15 Conversion Rate Optimization Lessons Learned From CXL Live 2017
By Tom DiScipio
3 weeks ago, myself and a few other IMPACTers attended CXL Live 2017, a 3-Day Growth & Conversion Conference, put on by Peep Laja, one of the world’s most recognized conversion optimizers, and his team at ConversionXL.
As inbound marketing and sales folks, we found ourselves in a new, strange, and mysterious world.
Instead of being surrounded mainly by Directors of Marketing / Sales, Marketing Coordinators, or Social Media Managers, we were amongst statisticians, quants, CROs (conversion rate optimizers), data analysts, growth hackers, experimenters, and people with the term “scientist” in their job titles.
BUT, this is precisely why we chose to attend.
Before I dive into what I pulled out of the conference, I want to share this life lesson:
Working towards expertise in any given arena can often wrap us in a bubble where we forget that other worlds exist outside of our own. What’s more is the knowledge within those other worlds can be as much, or even more valuable in developing our expertise.
CXL proved this. It was this epic cross-pollination of our existing marketing expertise with a new understanding of data, experimentation, and dramatic traffic, lead or sales growth that made everything worth it.
That being said, let’s move beyond life lessons and review some of the key takeaways from the event that I thought would be most useful within an inbound marketing context.
What Did I Learn at ConversionXL Live?
Well first of all, in the very real words of Oli Gardner, Co-Founder of Unbounce, “We have to look at everything around us and optimize it.”
In fact, I took that to heart even with the title of this blog post:
- Iris Shoor found that numbers written in numeral form decrease cognitive load and increase clickthroughs. (15 versus fifteen)
- Outbrain says that blog titles with odd numbers have proven to be more effective than evenly numbered posts AND that titles with higher numbers outperform ones with lower numbers. (15 versus 14, and 15 versus 6)
So, optimize everywhere.
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) or Conversion Optimization, or Optimization, or whatever you want to call it, is a mindset - a culture. It’s proactivity.
CRO is also a practice within the inbound marketing space since we have access to a plethora of data sources to help us evaluate our effectiveness. But at the same time, however, that practice has been surface level compared to what was shared at CXL Live 2017.
Hopefully, these 15 lessons will help instill a deeper CRO mindset, allowing you to convert more leads and drive more sales.
Note: Please keep in mind that I’m a CRO in training per say, and the lessons below could most certainly be interpreted in a much more comprehensive way. Now read on!
Lesson 1: “Data trumps instinct.” - Jared Spool
This was the perfect way to begin the conference and it’s something that marketers have battled with forever. We’ve always been really good at leveraging past experiences and results to make blanketed assumptions about what will perform well and what won’t.
However, the above quote is a firm reminder that to get the best performance, your marketing or design decisions MUST be based on relevant data (not just data), that is actionable.
He professes that a metric such as “average time on page” or “bounce rate” doesn’t actually tell us anything. “A metric should tell you what you will do differently.”
Lesson 2: Personalization is a REAL conversion driver
Krista Sieden, Analytics Advocate at Google, explained that the positive effects of personalization on conversion rates can be lost if they’re not being implemented across all economies of scale.
In other words, personalization occurs at a mass scale, on a local level, by referral source, based on actions, and in real-time.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how you can personalize at each level:
- Mass scale means personalizing your website to the right buyer persona by understanding who comes to it.
- On a local-level, personalization is catered towards a user’s preferences or intent.
- Personalization from referral source is matching the message or headline from the external campaigns back your website or landing page.
- Action-level personalization happens after a user takes action - submit a form, purchase something, etc.
- Personalizing in real-time requires accute monitoring of your users to understand their level of interest and customize based on their overall engagement, i.e. they’ve viewed a particular service page four times and should therefore be reading different copy upon their next return.
If you’re not optimizing the user experience at each of these stages, you’re leaking conversion opportunities.
Lesson 3: Start with a hypothesis
Michele Kiss, a Senior Partner at Analytics Demystified, reminded us that prior to beginning any conversion optimization experiment or project, we should develop a concise but specific hypothesis about the forecasted outcomes.
Here is her ideal framework for it:
“I believe that ___. If I’m right, then I will ____.”
Here is her example of that framework in context:
“I think we should do X, and with a 2% increase in conversion, that would drive a $1MM increase in revenue”
This is a powerful lesson for inbound marketers as we often strategize ideas for campaigns and dive into it before actually assessing its potential outcomes. This helps us solve for the next challenge which is selling our ideas internally.
Lesson 4: “Copy either sells, or it doesn’t.” - Joanna Wiebe
Boom. There it is folks. It doesn’t get more real than that.
Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copyhackers, shared that by running side by side tests with her clients, she could pinpoint one of the key elements of content that sells. She calls it “zooming in.”
