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A graphic saying "Lessons from CRO Testing That Supercharged Revenue"

Conversion rate optimization tends to be pretty low down on a marketer’s list of priorities. Surely it’s better to create new content, landing pages, and ad campaigns rather than improving what you’ve already got. More is better, right?

Not so fast.

If you aren’t spending time and effort on CRO testing campaigns, then you’re leaving money on the table. Worse still, you could be wasting time and money creating new campaigns when your existing ones aren’t as profitable as they could be.

That’s why I want you to make conversion rate optimization testing a priority.

In this post, I’m going to explain why CRO testing is so important and the seven hard-won lessons I’ve learned from my own campaigns. By the end, you’ll be in a fantastic position to implement your own conversion testing campaign that supercharges revenue.

Do I Really Need to Run a Conversion Test?

In a word: yes.

I get this question all the time in one form or another and my answer is always the same. It doesn’t matter if your campaign is getting conversions, you still need to run a CRO assessment.

To elaborate, I believe that your business is built around conversions. The more frequently website visitors complete a goal, the greater your chances are of making a sale. In fact, you only make money when someone does convert.

Every click is another opportunity for your business to grow, so optimizing clicks is vital.

CRO testing is when you take the same page you’ve been tracking and start changing elements to see if you can get more conversions.

The potential benefits of CRO, when done properly, are pretty astounding.

if CRO is done property

I don’t know about you, but a 49 percent increase in conversions would be a very impressive increase for my business.

And taking the average revenue per visitor up from $3 to $4.50 might not sound like much, but it’s a jaw-dropping increase when you start crunching numbers.

But let’s get to the meat of this issue.

What can you do to streamline your conversion rate optimization and start improving revenue?

Types of CRO Testing

There are several different types of CRO tests you can run. Here are the most popular to get your CRO testing ideas flowing:

Split Testing (A/B Testing)

A split test or A/B test is when you direct the same amount of traffic to two different versions of a landing page to see which converts better.

One page, the control or A, will be the existing page on your website. The other page (the B) will have a slight tweak. It could be something significant like a different headline or something seemingly minor like the color of the CTA button.

Here’s an example from AdRoll:

Adroll A/B testing.

Make sure you can direct enough traffic to each of these pages to run a statistically significant experiment. Try to only make one change to the landing page at a time, too. Any more and your results could be skewed.

A/B/n Testing

In an A/B/n test, you test multiple versions of the same landing page at a time. So instead of comparing page A (the control) with page B alone, you test the control page with page B, page C and however other many versions you want to try. Just make sure you are only changing the same element every time.

Here’s an example from ReadWrite:

ReadWrite A/B testing.

There’s no limit to the amount of changes you can make, but you’ll need to make sure that you run the conversion rate optimization tests for long enough so that each page receives a reasonable amount of traffic.

Multivariate Testing

A multivariate test is when you change several different elements on the same page. For example, you could change the headline, CTA button color, and the hero image. The winner is the combination of elements that generates the most conversions.

Here’s a great example from HubSpot:

Multivariate testing example.

Multivariate tests are a great way to test multiple elements at once, but it does mean you don’t know which individual element works best.

Usability Testing

Usability testing is a different form of CRO test whereby you gather feedback from users to identify problems with your website. By understanding how users interact with your site, you can find and fix issues that limit conversions, thereby increasing your conversion rate.

How to Conduct a CRO Assessment

Before you can run a CRO test, you should conduct a CRO assessment. Calculating your current conversion rate is the first step every entrepreneur should take when discussing CRO, and thankfully it’s a pretty basic principle.

How to Conduct a CRO Assessment.

In this example, we have three page visits and two conversions, which means our conversion rate is 66 percent.

It won’t likely stay that high as page visits grow, but you can see the basics of how we calculate conversion rates.

Actions divided by sessions equals conversion rate.

If you were wondering, the average conversion rate across all industries is 2.9 percent.

Average conversion rate by industry.

Now you understand your site’s conversion rates and how they compare to industry averages, you can dive further into your site’s data to uncover specific pages that could do with improving. A low conversion rate is an obvious sign that a page is ripe for CRO testing. But you can also use other tools like customer surveys, session recordings and heatmaps to identify pages where users aren’t converting as often as they should.

You can also take a look at your competitors’ sites to see which elements exist on their landing pages that are missing from yours. Make a note of any missing elements so that you can test them in the future.

