One of the common things that I see when I speak with business owners about Conversion Rate Optimization is a misconception of the field. While some may think of CRO as a means to a single, optimized endpoint is really in iterative, procedural process.
It is a field based in research, testing, and learning; what it essentially boils down to is experience. Who has more experience than those who dedicate their life and careers to CRO? As in any industry, there are those who continually learn and redefine their strategies, generating a foundation upon which to refine and build on their process.
Below you will find the advice of some of Conversion Rate Optimization’s most influential players. These are the folks who design, build, and test the vehicles through which businesses big and small drive their user testing and optimization and the type of professionals who, beyond their intelligence and ingenuity, have the wisdom that can only come from thousands of hours of experience optimizing.
We asked each for their favorite CRO tools, resources, or rationale behind their methodologies in the hopes that you, the business owner and future optimizer, could use the advice to fine-tune your business.
1. Hiten Shah
It's my favorite conference because the attendees and speakers are people in the trenches sharing their CRO, marketing and more types of lessons learned running SaaS businesses. I wrote a blog post about the conference last year.
My favorite blog about marketing and where it's headed is this blog by Scott Brinker.
I'm a huge fan of what the folks at Intercom have built. It's the easiest way for marketers and anyone else within a company to communicate with customers.
Summary: Seek guidance from those who have been there and maintain relationships in the present moment. Don’t forget to look to the future.
Resources: MicroConf, ChiefMartec, Intercom.io
2. Sean Ellis
1. Process based on WiderFunnel's PIE or Bryan Eisenberg's methodologies
The best tool for conversion optimization is to have a process. Whether you use WiderFunnel's PIE test prioritization, or Bryan Eisenberg's, or your own, having a process is the key to making conversion optimization work for your business. At Qualaroo we use a framework that focuses on looking at the data to find out what is happening, using qualitative customer feedback to figure out why, and then putting those insights into tests to drive site performance.
2. KISSMetrics for Funnel Analytics
One of the dangers with A/B testing is looking at just the surface metrics of page-level conversion rates without regard for overall performance throughout the funnel. This leads to over-optimization of landing pages which can actually hurt ultimate conversion rates. It's critical to look at test results through your entire conversion funnel, which is why I use KISSMetrics. It lets me see the ultimate performance of test variations, not just at the page level.
3. GrowthHackers.com and Qualaroo for test idea inspiration
I'm biased, but I get great inspiration on testing ideas from both the community at GrowthHackers.com, where growth marketers are constantly sharing new ideas and insights that inform how we approach things at Qualaroo. We also use our own product to get insights from our site visitors to generate new testing ideas. One of the hardest things for marketers is to continually come up with new tests that result in meaningful wins. We've found that the best ideas come from customers and other smart marketers.
Summary: Have a process to work from and be able to analyze this process and it’s funnels. From there, you can plug in test ideas in a systematic, yet flexible fashion.
Resources: WiderFunnel’s PIE test, KISSMetrics,GrowthHackers.com, Qualaroo
3. Neil Patel
A blog about conversion optimization, it covers everything from successful a/b tests to psychological tactics you can use to boost your conversion rate.
It's a great tool to get qualitative feedback from your visitors. You can then use this data to figure out what changes you need to make to your website in order to boost your conversion rate.
Summary: Optimize conversions but don’t forget that qualitative feedback is also important.
Resources: ConversionXL, Qualaroo
4. Tiffany Da Silva
Experience: Head of CRO, Shopify
One of the easiest ways to ask your customers questions and try to uncover some of the friction stopping them from using your product. It's so easy to set up and has been invaluable to me.
We tend to sit in meetings all day trying to uncover what our customers are looking at when they come to our page, whether we're trustworthy or not, or whether our customers know our benefits. This site has been a great way to cut through all that and find out what is happening within the first five seconds someone lands on our page. Cuts meeting time in half, and helps provide some direction when you've hit a CRO brick wall so to speak.
The science of everyday thinking: One of the greatest resources I've found this year was this free online course. In order to understand our customers we need to be able to break down how we think. This course teaches you how we form opinions, why are expectations skew our judgements and how we can make better decisions. If we can't uncover why we buy things - how can we get others to buy what we're selling?
Summary: Get into the minds of your users to identify points of friction, confusion, and your design flaws.
