Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the art of understanding your website users’ interests and behaviors, then arranging your website in a way that responds to them, earns their trust, and converts them into customers.
This guide to CRO best practices begins by summarizing the theory you need to become proficient at it; then offers 5 specific actions for optimizing your website’s conversion rate.
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO): Theoretical Foundations
Understanding the basic premise of CRO — improving the percentage of visitors that take a conversion action on your website — is easy. What’s more complex is reflecting on the psyche of your website users so you understand how to properly implement CRO. Here are some rules of thumb that reflect today’s digitally sophisticated audience:
- Almost everyone who visits your website is busy and has a lot on their mind, making them mildly distracted; thus, if you bore, confuse, or overwhelm them, they will immediately leave
- Sophisticated visitors (all B2B and higher-value B2C) are avoidant of ads and intrusive website elements that attempt to wrest their attention from what they’re currently doing
- Users are particularly interested in content that illuminates the truth of an idea in a clearer way than they’ve seen before
- People don’t mind being “sold to” if the approach is earnest, on their own terms, and they can see the value in what you’re selling
To sum it all up, if you level with people, essentially saying “I know you’re busy, but I’m willing to share the result of a lot of hard work with you and, if you happen to need what I sell, then great for both of us,” you’ll be successful in conversion.
Truly earning people’s attention puts your company in a far more valuable position towards a potential customer than attracting it cheaply. Rather than generating an impulse, high quality CRO earns a well-thought-out decision.
Below, you’ll find descriptions of the 5 most effective CRO best practices, in our experience. They are: (1) Tapping into the user’s psychology; (2) Earning attention all the way down the page; (3) Using graphics and white space to maintain the user’s momentum; (4) Tracking micro-conversions; and (5) Testing, discussing, and iterating.
Conversion Rate Optimization Best Practices
In the following sections, I describe the most important elements of conversion rate optimization (CRO), from creating the right mindset to optimizing individual pages on your site, to managing your website’s CRO as a whole. We’ll begin with the essential idea of understanding your user.
CRO Best Practice #1: Tap into the user’s psychology
Good CRO begins with understanding the types of people arriving on your website. Through this lens, the classic exercise of creating personas is very worthwhile. For each category of visitor arriving at your site, you should understand:
- What is their job title and overall responsibility?
- Which KPIs does their higher-up use to evaluate them?
- What makes them feel successful on a daily basis?
- What types of issues make their job harder on a daily basis?
It can help to treat each persona like a character in a story, complete with a headshot. Here is an example of a persona write-up that goes into the right level of detail:Jenna is the CMO at a mid-sized engineering firm. Her overall responsibility is to drive more leads to her company’s website, thereby increasing its customer base. She is judged by the % increase in revenue that results from the marketing channels she invests in, as well as how well she’s stayed within budget. She’s also judged on whether her beginning-of-year forecasts for those KPIs were accurate.
Jenna feels successful when her ideas are well received during management meetings, particularly if they’re unique and she’s worked hard on a presentation; when the team members she manages express to her that they trust her; and when she feels like she is genuinely contributing to her company’s growth.
Jenna’s day is made harder when the marketing team members she manages struggle, either professionally or personally; when she doesn’t have good projections or clear tracking on a marketing program, making it hard for her to manage her higher-ups’ expectations; and when her CEO is dogging her to help him meet his increasingly-lofty company growth goals.Once you “know” each type of user that you want to visit your website, you are ready for the challenge of catering your content to them.
Your product can’t solve every problem and satisfy every need, of course, but you should think carefully and creatively about unique applications of your product towards those ends. After you’ve considered every way that your product could appeal to your personas, you’ll need to distill that appeal down to a few readable sentences. As you write, remember that your page should feel like it’s written for them, with your product only appearing because it’s of genuine value to them.
CRO Best Practice #2: Earn attention all the way down the page
The science of CRO comes down to continuously earning your users’ attention from the top of the page until one of the Calls-to-action (CTAs) brings them to the next step in the marketing funnel. Their attention is best earned by showing them you can help them without wasting a moment of their time.
Here’s a tried-and-true formula for doing that, starting at the top of the page:
- Clean header / navigation bar that briefly defines the company and includes contact information
- Headline that explains how your product helps them in 10 words or less, and
- Slightly longer sub-headline that elaborates on how your product helps them
- Trust element such as customer logos, award icons, or accreditations
- 3-6 product features described, aesthetically appealing and well-spaced; with CTAs next to each to learn more about that feature
- 2-3 case studies, either on a rotating carousel or neatly spaced out, each of which can be clicked for the full story
- A CTA to demo, try now, or learn more
- 1-3 links to thought leadership content with thumbnail images and brief descriptions
- Mini-form where potential customer or client can reach out immediately
The image below shows this formula applied to a full page, with each of the 9 elements labeled:
CRO Best Practice #3: Use graphics and white space to maintain user momentum
If you yourself are a decision maker at your company, you may have noticed that you rarely read business articles that contain only paragraphs. Today’s digitally-overloaded businesspeople read articles in a way that would have been labeled ADHD in the 1990s. Here is the typical reader’s process:
- Scan the headline of the article and, if it seems relevant and interesting, continue; otherwise, leave.
- Read the first 2-3 sentences and decide whether the article is worth their time; if not, leave.
- Glance at the first third to half of the article to see if anything interesting stands out; failing that, leave.
