Why Your CRO Efforts Suck

About a year ago you started focusing on Conversion Rate Optimization. You hired an agency to help you get started. You started using a split testing software like Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer to run split tests on your website. AND you can see that some variations had a big (and statistically significant) impact…

But bottom line… Your company hasn’t really grown. Year-over-year you’re pretty much in the same spot.

What happened? Why are can’t you see these improvements on the bottom line?

Unfortunately, there are 2 really common issues that hamstring most CRO efforts. [And no one is talking about them.]

Issue #1 – Your analytics setup is incomplete.

You probably have Google Analytics, maybe Adobe Marketing Cloud (formerly Omniture), or possibly even IBM’s Marketing Management (formerly Coremetrics). Yet, you can’t connect conversions and revenue with your marketing efforts.

Whether you’re using email, physical advertising, SEO, or PPC to drive traffic to your website, you have 2 separate banks of data.

Your email system has Sends, Opens, and Clicks.

Your physical advertising has audience reach.

Your SEO has rankings for specific keywords, impressions, and clicks.

Your PPC efforts have impressions, clicks, and maybe even conversions.

BUT… none of these traffic sources tie the marketing to the website behavior and revenue.

Not to mention your split test data is in a completely separate third bank of data.

It’s like reading the first chapter and the last chapter of a good book. You got the plot and the end result, but you missed the why. [And it doesn’t always make a lot of sense.]

This leads to a lot of short cuts when testing. If you test the Subject of an email, you can only compare opens and clicks. If you test a new headline on the landing page, you can’t see how it affects average purchase value.

Issue #2 – Your Marketing Department is Responsible for CRO

In a perfect world, Conversion Rate Optimization would be it’s own department (or at least part of a Mar-Tech department).

In reality, most CRO efforts are lead by the Marketing Team.

This is probably the biggest issue by far.

Marketers, and most agencies, focus on testing the stuff that is easy to test. They have access to the CMS, so they can change titles, a few design elements, and add simple things like a pop-up or an extra header. Marketing teams generally include copy writers and designers, so their tests tend to be copy or design related.

If your marketing team is in charge of CRO, they aren’t going to test anything they wouldn’t have already done before CRO.

If there are 2 good ideas for a Call To Action, instead of picking the best one based on personal opinion, they run a split test. Before split tests, if the marketing team picked a poor converting CTA, they would notice within a couple of days and swap it out to see if the other option works better. If they chose a good CTA from the beginning, 100% of the traffic sees the best option.

Now, since they are running a split test, 1 of 2 things happens. Either the difference is negligable, so the test doesn’t matter. Or one CTA is actually better, but because the test needs to run for a week to be statistically significant, only 50% of the traffic sees the good CTA, having the same net effect of not testing and going with their gut.

The purpose of the test was to determine the better CTA. Maybe it applies to a future situation, maybe not. Ultimately, the goal of the test didn’t extend beyond the single test.

Conversion Rate Optimization is a methodology AND a strategy. CRO can and should be used to better understand your customers, which necessarily affects the website design, wesite development, marketing, and even product offering.

By limiting CRO to the scope of the Marketing Team, all you did is change their process. It’s no surprise then, your CRO efforts didn’t have much overall impact on the bottom line.

Your Conversion Rate Optimization efforts need to take into account your front-end development (look and feel of the website), back-end development (function of the website), analytics, marketing, and product offering.

CROs are digital store consultants, continuously optimizing to improve visitor experience and increase sales. ¬†That’s when you get big results that stick.

Innovation Presentation – Register to Checkout

Contour This Innovation Presentations demonstrate our innovations we’ve found work across a wide range of websites.

The Sign-In or Register page is the least optimized page on your e-commerce website. Some companies use the information for remarketing via email, most only have it because it’s part of the e-commerce platform they are using.

We killed this page for an 80% increase in sales while still collecting emails for remarketing. See what we did in the video below.

There are 2 types of CRO agencies out there.

1) Agencies who use split testing tools to test simple design changes and pop-ups.

2) Agencies who test both design changes and functional changes.

Contour This is the latter. The difference is our extensive development experience and ability. Members of our dev team helped build some of the most popular e-commerce platforms in use today. This allows us the ability to improve and optimize websites from both a design and functional perspective.

If you’re looking to take your conversion rate optimization beyond simple design changes, where your back-end development has purpose, give us a call. It’s an eye-opening experience ūüėČ

p.s. One of my favorite examples of how development can create an experience.

