Conversion Rate Optimization: What, Why, When and How

Conversion Rate Optimization: What, Why, When and How

By Karen TaylorJun 8 /2017

conversion-rate-optimization.jpgYour marketing department likely executes the tried-and-true process of content marketing via the buyer’s journey. Step one: You created a great website and use demand generation to drive traffic to it. Step two: You capture leads on landing pages and enter them into your email nurturing program. Step three: You work to convert your leads into sales.

That’s the standard playbook and it’s reasonably effective in most companies today. About 29 percent of B2B marketers rate their content marketing strategy success as “very effective,” according to the Content Marketing Institute. However, according to Econsultancy, only about 22 percent of businesses are satisfied with their conversion rates.

Likely the rest of the companies are missing out on a critical step in their content marketing programs—conversion rate optimization (CRO). CRO is the process of getting more conversions from your existing traffic. For example, instead of getting a 1 percent conversion rate, you make changes in various elements of your content marketing campaigns that boost your conversion rate to 2 or 3 percent with no additional investment.

This blog post provides a primer on CRO, including what it is, how it works and how it can help your organization gain greater results from your content marketing program.

Conversion Rate Definitions

Let’s begin with a few basic definitions to understand the content marketing conversion playing field.

Conversion Path. This is the process by which a website visitor becomes a lead. The basic conversion path is comprised of a content offer, call-to-action, landing page and thank you page.

Conversion Rate. Your conversion rate is the percent of prospects who take a desired action within your content marketing process divided by the overall traffic count. The archetypical example is the percentage of website visitors who subscribe to something or buy something on your website.

Conversion Rate Optimization. CRO is a system for discovering why visitors aren’t converting, so you can fix the issues and increase the percent of visitors who convert by taking any desired action. It’s a process of diagnosis, hypothesis and testing. The most common way to conduct CRO is by employing A/B testing.

A/B Testing. Sometimes called split testing, A/B testing involves comparing two versions of a marketing element in a randomized experiment, such as a headline or image, to discover which one performs better.

Why Engage in Conversion Rate Optimization?

CRO provides a significant opportunity for many reasons, including:

  1. Higher conversion rates deliver better content marketing ROI. You already are paying for your investment in the traffic you’re creating now. Achieving a high conversion rate from your current investment means you’ll gain a better return.
  2. It’s more cost effective than finding new visitors. It’s much more cost-effective to convert a higher percent of your current visitors than it is to attract more visitors.
  3. Minimize the risk of attracting the wrong kinds of visitors. Companies that take the approach to widening their net for more prospects before they conduct CRO often attract more of the wrong kinds of prospects. When they focus on optimizing the right kinds of prospects instead, they avoid this costly risk.

When Should You Start Conversion Rate Optimization?

When exactly should you begin conducting a CRO process? The simple answer is that it’s never too early to begin. Develop a CRO mentality from the beginning by recognizing the value of continually testing and improving the key steps along your buyer's’ journey, so you can gain better results at every juncture.

However, here are a few indicators that you definitely could benefit from launching a CRO strategy: 

  • Your content marketing conversion rate has dropped off. 
  • You’ve added new products or services to your mix.
  • You’ve redesigned or rebranded your image and messaging. 
  • Your prospects have started asking different questions. 
  • Your competitors have started doing something different and it’s working. 

How Should You Conduct Conversion Rate Optimization?

There are two fundamental aspects of running effective CRO programs. The first is understanding what qualities need to be optimized and the second is choosing what aspects of your content marketing program you should optimize.

There are six basic factors that should influence your CRO testing:

  • Value proposition. How closely does your value proposition match your prospects’ needs?
  • Relevance. How closely does the content match what your visitors are expecting to see?
  • Clarity. How clear is your messaging?
  • Anxiety. Are there elements in your marketing or missing from your marketing that create uncertainty in your customer’s mind?
  • Distraction. What is the first thing your prospects see? Does it help or hurt your main purpose? What is conflicting or off-target?
  • Urgency. Why should your visitors take action now? What incentives, offers, tone, and presentation moves them to action immediately?

