Transcript: That CRO Episode

Dr Dave Chaffey, the founder of Smart Insights, dives into the world of CRO, or Conversion Rate Optimisation. 

Listen to the full conversation here.

Let’s start with the basics. What does CRO conversion rate optimization actually mean? How should we go about calculating it? And what does a good benchmark rate look like? 

Well, it probably means different things to different people how involved they are with it, I think at its simplest, and where people often start is AB testing of landing pages where you’re going to test different alternatives. So you’re reviewing your current say, form for email sign up, against a new idea to try and boost that rate of email signups. So you’ve got a like champion-challenger type approach. So AB testing. In larger organizations, you have people who focus on this, this is their whole working world, and it becomes much more complex. It’s a series of structured tests, a whole program really of research as well. So you might do focus groups to understand what the barriers to conversion are, how you describe the benefits, really going into the psychology. And then, of course, it’s quite complex customer journey, many people won’t visit just on their first visit, they won’t convert, they may visit a site multiple times on different devices, different landing pages. So you’re trying to piece together the big picture of what makes people convert, and then to make changes across the whole site to support that. 


Okay, you mentioned email signups thereis that the only thing that you define as a conversion? Or are there other metrics that marketers can take into account when they’re measuring what their conversion rate is? 

Yeah, there’s many you can look at. I think that’s a good example because it’s one that applies across all types of site. It is very much business-specific. But if you think about, perhaps an e-commerce retail site, they would want to acquire email addresses to encourage that first purchase. And you’ll often see, retailers have those pop-ups, those lightboxes with “10% off your first order”, for example. But in other sectors, I think email and data capture to profile the prospect is important as part of lead generation, as well. So where it’s a longer buying process, and it’s more involved, you use email capture and signing up to subscribe, that that’s a good area to optimize as well. 


So these processes you’re putting in place, what’s the end benefit for anyone who’s thinking listening to this and thinking, “Well, I don’t have time to do that. Why should I bother?” What’s your best answer for them? 

Well, depends what the marketing, the business outcomes you want from your sites. But really, any business that’s got a website should have goals defined within Google Analytics, which are what’s going to drive the future growth of their business.  

So if I take Smart Insights for an example, we’re a freemium site, we’re an education site where you can subscribe for training on online marketing, but we’ve also got a free membership so people can sample our courses and our templates. So we’ve got Goal three, I know off by heart in Google Analytics, which is our free membership, and we’re looking to increase that and those people who sign up for our free membership, we would explain our proposition to them, we would send free templates and samples. So by increasing those free memberships, that naturally then leads through a nurturing process to more paid memberships, as well. And we’ve actually worked with a specialist conversion rate optimisation agency, which I think is a good idea if this is a new area for you, maybe you don’t have the skills inhouse, to look at an independent consultant or maybe a small agency for whom that’s their whole focus. We’re working through the process, but we saw some big increases back in the day. It’s quite a few years ago, we worked with them now, because we’ve now got the skills internally. But I think we were generating something like two and a half, 3000 leads a month, new contacts into the database, not qualified leads. But we were able to increase that towards 5000 new contacts per month. So that was a big increase and that then translated into a sales increase.  

So ultimately, if it’s the right type of traffic, the right type of contacts into the database, you will increase sales, but I think it’s important not to look at it too simplistically and think “Well, we need to get the right type of audience” and you could segment different types of visitors. So how many arrive from say, social media, against organic search or paid search, and see how the conversions vary and see, if you’re in b2b see the different profiles of people who are signing up to, to learn more? AB testing is, is just the start, but it’s a very important use. 


Really, really interesting, Dave. What would be your top tips, particular optimizations or kind of current testings? Where would you start from if you were to implement it yourself or having that discussion with the agency?

Yeah, good question. think having a benchmark is a is a good starting point. And you do need the goals in place in Google Analytics, or whatever optimization tool you’re, you’re using. So I mentioned there, we’ve got that Goal three, when I’m working with businesses and consulting, one of the first questions I’ll often ask is, “Well, let’s have a look at your goals in Google Analytics”, and they’re not always set up. I mean, larger, more mature businesses, they, they will be I’m sure. So then when you’ve got that, that those that goal in place, you can then benchmark against others, and that that can be useful for making the case for investment. Not so much in the tools, but having the time to focus on CRO 

So one thing people listening can look at if they’re if they want to benchmark. Because I’m such a fan of this techniqueI created a compilation of conversion rates in different sectors. So if you Google “e-commerce conversion rates” and look at that, you see there is a very wide range, I think, in b2c, for larger retailers, you might see say 1.4%, in consumer electronics down at the bottom, that’s quite tough to get people to convert maybe because they go in-store instead. Whereas if it’s something like gifts or pharmacy, it’s more commoditized, more of an instant, low-value purchase, it goes up to 5%. So maybe if you’re working in one of those sectors, and you see you’re way out of line with others in that sector, get your managers interested to run the test, because it’s having that commitment.  

