8
 min read

Realistic Expectations for Conversion Rate Optimization

Do you know what to expect from CRO? Should you have any expectation beyond just an increase in what you have now?

CRO or Conversion Rate Optimization is big business. I did a quick 5 second search on Google trends and came up with this dandy graph for “conversion rate optimization” to see how the interest has grown.


And you have probably heard the difference in sales pitches as well. When you get that cold email or phone call they are saying, “conversion rate optimization” more and more and “SEO optimization” less and less. And there’s a reason for that…

The SaaS (Software as a service) landscape has exploded. You no longer need the brains of an analyst to sift through and understand Google Analytics. There are oodles of plugins that hold your hand through the on-page SEO process. So if you have a few bucks and the time, you can master SEO. Okay, maybe not master but definitely do better than your 2015 self would have.

Even people that only know 10% of the basics of SEO feel like they know it enough not to pay for it. Conversion optimization on the other hand still has an air of mystery around it.

The great news is that conversion optimization softwares has also exploded. In-house we use both Oribi and Hotjar, along with the free version of Google Analytics. But all the tools in the world can’t help you if you don’t know how to use them. Raise your hand if you have a Google Analytics account but you know you are only scratching the surface of its abilities?

So whether SEO or conversion optimization, the only thing keeping you from being an expert is the sweat equity of learning the tools. The question is whether you want to spend that time or not.

Expectations for the small business site owner:

Unfortunately, unless you have historical data going back 2 years any prediction will be a shot in the dark. Recently Jackie Chu participated in a webinar for SEMrush. Jackie is the Lead SEO for Uber and previously worked for Dropbox and Square among other large companies. And she makes this exact point - without historical data you really are just best guessing.

So if you are just starting, what’s a good rule of them for conversion optimization? Increase. Period.

If you have never sold anything on your site, the first step is getting to that first sale. And the reasons you haven’t hit that first sale are numerous. It could be as simple as you don’t have a checkout page on your site. Remember 2005 when everybody had the contact for a quote thing on their site? Yeah, unless you are a big ticket B2B you should have some sort of way for people to pay or at the very least, make an appointment on your site. It’s like checking that your lamp is plugged in before you check the fuse box.

Beyond that, making sure that there aren’t any bugs on your site preventing people from getting to the checkout. Or maybe you simply don’t have traffic. The list goes on and on. But the good news is, once you are past the hump of the first sale, it’s only a matter of repeating the same formula right? No, sorry.

The Modern Consumer Uses Multiple Paths

There are a few circumstances where someone is likely to make a phone call within a few minutes of searching for the very first time (think major plumbing emergency) but this is far from the norm. In the last 5 years people have become, as a whole, much more comfortable with the internet and their smart phones.

One customer might ask Siri a question, then google another, ask for recommendations from social media and even after they see your site, they then go on to check out your third party reviews. There are so many variables that no customer journey looks exactly the same.

As a small business owner, your job is to know about this reality. It will help you cut through the sales pitches promising X amount of sales or the perfect funnel. You don’t need to understand all the ins and outs of conversion optimization. But if you want to protect your bottom line, you need to know this isn’t 2005 or even 2015 anymore when it comes to internet success.

Expectations for the Marketing Professional:

Your job is harder than the small business owner. As it should be, since the small business owner is the one paying you to market or optimize their site. However at the end of the day, your only guaranteed return on conversion optimization is an increase. Like the site owner, you can’t pull historical data out of thin air.

It would be unwise to find and then compare your current project with a competitor. Overpromising is the kiss of death if you want to keep your clients long term. So promise your clients an increase. And as your momentum builds, you can start putting some rough, fudgie numbers together.

Unlike the small business owner however, you should know the ins and outs of what is happening with the site visitors. There are both free (Google Analytics) and paid (Oribi, Hotjar, etc) softwares for you to know exactly how site visitors are interacting with your project site. And you can make a lot of progress in finding out the customer journey before they landed.

Maximizing Your Tools

The difference between good and bad results is the effort put into the tools. You can buy all the materials and tools necessary to build a house. But those items will be sitting on an empty lot until you hire the people with expertise to use those tools and the General Contractor who knows how to manage the project from start to finish.

It’s the same with all these great SaaS tools for SEO and conversion optimization. If you are a business owner, before you shell out for a new software, ask the person working on your site if they are familiar with the software. And if you are a CRO or SEO yourself, put in the work so that you are maximizing these tools.

Bottom Line:

As a general rule of thumb, SEO takes about 6 months to see real traction. And then any success within the first six months will be dwarfed within the first year. Conversion rate optimization doesn’t usually work that way. Oftentimes CRO will happen much more dramatically, assuming there is only one or two major issues. So if you have plenty of the right kind of traffic CRO can be like unkinking a lawn hose. But it can take a while to get to the point where only one or two issues are left to fix. This is why IMHO, SEO and CRO work best in coordination. And you need more than fancy software. You need to be or hire someone who is willing to use that software to its fullest potential.

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