Why Conversion Rate Optimisation Doesn’t Work

knotted tap
Is poor strategy and faulty equipment hindering your conversion rates?

Conversion rate optimisation won’t work for most online businesses; at least not straight away and there’s a very obvious reason for that.

You’ve left it too late.

There’s an old saying in horticulture: The best time to plant a fruit tree was 10 years ago, the second best time is right now.

And so it is with conversion rate optimisation. The sites that are doing it really well have been doing it for a very long time.

Consider a site like Amazon, started in the early 1990’s and has been testing and optimising ever since. All through the nineties, into the noughties and now we’re well into the noughty teens.

That’s actually three consecutive decades of online testing and optimisation improvement (and some of you thought online business was a relatively new phenomena.)

At any one time Amazon is reportedly carrying out 200 tests.

Or take Capitol One, a US bank that carries out 80,000 tests a year.

(Some of you could count your yearly optimisation tests with just your fingers.)

Over 20 years that works out to more than 1.6 million ways that the top sites know how to convert a customer that you don’t.

This is why some sites have conversion rates of 20, 40 even 80%. They just do more work, and have been doing so for a very long time.

Their sites are already highly optimised.

This means any additional small changes they make have tremendous impact because they are riding on the back of millions of other tiny improvements made over time.

Conversion Diversions

If you are just starting on the conversion rate optimisation journey, you don’t have the luxury of already having done two decades worth of improvement work.

Still, the best time to start if you want to improve your online results is now.

Sure, you could just copy the leaders, and that might be a wise move.

Unfortunately once you start exploring some of the conversion rate optimisation blogs, you’ll find all sorts of best practices recommendations, guides, infographics and ebooks many of which are contradictory.

While the information is valuable, if you’re not familiar with the practice of CRO and the context in which it was applied, then much of this information can actually be detrimental.

Here’s why:

Three of the things you will see recommended quite frequently are:

  • What text to put on your “Buy Now” buttons
  • What colour to make the button
  • Longer copy converts better than shorter copy

Usually they say “Add to Cart”: works better than “Buy Now” and that green buttons work better than red ones.

The problem is that there is also other research out there which proves completely the opposite.

It’s not that either piece of research is wrong; it’s just that they were both right in their own context and situations.

It’s All About Context

Any competent graphic designer will tell you, that you can’t make an arbitrary statement that this colour button worked better than this other colour without knowing what the rest of the design looked like.

The same is true for what text you put on your buttons, so you just can’t take these recommendations and apply them to your own website.

Likewise for copy length: In general longer copy works better, but sometimes shorter copy is better.

Again it depends on the context and the product. Low value low commitment purchases usually only need shorter copy. High value high commitment products usually need longer copy.

Any professional CRO consultant will always tell you to do your own testing to see what works best for your website.

You can use other sites’ experience as a guide, but ultimately you have to discover for yourself what’s best for your business.

Why Conversion Rate Optimisation Isn’t Working Like You Were Promised

The other thing about all these best practice suggestions is that at first many simply won’t make any difference to your website, or seem to make much of a difference.

As I said earlier, sites with very high conversion rates have been carrying out testing for many years.

But that’s just the half of it; most sites simply aren’t up to scratch on the basic stuff let alone the sophisticated stuff.

Here’s a few examples of what I mean:

1: Sites today are slower than ever despite faster internet connections and all the research that proves slow sites cost business.

2: Most sites don’t comply with basic usability, accessibility and standards compliance laws.

3: Most sites don’t have a strategy. A recent report by Sensis - The Online Experience of Small and Medium Enterprises 2012 found that more than 80% of Australian businesses don’t have an online strategy.

4: Most companies take 42 hours to respond to an online lead according to Harvard Business Review The Short Life of Online Leads. This is despite the fact that we already know that responding within the first 5 minutes is critical if you want to convert the customer.

I could go on, but these four examples are symptomatic of why conversion rate optimisation isn’t going to work for many organisations – they simply aren’t ready for it.

Until businesses get serious and cover off on the basics of online marketing, they will forever be condemned to poor conversion rates.

Avoiding the Death of a Thousand Cuts

bleeding light bulb
Are you best ideas bleeding a slow death because of poor implementation?

I would argue that the above are a big part of why most sites still only convert 2-4% of their visitors.

They are suffering the online business equivalent of the death of a thousand cuts.

They are hemorrhaging money everywhere (and for the most part without even realising it).

Putting on a few bandaids, such as changing a word here and there or changing a layout, won’t save the patient. Even stitching up a few dozen wounds won’t make a difference.

You may need to fix a hundred things just to stop the site from slowly bleeding to death.

Only then, once you’ve stabilised the patient, can you move on to the more sophisticated conversion rate optimisation techniques.

But you still need to do all those basic things first. That is you may need to implement 100 best practice CRO tips just to be ready to start improving your results.

100 Monkeys

Those of you familiar with the concept of the 100th monkey will know that doing 99 out of a 100 things often doesn’t cause any change, but when you implement the 100th change, suddenly all the changes start working.

That’s why I say many of the things you might try won’t seem to work, because your site isn’t optimised enough yet for more sales or leads.

Doesn’t mean it won’t work, it just means you haven’t reached a sufficient level of effectiveness yet for all of those changes to really come into effect.

It’s similar to the concept of “wax on wax-off” in The Karate Kid.

All those small movements may not seem like much now, but one day you’ll be a world champion.

Do the Work Get the Result

All this is a way of saying you have a truckload of work to do if you want to achieve high conversion rates.

Conversion rate optimisation will only work for those companies prepared to do the work; and then it will work brilliantly.

For everyone else, well you’ll keep getting what you’re already getting.

The choice is yours.

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