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A CRO Plan for Startups: A Conversion-First Approach for New Enterprises

Posted on 5.03.2015

:: By Tim Ash, CEO of SiteTuners ::


Startup businesses face countless challenges, with a huge percentage failing altogether in the first year.

There is one area, however, in which new businesses have a distinct advantage over their more established competitors, and that is in creating a highly effective website that is centered on conversion optimization from the get-go.

Without the shackles of “we’ve always done it this way” thinking, new businesses are free to approach the creation of their website with a conversion-first mentality.

Here’s a checklist for creating a new business website that has conversion baked in from the start.

1. Have a company-wide commitment to conversion

In order to create a conversion-centric website, the company itself must make continuous conversion optimization a priority. This means that from the top leadership down, there must be an understanding that the website supports business objectives, and making the website function more efficiently is job number one.

Having an organizational commitment to conversion means that the departmental structure, budgets and decision making all allow for a culture of testing and course correction. Flexibility and collaboration are key. The website is put under the direct responsibility of marketing, but the IT department knows to prioritize website-related requests and works in partnership with marketing rather than as a separate silo. What’s more, management doesn’t try to force design or functionality decisions based on their personal style preferences. Everyone in the organization understands that they need to put their egos aside in order to be hyper-focused on their prospective website visitors (and eventual customers).

2. Build an infrastructure that supports conversion

In addition to building a collaborative cross-functional Web team that isn’t divided by departmental barriers, one of the best things a new startup can do to ensure their website is conversion-centric is to build the site on a flexible content management system that will not only make it fast and easy to make changes, but will also allow for rapid deployment of tests, accurate and efficient data collection and continuous improvement (see sidebar).


Choosing Your Conversion- First CMS

Evaluate five content management systems at wsm.co/fivecms


Of course, the content management system is just the front-end of the website equation. Since conversion optimization involves an entire purchase journey, it’s critical to connect back-end systems like a customer relationship management tool or third-party shopping cart to the website. Doing so will allow for much more meaningful data collection and tracking once the site is launched.

3. Approach the website project from the perspective of the intended visitors

Everyone wants to start with the design, which is the exact wrong approach when creating a conversion-centric website. When companies start with design it is usually because someone in the organization has their mind set on adapting a trendy new design style -- regardless of what might be best for the intended website users -- to reflect how modern and hip the company is.

One of the biggest mistakes made by new startups is not aligning their website (and marketing in general) with the needs/wants/motivations of their prospective customers. Before any design work or even wireframes are started, exhaustive research should be done to understand the specific roles and goals of the people who will be visiting the site. What need or “pain” is motivating them to visit the site and seek out a solution?

How do they describe this? What sequence of events or circumstances generally precede or cause this pain?

Understanding their terminology and thought process is an important first step to ensuring that the site is designed to be completely intuitive.

Developing user scenarios is an excellent way to ensure that a site is designed to support visitors in accomplishing their goal (conversion). User scenarios look not just at what a visitor is trying to accomplish (the goal), but also at his or her motivations, abilities, desires and fears (his or her role). Knowing the roles and goals of intended visitors is critical to designing a website with a clear and obvious conversion funnel.

4. Measure everything from the beginning

In order for optimization to be a priority, the right metrics need to be consistently and accurately tracked. Don’t even think of going live until analytics have been installed, customized and tested.

Part of this process is setting up specific website goals that support company-wide strategies. Ensure that every action that is considered part of the conversion path is measurable, so that when the site launches it is easy to track success toward those goals and make adjustments as necessary.

Companies that spend time setting up their analytics properly are able to see opportunities for optimization that might not otherwise be apparent. They might notice specific segments of people converting at a higher rate than others, identify a page or pages that seem to figure prominently in most visits that convert, or see nonsensical visit paths that highlight friction in the conversion path. The bottom line is, companies that measure everything have more opportunities for improvement because they have more reliable visibility into exactly what their visitors are doing.

5. Segment visitors and personalize wherever possible

The key is to build the website to deliver a personalized experienced for every user, based on what is known about them. Even new visitors have some “data” attached to them, such as their geographic location and what device they’re using. Make some assumptions about what the goals and intentions of different segments of users will be, and customize the content and conversion path accordingly. Once the site is launched, other more meaningful segments may emerge (based on traffic source and other variables). Continuously look at how visitors are interacting with the site and attempt to understand the differences in traffic segments.

Segmenting different visitor groups will also be important when it comes to remarketing, as only a small fraction of new visitors will be ready to convert on their first visit. Especially for a startup, retargeting every visitor with a generic ad is likely to eat away a significant amount of budget. Rather, segmenting visitors based on what pages they viewed on the site or how far they got in the purchase process, and then placing a retargeting pixel according to these specific characteristics, will allow a company to be much more effective in both ad messaging and placement on ad distribution networks.

6. Take a cross-device approach

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages a startup has in building a new conversion-centric website from the ground up is its ability to take a cross-device approach from the beginning. While established companies are still trying to figure out the right solution for stripping down and streamlining their clunky desktop websites to suit the browsing needs of mobile visitors, startups have the enviable opportunity to take a multi-device approach from the start. This means they can create a design solution that is highly focused on usability and continuity for all visitors regardless of what screen size they are viewing the site from. Further, they can test the usability of their site pre-launch using high-fidelity mockups or even a beta site, ensuring that on all devices visitors find it easy and intuitive to navigate the site, find what they are looking for, complete forms and even submit an order.

This provides startups the ability to clean up functional problems, remove friction and begin the never-ending process of optimization even before the first “real” visitor hits the site.


Tim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners, Chair of Conversion Conference and bestselling author of “Landing Page Optimization.”

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