Surprising CRO Lessons from a Workout Routine

by Art

Last updated on January 9th, 2018

A few days ago I decided to relieve some stress in the gym after a particularly long day of work, but I’d been thinking about CRO for so many hours that it just wouldn’t get out of my head.

As I got to work under the barbell, my head still swimming with split testing terminology, an idea started to grow. Namely, that fitness goals and CRO have several things in common.

I initially dismissed the idea as the result of one too many protein shakes and decided to sleep on it but, when I woke up the next morning, the idea was still there.

I put pen to paper and soon found that there are several useful allegories for CRO from the world of fitness. I even learned that I’m not the first person to see similarities between working out and the world of business.

gym user on laptop

Re-enactment of how this all went down

Don’t believe me? Seriously, just read on to see how you can apply some of the same tenets to both physical fitness and CRO.

Quick Fixes Are Not Viable Long Term Solutions

Whether it’s steroids, in the case of fitness, or intrusive banner ads that trick readers into clicking something in the case of websites, anything that can be labelled ‘a quick fix’ probably isn’t a good idea in the long run.

I’ve never used steroids—you can probably tell that from my biceps—so I’m no expert on them, but research indicates that long-term use is linked to hormonal changes, bone density problems, heart attacks and strokes.

In short, they’re not something you want to be messing around with. The same goes for banners that take over a page and force users to enter their email address before they can close them.

They might garner a wave of signups, but they’ll also inevitably irritate users to the point that they’ll (a) never come back and (b) actively badmouth your site to people they know. Check here for more on the value/damage of gating content.

You Must Have Long (And Short) Term Plans

There’s a big poster in my gym about the difference between working out and training. Working out, it says, is the act of exercising through cardio or lifting weights. Training is using workouts to get somewhere.

That might be as vague as ‘lose some weight’ or ‘get stronger.’ However, most personal trainers recommend being more specific with goals, e.g., increase bench press to 100kg or lose 5lbs before Christmas.

The idea behind this is that a long-term goal like ‘losing weight’ is too abstract and will cause frustration if the person in question doesn’t feel like they’re making progress quickly enough.

By setting short-term goals along the road, you can measure progress in a more meaningful way and get an idea of what you can expect in the future.

bruce lee short vs long term

The same is, or should be, true of conversion rate optimization. A goal of ‘improving conversions’ is much too vague, and doesn’t help you figure out where to start making changes.

Adding in a short-term goal of, for example, improving trial signups by X% using landing pages or aiming to gain X additional conversions from trial to paid by testing email content provides a clear focus.

Without such measures in place, CRO testers risk spreading themselves too thinly by trying to do many things at once or, even worse, finding themselves unable to figure out where to begin at all.

Making Incremental Changes Is Key

Ever tried to take on a new daily cardio routine, follow a StrongLifts program three days a week and switch to a paleo diet all at once?

I’ve tried to bite off more than I can chew on multiple occasions, usually after a sustained period of eating too much junk food, and it always results in me burning out after a couple of weeks.

Besides burnout, another other problem with doing too much at once is that you can’t tell whether or not individual elements are doing you any good.

One thing might be giving you lots more energy, but your new diet means that all that energy is being used on just staying awake past 7pm.

sleeping golden retriever with tea

All of the above also applies to CRO. We already know that introducing multiple variables at once is a good way to invalidate test results, but there’s another reason for introducing changes incrementally.

Changing too much at once makes it obvious that your brand doesn’t have a clear tone of voice. A headline change from Simple to Use Photo Editing Software to YOUR SUPER COOL NEW PIX BFF (please don’t ever use the latter) is way too much.

Your test won’t fit with the rest of the content on your site, and it will be obvious to visitors that something weird is going on. So don’t be afraid to take it slow and steady.

One Size Does Not Fit All

one size does not fit all

“For the best conversions you should make every single button on your site red.”

“If you want to lose weight all you should eat is grapes.”

The above are examples of advice that you definitely shouldn’t listen to. In fitness, and in CRO, one size does not fit all. Every body and every website is different, and what works in one case may not work in another.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep up on best practices and current trends, just that you shouldn’t take them as gospel without testing them out for yourself first.

The Relationship Between Time And Results

There’s nothing new about saying that it takes time to reach a result that has statistical significance. Tools like Optimizely even try to stop you from calling time on a test before it’s been reached. But that’s not exactly what I’m getting at here.

optimizely statistical significance

When you introduce a new exercise into a workout routine, one of two things usually happens:

  1. You won’t see any results from it for a long time because you’re gradually working on a number of muscle groups.
  2. You’ll see results very quickly, e.g. bigger biceps, but you’ll reach a plateau where its effectiveness drops.

Just as it makes sense to let a test run for enough time to prove that there has been either a negative or positive impact, you should also monitor the changes you’re making on a longer term basis.

You might find that fun and friendly landing pages improve your conversions, but there’s only so much fun and friendliness you can insert into your content before it becomes unprofessional.

You’d never try to make bicep curls the core of your workout, even if bigger arms are one of your goals. Likewise, you should never pin all of your conversion hopes and dreams on a single element just because it performed well in a two-week test.

Final Thoughts

I’m going to conclude by saying that this post isn’t really about fitness. You could substitute all sorts of other activities in its place and this article would probably still work.

What I’m really getting at with all of the above is that, when something is new and exciting to you, it’s easy to channel all of that excitement into the wrong things.

To make progress doing anything—whether that’s learning a new skill, crafting a workout routine that works for you or thinking about how to approach testing a website—you need to make sure your goals are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-Oriented
  • Realistic
  • Time-Bound

Make sure that’s the case, and whatever you’re doing will start to seem a whole lot easier.

What about you folks – ever noticed a similarity between CRO and something else you enjoy? Let us know in the comments.

Read other Crazy Egg posts by Art.

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Art is a freelance copywriter/content marketer based in the UK. He's worked with both startups and large corporations on topics ranging from fitness to tech and business issues.


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