What Is CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization)
& Why You Can’t Ignore It

Sean Thomas Martin Junior III
Sean Thomas Martin Junior III
Director of Content

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new links and content.
Original Publication Date: September 26, 2018

It’s gratifying when PPC ads generate an increase in traffic to your webpages.

But an increase in traffic doesn’t guarantee the growth in revenue or return on ad spend that you’re looking for.

Especially in the “pay-to-play” world of PPC, you want to make sure you’re making the most of the traffic you’re paying to generate.

This is where CRO comes in.

Why Is CRO Important?

Of the myriad acronyms in the PPC world, CRO isn’t just important — it might be the most important.

Conversion rate optimization focuses on increasing the percentage of your traffic that actually converts.

“Convert” here means takes the goal action that you’ve designated as the most valuable on your page (for example, get a proposal, a call, sign up for a service, download an app, etc…).

CRO tactics work to improve the likelihood that your traffic will convert on your site, as well as the total conversion volume, and the percentage of incoming users that convert.

CRO can include a wide array of strategies, so let’s get into the basics first — walking before we take off sprinting and all.


What Is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)?

As a general practice, CRO is the practice of taking the traffic your paid ads generate and converting a higher percentage. This is usually done by improving the actual user experience on the landing page in question.

But keep in mind that you’re improving the user experience of the page to guide your visitors towards a single action. CRO is meant to improve the ROAS of your ad campaigns as a whole.

And the end goal is turning your “visitors” into “customers”.


what is CRO - the basic process

The basic process for CRO – image source


Most blog posts and online guides for CRO best practices will tell you that focusing your user experience on a singular goal is a high priority. What this goal is, however, can vary quite a bit depending on the business you’re running.

Regardless of your primary conversion goal (purchase a product, schedule a proposal, download an app, etc…), CRO improves the actual percentage of traffic that successfully converts. With CRO, you can generate more conversions and revenue without increasing your ad spend. And that’s how you start to boost your ROAS.


Different Types Of Optimization (SEO Vs. CRO)

As we mentioned above, there are quite a few acronyms to keep track of in the digital marketing world. And, to be honest, quite a few of them have the “O” for optimization in there. So it’s important to distinguish between the most popular ones (SEO and CRO).

As a quick refresher, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, while CRO stands for Conversion Rate Optimization. The former focuses on improving your website in hopes of impressing Google search engine crawlers.

In its simplest form, SEO is still a strategy brands employ to increase the traffic their site generates. It’s simply an organic (free of ad spend) alternative to PPC. But in the end, CRO is still a vital practice for any digital marketer looking to improve ROAS.


what is CRO - SEO versus CRO

PPC could easily replace SEO in this chart – image source


In contrast to SEO, CRO tests changes on your landing pages to see what impresses actual users. With CRO you aren’t just working to improve metrics for computers, but the experiences real people have with your brand.


What “Conversion” Can Mean

Like I said earlier, conversions can come in all shapes and sizes. For the most part, however, they fall into one of two categories.

The first is macro-conversions, or the primary conversion goals you want your user to hit. The second is micro-conversions, or the smaller conversions that can lead a user towards your macro-conversions.

Moz has a great breakdown of macro-conversions and micro-conversions that looks like the list below:

Examples of Macro-conversions:

  • Purchasing a product from the site
  • Requesting a quote
  • Subscribing to a service

Examples of Micro-conversions:

  • Signing up for email lists
  • Creating an account
  • Adding a product to the cart

When implementing CRO, make sure that you’re considering the user psychology on your page and within your conversion form (regardless of macro versus micro).

This is the basis of our Breadcrumb Technique, after all, which applies a “foot-through-the-door” strategy to our landing page forms.

At the heart of all CRO strategies lies the basic goal of improving the user’s experience and making it easier for them to “slide down the conversion funnel.” So let’s start examining how exactly the pros perform CRO.


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CRO Methodology

When you’re dealing with random waves of traffic coming from disparate computer screens, it’s hard to imagine what exactly will increase these users’ chances of converting.


what is CRO - optimization intimidation

Intimidating much? – image source


Thankfully, there’s some common practices that make CRO easier than it sounds. What’s important to remember is that CRO is a unique mixture of creativity and data analysis.

It takes a creative mind to imagine new changes to your pages that may improve conversions. But these tests must be run with scientific diligence to make sure you know what changes really work and when. Otherwise you can fall victim to blind optimization.