By the end of your CRO assessment, you should have a list of problem pages and elements that you can test. The final step is to prioritize these issues before starting your first CRO tests.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Running Your Own CRO Test

One in five marketers don’t have a conversion optimization process in place. Don’t be one of them. Follow my conversion optimization tips to ensure you run a great test every time.

1. Identify a Goal

Setting a goal is the first step in any CRO test. Hopefully the CRO assessment you have completed above will clarify what you want to achieve. If not, then common CRO test goals include:

  • Increasing sales of a specific product
  • Getting more newsletter subscribers
  • Generating more leads for a specific service

Get as specific as possible. Do you want to achieve a certain conversion rate percentage? Convert a set number of people? And over what time frame do you want to achieve your goal? The clearer you get on your goal, the more likely you’ll be to work towards achieving it.

2. Create a Hypothesis

Next, create a hypothesis for your test. A hypothesis is a statement that outlines what change you will make and what you expect to happen.

Again, your CRO assessment will come in handy here. If you’ve noticed that all of your competitors have a certain element on their landing pages that you don’t, then your hypothesis could be something like:

“If I add [insert element] to my landing page, I expect conversion rates to increase by 1 percent.”

3. Design Test Variations

Now we move on to the creative part of the test—creating the different variations of your landing page for the test. This can be very quick and easy if the test is changing something simple like the color of your CTA button. Or it can be much more time-intensive if you are changing a large part of the page’s design.

You can get a developer to create these page variations or you can use a CRO platform like Optimizely to quickly create different versions of a page.

4. Set Up A/B Testing

If you didn’t use a tool like Optimizely in the previous step, you should absolutely use one here. Platforms like Yieldify, AB Tasty, and Qualaroo are the quickest and easiest ways to build A/B tests and split traffic between them.

This step can still take time, however, and may require cross-departmental collaboration. Don’t rush, though, and make sure you thoroughly test every landing page to ensure conversions are counted correctly before launch. If they are, send traffic to both pages and wait.

5. Analyze Test Results

Once you’ve sent enough traffic to each of your variations it’s time to look at the results. Your CRO platform of choice should make it easy to spot the winning result. Was your hypothesis met? Did conversions increase or decrease? Is the result statistically significant?

These are the questions you should ask yourself. If you need help answering the last one, I have a significance calculator that will tell you if your variations increased your sales and by how much.

Hopefully, one or more of your variations performed better than the control. But even if they didn’t you may still have learned a lot. It may even help you design better tests in the future.

6. Implement and Iterate

If your test was successful, you can implement the change on your website. But why stop there? Test another variation to see if you can generate an even bigger improvement.

Or set another goal and write another hypothesis to test a different page or element. Remember, CRO testing never stops. Every day spent not running a test is a potential increase in revenue you’re missing out on.

7 Tips for CRO Testing

I’ve worked on CRO projects that have generated hundreds of millions of dollars. I’ve had a lot of success, but I’ve also learned a lot of CRO testing best practices. Below I discuss my seven most important learnings in the hope that it helps you achieve CRO success faster.

Lesson #1: Play for the Long-term

Let’s get this out of the way now.

All of my advice can help you generate millions of dollars in revenue for your business. But your website won’t be an overnight success.

Conversion rate optimization is a long-term strategy.

When I first started building my CRO strategies, I initially thought I would see constant conversion improvements and huge leaps in revenue.

I was wrong.

What I did see were small improvements with a very occasional surge in conversion rates. Even when I spent money on consultants, I would question whether my investment was worth the small gains I made.

But then I looked back through my years of data and realized that there were periods of drastic improvement. And when I ran the numbers, I saw that my revenue more than made up for the price of my consultants.

That made me realize that while CRO can improve your revenue figures immediately, it is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a be patient, work hard, and get rich scheme. It’s all about building lifetime value.

Lesson #2: Gut-testing Will Be Gut-checking

I’m all for business owners following their gut when it makes sense. Just not when you’re running conversion rate optimization tests.

I have several good reasons for this stance.

First, you’ll likely just waste your time and money with failures that could have been avoided by research. Second, and perhaps more egregiously, you’ll be ignoring the insight of your existing and potential customers.

