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How Most Agencies Think About CRO

This article provides a detailed account of how most agencies think about CRO. It provides more information, detail, and context to the article CHAPTER 1: Conversion Rate Optimization Secrets, one of four articles that lay out the Frictionless Commerce Conversion Rate Optimization philosophy.

Slumping conversion rates suck. If you or your brand have been around the eCommerce space for any length of time it has happened to you. And, since you’re still here you probably rolled up your sleeves, dived in, and got to work.

The thing is, there are only so many times you want to do that yourself. Or even have the bandwidth to do it. 

You know you’ve got a great product and you know your ads are driving traffic, but you’ll be damned if you’re going to solve this problem yet again.

And if you’re going to hire a CRO agency to do the work, you want to know how they think.

The thing is, the way most agencies think about CRO might not be getting you the biggest impact— the best bang for your buck.

There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong in how most agencies think about CRO, it just isn’t the way we do it.

The Agency CRO Playbook: Start With Research

The customer interview: a critical part of agency CRO thinking.
Photo by  Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

The basic idea is that the marketer cannot develop an idea that drives higher conversion rates if the marketer doesn’t know what the buyer wants. After all, the marketer isn’t the end buyer.

That means you need qualitative research: you have to talk to your buyers.

While we agree that there is much to be gained from talking to your customers, it has two major drawbacks. First, it’s bloody expensive (over $40,000). Second, it takes a long, long time.

Think about what’s involved.

  1. Your client comes up with a list of customers for you to talk to.
  2. You email those customers and try to set up interviews. Half of them won’t respond.
  3. You set up more interviews than you need because, again, half of them won’t show up. More wasted time.
  4. You interview the customers, ask your thoughtful questions, practice active listening, ask a bunch of why, why, why questions, and hopefully find “voice of customer” gold. You record the interview.
  5. You transcribe and listen to the interviews again and create a massive database of your qualitative research.
  6. You sort, refine, tag, and categorize your research and hope you come up with a document that provides you with some insight.

And this is just the start of the research. You still have the rest of the research to do. Respectfully, we think there is a better approach, one that completely bypasses user research and we cover that in this article: Case Against User Research: Our Controversial Take.

Step 2: Look at the Whole Site

Most CRO agencies think closely the UX of a site.
Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

I can’t argue with the logic. Why would you limit the impact to improving the conversion rate on one page when you can improve the conversion rate for the whole site and all stages of the funnel.

Because agencies are thinking big picture their conversion optimization plan covers all of these vast areas:

  1. User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX). Think layout and design of the entire site.
  2. Compare the mobile version of the site with the desktop.
  3. Look at all the different pages: homepage, landing pages, category pages, and product pages.
  4. Pop-ups, opt-in forms, email signup forms, quizzes.
  5. Checkout flow and the entire cart design.
  6. Time on site, bounce rate, and visit depth.
  7. Button, search bar, menu placement, and the placement of anything you can think of.

We don’t disagree. The list above certainly is comprehensive. But clients have budgets and time horizons. If we had 12 months we’d look more broadly.

Because we have 90 days to deliver client results we focus on the tip of the spear.

How Most Agencies Think About CRO. We focus on the tip of the spear.

Most CRO Agencies Think About All Your Traffic Sources

They look at your Facebook ads and your search ads. They look at your YouTube, Amazon, and TikTok ads. Agencies will look at your SEO strategy, your content marketing, and your organic social media traffic.

Any way your customer came to your site is a source of traffic. And there is a way to optimize it.

They break down every traffic source. 

They Analyze Every Metric

The agency will look at your ROAS, your LTV, your CPC, your CAC— all the acronyms that will make your head spin.

Every nook and cranny, every detail, all your metrics are gone over with a fine-toothed comb.

A Google Analytics dashboard. This shows you how most agencies think about CRO.
A Google Analytics Dashboard source.

To what end? To find an opportunity to gain a fraction of a fraction of a percent of increased conversion rate.

The Agency All-encompassing CRO Plan

Once all the data is collected, analyzed, and gone over (and over), the CRO agency will come up with a plan. A very, very detailed plan.

And that plan will involve testing everything. All the elements that can be tested will be tested. Because they have the ability to test everything.

Of course, as soon as you test 10, 20, 50, or 100 elements, what happens?

Your attention becomes diffuse.

You no longer have the ability to hone in on any single thing. You do not get to pay attention to the one, single thing that matters most.

I know that to be true. I’ve seen it over and over and over again. I’ve seen it because I have done it myself. In my quest to provide my clients with optimized conversion rates, I lost sight of the one thing that provides outsized results.

We banged our heads on this puzzle for the last 14 years, and we’ve identified one thing that most consistently drives great results. We’ve tested this model across 100+ highly successful multimillion-dollar eCom businesses. And we’d like to share it with you.

Next Steps

Now that you know what most agencies do it’s time for us to come clean. Before we discovered the secret we too did things that don’t make sense to us now. But that’s ok, that’s how companies learn.


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