What Is CRO? Your Complete Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization

What Is CRO? Your Complete Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization in 2020

by | Aug 18, 2020 | Content Marketing

This post was originally published in March 2014 and completely updated in August 2020.

SEO, SMO, CMO, UXO, CRO… What does it all even mean?

It’s another one of those alphabet soups that digital marketers love, but make the rest of us want to pull out our hair.

However, if you look closely, you might notice something. Each of these acronyms has something in common.

It’s one word: optimization… Something else that digital marketers love.

Whether it’s the user experience, the search engine rankings, or the conversion rate of a website, savvy digital marketers will attempt to optimize anything and everything.

We’re going to focus on that last one right now: conversion rates.

According to research by Wordstream, the average conversion rate for a website hovers around 3%. But the top 10% of any given industry will demonstrate conversion rates of 11.45%.

How do you aspire to that jaw-dropping percentage?

You use one of the most powerful yet underrated tools in digital marketing: conversion rate optimization.

Let’s explore!

What is CRO, or conversion rate optimization? It's the process of tweaking your website & content to generate better conversions from existing traffic. In other words, convince them to ACT! More on the Write Blog ➡ Click To Tweet


What Is CRO in Marketing?

CRO stands for conversion rate optimization. According to HubSpot, it’s the process of adjusting your website and content to generate greater conversions from the traffic already landing on it.

Most forms of marketing focus on improving site traffic, generating better quality leads, or positioning your brand in front of your target audience. These are all important activities, but they’re only half of the marketing puzzle.

We’ve all clicked through to sites doing an amazing job marketing themselves with edgy social media posts, only to find ourselves not sold enough to commit once we’re on the landing page. This happens because the brand focused on external marketing and hasn’t optimized the user experience for conversion.

Just because you’ve attracted an audience doesn’t mean they’re showing up with cash in hand, ready to buy. In fact, only a small percentage of people who land on your site will go through with a transaction, whether it’s completing a transaction or signing up for a newsletter:

Visitors who complete a transaction

Lots of people will view your site. A handful of them will even put things into their cart, but only a sliver will go through with the sale. Source: Crazy Egg.

CRO is all about bumping up that 3.3% to a higher number by taking immediate, metric-oriented steps on your site. It’s a simple, powerful, and overlooked strategy for generating greater revenue.

No fiddling with keywords or social media settings required.

What It Really Means to Convert

Let’s talk about conversion real quick. In the simplest terms, a conversion happens when we turn one thing into another. In marketing, conversion specifically refers to people who engage in a specific desired activity that furthers your business goals. For example:

  • Curious readers into avid subscribers
  • Digital window shoppers into paying customers
  • Early-stage buyers into account holders

The mechanism by which you attract and convert your target audience into customers is called the sales funnel. Conversion is often considered the final step in the funnel, but you can have several smaller conversions along the way as a user moves from being a curious onlooker to a paying customer.

However, not every action a user takes represents a conversion. Conversion is not:

  • People clicking through from the search engine or social media to your site
  • People clicking around on your website

Although they’re both desirable actions, neither of these behaviors indicate that a user is moving closer to subscribing or purchasing from you.


SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the process of analyzing and optimizing your digital presence to improve your position in Google so your target readers can find you. Typically, SEO focuses on things like keywords, metadata, and content structure to boost site traffic and get noticed by potential customers.

SEO gets mixed up with CRO a lot, but the two do have quite a bit in common. In fact, it’s a good idea to focus on both as they work well together. In both cases, you’ll focus on:

  • Well-written, expert content that both elevates your standing in Google and improves conversion rates.
  • Optimized headlines, meta descriptions, and technical SEO to entice potential customers and improve the user experience.
  • Page layout. Well-designed pages are helpful from more than just a human perspective. They also help Google index your page and provide the most useful featured snippets.


Why CRO Matters If You Want to Succeed

Obviously, presenting a compelling user experience is important because it leads to more revenue for your brand. However, there are a few other reasons you should spend more time with CRO if you aren’t already:

1. Content Marketing Has Become the Dominant Form of Advertising Online

If you’re relying on paid outbound marketing like PPC or sponsored posts, you’re at risk of falling behind. These days, pretty much all digital marketing takes the form of content marketing. That’s an approach to marketing that emphasizes the creation of helpful, engaging content that provides your target audience with the answers they’re already searching for in Google.