The big takeaway here is that more data is better.

randomly chosen elements ab test

If your CRO testing ideas take less than five hours to test, there’s a good chance that you’re not devoting enough time to collecting data that will give your testing direction. You may need to spend weeks gathering information about relevant ideas before you make a change.

Remember how I said this was a long-term process?

One way you can gather as much data as possible is with a simple customer survey.

Customer survey example.

Using open-ended, multiple-choice questions like this in a survey of your existing customers can help pinpoint elements that contributed to their conversions. You can then use that information to change website elements your existing customers claim would have helped them.

For example, if you get significant feedback that your landing page’s headline wasn’t a big factor in conversion, you may not need to test it much. But your gut reaction may have initially been to start with your headline.

See what I mean?

Don’t just jump in based on your gut. Gather data and move with precision.

And if you do want to start making changes immediately, I recommend using proven conversion optimization methods to optimize your conversions before you leap into testing.

The conversion scent method is a good one to try, for example. You can see it in action below.

Conversion scent method.

As you can see, this method maintains the “scent” of your digital marketing by creating and maintaining the same look and feel across all of your efforts.

You can use this stylistic approach to help conversions and improve the consistency of your optimization testing results without making gut decisions.

Lesson #3: Performance Is Important

One of the biggest mistakes I see CRO marketers make is hurting a website’s performance when running tests. What they don’t know is that this can inadvertently skew their data and make their test results ultimately useless.

Why do I say that?

Take an element like load times, which are incredibly important for increasing conversion rates. An e-commerce site that loads in one second has a 2.5 times higher conversion rate than a site that loads in five seconds.

It’s a fairly common occurrence amongst marketers to inadvertently increase load times when adding imagery, copy, or any other new element to a page.

When Moz performed an extensive redesign of one of their landing pages, they noticed a significant increase in load time as well. To help mitigate the effect they used a few tricks to make it easier to fully load their page even on a slow connection.

The results were pretty amazing.

Moz redesign of a page results.

They were able to shrink their load time by 40 percent and provide a 17 percent lift in the overall performance of their landing page. All of this was based on one performance-oriented element.

Pretty wild, right?

Lesson #4: Test Your A/B Testing Software

It doesn’t matter what A/B testing software you use, right? Not necessarily so, I’m afraid.

When I first started A/B testing, I had a few strange instances where I saw drastic increases in conversion but no additional revenue. This wasn’t because my sales process was flawed, it was because I had inaccurate A/B test results.

How could that be?

To be honest, I’m not sure why any A/B tester would purposely try to skew a user’s results. You rely on accurate data to make informed decisions, so getting unreliable data from a test will just persuade you to use a different A/B testing platform.

Either way, I always recommend testing the initial variation of your landing page as both elements of your A/B test to tell you if your A/B tester is telling you the truth.

I call this the A/A test.

If your results look even remotely different, like this graph:

A/A test example.

You should probably switch testing software immediately.

Here’s how you could do this on a platform like Optimizely.

When you open up your dashboard on their site, you’ll want to start a new test. Click on the Experiments tab, then create a new A/B test.

Now, you’ll need to fill in some basic information about your test and include the URL of the landing page you’ll be conducting your test on.

New A/B test.

Once you add this information, you’ll be back on a dashboard that looks like this:

Optimizely dashboard.

We don’t want to change the variations. The idea is to test identical pages for their similarity, thus testing the accuracy of your actual testing software.

To get started, you’ll have to add a Metric.

Add a metric optimizely.

You can choose one metric or many. For now, let’s just test shopping cart clicks.

Once you’ve added a metric to your experiment you can set traffic allocation:

Traffic allocation optimizely.

And then start the experiment:

Start experiment Optimizely.

Now, you’ll be able to track the performance of your single page using the two “variations” we’ve created. Since they’re the same page, you should get very similar results from both.

They might not be exact, but as long as they’re close, you know you have an accurate testing tool.

There are tons of A/B testing tools out there to choose from. Use one that’s both helpful and accurate. You’ll save time and money. And you’ll be making informed decisions with the degree of certainty that only testing can give.

Lesson #5: Test One Variable, and Only One

When scientists run tests, they look for something called “causal relationships” in their data. They want to see whether one factor had a direct impact on another. Smoking has a causal relationship with lung cancer, for instance.

To control the flow of these relationships, they will only change one variable at a time while keeping a “control” variable the same. If the results of the experiment change, they know the precise reason.

