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Step by step process: how to conduct conversion optimization

How to conduct conversion optimization

Published by

June 25, 2018

The goal of conversion optimization is to make websites more accessible, trustworthy, and relevant to users. To achieve this goal, we analyze every aspect of the site’s performance.

The process consists of several steps:

  • Measuring & Research: This initial step forms a foundation for understanding the website’s current performance
  • Reporting: Before the optimization process can begin, you need to establish reporting standards and a baseline for improvement
  • Analysis: The measurements and other research need to be analyzed to understand existing issues and devise solutions
  • Testing: Testing shows which solutions work (i.e. result in improvements), and which don’t
  • Implementation & Refinement: Once the first round of testing is done, it’s time to implement the results, refine them, and continue to further improve the website

Though it might seem straightforward, there’s more here than meets the eye.

Measuring a site’s performance of the website doesn’t mean just counting the number of people who visit it and/or buy from it. True measurement means systematically, deliberately tracking every aspect of visitors’ activity on the website, from arrival to their exit, regardless of whether they convert or not.

The idea is to identify your visitors’ patterns of behavior. You’re looking to find out what makes them more likely to convert, how converting visitors (AKA customers) arrive at the website, and how they interact with it. Accurate measurement enables you not only to identify patterns, but to find out which parts of your website aren’t functioning optimally.

Set yourself up for meaningful measurement

The optimizer’s initial task is to measure the website’s current performance. This involves defining the site’s purpose, the owner’s expectations, the target audience, etc. This preliminary effort will make both defining goals and measuring improvements possible.

Before doing any measurement, you need to verify if that your measurement tools are configured properly. Proper configuration and setup is necessary to make measurements accurate and timely. Don’t skip auditing your existing setup, even if everything seems to be in order.

Without accurate initial measurement, no conversion optimization can take place. If you don’t know whether you’re actually improving a site’s performance, then what’s the point?

Measuring is comprised of several steps:

  1. Creating your measurement plan
  2. Choosing tools and instrumentation
  3. Reporting on gathered data

1. Creating your measurement plan

To conduct valid measurement, the first thing you need to do is to establish a plan for that measurement. To be able to measure, you need to know what you want to measure and what constitutes a positive outcome.

A measurement plan starts with high-level indicators known as “objectives”. Management should establish guidelines and set clear objectives against which you can judge the performance of your entire business.

Once you identify the overall objective(s), go a level down and identify goals. The goal should inform the operational aspects of achieving the overall objective. For example, if your objective is to make more sales, one of your goals may be to increase your store’s conversion rate.

Each goal informs your tactical planning and provides you with an idea of what actions you’ll need to take to reach the goal. For the previous example, you’d track and measure your conversion rate. Conversion rate represents a key performance indicator (KPI) of the goal of increasing conversion rate.

KPIs should be easily measurable within a timely period, so you don’t have to wait for an extended period of time to see if the tactic(s) you selected to reach our goal are working. This means that KPIs should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attributable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Here’s an example of a SMART measurement plan:

A well-conceived measurement plan.
A well-conceived measurement plan.

Once you have a measurement plan in place, then you can start measuring.

2. Measuring

Actually measuring your website’s performance starts with implementing your measurement plan so you can track all the data. Your measurement plan indicates what data points you need to assess the performance of your business accurately.

Next, your task is to set up the mechanics of gathering data and making it available for analysis.

Consider your website as a sequence of interaction. You need to be able to observe patterns of visitor behavior, so you can understand what drives your customers to convert. To facilitate this understanding, most measuring tools (Google Analytics, KISSmetrics, and others) allow you to define your own events, interaction touchpoints, and goals. You can also define segments — groups of customers that share similar characteristics.

If you set up a measurement plan and start just gathering every random piece of data, you’ll quickly find yourself in a situation where you can’t make sense of all the data you have. To prevent this, make sure you collect only the data you need.

For example, if you operate an ecommerce site and most of your customers buy your products without ever downloading a PDF about your company, then explicitly tracking and reporting the number of times this document is downloaded is simply not important.

If, on the other hand, many of your buyers viewed a video of the product prior to buying it, it stands to reason that you’d want to track the number of times that video was viewed, what visitor segment(s) are more affected by the video, what acquisition channel brought the visitors who viewed the video, etc.

Using measurement, you can establish targets and measure your KPIs against those targets. In effect, measurement just means providing accurate and timely data to show how your site is conforming to the overall plan.

Since it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the literal mountain of data-tracking tools available, you need to stick to your measurement plan. You’ll avoid wasting time and effort tracking irrelevant data, and ensure you notice the insights offered by relevant data.

3. Reporting

Once you’ve set up your chosen tool(s), you need to decide what forms of reporting you’ll use. Most tools contain some form of visualization by default. But you’ll usually need to customize the reports and include specific metrics and information for various websites — there’s no “one size fits all” report.

By using other tools, even simple sheets, you can define your own reporting layout and standardize it throughout your organization. While this solution requires some initial effort, it will give you the best results.

