called Flow.


How the Experts Track Progress

When optimizing a page, do you use a spreadsheet or other tool to track progress?

spreadsheets

Peep: Google Analytics is all you need. Just make sure you measure everything that needs to be measured. Forget spreadsheets, this is not 1996.

Jeremy: Yes, spreadsheets are a must.  There are even APIs now that can be used with spreadsheets to update dashboards, GA, Google Sheets/Docs, etc.  During each phase of the CRO process, we have various documents and spreadsheets that allow us to move through a complete optimization plan with a customer.

Initially, checklists and perform and assist matrices emerge through due diligence stages. We then move into test ideation spreadsheets, with calculations regarding what to test and specific algorithms showing us where the biggest bang for our buck may live according to the rank outcome of the algorithms data.

The biggest use for spreadsheets in my world is the ability to use pivot tables on data sets that are derived insights from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives.  Also, we rely heavily on Basecamp and have customized templates that deal with the typical to-do’s that exist in the CRO world.

One tool that shows a high amount of promise is Manuel da Costa’s new CRO project management tool called Effective Experiments. It’s going to be very interesting to see how that tool can help all of us CROs effectively manage our projects while collaborating with team members and customers alike.

Lance: Being the CMO of Flow, it’d be blasphemous for me to admit to using any tool other than our own. 🙂 Now if you twist my arm really hard, I’ll admit to trying shared documents for this purpose, but ultimately we come back to using the product that we’re continually developing and where we spend most of our time.

It’s not that Flow has any fancy test result or conversion tracking features, but it’s a tool where I know the team will see the results and understand what we learned.

The Most Important Data

When reviewing the analytics on a page, is there one piece of data that you consider most important or revealing? Why?

google analytics dashboard

Lance: It’s a variation on bounce: sub-10-second bounce. Ten seconds is typically enough time to assess whether you’ve landed on the page you expected, so if visitors are triggering a sub-10-second bounce, it likely means the referring page didn’t properly set expectations, or the bounce page didn’t properly deliver on expectations. Either way it’s an opportunity to create a more congruent flow through your site.

If I’m allowed to include something outside of “traditional” analytics, it would be “scroll depth.” Understanding how much of a page people consume before moving on is helpful for figuring out where to place a call to action and how to get your most important messages read.

Peep: Every single page on your site should have a single most wanted action, like getting people opt-in, request a quote, or click somewhere. Measure the conversion rate of that action.

Jeremy: One of the biggest challenges is making sure that everyone has their eye on the ball.   What I mean is remembering what the macro goal is and how to effectively optimize for that goal through micro goals and KPIs.

It’s so easy to get lost in the data and start looking at the shiniest object on screen, such as bounce rates and number of visitors, two pieces of data that are absolutely worthless unless they are analyzed at an individual page level AND have multiple dimensions and segments involved in that analysis.  I think Peep says it best: “You must ruthlessly segment.”

Since most of the optimization accounts that I work with are geared toward revenue, I tend to start at the very end of the funnel and work my way backwards.  It’s hard to say that I look at one particular page, per say, most of the time I am looking at several pages as part of a funnel, all the way back to where the user came from (distribution channel) and what their initial search intent is.

If we are just talking a single page, the first thing I look at is load time of that specific page.  I tend to go to the extreme when optimizing for speed purposes because, over the years, that’s one of the things that has always remained consistent in conversion optimization.  As we increase page load speed, we always see conversions increase.

The other piece of data that’s extremely important is data related to a specific pattern or behavior amongst a set of users.  Click patterns are almost always revealed at a page level and give you a very good idea/insight of what content is most important to a user on that page and in that specific step of the funnel.

What to Track on Landing Pages

What’s the most important piece of data for you to track on a landing page or website and why?

analytics real time

Neil: I keep track of qualitative data. I ask people questions such as why didn’t they purchase, etc… I then keep track of this data in Excel and I look for patterns.

Alex: In Google Analytics, the most important report is the “Landing Pages” report. These are the pages that your visitors hit first. When looking at this report, you can see the bounce rates, time on page, conversion and revenue for each page.

From our testing, we have proven that you do want your highest traffic landing page to be your homepage. The top traffic pages should be your category/products pages or custom landing pages. Try and make each of these top landing pages to have lower than a 55% bounce rate.

How to Aggregate Data

Where and how do you keep track of CRO data?

data b 700

Alex: Use Google Analytics and track the data over time. We also add annotations in Google Analytics to document when changes to the site are made. Other than that, we track our testing using Google Drive, Evernote and Trello.

Neil: I just list out all of the responses in Excel. No special formulas or anything like that…

Favorite CRO Tools

What’s your favorite conversion optimization tool and why?

Mobile App Split Testing Tools

Jeremy: Out of all the questions and interviews that I have done, out of all the conversations I have engaged in at conferences, on the phone, through Skype, etc., this is by far the hardest question I’ve ever had to answer.  It may be a bit easier if you asked for some of my favorite optimization tools.

First and foremost, I want to point out a phrase that I carry around with me and say ALL THE TIME.  Credit for this phase goes to BrooksBell, who I “borrowed” this from: “Tools don’t increase conversions, experts do.”

I firmly believe in this. However, there is NO way in the world I could optimize pages and be as agile/lean as possible without the tools we use.

In terms of testing platforms, Visual Website Optimizer, Optimizely, Monetate, Convert, and Adobe Target.  These are the ones that I see and use most often.  Each has their pros and cons.  Here is a great reference article by Conversion Rate Experts on the breakdown of each one.

