Intro to Conversion Optimization and Best Practices [Review]

This blog post is part 1 in a series where I detail my experiences with the Conversion Optimization Minidegree from CXL Institute.

For transparency, I received a scholarship to this program (for which I’m eternally grateful), but I’ve tried to keep my thoughts and reflections in the following post as unbiased as humanly possible. Of course, we all know that humans are inherently biased - whether we’d like to be or not - so don’t fault me for being human! 😂


Whew, what a week! This has been my first week in CXL’s Conversion Optimization program and – wow – there’s a TON to learn. 

This behemoth of a program is heavy on the content but so far, it’s all been incredibly engaging and I’m feeling really positive about the depth and breadth of information I’ll be learning. 

In this post, I’m going to be discussing the first two courses in the program: Intro to CRO and Best Practices.


Intro to CRO


Intro to CRO is a video-based course by Brian Massey of Conversion Sciences. In this introduction, Brian goes over the basics of Conversion Rate Optimization, how to generate a list of ideas, convert them to specific and measurable hypotheses, and rank them in order of I.C.E. (Impact, Confidence, and Effort).

I loved this framework, because I often find myself bursting with ideas but didn’t have a simple, yet effective method for organizing and ranking them. This alone will be a total game-changer for me. 


The Basics of Conversion Insight

Brian also goes over 12 or so different sources of insight (data) that don’t involve A/B testing, which is great for businesses that don’t have a lot of traffic. These range from analytics to personas and surveys, to heatmaps, screen recordings, and user tests. 

Be careful with user tests, surveys, and interviews. If you don’t have quality participants from your target market, or if you ask questions in a way that leads them to respond in a certain way, you’ll get results that are skewed and invalid.

If a website has the traffic to support it, an A/B test can provide data in a statistically valid way to “predict” the future. Unlike user surveys and feedback, this type of testing eliminates bias and follows a certain set of rules. 

In a nutshell, you present your visitors with different versions of your site over the span of a few weeks to see which performs better. 

There are certain criteria that must be met, of course. This is science, after all. 🤓🧪️ 

Typically, you’ll need a decent amount of quality traffic that’s relatively steady over the course of a 2-6 week period. You’ll also need to have a contrasting creative and a way to split and measure the performance of each page version.

More to come on A/B testing in the near future…


CRO Best Practices

Best Practices by CXL founder Peep Laja is a massive 18 lesson course that covers everything from webforms to homepages, to shopping cart and checkout pages, and everything in between. 

This course is primarily text-based, so there was a LOT of reading and supplemental material to get through. But wow, the information was an absolute goldmine!

Of course, the first rule of best practices is that there are no best practices (I’m paraphrasing). 

Wait, what??? 😧 How is that possible? 

What Peep means by this is that every context is different, so what works for one business and their audience might not have the same results for yours. 

But that doesn’t mean that you need to start from scratch. You can definitely take advantage of the information gained from other people’s data and use it as a basis for your initial designs and hypotheses. 

Best practices are great if you’re designing a brand new site or if your existing website or landing page doesn’t have a ton of traffic to jump right in with running your own tests. 

And I think these foundational practices can really help online entrepreneurs (who may feel stuck and overwhelmed wondering what the heck is going on with a website that’s not converting) start to generate some ideas and hypotheses for potential starting tests and changes. 

So with that said, I’m going to run through some of the biggest takeaways from Peep’s 18 best practice lessons in a question and answer format. 

Why? Because I think it’ll be more fun and engaging to read than a boring old bullet point list. 😁

That’s my hypothesis, at least… We’ll see if it’s true!


Why aren’t people completing my web form?


Well gee, there’s nothing that says fun like a web form! 😉

Of course, I jest. Between being flat-out boring on a good day, and overly invasive on a bad day, forms can be a really sticky situation for your business. 

I mean, do your customers really want to provide their private information to someone they’ve never even met?

Even if they don’t mind answering a few questions, no one wants to feel like they’re being grilled like some Law and Order suspect. 

Forms can be a source of massive friction for your audience. But fortunately, there are a bunch of things you can do to reduce this friction and encourage folks to complete your forms. 

Here are my 3 favorite takeaways:

  1. Start simple. Get the basic info first (like name and email) and autopopulate whatever you can. If people feel like they’re on a roll, they’ll be more likely to keep going when the questions get harder or require more personal/sensitive information.
  2. Only ask for information you really need. Avoid optional fields and visual overload. People want easy. They’re already giving you their time and personal information. Don’t test their patience and attention to detail on top of it all.
  3. If you have a lot of fields, try a multi-step form. Be sure to give clear expectations and progress indicators to keep people moving toward the goal. 

Why are my customers abandoning their carts?


Whether you’re a small Shopify store owner or a huge multinational corporation, ecommerce websites are often rife with poor layouts and clunky user experiences that send potential customers running for your competitor before you can say “Jeff Bezos”. 

