You are aware that website conversion optimization is good for your business. You also know that data is the most important part of a successful optimization process. And you are all ready to dive into a CRO program.
Now would be a good time to pause for a moment and take in certain things.
And in case you’re wondering, ‘E3’ is just another fancy name. There’s nothing unique about it apart from the fact that it is based on this one strategic move which I believe deserves more credit than is being awarded, currently.
The CRO technique hardly ever mentioned
It is interesting that very few people in the industry actually admit to the importance of observing the competition. Google for “CRO techniques” or “website conversion rate optimization” and you will come up with all sorts of details about conducting tests and interpreting data.
But why would I buy from you and not from your competitor? What do you have that they do not? And if you are starting out, wouldn’t you want to know why they are your competitors in the first place? In other words, how the heck are they getting conversions?
Even Peep Laja, one of the leading experts and founder of Conversion XL, grudgingly admits at the end of an article titled “Stop Copying Your Competitors: They Don’t Know What They’re Doing Either”:
I’m not saying your competitors are not getting some things right. You just don’t know which factors are correct. So instead of just blindly copying something, make sure that you don’t just change your site. Have the mindset that you’re running an experiment. The thing you copy is a hypothesis – and you need to test it.
Run it against your current site and see if it makes a difference. Then either implement or discard.
Excellent advice, but why so wary? Looks like the experts are hesitant to admit that copying from a successful business could be a starting point for conversion rate optimization. Which, perhaps, explains the title. Yes, I understand he is trying to make a point there, but the title could have been less of a click bait.
The Conversion Rate Experts (CRE), on the other hand, are more forthright. While they do not talk about copying, they do clearly mention the value of comparing their client’s strong points with that of the competition. Incidentally, the CRE are the guys that coined the phrase “Conversion Rate Optimization” and the acronym CRO in 2007.
When we started working with sunshine.co.uk, it wasn’t immediately clear why visitors should use its site rather than one of its competitors’.
To find out, we spoke with two of sunshine.co.uk’s founders, Chris Clarkson and Alan Gilmour. They had the inside knowledge of the travel industry and could tell us how they were different from the competition.
It is clear from the quote above that for the CRE, this was information that constituted an indispensable part of the conversion optimization program. It is a fortunate coincidence that the client was already aware of their own USP. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to assume that CRE must have corroborated the data that the client provided by checking out the competition independently.
Copying as a viable measure in sectors other than CRO
Are you hesitant about copying from others?
Trainee painters copy works of the Great Masters stroke by stroke. That’s one of their more important learning methods.
The Hubspot State of Inbound 2016 report reveals one very curious detail about how some businesses determine marketing budget allocation: They do not calculate ROI.
- Of those who do calculate ROI, 5% have failed in inbound marketing in the past.
- Of those that do not calculate ROI, 8% have had failure with inbound marketing in the past.
Only 3% more businesses that practically guess their way into marketing tactics have failed than ones that rely on actual data. And this could explain why:
- 25% (of those that do not calculate ROI) noticed industry leaders making certain changes and followed suit.
They decided not to reinvent any kind of wheel and simply copied from the best. Apparently, it worked.
Hubspot doesn’t tell us how the industry leaders created their strategies. We don’t know if these leaders relied more on data or on their own instincts bred from knowledge and experience.
There’s also this interesting article by Ndubuisi Ekekwe in the Harvard Business Review on how Copying and Imitation Funds are viewed from a global perspective as desirable.
On the other side of the spectrum, a draft of the present article was rejected by a client – they wanted me to create unique content out of blog posts by other CRO companies, instead. Oh well.
How does website conversion optimization work?
When optimizing conversion for your website, you are dealing with real life human beings. Yes, you are always dealing with human beings because machines or animals do not buy products or services. However, the difference is that conversion is the tipping point. This is where you score – or begin to score.
There are all sorts of buyers. Some buy because their cousin did, some buy for no particular reason at all. Some others keep researching till they are blue in the face and then move on to some other product. And still others buy on impulse.
Conversion, however, happens for one reason and one reason alone. It happens when you provide value and instill trust. And no, those are not two reasons.
We are talking about optimizing true conversion here. There are massive lists where the equally massive attrition rate may not be immediately noticeable when the numbers keep balancing themselves with more and more subscribers. You don’t want that kind of conversion. Which is why you want to optimize.
