What is CRO and the most common mistakes to avoid when using it

By Nima Yassini, CEO New Republique, Chair D+T Collective

Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) is the process of testing a range of experiences to find which combination provides the best results.

These results are usually related to increasing positive user actions such as newsletter sign-ups, memberships or donations, and improving site engagement, for example turning visitors into leads and leads into sales.

There are two main types of CRO: media-led and experience-led, and it is critical to understand the functions and strengths of each to make sure the outcomes fit the aims of your strategy.

Media-led CRO follows a narrative and its primary focus is to engage first-time visitors and turn them into new customers. Media-led strategies are generally short-term to follow a campaign timeline. That way the agency can measure the impact of the media on traffic and conversion within the period.

Experience-led CRO seeks to understand the psychology behind user behaviour on a website, mobile site, app or digital product. Key indicators are engagement and interaction. Data is collated and analysed, providing feedback that contributes to a series of incremental improvements. Conversion is a beneficial byproduct of a well-designed experience. 

Both types of CRO have a role to play in an organisation's marketing plan, but you may find you need to employ their strengths at different times. Knowing which type to use and when will empower your strategy to give you the outcomes you're after beyond sales: supporting better decision-making for visitors, improving users' experience on your website, and honing your understanding of customers so your site continues to get better at conversion.

Having worked with numerous brands as they introduce CRO into their marketing mix, I have identified these common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Shallow experimentation

Many brands start experimentation by testing a single idea within a specific category. In most cases if this single idea fails, they generally discredit all ideas within the category.

Running one test in a specific area of interest is too shallow. The only way to obtain valuable results is through deep experimentation, covering all possible permutations. It will not only tell you if something does or doesn't work but why or why not – and also offer alternative solutions. These insights are of massive benefit in relation to conversions, insights and experience for users.

Mistake 2: Trying to create the perfect test

Some organisations try to create the perfect experience for users without understanding that the point of experimentation is to learn. You are better off doing more tests and learning from them than perfecting one test and learning only one lesson. More outcomes to study are always better than one outcome to study.

Mistake 3: “Shoot from the hip” hypothesising

Organisations are excited when they start CRO and often have a bunch of ideas ready to test. Many of these ideas, unfortunately, are founded on the customer's personal beliefs rather than grounded in clear problem definition. I call this the 'shoot from the hip hypothesis' because it's not founded in any data and therefore unlikely to be targeted enough to yield results.

While there is nothing wrong with ‘gut instinct’, a good hypothesis responds to a clear problem statement and is grounded in research. This formal structure ensures that upon completion of the test, you can look back at why you tested and if the outcome has solved the problem. Otherwise shooting from the hip can result in a lot of tests where you're unable to say what you learnt.

Mistake 4: Organisational culture doesn't support experimentation

For CRO to really take off, it needs to happen within a culture that supports experimentation, where every failure is a chance to grow. All parties need to be involved and focused on the ideology of learning rather than looking solely at results. Sadly, most organisations are built on output, not learning, which means failure is not a career-progressing move.

To work towards a culture of experimentation, organisations need teams to be more hyper agile and collaborative. They need to know how to take insights and share it in an organised manner, to understand and demonstrate that an idea for an experiment can come from anywhere.