Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is a broad set of techniques used to transform website visitors into prospects or customers. CRO proficiency is extremely important for e-commerce and lead generation websites, as well as pay-per-click (PPC) and other online advertising campaigns that take users from an ad to a customized landing page.

A Guest Post by Brad Schorr, Director of Content Strategy, Straight North.

In theory, competitor benchmarking would seem to be a wise practice for CRO specialists. However, in practice, CRO benchmarking has minimal value and can even be counterproductive. Consider these pitfalls before investing time in a benchmarking project.

How Good Are the Results?

The effectiveness of CRO techniques is ultimately measured by website revenue and/or actual leads generated. CRO specialists study website user behavior, click-throughs on calls-to-action as a percentage of Web page traffic, average time on the Web page, and a multitude of other items to determine whether changes in Web page content and/or design are improving the percentage of visitors who convert.

Companies do not share data publicly regarding CRO metrics, making it impossible to know how effective their CRO work actually is. The company doing the benchmarking may assume a competitor’s CRO is effective based on its sales growth or other visible/reported signs of success, but it’s equally possible the competitor is successful in spite of its CRO.

Companies Often Get CRO Wrong

This brings us to another drawback to competitor benchmarking: the (very real) possibility that successful competitors are not executing CRO properly.

Many companies go wrong with CRO by putting all the effort into A/B testing. While A/B testing has tremendous value, it is only one approach to CRO, and limits improvement when used exclusively. In addition to A/B testing, important CRO techniques include usability testing, multivariate testing, shopping cart abandonment analysis, and website personalization.

Other common CRO mistakes include: test sample sizes that are too small; testing multiple variables in what should be an A/B test; jumping to conclusions; and basing decisions on flawed data.

On this last point, a very common flaw arises from neglecting sales lead validation — the process of separating actual sales leads from other types of inquiries. Our own extensive data indicates that as much as 45 percent of website inquiries are misclassified as leads, causing CRO interpretations and conclusions to be very wide of the mark.

Impossible to Know Cause and Effect

Even if a company were to identify a competitor truly proficient in CRO, a very big problem still remains: when looking at the entirety of this competitor’s website design and content, how can the benchmarking company know which specific elements are responsible for the positive results?

The answer is, it’s not possible. Since they can’t really determine cause and effect, companies tend to see their benchmarking project devolve into opinion sharing. For instance, the CMO really likes the color and placement of a particular call-to-action form or special offer, and insists the company adopt something like it.

This style of decision-making may or may not lead to a positive outcome, but it is neither scientific nor benchmarking.

Try This: Look at Industry Best Practices

Rather than fall into one of the above traps, base the CRO project on CRO industry best practices. The Internet is chock-full of authoritative articles and research on the topic; consultancies specializing in small, mid-sized, and global CRO are at the ready; and, establishing an in-house CRO manager position makes a great deal of sense for companies heavily reliant on website leads and/or revenue.

Like most Internet marketing specialties, CRO is far more complex than meets the eye. However, few Internet marketing specialties offer the ROI payoff a well-implemented program delivers. Doing CRO the right way gives companies a big competitive edge, and as we have seen in this article, one that competitors will not be able to imitate easily.

For further reading, you may find this interesting: The CMO’s Agenda, 2016: Facing the Facts on What’s Effective and What Needs Fixing.

Image Source: Shutterstock.

sn-brad-shorr-3Brad Shorr has more than 30 years of marketing experience and now is the Director of Content Strategy for Straight North, a B2B internet marketing agency that offers SEO, PPC and website design services. Brad has written for the American Marketing Association, Forbes and Entrepreneur.

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