Resources: Qualaroo, FiveSecondTest.com, Think101x.org
5. Tommy Walker
Experience: Head Editor, ConversionXL
Because I'm a weenie when it comes to code, but have some really strong ideas behind what I want to do visually. Unbounce empowers me to do what I need to do w/o having to hire people, or go through long, tedious design processes.
This is a new one to my toolkit, but from the publisher's perspective, it's going to prove to be one of the most valuable tools I have. Basically, it allows me to test various headline ideas for the articles we write on the blog, and see which one generates the most clicks.
This allows me to get the most out of the articles we're producing, and provides me with very valuable insight for what to use when we tweet, email, or share over other social media accounts.
Summary: Combine qualitative customer insights with quantitative testing of your titles to generate effective landing pages and copy.
Resources: Qualaroo, Unbounce, KingSumo
6. Lincoln Murphy
For A/B Testing, if I’m creating a dedicated landing page for a marketing campaign I choose Unbounce.
If I’m testing page designs/layout/copy changes/etc. on web properties we control, I use Optimizely. And just to be clear, I’m in favor of BIG tests over changing small things, like button color.
For optimizing blog headlines (no traffic = no conversions), I come up with 25 headlines (the Upworthy method), pick the 3 I think are good, and plug them into KingSumo and let it run. I also see what people come up with when they share on Twitter and which of those get the most RTs, then I’ll plug that into KingSumo, too.
(full disclosure: I currently work here, but I actually believe what I say) It gives you a clear view into where you prospect is in the Trial process - not just usage data but additional context - so you can take appropriate action. Sometimes improving CRO means bringing together a mix of high-tech and high-touch.
Summary: Conduct BIG tests that will have the most effect on your conversion rate. Pay attention to your prospects and social following; you can get a lot of information by observing and engaging.
Resources: Unbounce, Optimizely, KingSumo, Gainsight
SEE ALSO: Lincoln Murphy’s other, exclusive CRO advice and find out Why Your Brain is the Best CRO Tool.
7. Noah Kagan
One of the hardest things to come up with is headlines for blog posts, sales pages, landing pages, etc.. We created this tool to solve this problem for us. It automatically real-time tests your headlines and figures out which one will get you the most traffic.
This free tool is all the internal tools we've built at AppSumo to help us grow to 750,000+ email subscribers. List Builder helps you collect email, Image Sharer makes it easier to spread your images and Highlighter allows people to quickly share any of your content. Expect new features shortly.
Saves my ass so many times. It shocks and disappoints me how often my assumptions about my Okdork.com blog are wrong. Seeing where people click (or don't) and how far they are scrolling on the page have helped me increase my email conversions significantly.
They have meaty and super actionable posts for growing your blog. Mostly focused around SEO but I always learn something from reading Brian's content.
This blog does very thorough and actionable posts reviewing marketing and website flows for small websites
Summary: Generate testable headlines and landing page text and use an action-tracking tool to gain insights into how users interact with that content. Keep up-to-date with relevant blogs.
Resources: KingSumo, SumoMe, CrazyEgg, Backlino Blog, Videofruit Blog
8. Everette Taylor
Don’t let the “Beginner’s” part fool you, this in-depth tutorial broken into 12 chapters is a great resource for anyone at any level. Includes detailed break-downs how to build and test your optimization strategy, improve user experience, optimize your funnel, reduce your bounce and exit rates, and a lot more.
One of the biggest things about CRO is that its a continuous learning process and the blog that Peep Laja and Tommy Walker has put together is a constant resource for inspiration. With a steady stream of content ranging various topics of optimization, there is no better place in my opinion to stay up to date with the latest in optimization.
This may be a little bit biased but I always say, who better knows how to improve your website than those who are actually using it? No one. The biggest key to optimizing your website is your audience, so why not ask them for yourself? Qualaroo provides an unobtrusive way to gain insights on how people are using your site, what issues they are facing, and what ways you can make improvements.
All these resources and tools are great but without relentless dedication to testing ( Unbounce and Optimizely), studying the data (KISSmetrics and Google Analytics), and staying creative - all of this is useless. You yourself are the most important CRO tool of all.
Summary: The best tool you have is yourself. You have the capability to learn, question and analyze. The tools are just that, tools for you to release the optimizer within.
