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Conversion Rate Optimization Chapter 5

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the art and science of persuading your site visitors to take actions that benefit you, by making a purchase, making a donation, or committing to some positive future action.

Note: This chapter in its entirety is available as a sample chapter Conversion Rate Optimization (2 MB PDF)

CRO uses a wide variety of techniques including persuasive copywriting and credibility-based web design to convert prospects into buyers. By planning, designing, and optimizing your website to persuade, you can ensure that it will act as a more efficient sales tool. You can compare a conversion-optimized website to a successful (but commission- and salary-free) digital salesperson who works for you 24/7, 365 days a year, qualifying leads, building rapport, and even closing sales.

The Benefits of CRO

With the average conversion rate hovering between 2.5 and 3.1% (Fireclick 2008, 2007), the importance of a conversion optimized site becomes clear. Although "your mileage may vary," you can expect that high-quality optimization will increase conversions by 50% to 200% or even more. For example, in Chapter 4 "PPC Case Study:" we discuss a case in which the increase was more than 600%.

CRO helps you to meet the following business goals:

  • An increase in sales, revenues, and profits
  • The generation of more leads for your sales team
  • Boosting "opt-ins" to build your e-mail list
  • Reduction of customer acquisition costs
  • More page views for advertising
  • Engagement of more users
  • A permanent improvement to conversion rates

Best Practices for CRO

What follows are the best-practice principles behind CRO. It might seem at first like an extremely broad, almost intangible, idea. However, you can achieve conversion by following very specific steps using tools you already have at your disposal. CRO uses what you already know about your customers and their psychology to your advantage by using language, imagery, and a level of engagement that will make your site stand out among those of your competitors.

First we'll explore how the principle of source credibility can make your site appear more trustworthy. Next, we'll discuss the psychology of persuasion, including:

  • The six primary psychological persuaders
  • Maximizing conversions with personas

Then we'll highlight the top 10 factors that you can use to maximize your site's conversion rate, including:

  1. Credibility-based web design
  2. Easy navigation
  3. Logo credibility
  4. Memorable slogans
  5. Benefit-oriented headlines
  6. Best content placement
  7. Calls to action
  8. Benefit-oriented content
  9. Using "hero shots"
  10. Interactivity and engagement

You'll learn how to stage your CRO campaign through the discovery, planning, and optimization phases. Finally, we'll show these techniques in action by analyzing two examples of best conversion practices. Here is an outline of the chapter:


Fireclick, "Conversion Rate: Global," Fireclick Index
January 19, 2008, (Jan. 19, 2008)., "The State of Retailing Online 2007,"
National Retail Federation, September 18, 2007, (February 15, 2008). The shopping cart abandonment rate peaked at 53% in 2003. The conversion rate for e-commerce sites peaked in 2002 at 3.2%. In the 2007 report, e-commerce conversion was 3.1%.
Robins, D., and J. Holmes. 2008. "Aesthetics and credibility in web site design."
Information Processing and Management 44 (1): 386-399. Preconscious judgments of aesthetics influence perceived credibility of websites. VoilĂ ! Instant credibility.
Akamai. 2007. "Boosting Online Commerce Profitability with Akamai." (accessed February 15, 2008). Akamai estimated a 9%to 15% improvement in conversion rate after a website is "Akamaized."
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McAfee. 2008. "HACKER SAFE certified sites prevent over 99.9% of hacker crime." site/en/certification/marketing/ (accessed February 18, 2008). McAfee claims an average increase in conversion rate of 14% among 150 million unique visitors who see the HACKER SAFE mark. Your mileage may vary.
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ClickZ, showPage.html?page=1588161 (accessed June 5, 2008.) Found over 1,100 factors that affect conversion rate.
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Everard, A., and D. Galletta. Winter 2005-2006. "How Presentation Flaws Affect Perceived Site Quality, Trust, and Intention to Purchase from an Online Store."
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Schlosser, A. et al. 2006. "Converting Web Site Visitors into Buyers: How Web Site Investment Increases Consumer Trusting Beliefs and Online Purchase Intentions."
Journal of Marketing 70 (2): 133-148. Site investment equals trust in a firm's abilities.
Burrell, A., and A. Sodan. "Web Interface Navigation Design: Which Style of Navigation-Link Menus Do Users Prefer?"
in ICDEW 2006 (Atlanta: April 3-7, 2006), 10 pages.
Haig, W., and L. Harper. 1997. The Power of Logos: How to Create Effective Company Logos.
New York: John Wiley. Haig coined the term "credibility-based logo design" in his master's thesis at the University of Hawaii, "Credibility Compared to Likeability: A Study of Company Logos," in 1979. His Logos book expanding on his thesis followed.
Haig, W.L. 2006. "How and Why Credibility-Based Company Logos are Effective in Marketing Communication in Persuading Customers to Take Action: A Multiple Case Study Toward a Better Understanding of Creativity in Branding."
Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Cross University, Lismore, Australia.
Kohli, C., L. Leuthesser, and R. Suri. 2007. "Got slogan? Guidelines for creating effective slogans."
Business Horizons 50 (5): 415-422.
Nielsen, J. September 6, 1998. "Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines."
Alertbox, (accessed February 18, 2008).
Spool, J. et al. 2004. "Designing for the Scent of Information."
User Interface Engineering, (accessed March 30, 2008). Figure 5-2 reproduced by permission.
Nielsen, J. April 17, 2006. "F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content."
Alertbox, alertbox/reading_pattern.html (accessed February 17, 2008).
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In WWW 2006 (Edinburgh, Scotland: May 23-26, 2006), 133-142.
Pirolli, P. 2007. Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information.
New York: Oxford University Press. A theoretical but fundamentally important book for web designers.
Eisenberg, B. et al. 2006. Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results
(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 144.
MarketingSherpa. 2005. Landing Page Handbook 1.
Warren, RI: MarketingSherpa, 51.
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International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 58 (3): 281-305.
Lowry, P. et al. 2006. "A Theoretical Model and Empirical Results Linking Website Interactivity and Usability Satisfaction."
In HICSS 2006 (January 4-7, 2006), 9 pages.
LivePerson. 2007. "Hoover's increases conversion rates and average order values with LivePerson's proactive chat."
LivePerson, (accessed February 17, 2008).
MarketingSherpa. July 19, 2005. "Video Spokesmodel Lifts Ecommerce Conversions 78%: A/B Test Results."
MarketingSherpa, (accessed February 17, 2008).
Song, J., and G. Zinkhan. 2008. "Exploring the Determinants of Perceived Web Site Interactivity."
Journal of Marketing 72 (2).
Mentzer, J. et al. 1997. "Application of the means-end value hierarchy model to understanding logistics service value."
International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management 27 (9/10): 630-643.
Nielsen, J. October 22, 2007. "Passive Voice Is Redeemed for Web Headings."
Alertbox, http://www.useit. com/alertbox/passive-voice.html (accessed February 17, 2008).
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Alertbox, (accessed June 7, 2008).
Weischedel, B., and E. Huizingh. 2006. "Website Optimization with Web Metrics: A Case Study."
In ICEC 2006 (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: August 14-16, 2006), 463-470.

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