Intro to Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is a huge area to cover, and it can often be daunting to get an overview. In this article, we tell you a few things to look at. Covering everything in one article would obviously be a massive task, but if you start with the pointers here, and use the sections as a checklist, you might see great advances in your conversion rates.

Is your site appealing and user friendly in general?

Usability onlineThis topic could of course be an article on its own, but warrants some pointers here as well. After all, if a visitor can’t find what they’re looking for, any desired actions won’t be completed. Keep in mind that first impressions last, especially online, where people become more impatient every year. Being user friendly means everything from having fast loading pages and easily understandable navigation to having a responsive layout.

We suggest creating a list of paths to follow on the site, starting with the typical point of entry, usually your homepage, and ending on a key action to take - with goals preferably being on pages where a visitor would have to go through a few steps before completion. The actions could be for example navigating to a product page and finalizing a purchase, or signing up for a newsletter. When you have your key action paths, ask a few people to help you test the site, giving the homepage and explaining the final goal (e.g. buy “Product X” and then leave a review). Ask 3-5 people to complete the test, and encourage them to think out loud while doing so, and make sure to convince them that they can’t do anything wrong in this test. You can read more about Usability and related testing at the Nielsen Norman Usability site, created by two of the foremost experts in the field.

Is your key content visible above the fold?

When it comes to websites, “the fold” is the place on the page where you have to start scrolling to see more (remember to test this using different screen resolutions). Most people won’t continue browsing a site where they don’t understand what it’s about at a glance, and often leave without further interaction such as scrolling or clicking on links. Keep key information and your most important action points clearly visible above the fold, both to help your visitor understand and to help you get conversions – this way everybody wins. With this said about keeping above the fold, there are experts arguing it's not as important as many think, which you can read about for example in the popular Kissmetrics blog. Instead of simply keeping as much as possible above the fold, you can add simple markers to to make scrolling more interesting to users.

Roughly 10-15 years ago, a rule of thumb was that you had around four seconds to convince a visitor to stay on your site. Now, it's less than half that time before people start leaving - people have gotten used to websites loading fast and learnt to scan a web page for the content they're looking for, making it even more important to show right away what your site has to offer and why they should stay.

Are your calls to action (CTAs) clearly marked and visible?

You most likely have a goal for your website, and probably want your visitors perform an action as soon as possible after entering the site – whether it’s subscribing to a newsfeed, selling a product or connecting to you on social media. Make certain your calls to action are clearly visible, for example with colors, text size or a clearly separated area of the page which draws attention. Visitors hopefully arrive for the reason you want them to, so you’re doing them a favor by drawing attention to an area of interest.

If you’ve read about conversion rate optimization before, you might have seen BOB mentioned a few times, meaning Big Orange Button. For a while it seemed like some people actually believed a BOB was the solution to everything related to online marketing, but soon enough it became obvious that it was more about the call to action standing out from the page, being clearly visible with a contrasting color and size and drawing attention as soon as you enter a page. We suggest doing research on color psychology, on which you can find quite a few good summaries online, and apply the colors closest to the message you want to convey. For example, in general black can be seen as adding a sense of luxury, blue can be used if you need to gain trust and orange can create a sense of impulse. Bright colors tend to be good for calls to action and white can create a sense of freedom and spaciousness.

 Call to action buttons

Are your calls to action actually written as suggestions, or perhaps even misleading?

Wording in a call to action needs to be clear, should make an actual call for the user to take action (e.g. “Read Review” is often better than just “Review”, and “Play Now” tends to convert better than “Have a look”). Usually you can combine your call to action with a point to action, which helps explain the action in a bit more detail, and adds to trust id used right.

Related to the calls to actions are points to action (PTAs), which help explain and point visitors to CTAs. If you for example have a form for signing up to a newsletter or to create a membership, don’t forget to make it clear that it’s a secure site, you won’t share their details with anyone unexpected and there won’t be any spam. These pointers should also be clearly visible, for example in a containing box together with the related. As an exercise, try viewing a few key pages in greyscale, and see if your PTAs and CTAs stand out and catch the eye. Conversion rate specialists such as Unbounce and Crazyegg have quite a few interesting articles if you want to read more about Calls To Action.

Do you have persuasive copywriting?

