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A 12-step Conversion Rate Optimization Process

Simbar Dube

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Guides / CRO Guide / CRO Process

In 2008, we introduced the Conversion Framework to all our projects at Invesp. We had done a lot of experimentation before, but this was our first comprehensive approach to understanding all the factors influencing whether a visitor converts to a website.

After developing the Conversion Framework, we realized we needed a process to apply it effectively. An efficient process is crucial to benefit fully from the framework we’ve created.

Over the years, we have been improving our CRO process. The process we developed for implementing our Framework in 2008 is way different than it looks now. The good thing is that it helps our clients achieve significant, repeatable, and sustainable increases in conversion rates.

Here is what our conversion optimization process looks like now: 

Conversion optimization process

Conversion optimization process

As you can see in the above image, we implemented the Framework successfully using a 14-step process: 

  1. Jobs-to-be-done Customer Interviews 
  2. Expert Review 
  3. User Research 
  4. Data Analysis 
  5. Competitive Analysis 
  6. Usability Testing
  7. Prioritize
  8. Hypothesize
  9. Design
  10. Development
  11. Quality Assurance
  12. A/B Testing
  13. Post Test Analysis
  14. Share, Educate and Document 

To simplify understanding, we’ve categorized this conversion process into four sections using the acronym SHIP. Read this article carefully and try to learn every little detail. The process we are about to reveal is one that we tested on different types of websites:

  • Ecommerce websites
  • Lead generation websites
  • SaaS websites
  • Affiliate websites

We have also tested this process in many different verticals:

  • Consumer services
  • Education
  • Financial
  • Legal services
  • Real estate

Let’s dive in to discover each step of the process.

Step 1 – Conducting JTBD Customer Interviews

JTBD customer interviews

JTBD customer interviews

The #JTBD interviews and analysis process is integral to our scrutinization phase. Unlike other conversion research techniques, JTBD reveals the specific moments and reasons customers consider purchasing a product or service.

How JTBD Guides Our Optimization

The JTBD theory acts as a compass for our Optimization team, helping them navigate towards delivering more value to customers on the site. JTBD explains why customers hire a product or service, and we implement this framework to gain marketing insights and inform business strategy. Here’s how we do it:

Conducting JTBD Interviews

We perform a series of JTBD interviews to uncover:

  1. Functional Reasons: The practical, functional needs that drive customers to buy a product.
  2. Social/Emotional Reasons: The social and emotional factors influencing the purchase decision.
  3. Process Map: Customers follow different steps when “hiring” a product for a job.

Applying Insights to the Website

Understanding customers’ emotional and social needs allows us to improve our site copy. We incorporate customer verbatim—actual customer phrases—into key elements like value propositions and headlines. This ensures the site speaks directly to the targeted customers in a language they understand, resonating with their needs and experiences.

Crafting a Resonant Message

By embedding these insights into the site, we ensure it conveys a message that connects with our target audience emotionally and socially. Customers can easily identify their needs and feelings reflected in the site’s copy, making it more engaging and persuasive.

Addressing Customer Challenges

JTBD reveals more than why customers buy; it also uncovers the struggles, anxieties, and forces influencing their decisions. Knowing these obstacles allows us to address and mitigate the negative effects of customer anxiety. By understanding their journey and their challenges, we can refine our strategies to better support and guide them toward making a purchase.

Step 2 – Conduct An Expert Review

A website expert review is a thorough analysis conducted by a professional with extensive knowledge in web design, user experience (UX), and conversion optimization. The aim is to identify areas on your website that need improvement to enhance its design, functionality, and overall user experience.

Key Aspects Evaluated During an Expert Review

  1. Usability: It is easy for users to navigate your site and find what they want.
  2. Design: Your website’s visual appeal and layout and its alignment with your brand identity.
  3. Content: The quality, relevance, and clarity of the text, images, and videos on your site.
  4. Performance: The speed at which your website loads and operates.
  5. Accessibility: How well your website accommodates users with disabilities.
  6. SEO: The effectiveness of your website’s search engine optimization strategies.
  7. Conversion Paths: The clarity and effectiveness of the pathways that lead users toward conversion actions.

Conversion Optimization Focus

When running an expert review specifically for conversion optimization, we consider two main components:

Understanding Visitor Origin: Identify where visitors are coming from, what type of visitors you have, and what they see before clicking and landing on your website. We simulate this visitor journey to understand their perspective.

Evaluating the Page: Analyze the page by putting ourselves in the visitor’s shoes to think about what they might be experiencing. Additionally, we evaluate the page from a conversion optimization perspective.

