Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the systematic process of increasing the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action — be that filling out a form, becoming customers, or otherwise. The CRO process involves understanding how users move through your site, what actions they take, and what’s stopping them from completing your goals.
What is a conversion?
A conversion is the general term for a visitor completing a site goal. Goals come in many shapes and sizes. If you use your website to sell products, the primary goal (known as the macro-conversion) is for the user to make a purchase. There are smaller conversions that can happen before a user completes a macro-conversion, such as signing up to receive emails. These are called micro-conversions.
Examples of conversions
Purchasing a product from the site
Requesting a quote
Subscribing to a service
Examples of micro-conversions:
Signing up for email lists
Creating an account
Adding a product to the cart
What is a conversion rate?
Your site’s conversion rate is the number of times a user completes a goal divided by your site traffic. If a user can convert in each visit (such as by buying a product), divide the number of conversions by the number of sessions (the number of unique times a user came to your site). If you sell a subscription, divide the number of conversions by the number of users.
Conversion rate optimization happens after the visit makes it to your site. This is different from conversion optimization for SEO or paid ads which focuses on who clicks through to your site from the organic search results, how many clicks you get, and which keywords are driving traffic.
How to Calculate Conversion Rate
If a user can convert each time they visit the site:
Imagine we own an ecommerce site — Roger’s Robotics. A user could make a new purchase each session. We want to optimize so they make as many purchases as possible. If a user visited the site three times, that would be three sessions — and three opportunities to convert.
Let’s closer at our user’s three sessions and how they behaved:
Session 1: No conversion — user was familiarizing themselves with the site and poking around.
Session 2: User bought a shiny new antenna. This is a conversion!
Session 3: User came back and bought a new set of gears and a blinking light — another conversion! Even though they bought two items, this is a single unique order and thus counts as a single conversion.
To figure out our conversion rate, we would take the number of unique purchase orders and divide it by the total number of sessions.
For our imaginary user, they converted two out of three times they came to the site:
To find out the conversion rate for your site, you’ll look at all unique orders divided the total number of sessions.
Calculating Conversion Rate by Sessions:
If a user can only convert once
Now imagine we owned a second site — Roger’s Monthly Gear Box. Our site sells a subscription for a monthly delivery of robot parts. A user could come back multiple times, but once they purchase a subscription, they won’t convert again.
Let’s look at an example user’s behavior:
Session 1: User came to the site for the first time to explore the service. No conversion.
Session 2: User subscribed to our monthly GearBox service– this is our conversion!
Session 3: User came back to read blog articles and poke around.
Our user here can’t convert each time they visit the site. So instead of looking at the number of sessions, we need to measure conversion success by the number of visitors:
To figure out our website’s conversion rate, we would take the number of unique orders and divide it by the number of unique users.
Calculating Conversion Rate by Unique Users:
5 Ways CRO benefits SEOs
While not necessarily directly related to attracting organic website traffic or ranking on a search engine results page (SERP), conversion rate optimization has distinct benefits for SEO. Those include:
Improved customer insights. Conversion rate optimization can help you better understand your key audience and find what language or messaging best speaks to their needs. Conversion rate optimization looks at finding the right customers for your business. Acquiring more people doesn’t do your business any good if they’re not the right kind of people!
Better ROI: Higher conversion rate means making more of the resources you have. By studying how to get the most out of your acquisition efforts, you’ll get more conversions without having to bring in more potential customers.
Better scalability: While your audience size may not scale as your business grows, CRO lets you grow without running out of resources and prospective customers. Audiences aren’t infinite. By turning more browsers into buyers, you’ll be able to grow your business without running out of potential customers.
Better user experience: When users feel smart and sophisticated on your website, they tend to stick around. CRO studies what works on your site. By taking what works and expanding on it, you’ll make a better user experience. Users who feel empowered by your site will engage with it more — and some may even become evangelists for your brand.
Enhanced trust: In order for a user to share their credit card, email, or any sort of personal information, they have to genuinely trust the site. Your website is your number-one sales person. Just like an internal sales team, your site needs to be professional, courteous, and ready to answer all of your customers’ questions.
The key to successful optimization
In order to optimize for conversion rates, you have to know where, what to optimize, and who to optimize for. This information is the cornerstone to successful CRO strategies.
If you don’t gather data, then you’re left making changes based on gut feelings alone. Guts are awesome! But making decisions on just gut feelings instead of rooting assumptions in data can be a waste of time and money.
The analytics method
This method, also known as quantitative data analysis, gives you hard numbers behind how people actually behave on your site. Start with a solid web analytics platform, such as Google Analytics. Next, add tracking for your conversions.
Using analytics-based CRO can answer important questions about how users engage with your site. Quantitative analysis provides information like:
Where people enter your site, i.e., which webpage they land on first
Which features they engage with, i.e., where on a page or within your site do they spend their time
What channel and referrer brought them in, i.e., where they found and clicked on a link to your site
What devices and browsers they use
Who your customers are (age, demographic, and interest)
Where users abandon your conversion funnel, i.e., where or during what activity do users leave your site
This information will let you know where to focus your efforts. By putting your effort into the pages most engaged with and valuable to your users, you’ll see the largest impact.
The people method
Doing your quantitative analysis first is especially valuable if you have a large site with diverse content as it lets you know, from a numbers perspective, where to focus your efforts. But now that you know how users interact with your site, you can look into the “why” behind their behavior.
This people-focused method, known as qualitative data analysis, is more subjective. You’ll need the quantitative data discussed above to identify who you should be asking. You can’t optimize for all users, so optimize for your ideal user — that is, the user it’s most important to have as a customer.
Ways to get this data:
Qualitative analysis helps optimize for conversions by providing information about users such as:
Why did they engage? Why did they originally decide to visit your site or navigate to a specific page? What about the page or product appealed to them?
What do they think your site offers that makes you different from competitors? Is there a feature or service offered by your company that makes buying from you a better experience?
What words they use to describe your products, services, and the pain points they address? How would they describe your product or service to a friend? In essence, how do they talk about what you do?
There are certain things that raw data alone can’t tell you about what brought a user to your site or how to make their experience better. But when you combine this information with your analytics data, you can gain a much better understanding of the pages on your site that present the best opportunities to optimize and engage the audience you’d like to target.
The bad method
This comes in many forms. Some not-so-effective CRO methods include:
Guesses, hunches, and gut feelings
Doing it because your competitor is doing it
Executing changes based on the highest paid person’s opinion
All these examples have something in common: they’re not data-based and might as well be random shots in the dark. It’s better to spend the time gathering and analyzing the data so you can create meaningful tests based on clear insights. Nobody loves running tests that fail.
Moz Pro: Take the legwork out of identifying top landing pages by connecting this powerful tool to your Google Analytics profile to create custom reports. It only makes sense to focus your optimization efforts on the places that see the most traffic. Plus, we’ll show you recommendations for on-page optimization
Google Consumer Surveys: You create the survey, Google recruits the participants and provides results and analysis.
Qualaroo: Poll your visitors while they are on your site with a popup window.
Usertesting.com: Usertesting recruits users to test your site in as little as 1 hour.
Inspeclet: Watch recorded sessions of actual users visiting your site. Includes heat maps.
Optimizely: Perform A/B and multivariate tests on existing pages.