Zooming in is the (simple, not easy) art of increasing your specificity or realness in describing the problems your buyers are facing, the concerns surrounding that problem, and the solution you can provide.
By zooming in on the over-summarized, generic, “fluff” that plagues so many websites or ads, you’ll create a path to more memorable copy that will resonate with your buyers and actually sell.
Lesson 5: An effective value proposition reduces distraction and anxiety
Chris Goward, Founder & CEO of WiderFunnel shared a breadth of insight during his session, but if I had to isolate one thing for the inbound marketing community, it was, what I thought, was a simple, but profound statement about what a successful value proposition does.
We all know a value proposition is typically made up of the following three components:
- What you do
- Who you do it for
- Your exclusive benefit
However, by understanding how a powerful value proposition should reduce the distraction and anxiety felt by our buyers while shopping, we can better form those three components.
This is perhaps one of the most important lessons here as value propositions are a critical part of almost every marketing activity.
Lesson 6: Testing and experimentation should part be of the culture
A core tenant of Conversion Rate Optimization is the continual improvement of existing designs to net more clicks, traffic, leads, sales, etc.
To do that, David Nye, Manager of Experimentation and Web Analytics at Hotels.com advocates there must be an adhered process, proper tools, adequate resources, and an overall culture of experimentation and testing within an organization.
Now, Hotels.com is an example of testing at an absolutely massive scale, but this mindset or culture of testing can still thrive in a smaller-scale, B2B, inbound space.
I believe one of the next evolutions of the inbound marketing space will be a greater dedication to experimentation and testing, for three reasons:
- More and more experimentation, testing, and logging tools are becoming democratized for small to mid-market B2B companies.
- Many companies, that have invested in inbound over the past few years, should now be starting to see compounding growth in their website traffic, thereby shifting their focus to finding ways convert more of that traffic.
- Conversion Optimizers have already paved the path.
Lesson 7: “Web forms are often the last and most important mile in a long journey.” - Julie Grundy
It’s true. Ever clicked on something that brought you to a landing page with a form that has 20 fields in it that seem to only benefit the company? Ever hit a “Submit” button, errors pop up, but you couldn’t quickly figure out how to correct them and hit the back button? Those are missed conversion opportunities.
Marketers tend to have a default focus on which fields (and how many) should be in a lead form to capture the right information, overlooking the actual user experience of that form.
Perhaps this mindset arises from having used the same web form tool for a while or not having found a tool with deeper form customization or maybe it just hasn’t really been discussed. Whatever the impediment, it’s not an excuse to have a poor user experience on the component that actually gets you the email address or even the sale.
Creating a truly optimized conversion form requires that you reduce the cognitive load on the user, help them manage any errors, and make it feel like the user is filling it out for themselves, not your company.
Ultimately, optimizing your form’s end-user experience is as critical as everything you’ve done to bring a prospect to that point.
Lesson 8: Without user research, you’ll end up “vanilla”
Several themes emerged during the conference, but there was one that stood dramatically within the context of inbound: User research.
Stefania Mereu, Director of User Experience at Pearson, cited that deep user research (or buyer persona research), beyond the standard demographic information, is the first step to better converting messaging and design.
It also doesn’t have to take months to complete. The majority of the data may already be living within your analytics tools. Spending an hour reviewing keywords can give you enough leverage to create a specific audience segment worthy of a specific message.
Lesson 9: It’s not just about increasing conversion rate
While the majority of the conference focused on increasing conversion, click-throughs, and sales, Chris Out, Managing Partner at RockBoost, brought us in a refreshing direction that would most likely hit home for many executives.
He had us ask ourselves, “What game are we REALLY in?”
The answer is conversion optimization isn’t solely about conversion rates. It’s about increasing the LTV (lifetime value) of your clients by increasing AOV (average order value) and the frequency of their purchase. This has a massive impact on the total valuation of a business.
Lesson 10: “If you’re not doing functionality testing, you’re not optimizing.” - Abi Hough
Abi’s story was incredible. As the Device Experience Director at Endless Gain, she helped a client uncover $100M of lost revenue as a result of a single functionality issue.
The lesson learned in the context of inbound is, before investing heavily in the promotion of a campaign or launch of a website, test, test, and test its functionality again.
Clearly, if even a single element of your campaign or website is not operating properly (perhaps an automated email or a call-to-action button), it can completely block conversion.
Optimize functionality by investing not only in simulator testing tools, but cross-check that with humans who have the actual devices to achieve fail-safe functionality.
Lesson 11: “Conversion doesn’t just have to occur on your website.” - Bill Leake
For B2B firms selling complex solutions that have a longer buying cycle, the sale will rarely (if ever) happen through a website conversion. Let me be clear, this isn’t an excuse to not have a compelling website with ways for your site visitors to leave their email in exchange for information.