Tesla’s “Insane” mode (now called “Ludicrous”) isn’t something you can see, but once you’ve experienced it, you won’t soon forget about it. Your CRO efforts need dev.

Retail Lab to “Fix” Ecommerce

As commerce migrates to online devices and mobile devices, retail stores are losing huge portions of their revenue to outdated ecommerce websites and antiquated concepts of online commerce. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Agency Contour This (http://www.contourthis.com) has formed an independent Retail Innovation Lab (http://lab.contourthis.com), aimed at creating the next generation of online stores.

It’s no secret that major retailers are struggling. Sears pulled in over 53 Billion dollars in revenue in 2007, yet they aren’t projected to even clear 26 Billion this year (2016). Ecommerce giant Staples, lost over 15% of it’s overall revenue from 2012 to 2015.

It’s an omnichannel world out there that is quickly becoming dominated by computers and mobile devices. Ecommerce stores are being used for research and transactions, in that order. And it’s a problem that the most highly praised, best retail application out there, Target’s Cartwheel App, is a coupon clipper.

Yes, Cartwheel is great, but it’s little more than a digital version of the Sunday circular. Target actually lost revenue when they tried to entice customers to “order online” by giving away $10 gift cards.

Ecommerce hasn’t changed in nearly two decades. The current format favors small boutiques more than large retailers, and the numbers show.


We, Contour This, believe that this can be fixed with a modern approach to online stores. Which is why we created the Contour This Retail Innovation Lab. We’ve given it a ten year charter to create online stores for today and the future.

Large retails are struggling to remain relevant online, using outdated ecommerce websites that are based on antiquated concepts of online commerce. As a CRO agency, we are uniquely equipped to solve this problem, being intimate with ecommerce and having the tools to not only create the next generation of online stores but the framework to test them.

We are actively looking for retail partners to join the Retail Innovation Lab. We will only be partnering with one retailer from each of the requisite industries, so if you know someone who is interested, have them contact Jared Smith [lab@contourthis.com] before their competition locks them out.

About Contour This, LLC.

Contour This is a Conversion Rate Optimization Agency based in Chandler, Arizona serving clients all over the world. They use the powers of data, dev, design, and copy combined with the theories of psychology, sociology, and behavioral manipulation to inspire visitors to take action.

What CRO Professionals Do That Separates Them from Amateurs

In the strictest sense of the word, a professional earns the majority of their livelihood from their craft. The amateur has another job. But there are also a few specific differences in how a professional CRO approaches the job.

The amateur comes up with a test, either because they can’t decide which solution will work better, or maybe they found an interesting idea that they want to test out. The amateur then goes about figuring out how to implement the test. Whether it requires dev, copy, or design. Whether it will be directly on the site and measured via analytics or delivered through a 3rd party testing suite. They run the test. They pick a winner. They move on to the next test.

The amateur is generally unorganized in their testing plans. If they do maintain a list of future tests, they are generally organized by the pages or parts of the website that they affect. The amateur seldom has a useful test history.

The professional CRO has a system. Every test goes through the framework of the system every time. Why? Because, the framework guarantees the test is successful.

This doesn’t mean that every variation the professional CRO tests is a winner. In fact, most tests don’t win. The difference is, the professional CRO doesn’t measure success by wins/losses in their tests. I’ve been known to run tests that I expect to fail.

When a professional CRO has an idea to test, they work backwards to the theory behind the test. Why do we expect this test to work? You see, most tests actually fall into one of a few categories.

  • User Interface – Intuitive and easy to use.
  • User Experience – Riding in the back of a bus next to a big smelly guy sucks, but riding in the back of a Rolls Royce doesn’t.
  • Communication – Copy and Persuasion fall into this category.
  • Design – I like to call this “style.” We are familiar with our own personal style. Websites have style too.
  • Functionality – Does it work.

Theories often generate additional test ideas in both the same category and other categories because theories go beyond a simple test. They are the basis for understanding your customers and how they react to your website.

If your website is a maze, your customer is a mouse, and a sale happens when the mouse finds the cheese… You may currently be using a carrot and wondering why the mouse isn’t jumping over walls to get to your carrot.


A test here would be to try cheese or peanut butter instead of your current carrot. No doubt you will find which one, the carrot, cheese, or peanut butter works best. But you need to look deeper into the theory of why would the cheese and peanut butter work better.

If your theory is that “smelly” food is a bigger attraction, you can go beyond this simple test. You can try a more smelly cheese, or food that is beginning to ferment. It also teaches you something you didn’t know about your mouse: he likes smelly food… or at least the added smell helps him find his way through the maze. (Another theory to test?)

