Expand Your Conversion Rate Optimization Skill Set

Martin Greif
by Martin Greif 22 Feb, 2017
When people hear the term "conversion rate optimization" (or "CRO"), they usually process it as "testing knowledge." CRO is a much, much broader specialization than that, of course, but testing is certainly the poster child of the field and something all practitioners of this space should get good at; but it's not the only thing.

If you're hoping to make it in the CRO field, your value should not just come from ability to run tests - that's a skill everybody else has. Your skills should cover a range of skills that all affect conversions.


Stack Knowledge

Note that this is not "stock knowledge" (it's not a typo) but rather "stack knowledge," the ability to understand what runs in an entire technology stack.

Specialists who can run Optimizely or VWO for tests are great, for example, but experts who understand the relationship between the different tools in an ecosystem are much, much more valuable:

+ If one's content management system (CMS) familiarity is wide, they'll be more likely to understand when a CMS runs the testing software scripts in a suboptimal or error-prone way, and they'll be able to make tests run smoother.


+ If Web pros understand the nuances of personalization and dynamic content in multiple CMS packages, they'll be able to avoid conflicts between personalization rules and split test implementation (staff can easily invalidate split tests while running personalization).


+ If one has a nuanced understanding of tag management, they'll be able to run tests while waiting on fewer teams, and will be able to iterate faster.


CRO specialists are hybrids. They should understand search engine optimization software, Web analytics packages, content management systems, voice of customer (VoC) tools and testing programs. The more ecosystems one is familiar with, the more valuable they are to an organization.


Survey Expertise

It's not just the tools that Web professionals should get comfortable with, but the actual fields as well. One of the key fields CROs should learn about is surveys as qualitative data can improve the website conversions substantially, but only if one knows what they're doing:


+ If professionals know they should have exit surveys asking what people are trying to find on the website and whether they have found that information, they'll be able to find the weakest user experience areas of the website, and they can devote their time to plugging those holes.


+ If CROs understand the relationship between N counts or survey completes and statistical significance, they will be able to help prioritize improvements to the website more efficiently.


Tests are great for improving conversion paths on particular pages, but there's nothing quite like user surveys to uncover user intent, and to find, isolate and improve the areas of the website that frustrate users the most.


Heuristics and Web Analytics Familiarity

When CROs meet traffic and/or conversion thresholds for an important page, they can run split tests to improve that page. For most organizations, however, that is but a tiny fraction of the website's pages. If they're running split tests on two percent of their pages, in fact, there is still the other 98 percent of the website to improve; and their Optimizely knowledge isn't going to do very much for those areas.

If CROs understand how to conduct heuristic reviews and assess success using Web analytics tools, they'll be able to improve even those areas of the website:

+ If marketers have enough familiarity with tools like Adobe or Google Analytics, they can find the moderate-traffic, low-engagement areas - those are pages that need to be tweaked.


+ If they understand Web usability best practices and conduct heuristics reviews, CROs can suggest small tweaks to the website to try and improve things like bounce rate and call-to-action clicks.


+ With enough domain knowledge about Web analytics, they can efficiently assess whether their proposed tweaks are improving things like bounce rate.


Tests are great for the critical areas of a website, but there's still the rest of the website to think about.

If professionals expand their domain knowledge to cover heuristics and Web analytics, they'll bring value to the entire website, not just the core conversion paths.


Comfort with UX Practices

When people say "testing" in the context of conversions, they usually mean split or multivariate tests. That's far from the only kind of tests that need to be conducted in the digital space, however. The other two they'll likely need to get familiar with are usability tests and user acceptance tests. A CRO's comfort with user experience or UX tasks can help make or break the site:


+ Split tests are great for head-to-head comparisons for a set of pages on the website.

If they need to eliminate an entire underperforming section of the website, A/B testing isn't going to help CROs. This is where prototyping and usability testing shine as they can take a low-fidelity version of the website section, test with a small group of users to find usability issues, then actually proceed with development. CROs who understand this can make large-scale improvements to the website very efficiently.


+ CROs who understand how user acceptance testing processes should run are going to be able to prevent launch day disasters for new sections or functionality.

Web usability and user experience are pretty broad fields, and CROs who understand the fundamentals will bring much more to the table. 


IT Coordination and People Skills

CROs can get a few small wins without IT involvement. Today's content management systems usually tie into Web analytics packages and testing software pretty seamlessly. If the ecosystem has a tag management tool like Google Tag Manager, experts may actually be able to go pretty far without heavy IT involvement. Those first few wins are important. That said, optimizers who can't work with IT teams will hit their ceiling pretty quickly.


For larger projects, they'll be adding projects to IT teams, who usually have pretty full plates. CROs need to make it worth it for them to work with them:

+ If the CRO is not high enough in the organization, they need to make sure they have a UX or CRO champion who has seen their "smaller" conversion wins. It makes selling the bigger projects much easier.


+ Explain the context of the projects, not just the goals, to IT. It helps when they can champion the cause, too.


+ Make sure management understands that CRO wins are in part IT wins. If the IT team is reaping praises because of projects they worked with the CRO on, their next projects will work out much better.


Putting It All Together

Split and multivariate testing expertise are critical in the conversion field, but they are table stakes. If you want to get far in CRO, you need to pick up survey skills, heuristics and Web analytics knowledge, UX expertise, technology stack familiarity and IT project management abilities to move the needle for yourself and for your employers.

Martin Greif brings 25-plus years of sales and marketing experience to SiteTuners where he is responsible for driving revenue growth, establishing and nurturing partner relationships and creating value for its broad customer base.