Costly CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) Mistakes To Avoid

The following is a guest post submitted by Sean Ellis, CEO of Qualaroo.

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is essential to building successful online businesses. From ecommerce, to SAAS, to content-based sites, CRO can help drive down marketing costs while improving the performance of your site. A sound testing strategy can reap huge gains, but when done incorrectly, CRO can do more harm than good. Poorly executed CRO not only wastes time and money; it can actually be deadly to your business.

Testing and optimization mistakes are more common than you think – and can result in millions of dollars in lost opportunities and thousands of hours of wasted time. The good news is that once you understand the top culprits, they’re easy to spot and correct.

Mistake One: Focusing on conversion, instead of the must-have experience

Marketers guilty of this mistake focus on optimizing the conversion of a particular page or marketing element without ever thinking about the big picture. Optimizing a landing page for lead capture without considering how well those leads turn into long-term, high value customers is a killer mistake. Not all customers should be treated equally.

Real growth happens when you turn visitors into customers who can’t live without your product. You do this by getting the right kind of visitor to the must-have component of your product. These passionate users engage with your product regularly and are willing to pay for it, and tell their friends about you. They’re the ones who would be genuinely upset if your product disappeared tomorrow.

The most optimized landing page will never get you this kind of engaged user…no matter how many tests you run. Rather, you’ve got to think of conversion rate optimization in context of the entire funnel – from calibrating traffic sources and understanding what value propositions resonate with your best customer, to reducing the friction to get to your must-have experience, and keeping engagement high throughout.

Any optimization effort that isn’t focused on delivering the right visitors to your must-have experience is hurting your business, even if it may be increasing surface-level conversions. A holistic approach to CRO is the only way to generate sustainable, authentic growth.

Solution: Optimize for the must-have experience

The first thing you want to do is identify any unnecessary steps that are slowing your visitors’ journeys to the must-have experience. Keep what’s absolutely essential and cut everything else. Check your funnel analytics to find those drop-off points where you lose people. Heat maps and user surveys can provide insight into particularly troubled areas.

Twitter’s onboarding of new users is a famous example. Instead of worrying about perfecting landing pages and maximizing user sign ups, Twitter redesigned their onboarding experience in order to get new users to see a Twitter stream (their must-have experience) full of interesting content as soon as possible.

Through a deep understanding of their analytics and new user behavior Twitter focused the new user experience around elements that would help turn more new users into lasting quality users.

Mistake Two: Small thinking

Ignore advice that promises huge gains in conversions just from simple tweaks like button color. The problem here is that you can test, and retest, these micro features forever. And at the end, you may have slightly improved a landing page, but you haven’t done anything in terms of true, lasting improvements.

Solution: Think and test big

Rather than just looking at button color and tagline positions, don’t be afraid to test wildly different landing pages and completely different user flows through your product and the onboarding experience. Tackle the major changes that can really move the needle first, then you can always return to minor optimizations.

For example, 37signals tested a drastically different landing page design and saw an equally drastic increase in conversions. That kind of impact could never have been found from a new button color alone.


Image via 37Signals

Mistake three: testing without understanding visitor intent

Too often, testing strategies are driven by random thoughts or an offhanded question from the boss, without truly understanding what website visitors are trying to accomplish. While it’s certainly possible to stumble upon something that works using the “test whatever” strategy, chances are you won’t. Instead, the experience will lead to inconclusive data and frustration.

Solution: understand visitor intent, then test

Instead of just testing for testing’s sake, understand why visitors are coming to your site and what they’re hoping to accomplish before diving in to optimization. Look for high bounce and exit rates that indicate user confusion and friction. Survey your website visitors to find out if they’re successful in their search. Use this feedback to create hypotheses about the types of changes that will fix those issues.

A sound CRO strategy begins with the following questions:

  • What are my visitors trying to accomplish and why?
  • At which points in the funnel are users confused and why?
  • What is the hypothesis we are testing?
  • In light of what we know, does this test make sense?
  • How long will it take to learn from this test?           

Final thoughts

To unlock real growth from conversion rate optimization your testing must come from a deep understanding of your visitor needs. When creating your own conversion rate optimization plan, don’t lose sight of your overall goal: to deliver a great experience that turns visitors into customers and loyal evangelists for your product. When your experience wows visitors, you’re creating a growth engine that’s fueled not just by your optimizations, but by word of mouth as well.

Keeping the end goal in mind will allow you to test new and creative experiences that will propel your business toward lasting success. And after all, that should be the end goal for any marketer and CRO expert.

Sean Ellis is the CEO and co-founder of Qualaroo, a technology company that helps marketers better understand the needs of website visitors in order to improve conversions. Prior to Qualaroo, Sean held marketing leadership roles with breakout companies including Dropbox, LogMeIn (IPO), Uproar (IPO), Eventbrite and Lookout. You can follow Sean on Twitter.