The Beginners’ Guide to Conversion Rate Optimisation

Businesses, marketers, content writers, designers and SEO experts – to name a few – are all turning their attention to Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO). In this article, we’ll look at why and how you can improve your own website’s CRO.

What is Conversion Rate Optimisation and why is it so important?

When it comes to making sales, businesses have two options – drive more traffic to their website to increase the number of sales through sheer volume (the online equivalent of the saying, if you throw enough balls at enough coconuts…) or make sure that the traffic they already have converts into paying customers.

This is essentially what Conversion Rate Optimisation is: a system for increasing the percentage of visitors to a website that convert into customers or take whatever action you want them to take on a web page, e.g. signing up to your newsletter, downloading a free ebook, booking an appointment, submitting a web form, or making a purchase.

Understanding how your website converts visitors to customers is important because it can help you measure the success of your marketing tactics and improve the user experience. If your conversion rate is low, it’s a signal that it’s time to make changes.

By concentrating on your CRO, you should be able to grow your business quicker, improve the return on investment on your marketing expenditure, and increase your overall profits.

In his book, Your Customer Creation Equation, Brian Massey points out that most websites have a conversion rate of just one to two percent, i.e. only one or two customers out of every 100 visitors make a purchase. If these businesses were to increase their conversion rate to just three customers, it would grow their sales by 50%!

Another way of looking at it is, if you improve your conversion rates without spending more money on attracting traffic, you can significantly cut down on how much it costs you to acquire each new customer. In other words, double your conversion rate and you’ll half what each customer costs your business.

This demonstrates that even small increases in conversion can lead to big increases for your business.

Where does Search Engine Optimisation fit in with Conversion Rate Optimisation?

Over the past three years, Search Engine Optimisation and Conversion Rate Optimisation have moved closer together to overlap in many ways. Both approaches share one essential focus: engagement.

Tactics that will help your SEO should also improve conversions and vice versa. This can include:

  • Helpful, targeted meta descriptions that reflect what customers will find on each web page
  • Clear, engaging and descriptive headings
  • Customer reviews and social proof to build trust and remove fear
  • Informative, readable content written for your customers
  • A strong internal linking structure to help people navigate your website
  • Well optimised landing pages for your services, treatments, products or downloads
  • Well thought-out alt tags written for user experience rather than an opportunity to hide keywords

And let’s not forget your SEO meta titles for each page – in many ways, these are the first opportunity for conversion, especially for organic website traffic, as your meta titles and meta descriptions determine whether someone clicks through to your website or one of the other nine sites listed on the same page.

Try this:

To check your meta titles, type into Google, e.g., and you should see a list of results that show pages from your site, complete with meta titles and descriptions.

  • Are any of the SEO titles the same? If so, change them so that each page has a unique title.
  • Do your titles look like – company name | keyword | keyword? Although this isn’t technically wrong, you may find that a headline-style meta title is more clickable.
  • Do the keywords people will be using to search for the page appear in the SEO titles? Using your main keyword near the beginning of the title could make a big difference.
  • Is your company name at the beginning of all your meta titles? Try swapping it to the end and monitor whether it influences your rankings in any way.
  • Are all your SEO titles approximately 55 characters in length? Longer SEO titles can get cut off in searches.
How do you measure your current rate of conversion?

How do you measure your current rate of conversion?

To be successful, Conversion Rate Optimisation needs a methodical, almost scientific approach. Where businesses often go wrong is that they guess what elements of their website might be lowering their conversion rate and make changes based on little more than a hunch. Sometimes they get lucky, but often they don’t.

Having done a lot of research into CRO over the years, I believe that you need to adopt a strategic approach that starts with understanding your numbers.

My recommendation would be to start with Google Analytics or whatever analytics system you use to monitor your website traffic. Make sure the date settings are for the last 30 days rather than a single day or week, so that you have a good overview of your traffic across its various peaks and troughs throughout the month.

Write down the following numbers:

  • Bounce rate – This tells us what percentage of people bounced away from your website after only looking at one page; a high bounce rate is usually a sign that something is putting potential customers off navigating deeper into the site. You’ll find your site’s bounce rate on the main Audience Overview screen in Google Analytics.
  • Exit rates for each page – If you find pages with high exit rates, it’s worth looking at them more closely. Is there a call to action? Is it clear what the page is about? Is there something about the page design or content that could be driving people away from your site? Go to Behaviour>Site content>Exit pages in the menu in the left sidebar of your Google Analytics dashboard to find your pages with the highest exit rates.
  • Average time on site – This is a good indication of how long each visitor is spending on your website; the longer the average time on your site, the better the signals this sends to Google about the quality of your content and the better for your CRO. Again, this data is found on the main Audience Overview screen.
  • Number of unique visitors on site – In my opinion, it’s better to look at the number of unique visitors to your website rather than the number of page views. The same person may come back to your site several times before they make a purchase, much like a shopper browsing a bricks and mortar shop. You can find this data on the main Audience Overview screen in Google Analytics.
  • Average number of pages visited – This figure gives you a good indication of how deeply people are going into your website. It can be a good sign if they’re reading several pages as it shows your visitors are engaging with your content. However, if they’re visiting lots of pages without converting, it can be a sign that you’re not telling them what they need to do to convert. The Behaviour Flow data in Google Analytics will show you how people are moving through your site. Is everyone taking a similar route or are people going in all directions?
  • Total number of people who converted, i.e. who did what you wanted them to – You can set up and monitor conversion goals in Google Analytics under the Conversions header in the left-hand side bar of your dashboard.

