Michael O'Neill

Effective conversion rate optimization may seem like the Holy Grail of content marketing.

After all, attempting to fine-tune conversion pathways can be a long journey that leaves marketers either defeated or emboldened for greater success. It all starts with understanding the chemistry behind CRO.

What is conversion rate optimization?

We spoke with Brafton Account Director and CRO expert Sonny Sharp to gain insight into the many ingredients that comprise an advanced conversion optimization strategy. “CRO is the practice or system that helps increase the percentage of visitors who commit a given action,” Sonny said.

What exactly are those actions? Anything you want, really.

The goal is to entice a reader to take the next logical step in the acquisition process. Common conversion examples include:

  • Signing up for a newsletter.
  • Downloading a gated asset.
  • Requesting more information on a product or service.

Any measurable task that your business values as a potential lead or sales opportunity is a conversion. But what about the optimization component of conversions?

Well, that’s where the science comes in.

Trust your senses: Color and design matter

It’s no secret that websites with poor UX have higher bounce rates and poorer rankings in search results. That’s why pages that are visibly unappealing must be overhauled for the sake of optimized conversions.

Luckily, your gut instinct is a fantastic barometer for what works and what doesn’t. Trust it starting out – then, once you have data at your disposal, lean on the hard metrics to see what’s truly working.

For instance, the placement, color and verbiage associated with calls to action are perhaps three of the most important ingredients in any successful CRO recipe. It’s these core features that are tweaked, tested and re-tested as part of a larger strategy.

CTA colors that clash with the rest of the page will likely perform poorly. Further, CTAs that are placed in illogical locations or out of a reader’s normal line of sight will prove unsatisfactory (more on CTAs here).

To work a little magic into your conversion rates, Sonny provided the following sage advice:

  • Above-the-fold CTA placement works but the location isn’t as important as the CTA itself.
  • Developers and marketers should make finding and clicking on an appropriate CTA as seamless as possible.
  • Certain CTA colors historically have better conversion rates, typically reds or oranges.
  • The verbiage positioned on CTA buttons should align with the tone and style of the brand.

Beyond prevailing CRO practice, however, there’s also a number of additional factors that can impact conversions outside of CTAs, including:

  • Copy on the landing page: Titles, subheads and content should be clear, concise and informational enough for readers to know the next steps they need to take.
  • Format of the page: Bullet points, paragraphs, typeface design and overall structural layout of copy and imagery should flow together. UX is becoming more important by the day.

Say you’ve settled on an initial CRO strategy you believe will work. Perhaps this means an orange CTA placed near the top of the page that says, “Download our eBook,” and the eyeball test from your internal team members suggests actual visitors are going to love the new layout of your page and the simplicity of the design.

Cha-ching, right?


Record your successes (and failures): Now do it again

As is the case with any experiment, proper documentation and analysis of results (or lack thereof) is instrumental in determining what to do next. First, know your baseline conversion rate. What sort of conversion success, if any, are you seeing before changes have been made?

CRO entails conducting live experiments with actual unique site visitors; analyzing how these results play out in the real world will help you compare them to your baseline metrics.

Sample size is also key. The point of every CRO exercise is to see an incremental uptick in  conversions relative to your starting point. Wild variations could mean your sample size of unique visitors is far too small – though it could also mean that you have, in fact, stumbled upon the secret elixir you have been searching for.

“The whole idea is to try,” Sonny said. “You don’t know if you don’t try.”

One experiment isn’t going to cut it. You must then adjust your CRO strategy naturally (move the CTA lower, change the copy to reflect a more authoritative tone, opt for a less-busy page design, for example) and conduct additional real-world simulations.

Refine, refine, refine.

conversion rate optimization

Recording the results of each experiment and A/B testing what does and does not work will get you that much closer to a conversion rate strategy that is sustainable and effective.

Achieving the CRO chain reaction: Every marketer’s dream

Way back in 2006 – what content marketers refer to as the Stone Age – Eepybird Studios went viral with their video illustrating what happens when you drop Mentos into Diet Coke. Remember that?

Due to a chain reaction occurring inside the bottle, one thing led to another, resulting in an explosion. Why?

Well it all came down to the right mix of ingredients (in this case, a shockingly simple mix).

CRO can be interpreted from a similar vantage point. There will come a time when everything clicks, everything aligns, everything works out, producing a potent prescription for success.

It’s up to you discover this illusive potion. Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a trusted CRO alchemist at your service to do it for you.

Outside the laboratory: Conversions in action

Sonny noted that CRO is imperative for any valuable marketing strategy in today’s world, and that even the most nuanced of site changes can have dramatic results.

In one instance, Sonny came to the rescue of a telecommunications client in dire need of higher conversions. After a few rounds of trial and error, he found that minimizing the size of the on-page CTA by 15 percent while simultaneously changing its color from red to orange triggered a 30 percent increase in conversions.

While it did take time upfront to finally reach this level of success, the overall process was inexpensive. Plus, services like Optimizely and Google Optimize can automate much of the laborious legwork of experimentation.

As Sonny put it, “There’s a direct line from CRO to achieving commercial objectives.”

Keep this in mind: CRO tools employed effectively produce, on average, 223 percent ROI.

Companies in the market for conversion rates tied to ROI must recognize just how valuable each of their downloadable assets is. Linking to a white paper for the sake of linking, or funneling readers toward a sales demo because someone told you that’s what you’re supposed to do, doesn’t really work – and it’s certainly not effective or measurable.

Rather, honestly answer the following questions before rolling out a CRO strategy:

  • How much would I pay to acquire a given customer?
  • How much value do I apply to an individual lead?
  • How much am I willing to spend on each downloadable asset?

By assigning dollar amounts to these sorts of questions, you can begin outlining a broad framework of metrics to improve upon and from which you can customize a budget for conversion optimization.

Furthermore, every gated asset should be paired with a unique CTA and its own unique CRO analysis – that’s the best way to ensure you’re driving value for every dollar spent on content marketing collateral.

Not sure how much your competitors are spending on CRO (aka beating you to the punch)?

Recent data suggests companies that convert the most customers spend 5 percent of their budgets on optimization – what about you?

Conversion rate optimization shouldn’t be viewed as just another marketing expense – it’s the only way to truly maximize and monetize every digital touchpoint with potential customers.

That’s science anyone can understand.