Thinking about implementing a CRO program? That's easy. Building one that stands the test of time? That's a little harder. But don't let the logistics overwhelm you. When built on the proper foundation, your CRO program can be fruitful for years to come.
In my experience with companies large and small, there are certain attributes common among every successful CRO program. Let's take a look at those now.
1. A Way to Measure
A successful CRO program always has ways to measure success. Of course, the simplest measure of success is conversion rate; for many environments, this works well. But each business is different and has varying conversion points (often both online and offline).
The first step is to figure out what success means to you. What drives your business? Is it sales, subscriptions, memberships, leads, downloads, e-mail sign-ups or advertising and page views?
As a general guideline, here's a list of common site types and potential KPIs to track:
Whatever type of site you have, the key criteria for defining conversion actions and KPIs is that they're measurable and have a clear value to the business.
2. The Support of Upper Management
You likely won't get far without top-down support. Here, diplomacy and persuasion are key to putting a conversion program in place. The ability to tie the CRO program to what matters to the company is what gets buy-in.
Executives in your company care about financial impact. Take the time to dig up financial information that allows you to estimate the lifetime value of the conversion actions you're going to test. Use conservative estimates to make your business case stronger and more defensible.
Beyond buy-in, you have the delicate balance of keeping executives happy, as well as reaching your objectives for the duration of the program. This is where the ability to compromise is key.
Upper management can tend to get overzealous in their involvement in a conversion program. For example, their opinions about your site's audience may be strong, but not supported by data.
As a solution, instead of fighting their ideas, try to accommodate them by testing them along with your own. If their gut feelings are wrong, that will come out in the test data, and you can objectively show the impact (good or bad) of their ideas.
No matter how you get buy-in, just remember that a conversion program is likely one of the most financially promising marketing initiatives in your company. Once you do get the C-levels on board, you should have the political support to get the active cooperation of other team members.
3. An Alliance with IT
When you're testing things like checkout processes, forms and complicated multi-page flows, you're inevitably going to need the support of the information technology team. However, it could be like pulling teeth to get your project added to their queue of projects.
Most IT departments are extremely territorial about how and when changes happen on their site. That's because their mindset is different from marketers. IT tries to keep staff from sabotaging their systems and processes, and marketers don't always understand the level of effort that goes into their requests.
The best way to make friends with the programmers, developers and system administrators in your company is to arm yourself with all the information ahead of time, making sure you're following procedures and communicating clearly about exactly what's involved. Then, listen to what they have to say and be respectful of their limitations, too.
Like it or lump it, without the alliance of IT, you'll be very limited in your ability to take a conversion program higher than just tinkering with headlines and swapping out images. Do what it takes to integrate into their world, so you can get what you need in yours.
4. The Courage to Try
All successful CRO programs have one thing in common: they're based on decisions where failure is a real option. There's no doubt about it; during the course of your CRO program, you will inevitably fail - hopefully quickly and often. Those failures are often the very stepping stones that will get you to huge improvements in the longer-term.
As an evangelist for CRO, you have to be willing to take risks, even when you are concerned you could make things worse than they already are. Insecurities run high when making decisions about testing. Marketers often beat themselves up because they believe they're supposed to be the experts on which path is best. Worse yet, they fear the decisions they made for the website prior to testing will be scrutinized.
It all comes down to this: If you do nothing, you are virtually guaranteed to not improve your conversion rate. Ever. You must act to produce results.
Even if you don't have a good outcome on a particular project, you will learn something. On top of that, you'll build the excitement and psychological momentum needed for your CRO program to succeed long term.
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Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.
Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."
Connect with Tim on Google+.
March 19, 2014