It’s not enough to simply have a great product and assume your customers think you’re the obvious choice. Your customers have a lot of choices, and they want you to demonstrate your authority on the matter.

Question: Do you know HOW to demonstrate your authority using incredible content marketing? It’s time to learn. Check out my Content Strategy & Marketing Course to get the serious skills you need to make it happen.

2. CRO Forces You to Study and Adapt to Your Customers

The impressions you make on customers – often the first ones – heavily determine your conversion rates. That might seem like an obvious statement, but you’d be surprised as to how frequently this gets overlooked online.

How many times have you ever clicked onto a site and been put off by the colors, the font, or something else entirely?

According to psychology, the brand has about a tenth of a second to make a first impression.

That’s why a one-second page delay can decrease conversion rates by as much as 7 percent, or why simply changing the color of a button can increase conversion rates by 21 percent.

In the sea of content your readers sail upon every day, it’s also why 94 percent of marketers see personalization as vital to success.

But you aren’t going to know why people are clicking away unless you’ve taken the time to unravel the mysteries of customer behavior. Even worse, you may change the wrong thing and send those conversion rates plummeting further.

CRO - how to calculate conversion rate

Signs You Need CRO for Your Site Right Now

So – you’ve done everything right. You’ve got great content on a well-planned site. Your product descriptions are the bomb. You’ve made it super easy for people to check out and you’ve got one hilarious newsletter that keeps your audience engaged.

Think you don’t need CRO? You’re dead wrong, especially if any of these signs apply to you:

  • You’re getting lots of traffic, but low or declining conversions. So, people are finding you. Your Google Analytics dashboard looks fantastic. Yet, sales are trickling in. That indicates something is going wrong in your funnel just before conversion, and you need to fix it.
  • You can’t identify where people fall out of the funnel. You’ve got half-finished signups, abandoned carts, unsubscribes galore… But you can’t spot any pattern to it all. That indicates a lack of analytics tools, and possibly a lack of understanding about the customer journey.
  • Consumer psychology is a new concept for you. Most of marketing hinges on understanding consumer behavior. You can’t sell to people you don’t understand.
  • Your website still looks exactly how you designed it… Six years ago. In 2014, mobile-optimized design was still considered cutting edge. In 2020, about 67 percent of the world accesses the web via a mobile device… And they aren’t going to waste their time on your site if it doesn’t work.
  • You’ve just revamped your site or are in the process of updating it. Is it “new decade, new site” time in your neck of the woods? Make sure to include someone on your development team who knows about CRO and start off with a high-converting web presence.
  • Customers are complaining. They might not be complaining to you, but they’re still complaining. If you’ve recently come across a Reddit post or a Yelp review talking about how difficult it is to do anything on your site, it’s time to get it looked at and optimized.

CRO - conversion barriers

Barriers to conversion rate optimization: ❌Requiring registration from users to access content or complete a purchase ❌Burying information like shipping charges ❌Overwhelming customers with forms. More on the Write Blog: Click To Tweet

6 Strategies and Best Practices for CRO in Marketing

Optimizing your site for maximum conversion rates is the single most important thing you can do to improve your brand’s viability. Sometimes, all it takes is just a few tweaks to dramatically improve your audience’s response to the experience you create for them.

Unlike SEO or other forms of optimization, CRO can have immediate effects for minimum effort. That might sound too good to be true, but it’s not!

Here are six things you can do today to optimize your conversion rates and transform more readers into paying customers.

1. Identify Your Metrics Before Getting Started

Like much of digital marketing, CRO is metric-oriented and data-driven. You need this information to understand exactly what your customers are doing at any given moment while they’re interacting with your digital presence. Otherwise, you’ll be completely blind with no way to tell if any of the changes you’ve made are actually effective.