To measure the total number of people who converted, you may need to set up some ‘Goals’ in Google Analytics. You can find a video walking you through this process here:

Once you have these figures at your disposal, you can work out your current conversion rate. Do this by dividing the total number of conversions for a specific goal by the number of unique visitors to your site.

For example, if your website had 500 visitors in a month and 25 converted to customers, you would do the following sum: 25 ÷ 500 = 0.05. In other words, 5%.

Just to show the sum works for any number, let’s try 278 conversions ÷ 9830 unique visitors = 0.028 (2.8%).

This gives you your starting point. Now you need to plan how to improve your conversion rate by at least one or two percent, if not more.

Making a Conversion Rate Optimisation plan

If your conversion funnel isn’t working – i.e. the route people need to take through your website to become customers – then it’s essential that you address this before thinking about driving more visitors to your website.

My approach is always to concentrate on attracting quality, relevant visitors who will buy from you over a large number of visitors who don’t need or see the value in what you offer. When you have relevant website traffic, you have a much higher chance of not only converting visitors into customers but also turning them into ambassadors for your brand who will rave about what you do.

So, how do you come up with a plan?

  1. Start with the numbers above – you should try to understand what they mean before you take any action
  2. Come up with a theory/hypothesis based on these numbers, e.g. people are clicking on the ‘Add to basket’ button but leaving the site without buying because they’re finding the checkout process on your e-commerce site too complicated
  3. Decide how you’re going to test that hypothesis – you might decide to redesign or simplify the checkout process
  4. Test your hypothesis with split testing – which checkout process works better?

    What is split testing? Split testing or A/B Testing is when you create two different variations of a web page or landing page and send equal amounts of traffic to both, then track which version has the higher conversion rate. Once you know which version converts better, you can use that with the intention of seeing an ongoing increase in conversions.

  5. Take the knowledge you’ve learned and form a new hypothesis
  6. Continue to test and revise your website at regular intervals

In his excellent article about converting Google visitors into customers, John Paul Mains from Click Laboratory explains the same process but in fewer steps:

  • Step 1:  Understand the unique needs of your visitors from search engines
  • Step 2:  Give them the content they came for AND solve their problem
  • Step 3:  Test visitor interactions and behaviours
  • Step 4:  Constantly evolve and repeat previous steps

CRO isn’t a one-time approach but should instead be an ongoing process of tweaking and revising your website. What converts well on one website may not work on another, and your successful conversion methods may tail off as web trends ebb and flow. The best thing is to keep experimenting.

Know your customers

Data and stats aren’t enough for really effective CRO. Qualitative feedback from your customers about their experiences of using your website or buying your products/services will provide you with valuable information too.

Know your customers

Early on in the planning process, I would recommend building up some visitor and buyer ‘persona’ profiles to understand who your customers are and what motivates them. Social media is a fantastic place to start with this.

In Google Analytics under the Acquisitions>Overview section, you can see the main sources of traffic to your website. You can then click on each of these sources for a more detailed breakdown of where your traffic has come from. Alternatively, you can click on Acquisitions>Social Media>Overview for a breakdown of your social media traffic.

Where does most of your social media traffic come from?

For many businesses, Facebook is the number one source of social media referrals. This is helpful because Facebook’s business page insights can tell you the gender, age and location of your typical fans, as well as the content from you that they like, comment on and share. You can even click on people who have engaged with your content and see what they share on their profiles in terms of other businesses they like or their hobbies and interests.

Customer surveys

You might also want to try sending a survey out to your existing customers, offering a gift voucher or similar as a prize for taking part. Ask them what they need or want to see on your website, even what brands they love, or how important different things are to them when purchasing your products, e.g. price, choice, customer care, and so on.

You should also considering asking for feedback about their buying experience.

Try asking a question like: What were the most important factors that convinced you to place an order with (your company name)?

  • Do you notice any patterns?
  • Do any benefits get mentioned in many responses? E.g. Selection, convenience, price, free shipping, free returns
  • Did your customers mention any hurdles or things you offer that helped them overcome those hurdles? Free returns is often cited because it takes away the risks of buying online.
  • Are you making things like free returns prominent enough on your website?

HelloFresh is a company that does this well. At various stages in the buying journey, HelloFresh sends out short surveys to understand how their customers are feeling about their overall service, the quality of the HelloFresh boxes, and the website. The emails are relevant to the customer most recent contact with HelloFresh, short and warmly worded, stressing that the feedback will help them give the customer the best possible service.

The more you can learn about your customers, the easier it will be to develop a website that meets their needs.