There is a long list of what to test for CRO, including everything from free trial offers to live chat. However, if you are just starting your CRO program, you’ll want to begin with the essential elements of your content marketing program—including your lead generation CTA, pay-per-click ads, landing pages and thank you pages. Here are some CRO best practices around these four elements.

CRO for Lead Generation CTAs

Simply stated, a CTA is an element that asks the audience and reader to take action right now. Areas you can test to make them stronger are:
  • Content. Copy is your direct line of communication with visitors. To resonate better with your audience, you can test the words you use, the length of the content and the style or tone.
  • Buttons. Buttons are used for primary actions. Several elements can be modified for better conversion, including the size, color, location and words used.
  • Images. Images grab attention, but some will garner better results than others. You can pit different images against each other to determine which performs best, test different locations or experiment with the size of the images.
  • Placement. Where your CTA lives on your site can make a huge impact on conversion rates. Test different placement, including sidebars, within blog posts and fly-out options.

CRO for Pay-Per-Click Ads

With limited  space for text in PPC ads (less on mobile devices), what can you do to improve them? There’s an opportunity to optimize ads to increase the conversion rate. You can optimize and test all areas, for example:

  • Headline 1. Include a relevant keyword to help the user make a connection between what they seek and what you offer.
  • Headline 2. Focus on a unique value proposition or include a call-to-action.
  • Description. Highlight the features and benefits with a clear call-to-action to entice the user to click on the ad.
  • URL. Add keywords in the display URL to extend the description and help improve click-through rate.
  • Ad Extensions. Utilize relevant extensions to add additional text in your ads, for example, callouts and structured snippets.

CRO for Landing Pages

Landing pages have several key elements in common, which communicate critical information to users. Several factors are worthy of CRO testing:

  • Headlines. A great headline is a hook that grabs the attention of the visitor. You can test several elements into the message, the length and even the font style.
  • Main Image. This is the primary image or creative element on the landing page. You can test one image against another, the placement of the image and the size of the image, to name a few factors.
  • CTA Form. Forms run the gamut from asking just for a first name and an email address to requesting detailed demographic information. These all can be tested to determine what information requests boost performance.
  • Social Proof. Testimonials and other elements validate your brand or product. You can test the type, number and placement of your social proof points.
  • Third-party endorsements. To create trust and confidence, you can leverage existing brands recognizable by your target audience. Test the number, quality and placement of your endorsements.

CRO for Thank You Pages.

While it’s the final stage of the immediate conversion process, it’s also a key step of cementing long-term relationships with your prospects and customers. Here are some elements to test to improve your results:

  • Headline and Subheads. Too many thank you emails merely make bland statements like: “Thanks for downloading” or “thank you for purchasing.” Test unique thank you headlines and subheads to see what resonates best with your audience.
  • Email Content. Is your thank you content being true to your brand identity? Test different tones, words and phrases to see which speak to your audience the best.
  • Feedback Request. Your thank you doesn’t have to be a one-way street or even a one-purpose communication. Leverage this opportunity to reach out for feedback with a question or short form. For example, you could ask questions that nurture your relationships and also fill the gaps in your buyer personas, such as, “What other solutions would you like to see?” Test your options to see what works best.

CRO gives you the opportunity to breathe new life into the content marketing program you’re investing in today. After all, you’ve likely attracted great leads, but may be missing opportunities to get them to the final stages of the buyer’s journey. CRO could be the key that will expose your missing opportunities and help you discover where to make strategic changes and improvement that will maximize your campaigns’ conversion rates across your content marketing buyer's journey

PIVOTING YOUR PLAN with Inbound Marketing

Karen Taylor
The Author

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor is a professional content marketing writer with experience writing for over 100 companies and publications. Her experience includes the full range of content marketing projects — from blogs, to white papers, to ebooks. She has a particular knack for creating content that clarifies and strengthens a company’s marketing message, and delivers optimum impact and maximum results. Learn more at