Detailed Analysis Process

During a conversion optimization analysis, we examine 185 different elements on the page. This includes:

  • Copy: Assessing the clarity, relevance, and persuasiveness of the text.
  • Design: Evaluating the visual layout, branding alignment, and aesthetic appeal.
  • Navigation: Checking the ease of moving around the site and finding information.
  • User Interaction: Understanding how people interact with the page and layout.

Importance of a Website Expert Review

  1. Identify Weaknesses: Pinpoint areas that may hinder user experience or conversion rates.
  2. Improve User Experience: Addressing identified issues creates a more user-friendly website that engages visitors.
  3. Increase Conversions: Enhancing design, content, and usability boosts conversion rates, thereby increasing revenue.
  4. Stay Competitive: Regular reviews ensure your website stays updated with the latest trends and best practices in web design and conversion optimization.

End Goal

The ultimate goal of a website expert review is to improve user experience and increase the likelihood of visitors taking desired actions, such as making a purchase, subscribing to a newsletter, or watching a demo.

By conducting these expert reviews, we ensure that your website meets your visitors’ needs and aligns with your business goals to drive growth and success.

Step 3 – User Research (Qualitative)

The next step in the process is crucial. This is when your site’s visitors tell you what works and what doesn’t on your website. You can read our detailed guide on conducting qualitative research.

How do you do that?

You ask them.

UX research isn’t just another part of conversion optimization; it’s the foundation of a successful CRO program.

Why UX Research is Essential

Foundation for Success: Conversion optimization aims to enhance user experience. To do this effectively, you need insights directly from your users.

Understanding Users: Every product has a specific user base. Without understanding these users, achieving meaningful conversions is nearly impossible.

Our Approach to User Research

  1. Tailored Methods: User research is multi-dimensional, with no one-size-fits-all approach. Every business is different, so our methods vary to fit each company’s unique needs.

  2. Variety of Techniques: We use techniques like polls and surveys to gather user insights. The effort involved can range from a few hours to several months, depending on the depth of research required.

Key Aspects of Our Research

  • Polls and Surveys: At a minimum, launching a website poll or survey can provide valuable insights.
  • Asking the Right Questions: Qualitative analysis is most effective when you ask the right types of questions.

Important Questions to Ask

  1. Motivators: What brought visitors to your website?
  2. FUDs (Fears, Uncertainties, Doubts): What stops visitors from converting?
  3. Hooks: What persuaded visitors who converted to do so?

Using the Data Collected

  • Fix Right Away: Identify issues that can be fixed right away.
  • Testing Ideas: Develop ideas for further testing based on user feedback.

Benefits of User Research

  • Improved User Experience: Addressing real user needs leads to a more user-friendly website.
  • Increased Conversions: Enhancing the user experience based on solid research drives higher conversion rates.
  • Customized Strategies: Tailoring our approach to your specific business ensures the most relevant and effective strategies.

Step 4 – Conduct Data Analysis

At this point, our two lists, ‘fix right away‘ and ‘testing ideas,’ are becoming larger, but we still need to add a few more items to them.

The next stop will be your analytics. Analytics provides a wealth of information on how visitors interact with the website and shows you where visitors are leaking. You can read more details on how to use analytics for conversion optimization here.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research Analysis

If you are looking to fix your website conversion rate, I can only assume that you have at least one analytics software installed on your website. Most larger companies have two or three different programs installed.

So, how do you track what areas of the website should be fixed?

While analytics programs are very powerful, we need to match our approach to all the power they provide.

Let me start by highlighting what not to do when using analytics.

  1. If your analysis focuses on bounce and exit rates, then you are not doing a good job conducting your analysis.

  2. If you spend most of your time reporting data (what are visitors doing on my website) vs. analyzing data (why are visitors doing this on my website), you are wasting your time.

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Start by setting up several funnels on your websitetracking how visitors navigate from one area of the website to another.

  2. Segment the behavior of your website visitors across different sources/mediums in these funnels. Your analysis should answer questions such as:

  1. Which pages does Google organic traffic exit the website at?

  2. How many pages per visit does Facebook organic traffic visit?

  3. What is the average time on site for direct visitors?

  4. How many sessions does it take a Google paid visitor to convert?

You may come up with many more questions like these. As you answer them, you start adding more items to your two lists, fixing them immediately, and testing ideas.

Step 5 – Conduct Competitive Analysis

After focusing on your website, it’s time to analyze your competitors’ sites. This step is crucial for identifying opportunities to enhance your site and improve your average conversion rate.

