Until very recently, you could define conversion rate optimization (CRO) as the practice of increasing the percentage of users who perform a desired action on a website, such as buying a product or service, signing up for a newsletter, or simply clicking on certain links. However, for leading CRO practitioners, this definition doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s too short-term and too tactical. As the saying goes, what got you here won’t get you there.
Becoming successful at CRO today means going beyond short-term, tactical thinking. To drive digital transformation in your organization and influence the C-suite you need to think strategically, not tactically. But what does it mean to think strategically about CRO? What’s the difference between CRO strategy and tactics? Most importantly, what steps should you take to become a strategic CRO mastermind? This article by Katie Leask, Global Head of Content at Contentsquare, sponsor of the DDMA Dutch CRO Awards, aims to define the questions you need to ask yourself to determine the maturity of your CRO activities. To help you diagnose where you are now on that journey.
The key takeaways
While tactical CRO is important, strategic CRO helps to optimize ROI and lead digital transformation across your organization. Strategic CRO entails a mindset shift towards long-term rather than short-term thinking. You must gain a deeper understanding of your customers and align CRO goals with the broader goals of your business. To diagnose where you are on your journey towards strategic CRO, work out where the gaps are. These could be in the skillset of your team, in your processes, or in the data points you currently have access to.
According to some industry experts Contentsquare interviewed, there are 7 key steps you can take towards becoming a strategic CRO mastermind:
- Align your optimization goals with the wider goals of your business
- Focus on generating long-term insights rather than short-term metrics
- Create a CRO roadmap and focus on testing one thing at a time
- Build a culture of continuous experimentation and improvement
- Use a combination of software tools
- Build a multi-disciplinary CRO team
- Use multiple data points to gain a deeper understanding of your customers
Check out the full statements of the industry experts Contentsquare interviewed here.
Defining strategic CRO
The first step in becoming a strategic CRO mastermind is to define what strategic CRO is.
Strategic CRO vs tactical CRO
Marketers and CRO practitioners are used to thinking tactically. They run multiple A/B tests across a range of variables and then try to draw conclusions from the results. This tactical CRO mindset focuses on conversion percentages, averages, and benchmarks. But having such a data-led approach can lead to not focusing enough on long-term goals. It can also lead to a lack of joined-up thinking.
A strategic CRO mindset instead starts with the bigger picture. On the one hand, that means trying to gain a deeper understanding of your customers and prospects. On the other, it means looking at where CRO fits into the broader strategic goals of the business.
Strategic CRO is about defining long-term goals, and then working out what data points you need to help reach those goals. Then focusing on the KPIs and tactics that will get you closer to those goals.
Long-term vs short-term thinking
Moving from short-term goals to a long-term vision means shifting focus. Rather than focus purely on front-end tests—for example optimizing landing page conversion—strategic CRO defines the long-term goals and then works backward.
To get a long-term view you need to:
- Understand visitors’ intentions
- Identify and resolve any user experience issues or friction on your website
- Understand and overcome visitors’ objections
Here’s one example. Tactical CRO might aim to maximize conversions to a sale. Strategic CRO aims to attract and convert customers who are more likely to spend more money with you. These customers buy more of your products or services and stay with you longer.
As another example, tactical CRO might aim to maximize click-throughs from a specific page. Strategic CRO looks at the entire customer journey and aims to optimize every stage of the customer experience.
KPIs for strategic CRO
Here are examples of the kinds of KPIs that help drive strategic CRO:
Annual recurring revenue (ARR) – used to work out the annual value of a subscription or contract. Because ARR is the amount of revenue that a company expects to repeat, you can use it to predict future growth.
Customer lifetime value (CLV) – the total value to your business of a customer over the whole period of their relationship with you.
Sales pipeline – a representation of your prospective customers/clients, what stage they are at in the sales process, and how much revenue you expect to earn from them.