Resources: Beginner's Guide to Conversion Optimization, ConversionXL, Qualaroo
9. Morgan Brown
Experience: Founder, Full Stack Marketing
For me, a big part of optimization is continual learning and inspiration for new ways to gain insights, design tests, and continually optimize my optimization process.
I rely on the following sites and resources to keep my overall CRO game sharp:
- MarketMotive - great online courses in CRO from Bryan Eisenberg
- ConversionXL - Peep Laja's blog
- WhichTestWon.com - Anne Holland's resource of test results
- Unbounce Blog - always has great CRO content.
Optimization contains three parts: conversion research, testing, and learning.
For conversion research I use tools like:
- UserTesting.com - on demand usability testing
- Any of the popular analytics packages
- Qualaroo - qualitative insights
For testing I use:
- Optimizely - page level testing
For learning, it's all about analysis, evaluating tests, and keeping the winners.
One of the most important things is ensuring a high testing velocity. We want to make sure we're learning and then moving on, keeping a good testing cadence going. That requires a pipeline of testing ideas that are driven by hypotheses and prioritized accordingly.
Once we call a winner we need to ensure that we document that win, the test and what we learned, so that we can build on that and create momentum with our conversion optimization program.
There isn't any perfect tool for this, rather I use a combination of custom Google Doc Spreadsheets that track the pipeline and test wins, so that we know what's next and what's been learned already.
Summary: Always find new ways to gain insights. Break your optimization up into 3 phases: Research, Testing, and Learning and ensure a consistent and fluid testing flow to create testing momentum.
Resources: MarketMotive, ConversionXL, WhichTestWon.com, Unbounce Blog, UserTesting.com, Qualaroo, Optimizely
10. Peep Laja
No tool beats doing the actual research. Talk to your customers, conduct interviews, & watch how they use the website.
If you can't do this yourself use:
- UserTesting.com - does a pretty good job (if you can’t access real customers)
- Qualaroo - it can provide you with decent feedback if you're asking the right questions in the right places
After that, form a hypothesis and conduct split tests with:
- Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer
- Google's Content Experiments - free solution if you don't have money
But truthfully, the tools aren't as important as knowing what to do with them. Putting a scalpel in someone's hand doesn't make them a surgeon.
Summary: Try your best to get actual user research done. Know what you’re testing for and how you plan on using the tools before you start running tests, making changes, and declaring your site “optimized”.
Resources: UserTesting.com, Qualaroo, Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer, Google Content Experiments
11. Nate Desmond
Experience: Quantitative Marketing Analyst, Youtube
Running an a/b test five years ago took lots of developer time to create two versions of a page, split traffic, and track results. Then Optimizely came along. Using Optimizely’s visual editor, I can create an a/b test on my website’s button copy in literally five minutes. This is the tool that makes a complicated process fun and easy.
Can you guess how viral websites like Upworthy and Huffington Post test all their article headlines to achieve maximum traffic? With tools just like KingSumo. This Wordpress plugin brings the same technology to the rest of us. I just choose the 3-4 headlines I think will perform best, and this tool does the rest.
When running conversion experiments, you have two options: (1) test the things you think will make the biggest difference or (2) test the things your customers talk about most. This amazing tool uses live surveys to get user feedback from people on your website. It’s helped me find the most effective tests to run.
This tool’s a little niche, but it’s pretty amazing. I was working with a local doctor, and most of his customers converted over the phone. As a result, normal tracking just didn’t work. CallRail let us track his customers by using auto-generated unique phone numbers that were then imported into Google Analytics as goal conversions. It’s a little like magic.
Summary: Test copy and headlines and gauge your users’ reactions. Document and conduct surveys to help find the next area to test.
Resources: Optimizely, KingSumo, Qualaroo, CallRail
12. Brian Massey
Experience: Conversion Scientist, Conversion Sciences
All of the tools I use most often are listed here. However, if I was to pick three tools I use most regularly, they would be:
Excellent click-tracking and scroll-tracking tools with nice segmentation capabilities.
Instant landing pages with a very easy-to-use interface.
Summary: Take your analytics and click map data and make educated changes to your landing page design.
Resources: Excellent Analytics, CrazyEgg, Unbounce
13. Bryan Eisenberg
This tool uses software to analyze uploaded images and provide image owners with heat maps, symmetry analysis, and focal center/attention information. Their software does not track mouse movement or clicks (instead relying on a predictive algorithm) to tell you where people's attention will go on a page. Here is a short video showing you how I teach people to use it.