Since optimization is so much more than just A/B testing and there is no one-size-fits-all methodology, the ability to be agile is important.  The best way to do this is to be able to develop your own personal Agile CRO methodology and crown it as YOUR process.

This process may bend and change a bit depending on who you are dealing with, budgets, time frames, types of business etc., but ultimately, it’s extremely important to have a foundational process. Without it, you the equivalent of throwing darts blindfolded with the lights turned out.

Putting a gun to my head and asking me pick one tool, at this point I would have to say Hotjar with a close 2nd/3rd on UsabilityHub and Usertesting.com.  The reason for this is I tend to spend a lot of time digging for insights, both qualitative and quantitative.

While I usually leave GA (quantitative) data to the experts on my team, these other tools help me analyze, through a heuristic lens, what people are doing on the site.  That, coupled with psychological motivations that I can quickly identify (search intent, reducing friction and anxiety, increasing emotions, etc.) helps me shape the initial pieces of the optimization process, which in turn let us perform better A/B tests without testing non-relevant issues that, at the end of the day, won’t affect the bottom line.

Neil: Crazy Egg. It helps give me ideas on what to test based on click and mouse movements.

Lance: Google Hangouts/Skype. Tools that aggregate and quantify data (analytics, A/B testing tools, heat maps, session capture) are critical to the process, but in terms of learning things that allow my team to run interesting experiments, there is nothing more valuable (to me) than a 1-on-1 conversation with someone who has (a) just created an account, or (b) just cancelled her subscription.

For the former, we try to uncover what ultimately tipped the scales in our favor and why. For the latter, why did our product fail to deliver on what they needed?

Peep: If we’re talking split testing, my vote goes to Optimizely. For analyzing user behavior, I can’t do without Google Analytics.

Alex: My favorite conversion optimization tool is Visual Website Optimizer. Not only is it easy to run split tests, but I also I also use it for simple revenue tracking over a period of time. We also use VWO to create personalized experiences for different segments and marketing channels. This helps experiment on multiple segments of traffic at once.

Looking Ahead: The Future of CRO

What will CRO look like in 2020?

Male sneakers on the asphalt road with yellow line and title Future. Step into the future.

Peep: I don’t know what software tools we’ll have in 2020, but I know one thing: The most important tool will still be the human brain. Invest in processes, in your ability to interpret data and to ask critical questions. That will make you future-proof.

Jeremy:  With technology still changing at lightening speeds, the barrier to entry and specific variables that keep companies from doing CRO will diminish greatly.  By 2020, adoption rates for CRO will be exorbitant and saturation levels of “CRO Gurus/Experts/etc.” will resemble that of present day SEO and/or content marketing folks out there.

I believe we will see a merge of duties between CIO/CTO roles and a sharp increase in a CDO (Chief Data Officer) and CXO (Chief Experience Officer)/CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) roles.  Commensurate with this paradigm shift in C-Suite title additions, we will see a broad yet deeply rooted technical marketer emerge, who will be the new norm.

These will be some of the key factors that drive growth in CRO and the ability to completely customize the user experience throughout a company’s digital space, especially with millennials moving more into upper management roles.

That said, I believe the biggest change we will see is the lean and agile methodology crossing over into CRO. Implementations of a CRO process will be quick and effective, as well as new emerging tools and the ability to support this very dynamic methodology as a whole.

I also believe that, in 2020, CRO will be a line item on the budget and be high on the list of skills that technical marketers possess. Companies will seek individuals who possess these skills, which means your every-day marcom employee will be very familiar with CRO and how to measure and analyze the digital world and how it integrates into the overall company goals.

Neil: I think webpages will be more personalized. Marketers will have access to technology that allows every viewer of a web page to see something different. This way experiences can be personalized to boost sales.

Alex: The future of CRO is all about more data, more tools and more experts. We will see a lot of new analytics tools. They will all compliment Google Analytics, but the future of CRO is all in the testing dashboard — the ability for a website owner to have all their important information fed into one place in an easier-to-understand view.

We will see a huge focus on predictive analytics, personalized eCommerce and new levels of marketing automation. Plus new ways to gather qualitative insight. Maybe we will even be able to read people’s minds.

Lance: With near certainty, there’ll be new tools, new people in the field, more people at the C-level with a CRO focus. Less certain is whether or not there’ll be radical changes to the process of conducting CRO, because processes typically evolve more slowly than products.

It’s possible that someone will have figured out a reliable way to run statistically valid tests with less traffic and fewer conversions — which is a problem that plagues a lot of companies.

Automated optimization should be in full swing within 5 years, where algorithms determine the optimal copy (even on buttons!), page layouts, and calls to action based on common visitor behavior.

I also suspect that personalization of websites will be possible in meaningful ways… so a website experience will form around the visitor, taking into account her social profile info, past behavior on the site, and general visitation and purchasing behavior on the web. Right or wrong, I’m looking forward to getting there!

3 Takeaways

It’s always valuable to get inside the heads of working pros. But here are a few takeaways that stand out to us.

First, notice the wide variety of answers. Even the pros approach conversion rate optimization in their own unique ways. The goal is results, and pros put more energy into results than anything else — almost a “whatever works” approach.

Second, while there are particular “rules” you must follow in CRO, you can adopt the tools and processes that are most comfortable to you. That’s good to know! Learn the rules. Then personalize.

And finally, there’s no better time than now to experiment with new tools and procedures. CRO is the ONE way to optimize your website for conversions. And it’s the future of marketing.

Our experts have spoken!  What was your favorite tip? What other questions do you have about CRO?

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Sharon Hurley Hall.

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Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website.

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