A/B Testing (Split Testing)

The most classic form of CRO is A/B Testing. This is also known as split testing, because the testing model focuses on isolating a single variable and creating A and B (split) variants to compare their performance in a controlled setting.


what is CRO - classic A/B testing

Here’s an example of a classic single-variable A/B Test – image source


In classic split testing CRO, marketers implement changes that they think will improve conversion rates one at a time. This way you can test the original landing page design against your new variant with split traffic to see which converts higher.

And, because you’re isolating the single change in your landing page (such as button color, hero shot, etc…), you can move forward with confidence that this change caused an increase (or decrease) in conversions.

NOTE: Keep in mind, it’s vitally important that you make sure any tests you run reach statistical significance before making any big decisions based on “winners” and “losers.”

Your winning variant then begins the new control for you to test new CRO implementations on in future A/B tests.


Multi-Variable Testing

Multi-variable testing takes the same logic as split testing and expands it to the landing page as a whole. So, while in split testing you may just change the button color on a single test, in multi-variable testing you’d change the button color, button text, hero image, and possibly even more.

Often times these are considered entirely new landing page variants.


what is CRO - multivariable testing

Above are two examples of actual landing page variants – image source


What’s nice about multi-variable testing, beyond the fact that it takes less time than a long list of singular split tests, is that it allows you to test the interactive effects of the different conversion components of your landing pages.

Just keep in mind that it will probably take a bit longer to reach statistical significance when you’re running multi-variable testing.


Data Versus Human-Driven Testing

Now, we’ve addressed how the basis of most or all CRO strategies is testing. This means that clear tracking and accurate evaluation of data is going to be important when it comes to deciding what CRO tests are winners and losers.

But just because you’re gathering lots of quantitative data doesn’t mean you can ignore the qualitative side of things.

Make sure you aren’t getting lost in the metrics and forgetting to consider the human side of your landing page. After all, your ad campaigns are trying to reach real humans in the end. So you want to make sure your landing page is approachable, casual, and personal.

In their CTA master guide, Moz calls this quantitative-qualitative distinction the difference between the “what” and the “why.”

Some examples of “what” or quantitative data:

  • what page users converted on
  • what page users came from
  • which ad users clicked on to reach landing page
  • what device was used to convert
  • what demographic was the user, interests, etc…

Some examples of “why” or qualitative data:

  • why was the user looking for your service/product
  • did the user original decide to visit your site
  • why did the user engage with your content
  • why did the user choose your brand specifically

Keep in mind that a real CRO expert will blend both these types of data to think of new implementation ideas.

You want to make sure you can trust the results of the tests you run. But in the end, you’ll need a humanized and creative approach to think of new tests to run that will engage your user base and increase conversions.


Measuring CRO Success

When measuring the success of your CRO efforts, regardless of tracing wins or losses, it’s vital that you establish a baseline before launching your test. It’s also very important that you identify which metrics and KPIs you’ll be tracking beforehand.

This will help you avoid blind optimization, or optimizing your landing page and search campaigns for the wrong metrics (or worse, no metrics at all).

Getting distracted and going off-course optimization-wise because you were chasing vanity metrics can cost time, money, and resources.


what is CRO - blind optimization

That’s the risk of blind optimization… – image source


So take your time to make sure that you have all your ducks in a row before you dive into any CRO test. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast, after all.


Pro Tip: Take Care Of Low Hanging Fruit First

Here’s a little Pro Tip we like to follow at KlientBoost:

Tackle the low hanging fruit first.

what is CRO - tackle low hanging fruit

Hold on, that’s not what we meant – image source

Why is that? Simple. CRO is all about optimizing the performance of your campaigns to generate more revenue. The sooner you can increase that revenue generation, the sooner you’re growing your ROAS.

So instead of going hunting for the most difficult CRO fixes you can, take the easy layups first. These easy wins will stack up and as you continue to accrue a higher and higher ROAS, you can begin to focus on the more advanced, time-consuming CRO implementations you want to test.


what is CRO - 'keep it simple, stupid' acronym

I think Dwight was on to something, you guys… – image source


Focus on the tests that are most likely to move the needle first. Then work your way down to the more nuanced and impressive tests to start scraping the barrel for every conversion you can get.


Why You Can’t Ignore Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

In the end a single reason alone proves why you can’t afford to ignore conversion rate optimization (CRO). And that fact is that if you do ignore it, you’re paying for traffic that is simply clicking on your ads and failing to convert.

You’re paying for users that won’t generate value to your company; traffic that is only increasing your bounce rates.

If you want to start moving past vanity metrics and simple PPC performance, it’s time you take a look at CRO. It truly and simply is where you take the traffic you’ve paid for, and start to make your money back.