What is CRO?: A Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization

There was a time, not long ago, when people believed that building a website could be done with a simple “set it and forget it” approach. Today, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, deploying your new website is only the first step—if you want your website and marketing to stand out in a crowded space, you need to employ CRO.

You may be wondering, “what exactly is CRO?”. CRO stands for Conversion Rate Optimization. It is the process of using feedback and data collected from users to fine tune your website and marketing in order to provide them with the best experience possible and increase the rate at which they complete your desired action.

So what does this mean for your business? It means that if you want to stay ahead of the competition, your site needs to constantly evolve based on your user’s needs—and that a CRO strategy is quickly becoming essential for every organization.

Why Take Advantage of CRO?

After the “what?” always comes the “why?”. There are many reasons why implementing a CRO strategy is beneficial for your business.

CRO Helps You Get More From the Other 97% of Your Site Traffic

According to Search Engine Land, the average landing page conversion rate is a little under 2.5%. While you may consider this number to be low, it’s important to look at it from another perspective: there’s a huge swathe of people visiting your website and leaving without converting, and you have the opportunity to change that. CRO can help you find out how.

CRO Helps You Identify and Address Website Issues

CRO can help you uncover the elements on your website that visitors may find confusing, or are not resulting in the desired outcomes. These elements may be preventing your visitors from downloading offers, scheduling consultations, or even making a purchase. By identifying these problems, you can take steps toward fixing them, improving your ability to convert leads and customers in the process.

CRO Helps Maximize the Traffic You Have Today

You’ve already invested time and money in acquiring traffic, whether it’s through writing informative blog posts to boost organic search results, or rolling out a carefully considered PPC campaign. With CRO, you can get more return on your current investment, while ensuring that your future investments in traffic growth are set up to succeed from day one.

How to Get Started With CRO

Effective CRO always begins with a strategy or framework. You can make changes to your website all day, but unless there’s a method behind the changes, there’s very little you can discover. In fact, according to eConsultancy, “84% of companies with a structured approach [to CRO saw] improvements in conversion rates, while that same figure for those without a structured approach is just 64%”.

An Effective CRO Framework Looks at the Big Picture

Taking advantage of CRO helps you develop a clearer understanding of how your users are interacting with your website, and how to improve that experience. To break things down, an effective CRO framework looks something like this:

Mining Your Data: When we say mine your data, we mean start looking at your data and what it is telling you. For most, this analysis will begin using free tools like Google Analytics and then become increasingly sophisticated with the introduction of more in-depth visitor analysis platforms that help you track and analyze your site visitors’ behaviour.

This data can help you better understand a variety of aspects of your site’s performance, including:

  • Identifying your site’s key conversion paths
  • Learning which site pages are attracting the most leads
  • Troubleshoot usability issues that stop your visitors from converting
  • Discover which site pages most site visitors are seeing first
  • Pinpoint exactly where users are dropping out of your funnel

Data is essential for conducting CRO and is used to inform every other step of your strategy.

Identifying the Needs of Your Visitors: With your data in hand, you can begin to identify the needs of your visitors, as well as the issues they might be having with your website. Why are visitors coming to your website? Are they able to find what they are looking for? Asking and answering these types of questions provides useful information that can be used to identify the intent of your visitors, as well as issues with your website that are preventing them from completing their desired actions. To revisit our leaky website analogy from earlier, identifying the needs of your visitors and the issues they are facing helps you discover where they are falling out, and why?

Forming and Testing a Hypothesis: With the data and insights you’ve collected, you can form a hypothesis on what changes will impact your website and how. You can then use your hypothesis to inform the tests you decide to run. These tests can vary in scale—your first test could be something as simple as changing a headline or image to see how it impacts conversion, while your next test could be a complete change in page layout. Larger tests tend to have more of an impact, but subtle changes backed by informed data can also be effective. We’ll come back to the types of tests you can run on your website a little later in this post.  

Measuring the Success of Your Tests: The goal of any test you run on a site page should be to find the most successful variation of that page and implement it. While there’s no guaranteeing that one variation will outperform another (typically it can be difficult to gather definitive data from smaller changes, especially if your site doesn’t receive a huge amount of traffic), the data you collect can be used to inform future tests.  
A CRO Framework Allows for a Constant Stream of New Data and Ideas

Implementing a CRO strategy can provide a steady stream of data that can be used to inform future decisions. Over time, this data can inform large changes on your site, as well as incremental wins that add up to huge conversion increases.  

Types of CRO Tests

With a framework established, it’s time to consider the types of tests you want to run on your site. There are several different types of tests to choose from, each with their own advantages.

A/B Testing

Conducting an A/B test consists of implementing a change to a single element on a web page (typically something like a different button color or modified headlines and text), then serving 50% of your visitors your modified design and 50% the original design in order to see which one has the best conversion rate.

Split Testing

Split tests are similar to A/B tests, but are typically for testing changes on a larger scale (such as major redesigns). With a split test, each variant page is located on a unique URL.

Multivariate Testing

Multivariate testing allows you to test variations of multiple page elements at the same time. During a test (and with the help of multivariate testing software), different combinations of these page elements are served to your visitors with the ultimate goal of determining which variables will convert visitors at the highest rate.

Approaches to CRO Testing

There are two common approaches to CRO testing—iterative and innovative.

Iterative Testing

Iterative testing is the process of making an ongoing series of data-driven changes to your website, with each conversion gain building on the next to transform your site’s conversion performance over time. Iterative testing is best suited to those sites that receive a high volume of visits and conversions. High traffic sites deliver the traffic needed for iterative tests to reach a statistically significant result within a reasonable time. This means that over the course of a quarter or a year, a high traffic site can undergo multiple tests and iterate their way to better performance. When contrasted with innovative testing, one might say that iterative testing typically involves making a larger number of smaller bets, and using the data from each test to help inform the next.

