Conversion Rate Optimization Basics: Beyond Testing

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conversion rate optimization basics beyond testing

Testing is undoubtedly a powerful tool in conversion rate optimization (CRO). By presenting visitors with different versions of the page to see which one they react to most favorably, you’re directly involving your users in the design process. But there are instances when tactical testing will not give you the best outcome. Sometimes tinkering with a single element will simply not cut it; you have to blow up your site and start from scratch.

If your site indeed requires a complete overhaul, don’t make the mistake of going straight to wireframes. Make sure you do these first:

  1. Diagnose the problem. You can do this quantitatively though analytics and qualitatively through surveys, user session recordings, and usability studies.
  2. Come up with user scenarios. 

User Scenarios: Roles and Tasks, NOT Personas

You can get the conversion by identifying who are showing up on your site, and checking if you’re supporting them in a disciplined way to accomplish their tasks. Think about the baggage the visitors are bringing in, their knowledge or lack thereof, and their apprehensions. Then, taking all of these into account, think of how you’re going to match their intent. When coming up with user scenarios, use roles and tasks instead of personas. Think of the visitor’s relationship to your site and what they’re there to do. Roles and tasks are more durable than visualizing user segments summed up in a made up character persona. A person is represented by one persona, but really a person’s roles and tasks will vary depending on the context he/she is in.


A visitor may be an expert on digital SLRs but totally clueless about dresses. He/she will navigate an online photography store differently when looking for a new lens than he would, say, while looking for a present for his niece.

user persona

So think about the the person’s relationship with your site, and what they're there to do. 

When organizing your site, think about roles or the classes of people that interact with the mission-critical parts of your site (press mentions and job seekers are secondary or tertiary roles for most businesses). Identifying high-level classes of people is important because they come to your site for different things.

For setting up educational funds, for example, you might have the parents who set it up, the child who is beneficiary, and the grandparents who put the money in.

A university can also organize their website in such a way that they mainly cater to prospective students, alumni, and staff.

Some of the primary roles for an e-commerce scenario, on the other hand, may include prospect clients, repeat clients, frequent return clients, wholesale buyers, and retail buyers.

Engagement Continuum

People’s tasks lay out along the continuum of where are they in the process. The continuum ranges from visitors who don’t even know they have a problem that you can help solve, to visitors who have done the research and are ready to pull the trigger. The key is to engage the visitors throughout the continuum.

Narrative Walkthrough

You can use a narrative to illustrate what’s going on in the process, and demonstrate not just the events but the emotional components. Indicating where people get confused or where they get frustrated and backtrack keeps the usability study from being abstract. The goal is to find the early, mid, or late stage tasks where you’re not serving visitors well, where they are likely to bail out.

Essentially, narrative walkthroughs work best when you have very tight blinders on, and usability studies for a given set of tasks. By communicating through the narrative, communicating the value of the changes to stakeholders becomes much more effective. You don’t have to keep this process super formal. Steve Krug, one of the biggest names in usability and writer of “Don’t Make Me Think,” recommends frequent tests with pretty much anyone who is not an expert on your site as a stand in.

Optimization is more than just testing, and finding out what’s wrong with your site and creating user scenarios are merely the first steps. Redesigning your site experience may also mean changes to your business model (e.g. changing from paid subscription to a free trial, then upselling), or changes to your plumbing (e.g. marketing automation, retargeting, abandonment recovery, personalization).

Learn more about the aspects of conversion rate optimization, the role of psychology in CRO, common site design problems, and a lot more from Eric Enge and Tim Ash in this episode of The Digital Marketing Excellence Show: