Daniel Burstein

Marketing 101: What is CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization)?

September 1st, 2017

Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

Conversion rate optimization, often abbreviated as CRO, is the practice of improving the conversion rate in any advertising, marketing, sales or other business practice that has a goal of getting a person to take an action. (The conversion rate measures the number of prospects who take an action that you’re requesting.)

For example, let’s say you have an email that asks people to click to a landing page to buy a product. CRO would focus on getting more people to click on that email (improving the conversion rate of clickthrough), in addition to getting more people to purchase on the landing page.

CRO (or at least elements of it) is sometimes also referred to as marketing optimization, website optimization, landing page optimization (LPO), growth hacking, optimization and testing, customer experience (CX), usability (UX) or marketing experimentation.

Despite the prevalent use of the word “optimization,” it is a very different discipline from search engine optimization (SEO). CRO is focused on optimizing for human behavior, and SEO is focused on optimizing for machine behavior.

Web design, copywriting and analytics interpretation are key skills that go hand-in-hand with CRO. This is because many CRO changes are either to design or copy. Also, the ability to understand analytics will (1) give ideas on where in the conversion process you should make CRO changes to have the biggest impact, and once you’ve made the changes, (2) how impactful they have been to your conversion goals.

CRO doesn’t make a lot of the marketing you see, it makes a lot of the marketing you see better

German chemical company BASF used to have a slogan that went, “At BASF, we don’t make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot of the products you buy better.”

This is, in some ways, an apt description for CRO, which is focused on improving all marketing, advertising, sales and sometimes even business processes – even when those involved in the CRO weren’t involved in the initial implementation of these practices, initiatives or campaigns.

CRO can be extremely valuable for this reason. For example, let’s say significant money was spent on a Super Bowl ad or even online display advertising to get people to visit a landing page. If CRO principles can be used to improve the conversion on that landing page, not only does it generate more conversions, it improves the ROI of all of the upstream investments (i.e., the Super Bowl ad and online display ads) that were made to drive traffic to the landing page to begin with.

This doesn’t mean that conversion rate optimization can only be applied to existing campaigns and websites. In fact, marketing and advertising campaigns and websites can be more effective if built from the ground up with a CRO mindset.

CRO and A/B testing

CRO and some form of testing or experimentation (such as A/B testing or multivariate testing) tend to be linked together. While changes can be made to improve conversion without testing, many professionals engaged in CRO make changes they think will improve conversion, test these changes against the original (i.e., control), and then see if the changes actually do produce a life in the conversion rate.

In addition, they also use the information from this behavioral experimentation to better understand the customer and come up with additional conversion optimization ideas.

While CRO and testing have always been used in marketing and advertising, the practice is especially prevalent in digital marketing because it allows for quick and inexpensive changes, testing of those changes, and immediate, easily measurable results. (Not that all CRO digital changes are quick, cheap and easy. For example, a shopping cart or homepage redesign could be time-consuming and expensive. However, it can also improve results significantly.)

Conversion rate optimization methodology

One way to produce consistent conversion rate lifts when engaged in CRO is to leverage a conversion rate optimization methodology. MECLABS Institute, the parent research organization of MarketingSherpa, developed a methodology in 2007, which has since received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The most well-known element of that methodology is the Conversion Sequence Heuristic. It is used as a thought tool to help improve the probability of conversion.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content, MarketingSherpa, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

If you’re reading this blog post, you are likely interested in boosting your conversion rates, so you might also like

MarketingSherpa Quick Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion Rate Optimization: Getting The Right “Yes”

Conversion Rate Optimization: Building To The Ultimate Yes

Download the Executive Series: The Web as a Living Laboratory

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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