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Intro to CRO (Conversion Research Optimization)

Conversion Rate Optimization CRO is useful to growth professionals, product managers, UX/UI experts, and any other marketing profile looking to become more customer-centric.
Thanks a lot, CXL for giving me this awesome opportunity.

CRO Foundations

Starting off, Peep Laja, founder of CXL Institute, reminds us that the mindset of CRO professionals should not be strictly about increasing conversions. If we wanted to focus only on that, it would be simple enough to slash prices or offer discounts.
CRO should be about long-term sustained growth and not about silver bullets and quick wins, as clearly outlined by Peep. It’s important to note that in all of the marketing, new trends appear just as fast as new ones fade away. “All ideas are perishable”. An optimizer’s job is to keep with these trends and test them if they apply to the context of their website.
The focus should not be on tactics or a “best” way of doing things, it should be on developing methodologies that can help you discover conversion opportunities in different contexts, and in an ever-changing world.
A good framework to keep in mind is the well-known Lean Startup methodology (and of course, Eric Ries’s Lean Startup is mentioned as a must-read). It’s about a circular process of forming ideas (or in this case, hypotheses), testing them and measuring KPIs in a real-life scenario, analyzing and understanding results, followed by a new round of ideation based on what you’ve discovered. Conversion optimization follows the same process.
So, where do you start finding conversion opportunities? There is a simple general hierarchy to keep in mind in order to find the best chances for an uplift:
  1. Start with website functionality. Does it work from a technical standpoint? Does it run properly on all browsers? Is it responsive?
  2. Move to accessibility. Can people with visual impairments use it? Can a text-to-speech tool crawl through it properly? Do your images have alt tags?
  3. Next up is usability. Is your website user-friendly? Do your users agree? Have you looked into how people are using the website compared to how you believe they should be using it? Is it easy to understand how it should be used?
  4. The website should be intuitive, and there should be as little friction as possible in the sales funnel. Are you answering all of the user’s questions (exactly when they would be asking them)?
  5. Finally, look at how persuasive it is. Is your copy, imagery, and overall design making it clear what you’re selling, what the value is, and how it is different from similar products?
While aspects from top of the list may be more important overall for most websites, it’s necessary to repeatedly check the entire list for new optimization opportunities.

Best Practices

Remember, best practices are only good as a starting point. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should start or update your website with the suggestions recommended by CXL Institute, but they should be tested if they apply to your context. Here are Peep Laja’s recommendations for website best practices:
  • Web forms should be short, clear (in terms of questions and expectations), they should be as frictionless as possible (unless you want to qualify better leads), and should be split into multiple steps if it’s longer. Users should always be given simple fields to complete first since they’ll be more committed to completing a form if they’ve already started it. Also, pre-fill any already-known fields.
  • Ecommerce category pages should allow you to easily narrow down choices in a way that makes sense (based on which criteria people use to differentiate products). Breadcrumbs are a must! Eliminate anything unnecessary that clutters the page. Product badges can be used to boost sales of certain items, even if people know that it’s nonsense. Think of those badges on products entitled “staff choice” and so on. The margins on that product are probably higher!
  • Buttons and CTAs always have to stand out (this one more or less applies to any context). You should always make it bigger, with enough whitespace surrounding it, and a color that is in contrast with the rest of your website’s design. Ideally, most of your main pages should have a goal that can be reached by clicking a CTA. Finally, the copy should be a trigger word. Here’s an easy formula: Your CTA should finish the sentence “I want to …”.
  • Fold and page length depends on a lot of factors, but they recommend that it should be approximately 650–700px in length to be a good fit on desktop browsers. The fold should always include the main action you want users to take (and ideally, a secondary action) because scroll maps often show that a majority of users drop off very quickly as they scroll down. Page length depends on your content, but they recommend that you stick to the bare minimum (i.e. only the content that sells) to keep the length of the page as short as possible. This also has advantages in terms of page load speed.
  • Phone numbers should be placed in search ads, the footer, as well as a highly visible area at the top of the right side of the fold of your website (if it is an important goal for you). There are also many ways of tracking it in your analytics.
  • Your design must be persuasive by being clear and easy to understand. Visual elements are noticed by our brains first, so Laja recommends high-quality, larger-than-life photography to make what you’re offering instantly clear. Our old (reptilian) brain processes visuals much faster than we can read copy. Visual elements will also form a “visual path” for users, making it easier for people to navigate through your content. After you’ve led them through your content, drive them towards your goal by giving them a CTA. It’s important to only offer them a single action when they’re ready and motivated to take it.
  • The font size is recommended to be at least 16px for most types of text. Studies also show that larger text can result in a stronger emotional response. Peep Laja suggests that font type doesn’t matter as long as it’s easy to read, so it’s just about pairing fonts that work together. In terms of the structure of copy, avoid walls of text. Paragraphs should have a maximum of 3–4 lines.
  • Prices should always be revealed, and they should be split into different packages that are easy to differentiate.
  • A FAQ should be avoided unless it is necessary. Try to answer the most asked questions in your sales copy.
  • Site search bars should always be included on websites with more than 20 products or pages.
  • Shopping carts must be highly visible when adding products. Have it disappear when the user clicks somewhere else. In order to nudge them towards a checkout, make the “Checkout” button large and contrasting. Don’t forget to remind people about free shipping, returns, and other things you can offer. On the checkout, start with shipping information, then billing, and then offer them the option to sign up for an account. Use their details and transfer them to similar fields in each step, to reduce friction.

People and Psychology

Of course, psychology is the foundation of conversion optimization, so there is a lot of literature and studies to base new experiments on. Laja introduces this part of the course with Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (definitely a must-have in any marketers reading list). Cialdini’s research discusses 7 principles that are well-known today:
  • Reciprocity: the idea that we are built to return favors, so it’s important to offer free things, guides, and so on.
  • Commitment: you commit to what you’ve already started, so offer users small steps before asking for big ones.
  • Social Proof: you trust other people’s opinions of things, especially if they’re coming from someone you’re familiar with, so you should always show reviews, ratings, likes, etc.
  • Authority: people will trust you more if you convey authority over something. That doesn’t only mean dentists promoting toothpaste, but also influencers, prominent logos, and security certificates.
  • Liking: you are liked more if you share things in common with your audience. Try to humanize your website and your brand by including profiles of your team, or a down-to-earth “About Us” page, for instance.
  • Scarcity: people will be more motivated to buy something that seems scarce, or with perceived limited availability. Always try to show scarcity, but keep it as realistic as possible.
  • Unity: people will be more attracted to those who are similar in behavior and way of thinking. It’s important to interact with your audience as an equal. Use jargon, form a community, and show who’s welcome, and who’s not.
Check my dedicated articles on Cialdini’s principle at
Key takeaways from this part:
  • CRO should be about sustained growth, not silver bullets
  • There are well-documented and well-researched best practices, so use those that apply to your context as a starting point for new designs and setting experiments
  • Look into psychology to find inspiration for tests, and to better understand how to sell to both the new and old parts of the brain. Don’t forget that you’re biased as well!
In the next part, I’ll be covering Conversion Copywriting, Product Messaging, and Social Proof!

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