Competitive Analysis

Competitive Analysis

Goals of Competitive Analysis

  1. Learn from Competitors: Identify areas where you can improve your website by studying your competitors.
  2. Identify Competitor Shortcomings: Find areas where competitors fall short, allowing you to offer better value to potential customers.

How to Conduct Competitive Analysis

Select Competitors: Choose your top three to seven competitors.

Simulate Buying Experience: Navigate their websites as if you were a potential customer intending to buy from them.

Evaluate Key Elements:

  • Design: Assess the overall design and layout of their web pages.
  • Copy: Analyze the text on landing pages and other crucial sections.
  • Visitor Flow: Observe the user journey through their conversion funnel.
  • Value Proposition: Evaluate the clarity and appeal of their value proposition.
  • Visuals: Examine images, banners, and colors.
  • Product Details: Note the size, type, and presentation of products.

Questions to Answer

  1. Strengths: What are the strengths of their websites?
  2. Weaknesses: What are their weaknesses?
  3. Opportunities: What features or areas are they not providing that you could focus on?

Using Advanced Tools

  • User Testing Services: If your budget allows, hire a user testing service. Have users unfamiliar with you or your competitors answer these questions.
  • Google Analytics: Utilize Google Analytics to track key metrics on your site and compare them with industry benchmarks.
  • Conversion Tracking: Implement conversion tracking to monitor the effectiveness of changes inspired by your competitive analysis.

This analysis should generate a list of 10-20 items to add to your testing ideas list. These insights can help you improve website performance, refine landing pages, and optimize your conversion funnel. By learning from competitors, you can make data-driven improvements that boost your average conversion rate and provide better value to potential customers. You can read more about conducting CRO competitive analysis in this article.

Step 6 – Usability Testing

Usability testing is essential for understanding user behavior and optimizing your website to increase conversions. While usability testing can be complex, following a structured approach can help you gather actionable insights and improve user experience.

Steps for Effective Usability Testing

  1. Define Your Goals

Purpose: Clearly define what you want to achieve. Are you looking for qualitative insights, quantitative data, or to address specific design issues?

Focus: The more focused your tests are, the more accurate and relevant your results will be. Avoid overloading the test with too many questions, leading to errors and misinterpretations.

  1. Determine and Recruit Users

Target Audience: Ensure the participants closely match your website visitors and target market to get valuable insights.

Sample Size: Decide on the number of participants based on your budget. The number of users can significantly affect the reliability of your results.

  1. Choose the Test Format

In-Person Testing: Includes silent observer (natural), think-aloud, and constrictive interaction methods.

Remote Testing: Includes moderated and unmoderated tests, allowing you to gather data from users in their natural environment, including on mobile devices.

  1. Define the Tasks

Task Design: Be careful not to create biased tasks. Tasks should be a mix of open/exploratory and closed/specific to cover a range of user interactions on your web page.

Desired Actions: Ensure tasks reflect the desired actions you want users to take, such as making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter.

  1. Build Questionnaires

Pre-Test Questionnaire: Collect background information (e.g., age, gender, educational background, experience with the system) to understand your users better.

Post-Test Questionnaire: Gather feedback on user experience, including ease of use and satisfaction. This helps identify pain points and areas for improvement.

  1. Try a Dry Run

Pilot Test: Conduct a rehearsal to ensure everything runs smoothly during the actual test. This helps estimate the time needed for each task and allows you to prioritize tasks based on their importance.

  1. Report the Findings

Data Analysis: There is no single method for analyzing data. Summarize difficulties encountered by users and identify common issues.

Classification and Prioritization: Classify problems by severity and importance. Address the most critical issues first to improve user experience and create satisfied customers.

Benefits of Usability Testing in Digital Marketing

Understand User Behavior: Gain insights into how users interact with your web pages and identify pain points.

Improve User Experience: Address issues to create a smoother, more enjoyable experience, leading to satisfied customers.

Increase Conversions: By optimizing your site based on usability test findings, you can guide users more effectively toward desired actions.

Enhance Mobile Experience: Ensure your website performs well on mobile devices, catering to a growing segment of users.

By following these steps, you can conduct thorough usability testing that helps improve your website’s performance, user satisfaction, and conversion rates.

Step 7 – Prioritize

When addressing conversion problems on your page, it’s crucial to distinguish between functionality issues and optimization opportunities. Any breakdown in functionality must be fixed immediately. We prioritize fixes for conversion issues based on potential conversion rate uplift and implementation cost.

