Why the Best Time to Start Conversion Rate Optimization is NOW

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) has been getting plenty of attention lately in the web marketing space, for good reason. Testing platforms have become cheaper and easier to use, Panda has led to an increased interest in providing a good user experience, and it has proven to provide fantastic ROI time and time again. I'm going to talk about some reasons why I think you should be considering CRO right now.

It's January

How many times?!

Now that the holiday season is over we'll see code freezes lifted and the web team asking, "What's in store for our site in 2012?". While grand redesigns and marketing promotions are being bandied about, you should probably make sure to speak up about CRO. Why? Read on.

Panda / User signals

"Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines". Heard that before? It's a pretty popular mantra from the Google camp, and there's isn't much more of a user-centric practice in which you and your web team can engage than CRO.

In the past, the link between CRO and organic traffic generation was pretty weak. CRO will make your site perform better with the traffic you're already receiving, but only indirectly might it lead to new traffic through, say, users sharing the fantastic experience they had on your site.

Now, with the Panda algorithm using aggregate user site behavior as a ranking signal, the link between CRO and organic traffic is a bit stronger. Changes made in the name of increasing conversion might actually improve your site's organic ranking as well. Getting buy-in from both the UX and the SEO sides just got easier.

A happy panda Happy Panda says Weee!

Only Google knows how exactly the Panda algorithm systematically determines whether a piece of content is high quality. Since their efforts are to build an algorithm that emulates the human response to a page's quality, the best we can do is build a page that users really actually like. Is that such a bad thing?!

I can't help but wonder if much of the post-Panda efforts by Pandalized sites would've been better spent on CRO, rather than on removing ads, hunting down every ounce of duplicate content, removing entire site sections, or revising site architecture. At least in this case, you know you're getting the most out of the traffic you still have, and you're actively improving the user experience.

It can be dead simple

Seriously, the setup process for some of the A/B testing solutions out there is incredibly simple. There are quite a few platforms that only require a single snippet installed in theof your test page. From there, the test can be designed, built, executed, monitored and reported on all within the admin of your testing platform.

Designing your tests can be alarmingly simple, as well. Visual Website Optimizer's test design process can be completed without altering a single line of code. Take a look:

Of course, large sites that want to test site-wide template changes might need a more robust testing platform (perhaps an in-house solution), but think of the quick and simple platforms as the gateway drugs.

Your competition is (or will be) doing it

With inbound marketing growing by the quarter, the focus will inevitably shift to conversion rate optimization. Why? Because it's one of the few inbound marketing methods that can lead to a nearly immediate ROI. No one can say no to fast ROI, can they?

Additionally, this year in SEO was a hectic one. With the ups and downs site owners saw in organic traffic from algorithmic changes, many may find themselves looking to protect the household, so to speak.

The point is, practicing CRO is looking more and more like a solid business decision, regardless of whether or not it comes in the form we know it as web marketers. If your competition is smart, it's on the menu for 2012.

It's insanely measurable and quick

One reason for the acceptance and practice of online "outbound marketing" methods like PPC advertising, banner ads, and affiliate programs is their measurability and speed with which we can determine effectiveness. With PPC campaigns, we can develop, launch, monitor, and evaluate all within the space of a week. The "I want it done yesterday" types have reason to be enamored with this marketing channel.

Many of the "free" inbound marketing channels, conversely, often have a lag time that is hard to swallow.

confused boss

CRO is different. It's like a hybrid inbound/outbound marketing He(or She)-Man, combining the best of both worlds. It is entirely feasible to run a CRO test, find a winner, and benefit from that test permanently within a week (provided your test results are significant).

Conversions > Traffic

Sometimes we all lose sight of what really matters. Of the marketing channels mentioned in this post, only one lives and dies by what matters most to your business, converting visitors: CRO. It deals with the last frontier of your sales funnel.

Where to Start

Start with a simple question: "Where and how can I test improvements to the user experience on my website?" If some answers aren't immediately obvious, spend time in your web analytics determining where users are falling off. We'll talk more about this process in a future post.

Rob Millard posted on this very blog a few weeks ago with some great case studies for CRO. If you're having trouble getting buy-in, some of the studies detail some pretty substantial increases.

Obviously, you might also look into the various website testing platforms. Here are just a few:

Look out for more CRO posts from Distilled over the next few months!

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