Why Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) matters for small businesses

Why Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) matters for small businesses

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton
3rd August 2018

Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) should be used by any small business selling online. Used well, it can be a cost-effective way to maximise sales and profits. In this article, I’ll explain why, and look at how SMEs can use CRO, even on small budgets.

What is CRO?

The aim of CRO is to increase the proportion of visitors to a website that convert. This conversion may be a sale, but could also be a lead, someone signing up for emails, or booking an appointment for example.

There are a range of methods which can be used to improve conversions, from user testing to customer journey analysis.

These methods are often complementary, and an effective CRO project will use a range of tools and techniques. For example, lessons learned from customer feedback can be used to generate ideas for A/B tests.

Many websites are imperfect, and customers will often encounter problems when browsing and buying. If a site is hard to use, then customers are more likely to leave without converting.

This is where CRO can help. It’s about identifying the sources of friction which can deter visitors from converting, and finding solutions to these problems. It’s a competitive market online, and sites need to provide the best possible customer experience to differentiate themselves from rivals.

Why do SMEs need CRO?

CRO can sometimes be seen as an advanced discipline, perhaps something which more established websites use when they have reached a certain level.

Amazon, ASOS and other online retailers are certainly optimising their sites all the time, but it’s something that any site can do, regardless of size or budget. Indeed, it could be the most cost-effective way for small businesses to drive more sales.

Here’s how small businesses can benefit from using Conversion Rate Optimisation:

  • It helps to generate more sales. By finding and fixing issues, an effective CRO project can help businesses to convert more visitors into customers, which is great for revenues.
  • Better user experience. Testing and optimisation doesn’t just mean better conversion rates, it will also lead to a better user experience. Removing barriers, improving forms, clarifying navigation, all these things lead to an improved customer journey and make your site a better place to browse.
  • Businesses put a lot of effort (and money) into attracting visitors to a website. Much of this effort will be wasted if they are converting as they should be.
  • It helps you to understand your customers. CRO methods like using customer feedback and watching people use your site helps you to understand your customers and their challenges.
  • Increased customer lifetime value. A well optimised and usable website is one that customers are more likely to return to for repeat purchases.

Where to get started with CRO

An effective CRO project means companies need to be more customer-centric, as the success is based on understanding customers and how they use your site, and making changes based the findings.

It’s not about what the most senior manager thinks the site should look like, it’s about understanding what works for customers and putting this into practice. For this reason, a CRO project needs to have buy-in from senior stakeholders.

With this in place, it’s about identifying areas for improvement on your site as a starting point. You may already have discovered some issues, perhaps lower than usual conversion rates, or findings from customer feedback.

It’s good to start simply, and find out what kinds of problems customers are having on your website and take it from there. Analytics can help here, telling you where customers might be dropping out of your site.

For example, by looking at conversion funnels using Google Analytics, you can see where people are dropping out at checkout. You can also segment this data to show checkout behaviour for users with different devices or using different browsers – perhaps users of a particular browser are dropping out more often. This data can help you to identify possible areas to investigate.

It’s important to get some direct feedback from users of your site. This can be done by surveying customers about their experiences on site, while it’s also very useful to watch people using your site to see how they interact with it, and any areas where they encounter difficulties.

Common CRO methods and tools

CRO is about finding areas for improvement on your site, and identifying the best fix for the problems which are deterring customers from converting. There are various methods and tools which can help you with this process, and here are some of the most useful. 

User testing

User testing should take the guesswork out of CRO as it allows companies to understand how people react when using their site.

Often, there are lots of opinions about websites and design, and the result can be that sites are created based on compromises, or the opinion of the boss – often referred to as the ‘HiPPO effect’.

Testing can cut through these opinions and deliver insights based on how real people are using the site. It can show how they use the site, the element on pages and within forms that cause problems, and how people react to any difficulties. 

User tests have traditionally been carried out in specialised labs, where participants are observed and recorded carrying out tasks. For example, users may be asked to head to the website to find and buy a particular item, to identify any problems along the process.

User testing doesn’t have to be expensive, and can be carried out in various ways.

At its most basic, you can ask friends or family to carry out tasks on your website and record them in the process, while there are remote user testing tools which record people carrying out tasks on your site and provide you with videos and analysis.

These remote tests are a useful option, as they are cost-effective (maybe a few hundred pounds for 5 to 10 tests) and require no effort to set up.

Customer surveys

Asking customers directly can yield some valuable insights, and help to identify specific problems they’ve encountered when using a website.

There are a number of ways to gather feedback:

  • On-site surveys. Displayed on-site (but not intrusively).
  • Abandonment surveys. Sent to shoppers who have left without completing a purchase.
  • Customer services. Customers may leave some useful feedback in email and phone communications which can used to help with CRO.
  • Feedback forms on site.
  • Social listening and monitoring.

Surveys can be useful as users can often tell you exactly what stopped them from buying, perhaps a specific form field that wouldn’t work.

Testing and optimisation

Once you have identified areas of friction for users, it’s about finding the best ways to solve these problems. Testing is one way to do this.

It allows companies to see how their ideas work in practice, and provides proof that should ensure that necessary improvements are made.

A/B testing

A/B testing is about finding the best way to solve problems or make improvements to a website by testing different versions of a page (or an element on the page) to determine the most successful version.

Once a new version of a page has been created to test, half of the incoming traffic is sent to the new page, the other half to the existing or alternative version. Once enough traffic has come in to ensure that the test is statistically relevant, then the ‘winner’ can be determined.

If tests go to plan, then a clear winner can be identified but it can be an ongoing process, where multiple variations and tests are used to find improvements.

This is what a typical A/B testing process will look like:

  1. Collect data. Use analytics or other data to identify areas for improvement, pages with lower than average conversion rates for example.
  2. Identify goals. Choose the metrics you want to improve for the page. This may be to increase add-to-cart rates on a product page for example.
  3. Find your hypothesis. How could you improve the page?
  4. Create page variations. This could be something like a clearer ‘add to basket’ button, different imagery, or different copy.
  5. Run the tests.
  6. Assess the results. Did the results match the hypothesis?

A/B tests are relatively easy to set up, and there are plenty of affordable testing tools which small businesses can use.

They can deliver clear results, and relatively small changes can deliver big improvements. However, it is important to be aware of the potential drawbacks. Reliable A/B tests need the right amount of traffic to be significant, while results can sometimes be inconclusive.

Copy optimisation

This is about finding the best performing copy for a page by trying and testing different versions. There are several different types of copy; headlines on pages, detailed product copy, and small pieces of text (microcopy) used on calls to action and next to form fields.

Changes to page designs can produce improvements in performance and the same applies to web copy. Copy can also solve problems unearthed by user tests. For example, text could be added next to a problematic form field to explain it to users and reduce abandonment at this stage.

In summary

For a small business, CRO offers a great opportunity to improve performance and boost revenues.

It doesn’t have to cost the earth too. User testing can be done on a budget, and there are enough free tools around so that acts like A/B testing can be carried out efficiently. Used well, conversion rate optimisation can be the biggest driver of growth for your business.

Companies spend lots of time and effort attracting new visitors to their sites, but it’s vitally important that they can browse, find the products they want, and complete the purchase easily.

CRO can solve these problems, and ensure that enough of the shoppers who arrive at your site (showing an interest in your products) actually make a purchase. The benefits of CRO can be measured in increased sales, a better user experience, happier customers, and increased customer lifetime value.