Raising the ROI bar with conversion optimization

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Conversion rate optimization, or CRO, takes online marketing ROI to a whole new level. CRO is the process of real-time testing of your website and landing pages in order to improve your conversion rates. With CRO you no longer are focused on meaningless data like click-through rates, but actionable data that shows you how to generate more of what you want: new leads, qualified opportunities and more sales.

The industry average conversion rate is around 3% but with testing and optimization you can reach conversion rates many times higher. To make it happen you'll need budget, people and tools.

For a very long time marketing departments have been struggling to prove their worthiness to everyone in the C-suite. Luckily conversion optimization is all about numbers and quickly demonstrating ROI. Use these tips to help others to see it as a revenue-generator, not an expense:

• Proof of concepts. Use an ROI calculator, such as this free tool, to illustrate how conversion optimization can lower cost per acquisition, increase revenue and increase leads. Or start a skunkworks pilot program to demonstrate how it works and what you can achieve on a small scale.

• ROI analysis. Prepare and present case studies and white papers that show lift percentages that other organizations have been able to achieve and how they accomplished it.

• Borrow. Many successful optimization programs were started by borrowing a little from the media budget. This is a great way to get things moving because it doesn't require any additional funding and you can still drive more leads or sales from your improved conversion rate.

While you may be able to see some success with a small pilot or by moving funds around, once you can get the C-suite on board you'll find that you can really change the nature of your online marketing culture to be one of testing and continual improvement.

Of course you'll need to make sure you have the right roles filled to get the job done. Putting together a multidisciplinary team that can focus on creation, testing and analysis is essential to increasing your conversion rates. I recommend filling the following five seats at the conversion table:

The driver, a manager who can lead and coordinate the strategy; the designer who understands creating actionable, conversion-focused pages and experiences; the copywriter, who's highly persuasive and knows the difference between writing print and online copy; the developer, that techie person adept at handling the back-end work; and the analyst, who knows what actionable data to look for, how to interpret the data and how to use that knowledge to create lift.

With a team in place, you're ready to fill your toolbox with the essentials. You'll need a way to publish content, a testing technology and a way to track analytics, all to ensure that your program doesn't become a resource drain. There are some great landing page management tools that have content publishing, real-time testing and analytics baked right in. These allow a marketer to make and test landing pages without needing IT or design resources.

Once you have your toolbox filled, your team will be ready to get started. While best practices vary from company to company, there are certain things everyone will want to avoid. One is jumping the gun. Give your tests time to run their course and reach statistical significance.

Another issue to avoid: sweating the small stuff: Sure, it's great to test your headline and get a little conversion lift; but it's even better to test your entire experience and get a huge conversion lift. Go through cycles of innovation (testing very different things against each other) and iteration (testing smaller tweaks, like headlines and images).

Conversion rate optimization takes online marketing ROI to a whole new level. A little planning for budget, tools and resources will get you on your path towards success.

Anna Talerico is exec VP with landing-page software company Ion Interactive ( She can be reached at [email protected]

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