Another option is to use an on-site survey that asks customers if anything prevented them from placing their order. Qualaroo is one company that offers on-site surveys designed to help you understand the customer experience as it happens.

You might also want to consider using an ‘exit overlay’ on your screen. You’ve probably come across these a lot recently but if you aren’t familiar with the term, an exit overlay is a pop-up that appears on the screen when the visitor is about to navigate away from your website. This reminds the visitor of your main offering or prompts them one last time into converting to a customer. Here’s an example of the exit overlay used by Get Rooster:

Exit Overlay to increase conversion rate optimisation

Is CRO all about design?

The common assumption that CRO is all about design can damage your conversion rate. Turning visitors into customers isn’t just about the design elements of a website. Yes, making a call to action more prominent or changing the colour of your ‘Buy now’ button may lead to more sales but unless you understand why customers are acting the way they do on your website, these changes may not be enough on their own.

Try taking some time out to look at your website as though you have never seen it before or, better yet, ask a friend or colleague to do it for you. Ask the following questions:

  • What is the first thing a visitor sees on the page?
  • Is it distracting or does it help the visitor move towards converting?
  • Do the graphics/images support the main message of the page?
  • Is your message clear?
  • How easy is it to see and understand the call to action?
  • Do visitors understand what they need to do next?
  • Can visitors see the value of taking action?
  • Will they gain more than they will lose, e.g. is what you’re selling worth more than the cost of the item and postage because of its use or quality?
  • If a visitor found a page on Google, would the meta description reflect what they find when they arrive on your website?
  • Is there anything on the page that might create uncertainty or lack of trust about buying?
  • Is there anything missing from the page, e.g. reviews or a money-back guarantee, that would boost customer confidence?
  • Is there any reason for a visitor to take action straightaway?
  • Is the website easy to use on a mobile phone?
  • Are you showing that security is important to you, especially if you have an e-commerce site?
  • Is the payment process clear?
  • Can visitors find the navigation, contact page, and the checkout easily?

There’s a fantastic free service called Peek User Testing where a complete stranger will navigate your website for the first time for approximately five minutes while recording their observations about the usability and content. Although your website is unlikely to be visited by someone within your target market through Peek, it can give you some valuable insights into the first impressions your website creates.

Carrying out your split tests

Now you understand what Conversion Rate Optimisation is and why it’s so important to your business, your next step is to carry out A/B split tests – which will probably require a future blog all to itself! There is a wide range of testing software available but experts most often recommend for ease of use, simplicity, and data:

For a helpful guide to creating, running and analysing A/B split tests, check out Chapter 4 onwards of Neil Patel’s Definitive Guide to Conversion Optimisation on Quicksprout.

As a beginner’s guide to Conversion Rate Optimisation, we have only just scratched the surface of this important topic. There’s no doubt that conversion is the word on everyone’s lips when it comes to effective marketing, sales and search engine optimisation. I’ve put together a handy list of resources below as well as a printable Conversion Rate Optimisation Rate Cheat Sheet to help you get started.

Free – The Beginner’s Conversion Rate Optimisation Cheat Sheet

Simply click the link and print it off.

If you have any questions about CRO or you’d like to share your CRO journey so far, I’d love to hear from you in the Comments below.


  • More CRO guides

Neil Patel, of Quicksprout, is also the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBS and Viacom grow their revenue and is widely acknowledged as one of the biggest influencers on the web. Check out his fantastic in-depth guide to conversion optimisation: 

You might also want to try Click Laboratory’s guide to increasing SEO conversion rates – it’s packed full of handy hints and tips: 

Qualaroo’s beginner’s guide to CRO is also incredibly helpful:

  • Conversion goals and funnels

Learn how to set up conversion goals and a conversion funnel in Google Analytics:

  • Assess your website’s first impressions

Listen to a stranger visit your website for the first time as they record their initial impressions:

  • Create customer surveys

For on-site surveys, try

To email a survey to existing customers, try: or

Hopefully, this article hit the spot. If so, can I ask you to use the social buttons below to spread the word? It takes seconds. Thank you.

5 thoughts on “The Beginners’ Guide to Conversion Rate Optimisation”

  1. Hi Hazel,

    Lovely article!! I especially like the questions to ask somone when reveiwing your website from a CRO stand-point.

    Split-testing is something I will be focusing on a great deal in 2016, if you write an article on this I’d love to give it a read too.

    Many thanks,

  2. This is a great post. I have learned a lot by reading this article and will implement the knowledge in my work now. I am looking forward to the customer surveys, that would really help.

  3. Hi Hazel,
    What a great comprehensive article! I saved many links. I was interested in the Schema markup information. I learned a lot about it here.
    “Get eye-catching results in search engines with the most popular schema markup plugin.” I will try it.

    Also the Google My Business information was extensive. “It enables you to tell the story of your business, including photos and reviews, and share important information with potential customers before they’ve even clicked through to your website.” I am listed and have info on my site about how to get listed. I will be studying your info about it. Wonderful information.


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.