You can also use business intelligence tools like Google Data Studio or Tableau. It’s easy to integrate many different data sources in those tools, making visualizations quick and easy.

The main point here is to make a choice and stick to the method you choose. Visualization can be a great help, saving you a lot of time in the analytical process.

Before you begin using analytical data from your tool, ensure that it’s configured properly — otherwise your data will be worthless.

Data at a glimpse is a key feature of most analytical tools
Data at a glimpse is a key feature of most analytical tools

Analyze your measurements & conduct other research

The research phase includes the initial data collection and establishment of your website’s baseline performance. This is where we find out what issues are limiting the performance of a website, and how exactly they’re limiting it.

To properly conduct any conversion optimization process, you need to conduct thorough research and analyze every available data point — since only when you identify a problem can you attempt to solve it! Analysis is the process of deliberately, methodically examining your existing data to derive insights.

CRO 4 steps process
CRO 4 steps process

Generally, the research and analysis process can be thought of in four parts:

  1. Heuristic analysis
  2. Quantitative analysis
  3. Qualitative analysis
  4. Technical analysis

These fields of research touch on every aspect of your ecommerce website.

First, conduct heuristic analysis

Heuristic analysis can uncover a diverse set of issues, from issues in the design of the website, user interface and finally content.

The primary aim of heuristic analysis is to ensure your website provides:

  • A user-friendly interface
  • Clear and relevant content
  • A logical process or flow

One of the most famous tools of heuristics is a “five-second test”. The concept is that you should be able to judge the purpose of any website within the first five seconds of viewing it. Ideally, you should apply this test to your website by finding a random person who’s not familiar with your website, and ask them if they “get” what your site is about.

If they can’t tell within five seconds, that’s a sign that you should make changes until your site’s value and function is clear.

The five-second test is based on common principles that govern human-machine interaction. Some of the most famous and frequently used principles are 10 heuristics devised by Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen-Norman Group.

Nielsen’s 10 usability principles, as applied to websites:

  • Ability to keep track of the process or flow by visitor
  • Clarity and relevance
  • Freedom and control (visitor’s ability to maintain the control of the process, and freedom to pursue their own objectives)
  • Consistency of the site’s message
  • Prevention of errors through anticipating most common errors and reducing the possibility of that visitor action can trigger errors
  • Recognition means creating a UX that helps customers instantly, intuitively recognize how to operate your website, instead of having to remember how
  • Flexibility and efficiency that allows visitors to use shortcuts and time-saving measures
  • Attractive aesthetics
  • Testing error messages for clarity and relevance in order to help users diagnose and recover from errors
  • Available documentation and help services

Overall, you’re making sure that visitors to your website can navigate your site quickly and effortlessly to accomplish their goals.

On all ecommerce websites, the visitor’s primary aim and the owner’s primary aim largely coincide. The owner wants to sell as many products as possible, and visitors want to purchase products that they need.

The path to purchasing should be unburdened by obstacles. For example, when you need to get data from a prospect (like payment and shipping data) ask only for the data that you really need.

Optimizing the customer journey means tackling the lowest-hanging fruit in the optimization process (technical issues are the other low-hangers). By improving the customer journey and giving the customer clear and relevant information along the way, you’ll improve the likelihood of that customer converting. The stores that provide the clearest and most relevant information will be the ones prospects purchase from.

User testing is one of the best ways to check your website for heuristic issues. The process consists of assigning a random visitor a task and observing locally or remotely how they attempt to solve this task. When you get users to navigate your website and observe their behavior, any problems they encounter will be obvious.

Want to know more about how to spot and solve issues on your website using heuristic analysis? Check out this detailed post.

Quantitative analysis: The facts

The primary aim of quantitative analysis is to take all the data from your analytical tools and reports, and convert those data into insights. These insights will either help you solve a problem directly, or underpin the findings of the other three fields of analysis.

You can use quantitative analysis to uncover how individual or groups of visitors behave. By observing the number of visitors who visit your site, what pages they navigate to, and how long they spend on the website, you can deduce not only your conversion rate and the proportion of new to returning visitors, but what content is most popular, and which devices, operating systems, and browsers may have trouble accessing the website, etc.

Quantitative analysis can also provide a sound footing for spotting and solving issues by measuring the significance of each issue in numerical terms.

For example, you can examine your funnel to find out how many prospects drop out at each step. Knowing this information, you’ll uncover the significance of each issue, as well as understand the potential for its improvement. This information will help you prioritize hypotheses later on.

One critical component of quantitative analysis is attributing conversions to their respective marketing channels. Properly configured quantitative tools enable you to see how your traffic acquisition channels perform in terms of conversions and cost efficiency.

Since paid search and pay-per-click advertising are an important part of every ecommerce site’s customer acquisition strategy, making these channels as efficient as possible has a double effect of both saving costs and increasing revenue. Attribution analysis is a key function for any ecommerce business that depends on multi-channel or omni-channel marketing (which overwhelming majority does).

With this knowledge, you can concentrate your efforts on the best-performing traffic sources, and improve or abandon lower-performing channels.

