Conversion Rate Optimization, CRO, is the process of increasing the number of sales (or appointments, leads… whatever the goal of a website is) without increasing the number of visitors the site gets. It’s optimizing aspects of the site to encourage users to take action. And it’s often overlooked. Many times, budget and focus is put more into advertising or search engine optimization to increase the number of people who visit the site. But by testing, tweaking and tracking, you can actually increase sales with the same number of people still using the site.
In this interview we’ll look at how Gil Levy of Ecommerce Partners views and tackles optimization. Their strategy and approach to CRO has proven to be profitable for their clients and there are many businesses out there that could benefit from understanding the importance of CRO for any website.
Veronica Davis: Conversion rate optimization…. explain what this means to you, in what you’ve seen and how it affects both business and consumer?
Gil Levy: Simply put, conversion optimization is the process of improving the user experience of your online business in order to improve conversion rate and increase sales.
V.D.: Optimization seems to remain mostly a mystery for many companies. Do you think of it as an art or science and how would you explain it to someone who’s never even though about the nitty gritty of optimizing conversion rates?
G.L: For me, conversion optimization is a combination of science and art. The science consists of gathering the right data, analyzing it, and interpreting it in order to understand what could perform better and what needs to be done. The art consists of implementing the solution in an intuitive and visually striking way by using your creativity and experience.
V.D.: What’s the first thing you’ll look at when starting work on a CRO project? Different components of the website, the wording of the content or messages, the company’s mission or goals?
G.L: At ECommerce Partners, we try to look at the big business picture. That’s why our motto is “Businesses, not just websites.” When starting a CRO project, first we want to understand the business, the business’ goals and unique value propositions. We then look at the available data and identify the opportunities for improvement. What are the best and worst performing channels in terms of traffic volume, sales, conversion rate, user engagement, what are the differences in performance across devices, geographic location, time of the day, different website categories, etc.
V.D.: What are the top elements that you think are important to do testing on? And how do you determine how long they should be tested before making final changes to the site?
G.L: The elements are very different and largely depend on the project and the goals of the client. But the most important thing when testing is consistency of the data. Everyone in the industry keep repeating the corny “compare apples to apples,” but what I find is that a lot of people confuse apples with bananas. The most obvious example is comparing year-over-year data, but then not taking into consideration you had a big sale, a new collection launch, or a website crash.
V.D.: Do you believe that certain techniques can be applied with success across a particular industry or does every single site need unique ideas and techniques?
G.L: There are universal rules, for example to make sure the checkout process is as fast and simple as possible. But I believe in a highly personalized approach to every business because no two businesses are alike, even in the same industry. Take apparel, for example. A small boutique shop that sells 50 different hand-made styles is inherently different than a sports apparel retailer that sells hundreds of brands. These businesses will most likely have a different target audience, conversion rate, average order value, shopping cart abandonment rate, cross-device conversion, etc. That’s why there is no correct answer to the question that everyone asks, “what’s a good conversion rate.” An answer to that question could be correct only when it takes into consideration the context of the business and all its unique characteristics.
V.D.: Sales are obviously something that you want to track on an ecommerce site. But what other conversion goals might you suggest tracking?
G.L: It is again a matter of context. No single metric can give you a full understanding of the business. Take cost-per-acquisition, for example. If a client asks me, “My cost-per-acquisition is $40. Is this good or bad?”, before I even try answering I need to understand a number of things, such as how much is an acquisition worth to them. Because if their average order value is $10, they are likely doing very bad, but if their average order value is $1,000, they might be doing really well. Of course, it’s even more complicated than this because you have to take into consideration the cost of goods sold, the margins, the lifetime customer value, etc. Personally, I think that one of the most often overlooked data is the breakdown by devices. For many of our clients, we see substantial differences in how desktop, mobile, and tablet perform, regardless of the industry or the business size. So if I had to choose one thing, I would suggest constantly monitoring and obsessing over the devices data.
V.D.: What would you recommend businesses do to prepare for conversion rate optimization? What if they have no historical data to rely on (a brand new site, for example):
G.L: The lack of historical data is a common situation, whether it’s because of a brand new business or incorrect tracking. I think this is where true professionalism and expertise are very important. If you are a new business, you need to do your competitive analysis and market research before anything else. In general, there is no shortage of data in our generation. The challenge is to know what you’re looking for, and being able to make sense out of the data you have.
Further reading and overview of CRO tools you may find helpful can be found here.