This can be time-consuming, which is why I see so many marketers test multiple variables at once to speed up the process. Worse, it’s even promoted as a feature by many testing platforms.

I’m not so sure this is a good idea.

This practice is known as multivariate testing, or the idea that testing multiple elements of a landing page, email, or anything else can help you increase your conversion rates.

My biggest problem with this is that it encourages businesses to test too many elements at once, thus nullifying any tangible results from the test.

Here’s an example from email marketing agency Uplers that shows how a multivariate test works.

Let’s say this is the original email.

CRO email example.

You have a very clear understanding of your email, its performance, and the tendencies of your audience.

You then test email B, where you change the time of day you send the email, the formatting of the email itself, and the subject line.

That’s three new elements.

CRO email example.

Not surprisingly, the results are different. It just so happens in this case that your open rate and click-through rate see a decline. Bummer.

But now what do you do? In this case, they went with the original email.

A/B test between two email.

And what a win. They got a better response across the board.

My issue here is that the final email is the exact same as the original email, but now you have a higher open and click-through rate.

What did you learn from email B? Nothing.

Because you don’t know what caused the potential change.

For all you know, the subject line in Email B was the most effective option. It just so happened that sending emails at 2 a.m. was so bad that it canceled out any benefits of the subject line.

I see this problem every time I examine data from tests that contain multiple variable changes at the same time. The data I got back was ultimately useless.

And the further you dig into the logic of this, the more my point makes sense. If I change two elements and see a 15 percent increase, did element A cause the increase, or element B? Was it a combination of both?

Instead of getting answers, your questions compound exponentially as time goes on with no actionable results.

Change one headline. Test.

Change one body of text. Test.

Use this data to your advantage, and don’t confuse yourself.

Lesson #6: Remember Your Ultimate Goal Is Revenue

A lot of talk goes toward conversion rate optimization without acknowledging the fact that we’re really focused on revenue optimization. And even though it might negatively affect conversions, sometimes revenue optimization takes you on a different path.

Like raising or lowering prices.

Let’s say you sell 100 products at $50 at a 5 percent conversion rate. That would make you $5000. But if you put that same product on sale for $45 and sell an extra 50 products, you just made $6,750.

But you didn’t change a single element of your landing page or email. You just changed the price.

What I’m trying to convey (again) is that your overall focus needs to be on your long-term goal. Incremental wins in conversion rates will eventually lead to big wins in revenue.

This means focusing on the big picture, or macro conversions over micro conversions.

A macro conversion is a big-picture goal like buying a product. Micro conversions are small wins like clicks and email addresses that don’t necessarily equal revenue.

If a test boosts micro conversions but not macro, find out why. If it’s a permanent effect, drop your short-term gains for the long-term picture.

If you keep this in focus, you’ll stop your efforts from being bogged down in tiny details that are ultimately irrelevant.

Lesson #7: Drastic Changes = Drastic Results

You’ll eventually hit a point where you’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit.

Congratulations, you’re now at a crossroads.

You can either keep trying to provide minuscule improvements to your conversion rate and maybe see some revenue increase. Or you can start making drastic changes and take a jab at your own explosive growth hacks.

If you’ve hit a wall, consider adding elements you haven’t before, like video. According to Wyzowl 90 percent of marketers say video has helped them generate leads and 87 percent say it has had a direct impact on sales.

CRO Testing FAQs

What is CRO in marketing?

CRO, or conversion rate optimization, in a marketing setting refers to the process of enhancing a website or landing page’s effectiveness by testing the impact of subtle changes. Each change is carefully tested and measured. If it leads to more people taking a desired action it is implemented. If not, it’s ignored. 

What is a CRO test?

A CRO test, often known as A/B testing, is a method wherein two versions of a web page or app are compared against each other to determine which one performs better in terms of converting visitors to customers. This type of testing helps in making data-driven decisions to optimize the conversion rate.

Conclusion

Don’t make CRO testing any harder than it needs to be. Learn from my mistakes and implement my CRO testing best practices and you’ll be well on your way to improved conversions and revenue.

But just remember CRO and SEO have a lot in common. Both deserve your attention and both are long-term endeavors that rarely experience overnight success.

And if you get stuck, know that there are CRO agencies that can help. Just make sure they are also abiding by the lessons I’ve covered above!

What tactics have you seen successfully improve your CRO tests?

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