Choosing the right conversion rate optimisation agency
what, why & how to find the right CRO Agency
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Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) can be a very powerful way to improve your online revenue. It’s a discipline that combines technical, analytical and psychological skills and applies them to the way your visitors access and use your website.
But there are lots of agencies out there that will tell you they are the experts. So how can you differentiate those who are truly experts from those who are not?
Who’s this guide for? Anyone looking to find a conversion rate optimisation agency and wants to know the pitfalls and problems that can occur.
What is conversion rate optimisation?
Conversion rate optimisation does what it says on the tin, as a pure concept at least. It seeks to improve (optimise) the percentage (rate) of visitors who complete the main goal of your site (“conversions”).
In practice, however, it is more about maximising the revenue of your site, as achieving “conversions” doesn’t necessarily result in business value. This brings in the concept of improving average order value (or AOV), as the other side of the equation:
Conversion Rate x AOV = Revenue
For example, an online retailer would undoubtedly increase their sales conversion rate if they offered all their products for free. They may even get a conversion rate close to 100%. But if they did that, they would also go out of business very quickly!
At the other end of the spectrum, that same retailer would almost certainly increase their AOV by doubling the price of all their products. But that higher price would likely deter a percentage of their site visitors, thereby reducing their conversion rate.
So, try to think of conversion rate optimisation as striking a balance between “conversion” and “AOV”.
Why is conversion rate optimisation important?
Conversion rate optimisation is important as it offers the opportunity to seek out additional revenue (and therefore growth). Also, it focuses on continual improvement of your site. Any site that does not adapt and change with the times will eventually be left behind.
For example, would you still use the BBC website if it looked like this:
If the BBC hadn’t continually improved its website over the last 20 years (yes, that’s an image from 1997!), its visitor numbers and conversion rates would’ve tumbled. But unlike the BBC, most SMEs don’t have the luxury of being able to constantly overhaul their entire site, so conversion rate optimisation provides the opportunity to continue to make incremental improvements.
Why is choosing the right conversion rate optimisation agency so difficult?
In the conversion rate optimisation world, SMEs often have advantages over large corporate businesses, and any time there is an advantage over the big boys, it needs to be capitalised on.
- Less is “sacred” – conversion rate optimisation is the art of making (the right) changes to improve business benefits; customers, sales, registrations, revenue But in the corporate world, change is often viewed as “risk” rather than “opportunity”. Having worked in the corporate world myself, I can assure you that that view is highly prevalent!So for SMEs that can see the opportunity presented by making changes, it will allow them to adapt to the market more quickly.
- Fewer variables at play – if you ask a big corporation where their website traffic comes from, there will likely be a thousand and one answers. And that can make adapting a site to work for all visitors particularly problematic.For SMEs however, the number of traffic sources tend to be far fewer, and therefore the types of visitor coming to the site also tend to be fewer. The reduced number of variables makes it easier to implement changes for the greater good, without the concern of marginalising one set of visitors.
Direct decision-making – stakeholders can cripple conversion rate optimisation programmes in big corporates. All it takes is for one senior manager to say “I don’t like it” and months of work go down the drain! Plus, several people have to review a change before it can happen, each of them with that veto power.
For SMEs, there tends to be a closer connection between decision-makers and those “on the ground”. Therefore, changes can be approved much more quickly. This is good for both the business and for any external parties you work with. No-one likes having all their hard work delayed for seemingly no good reason.
Why is conversion rate optimisation so important for SME’s?
“A picture is worth a thousand words”
Most SME’s miss the amazing benefits they can receive if they have a strong brand identity. Any future marketing material is so much easier to create if you have already considered the look and feel.
You’ll never have to worry about consistency problems later. Your company will have a clear message and visual representation that will stick in the mind’s eye of your customer.
Remember, people are visual animals.
Conversion rate optimisation questions that can help
What are the best ways to save money?