You want to track metrics that give you a good sense of how your users are interacting with your site across the board. A few I particularly like include:

  • Exit rate/time on site. This will tell you how long users are spending on your site before they leave it entirely. You may also want to track interactions per visit.
  • Cart abandonment rate. Are users filling up their carts, and then walking off without checking out? Find out how often this happens by tracking the abandonment rate.
  • Bounce rate. Unlike time on site, a bounce rate tracks single-page sessions. In other words, how many users are viewing only a single page before leaving?
  • Click-through rates. This will give you a sense of how many qualified leads are actually coming to your site.
  • Traffic sources. Different types of traffic sources (direct visitors vs. search visitors, for example) have different levels of engagement.
  • New vs. returning visitor conversion rate. Are you attracting many new customers with few of them returning? Or is most of your business from the same individuals returning over and over?
  • Engagement rates. Are some pages getting more attention than others? Consider looking into why.

2. Start Tracking Your User Activity Before Doing CRO Activities

If you don’t have Google Analytics for your site already, get it set up. It’ll provide many valuable insights into where your traffic is going and how people are interacting with your site.

After that, I like using heatmaps for analyzing behavior. Heatmaps show you where visitors are clicking, or where their attention gets drawn. That’s powerful for identifying where to place CTAs, how to organize content, and whether the page design is working for the content it holds.

heatmaps show user behavior

Heatmaps, like this one from Crazy Egg, can show you exactly where users are clicking or tapping. Source: Crazy Egg.

3. Know Your Brand’s Value Proposition

Have you identified your brand’s value proposition? It’s time to do that now. A value proposition includes all of the benefits your product offers, plus a recognition of your customer’s pain points. It’s how you’ll connect with your customers and set yourself apart from the competition. (If you haven’t identified yours, HubSpot has a great guide on doing that.)

According to HubSpot, knowing and expressing your brand’s value proposition can improve your conversion rates. It:

  • Informs your content, especially your CTAs
  • Highlights your solution as relevant to your target audience
  • Reduces consumer anxiety surrounding the buying process
  • Induces a sense of urgency

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4. Analyze Your Site From Your Visitor’s Perspective

Most people go into business because of something they’re passionate about, and that’s great. But being so close to your passion project can make it difficult to spot pain points or tricky navigation that’s only easy for you because you use it every day.

When you start a site analysis, make sure to approach it from your customers’ experience. Note any unusual flows, poorly placed CTAs, or ill-chosen colors.

I also recommend you use the metrics above to try to figure out why users are behaving on a certain page in a certain way. For example, if your heatmap shows that users aren’t scrolling down a page, try to identify whether it’s a content problem or a design problem.

You may even want to consider having a third-party reviewer take a look at your site and record their experience.

user expectations vs actual user experience

Make sure you’re displaying the information your users are looking for. Source: XKCD.

5. Start with Your Lowest Hanging Fruit

Once you’ve made a list of the improvements your site needs, take a moment to prioritize them in terms of difficulty and complexity. You may have entire pages that need to be overhauled, but that can take a long time. Since CRO can have immediate effects, start with the easiest changes first. For example:

  • Update your CTAs
  • Change button colors or text
  • Spruce up your headlines
  • Write more compelling metadata
  • Get new product pictures or screenshots

Move to more complex projects, like a new site homepage, after you’ve done the little things.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Input

Finally, if you’re really struggling to identify strategies for optimizing your conversion rates, ask your readers! Consider running a survey on your social media, website, or newsletter. You can even gamify it with a series of fun tasks to entertain and encourage responses.

If you’re wondering what to ask your readers about your site’s UX, Adobe has a bunch of ideas:

  • Focus on feelings and flows to uncover how they’re connecting with the experience
  • Collect demographic and tech literacy details if users are comfortable sharing
  • Record favorite and least favorite features
  • Ask users what they want to see implemented the most
  • Ask users about preferred content types

preferred content types

The types of content you use can have a tremendous impact on conversion rates.  Source: Ascend2 (via Smart Insights)

High-Performing Sites Have Content That Converts

Optimization is a major goal in digital marketing, whether it’s optimizing for the search engines or conversion rates on a site. CRO is one of your most powerful tools when it comes to strategizing how to encourage readers to transform into avid subscribers or paying customers. Hopefully, I’ve left you with a few ideas about how to optimize your conversion rates and increase your revenue.

However, while you’re revitalizing your CTAs and metadata, make sure all of your content is up to par. An expert writer who knows the ins-and-outs of writing that converts can help you perfect your message to compel your readers to act.

Ready to get started optimizing your conversion rates? Check out our landing page services and Authority content options to see how we can help.

Get started with CRO