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Growing Up CRO: The Conversion Maturity Model

Posted on 3.31.2014

We know that infants flop before they crawl, crawl before they walk and walk before they can run. So I find it surprising that so many companies try to start their conversion rate optimization (CRO) process at a sprinter’s pace.

Just as you wouldn’t expect an infant to get up on two feet and run a 100-yard dash, organizations must also pass certain developmental milestones on the way to operating an effective and impactful optimization program. The Conversion Maturity Model is a roadmap for achieving this type of organizational growth. It helps companies evaluate how their conversion optimization efforts stack up in terms of knowledge and capabilities, technology and tools, organizational structure, processes and culture. While the Conversion Maturity Model isn’t intended to describe all companies, most will be able to find themselves in one of these four stages, and get clear direction on how to further grow their efforts.

So... how mature are you?

Level I — The Flopping Stage

At Level I, a company is completely unoptimized. It has only the briefest inkling that CRO exists — flopping around without direction like a newborn baby. Employees of a Level I company will likely have no training at all in conversion rate optimization, and there won’t be any full-time employees assigned to the task. Company executives may be entirely unaware of the existence of CRO, which is reflected in the lack of strategy and budget dedicated to optimization.

Level I companies focus most of their marketing efforts on acquiring traffic, building their brand and running creative campaigns — traditional techniques that look good on paper, but may not produce measurable results. The website is often cumbersome to update, with static pages or an inflexible content management system, and website analytics are looked at more for rearview reporting than actionable insights. Granular return on investment (ROI) is rarely tracked, marketing budgets are firm and online marketing decisions are often made with no real basis. A Level I company is like an infant — flailing around but uncertain of its results.

Level II — The Crawling Stage

A Level II company will have more of an understanding of essential CRO strategies, and will have begun to slowly crawl its way toward maturity. There might be some full-time staff members dedicated to CRO, but they are not likely to be part of an organized CRO team. The executives of a Level II company usually have a basic understanding of the optimization process, and might have tied the compensation of some staff members to online efficiency improvement. In short, a Level II company does know where it needs to get to — walking — but may not be entirely certain how it’s going to get to that point.

A Level II company’s marketing focus is generally still on profitable traffic acquisition, but may also include some CRO activities. Online marketing teams have some control of the website, but development or programming requests still get backlogged in the IT department. Like a toddler, the drive and intention is there, but the coordination isn’t.

Companies in the crawling stage are usually inconsistent in their use of diagnostic tools, although split-testing may be used sporadically. Yet even with an awareness of CRO, creative and/or branding changes are commonly made to the website without measuring their impact. There is a culture of measurement throughout the Web analytics and traffic generation teams of the company, but the branding and creative teams haven’t embraced it.

Level III — The Walking Stage

Level III, the walking stage, represents an intermediate level of conversion maturity, marked by a dedicated CRO team with formal training and expertise in website optimization, measurement, data analysis and conversion-centric design. Company executives are extremely knowledgeable about CRO, and the marketing focus at this level is on both traffic acquisition and conversion.

In Level III companies, the website strategy and maintenance is under the control of marketing (not IT), aided by a flexible content management system, which allows for rapid deployment of tests, accurate and efficient data collection and continuous improvement. At this walking stage, diagnostic tools are embraced company-wide and testing tools will be used consistently by some teams. Key metrics are reported with near-real-time dashboards, the ROI of marketing efforts is measured, and marketing budgets are flexible and agile.

At the walking stage of the Conversion Maturity Model, the Web analytics and traffic acquisition teams have a strong culture of measurement; and creative teams will have some understanding of conversion-centric design that can be measured for effectiveness. Overall, a Level III company has a strong and steady CRO practice — but there’s still room for improvement.


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Level IV — The Running Stage

Walking is fine, and certainly gets you where you’re going — eventually. But why walk when you can run? Level IV companies have learned throughout every growth stage of their optimization program and have become truly mature and wise. They have a dedicated CRO team that consists of full-time CRO employees that support company-wide strategies. CRO team members are constantly trained in new technologies and methods, and the entire company is aligned on conversion strategies. In Level IV companies, conversion rate optimization has become a part of the company culture.

Like a marathon runner, a Level IV company knows how to efficiently utilize all of its resources to create and sustain momentum over the long haul. The marketing focus is not on traffic generation but instead on increasing profits throughout the lifetime of the consumer. Marketing is based on high-impact CRO activities, with consistent testing, data collection and analysis being handled through automated processes.

Companies operating at Level IV have integrated their Web analytic data with their customer relationship management solutions (CRMs) and marketing automation systems. Robust technology platforms link all of the company’s data, and every marketing decision is driven by a clear understanding of that data. These are the companies performing predictive analysis, real-time content delivery, behavioral targeting and automatic deployment of winning tests in a continuous cycle of conversion optimization.

Where are you on the growth chart?

Just as a baby has an innate urge to get up and move around, the most successful companies are those that have the desire, drive and dedication to grow into a mature organization focused on maximizing profits with streamlined efficiency. Identify where your company is in the Conversion Maturity Model and start making a plan to get to the next stage. You can’t flop or crawl your way to future success, but by pinpointing your current level of conversion maturity, you can more thoughtfully approach your next level of growth.

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

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