The Conversion Rate Optimization Reading List

There was a point when online marketing jobs were very separate.

  • search engine optimization (SEO) experts cared about how many people got to the web site,
  • web usability experts cared about whether those visitors left immediately because something was broken,
  • conversion rate optimization (CRO) experts cared about the set of those visitors who got to the cart, and
  • web analytics experts created reports about those visitors

There’s not one single event that led to tasks from those fields merging, but today, knowing just one aspect of online marketing just isn’t going to cut it. If you’re serious about conversion rate optimization, you’re going to need to pick up more than the traditional web site testing skills.

Let’s work on that.

Web Usability

Web usability is one of those fields where everybody feels they kind of “get it.” Marketing managers have an opinion about what works on the web site. As do graphic designers. Every now and again, the C-suite gets into the mix.

Here’s the thing: everyone has an opinion about whether or not the red, rounded call-to-action button works, but not everyone understands the process of improving usability.

The best way to keep everything from devolving into an opinion-based activity is to follow the system. Run usability tests, observe where people fail, then rerun the tests and verify.

It’s a lot less sexy than debates about which elements work, but several times more productive.

If you’re just learning the ropes, there are two books that are absolute must-reads:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Modern SEO is more about the output than the input.

It’s a lot less about the H1s, browser page titles, sitemap XMLs, and tags and a lot more about making the pages work for the intent of the searcher.

That said, it pays to understand the technical aspects of search.

Not only will you be bringing in traffic more primed to convert if you know the field, you’ll also have more to work with in terms of convincing this crowd to convert.

If you need a primer on search basics, you can start with …

SEO versus UX: Are the Two Fields Frenemies?

Click here to find out.

Web Analytics and Data Presentation

There are a ton of marketing organizations that get web analytics wrong.

There are organizations that use web analytics for snapshot reports, mostly about views and visits, supposedly to show the health of the site over time.

What happens to those reports is this: every now and again, they get seen by executives who do not act on the data.

For web analytics to be used effectively, the data has to be action-oriented, with recommendations about what to do with the web site based on the performance. Likewise, the way the data is displayed needs to aid in creating a true understanding of what’s going on.

If you’re looking to pick up those skills, two books really help with that:

Conversions and Testing

Conversion is where the sciences and the humanities meet and shake hands.

You need two core things for CRO: an understanding of the psychology behind why people do what they do, and the technical know-how to apply that to web sites.

There are a range of books you could use for the former, from Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” to Dan Ariely’s “Predictably Irrational.”

However, if you’re short on time, (and let’s face it, most marketers are) the best book you can read on the subject is probably …

… about how reciprocation, scarcity, authority, consistency, consensus, and liking drive everyday decisions.

The technical bits, you can get from books like …

Putting It All Together

Modern conversion rate optimizers and online marketers know that the conversion tasks don’t sit inside silos. Bad data can ruin conversions. The wrong crowd coming in to the site can tank conversions. Broken experiences away from the cart can harm conversions.

If you want to get good at conversion rate optimization, you’re going to have to broaden your scope. You’re going to need testing and tuning skills, yes, but on top of that, you’re going to need to understand SEO, web analytics, and UX. Or you’re going to have to hope your competitors don’t get smart and they stay in their marketing silos.

The latter is not a recipe for success.