- Search for any summarizing elements, such as tables, charts, or diagrams — if they’re present, read them as well as the text surrounding them; if none are present, read the first sentence of a few more paragraphs, then leave.
And, if satisfied by the first 4 steps:
- Read the entire article from the top until they get slightly bored; when that happens, leave.
Similar to how comedians are told they need to get a laugh every 7 seconds to keep their audiences engaged, content creators in 2024 need to have something eye-catching in every scroll down the page.
Much of what makes sections of a web page eye-catching is negative space, also known as white space. We’re all accustomed to grey font on a white background in 4-7 line paragraphs; when you diverge from that format, you give the reader’s eyes something interesting to play with, and that usually means a different composition of positive and negative space.
If your page is a sales-oriented landing page as opposed to an article, it’s more natural to utilize white space effectively. Common ways to do this are converting bullet pointed lists into groups of colorful icons alongside short headlines, or visualizing a concept with a well-designed graphic. But even in articles, white space can be used effectively in the form of bullet pointed lists, block quotes, and short paragraphs. Unusual language has the same effect; your readers probably aren’t conscious of what makes them continue reading, but seeing interesting words in an otherwise normal-looking sentence can do that. For example, the following sentence is filled with words that, because they’re less common, are subconsciously engaging:
The resplendent wings of monarch butterflies flutter in the cherry-gold evening sky.
You can also play with color on the page too — there’s no rule against it. The same sentence can be animated further when color is added.
The resplendent wings of monarch butterflies flutter in the cherry-gold evening sky.
While it’s easy to come up with eye-catching elements, those you employ in your content should be organic to your subject, medium, and writing team.
As a final note, the job of making your pages eye-catching should fall more under proper division of labor than consummate originality. In our own marketing campaigns for clients, we separate out the tasks of conceiving a page’s layout from writing the actual page, since they require different thought processes.
CRO Best Practice #4: Track micro-conversions
Understanding how to make a page attention-earning and eye-catching would seem to prepare you to carry out Conversion Rate Optimization; however, good measurement is the step that takes you from a few one-off high converting pages to a full high-conversion system.
If conversion is your destination, then micro-conversions are the mileposts along the way. In other words, they’re actions that a visitor can take which indicate they’re more interested in your website than any random person. Some common examples are:
- Visiting more than a single page on your website
- Downloading an ebook or a white paper
- Engaging with your content, whether by commenting or sharing on social media
- Subscribing to your blog or podcast’s RSS feed
Even though none of these actions result in a new customer or MQL by themselves, tracking them gives you greater insight into your website’s conversion funnel. For example, you may notice that your website receives a great deal of traffic through a single blog post that ranks highly on Google, and visitors who read that blog post will often go on to read your service landing pages. After doing so, however, very few or even none of those visitors fill out a contact form to get in touch with you directly. This would tell you one of two things. Either:
- The initial blog post is reaching the wrong audience, i.e. those who are not interested in your services. This means that you should reevaluate the personas you’ve created in Best Practice #1, and ensure that the post really speaks to your audience’s needs.
- The service pages themselves are not encouraging those visitors to reach out. This indicates that those pages are failing to earn attention all the way down the page, or are not maintaining a visitor’s momentum. Sometimes, the remedy can be as simple as including a clear call-to-action on the landing pages.
But tracking micro-conversions is useful for more than just troubleshooting; it can also help you tailor your future actions to better suit the needs of your audience. For example, I like to write about the more data-heavy, nitty-gritty details of B2B SaaS marketing but I know that these pieces are only interesting to a subset of my audience. But if a visitor signs up for my newsletter after reading SaaS Customer Acquisition by the Numbers and SEO Strategy for SaaS, I know they’ll also be interested in future SaaS pieces that I write. In other words, tracking these micro-conversions allows me to better serve those visitors’ needs. Down the line, that not only leads to more conversions, but also results in more successful business partnerships.
CRO Best Practice #5: Test, discuss, and iterate
While each of the previous 4 best practices should in theory result in high conversion rate pages, the real world is much messier. Constantly testing different CTA placements, page designs, and copy will allow you to adjust your website to your exact audience. The most effective way to do this is through A/B testing.
In the context of CRO, A/B testing is the practice of creating two separate versions of a webpage to determine which leads to higher conversion rates. The “A” page serves as your control group, and will follow all of the same best practices and guidelines as the rest of your website. The “B” page is the test group, and incorporates the change you’re testing. You’ll then serve a statistically significant percentage of visitors the “B” page instead of the “A” page, giving your team real world data on whether or not that change should be implemented permanently. Each “B” page you test should also incorporate only a single change so you can isolate exactly what resulted from each change. For example, you could test whether a 30 day or a 45 day free trial attracts more potential customers:
Depending on how many visitors you have, this can be a slow and time consuming process as you wait for data. That’s why your team should take a scientific approach, making sure each “B” page you test has a single, clear hypothesis behind its change. After collecting enough data, your team should then discuss why that change resulted in higher or lower conversions, and update your customer personas with any new insights about your customers. These insights can then be applied to your other pages as well. Through this iterative process, you’ll continuously find new ways of encouraging a greater proportion of your visitors to convert.
Putting CRO Into Practice
You should now understand what’s required to encourage your website visitors to convert into leads. The next step is to implement these best practices, starting with persona creation and setting up visitor tracking before moving onto design updates.
Another option is to work with a marketing agency skilled in conversion rate optimization. CRO consulting is a core part of what we do at First Page Sage. If you’d like to schedule a time to discuss your needs, you can do so here.