A matter of perspective
You could begin by asking yourself two questions:
- “How do I provide value?” and,
- “How do I instill trust?”
Those would be the wrong questions to ask.
This is what you really need to know:
- “What do people perceive as value?” and,
- “What do people find trustworthy?”
Incidentally, what people may perceive as value need not be the same as what is normally known as ‘perceived value’. Perceived value is a manipulation of sorts, and it may or may not provide long-term satisfaction, or inevitably lead to trust.
The assumption, at the beginning of this article, was that you were ready to dive in. Did your very first step involve observing closely what already works for others? If it did, it could be argued that you were planning to take one of the best first steps to website conversion rate optimization.
One of the best, because hardly anything is written in stone. That said, what works, works. All you need is to know if you can approximate your competitors’ methods (that bring them conversion) and, eventually, optimize your rate of conversions more than they have optimized theirs.
No one in their right mind would fail to recognize the value of painstakingly gathered data. However, interpretation of data requires a context. Using your competitor’s success as a starting point can provide context enough when you begin CRO.
There’s just one caveat here: you’ll need to know what you’re doing.
The process for an E3 conversion optimization program
It is always best to be able to do things on your own – ‘If you want something done…’ – and all that. Still, it pays to get real. Experts are what they are for a reason. Don’t hesitate to call them in when necessary. Time is money. For some mysterious reason, people tend to forget that.
If you have to convince your seniors to sanction a CRO project, you will need to tell them what they want to hear. Usually, they want to hear about what looks like a plan and not a vision. If you call in the experts, you stand a better chance of having a plan.
Once you have convinced the decision makers, it should only be a matter of time before you also have the resources. And you will need resources. It is another matter that not all strategies will require a fortune to implement, but unless you are more than adequately equipped, there will be one more thing to worry about, constantly.
Even if you have experts working for you, you will need to get certain priorities right. There is no one rule in CRO. It would be a fallacy to assume that people looking for red women’s shoes with black polka dots on them will all share common characteristics. There are shoes and then there are shoes. So it is with prospects.
You will always have to convince every single prospect that not only are your shoes the best, YOU are the best. And you’d better believe your competitors are doing precisely that.
Here are some of the elements that you will want to consider while studying what has worked for others. And then, adapt them to suit your style.
Are your prospects able to see what you have to offer as they land? Or does your site take two seconds more than your competitors’ to load?
Yes, you are using a responsive theme – nobody said you’ve been living under a rock, but do you like what you see?
How do you feel when you navigate your own site? How ’bout asking others? Consider user testing?
Are you telling a story? Everyone loves a good story as long as it is brief and to the point. And images are great storytellers. How are you doing on that front? How are the others doing?
Engagement vs Distraction
While on the subject of stories and images, are you engaging your prospects or distracting them? What is the threshold beyond which distraction occurs? Again, how are the others doing?
You have a great site in all respects but is it what your visitors expected? What does a person looking for red shoes with black polka dots expect your site to say to them as they land? How many different expectations? And how many different buyer personas?
How relevant are your stories, content, headline, logo or CTA to what your brand projects? To what you promised your prospects? And yes, how are the others achieving this relevance?
When you have a plan work gets done. You do need to look at what others are doing, but first, you need to know what you’ll be looking for. Once you have that sorted, your entire team can collaborate towards a single outcome.
Usually, this will be a two-step process on completion of which you will add a third step.
- Explore – what has worked for others.
- Examine – how similar elements are performing in your case.
- Extrapolate – the data to find viable conditions for probable success and further testing.
Let’s call this the E3 method of website conversion optimization. This is a continuous process – CRO is never a one off thing. Also, once you have more success, others might do what you have done. They might just copy you and conduct their own E3 experiments with the data they find.
CRO is a circle, in that sense. Thankfully, not a vicious one. ‘May the best copyist win’ doesn’t sound half bad for a CRO slogan.
I am going to publish a very small case study later to show how moderate success was achieved with the E3 methodology. In truth, I wasn’t even aware at that time of anything called CRO or, indeed, that we had a method in the first place. My client, who was happy with the content I provided her, wasn’t thrilled at how it was performing. She requested me to find out why and we worked together on her small affiliate site. And we got results.
It is difficult to optimize a small website for conversion, especially one that receives less than 9,000 visitors per month, but we did manage to improve conversion significantly.
Meanwhile, what about you? Have you tried anything similar? Would you consider trying? Do let us know in the comments.