Conversion optimization is a rather new industry. You don’t hear CRO’s sitting around, creaking in their rocking chairs, pounding their canes, and bragging, “Yep, I’ve been doing this for 50 years. D’ya hear me, son? Fifty years!

How new is conversion optimization?

(Image from Explore UK)

How new is conversion optimization? Well, 50 years ago, conversion happened at revival meetings. And optimization was a word that you only read in engineering textbooks.

Today, conversion optimization is a vast science, an entire industry unto itself. It’s critically important to the success of Internet marketing as a whole, and essential to the individual success of businesses and organizations that rely on Internet marketing.

Normally, I’m discussing advanced issues in this blog — persuasive techniques, CTA strategies and powerful psychological tactics. In this article, I want to dial it back to a more fundamental issue — a foundational understanding of conversion optimization for those who need to get grounded.

I would argue that this would include most of us.

So, here we are — we’re conversion optimizers. We’re pioneers in a new industry, faking our way to success.

My theory is that there are a lot of content marketers who don’t know what they’re doing, and are too scared to admit it. Come here, and let me give you a hug, and then you can keep reading.

You’re a rookie, a newbie, a neophyte, a novice, a probationer, an initiate, a tyro, and an apprentice. (Confession:  I used a thesaurus to get all those words.) And that’s okay.

We’re all in this together.  We can all be free to admit that we’re not totally sure what we’re doing.

In general, there are four main types of conversion optimizers.

Which one are you?

1. The Pros: The guys who are so good at this that it makes you choke on your latte.

Some people just make you gape in wonder at their wizard-like skills. Often, their ego is the only thing bigger than their talent. Either way, they write really long, really good blog posts that have lots of pictures and lots of pie charts that show you how successful they are.

Be honest; you envy them.

And you think that they live in mansions and drive a Bugatti.

Fact: Most of the time, the pros sound more confident than they are, live less arrogantly than they sound, blog more skillfully than they optimize, and can’t afford to drive a Bugatti.

2. The Entrepreneurs: The people like me who fell into CRO, and kind of got the hang of it.

Chances are, these guys know how to talk the talk. Half the time, they’re faking it, and the other half of the time they just sound confident about something that they’re only partly sure about.

I’m part of this group.

But for the most part, such entrepreneurs do know a thing or two about conversion optimization. They wouldn’t still be an entrepreneur if they couldn’t pull it off. They are still able to feed themselves and their pet cats off the money they’re making from their entrepreneurial pursuits.

These people are humble enough to know that they’re new at this — aren’t we all? — but you can learn a lot from them.

3. The Inheritors: The scared-out-of-their-minds who have had conversion optimization forced upon them.

This is the group of people I want to help the most.

There are thousands of people sitting in gray cubicles all across the corporate fruited plain, and they are “marketers.” Their boss is breathing down their neck, they are worried about “conversions,” and are tasked with helping the company become more successful. (They sometimes can’t sleep at night.)

Call them “in-house marketers.” Call them “corporate marketers.” Call them “scared out their ever-believing minds.” Whatever the case, these folks are trying to do conversion optimization, and they are feverishly reading every archived article on ConversionXL in an attempt to make sense of the field.

4. The Newbies:  The curious beginners, who know they should be doing conversion optimization, but aren’t sure what “CRO” stands for.

I want to help the newbies, too.

There are thousands more who have a vague idea that there is something out there that they should be doing, but they don’t even know how to Google it.

It behooves all of us — from the old pros to the new newbies — to remind ourselves from whence we came, and to get our heads screwed on about this brave new world of conversion optimization.

Let’s dive right into the five tips that will help the rookie conversion optimizer, which could be just about all of us.

Conversion Optimization:  You’re a rookie, and it’s going to be okay.

These tips are helpful. (I tested them myself.) But they’re just that — tips.

A word about tips.

A few slick tricks do not a conversion optimizer make.

Tips, techniques, tactics, and a cool quote that Derek Halpern tweeted will not turn you into a CRO ninja by Tuesday of this week.

To become better, you’re going to have to do the long, hard thinking work of strategy, of committing errors, and of getting yelled at by your boss. You may have to stay at the office late some nights.

1. You become a conversion optimizer by doing conversion optimization.

There’s no such thing as an academic degree in conversion optimization.

 You become a conversion optimizer by doing conversion optimization.

You have to attend the School of Hard Knocks, which is a non-accredited, non-degree program, accepting tuition payments of blood, sweat and tears.

the School of Hard Knocks

The only way to become good at conversion optimization is to actually do it.

For the longest time, I tried to learn conversion optimization by reading about it, and then even by presuming to tell people what they should do about it. I quickly discovered that the only way to become a competent conversion optimizer was to actually do it myself.

You can become an expert CRO, but it requires that you actually do the work.

2. It’s all about the testing.

If I had to sum up conversion optimization into one word, it would be this:  Testing.

conversion optimization is just basiccly Testing

Qualaroo, which produced one of the most-read and most-cited guides on CRO, puts this at the very front and center of their e-book.

what is conversion rate optimization

They make the case in the first section of their first chapter that “conversion rate optimization is a structured and systematic approach to improving the performance of your website.”

You simply cannot have any structure, system or performance improvement unless you’re testing those structures, systems and performance improvements.

CRO is predicated upon testing, because there is no other successful means of validating and quantifying measurable increases in conversion rates.

Testing is often referred to as “split-testing” or “A/B testing.” The two terms are synonymous.