Now, I know from working with Spotler, for a long time that many of your customers are business to business. And I think there you actually see, when it’s the classic lead generation, maybe based on a white paper download, you do see a much bigger variation in conversion rates. I’m looking at some data here for business services. And the average there about 3% for that email lead generation, 3.4%. But at the top end, it goes up to 16%. So that really shows the opportunity, really where at whatever level you’re at now, if you do the research and you run sufficient tests, then you can get those sorts of improvements. Icredit and lending, that’s an average of 5.5 goes up to 24% at the top end. Higher education, that that goes up to 11 and a half at the top. And so that that benchmarking is the very first step. But of course, there’s a lot more involved beyond that. 


Yeah, that’s really, really interesting, we’ll definitely include that as a resource. So once you’ve got the benchmark, Dave, how would you go about trying to then optimize? What things would you kind of look to pick? You know, what would it be the classic of changing testing colours on a button? Or would you test some kind of wording? Do you have any kind of things that you would do over something else? 

Yeah, the button example is a good one, because I think people will often they may have read articles, which I think there was one once it was called, what was it the $200 million button, it was for a retailer like Dell, and they made some change, such as changing a button label from “learn more”, something quite generic to something more specific with a value implied. So something like, you know, “save now”. 


And so there are those wins, and people often talk about a silver bullet. But what I’d say is, that’s fine as a place to start, but I think you may be in for a disappointment if you just try button colour, because really it’s all about the value that you’re offering. And very often it’s the copy and the creative alongside that, which will make a difference. So with landing pages, for example, if someone’s coming through from Google, it’s all about relevance and getting someone to stay on the page. So how your main headline and then the intro copy that follows into that. That may well give you a bigger uplift than changing the button colours.  

One of the limitations with AB testing is if you have this new challenger page, you could change lots of things, you could change the button, you could change the copy, the creative, you can change form fields, and so on. But when you if you hopefully get an improvement, you don’t actually know what has caused that improvement. So I think if people are starting out, you need to break out all the types of improvements you could make. And really, the guys who do this professionally, they talk about hypothesis testing. So a hypothesis might be that if we change the main headline to better illustrate the value, then that will increase conversion rates. So I think I’d break down all of the different alternatives. And you could maybe test those individually. Rather than changing everything about the page and then seeing what the result is. 


Good point. Yeah. Because we’ve done that before ourselves, actually, where we’ve done a multivariate test and didn’t realize you change everything, can you get an uplift, and you don’t know what’s actually caused that uplift. So that I think the idea of doing a single variant test like you were saying, whether it’s adding a figure into a headline, or we mentioned changing a button from one colour to another, or a bit of text and copy, it is really important, because you want to know what it is that’s actually caused that that uplift. 

Yeah, yeah, I’ve got a nice example of this, actually. I was mentioning earlier, we were working with this conversion rate agency. And, like the retailers, we’ve got a lightbox on our site for our free membership, because we find it works. And we put quite a lot of time into the messaging to show the value and we thought it was quite a nice visual look, but it didn’t have the trust factor in there of any testimonials. So all we did was find three different quotes of how people have benefited from the free membership. And then because we’ve got quite a high volume of visits to our site, we found just within a twoweek test, that we actually increased conversion rates of our so our lead generation effectively by 10%, which is a fantastic outcome just through changing that copy alone. I’m not saying everyone is going to get those benefits and sometimes it is a good idea to sort of shake it up and go for a big change. I know the guys we were working with, the conversion rate experts, they cautioned against what they call “meek tweaking”, which is things like just changing button colour or label. Maybe you actually need to completely rethink the model of your landing page, look at the approaches that competitors are doing. Or maybe in your sector, everyone’s doing the same approach. So look out of sector at what other people have used creatively. So I don’t think it’s very easy to talk about best practices. But you know, there’s no right or wrong, it’s, it’s just being systematic, and not giving up at the first hurdle because you’ve changed a button colour, and it hasn’t made a whole lot of difference. 


I think it’s really good to have that kind of set of ideas of what you’re going to test. And not give up. We’ve definitely found that after the first couple of weeks where something’s not done or not happened. Also, conversely, we had a really good example where we change something and our conversion dropped by 50%! So don’t be afraid to kind of stop something if you see the negative happening. 

Yeah, that’s, that’s a really interesting one, because I saw a talk at a trade show, when we were still doing trade shows, in Manchester, I think it was an e-commerce Expo, and it was one of the big multi-channel retailers, Shop Direct, someone like that. And he was looking at their testing that they did, and he had a good rule of thumb. He said a third of tests will actually do nothing at all, to your conversion. A third of tests will bomb. And, like you were saying there, it will perform less well. But a third will actually give you a significant uplift. So I think that’s a good benchmark to have. Because you can set expectations if you’ve been making the case for doing more CRO or starting out with colleagues, and they’re going to expect some amazing result. You can say, “Well, it’s going to depend and we’re not going to get it right the first time, because you can’t really guess second-guess the way that customers are going to think. And I think that’s why it’s important to have the customer research and the focus groups, as well as just using your internal ideas and, and knowledge because we don’t always get it right as marketers where we’re human after all.


You talked about how content kind of works on the landing page. And unfortunately, we know that even the best landing page won’t convert everybody. So are there CRO tips you can apply to blogs and other long-form content that people land on as a second round and gives you another bite of the cherry, as it were? 

Yeah, definitely, we’ve done a lot of work on this at Smart Insights, because we’re fortunate to get half a million visits a week. Sorry, a month, not that good80% of those are organic search and thinking of benchmarks, it’s quite challenging with a blog. The majority of people will bounce, however good your content is. So I think our bounce rate for our blog is around 65-70% when I last looked, but you can really, you can really boost the conversion rates to free signup by using the right sort of approach.  

When we started this, I wrote a blog post, must be 10 years ago, now called “The Perfect Landing Page”. And it worked quite well within organic search. And we were getting a lot of visits from that. So the sort of obvious things that it talked about were things like delivering relevance through testing the headline. And testing the copy. 

I think another interesting issue, not necessarily with blogs, but with all types of pagesis the length of the page. Because we’ve people often who work in CRO, they often talk about reductive tests. So you might findfor example, that if you do a shorter homepage by removing one of the sections, that can increase conversion, but it could be quite the opposite as well. And often you find that well-structured but longer home pages which talk to different audiences and their needs may convert more. But going back, Richard to the sort of classic blog approach, I’d say if you’re on desktop, and we still find as B2B we find we’re about 60-70% of first-time visitors are still on desktopit’s important, to have a right sidebar that people can see the benefits. So have some panels on the right, giving some reasons for someone to sign up. Other things to consider are having a sticky header. If you look at the Smart Insights site, you’ll see as you scroll down, that the top nav doesn’t disappear. And we’re trying to offer value. So people can learn about our toolkits there. Aside from that, and if you’re on mobile, you’ll likely scroll through all the content and then down at the bottom, there’s a Call To Action. And we did find, on desktop as well, that that bottom Call To Action does perform better than the right sidebar. And so we might have an offer.  

And with our blog, another tip here is to try and make it relevant by topic. So we would offer guidance, say on digital strategy, or SEO, or social content marketing, and then what we tested was, could you have a different offer or a different bit of free content for each of those? So if you’re on the content marketing page, it will offer you a free guide to content strategy, for example. And that did work quite well.  

But a final tip here, just to complete the picture is, and I think many business blogs fail this sort of test. Particularly in short posts, they don’t have a lot of what I would call inline promotional content or persuasive content. So just having say, some hyperlinks that go off to a relevant free download. Or if you look at Smart Insights, we’ve got a lot of panels our designers have created within the body of the copy. And you would often have those within the first page or certainly the second scroll, because people may be interested in that. But the reality is most people aren’t going to scroll all the way through a 5000word blog or article. So think about having those inline Call To Actions in the copy as well. 


