10 CRO Truth Bombs That Will Change the Way You Think

Posted by larry.kim

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) has been around since the beginning of the web. Historically, a lot of the time and attention has been spent on the on-page elements — headlines, copy, calls-to-action, forms, and design — to increase conversions.

Although optimizing on-page elements to maximize conversions still can and does have tremendous value, isn’t there a better way forward? Absolutely!

CRO Facts

There are several ways to increase your conversion rate by as much as 5x. But the smarter way to do it is by influencing the right people before they ever land on your site or persuading them to come back if they left your site before converting.

Here are 10 mind-blowing CRO truth bombs that will change the way you think about landing page optimization forever. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

1. The classic A/B test is a fairy tale

Once upon a time, there lived a brilliant conversion rate expert who changed the [font type / line spacing / button color / image / something else] and magically increased conversions by 5 percent. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Except, the percentage increase you think you’ve achieved isn’t as real as it seems.

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Oh no, it looks like someone has abducted our big CRO gains!

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What really happens after a typical A/B test is that:

  • The early lead disappears.
  • Gains don’t persist over time.

When you get good results from A/B tests, it’s probably because your offer is new. Once that offer is no longer new, it loses its novelty.

You can’t keep selling last year’s offer forever. People want something new.

As is the case with ad fatigue, once you reach a certain point, your offer will bring diminishing returns. That’s why you can’t optimize your way to infinity.

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Should you still do A/B testing? Yes! A/B testing is absolutely worth your time. You need to do it.

However, just realize that this isn’t a growth strategy — it’s table stakes. Improving something by 5 percent 10 times in a year doesn’t increase your conversion rate by 50 percent. The gains don’t persist.

Also, the more you optimize, the higher the risk of negative returns. If you start out with an offer that has a 0.5 percent conversion rate, there’s lots of upside. But once you’ve got a 6 percent conversion rate, there’s better than a 50/50 change your new offer will actually hurt sales.

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2. CRO often increases quantity at the expense of quality

In ecommerce, a sale is a sale. But if you’re doing lead generation you have to be careful that you aren’t exchanging quantity for quality.

Quantity doesn’t always translate to quality. In fact, a higher conversion rate can actually ruin your percentage of marketing qualified leads. Here’s some data from one of our customers:

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Beware of making superficial on-page changes that increase leads at the expense of quality, like promising free iPads or gift cards.

Remember, if you double your leads, you’re also doubling the time it takes for someone to follow-up on all those leads.

If you have too many leads, you run the risk of losing some gems in all that noise, and the longer it takes to get to someone, the lower the connect rates and conversion rates.

3. Average conversion rates haven’t changed much in years

The importance of CRO has certainly gained a lot attention in the past few years. No doubt you’ve recently seen some sort of case study where the author details how their company tripled their conversion rate.

If more people are doing CRO, then you’d think it would have a visible impact on outcomes industry-wide, right?

So why are conversion rates still pretty much the same as they were 15 years ago?

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According to my WordStream data, the median search conversion rate is 2.35 percent, whereas the top 10 percent of sites — the unicorns — have conversion rates of 11.45 percent or higher:

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We run these numbers periodically over the years but they never move. If more and more companies are adopting CRO, why aren’t industry average conversion rates moving up?

4. Raise your CTR to raise your conversion rates

Click-through rate (CTR) is the most important conversion metric. Why? Because the higher your click-through rate is, the higher your conversion rate will be.

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Here’s an example of data from just one large client account. We see this in many accounts, but this is just one illustration. (The data gets murky when you combine accounts, since conversion rates depend on the industry and offer.)

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If you can get people excited enough to click on your offer, then that excitement usually will turn into a conversion. So increasing your CTR by 2x will increase your conversion rate by 50%.

Now, it’s important to understand that I’m not advocating raising CTR by offering free kittens or other gimmicks. If you just add the word “Free” to your ad, the CTR will increase, but if your offer isn’t truly free, the conversion rate will drop.

Instead, I’m advocating finding truly innovative offers with massive differentiation and value that get your target market super excited about signing up for whatever you’re selling, right away!

From that perspective, your CTR is a great way to tell whether your offer sucks or if it is actually appealing to people who aren’t already biased toward you already (i.e., people who have visited your landing page in the past). Your market is much bigger than the people who are already in your funnel.

What is a good CTR? Check out these Google AdWords industry benchmarks:

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Here are three ways you can raise CTR and create unicorn ads:

5. Brand familiarity is ridiculously important

One thing you can’t control with on-page CRO is brand awareness. People who are familiar with your brand are more likely to sign up or purchase your product or service.

At Wordstream, we looked at conversion rates, comparing those who were familiar with the company (repeat visitors) versus those who were not and found that repeat visitors were around 2–3x more likely to convert.

