Due to the lockdown, and the economic fallout because of it, a lot of people are pivoting. This is part of a series of posts detailing my own pivot as a freelance writer.
Right now, I write creative top-of-the-funnel content for publishers. But I’m also upping my game in CRO, SEO, analytics, and a bunch of other digital marketing skills.
Content is still king, I think, but many of these marketing skills are proving to be its crown.
Conversion Rate Optimization is a Perfect Skill to Step Up During a Pandemic
So what are the steps of conversion optimization?
Well, there are some fundamentals, and right now is a great time to learn them. The world is in flux. What your customers might have preferred pre-COVID is most likely different then what they prefer today.
Conversion optimization uses research, user-focused design, scientific tests, and persuasive copy to design and create content that customers love and helps drive them down the funnel toward action.
Converting the Creatives
Content creators sometimes hate on data. I see this a lot on LinkedIn, for example, where ad writers bemoan data destroying all their fine ideas.
For me, data is just empathy.
The more I know about my customers, the more I want to take on the challenge to create something just for them. And if it doesn’t connect with them as much as I thought, then I love re-creating and reiterating until I get it right.
This is the creative process at its best.
What is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)?
Currently, I’m taking a minidegree program from CXL Academy on Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). CRO is the pursuit of optimal conversion on a digital platform through testing, observation, and application.
To get the conversion rate, find the number of people interacting with your content over a certain period of time. Then divide that number by the number of actions taken during that same period.
That percentage is the conversion rate. How to increase that rate is what conversion rate optimization is all about.
CRO is Data Science
Conversion rate optimization is recurring, iterative science. In CRO we come up with ideas that we turn into hypotheses.
My first instructor in this course, Brian Massey, the conversion scientist, made the point that conversion optimization is a great way to test out crazy, creative ideas (and have data to back them up).
In other words, data shouldn’t suppress our creative ideas but be the driving force behind them.
There’s a great line from writer Jacques Barzun, writing to other writers, that goes like this: “Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper, not eternal bronze: Let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes …”
In other words, treating our copy, websites, or ads as malleable is good. CRO helps us bring in creative ideas that work. Over time, it uses data to refine all our stupid ideas and turn them into smart ones that resonate with our customers.
Conversion Rate Optimization Unleashes Stupid Creativity and Turns It Smart
It’s the science, the hypotheses and testing in CRO that should inspire content creators. We can test out all these crazy ideas that might work, try something new, rich, and exciting, and see how people act, and then re-create our content according to those actions.
One great thing about CRO is even stuff that seems settled like UX design principles are also subject to its testing. Every market is different. Every customer base is going to resonate with different touches and tweaks that you can iterate to increase your customer’s action on a site.
Peep Laja writes at the beginning of his Best Practices unit, “Blindly copying and implementing ‘best practices’ is stupid-nothing scientific about it.”
Conversion Optimization helps us measure the effects of our campaigns and then iterate according to data.
It’s the data that guides our choices not the interpretation of that data. We should challenge our interpretation until our CRO is at 100%. Best practices are there for a guide until you have data to support a better conclusion.
Conversion Optimization Basics (Some of those steps)
Now that we know what conversion optimization is, here are some of the steps we need to take to start optimizing:
- First, make a list of all the ideas that might affect the conversion rate of your online content (emails, ads, websites, landing pages)
- Write hypotheses for those ideas and research that hypothesis
- Then rank your ideas on a scale of 1-5 according to three criteria: impact, confidence, and effort.
The first step in this process is to generate ideas. Our ideas will become more calculated as we gain experience in CRO. But at this point we just want to throw crazy, creative ideas out there and see what we can come up with to research and test.
As Massey points out, our brains are full of bias. Nine times out of ten what we think might work just doesn’t. That’s why we test and observe and then test again.
After we gather our ideas, we plan and write out our hypothesis, by creating a statement like this:
“If I change X, I expect Y, as measured by Z.”
You want the X value in this hypothesis to be specific, and exclude anything that might skew the results of your test.
You don’t want to change everything on whatever content you want to test all at once, but just one thing at a time.
So in an example, “If I change a buy now button (X) to make it more noticeable to customers, I expect more people to click that button, (Y) which will reflect in increased purchases (Z).
After we’ve laid out our hypothesis, we then research our idea and rate them according to these three criteria:
Impact defines how much we think this will impact conversions. Will changing a font bring in tons more subscribers or just one? Will making a button more noticeable create a zillion more purchases or not?
Confidence defines how confident we are that this change will make a difference according to our research.
Finally, Effort describes how much work you think you’ll have to put in to make the change.
Of course, what we’re looking for in this are the ideas that have a high impact, high confidence, and low effort.
The A/B Test
Split testing or A/B testing according to Massey is for those ideas that research just isn’t giving you enough information about.
It’s also best for sites with larger amounts of traffic. To get a good sample, we’re going to need to test for many visits over a period of time. Then we can determine if the change allowed for an increase in actions or not.
The more we increase our sample size, the more we decrease our margin of error. So, the more visitors we can get the better.
A/B tests involve putting up different iterations of pages in front of users to see which one they take action on. As Massey says, these tests are great because they follow all rules of behavioral data. They’re big enough for prediction, collected over time, quantitative, and double blind.
For small sites, A/B test can happen offsite. Using Facebook and Google ads, for example, you can run A/B tests to figure out more information from your target audience. Massey even concedes in the comments of this post on A/B testing and small sites that you can test a small site as long as you have big wins.
Research, User Experience, and Persuasion
What’s going to help a small site out most, though, is researching ideas, following good user experience design principles, and mastering the art of persuasion through good conversion copy.
Many tools exist outside of A/B testing that we can use to effectively research and understand what our customers are doing on our sites. There also many design principles considered fundamental for conversion. And there are copy techniques that will help you hone in on the pain points of your buyers.
Next week I’ll lay out some of these tools and techniques as I continue to survey and review digital marketing skills. And, in particular, I’ll focus in on this important skillset of conversion optimization. While proper SEO gets people to our sites, these steps of conversion optimization are the crown jewel of digital marketing. They help us keep people on our site and motivate them to act, which is what we wanted all along.