Create A Conversion Roadmap

Create A Conversion Roadmap

Key Factors for Prioritization

Potential conversion rate uplift is the expected conversion rate uplift by running an A/B test. This value will range anywhere from 3% to 30%. Our experience has been that 90% of your A/B tests will generate an uplift anywhere within that range.

Implementation cost is the estimated cost of implementing a test. This, of course, will vary from one website to the next.

The trick to calculating the implementation cost is determining the number of hours it will take to implement an A/B test on your website.

These are the three different types of tests you would want to run:

  • Element level changes: In these types of tests, you change an element on the page. The best example is trying different headlines, images, and call-to-action buttons (CTAs). Element-level changes do not require much time to implement, and most will take less than 8 hours to complete. We usually assign a value of -5 to these types of tests.

  • Page-level testing: In these types of tests, you change the page’s layout. These tests are more complicated to implement compared to element-level testing. We estimate these tests to run anywhere from 3 to 5 days to complete the implementation. We usually assign a value of -10 to these types of tests. Typically, you do the following:

  1. Adding new elements to the page

  2. Removing elements on the page

  3. Changing the behavior of some existing elements

  4. Changing the location of some existing elements

  • Visitor flow testing: You change how visitors navigate your website in these tests. Good examples of these tests include going from a single-step checkout to a multistep checkout (or vice versa) and changing website navigation. These tests are the most complex to implement. It might take a good developer anywhere from 8 to 12 days to implement. We usually assign a value of -15 to these types of tests.

To prioritize problems on the page, we typically use a 25-point framework to assign different priorities to different problem points. We will be releasing this framework in an upcoming article, so make sure you stay tuned!

Step 8 – Create a Hypothesis

The hypothesis is a critical component of testing. Ultimately, you’ve done your homework and your research. You’ve selected the page and identified the problems on the page. Logically, the next step would be to come up with the solution.

A/B Testing Hypothesis

A/B Testing Hypothesis

Here is our template for A/B test hypothesis statement:

Because we saw (qual & quant data), we expect that (X change) will cause (Y impact). We’ll measure this using (data metric)

So, based on the goal you are trying to achieve on the page, you need to theorize what will improve the page and the site conversions accordingly.

Let’s take an example.

You identified no clearly defined benefits on a landing page for a paid campaign you are running.

Data from the qualitative poll you ran tells you that visitors complained about the lack of information on the landing page. You also look at heat maps and notice that some visitors hover near or at the description to find more information about the offer.

So, your goal is to make the information easier to find and scan on the page.

And your hypothesis: By providing visitors with greater accessibility to easy-to-read benefits, you will better persuade them with the information they lack to proceed, thus increasing conversions.

Step 9 – Create New Designs 

We have come a long way and are almost ready to start testing. You have identified the possible conversion problems on the page; you prioritized these problems, and finally, you created a hypothesis statement on how to fix these problems.

In this next step, you implement the hypothesis by creating new designs.

Create New Website Designs

Create New Website Designs

Creating a design that fulfills the hypothesis can be challenging sometimes. You must be careful that your new designs are driven by the hypothesis; otherwise, you will introduce variables you won’t be able to account for in your results.

The challenge will always be the number of variables that have or don’t have anything to do with the hypothesis.

There are no hard-set rules here. Ensure that your design focuses on implementing the hypothesis and solving your identified problem. Avoid the temptation to make more changes.

Step 10 – Development

In our conversion optimization process, developers play a crucial role. They are responsible for taking the designs created by our designers and implementing them on the website.

This implementation is particularly important when conducting A/B tests, which are experiments designed to compare two web page versions to determine which performs better regarding user engagement and conversion rates.

It’s important to understand that there is a distinction between developers who work on A/B testing and those who handle regular development tasks. A/B testing developers possess specialized skills and experience that enable them to set up and execute these tests efficiently.

They need to be adept at integrating testing tools, managing variations in the user experience, and ensuring that the tests run smoothly without affecting the website’s overall functionality.

Here’s how the process works:

Design Handoff: Our designers create the new design variations intended for testing. These designs are based on data-driven insights and aim to improve specific metrics such as click-through rates, sign-ups, or sales.

Developer Implementation: Once the designs are finalized, they are handed over to our A/B testing developers. These developers have the expertise to convert these designs into functioning web pages or elements. They ensure that the original (control) version and the new (variant) version are set up correctly for the test.

Setting Up the Test: Our developers use specialized A/B testing tools (like Optimizely, VWO, or FigPii) to set up the test. This involves configuring the test parameters, such as the percentage of traffic that will see each version and the specific metrics that will be measured.

