What Is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)? How To Get Started (2023)

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Conversion rate optimization (CRO) turns your website’s visitors into customers or leads.

Instead of spending your precious time and money attracting new traffic, boosting your conversion rate will produce more value from your existing users.

This guide breaks down CRO in simple terms, shows you how to calculate your conversion rate, and gets you started with some basic conversion optimization tasks.

Ready to unlock the power of CRO?

What is conversion rate optimization?

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is a marketing strategy that aims to increase the percentage of an audience that performs a specified action, known as a conversion.

A conversion could mean making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or simply clicking on a link. You might pursue several types of conversion within a single website or marketing campaign. For example, a social media ad conversion could be defined as a click-through to your website, while a conversion for your product page could be defined as a user adding a product to their cart.

To implement CRO, you first need to calculate your website’s current conversion rate. Then, you’ll need to test your new solution against the existing content. To do this, marketers use multivariate, split, and A/B testing. More on those later.

But let’s back up for a second. How do you decide which type of conversion to improve, and how do you know when you’ve successfully optimized your content?

What is a conversion?

A conversion is the goal of a piece of marketing content, a webpage, or a business. Conversions are almost always actions that move a user toward a business’s ultimate aim, such as a sale.

For ecommerce stores, that means encouraging users to move down your sales funnel, converting them from interested prospects who might see an ad to engaged browsers who have visited your website to satisfied customers loyal to your brand.

In other words, a conversion should be defined by the action you want a user to take directly after interacting with your content. That may mean defining a series of smaller conversions across your website and sales channels, all leading to your primary conversion metric.

Conversions can be entirely dependent on the purpose that a specific part of your website serves. Examples of ecommerce conversions include:

  • Online sales
  • Adding products to a cart
  • Adding items to a wishlist
  • Submitting an email address
  • Clicking on a link in a blog post or ad

But you aren’t limited to those examples. You can track and optimize for any key performance indicator (KPI) or ecommerce metric that describes your goals.

What is the average conversion rate?

To increase conversions for an online store, constant testing and tweaking is required. And, to test effectively, you need to set benchmarks for what counts as a job done well.

As you get deeper into conversion rate optimization, you can set your own benchmarks and targets based on historical content performance. But to begin with, it helps to know the average conversion rates for websites similar to yours.

If you run an ecommerce website, the average ecommerce conversion rate for orders is often said to be between 2.5% and 3%.

Either way, if you calculate your conversion rate and find that it’s above 3%, you can count yourself among the very best-converting online stores.

👀 Many CRO case studies prove that small tweaks can have a big impact on conversion rates.

How to calculate your conversion rate

You can calculate your conversion rate by dividing your total number of conversions by the total number of users who interacted with your website, webpage, or piece of content within a defined period of time. Multiply the result by 100 to generate a percentage:

Conversion rate = (total number of conversions / total number of visitors) x 100

Say your store received 50 sales and hosted 1,000 visitors last month. The sales conversion rate for your store would be 50 divided by 1,000 (.05), multiplied by 100, which equals 5%.

To calculate an accurate, useful conversion rate, be specific about the data you collect. Does an online order count as a conversion, or must the sale be shipped and completed? Are you counting sessions or unique visitors?

A conversion rate formula where conversions are divided by visitors and multiplied by 100.

Where to start with CRO

Here are three key areas of your website where you can start implementing CRO to enhance user experience and boost conversions:

Product pages

Product pages are the backbone of any ecommerce website and can greatly benefit from CRO. Test the effects of optimizing your product images, descriptions, and brand voice.

Product photography

When your customers can’t physically interact with your products, the media you use to represent your items becomes a key conversion factor. Make sure your product photography is high-resolution and showcases each item’s most popular features.

If you can, include a 360-degree view, demonstration video, or 3D model to give visitors a full visual experience.

An iPhone showing a vase on a white countertop above a button that says Start scan.
Shopify’s 3D product scanner.

Product descriptions

Like the media you create, descriptions represent one of a limited number of touchpoints between ecommerce shoppers and products. While it might be tempting to write a long love letter about each of your store’s items, high-converting product descriptions balance detail with brevity.