Conversion rate optimisation is like other service industries; you often get what you pay for. So, the cost of a supplier shouldn’t necessarily be the first consideration. One of the advantages of conversion rate optimisation is that it’s easy to calculate your return on investment. Therefore, the best approach is to calculate what difference a 1-10% increase in revenue would mean to your business and set your CRO budget accordingly.
Some agencies are also happy to put in place “performance-related-pay” (or PRP) for their optimisation programmes. Even if that isn’t their leading proposal, you may be able to negotiate an agreement that involves at least a portion of PRP.
Which areas should I be aware of that take the most amount of time?
Conversion rate optimisation is most effective when it is run as a genuine partnership. As the client, an agency will need your expertise to understand your business as much as you need their expertise as CRO practitioners. A mistake many businesses make is to think that they can just pay for a service and then provide no further input, but expect stellar results. If you really want to increase your business performance through CRO, you’ll need to do it as a genuine partner to your supplier, and that means giving them your time too.
What should I do first to make sure I pick the right digital partner?
Firstly, seek out recommendations from any contacts you already that may have used a CRO agency. They may be able to give you an inside track on certain suppliers, and maybe even save you from making a bad call!
Secondly, don’t just rely on “testimonials” or case studies from suppliers. Ask for a bespoke demonstration (preferably in person, but on a video call if not) of their expertise. Anyone who genuinely knows their stuff will have no issue with this, and will likely offer it to you themselves anyway. As part of that demonstration, they should be able to explain what changes you could/should make and the reasons why. Anyone can make recommendations on changing a website, but real experts can explain the CRO theory behind their recommendations.
Finally, get a shortlist of potential partners (probably 2-4), and get them to provide high-level ideas on what they would do specifically for your website. You may need to give them access to some business data, and perhaps a brief on some of the issues you have faced in the past. What you are looking to test is their ability to treat your site and your business as a unique entity. This makes it far more difficult for them to just reel off something they’ve read online(!). It also ensures that they start to understand the levers of profitability for your business from the outset.
How much should I spend and on what?
What you spend should be compared to what you expect to gain. Assess what a 1-10% increase in revenue would mean to your business and set your CRO budget accordingly. There will likely be some cost for an optimisation platform (software that helps you to test your changes) as well as the cost of the service that you are seeking. Unless you are getting a very good deal on the platform cost, the strong advice would be to pay for the platform directly. This prevents the agency from marking-up on the cost. Either way, make sure that you get any quote broken down into its constituent parts so that you can pick and choose which bits you need.
What can I do myself, if any?
Conversion rate optimisation isn’t rocket science, but it does rely heavily on being able to put yourself into the mind of your visitors and to think as they do. This can be difficult when you see your site every single day, as you can become blind to some of the areas that are perhaps “sub-optimal”. Having said that, generating hypotheses based on certain changes you are considering will help any third party you work with to become familiar with your goals and targets. They can often help to finesse those ideas with you. Most optimisation platforms are now usable by non-technical people (i.e. no coding knowledge is required), but the value of consultancy comes primarily from the idea generation and justification, more than the technical implementation of the changes.
What are the signs that my digital partner is ripping me off?
Not every “optimisation” will result in a positive result. If we already had all the answers, there would be no reason to run tests in the first place! However, you should expect to see a minimum of 2 out of 3 tests being successful. As your relationship develops with your agency, the success rate should increase, as they start to understand your site and business in more detail.
Also, it is good to get an understanding of the amount of work involved in each project. That way you can estimate an hourly cost which will provide a means of comparison should you start to consider alternative options.
The main pitfalls and problems – before you hire a conversion rate optimisation agency
The concept itself is often the first barrier
Often, they know about “CRO” as a discipline, but don’t understand how it’s implemented or done effectively. Education is often the first step. This usually extends far beyond day-to-day contact as senior stakeholders also need to understand how and why the budget is being spent.