So it sounds like landing pages are a must for any marketer, whether they’re b2b or b2c. But there was an interesting bit you mentioned a few minutes ago around, you called them lightboxes. I think I call them pop-ups. So the tools and tactics if somebody doesn’t land, if somebody doesn‘t form fill, or do the action that you want them to do on your landing page. It sounds like you implement a few other tools. Can you just go into that a little bit more? So it sounds like use pop-ups? Maybe chatbots? How would you go about using those and kind of any top tips on those types of tools?  

That’s a challenging one, I think for many businesses. I’ve asked this if I’m doing a talk face-to-face, “Do you think lightboxes are a good solution for lead generation?”, and most people won’t put their hand up. Or if you ask “Do you hate lightboxes?”, everyone will put their hand up because we’re bombarded by them. But I would say you’ve got to seriously consider them and at least test them. There’s a reason that retailers, who are very commercial types of businesses, use them; they do work to increase sales. I was anti lightboxes, for the same reasons we all are. But when we started working with this agency, they were keeping us honest and saying “Well, you’ve got to test this, Dave. So Stu and I, my co-founder, we said, “Okay, let’s do this. We’ll try and make them as good as we can.” One of the reasons we were a bit resistant to this is that we already had all these Calls To Action on the blog that I was just describing before. But I think from memory, it was a 40% increase in new contacts into the database that we got. And of course, you get that every month from that point on. So that’s a pretty large increase. So I would say look at the options.  

We developed our own lightboxes, initially. But these days, the guy who looks after our lead generation onsite, he uses a tool called OptinMonster. For where you can run different tests. It’s like AB testing for lightboxes effectively. And we find with those, depending on where in the site you serve that lightbox, they might have, say a three to 12% conversion rate, whereas our average on the blog is only 2%. So I’d say definitely consider lightboxes.  

If you don’t feel they fit your brand and they’re too “in your face”, there are other options. Like you’ll have seen those panels that appear on the bottom of the screen and you can still scroll through the content, you can shut them down, they’re not so interruptive. So if you don’t think you can get your colleagues to buy into lightboxes, think about those panels. And they’re great for like surfacing whatever your best content is, or we use them for a monthly campaign. So we have a different offer. So it might be “Hey, we’ve got the digital summit coming up in a month”, or “We’ve got a new free resource.” So yeah, definitely think beyond the classic landing page, as well. 


Yeah, we’re definitely with you on that one. I think it is that scenario where you see so many, you kind of condition yourself to think “Oh my god, not another one!” But actually, when you implement them, you do see the benefit, we definitely get many more form fills when we have pop-ups on our website, as long as the offering is decent. 

Yeah, relevant to them and valuable. If you’ve got relevant learning material that’s going to help a b2b marketer and the value’s there, it’s bound to influence some people. I would say, you’ve got to be a bit sensitive and like test how long it is before the popup is served. And there are different tools you can use; you can do it on the number of seconds, you can serve it when someone’s moving the mouse upwards like they would if they were going to close the window or go to the top nav, that might be more effective. So you can test those sorts of timing for when you serve the lightboxes as well. 


One way of capturing, especially second-time visitors, is actually to run personalization on the homepage itselfrather than just the landing pages. Ithat something you’ve seen anybody do and is it worth the effort? Is that is the conversion worth it? Or is it a lot of work for a tiny little uptick, and thus, probably not worth it for most small and medium businesses? 

Yeah, I think they might be constrained by the technology they’re using. But hey, maybe if they’re using WordPress, and there’s a plugin to support that. I think you guys use Google Optimize alongside your landing page building tool. And that isn’t well known as a free, great for getting started, AB testing tool. But what people may not know is that Google Optimize also has personalization options which can help with increasing relevance that way.  

I would say another way of looking at this and really a different tip to what you’re asking there is, you can think of what I call segmented customer journeys. So if you look at, say, the Smart Insights homepage, something we’ve only done in the last couple of years isthrough our research, we found when it comes to online learning around marketing, people are either looking to develop their own personal skills, they’re looking to actually increase leads and sales, or they’re responsible for a team and they’re looking at skills development. So what we did on our homepage is, we created three buttons which take people off in those three directions. And then there’s effectively a slightly different landing page explaining the proposition for each person. Another way you might do that within B2B isyou might have different customer journeys for each sector, via the top navigation and our experience is that that really does help. conversion. We’ve seen this as well from email, because if you send out a relevant email follow-up for someone subscribing that’s relevant to their sector in their role, we’ve seen you get a significantly higher response than a one-size-fits-all type welcome email. 