Descriptions that lack information about construction, fit, use, or unique selling points may fail to give customers the confidence to add a product to their cart. Too much information, and shoppers may skip reading your description entirely.

Provide clear, concise descriptions that highlight both product features and benefits. Break up longer sections of text with bullet points and images to enhance scrollability.

Brand voice

Conversion rates aren’t only affected by the product information you choose to convey—the way you speak also matters.

Your brand’s voice should resonate with your target audience. A familiar, relatable tone builds trust between ecommerce businesses and their consumers.

If you don’t have an existing brand reputation, think more widely about “voice” as the total impression your content makes. You can:

  • Convey social proof through customer testimonials, product reviews, and seals of approval from other trusted brands
  • Offer a return policy that allows customers to try out and return their purchases with few stipulations
  • Create authentic product videos that showcase your product at work in its natural habitat 

(Popular) blog posts

Your blog posts, especially those that are search engine optimized and attracting readers, offer another opportunity to add conversions. Focus on a post’s calls to action and lead generation.

Optimize CTAs

A call to action (CTA) is an instruction to your audience, usually in the form of a button or link to the next stage of your sales funnel.

For blog posts, successful CTAs are relevant to the topic of the article. They also nudge a reader to consider a product or product category, rather than asking them to make a specific purchase.

A/B testing (see below) can help you identify where to place CTAs within your blog posts, and which words and phrases most effectively attract clicks.

Lead generation

Use your blog posts to ask readers if they’d like to be sent extra content, such as a downloadable PDF, checklist, or curated selection or articles. It’s a simple way to convert a prospect into a sales lead by collecting their email address, as well as capturing more of their attention.

Landing page

Landing pages are designed with one goal in mind: to convert visitors into leads or customers. A landing page is often a visitor’s first impression of your site, so you want to make it count by refining your information hierarchy through iterative testing.

Information hierarchy

Organize your landing page content based on its importance to readers. The most critical information, like your value proposition and call to action, should sit at the top of the page. Worthwhile but less necessary details, like testimonials or additional product information, can be placed further down.

Iterative testing

Continuously test the type, design, and placement of content on your most-visited landing page. By paying attention to the behavior of website visitors and adjusting the structure of your page accordingly, it’s often possible to achieve conversion optimization without changing the substance of your content. 

10 CRO strategies to increase your conversion rate

Optimizing your online store is a continuous back and forth. You should always be learning more about your audience, then looking for ways to act on what you’ve learned to serve them better.

Here are 10 conversion tips to consider during that process. Each one focuses on improving a specific part of your website, and together, they make up a comprehensive CRO strategy.

  1. Use Shopify Checkout
  2. Simplify CTAs
  3. Run A/B tests
  4. Add pop-ups
  5. Use a hello bar
  6. Share social proof
  7. Make search bar smarts
  8. Use heat maps
  9. Send abandoned cart emails
  10. Make your site fast and mobile responsive

1. Use Shopify Checkout

Shopify Checkout on a purple gradient background.
Shopify Checkout.

For online stores, the checkout is where conversions happen. That makes it one of the most important parts of an ecommerce website.

You can lead shoppers through your sales funnel with convenient CTAs, seduce them with persuasive product descriptions, and remove friction with seamless website design. But if your prospective buyer struggles to complete their purchase, there’s a good chance they will abandon their cart.

Abandoned carts aren’t the exception in ecommerce: as many as 85% of your mobile shoppers will leave your site without checking out. The key is to ensure a smooth checkout process when your visitors decide they are ready to buy.

Shopify checkout is the best-converting checkout on the internet. It lets you build a one-click checkout that’s customized for your brand. With Shopify checkout, you can:

  • Edit the look of your checkout to match your website
  • Accept multiple payment methods, including credit cards, gift cards, and pay by installment
  • Add conversion optimization features such as customer accounts, loyalty programs and personalized upselling
  • Autofill customer information fields (faster checkouts equal higher conversions)
  • Add Shop Pay to offer accelerated checkout for more than 100 million users

2. Simplify CTAs

CRO example from merchant Province of Canada featuring hero images and a simple call to action.

