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The Truth About Conversion Rate Optimization: It's Not About You and Me!

Stephen Cobb
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In the blizzard of advice about CRO, it's easy to lose sight of the fundamentals, and I'm not just saying that because I'm writing this in the middle of a real blizzard of lake effect snow.

My last column about Google's Instant Previews feature generated a number of comments from people who said they didn't care for this new Google feature and they didn't use it. In response to these comments, I found myself saying: "Conversion isn't about the features you and I like, it's about what clicks for the people that our sites are trying to convert."

Upon reflection, that struck me as a pretty important point that needs to be made about conversion. In fact, it really gets to the heart of the matter: conversion rate optimization is about making data-driven decisions. Data beats personal preference.

One Small Test For the Website, One Giant Leap for Optimization

You might think the big red "Learn more" button on your website looks great, but if you test it against some alternatives and the data indicates a small blue button converts significantly better, what do you do? You use the small blue button!

If the CEO asks "What happened to that big red Learn More button I like so much?" you tell her the small blue one works better; then you show her the conversion numbers to prove it.

This is often how companies get started on the road to optimization. Once you can show people that one thing works decidedly better than another, and the result of using the better one is better results -- more customers, orders, revenues, profits -- there should be no looking back.

Note the use of the word "should" in the previous sentence. If you go down this data-driven path, you'll have the truth on your side, but you must still be prepared to defend your findings against attacks from several quarters. Here's a quick list of possible detractors.

Designers

Some people live for the latest in website design aesthetics and they may find it impossible to believe that an ugly old text link which says "click here" converts better than a subtle mouse-over design element. They may even try to fight adoption of test-winning design changes even though you can show those changes make the company more money.

Tip: Offer designers a chance to test elements they think will work better and have them help you design new tests.

C-level Experts

Some people feel that being in charge means calling the shots, all the way down to the color scheme for the website. Even if you have just proved that a different color scheme would generate $1 million in annualized incremental revenue, you may still have to fight the fact that the boss just plain likes the old color scheme.

Tip: Have that incremental revenue number handy. It can often settle the discussion.

IT Constrainers

If each test you execute requires a favor from the IT department, you may find yourself running out of favors. Even worse, testing could get a bad rap from an IT department that is already over-worked.

Tip: Try to develop a testing process that is as "IT-free" as possible, and be ready with those numbers that show how testing can pay for itself, and more.

Resource Constrainers

Unless you work somewhere I've never heard of, your company is tight on resources right now. Furthermore, there's a good chance people are clinging to resources rather than offering to move them to the place they will do the most good. If you are advocating broader adoption of conversion rate optimization in your organization, and I hope you are, be ready to show how CRO returns more per dollar than other initiatives.

Tip: My next column will have some numbers you can use. See you in the New Year!


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