When a professional CRO puts together a test plan, it is centered around the theories and assumptions about your customers.

Along the same vain, your test history should detail the tests that were performed but the real value is how it informed your theories and assumptions. By reading your test history, a complete stranger should be able to get a picture of who your customers are and what they respond to.

We take it a step further and maintain an ever changing Buyer Persona. This is not the same Buyer Persona that your marketing team maintains (though they work great together). Marketing focuses on identifying the buyer and solving their problem. Our Buyer Personas focus on what buyers care about and motivates them to take action. Like a playbook of best practices specifically for your customers.

To paraphrase Seth Godin –

An amateur bread baker [without a rigorous process] sometimes, ends up with a great loaf of bread.

A professional baker [who’s business is based on a rigorous process] creates bread that is worth buying, every day.

Reference: Rigor

How To Beat Your #1 Competitor

In marketing, we are always worried about the competition.  If I ask you to think about your biggest competitor, you probably think about a company that is similar to yours and has a comparable offering.

They are NOT your biggest competition. 

They may be the biggest business competition to your business, but they are not the biggest competition to your consumer, especially on your website.

I just got a new Surface Pro 4 last week and was in need of a case or protective sleeve to put it in for transportation.

I did my homework and looked around at a bunch of different cases and read all the reviews.  I decided I wanted a sleeve vs a case, I picked out a sleeve I liked, had it in my shopping cart and everything.  All I had to do was checkout.

I ended up not checking out.  I chose later.  This is a product I had an immediate need for, I liked it, I trusted the company, but I still chose to wait.

I found what I wanted, it was only 1 click away, but for some reason I decided to wait.  Think about it a little and maybe shop around a bit.  I ended up buying a sleeve 5 days later at a different store.

Your biggest competition to your online store is: Later.

Online, there are fewer hurdles. ¬†It takes no effort to go to the website. ¬†It’s available 24 hours a day. ¬†I can leave the page open in a separate window and come back to it whenever I want. ¬†More often then not, I decide to wait until later to take action.

When I go to a physical store, especially if it’s far away or if it’s a place I don’t frequent, I often think, “I’m already here, I may as well buy it now.”

There are a number of different methods to fight later and create urgency.

  • Tap into existing pain
  • Fear of Loss
  • Prizing
  • Limited Time
  • Reward

The method that’s right for you depends on your product and your customers.

One thing that you have to be very careful with is creating stress. When used improperly, any method that creates urgency can cause stress to your visitors.  This is why most companies fail at applying urgency to all of their offerings.

Adding urgency to a holiday sale works, but if they add this kind of urgency everyday, the website becomes too stressful.  The act of shopping on that website becomes exhausting.  Loyalty dies and lifetime customer value suffers.

Rewarding visitors for an immediate purchase is least likely to cause stress.

In order of influence (most influential to least):

  • People HATE when you take something away from them.
  • People LIKE getting stuff.
  • People want to save money.

This is important to understand because while the following 3 offers are ultimately the same, they are not equally influential.

  • Buy Now and Save $10
  • Buy Now and Get an Instant $10 Coupon
  • Buy in the next 1hr and 24min ¬†and Get an Instant $10 Coupon

Encouraging purchases through rewards is not a new thing.  After all, how do you think McDonalds made Happy Meals so popular? (Free toy anyone?)


Almost no one is taking advantage of this opportunity online – to increase urgency and create loyalty.

How can your company reward your customers for deciding to purchase now?

challenger_saleBTW, if you reach out to me today about how ContourThis can help with your CRO efforts, I’ll personally send you a hard copy of my favorite book.

The ultimate sales pitch

Having worked with a few different direct sales companies and numerous B2B and big ticket offers, I’ve learned a few things.

First, there is no hard and fast rules on whether your sales pitch should be long or short. ¬†There’s no single structure for your story. ¬†There are no rules for testimonials, pictures, product descriptions, etc.

It’s not that these things don’t matter… rather if you focus on these, you are missing the point.

Your sales pitch / copy needs to be long enough to cover the topic in full, answer any questions and slay any fear the customer might have.

Sales pitches are 100% about content and delivery.

One thing that has always worked, in every test we’ve run, is video. ¬†Even if you don’t have a video budget or the luxury to wait on production, you can create a VSL in mere hours.

Why does video work?  It attacks both the auditory and visual senses, which increases engagement with the content.  It also forces the viewer to follow the presentation as it was designed.

