Remember Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park?

Meme with Jeff Goldberg as Jurassic Park's Ian Malcolm and quote: Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

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Dr. Malcolm’s admonition isn’t just for people who are planning to create genetically engineered dinosaurs.

It’s also for overeager digital marketers.
Bearded young man with baseball cap on sideways and meme: Tweets out a link crashes the site

You might think that you’re ready to pull the trigger on CRO because you’ve Googled around and read no less than 12 articles on the subject.

Good for you.

You can throw around “CRO” like a boss, and maybe even toss a few “best practices” in for good measure. You shared a few Kissmetrics articles, subscribed to my blog, and are familiar with the name “Peep Laja.”

Again, let me say it: Good job.

But is your site ready for conversion optimization?

That’s the question we need to be asking.

It’s quite possible that you’re ready, and your site isn’t ready for conversion optimization.

I’m cringing as I say this, because conversion optimization is my jam! It’s where I live. It’s what I do. It’s how I roll!

And I’m saying, indeed yea verily, that it might not be time for you to do conversion optimization.

Yet.

So … how do you know whether your site is ready?

Glad you asked.

Here are a few ways to tell if your website is ready for conversion optimization.

1. Your Site Has a Clear, Testable CTA

While you were Googling around, you found an outstanding listicle on page 27 of the SERPs written by Katie Converts-A-Lot. She gave you 17 steps to reduce your bounce rate.

You put all 17 of those steps to work on your site.

You smile, your heart swelling with pride and joy.

Heck, what could go wrong?

All of those steps might work very well if you’re running a news blog like Katie Convert-what’s-her-name.

But if your main objective is to sell products on an ecommerce site, then lowering your bounce rate may not do a whole lot to increase purchases.

Infographic defines "bounce rate" and provides formula for calculating bounce rate
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That’s why you need a clear call to action, which identifies exactly what you should be testing. Otherwise, you could optimize for the wrong type of conversion.

Ask yourself this question: “What’s my primary objective?”

Is it to increase email subscribers? Convert sales on a single landing page? Increase upsells?

A clear CTA will answer that question. It will also tell you how you should conduct your testing to determine whether your optimization efforts are working.

Graphic depicts 23 different call-to-action buttons

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Let’s check in with HubSpot for an example …

These guys can feel free to start CRO anytime they please. (Okay, they already have, I happen to know.)

They know what their CTA is, and they know how to promote it.

Here’s their website to prove it.

Screenshot of HubSpot website with annotationcalling attention to four calls-to-action

Beyond the mother of all CTAs out front on  their site (Free Trial), their badass content marketing has the CTA down, too.

Screenshot annotated with arrows to three calls-to-action amid HubSpot content

2. Your Site Has Enough Traffic for Testing

Yes, there are ways to test a site that doesn’t have a lot of traffic. But they involve heuristic analysis, and can lead to more subjective than objective conclusions.

If you want concrete data, you’re going to have to reel in visitors.

Why? Because basic statistics.

What would happen if Reuters/Ipsos conducted a poll about who Americans prefer for president and only surveyed two people?

Would you take that poll seriously?

Of course not.

Similarly, your site needs a significant amount of traffic before you can determine whether your optimization campaign is successful.

Let’s say your site has three visitors per month and your average conversion rate is one per month, or 33 percent. You make an optimization change and the next month two out of the three visitors convert.

Hooray! You just increased your conversion rate by 100 percent!

Sorry, Hoss, but the population you’re testing against is way too small to make that determination. What happens if nobody converts in the following month? Does that mean your optimization is suddenly a failure?

In that case, you’d have to wait months before you could determine whether your test is effective. Otherwise, you’re not looking at a large enough pool of candidates.

Characters from Futurama and meme: Your sample sizes are small. Your standard deviations are high. Your conclusion means nothing. And you should feel bad.

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Since your business probably doesn’t have months to make CRO determinations, it’s best to focus your resources on bringing in traffic if you don’t have a lot of visitors. Then, once you have the traffic, you’ll be in a better position to optimize the site for conversions.

That brings me to the next point.

3. Your Site Is Optimized for Search Traffic

Have you had a qualified SEO look at your site? If not, then you’re probably not ready to optimize it for conversions.

Before you CRO, you should SEO.

Why? Aside from the obvious “see above” answer, it’s because on-site SEO will bring in people who are likely to be part of your target market.

In essence, CRO and SEO go hand-in-hand. But only after you’ve laid the framework of traffic optimization.

It’s much easier to optimize for potential customers than for visitors who arrived at your site accidentally. People who get there by mistake will screw up your test results.

There’s a needle that you have to thread here. It’s important to not be so consumed with dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” in SEO that you don’t ever get to the point where you optimize for conversions.

As a rule of thumb, focus primarily on on-site SEO up front. Make certain of the following:

  • Your content and product descriptions are keyword-rich
  • Your pages load in lightning-fast time (that’s also a CRO tactic, by the way)
  • You make proper use of title and H1 tags
  • Your sitemap is added in the Search Console
  • Your robots.txt doesn’t block out search engines
  • Your URL is structured with keywords
  • Your images have alt text.

That list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point. Make sure you’ve enlisted the aid of a qualified SEO who always keeps up with what’s new in on-site optimization.