It takes just 50 milliseconds for a website’s visitor to form their first impression. So simplicity and directness are the name of the game.

Because you can’t count on our visitors’ time or patience, phrase your desired action as simply and possible and place it in a page’s highest-converting position. For homepage designs, that means putting your call to action above the fold, like this example from Province of Canada.

One way to reduce the complexity of your CTAs is to spread information across text and images. Here, Province of Canada promotes its flagship product through two hero images that occupy the entire first scroll-depth of the homepage, with minimal accompanying text to notify visitors about new stock and colorways. 

If you’re not sure what to feature as your main hero image, it’s best to go with your bestselling or most profitable products—or trending items like new arrivals or current promotions.

3. Run A/B tests

Two versions of a website shopping cart, one with extra information about payment terms.
An A/B test performed on a slide-out cart feature by ecommerce agency Fuel Made.

A/B testing is a form of conversion rate experimentation, also known as split testing. It’s a way of comparing two versions of the same web page or content to see which produces better results.

The goal of A/B testing is to validate a variant of your page content—perhaps its information hierarchy or call to action. The old and new variants are shown to similar sets of visitors at the same time. The version with the higher average conversion rate is declared winner and served to your entire audience.

Remember that A/B testing can be implemented for all kinds of conversions, not just sales. As long as you have a hypothesis for how to improve your content, at least one variant to test, and a segment of your audience to test the variant on, you can split test just about anything.

Examples of A/B test subjects include buttons, banners, backgrounds, and email subject lines. Variants can consist of entirely new content or more subtle tweaks, such as a different font color or increased page contrast.

Ecommerce agency Fuel Made used A/B testing to increase conversions for men’s grooming brand Live Bearded, by testing several designs for a slide-out shopping cart. They found that a variant with extra “iconography and trust-building information” improved conversions by 18% above the baseline—demonstrating the power of small, targeted changes.

Before you conduct an A/B test (or any CRO test), make sure your website receives enough traffic to generate statistically significant results. If your sample size is too small, your results may not accurately reflect how a larger population will use your site.

4. Add pop-ups

a pop-up box advertising a free product giveaway contest.

A pop-up is a box or bubble that appears in front of a web page after it has loaded. They are commonly used to highlight information that most consumers would like to know about, such as an available coupon code. Pop-ups also notify visitors of live events, like when somebody makes a purchase.

Pop-ups increase a website’s conversion rate by demanding a user’s attention. They can respond to a particular behavior, such as when a user shows exit intent by moving their cursor toward the top of the screen, or by creating a sense of urgency.

Some studies have shown that well-designed pop-ups placed at the right point in the user journey have an average conversion rate of more than 9%.

They’re also an opportunity to collect leads by offering content or discounts in return for a customers’ contact information. A few seconds after entering Our Place’s homepage, for example, visitors are served a pop-up promoting a free giveaway.

Try using an app like Privy or Powr to add a pop-up to your homepage offering a discount code in exchange for an email address.

5. Use a hello bar

A brand homepage featuring a hello bar that advertises free shipping and returns.

Hello bars, also known as welcome bars, work a lot like pop-ups. They’re great at grabbing your website visitors’ attention and quickly giving them useful info.

Lots of websites use hello bars to let people know about sales, share discount codes, or tell them about special deals. Because a hello bar appears at the top of the page as soon as someone gets to your site, it’s a fast way to communicate information and can improve your conversion rate.

For example, take a look at the Our Place homepage again. It has a welcome bar that tells people about a discount and a free shipping deal.

You can make your own non-intrusive hello bar with an app like 20+ Promotional Sales Tools.

6. Share social proof

beardbrand product page featuring a star review rating as a form of social proof.

Social proof is all about encouraging people to follow the crowd. It’s a powerful tool for conversion rate optimization, making an action more appealing by showing that other people have already taken it.