Just like with a sales letter, with the Video Sales Letter, content is more important than length. ¬†If it’s an engaging video, visitors will watch. ¬†Not only do we all spend hours watching blockbuster movies, we pay to do so. ¬†Proof that it’s not the length, it’s the content. ¬†(Kony 2012 is a 30 minute video that went viral with over 100MM views…)

There are 3 general levels of video that we have tested: a basic VSL (power point with a voice over), a VSL with b-roll and direct to camera shots, full production video.

First, starting with just a basic text sales page (what most people do), we saw conversion rates of 4 – 6%.

With a basic VSL, where we did little more than take the basic text sales page and converted it to a slide presentation and recorded it with a voice over, we saw conversion rates jump to around 9%.

Then we added some extras into the basic VSL.  We added some video clips that pertained to the presentation, pictures, and spiced up the presentation a little.  This increased conversions to 10.5%.

Finally, we threw caution to the wind and went for a full production video.  Live actors, professional b-roll, the works.  The result was a 13% conversion rate.

We got a final little bump by adding subtitles to the video.  Not everyone has their sound on or is willing to turn their sound on.  Subtitles solve this problem.

On average we’re able to get 2x the conversion rates with video vs a basic webpage.

Of course, not all products and services are perfectly suited to video, but have you tried?

Make Buying an Experience

Since the beginning of e-commerce, websites have been working to make the checkout process invisible.

Amazon is at the forefront of this movement with their “1-Click” ordering.

It makes sense from the stand-point that after a customer has selected a product, you just want to get out of their way and let them checkout.

But is this really the best solution?  After all, at best your checkout goes unnoticed.

What if instead of trying to make the buying experience invisible, we make it an experience that customers are willing to buy products just to have.


Build-a-Bear is a great real-world example. ¬†To the average consumer, Build-a-Bear sells stuffed animals. ¬†But the bears aren’t the reason my kids beg to go. ¬†They haven’t even seen the current selection of bears, but they want to go to Build-a-Bear.

When you buy a stuffed animal at Build-a-Bear, you pick out the empty body you want. ¬†You get to help run the stuffing machine to bring your bear to life, you get to make a wish on it’s heart (an actual little red heart that you put into the center of the bear), then it gets sewn up. ¬†Next you take it to the bathtub to wash it up (brush off all the little bits of fuzz and fluff) then you head to the computer to type up and print off your bear’s birth certificate. ¬†Finally, at the register, your bear is packed in a cardboard box that looks like a house and you get to take your new friend home.

Buying a bear at the Build-a-Bear workshop is not like buying a stuffed animal at the Disney store or any other retailer. ¬†It’s not a transaction, it’s an experience. ¬†This is why my kids beg to go to there.

Build-a-Bear doesn’t sell bears, they sell experiences.

Could you turn your checkout process into an experience?

Why Online Conversion Rates SUCK

Why do we just accept low conversion rates on our websites?

The average conversion rate of an ecommerce website is 2%.

Let that sink in for a second. Only 2 out of 100 people are taking action on your website. They came, they saw, they walked away.

Here’s what 2 out of 100 looks like.


Imagine a coffee shop where only one out of 10 customers purchases coffee and the other nine just walk out. Clearly something is wrong with this coffee shop. Maybe the menu is confusing or not what visitors were expecting. Maybe the wait is too long. Whatever it is, if they don’t fix it, this coffee shop isn’t going to last very long.

In a physical store we treat conversions and average cart value like the holy grail. Every customer is paying the rent, the utilities, and the salary of each employee before the owner gets anything. So, in a physical store, if we can get nearly every visitor to become a customer, and if we can convince those customers to try the $4.50 “Flavor of the Day” vs the $1.80 standard cup of coffee… we might just turn a profit.

Physical stores come with a TON of overhead and generally serve a very small geographical area. Digital stores (websites) on the other hand… come with practically ZERO overhead and serve everyone.

It costs Starbucks roughly $450,000 to build a new cafe. With over 11,000 stores in the US alone that’s… [grabbing my calculator]… almost $5 Billion dollars.

(If you have a website budget north of $1 Billion dollars we need to talk. Seriously call me. I want to be your friend.)

Given the significant overhead associated with physical stores, they can’t afford to have a low conversion rate.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Traditional advertising is also expensive. Super Bowl ads for Super Bowl 50 cost $4.5 million dollars for a 30 second spot. Granted 111.9 million people watched, but that’s still $0.04 per impression. Compared with digital advertising where impressions are often free and you only pay for visitors.