Choosing a suitable platform
There are a wide variety of optimisation tools on the market now, with the most claiming how easy it is to set up and run tests on online properties. With so many to choose from and varying price ranges, SMEs often lack sufficiently experienced employees and struggle to know what is suitable for their needs.
Virtually no business will confirm or deny the types of tests they run, much less the results that were generated, given the business sensitivity of the data. As such, bespoke demonstrations should always be valued more highly than a list of sites and conversion/revenue uplifts that cannot be independently verified.
Golden Rules – before you hire a conversion rate optimisation agency
Before you hire a conversion rate optimisation company you must remember to follow a few golden rules.
Know your website data
How many visitors do you get each month, how many conversions (sales, registrations, etc.), what is your average order value (AOV) and what is your revenue like? These are important business metrics for setting your budget. They’re also essential to provide to any prospective suppliers of CRO services. Otherwise, it could be difficult for them to help you.
Be prepared for change
Conversion rate optimisation is the art of making (the right) changes. So, for it to be effective, you must be prepared for your site to look radically different to what you have now. This can be difficult to accept sometimes, especially if you’ve poured your heart and soul into making it what it is today. But remember that that site exists for business reasons, not for personal ones. If you’re committed to generating more revenue from it, suck up your pride and let someone else help you do just that.
Be a genuine partner
Conversion rate optimisation is most successful when you strike up a genuine partnership with your supplier. They cannot possibly be expected to know as much about your business as you do, so don’t hamstring them by keeping back information that would enable them to help you more. And good partners should question and challenge one another, as that is what will drive the greatest success for everyone. Remember that their success is your success, and vice-versa.
Review documentation/changes diligently
Most agencies will put together documentation outlining the sorts of changes they are proposing, along with some of the technical considerations for these. Once those are approved, they will likely ask you to review those changes on the site itself. Don’t be the guy who “didn’t have time” to check everything over and make sure it was what you wanted/expected. If something gets missed, it is only your revenue that will be hit.
Risk = Rewards
If you make tiny amendments to your site, you can expect tiny impacts on your bottom line. If you are bolder with your changes, then you stand to have a greater effect on your profit. If you have safeguards in place (effective monitoring of changes and a quick way to revert to the original version if something goes wrong!), you’re mitigating the overall business risk. But if you are only tinkering around the edges of your site, you will not fully achieve the dreams which drove you to CRO in the first place.
Seek free advice before paying for advice
Find someone you know (or someone who knows someone else!) to help you with recommendations for a freelancer or agency for your CRO programme. This is especially important if you have little or no experience, or don’t have any employees with that experience either.
Get a bespoke demonstration
Don’t rely on their word that they can do this stuff. You could sink a lot of cash before you realise that they are stringing you along. Anyone worth their salt could give you such a demonstration on the spot (it should be their job after all!) and if they are hesitant to do so, you might want to look elsewhere.
Expertise (generally) aren’t cheap
Try not to be lured in too much by low prices. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. There should be some comfort in the cost of your CRO agency as the value they place on their services is often a reflection of their confidence in delivery. If you’re looking for genuine expertise, you too must believe in the potential of your site to generate additional revenue too.
Don’t underestimate face-to-face meetings
Even in today’s ever-connected world, a freelancer or agency that is willing to meet you face-to-face on a regular basis to discuss progress or improvements shouldn’t be underestimated. For a start, it should give you some confidence in their ability to deliver. It’s much more difficult to disappoint a client face-to-face than it is over Skype! Plus, if you’re paying an hourly rate, you’ll get much greater output from an hour in-person than you will from an hour of emailing each other.
Know exactly who will be working on your account
Ask the agency in the pitching process to tell you which team member(s) you will be working with and why they have chosen that individual. You should meet them as part of that process and give yourself time to research their background. If you don’t feel that they’re the right fit for you, ask for someone else. You’re the client, and you have every right to do that. It will give you a good idea early on as to how the agency deals with confrontation or dissatisfaction from its clients.