I could do a whole blog post about this (Siri, remind me to write about ECommerce best practices) but I’m going to just give the top 3 for now: 

  1. Making your customers register before checkout is a conversion killer. No one wants to feel held hostage so don’t do it. Instead, offer an account creation option after checkout. Incentives (like a sweet discount on the next purchase) work well for this. 
  2. Don’t show off the coupon code field. Some deal seekers will start Googling for coupons and get sidetracked (*cough* guilty!). Instead, make the field text-based and expand with a click.
  3. Credit card info should be the last step of the checkout process. Use trust badges, and security features to keep customers moving toward the end goal – their purchase!

How do I design a high-converting homepage?


Webpage design is a whole other animal that I’ll tackle in another post (or fourteen) later down the road. But for now, when in doubt – clarity and familiarity always win. 

Cut the cutesy (yet confusing) messaging, and the innovative layout. Your homepage needs to be clear, both in design and in content. This is how you build trust with your audience. 

And if you don’t know your audience, you’ll have to start by doing some quality audience research. You’ll want to have a solid buyer persona and an understanding of the jobs they need done in order to craft copy that speaks to their needs and desires. 

This isn’t a copywriting article, so I’ll leave more on that until next week’s blog post. But here are a few things to keep in mind on your homepage:

  1. Have a clear and cohesive above-the-fold design. This can include your headline, subheadline, and 3 bullets
  2. Clearly show what you’re selling, for whom, and some unique feature about you (basically why they should choose you or your product over someone or something else)
  3. Limit the page to only one CTA. Too many options dilute and confuse.

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Should I redesign my website?

When in doubt, tear it all down — NOT!! 

I’m not going to go deep into this from an experimental standpoint but think about it from a different perspective. 

If you go to your doctor because you’ve had some abdominal pains, do you automatically get a kidney transplant, triple bypass surgery, and a tummy tuck? 

Of course not – that would be ridiculous. 

So why are so many businesses totally fine with throwing away a website and starting from scratch without even diagnosing the problem? 

Just like it’s best to only change one thing at a time, in most cases it makes more sense to take an evolutionary approach to redesign, rather than a radical redesign.

With proper analysis and strategic changes, one step at a time, most businesses can get better returns without the drastic and often expensive gamble that comes with a complete redesign. 


Does typography matter for web conversions?


We’ve all heard that “content is king” but what if reading your content is on par with a visit from the court executioner? 

Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded wall of text… 😬

The killer of content…. 😨

Destroyer of session time….. 😱

Conversion crusher extraordinaire. [insert ominous music here] 💀

By now, you’re probably getting the idea that making things simple and clear are two non-negotiables when it comes to conversion optimization. 

So why should we force our visitors to try to read an entire page of 9pt font size or pink comic sans against a brown background? 

In a word – don’t. 

Now, I’m not saying your website looks like your middle school MySpace page. But here are some great takeaways that’ll make your readers love you – and your content – even more:

  1. Body copy should be a traditional font (no crazy scripts or comic sans) that’s at least 16pt font size. I personally use 17 or 18pt as my minimum in most cases.
  2. Break up walls of text with headlines, subheadlines, quotes, bullet points, and images. Each paragraph should be no longer than 3 – 4 lines with a headline or subheadline after every 1 – 2 paragraphs. 
  3. Use your headlines and subheadings to summarize and highlight key points. Most people will skim rather than read, so give them the Cliffs Notes version of your content. If they’re interested, they’ll dig in for more.

What’s the best button color and CTA?


I saved the best for last because, well everyone thinks about button color like it’s some sort of magic conversion-boosting unicorn. 

But I’ve got some news for you… chartreuse will not cure your conversion woes. 

Turns out, the studies showing that red converts better than green or green converts better than orange leave out a crucial detail. And while the psychology of color is truly fascinating in it’s own right, there’s one major takeaway from all of these button color studies.

Here it is –> there’s really nothing special about the color. It’s all about the contrast. 

Your button colors and CTAs need to follow the same principles of your overall design. These are:

  1. Use plenty of white space to draw the eye without competing visual noise.
  2. Use a high contrast button color NOT one that’s part of your main brand’s color palette.
  3. Be clear and concise in your button CTAs. Complete the question “I want to ___” with the underlined part as your CTA. And for the love of all that’s good in the world, please don’t use “Submit” as your CTA. Unless your audience is into that sort of thing, of course. 😉

Closing Quotes

In closing, I’d like to share 3 of my favorite quotes from this week’s lessons. Be sure to join me next week for more juicy content like this. 🍋

“Serious gains in conversions don’t come from psychological trickery but from analyzing what your customers really need, the language that resonates with them, and how they want to buy it.  It’s about relevancy and perceived value of the total offer.” ~ Peep Laja 

“[…] the best calls to action aren‘t effective just because of your word choice on the button. No no, the best calls to action are the ones that promise your story only gets better after you sign up.” ~ Tommy Walker 

“Remember: There is no point in guessing what your customers think, so please just go and ask.” ~ Ott Niggulis 

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