Graphic headlined Onsite SEO Checklist, with seven items

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Along these lines, there is another very important prerequisite before you can say that your site is ready for CRO.

4. Your Site is Optimized for Mobile Traffic

You might think that you can jump start your campaign to increase conversions even though your site isn’t fully optimized for mobile traffic yet.

To which I reply: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

No. Your site isn’t ready for conversion optimization if it isn’t mobile-friendly.

Mobile usage exceeded desktop usage a couple of years ago. The trend line shows mobile’s appeal increasing significantly while desktop usage is tapering off.

Chart showing growth of mobile usage overtaking desktop in 2014

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While mobile devices were once considered “nice to have” items in this Information Age, they’re more like indispensable assets now.

In short: if you’re not ready for mobile, you’re not ready to optimize for conversions.

Prep your site for CRO by ensuring that it’s fully responsive before you even begin trying to maximize conversions. Otherwise, your stats will be thrown off by the (significant) traffic you lose when mobile users peace out from your site because it’s not mobile-friendly.

Illustration of before and after mobile-responsive designs, with partial image of webpage on device screen and full image

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Also: make sure that your site isn’t just responsive, but that it loads quickly on a mobile platform. Google is taking that much more seriously these days.

5. You’re at the Right Point in Your Sales Cycle

Along the lines of ensuring that you have enough traffic for optimization, it’s also important to ensure that your business is at the right point in its sales cycle.

What do I mean by “sales cycle?”

Many businesses have their ups and downs. There are moments when the they’re raking in the cash, and other times when sales are lean.

Sales cycle graph, with repeated periods of expansion, peak, recession, trough during overall growth

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Yours is probably no exception. That’s why you need to optimize for the right types of conversions at specific points in the sales cycle.

  • When your sales cycle is at its peak, it’s best to optimize for likely buyers, because they make up the lion’s share of your traffic.
  • When your sales cycle is at its low point, optimize for tire-kickers, because they’re your traffic source at that time.

Also, make sure that your test runs at least as long as your sales cycle. Otherwise you run the risk of seeing inaccurate results.

If your conversion funnel takes weeks to complete and you’re running a split test that only lasts a single week, you run the risk of reaching a conclusion based on incomplete data. Have the patience to let the test play out, and you’ll be rewarded with reliable metrics.

Test duration is a subject worthy of a second blog post, but I’ll provide a quick tool that will help you get answers, fast.

Our friends at VWO have provided a free and user-friendly tool that allows you to quickly calculate test duration.

All you have to do is plug in the numbers. They do the rest.

Screenshot for site with a/b split and multivariate test duration calculator

You might be surprised at how long you have to run a test before you can obtain true statistical significance or test reliability.

Get Data Driven has a calculator that can help you run those numbers.

Screenshot of Get Data Driven landing page for a/b test significance calculator

6. You Have Google Analytics Configured Properly

Having Google Analytics is non-negotiable.

It’s the sine qua non of CRO data.

It’s the paragon of data collection.

It is my jam.

I’m a tool junkie. I have dozens of SaaS tools, subscription tools, software tools, data tools, organizational tools, analysis tools, CRO tools, SEO tools, testing tools, and tools that you didn’t even know existed.

But the greatest of these is Google Analytics.

GA offers a wealth of information that will help you bring in both traffic and big bucks.

It may be the case that you’ve already configured Google Analytics to monitor your web traffic.

So far so good.

However, there are several options that aren’t automatically configured.

For example, if you click on “Conversions” in the left-hand sidebar, select “Ecommerce” under that and then pick “Product Performance” from the options list below, you might see this message on the main screen: “This report requires ecommerce tracking to be set up for the view.”

That means you haven’t configured Google Analytics to track for product conversions on your ecommerce website. That’s a significant problem if you’re 1) running an ecommerce website and 2) trying to track product conversions.

Screenshot of Google Analytics Product Performance report

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Similarly, if you click on “Goals” under “Ecommerce,” and then select “Overview,” you might see a message telling you that you haven’t yet enabled goals. It’s good to have goals enabled because businesses tend to perform better when they’ve established goals.

Screenshot of Google Analytics Goal Completions report

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Also, if you’re using AdWords to promote your site, Google Analytics offers a feature to help you track conversions from advertising traffic. Again, though, that feature is not offered by default.

You’ll have to do some up-front work to track the conversions.

And I haven’t even scratched the surface. There are a million things that you should do before going full-bore into conversion rate optimization.

I’ve saved GA for last, not because it’s the least significant, but because it’s the most significant.

The bottom line is this: You need to properly configure Google Analytics to analyze not only your traffic, but also your conversions.

Conclusion

Just because you have a head full of knowledge about CRO, that doesn’t mean your site is ready for an optimization campaign.

You must sure your website is prepped in advance so that you don’t waste time (and money) on CRO techniques that won’t ultimately boost your bottom line.

Let’s say you pull the trigger too soon. What happens?

Will your CRO efforts get results?

You won’t know whether they are getting results.

And that, in my mind, is just as useless as not doing conversion rate optimization at all. In fact, you can’t really call it CRO unless your site is ready and you’re harvesting data in the correct way.

As frenetically passionate as I am about conversion rate optimization, I’m not going to say “DO IT!” without making sure that you’re truly ready.

And the fact is, a lot of websites just aren’t ready.

Is yours?