Communicative copy is a key factor Try to use active wording to keep the content easy to read without complications, and consider putting more spontaneous calls to action higher up on a page. The further down a person is willing to scroll on a page, the more details you can add to any persuasive content. There’s a great deal of research on this subject, with words such as “You”, “free”, “instantly” and “because” being seen as part of persuasive copy – does your content include those? While persuasion is important, don’t forget to still write for usability, to build trust and for search engine optimization – for success you’ll need enough of each of those pillars of copywriting. Have a look through your content, things to look at include:

  • Could it be broken up into paragraphs for clarity?
  • Are headers and subheaders clear in explaining sections?
  • Do you have enough headers, helpful images and important content standing out? Making a few keywords bold when in a large chunk of text might help in making it easy to skim through if desired.
  • If looking at a page from a distance, do the important parts stand out? How about in greyscale?


Do you keep language at a level suitable for your intended visitors?

When you have a high level of knowledge about any given subject, it’s easy to become technical, to include jargon and special expressions often exclusive to your trade or interest. Often enough, people who make buying decisions aren’t the same as the ones doing research, making it extra important to write in a clear, helping someone to summarize the information without misunderstandings. Read through texts on key pages, and make certain that it’s easy to understand even for non-experts.

When looking at the language, don't forget to check what's found if someone sees the site in search engine results. The conversion funnel often starts from a search engine, and if the content shown there is unclear or gives the wrong message you’ve lost a potential customer even without someone entering your site. Try going through what Google and Bing shows for your most important pages, to see if the message is related to the page and if answering the questions potential visitors might have.

 Language is a key factor for conversions

Are key forms user friendly?

If you sell any type of product or service, have a contact page or any other page which requires user input, you will most likely have a form, or probably a few. Many companies want as much information as possible about their visitors and customers, meaning they ask too many questions in a signup process or point of sales. Usually, you can limit your sales forms to ask the most important questions (e.g. contact details, shipping address, email address) in your main conversion form, possibly combined with one or two key points of interest.

Besides keeping the forms short and easy to understand, make certain to convey the message of not sharing personal information with third parties, and if you have any type of sales add a sense of trust by showing security certificate logos on the page. Many of our favorite hosting providers, such as iPage, inmotion and Webhosting hub, have security suites in place, letting you easily apply certificates to an online shop.

After your visitor has converted to a site member, a sale, a lead or similar, you can ask additional questions, for example to customize their experience for the next visit or to send them special offers geared at their demographics. You can find more advice about creating converting forms on Unbounce - one of my personal favorite blogs.

Do you have analytics tools in place?

Use analytics tools to get ahead Tools such as Google Analytics and ClickTale help you analyze site traffic and behavior to find improvements, and also let you specify key conversions to give you information about what works and what doesn’t on your pages and calls to action, and even lets you create A/B testing where you can compare different versions of the same page. Often even a small change in color or size on for example a button or text can give a high increase in conversion – although once in a while it gives the opposite result, making it even more important to analyze.

This is of course much easier on high traffic sites, but there are tools even for lower traffic sites – although usually taking a bit longer to get proper results they are still worth incorporating, and if you use for example WordPress there are plugins to let you add the tools with a few clicks. We at Web Hosting Search find this kind of tools invaluable, and when reviewing hosting providers we take some time to look at the tools included in their packages as well.

As a final point, be aware of optimization taking time.

If you have visitors who come to your site often, any change on calls to action might show an increase in conversion rates temporarily, since people tend to be curious about anything perceived as new and exciting. Give any change time to settle before analyzing properly and making decisions on whether or not to keep it. With this said, proper optimization is an iterative process, often enough you have to take two steps forward and one step back for the best results.

Everything from this article should be seen as an introduction to conversion rate optimization – there are specialists writing great articles daily, diving in much deeper to all areas mentioned here. We will keep revisiting the subject of CRO once in a while, including:

  • The different parts of, and various ways of looking at the conversion funnel
  • Driving factors behind conversion rates and the psychology behind them
  • How you can combine CRO with SEO to optimize both for conversion in every step from search engine result pages to final key action
  • Tools to analyze your conversion funnel and find bottlenecks, and an introduction on how to use them


Written 2015-02-23 (Updated 2016-10-10)
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Written by Emil Hunefalk

Emil has been a blogger and web developer since the late 1990's. He has web, mobile and desktop experience from both large and small projects, in some cases handling everything from user experience to development.

Share your thoughts

Matt Dyor,  23 February, 2015

Emil - Great post. Regarding your comment about "optimization taking time," I would love to have you take a look at Payboard ( We are working to remove the amount of time website owners need to invest in CRO, letting our software do a lot of the tedious work so that the people can focus on creating more great content. I would love to get you to test it out. Let me know if you would be interested. Thanks. Matt

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