You started touching on there with customer journeys. The whole point of this is the conversion itself probably isn’t the sale, in terms of when and how we think of it in marketing. Are there other broad-brush next steps that should always come after a conversion? Or does it very much depend on the industry? And what kind of conversion you’ve had? 

Yeah, you should map out that broader marketing and digital marketing strategy. I think many people use personas. Now in our persona templates, what we recommend is having a content mapping. So as someone goes from that initial interaction with your business, and they’re starting to get familiarity with your propositions, that would be like the top of funnel content to generate leads, but then you’ve got the middle and bottom of funnel content. And you should really try and map out how you serve that, both on the website and through email interactions as well. 

Something I didn’t come back on which you mentioned earlier was the chatbots approach. We use a tool that when someone has subscribed, we know the content that’s most likely to persuade people to go for a paid subscription. So we can serve that up as a personalized message on-site. So that’s like our rule for our contact strategy for our on-site nurturing. 


And equally, we’ve got our email nurturing. I think virtually everyone would have an auto-response, when you subscribe, it would be “Hey, thank you for subscribing”, but it varies widely in the quality of that follow-up communication. And yet, that’s the most important interaction. So I think, as part of CRO overall, to get the sale, if you like, look at that welcome email, and the quality of that and think beyond the basics. Very often those welcome emails will just be “Here’s your download”, and they don’t really start talking about the brand and what that can benefit. And to do that properly, you need a sequence of at least three welcome emails. That’s what we use. And we will try to target them by role as well. So you can see, once you get into discussing CRO, it becomes much more complex. And there’s a much bigger opportunity than just working on AB testing alone. 


Absolutely, yeah, we do a similar thing. If you download one of our resources, you get a series of other emails. We divide our resources into marketing automation, email marketing and lead generation, then we try and follow up with additional relevant content linked to what you’ve downloaded. And with that sequence in place, is it helpful to think of another stage of conversion? So if someone downloads a resource, we call that a conversion. But then if they book a demo of that, off the back of that nurture, is that also a conversion? Or is that just confusing the terminology? 

No, those are certainly conversions as well. And if you’re new to this, you may not have heard of him, but most people who work in CRO have heard of Avinash Kaushik. So he’s the digital marketing evangelist at Google. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak or check out his blog, I’d really recommend it, because he’s got a lot of practical advice on where to start, and in particular, how to measure within Google Analytics. And he talks about macro and micro conversions. And I think it’s as part of your CRO program, you should list all of those macro conversions and they might be we’ve talked a lot about getting a contact or a lead. So that would be a macro conversion. It’s a major conversion that’s important to the health of the business. And likewise when you deliver a sale, if you’re taking transactions online, that would be a macro conversion also. But a micro-conversion could be much smaller, but it’s still showing that someone is progressing on the journey. So it could be, you send out one of your welcome emails, and it says, “We’ve got a video showing someone how to use this feature in our platform.” So someone viewing that video would be a micro-conversion. And then if you’ve got the right type of platform, like your platform offers this, you can, you can score people based on their level of activity. So if someone has say, viewed five different pages, or downloaded five different pieces of content, and those can have different scores, you’ll know they’re further down the customer journey. And then you can maybe do a different form of follow up with them either maybe by phone or serving different content by email, or on-site.  

So yeah, definitely map out all of those sorts of interactions and try to move to scoring them and then you can see the people who are really interested in your proposition and are most likely to convert. Focus on them. 


Okay, I think that’s a really good sort of actionable takeaway which is what we always try and deliver for the audience there. So define all your micro and macro conversions. And then basically start testing. I think what we’ve taken from this is that there are all sorts of things and we can’t give you a magic potion of “This is what will work for you”, but here are the tools and the sort of starter techniques you can use. So go and start split testing, everybody. Dave, thank you so much for sharing all your expertise with us for the podcast. 

You’re very welcome. I hope some of those tips we’ve covered there are useful. And yeah, I think it’s about having that commitment. You know, like all things in life, you will have setbacks and disappointment. But the main success factor is to have a program where you’re trying to test something each month. So even if you’re a small business, you can say, Okay, this month, or this quarter, we’re going to test the homepage, and then we’re going to move on to other parts of the customer journey. So yeah, one other last tip there. 


Fantastic. Thank you very much.

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