Finally, by using quantitative analysis you can estimate the performance of your optimization program, and see if you’re doing it right. If you don’t notice an improvement, you can change your approach or focus more intensively on other aspects of your business. (No conversion optimization program can help you if your product suffers from a market mismatch or your business strategy is unsound.)

Quantitative analysis relies on analytics and other measurement tools to deliver its numerical insights, often in graphic or visualized formats. If you’d like to dig deeper into your quantitative data, check out this post.

Qualitative analysis: The feelings

Once you solve all the obvious technical and heuristic issues, the best way to improve your website lies in understanding customers and discovering why they act the way they do.

By improving the aspects of your website or offer that customers consider problematic, you’ll improve the entire website for all prospects and lower their barriers to purchase.

Asking customers what nearly stopped them from purchasing, or what other options they considered, as well as what other information they need to feel comfortable purchasing, can reveal obstacles for you to lower or neutralize.

You can get to know your customers using various methods of qualitative analysis, including surveys, polls, interviews and other direct communications with customers.

Your aim is to to decode why they visitors behave the way they do. By asking them questions, you can refine findings from other parts of the process — essentially finding the “why” behind the “what”.

Knowing the “why” is a critical component of making visitors’ experiences better, and your customers’ desires and wishes can help you improve your site.

The most important part is to establish what steps in the conversion funnel present the most issues for your customers and prospects. Furthermore, you need to identify what information or content is missing from your site (and what the visitors expect to see). Finally, you can ascertain what stopped prospects from converting — this may be the most important piece of information you need.

How to interpret your qualitative research

When you conduct qualitative research, the hard part is usually interpreting the results. There’s a danger of attributing overwhelming significance to a vocal minority with a complaint, and heading down an optimization rabbit hole. When you collect a wealth of data, it can be hard to make sense of, which is why techniques like cluster analysis can help identify the most important bits of data.

Cluster analysis is a simple technique that consists of identifying keywords related to issues, and counting the number of times these keywords appear in the surveys or interviews you conduct. Using cluster analysis, you can figure out which issues affect the largest number of customers and prospects and address those first.

For example, if out of 200 surveyed customers, 70 had trust issues with payment, and only a few had an issue with the provided product information, your greatest priority would be to improve payment security indicators and the overall credibility of the website (rather than addressing the relatively minor issue of product info).

The best way to do cluster analysis is to make a sheet listing the issues, and manually count them. Or, you can establish automatic reporting into a table using tools like Google Forms.

Using qualitative analysis, you can also establish personas — distinct groups of customers who share common characteristics. Personas include information on geographic location, age, gender, and other data that can be gathered using analytical tools.

Useful personas also include data on the customer’s average order value, interests, and the problems and challenges they face. Personas help you provide relevant content to each group of customers, and greatly improve the probability of conversion. To learn more about qualitative analysis, read this post.

Technical analysis: The “Fix this!”es

Put simply, technical analysis aims to ensure that your website functions properly. As technical constructs, websites are prone to errors and malfunctions that can have an adverse effect on your conversion rate. In fact, technical trouble can even diminish trust on certain parts of your website.

The surest way to detect any technical issue is to check the entire website for errors. Done manually, this would be inefficient and time-wasting. Instead, use tools like Screaming Frog, which crawls the website and finds all technical issues immediately.

In addition, you can use analytics to check for issues with different devices, browsers or operating systems. Relying on analytics to perform technical reviews offers an additional advantage, in that it offers the possibility to assess a given issue’s impact on the performance of the website.

The process begins by analyzing the technical aspects of a website, as this is the most important step. If visitors can’t see your website, they can’t convert!

Technical analysis must confirm that your website functions properly in every way. You’re checking for…

Browser and device compatibility

Your website should display the same way on every device your visitors use. By checking that your site displays correctly on different browsers and devices, you can detect and solve any problems.

Visitors using mobile devices to navigate to your website represent 50% of your audience. Mobile users are an important demographic, so your website should make sure that mobile users enjoy an experience that enables them to achieve their goals.

That means you need to make the process of navigating your site, from arrival to purchase, simpler and more automated for users on mobile devices. For instance, decrease the number of form fields required on mobile, and/or allow visitors to log in to your website using popular social logins.


The Internet used to be mostly English-only — until recently. Nowadays, customers from every country expect to websites to speak their language.

One task of technical analysis is to make sure your website is properly localized. For example, insert the proper country code, check that your geolocation works properly, and offer users translation options.

Site speed

Technical analysis should check how fast the website loads. Research has shown that a website has 2 seconds or less before a visitor loses patience and closes the browser or goes to another website. Mobile device users have even less patience. Therefore, your site needs to load as fast as possible in order to avoid losing customers.

Other technical considerations

Broken links, bad coding, wrong resolutions, and other technical errors can undermine website credibility more thoroughly than anything else. Yet these errors are the easiest to fix, and every process of improvement must begin there.

Learn more about technical analysis here.

Published by

Edin is a Senior CRO Consultant. Edin is into Google Analytics and testing (any A/B testing tool really) and likes to write about it. You can follow Edin on Twitter.