What is CRO?

The web has always had a love affair with three letter acronyms. WWW, FTP, IRC… the list goes on. Well, now there’s a new one on the block called Conversion Rate Optimisation, or CRO for short. You might not of heard of it (true, it’s not very catchy), but it is important, as we’ll find out.

What do we mean by ‘conversion?’ Essentially, it’s when a visitor to your website does something we want them to do. This could be buying one of your products, subscribing to your newsletter, or signing up for an account – anything that has a positive effect on your bottom line. The ‘conversion rate’ is therefore the percentage of your visitors who perform this important action. Increasing this rate is the goal of the CRO process, and if it all goes well, it will have a positive impact on your business.

How to find problems with your site

Any CRO process needs to start with data. Which pages aren’t working as well as they could? How many visitors does your site get, and which pages do they find most popular? Perhaps most importantly of all, how many visitors are actually converting?

To answer these questions, you need to have some analytics software running on your site, such as Google Analytics. This will give you the data you need to answer the questions above, and a lot more besides.

Some important metrics to look out for are:

  • Bounce rate – this is the percentage of visitors who leave after only visiting a single page. It can apply to a single page, or an average value for the whole site.
  • Exit rate – similar to bounce rate. It refers to how many people leave your site on a particular page (after having viewed other pages first). It lets you know the pages where people are most likely to leave. Pages with a high exit rate are a great place to start looking for potential improvements.
  • Average page views – this value helps you understand engagement, or how interested visitors are. Generally, the more pages people look at, the more engaged they are. However, for larger sites it could also mean that people find it hard to find what they are looking for.
  • Average time on site – another stat that helps measure engagement. If people are spending more time on your site, it can be a sign that they are more engaged.

All of the above are useful, but they don’t measure the conversion rate itself, which can be a little trickier. A good way of finding this out is to monitor visits to the last page of your conversion funnel. The conversion funnel refers to the sequence of steps people take when converting.

For instance, a standard e-commerce site might have a sequence of pages starting at the shopping cart, through to a payment page, and finally arriving at a confirmation page. Normally, the only way to arrive at the confirmation page is to ‘convert’ – to complete a purchase successfully – from the payment page. Therefore, taking the number of visitors to the confirmation page, and dividing it against the total number of visitors to the site overall, the conversion rate can be determined.


Any CRO program needs the right set of tools in place. These come in the form of software that can help you measure, analyse, and improve your website. Most of them require some sort of small code snippet to be added to your site, and you’ll need to sign up to a plan with a monthly fee.


To start with, you’ll need some analytics software to dig into your website and start gathering data about it. Google Analytics is a leader in the field (and it’s free), but there are also other more specialised packages like Adobe Analytics, Kissmetrics or Chartbeat.


Survey tools lets you gather customer feedback, a human element that’s often missing from all those numbers. These include tools like Qualaroo and Survey Monkey. If enough people leave feedback about a feature or process of your site that isn’t working, you will be able to fix it directly. It’s very handy when you know that a problem exists on a page, but aren’t exactly sure why.

User Testing

User testing is another way of identifying problems with your site. You can do this with real people, giving them a simple task to do on your site. For example, you could ask them to pretend they’re buying a product, and observe what they do and say. Tools such as Decibel Insight, Mouseflow or Lucky Orange allow you to see heatmaps of what users click on. You can also play back recordings of their time on your site, allowing you to observe users on a bigger scale.

A/B and multivariate testing

Finally, A/B and multivariate testing tools like Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer allow you to try out different variations of your site with live visitors. These tools split your incoming traffic into groups and serve each one a different variation. Over time, you’ll be able to compare all these variations to see which one is the most successful.

Testing your site

Before beginning any CRO process and making changes, it’s important to understand how well your site is working. This involves taking a look at your data and establishing a ‘baseline’. In order to see if anything has improved during our CRO process, we need this baseline to see how big the improvement was. For instance, we could see that over the past 3 months, our average monthly bounce rate was 70%. Hopefully, the tests we create can lower this, but we wouldn’t know without measuring it first.

Once we have baseline data for all our analytics, we can start to come up with ideas for improvement. Using a testing tool we can test these ideas on the site and see if our metrics improve as a result of our actions. The important thing is that, whatever gets changed, the impact has to be measurable.

But what to test?

Here are some ideas:

  • Text: try some different headlines on the homepage to explain your business more clearly.
  • Imagery: imagery can make a big first impression. It’s a great opportunity to ditch the cheesy stock photos and try something more bespoke and professional.
  • Calls to action: This is another simple change that can have a big impact. You could try tweaking the colour, shape or text. Or, you could try creating a more unified header where your headline, imagery and call to action all work together.
  • Forms: simplifying the sign up form can improve the number of new users per month. As a general rule, each extra field lowers conversions. So think carefully about whether you really need to ask visitors how they heard about your company.


Making websites can be a tricky business, especially when the landscape keeps shifting all the time. Hopefully this article has helped to clarify some key terms and make more sense of how valuable conversion rate optimisation (CRO) can be in the digital marketing landscape.