This is the same type of tool that the Huffington Post or Upworthy would use. No one can deny the power of headlines in copy. Most people should spend as much time on your headlines as you do your whole copy. If you are using WordPress (and so many people are) this plugin makes it super easy to test your headlines. My last headline test showed a +172.4% increase.
I use them for their standard package tests to custom projects. There's nothing like showing senior executives video of actual people trying to navigate their website and talking about their frustration points to convince them to make changes and test. You can select user testing participants from their panel of over a million people or intercept people to participate on a test on your own website.
Summary: The combination of scientific algorithms and the testimonials of actual users can make powerful cases for change. Headlines are powerful elements of design as well; make sure to spend enough time on headline copy.
Resources: Feng-GUI, KingSumo, UserTesting.com
14. Tim Ash
1. "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug
Steve Krug is a demi-god of usability. This is one of my favorite books and one that I recommend as much today as I did when it was first published. A must-read for anyone involved in digital marketing or web design, “Don’t Make Me Think” demonstrates – very convincingly – that in order for a website to be effective (and convert), visitors must find it easy to use, functional and clear. After reading this book you’ll look at your website in a completely different way.
Nobody does low-cost remote usability testing as quickly and effectively as UserTesting.com. We recommend them to most of our clients, because their tool is simple to use and the information you get back from watching even a few testers try to complete a task on your site is invaluable. No matter what type of analytics package you use, there’s just no replacement for the insights you will get from running a test with live users.
Ok, this one is a little self-serving, but I have to include it because it’s such a great event for anyone involved in conversion rate optimization. While other marketing events are focused on SEO, PPC, social and other traffic-driving techniques, Conversion Conference is all about how to convert more of that traffic into buyers. The speakers are always top-notch and attendees have said it’s the most valuable two days they spend all year because it gets them up to speed on the latest tools, technology and strategies available for increasing conversion rates.
This is a resource directory of all things conversion-related that covers more than 600 tools of the trade.
Summary: Get new perspectives on your site through reading up on usability, getting user test feedback, and listening to expert opinions and advice. Take this newly discovered vantage point and apply it to new and existing tools and processes.
Resources: “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug, UserTesting.com, Conversion Conference, ConversionNinjaToolbox.com
Full List of Tools - By Popularity
- Qualaroo (8) - Quantitative, targeted user testing and feedback
- KingSumo (5) - Headline testing and optimization
- Unbounce (4) - Landing page creator and A/B tester
- Optimizely (4) - Drag and drop A/B testing platform for any page
- UserTesting.com (4) - Quick, online user testing of your site
- ConversionXL (3) - Peep Laja’s CRO blog
- CrazyEgg (2) - Click tracking, heat maps, and scroll reports
- KISSMetrics - Advanced analytics and reporting
- SumoMe - Free CRO Toolbox / plugins by AppSumo
- Intercom.io - Active user engagement platform
- Visual Website Optimizer - Drag and drop A/B testing platform for any page
- Google Content Experiments - Google’s free A/B Testing tool
- Market Motive - Courses in CRO and web commerce related topics
- WhichTestWon.com - Anne Holland’s A/B research blog
- Backlino Blog - Brian Dean’s blog on backlinking and SEO
- Videofruit Blog - Bryan Harris’s practical optimization and conversion advice
- Gainsight - Customer Success Management Platform- convert and upsell from trial to paid
- FiveSecondTest.com - Crowdsourced first impressions of your landing pages
- Think101x - courses on the science of everyday thinking
- MicroConf - Self-funded startup conference - meet and hear from those who’ve been there
- ChiefMartec - Scott Brinker’s marketing and technology blog
- WiderFunnel’s PIE process - Potential, Importance, Ease - Optimize using these criteria
- GrowthHackers.com - Community of marketers sharing ethical, scaleable advice / links
- “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug - foundational piece on usability and designing for real people - full of real-life and palatable examples
- Conversion Conference - SiteTuner’s conference on CRO - expert advice from top companies and speakers
- ConversionNinjaToolbox.com - Free directory of awesome CRO tools and resources
- Feng-GUI - Algorithmic attention analysis for web graphics and site design
- Excellent Analytics - Microsoft Excel plug-in for importing Google Analytics data
- CallRail - Phone call tracking, recording, and analytics
- The Beginner's Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization - Self explanatory!
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