In an A/B or split test, you present one group of users with one version of your page (Version A) and another group of users with a second version of your page (Version B). After you’ve run this test for a specified period of time, you look at your metrics to see the differences in conversions. (The “conversion” is the specific action you want site users to take.)

Testing can run the gamut. You can test headlines, CTA buttons, page length, image size, and just about anything else you can dream up. The key thing to remember, however, is to do testing. There is no CRO without testing.

If you get this point, you will be way ahead in conversion optimization. Why? Because only 71% of companies are doing testing!

only 71 percent of companies are doing testing

The numbers are disturbing. Only 59% of businesses tested their landing pages in 2013? That’s like going a whole year without brushing your teeth!

Testing is part and parcel of CRO.

Ninjas have nunchuks. Mechanics have Snap-on tools. Cyclists have bicycles. Moms of little kids have Dora the Explorer. And CROs have testing. This is what we use for success … nay, for survival.

3. Case studies: Read them, but don’t imitate them.

Much of CRO involves case studies.

Businesses publish case studies to explain what kind of optimization they did on a page, and how it changed things.

There are literally hundreds of these case studies all over the Internet.

100 conversion optimization case studies

I, myself, am a case study junkie. I love discovering what other CROs have done, how it’s changed, and what kind of techniques I should try on my own site.

Case studies have titles like this (all the following are actual case studies):

  • Making Copy Action-Oriented Causes 93% More People to Click
  • Adding a Picture of a Person Increases Highrise Signups by 102.5%
  • Making Call to Action More Prominent Increases Conversions 591%
  • Showing Price on Landing Page Doubles Lead Generation
  • Adding Testimonials Increases Conversions 34%
  • Red Color on CTA Increases Conversions 2.5%
  • Adding Google Site Search Increases Conversions 11%
  • AMD Increases Social Sharing 3600%
  • Bigger Button Makes For Bigger Conversion Rate
  • eCommerce Site Removes a Filter and Increases Site Engagement by 27%
  • Proving Authenticity Increases Sales 107%.

But case studies are a double-edged sword. You have the advantage of learning powerful CRO techniques and game-changing improvements. But the danger is that you assume that similar techniques will work for your site.

So, let’s pretend that you read a case study:  “Orange button improves conversions by 3,600%.” You’ve read some well-known CROs who are giddy about this case study. Everyone in Twitter is sharing it, and you even had a dream about it.

The future of mareketing call-to-action button

So, what do you do? Heck, you turn your buttons orange!

That was dumb.

Case studies tell you what a specific company did in in a specific situation in a specific test in a specific industry with a specific product. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to experience the same results!

I encounter breathless newbies all the time who are waving a “button color changes everything!” headline in their hand, and tripping over themselves to change their button color. Why? Because they read it in a case study.

Folks, stop obsessing over button color, and stop following the case studies like it’s the Ten Commandment tablets of conversion optimization.

After you’ve taken a deep breath, go back and read the point above. Remember? Conversion optimization is about testing.

That case study that just made your blood pressure spike is simply the result of some testing that a company did.

Do you want some shiny metrics and heart-palpitating conversion upticks? Then do you own freaking testing rather than mooching away some other company’s tests!

You will get highly accurate, actionable, and factual information when you conduct your own split testing, not when you do the lemming march off the cliff of someone else’s case study.

do you own conversion testing
(Image edited with my own smart-ass comments.)

4. Know your psychology.

What if I told you that conversion optimization is all about psychology?

Well, here it is:  Conversion optimization is all about psychology.

Psychology, is defined boringly and variously as:

  • The scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context.
  • The mental characteristics or attitude of a person or group.
  • The mental and emotional factors governing a situation or activity.

So, let me sum it up in layman’s terms.

Psychology is about:

  • Something that happens in the “human mind.”
  • Something that happens with a “a person or a group.”
  • Something that happens with a “situation or activity.”

Now, if we put a conversion spin on that, we get this: Conversion optimization is the study of the mind of users in response to a landing page or website.

What is happening as users look at a landing page, a call to action, a website or a checkout process? Their minds are in the action. They are thinking, responding, looking, feeling, thinking, engaging, processing.

If you can understand what’s happening in their gray matter, you will be able to nail it with your conversion optimization.

This is why more and more CROs are encountering psychological tactics that create conversion upticks.

I spend much of my research time uncovering the psychological principles that cause users to click or convert. CROs are interested in anxiety, and how that makes a user respond. They are interested in how different colors affect users in different ways.

As you delve into the field of conversion optimization, keep in mind that it’s about psychology as much as it is about button color, CTAs and persuasion.

5. Conversion optimization works.

I’ve included this last point because it feels good and I want you to end on a harmonious note.

(This is the whole hugging part of the article.)

Conversion optimization works

If you’re new to the field of conversion optimization, or if you’re approaching the old-geezer-in-a-rocking-chair phase, you need to know this: conversion optimization works.

It does. We get mired down in articles about funnels, CTAs, psychological principles and split testing. Then we look up with bleary eyes and blown minds, and wonder, “Does this even work?”

It does.

I can say this experientially, vicariously and confidently. It’s fashionable to be skeptical of everything Internetish — SEO, banner ads, cloud storage, and Facebook’s security. But you don’t have to be skeptical of conversion optimization.

It’s scientific, data-driven, provable, verifiable and powerfully real. Conversion optimization works.

Now let’s go do some conversion optimization.

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