If your products have been used by influencers or highlighted in known publications, display evidence of these mentions on your site. Positive reviews from previous customers are another form of social proof that can be as meaningful to potential buyers as a trusted recommendation from a friend.

Shopify store owners can use apps like Yotpo to embed customer reviews into product pages. Other social proof apps like Fomo create a notification in the corner of visitors’ screens, showcasing real-time purchases. The idea here is to incite a sense of urgency while also providing social proof that other people are also interested in a product. 

Social proof can be especially helpful for businesses in the beauty and skin care industry. Beardbrand, for instance, makes sure customer star ratings are featured prominently on all of its product pages.

7. Make search bars smart

Alo yoga’s smart search function, shown auto-suggesting results for a query

Visitors who enter your site from a social media ad or search engine query may not arrive with a specific product in mind. For them and others, your navigation bar is an opportunity to convert casual browsers into interested leads.

If your store has a large amount of products, you might want to consider featuring your search bar prominently on your homepage, giving users the opportunity to head directly where they want to be rather than digging through categories.

Apps like Searchanise add predictive results functionality, to help your customers find what they’re looking for more quickly. Intelligent search functions suggest results and products as users are typing, while taking into account things like spelling errors and alternate product names.

Fitness clothing brand Alo uses a smart search bar to help its customers find exactly what they’re looking for. After entering a few letters, the search bar begins suggesting categories, products, and related results (also an effective way to upsell and cross-sell).

8. Use heat maps

The homepage of a website selling jeans is overlaid with orange, red, and blue spots to represent user behavior.
A Lucky Orange heat map.

Heat maps are a popular CRO tactic for ecommerce brands because they take behavioral data and turn it into a simple visualization.

Spots of engagement on your website are highlighted by warm shades, while cool areas expose inactive sections. If an area on the heatmap is warm, it represents a potential location for conversion content, such as a CTA.

Apps like Lucky Orange let you study engagement patterns across your website, including dynamic elements like pop-ups, drop-downs, and forms. Many heat map applications come with supplementary conversion rate optimization tools, including:

  • A screen recorder to watch people navigate and interact with your website
  • Live view to see visitor activity in real time, and even start a live chat with a visitor
  • Segmentation to analyze data by traffic source, device type, browser, etc.

9. Send abandoned cart emails

An email from a mattress company to previous website visitors, with a headline that reads “come back to bed.”
An abandoned cart email from Casper.

With abandoned carts a regular occurrence, finding ways to reach and convert dormant cart owners is a tried and true CRO strategy.

Many abandoned carts are associated with email addresses, which makes abandoned cart email campaigns a popular option. In your emails, remind customers of the items they left behind and consider offering a discount or free shipping code to incentivize them to complete their purchase.

Don’t forget about the subject line. It’s the first thing your customer sees and can significantly impact open rates. Make it unusual but relevant—and consider implementing A/B testing.

10. Make your site fast and mobile responsive

An example of Google Lighthouse for chrome, showing scores for web page factors like SEO and Performance.
Google Lighthouse, a tool for surveying the speed and responsiveness of web pages.

With more than 58% of global web traffic coming from smartphones and tablets, a mobile-friendly website isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must.

Every Shopify theme is automatically optimized for display on any device, but there are additional steps you can take to enhance your mobile visitors’ experience. Try simplifying your site navigation, making buttons larger and easier to press, and reducing the amount of text on each page to avoid overwhelming small screens.

To check your website’s responsiveness, use Google’s Lighthouse, an automated tool for improving web page quality.

Just like unresponsive sites, a slow website can drive people away, increasing your bounce rate. Faster websites not only provide a better user experience, but can improve search engine rankings. Page speed is regularly cited as one of the factors Google uses when sorting sites.

You can check your website’s load time with another Google tool, PageSpeed Insights. This free tool provides a detailed report on your website’s loading speed, including a description of issues that are slowing things down.

Optimizing your site load times can be a complex task, but there are a few key things to remember. For ecommerce sites with lots of media, image file sizes can significantly impact loading speeds.

