In recent years, programmatic advertising has taken centre stage, with its razor sharp ability to pick out the right person from a crowd and approach them with a hyper-targeted message. But what happens when that ad is delivered; does that specific message continue to resonate when the website visitor arrives at the brand site, wanting to make a purchase?

Worryingly, in many cases, when a consumer reaches a webpage they are instead met with a flood of unexpected information and confusion as they try to navigate through to the product and checkout. With an average 80% of digital spend going to driving consumers to websites, but only 20% on improving and honing the website journey through conversion rate optimisation (CRO) – which includes honing the user interface, tailoring content and user experience to the visitor – we are making conversion an arduous task. In fact without proper thought, split testing and serious commitment to CRO, by far the majority of your potential customers will completely give up, negating the spend investment in driving them to your site in the first place.

Performance marketers, and in fact all marketers, who are serious about driving sales, need to start taking the power of CRO seriously. If you get it right, and that’s hard to do, you could increase sales by 20%, 30% or even 60% each year. For this reason, it should be one of the most talked about performance methods in the marketing industry, yet too many marketers don’t even know what it is, let alone understand its complexity.

Often misunderstood, CRO isn’t just about random split testing. An effective CRO strategy is about understanding: how people think, the cognitive mechanics they go through towards a purchase, how they interact with the site, their individual issues which need resolving and finally, how visitors arrive at decisions. Once you are armed with this information, you can begin sculpting persuasive content to answer the aforementioned questions, design conversations to individuals and test the validity of those solutions.

This means marketers must see the world through the eyes of a consumer, which isn’t easy when you consider that commonly, your visitors will know nothing or very little about your brand when they first pitch up on your website. Yet, do you expect them to know you, your brand and your product as well as you do? And then, are you surprised when you can’t effortlessly persuade them to buy?

The fundamental trap that many marketers fall into is believing that to increase conversion, a website re-design is in order i.e. if you make it look pretty then your customers will buy your product. This is a common content approach, based on what the marketer thinks will drive sales. However, as a general rule if you make assumptions about what will convert, you are always going to be wrong. There’s a fundamental flaw in a marketer’s belief that they know what all of their visitors want. So, in order to maximise conversion you must be able to see first-hand, what works and what doesn’t, from the visitor’s perspective and not what you think is right.

To this end, it’s critical you employ experts outside your organisation due to this lack of impartiality. A complete CRO team will be made up of a range of experts: from designers, user experience experts and specialist developers. All of which, should be backed by specific consumer behaviour, cognitive psychologist research and analyst input. A good CRO partner will not let their opinions and vested interests define the optimisation path, but will meld into the mind of the visitor and develop a persuasion framework designed to convert your visitor, and not you as the marketer.

Then, once you’ve gathered your team, it’s really down to fundamental methodology, psychological science, heuristics and conversion skills. This is the process of investigation, research, and problem-solving through strict experimental methods.

Key to this is testing. A good CRO team will build persuasive architecture design to convert your visitors and test, and test again, in order to empirically validate what works and what doesn’t, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the consumer’s mind-set. This facilitates the creation of cognitive and conversion plans based on your visitors behavioural patterns, which allows marketers to understand what drives or hinders the visitors to buy and transact. It also allows you to predict what might go wrong next.

The beauty of today’s CRO technology is that it enables a level of testing which is much more powerful; allowing you to dramatically change your website without ever changing your website code, which is performed magically within the user’s browser. This removes the need to constantly re-build websites, saving huge amounts of time and money. Advanced testing allows us to test personalised messages served to 10s or even 100s of people based on behaviour data. Imagine if your homepage could morph into 12 different variations to deliver a conversion which is bespoke to every visitor. Once tested, entire user journeys can be tailored to each audience segment and thus build consistent tailored persuasive conversations with your audience, from the ad to the check-out. We can make changes based on: the device, the design solutions product, the user behaviour, and by channel or campaign.

As the name denotes, testing is no easy feat. So how can you lay the groundwork to ensure an effective CRO programme? The basic requirements are that you understand how your product pricing compares to competitor products and how consumers are searching for them. Then you need to consider how people function, which involves detailed eye tracking as well as knowing how your product message is perceived and interpreted by a visitor’s brain. It’s vital you have a clear understanding of what people are looking at and how they process your message, across your whole website and for each distinct audience – unsurprisingly, your visitors are not a homogenous mass. On top of all that, you’ll need to apprehend all marketing channels and ascertain differences between organic and paid channels. This is because visitors from paid versus non-paid channels have very different expectations, and thus expect very distinct conversations.

Think storylines: your website needs to tell a pertinent and provocative story to persuade potential customers to convert into a sale. It might sound crazy, but can you sing the story outlined on your homepage? If you can’t sing it like a beautiful story, it will become clear that your storyline isn’t effective and therefore it’s not optimised for conversion. This is partly down to the fact that businesses are often siloed places, leaving no one person to manage the integral user journey; inevitably resulting in gaps in a less than seamless service. On top of this, high staff turnover in marketing departments leaves the brand website vulnerable to opinionated tampering with a constant rehashing of the same mistakes. This is at detriment to the accumulated knowledge you’ve built; of how to speak the language of site visitors and your understanding of what drives or hinders conversion, explicitly this is your brand storyline. As a result, a brand storyline which is frustratingly inconsistent is instead generated.

Remove the anxiety of excessive choice; people don’t want to be ladened with extra possibilities when looking for a specific product like a boiler, for example. This could lead them to click-off the site. Present them with the choice of boiler that suits them, and ensure the explanatory content of that boiler selection is adapted to that visitor’s knowledge level and resonates with their needs.

CRO in any organisation is a vital function but it’s certainly not about gimmicky colours and button testing, it’s about gaining a deeper understanding of your target customer through processes which are driven by sophisticated technology to bring persuasive frameworks to life, fast. Simply by understanding what consumers really want, can help them get to exactly where they need to be, in order to make a purchase.

At the end of the day, marketers are far more comfortable throwing money at driving visitors to their store front, tending to forget that just 10% or 20% of this spend on effective CRO could bring in 20%, 30% or 60% more sales. So, consider this: is it really worth investing all that money without conversion? Emphatically, no!

Watch this space as CRO becomes the new ‘programmatic’, it’s only a matter of time before marketers work out its inherent value and are shouting it from the rooftops.

Ivan Imhoff

Ivan Imhoff


Ivan Imhoff is a Founding Partner and Head of Conversion Rate Optimisation, House of Kaizen.