Working with new clients to optimize their websites, one of our early conversations inevitably centers on the topic of best practices. You hear this across pretty much any industry or niche, and CRO is no different. This conversation is always interesting; mainly because most clients are expecting to hear a list of items they can change immediately, a magic bullet if you will. The proliferation of lists claiming to have such magic bullets doesn’t help the situation; Google “CRO best practices” and you’ll find plenty of these.
The reality, however, is that nobody really knows the answer because the answer is likely different for every website.
So where do you start? An important first step is to remember never to assume that “best practices” are just going to work and should be implemented without thought. Some minor changes can just be implemented, however, most changes that will have a significant impact on your business should be tested.
Just because it works for your competition doesn’t mean it’s right for you – any number of factors, including traffic mix, brand recognition and demographics could result in vastly different behavior by users even on similar websites.
CRO best practices center more around strategies for finding the right answers through analysis and testing than they do on making the same changes everyone else have made.
In order to get you thinking about the right way to optimize, here is a list of “CRO best practices” that are NO longer considered to be the best way forward.
‘Best Practice’ 1: Multivariate Testing (MVT)
When CRO was in its infancy, multivariate testing was all the rage. I actually worked for a company that specialized in running these tests, and at times they were extremely effective. The downside of multivariate tests is they require A TON of traffic in order to get results. Frequently, even on sites getting millions of page views per day, it would take months to eventually find a winner.
There are situations where multivariate tests are worthwhile – for instance, in testing things like headlines, CTA copy, button color, etc. – however the vast majority of time, the inclination is to just throw things at the wall to see what sticks. In the early days of CRO, when very few people were doing this, companies that were running these tests had a competitive advantage. Now, in the days of advanced analytics and user experience (UX) tools, running this kind of program could actually put you at a disadvantage against competitors that focus more on the user journey and improving UX. A well thought out and researched A/B test will generally outperform the average multivariate test.
‘Best Practice’ 2: Using Persuasion Tactics
This one may seem counterintuitive to most marketers. Persuasion can and will be effective with some users, but your gains will be much greater if you focus instead on clarity. Think about how you react when someone tries to “sell” you something. I know for me it makes me not want to buy something even if I originally had every intention of walking out with it. Rather than trying to persuade that user, make it very clear what the benefits are, handle the users’ objections and let your product sell itself. Unless you are driving some really bad traffic, most users landing on your site are somewhat interested in your product or service, so making the benefits really clear and keeping your checkout process (or whatever your ultimate goal is) simple will ultimately get more conversions AND provide a more positive UX that may lead to repeat purchases or referrals.
‘Best Practice’ 3: Homepage Carousels
This is not really considered a best practice any more – there are actually many articles that argue, like this one, that carousels hurt conversion – but designers love them and we still see these popping up all over the place. Carousels frustrate users because they tend to distract from what the user is trying to accomplish. If there is text in your images, it becomes especially frustrating as the text slides away mid-sentence. The movement draws your attention there, even if you were already on to the next section of the page. Additionally, having multiple “main” images reduces the import of all of them. Instead of trying to give users all the information at once, give them one main CTA for the preferred path based on user analysis, then lead them to other options farther down the page if the first doesn’t capture them.
‘Best Practice’ 4: Shorten Pages/Keep Everything Above the Fold
Shorter pages used to be stronger – they were more clear and concise, and with slow connections there was less time spent waiting for pages to load. More recently, users have to become accustomed to scrolling, particularly on mobile where the majority of web activity takes place. With the smaller screens on mobile, trying to shrink everything down or force all the important stuff above the fold is nearly impossible to do well.
Instead, focus on highlighting either top value propositions or highlighting objections above the fold, then lead the user down the page. On product pages, make sure you give the user enough information up front to keep them interested in the product – images, review ratings, etc. – then push the other content – actual review text, product details, etc. – down the page for users to find later. “Jump Links” are also effective, as they tell the user this content is available somewhere on the page, and then take the user to the right content when selected. On long mobile pages in particular these can be extremely useful.
It’s important to remember here, as mentioned in No. 2, that clarity is key. It is preferred to use more content to ensure clarity instead of leaving things out in the interest of brevity. Just make sure the content flows and is engaging for the user, so they actually consume what they need!
‘Best Practice’ 5: Require as Few Clicks as Possible to Reach the Goal
This one falls in the same category as No. 4. With fast internet connections, loading additional pages does not create the obstacle it once did. If you need to use more steps in the flow in order to better the UX and improve clarity, this should win out over shorter flows that are not as clear.
That being said, do not add unnecessary steps. In checkout, for instance, using a floating cart that shows the items in your order as you go through checkout wins consistently over adding in a page for order review. The goal is to figure out what is needed to give the user confidence in what they’re buying and to deliver this in the clearest and most concise way possible. If an extra step is needed in order to deliver that clarity, don’t be afraid of that change.
While all these items may seem to cover a range of ideas, the underlying theme here is that you have to analyze your own site and users to understand the best way to design your site. Throwing a ton of different choices at the site a la MVT will not yield as strong or fast results as spending the time to identify the right opportunities. Focusing on your users on your homepage and giving them different streams through which to engage your site is much stronger than throwing your current promotions in a carousel. Focusing on the pain points of your users and addressing them wins out over standard persuasive tactics, provided you are offering a product or service that users actually want/need. If you do your research and listen to your users, those are all the “best practices” you need.