Step 11 – Quality Assurance (Testing for Functionality & Usability)

Quality Assurance (QA) is a critical step in our A/B testing process, ensuring that new variations are functional and user-friendly before they go live. Here’s a detailed breakdown of how our QA process works and why it’s essential:

1. Functionality and Usability Testing

Before we launch any new variations, we conduct thorough functionality and usability testing. This ensures that every feature on the website works as intended and provides a seamless user experience.

2. Significant Investment in QA

We have heavily invested in our QA processes because we understand the importance of preventing any disruptions in a live environment. Each test we conduct undergoes rigorous QA to ensure that it does not cause any issues in production.

3. Multiple Layers of QA

Every test we launch is reviewed by multiple QA specialists on our team. This multi-layered approach helps catch potential issues early and ensures the test is robust and reliable.

4. Client Review

Before deploying any test, we always ask our clients to review it. Your feedback is invaluable, and this step ensures that the test aligns with your expectations and goals.

5. Standardized QA Process

A standardized QA process is essential in a high-testing velocity program, where dozens of tests are launched, and changes are made constantly. This helps maintain consistency and reliability across all tests, preventing any potential breakdowns in production.

6. QA Involvement in the CRO Process

Our QA specialists are deeply involved in the entire CRO process. They are briefed together with the development team to understand the objectives and concerns of both the CRO specialists and developers.

7. Documentation and Initial Conversations

While well-written documentation and design briefs are important, initial conversations between the CRO team, developers, and QA specialists are crucial. These discussions help everyone understand the goals and potential challenges, ensuring a cohesive approach to testing.

8. Functionality Testing

Functionality testing is a key aspect of QA. It involves verifying that all features on your website work as intended. This includes checking forms, links, navigation, and any interactive elements to ensure they function correctly and provide a positive user experience.

Your developers can handle the QA tasks if you’re on a low budget. While this is not ideal, it’s a viable option for smaller projects. However, for optimal results, having dedicated QA specialists is recommended. You can read about Quality Assurance for A/B Testing in detail in this article.

Step 12 – Launching A/B Tests

We are finally here. Now, you are ready to conduct your A/B test (or multivariate test). You split the page visitors between the old design and the new design. You let your visitors judge the quality of the designs.

We have written in the past about A/B testingmultivariate testing, the difference between them, and split testing best practices.

Conducting AB Tests

Conducting AB Tests

Here are a few items that you want to keep in mind:

  • There are several A/B testing tools & technologies. At a very high level, they all do the same job. Choose one that speeds up the process of implementing the test on your website.

  • Examine carefully how many conversions your website gets in a month. The number of conversions impacts how fast you can implement a test.

    • If you are looking to implement a full website testing program where you will be testing several pages, multiple tests, for a few months, then you will need to have a minimum of 200 conversions per month.

    • If you are focused on optimizing specific landing pages, you need to determine the number of conversions each landing page generates. If you have 200 conversions or more, then you can start doing A/B testing.

    • If you do not have enough conversions (less than 200 conversions per month), you can still conduct A/B testing, however you will be conducting micro testing as opposed to macro testing.

You can always request a free A/B testing account on FigPii, which provides you with an easy-to-use A/B testing tool, heatmaps, and video recording.

Step 13 – Conduct a Post-Test Analysis

You ran your A/B test, and it came to a conclusion, and you have a challenger that beat the original design.

So, what’s next?

Most companies would move to the next test, and you will do that. But you have to do a post-test analysis.

A/B test analysis

A/B test analysis

Here are the 3 questions you will have to answer:

  • What assumptions did we make for website visitors before launching the test?

  • Did the results from the test validate our initial assumptions?

  • What additional information did we learn about our website visitors from running this test?

As you answer these questions, you will begin to know your visitors at a deeper level. You will make new assumptions about them. You will learn that they are impacted by certain messages, copy, and design in a powerful way. What should you do next? You create new tests to validate your new assumptions. Find out more about how to analyze A/B test results here.

Step 14 – Share, Educate and Document

Finally, you must share, educate, and document what you have learned.

Sharing, educating, and documenting your learning during this whole process is not something you should overlook. These final steps in our conversion optimization process are crucial for sustaining improvements, empowering our partners, and ensuring transparency.

This step can help you understand and replicate successful strategies, make informed decisions, and maintain high conversion rates without constant external support.

Documentation creates a reference for continuous improvement, building a valuable knowledge base for training and ongoing education. It also proves ROI by clearly demonstrating results, enhancing collaboration, and facilitating compliance with industry standards.

By doing this, we ensure immediate results and equip your team with the tools and knowledge to optimize conversions long after our engagement ends. This approach ensures enduring and scalable value creation.