Innovative Testing

The flip side of iterative testing is innovative testing. An innovative test is a bigger bet—going beyond small tweaks to instead test more radical shifts in page design to drive an increase in conversion rates. Sites that experience lower traffic volumes are often better suited to innovative versus iterative CRO testing since their sites permit a limited number of testing cycles over any given planning period.

Interested in learning more about these tests? Check out our post, Innovative vs Iterative A/B Testing.

The Most Popular Page Elements to Test

With CRO, you can test anything. With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to know what to test first. If you’re looking for a starting point, some of the most popular page elements to test include:

  • Page headlines
  • Copyblock lengths and content
  • Button colors and copy
  • Images
  • Form lengths
  • Testimonials
  • Awards

Whether it’s simply swapping one image for another, moving your call-to-action, or completely re-writing your page copy, there are an infinite number of page elements you can use CRO to test.

CRO Tools for Site Performance Analysis

Just as there are a number of different tests you can run using CRO, there are also many tools you can use to inform those tests. From collecting data to watching visitor behavior, CRO tools help you collect data, craft hypotheses and evaluate your tests.


Website analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics, are essential to CRO as they allow you to evaluate the performance of your existing content and page layouts from a high level. The data you collect can be used to form hypotheses on what needs to change with your existing design.

Heat Maps

A heat map is a tool that provides in-depth analysis on a user’s engagement and behavior as they visit your website. Heat maps act as a visual guide that displays where your visitors are paying the most attention, and what they are clicking during their visit. With this information, you can make adjustments to your site to ensure your visitors are better able to complete the desired action.

Visitor Recordings

Visitor recordings allow you to watch as users click, type, navigate, and engage with your site. Not only do these recordings allow you to see where your visitors are directing their attention, they also allow you to identify issues relating to usability. For example, if multiple visitor recordings show users confused or frustrated by how to navigate to your online store, you can set a plan in place to address this issue through CRO testing.


Surveys have been around for decades because they are an effective way to get direct and honest feedback from your users. With a survey, you can ask any number of questions to determine what’s working with your site, and what you can improve upon in order to provide everyone with a better user experience. Specifically, exit surveys are useful for collecting this data. An exit survey is delivered to a user as they are about to leave your site, asking them why they did or did not complete the desired action.

How to Conduct Your CRO Tests

We’ve looked at a few effective tools to help you analyze user data and develop your hypotheses, but which platforms are available to help you collect data and execute your tests? Some of the most popular options include:

  • VWO: VWO provides tools for researching, conducting tests and experimentation, as well as analyzing reports and data—making it a powerful all-in-one option for CRO.
  • Unbounce: With the tools available from Unbounce, you can quickly build and publish customizable landing pages, and then conduct A/B or multivariate tests to discover which elements are working and which need to be fine tuned.
  • Crazy Egg: With Crazy Egg, you can conduct heatmap tests that offer insight on where visitors are clicking on your site and how often they scroll down your pages. Additionally, Crazy Egg can show you where your visitors are arriving from, and where each of them clicks the most.
  • Hotjar: Hotjar also allows you to run heatmap tests, as well as visitor recordings, which allow you to watch as real visitors make their way across your site. With a visitor recording, you can see where a user moves their cursor, what they’re clicking on, and how they navigate your pages. This type of test allows you to quickly identify and correct usability issues.  
  • Convert Experiments: Convert Experiments allows you to create and run tests (even if you don’t have technical expertise), plus it integrates with Google Analytics, allowing you look at data in real time and make quick changes immediately. 
  • Google Analytics Experiments: This tool allows you to measure the impact of any website changes you make on a specific objective. With this information, you can determine if a change is worth implementing based on the impact it has on other page elements.  
  • Google Optimize: The latest analytics solution from Google, Optimize allows you to test different variations of your website and serve the best, most personalized experience for each customer. Optimize natively integrates with Google Analytics, giving you quick access to behavioral insights that inform your experimentation.  

Common CRO Mistakes to Avoid

Like any system, CRO is not flawless. If implemented incorrectly, the data and information you collect can be inaccurate. A few simple tips to keep in mind include:

  • Run your tests long enough to generate statistically significant results
  • Don’t expect one test to address all of the issues your website is facing
  • Always do research before conducting tests, otherwise, you’re taking a shot in the dark with no data to back it up

Finally, it’s important to remember not to assume that because a change worked for one organization, that it will work for yours. Instead, do your own research, form a hypothesis, and run tests of your own—it’s the best way to ensure you’re making the smartest choices for your site and its visitors.

Now That You Know What CRO Is, It’s Time To Try It!

Pursuing CRO enables you to make simple changes that can have a huge impact on your website (and bottom line). With the tools and tips we’ve provided here, you have a groundwork to get started with CRO, but there’s always room to learn more. That’s why we recommend you take a few minutes to read our informative Inbound Marketer’s Quick Start Guide to CRO. This FREE guide dives into even more detail on how to start CRO testing, with additional tips, tricks, real-world examples, and more. Get your complimentary copy today!

The Inbound Marketer’s Quick Start Guide to CRO

When you download a free copy of this whitepaper, you’ll learn:

  • The various testing methods used for inbound marketing
  • Software tools that make CRO easier & more effective
  • Common mistakes to avoid when conducting CRO campaigns
  • How to formulate a hypothesis and launch your first CRO te
Download Now

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