All these things combined, low overhead and cheap traffic, mean that even with a super low, single digit conversion rate… websites can be profitable.

That’s pretty awesome.

Imagine if we put as much effort into optimizing websites for conversions and average cart value as we do physical stores. Imagine if we moved the target for success from a 3.5% conversion rate to a 90% conversion rate. What would that take?

1st¬†‚ÄĒ Stop expecting your marketing team and dev team to increase conversions.

For a digital store, developers are a necessity… the way baristas are a necessity in a coffee shop… or the way store managers and sales associates are required to run a store front. They should be aware of how their actions and work product affect sales and cart value, but creating an environment and process that encourages sales shouldn’t be their primary job.

This is where conversion rate optimizers come in. We’re the digital equivalent of grocery store consultants. We have all sorts of tricks up our sleeve to improve conversions and increase cart value, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A great conversion rate optimizer is capable of digging deep into the minds of your customers. By understanding the customer, quirks and all, we are able to innovate and iterate, making the purchase process an experience your customers want to repeat and repeat often.

It’s also important to note that conversion rate optimization is one of the few areas of your business where you really should look for an outside agency vs hiring in house. As business owners, managers, and employees we work on and with our business everyday. This creates blinders that keep us from seeing opportunities that might seem obvious to others. By hiring an agency to help with CRO you not only get an extra set of hands, you get an outside perspective.

If CRO is in your plans or if you’re interested in how it could be, give us a call. We’d be happy to help. It’s time to stop suffering low conversion rates.


A number of people have been confusing SEO with CRO lately. ¬†It doesn’t help that many SEO companies have tried to adopt CRO as a parallel offering, saying that Search Engine Optimization increases Conversion Rates.

To Whom It May Concern: SEO and CRO are very different fields.

Check out the table below to understand where SEO and CRO are different.

Primary Goal Increase Organic Traffic Increase Conversions
Location of Work On your Website On your Website
Required Skills Data
Who Determines Success Search Engines Website Visitors
Methods of Improvement Site Structure
Keyword Usage
User Experience
Content Creation
External Links
Primary Goal (Again) Increase Organic Traffic Increase Conversions

As you can see, both SEO and CRO use similar teams and both work directly on your website.  However, SEO and CRO have very different goals.

A team trained in SEO doesn’t normally have the chops to inspire visitors to take action. ¬†Like-wise: a team trained in CRO doesn’t normally have the deep understanding of Search Engine algorithms necessary to improve search engine rankings.

Search engines don’t care about sales or newsletter signups.

Customers don’t care about h1 tags or external links.

If you need more traffic, consider SEO.  If you need more customers, consider CRO.

At Contour This – We use the powers of data, dev, design, and copy combined with the theories of psychology, sociology, and behavioral manipulation to inspire your users to take action.

Every website has a job to do, and it’s our job to make sure that your website is doing it’s job.

The Unicorn Agency

Everyone wants one agency to take care of all their needs.

This is a wonderful idea.  You only have to deal with one agency.  What could possibly be better?

SEO, PPC, CRO, SEM, Social, Content, Development, Advertising, Marketing all under one roof.

The biggest problem is management.  And by abdicating it to an outside vendor, you no longer have control.

Each one of the above is individually the sole subject matter of hundreds of books.  Each one requires a deep understanding to execute at a high level.  Each one slightly overlaps with something else.

It is theoretically possible that all of these experts could reside at the same agency… but that agency will never know your business as well as you do.

Then there is the dilemma of one budget. ¬†By having a single budget you again abdicate the responsibility of assigning each effort it’s own resources. ¬†This allows the agency to make fiscal decisions on your behalf that may not have your company’s best interest in mind, but rather the agency’s.

The best solution is to have a specific budget for each initiative and find the best agency to achieve your goals for each initiative.

At Contour This we focus entirely on Conversion Rate Optimization.  It allows us all the opportunity to dig deeper into how our different strengths can be used to drive conversions.

My favorite example of this is Tesla’s Insane mode. ¬† The mechanical engineers who designed the drive system to take the car from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds, not only achieved a mechanical feat, but created an experience.

At Contour This it is the goal of every single member of our team to drive conversions for our clients. ¬†From dev to design to copy, even the office manager… Contour This is conversions.


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Jared Smith Jared Smith is the principal conversion rate optimizer and owner at Contour This. He has worked with companies of all sizes from startups to Fortune 500's including Consumer Reports, HP, GoDaddy, and Vanity Fair. He built his first webpage in 1995 and the internet has been a major part of his life ever since.