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Granted, this isn’t a perfect measurement of who is familiar or not familiar with your brand. Someone who appears to be a new visitor might already have been exposed to that brand.

Regardless, brand affinity and recall clearly has a huge impact on CRO. This is where the highest leverage is.

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6. Boost your conversions with remarketing

If greater brand exposure increases conversion rates, then how can you increase brand exposure? Go nuts with remarketing on the Google Display Network and Facebook.

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We’ve seen it: conversion rates actually double the more times someone sees an ad in a remarketing campaign. Remarketing lets you turn one shot at converting a user into 100 or more possible shots.

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With Facebook remarketing, you can target using the extremely valuable combination of behaviors, interests, and demographics to increase engagement and conversions by 3x for a third of the cost-per-click. This is where you want to push your hard offers, such as sign-ups, consultations, and downloads.

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7. RLSA will save the day

We’ve found that RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) campaigns are search ads that target people who search on your desired keywords AND have recently visited your website.

We’ve found that they typically have 2–5x better ROI than non-RLSA ads due to the fact that they are familiar with your brand. The problem is that RLSA, by definition, only targets people who have visited your site.

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The solution: forget unbranded search ads and grow your cookie pools by using social media ads. If you can increase your audience sizes by 10x, you can capture 10x more conversions!

Note: This strategy applies only to certain verticals with very high CPCs where there’s a lot of competition and conversion rates are challenging. Get more details in my post, RLSA for Competitive Markets: A Ridiculously Awesome Way Forward in PPC.

8. Increase conversions for pennies with video ads

What’s the point of advertising? To bias people.

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Video ads deliver on the two most important components of high conversion rates:

  • Strong brand recall (lots of ad impressions).
  • High CTR (high ad engagement).

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Video ads on Facebook provide the highest value at the lowest cost. They are so cheap because they have the highest engagement rates.

People love visual content. Video is one of the best ways to bias people so they’ll choose you over some brand they’ve never heard of.

9. You need to change your offer in a BIG way

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We’ve looked through billions of dollars of ad spend. It turns out that the highest converting offers have very little to do with conventional “CRO best practices.”

Here’s what actually matters: Your offer needs to be massively different and more valuable from what your competitors are offering.

It doesn’t matter how pretty your fonts and images are. Making small changes to your current bad offer won’t move the needle. It will just result in small changes to your conversion rate.

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If you want to dramatically increase conversion rates, then you need a completely different and better offer.

Want to collect more emails? Rather than publishing yet another whitepaper, which has low differentiation, consider creating something people actually want, such as a calculator or tool, which we’ve seen have conversion rates as high as 50 percent.

For example, one way that WordStream offers substantially more value is by providing a keyword suggestion tool. People simply type in a keyword and we email them the full results for free in an Excel file. All they need to do is provide their email.

10. You can totally eliminate your landing pages

OK, here’s the problem. Only 2 percent of people are clicking on your ads, and only 2 percent of those people who reach your landing page are converting. That’s a HUGE dropoff.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could skip this landing page step and capture leads directly from ads? Well it is great, and you can do just that!

Image and video hosting by TinyPicThanks to new mobile technologies, like Facebook Lead Ads, you no longer have to send people to a landing page, which will continue to lose 97 percent of prospects. Only one field is needed — email. You can just eliminate that stage entirely from your funnel.

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Summary: Unicorn CRO!

In the end, there are three types of unicorn conversion rate activities that impact conversions:

  1. On-page elements: This is historically where much of the focus goes — on “best practices” that are mostly about making changes to images, copy, fonts, user experience, psychology, etc.
  2. Brand awareness: Even though this isn’t what most people would consider “CRO,” brand familiarity has a huge impact on your conversion rates. People are more likely to buy from brands they know and like.
  3. “Growth hack”: The biggest reason for a low CTR is a boring offer. You need to hit users with the right offer at the right time. (Note: I’m not talking about adding the word “free” to your offer; this may raise your CTR but kill your conversion rate because you’ll have to sort though more unqualified leads. No, I’m talking about changing your offer in a powerful way to make your product more appealing to more people — such as how Dropbox offers you extra storage or Uber will give you a free ride or credits for bringing in new customers.)

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There’s much more to CRO than moving around your on-page elements. Why increase your conversion rate by a measly 5 percent when you could increase it by 5x?

Focus on #1 is a minimum. Focus more on #2 and #3 for insanely great returns.

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Start thinking more widely about the conversion lifecycle. Think about not just what’s on your landing page, but also what happens before and after they see it — or consider the possibility of eliminating that page altogether.

New technologies such as mobile, remarketing, and RLSA are the future of CRO. The real leverage is less about tweaking on-page elements and more about branding and growth hacking.

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