Consider compressing every image you upload using a tool like ImageOptim. This strips away unnecessary data without affecting image resolution, helping to improve your site’s speed, and hopefully, conversion rate.

💡 Read more conversion rate optimization strategies: How to Find and Plug the Leaks in Your Conversion Funnel.

Top conversion rate optimization tools

Here are some of the top Shopify apps for improving website conversion rates, in no particular order:

  • Privy: Increase conversions through pop-ups, email, and SMS marketing. 
  • Smile: Boost customer loyalty with referrals and VIP programs.
  • Blyp: AI-powered tracking to find hidden conversion opportunities. 
  • Firepush: Remarketing app for cart recovery and multichannel campaigns.
  • Yotpo Product Reviews: Collect and display social proof such as ratings and reviews. 
  • Hotjar: Understand user behavior through heat maps, session recording, surveys, and feedback widgets.

If you don’t want to manage CRO on your own, you can hire a Shopify expert to do it for you. Conversion rate experts and agencies are ready and waiting to help.

More experiments = higher conversion rates

Whether you’re a marketer or a business owner, you want people to click that button or link more than anything. That’s why every ecommerce marketing strategy needs to consider conversion rate optimization. 

The CRO experiments and strategies above are a great starting point—they should get more of your website visitors to act in a desired way. But from there, it’s up to you to continually test, learn, and implement changes that will make you content more persuasive.

Conversion rate optimization FAQ

What are some CRO tactics?

  1. Improve website speed. A slow website can lead to a high bounce rate. Optimizing website speed can help improve user experience and increase the likelihood of conversions.
  2. Simplify checkout process. Reducing the number of steps and asking for only necessary information can help increase conversions.
  3. Use high-quality product images. High-quality product images can help customers visualize the product and make informed purchase decisions.
  4. Provide detailed product descriptions. Detailed product descriptions can help customers understand the product and its features, leading to more informed purchase decisions.
  5. Offer free shipping. Offering free shipping can help reduce cart abandonment and increase conversions.
  6. Use customer reviews and ratings. Customer reviews and ratings can help build trust and credibility with potential customers, leading to increased conversions.
  7. Use targeted promotions. Targeted promotions can help incentivize customers to make a purchase and increase conversions.
  8. Use retargeting ads. Retargeting ads can help bring back potential customers who have abandoned their cart or left the website without making a purchase.
  9. Offer a guest checkout option. Offering a guest checkout option can help reduce friction in the checkout process and increase conversions.
  10. Optimize for mobile. With more and more customers using mobile devices to shop online, optimizing ecommerce websites for mobile can help improve user experience and increase conversions.

Is conversion rate optimization hard?

Conversion rate optimization can be tough and time consuming because it involves a lot of experimentation, analysis, and tweaking to make a website or app more appealing to customers.

How do you improve conversion rate optimization?

Optimizing website elements and improving user experience can help you improve conversion rate optimization, like developing better CTAs, speeding up your site, and writing persuasive content. You can also use A/B testing strategies to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

What is a CRO strategy?

A CRO strategy is used to increase conversions of visitors on a website or app. The goal is to improve the chances a visitor will take a desired action on your pages.

How do I run a conversion rate optimization experiment?

Here’s a five-step process you can follow for every CRO experiment you run:

  1. Research. Identify areas of improvement in this phase. Learn what visitors are doing in your store and understand how different web page features affect behavior. You can gather data through Google Analytics, customer surveys, usability tests, and user interviews. 
  2. Hypothesis. Based on the gathered data, decide what changes you’ll make on your pages. For example, a hypothesis could be, “We think adding a global search bar will increase conversions by two times because it helps people find desired products.”
  3. Prioritize. Decide which hypotheses you’re going to test first. Figure out which pages will have the most impact on growth and tackle them first. Look for pages that are performing poorly or have easier fixes that can bump conversion rates faster. 
  4. Test. Test different hypotheses on different pages to see which work best. Implement the changes in a controlled manner, like running A/B tests or split testing. 
  5. Learn. After testing, analyze the results and decide if a change should be made permanent. If not, consider why it didn’t work and use that to inform future experiments.

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