Sales velocity – how quickly sales move through your pipeline and generate revenue, based on four metrics:
- Number of opportunities
- Average deal value
- Win rate
- Length of sales cycle
Domain authority – an SEO concept that describes the strength of a given web domain, and how findable it is on search engines. usually measured on a score out of 100 using specific digital tools.
Sentiment analysis – an analysis based on aggregated reviews or social media mentions, which indicates whether your audience feels positive, negative or neutral about your brand. There are a variety of digital tools that can do this for you.
Digital happiness index – a combination of specific KPIs from 5 key pillars that measure overall customer satisfaction:
- Flawlessness: Are customers enjoying a smooth experience free of technical performance issues?
- Engagement: Are customers engaging with and satisfied with your content?
- Stickiness: Are visitors loyal and returning frequently to your website?
- Intuitiveness: Does your site navigation make it easy for visitors to enjoy a complete experience?
- Empowerment: How easy is it for customers to find the products and services they want?
Diagnosis: Where are you now?
To become a more strategic CRO practitioner, you need to work out where you are on your strategic CRO journey. Every organization is different, and you’ll need to work out where you are in the context of the strategic priorities in your business. But there are some simple rules that everyone can adapt to suit their circumstances. Here’s a handy set of questions you can use to diagnose where you are with your CRO, split into three parts:
Step 1: People and skills
- Do you have someone on your team to act as an advocate for users/customers?
- Do you have someone on your team who understands the business priorities of your organization?
- Do you have someone to carry out UX research?
- Do you have someone to carry out UX design?
- Do you have someone to carry out UX analysis?
- Do you have a web engineer on your team?
- How data literate is your team?
- What skills gaps can you identify?
- How can you fill those gaps? (Based on your resources, can you hire new staff, develop the skills of existing staff, or access those skills on a freelance or contract basis?)
Step 2: Process
- Are you clear on your overall strategic goals?
- Can you measure your progress towards those goals?
- Do you have a quarterly or monthly CRO roadmap?
- Are you constantly optimizing the customer journey?
- Are you surveying or interviewing your customers to get feedback about the user experience on your website?
- Are you surveying or interviewing your customers to understand what drove them to the site and whether they were able to achieve what they wanted?
- Are you regularly generating new ideas and design concepts to test?
- Do you leverage expertise and insights from other parts of your organization, e.g. Marketing, Commercial/Sales, Product, Support/Customer Services, etc?
- Do you share your results with other parts of your organization and encourage feedback?
- How far ahead do you plan your CRO testing?
- How do you prioritize which issues to solve?
Strategic CRO optimization works best when you are clear about your strategic goals and can measure your progress towards those goals. Business priorities and external pressures change constantly. So you do need to revise your goals periodically, as well as update them in line with your progress. Once you reach your goals, it’s time to set new ones. Strategic CRO is about establishing a process of continuous improvement.
Step 3: Technology and data
- Are you able to measure every step of the customer journey?
- Can you assess where visitors are leaving your website?
- Can you identify common usability issues across your website?
- Can you identify frustration on your site?
- Can you identify your most frequent conversion issues and opportunities?
- Are you measuring the ROI of your content efforts?
- What tech tools are you using right now?
- What knowledge gaps do you have?
- What data do you need to fill in those knowledge gaps?
- Which tech tools could help you collect or analyze that data?
Tactical CRO often falls into the trap of testing what you know you can measure. Strategic CRO focuses on working out what you want to test and then finding the data you need to be able to carry out those tests. It’s important to understand where you may need more data, and then look into how you can get access to it.
Now you know where you are, it’s time to look at some practical steps you can take on the path to becoming a strategic CRO mastermind. Contensquare reached out to leading CRO experts to get their insights. Check out their response at Contentsquare’s website and start elevating your CRO strategy.
Katie Leask is Global Head of Content bij Contentsquare, sponsor of the DDMA Dutch CRO Awards 2022. During the award ceremony on November 3 in B. Amsterdam, we will the crown the very best CRO cases the Dutch marketing industry has to offer. Do you want to attend? Get your tickets at: dutchcroawards.nl/koop-tickets