It does, however, change the context of a conversion.
Instead of pushing for the immediate sale, it’s more about building the relationship, and relationships are better built through what Bill describes as “micro conversions” and “making people happy.”
We can open up communication beyond the website by offering some type of live-chat functionality… or even displaying a phone number prominently in the header!
Either way, it becomes about leveraging other, potentially offline conversion opportunities to move a deal forward.
Lesson 12: More traffic doesn’t solve for more conversions
We started the third day of the conference with Guillaume Cabane, VP of Growth at Segment, having us yell out, “we need more leads!” After all, who doesn’t want that?
The point was made clear that money comes from leads - and leads come from traffic, of course. However, in many cases, 95% of website traffic fails to convert. Guillaume helped us understand the core reasons of why and what the answer ISN’T.
Generating more website traffic to increase the number leads is not the solution. Guillaume explains the vast majority of traffic isn’t converting for the following reasons:
- Generic messages that “solve for the average” make it difficult for visitors to relate.
- The cognitive load for visitors is causing them to think too much, resulting in no action or the wrong action taken
- The website’s user experience is poor
The answer, then, is to focus on the following:
- Take what we learned from Krista about personalization one step further by applying real-time data enrichment and machine-learning to create dynamic website content with hyper-targeted messages.
- Redesign the site or specific site elements to improve the user experience and reduce the amount of thinking the visitor has to do. Better UX = higher conversion.
Lesson 13: It doesn’t work without setting goals
Sean Ellis, CEO of Growth Hackers, reminded us that Stephen Covey’s second habit, “Begin with the end in mind” is as applicable to conversion optimization and growth as it is anywhere else.
Sean professes, “making growth sustainable” requires “the right” goals from the start. The right goal is one solves a challenge and works towards a high-level, organizational objective. Having the right goal in place is the key to keeping both your immediate team as well as other teams across the organization aligned and focused on the collective outcomes.
It should be no surprise then that without these goals in place, teams will struggle to align on “the right” activities, resulting in wasted efforts and a lack of growth.
Lesson 14: There’s a formula to reconvert existing customers
On day 2 of the conference (and earlier in this post), Chris Out taught us conversion for the sake of conversion isn’t enough - it’s about increasing the LTV (lifetime value) of clients.
On day 3, Lincoln Murphy, THE Customer Success Consultant, introduced his formula for re-converting new and existing customers. Perfect timing!
It starts by “orchestrating,” as Lincoln says, the upsell opportunity as soon as someone becomes a customer by sharing a value-add product or service and telling them they’re not ready for it just yet.
The goal is to build trust by helping them understand what they should and shouldn’t do.
Next comes “logical intervention” where the objective is to re-engage with your customer based on an event or action. Perhaps they’ve reached a certain amount of time as customer or they took the initiative to revisit your pricing for the upgraded version of your product.
Finally, deliver the appropriate offer fbased on that customer event or action. Lincoln said it best: “It doesn’t matter what you want to sell, it matters what they want to buy.”
Lesson 15: CRO (and SEO) should still be about solving for the customer first
Wil Reynolds, Founder & Director of Digital Strategy at Seer Interactive, brought the conference to close by reminding us of why we marketing geeks and data nerds wake up everyday…
To solve people’s problems.
Increasing click-through rates and improving your rank in google SERPs (search engine results pages) are merely a byproduct of intimately understanding who your buyers are and solving for their challenges in the most helpful way possible.
In summary… “It’s good to be uncomfortable.” - Tom DiScipio
This is a little meta, but having learned all these lessons at CXL Live 2017, I’ve formed a deeper lesson of my own. This lesson reared it’s head when my business partner, Bob asked me if I wanted to go for a 3.5 mile run on the morning of our flight home.
I’ve never run more than 3 miles in a single given moment, and I peaked in high school (just to give you an idea of my running capabilities.)
I said, “Sure, why not.” Having been in business with Bob for about 7 years, he’s rarely had a bad idea - and that’s the honest truth.
As we were approaching mile 4 (yes 4!), Bob was just ahead, encouraging me to keep going and that the struggle I was feeling was just the manifestation of “growth” -- me becoming more athletic.
This was the perfect way to summarize the conference. You’ve gotta put yourself into new and uncomfortable positions in order to grow.
Was CXL Live 2017 uncomfortable? Heck yeah - but in the right way!
It’s tough as a marketer to hear from the experts and speakers that, in many cases, we might be the root of poor design and strategy decisions because we’re not always deeply considering the real and complex, quantitative side of things - the unarguable reasons to do one thing over the other or to change our strategy.
This harsh truth was exactly what our team in attendance needed to hear.
It’s how we grow.
Wondering where to begin?