Drive and Convert – Ep. 7: What Makes CRO Difficult to DIY?

With the abundance of a/b testing tools available, ecommerce managers are starting to take CRO into their own hands. Learn why that's not always the easiest approach in the seventh episode of Drive and Convert.

In this episode of Drive and Convert, Jon explores the nuances of CRO and explains why it can be so difficult to take a DIY approach with it. He also offers a few tips for those just starting out to improve your CRO without spending a whole lot.

In this podcast, Jon and Ryan mention The Mom Test Book. Be sure to check out this resource if you’re seeking new ways to improve how your company communicates with its customers.

Transcript:

Ryan:
Hello, Jon.

Jon:
Hey, Ryan. How are you today?

Ryan:
I am doing well. Excited to get educated today by you, on some areas that I have very little knowledge. It’s exciting, the world of CRO. When you see the results on my side… I get to see the results of what you do, but I don’t conceptually understand it well. So today, I really wanted to dive into the weeds with you about conversion rate optimization, and help our listeners get a better understanding of just what you’re going to need to do to help execute some CRO. And then, as we live in this DIY world… I can’t tell you how many Pinterest things I see, or YouTube things I see, that I try to execute, and it just, God, doesn’t quite turn out the way I want to. Especially when I’m cooking, all the recipes I find on Pinterest, just man, the pictures look so great and then my finished product is not great.

Ryan:
I own a few businesses. Logical Position does a lot of advising on best practices in improving conversion rates, but I wouldn’t call what I do on my own sites or what we do at LP to kind of advise clients as conversion rate optimization. So from your perspective, as an expert in CRO, isn’t it easy to just watch a YouTube video or find a Pinterest article on CRO and just do something and watch the conversion rate on your site increase?

Jon:
Well, I think that, just like anything else, right… Like you mentioned Pinterest or YouTube videos, how many times did you watch these videos and it had not turn out like you had wanted, right?

Ryan:
Yeah, most of the time.

Jon:
Yeah. I think, it’s probably not too dissimilar. Now, look, there’s a lot that somebody can do on their own to help improve their conversion rates. Is that technically and truly full conversion rate optimization? No, of course not. But there’s a lot that people can do out there, and should be doing, and should be thinking about. I think that… Look, is it easy to do everything yourself? No. Could you focus on one or two areas and do very well? Yeah, maybe.

Jon:
But I think the biggest challenge I have, is we see this all the time at The Good. People come to us and they say, “Hey, I have one staff member I hired who’s a conversion optimization specialist, but it’s just not moving the needle in the way that I would like. We’re not seeing the return on that salary spend or that contractor spend.” The problem is that, and we’ve proven this out over 11 years now, you really need to have a team with a whole bunch of specialists, and it’s impossible for one person to be expert in all of the areas that you need for conversion optimization.

Ryan:
What I’m kind of understanding is there is a conceptual difference between CRO, or conversion rate optimization, and, maybe what I would call CRI, conversion rate improvement. They’re not necessarily the same thing. I can [inaudible 00:03:21] can change a button and improve our conversion rate, but that’s not actually conversion rate optimization.

Jon:
I think we just came up with a new term and I love it, CRI versus CRO. That’s awesome. Thank you, Ryan. Okay. Yes. Now, here’s how you can do improvements, go out and get these tool sets that all talk about doing an optimization or improving your conversion rate. There’s tools out there that can help improve your conversion rate, but they’re not going to get to the level that a customized program with a team of experts can do for you. So you think about all those tools like Privy, or there’s Hotjar, or Crazy Egg, or… I could go on and on, right? There’s tons of these tools out there that each provide a little nugget of conversion rate improvement, but they’re not truly doing full optimization, right?

Jon:
If you’re really going to optimize anything, it needs to be a scientific process of optimization. It’s not just a make these changes and you’re done. It needs to be the ongoing iterative improvements where you’re making incremental gains, month over month, that compound and grow. That’s where the big numbers are going to happen and the massive results are. I mean, you look at this and maybe this might feel daunting to the entrepreneur who’s doing a $100,000 on their site right now. But Amazon has a team, a massive team. Last I heard, it was well over a hundred, doing nothing but optimizing the Amazon experience.

Ryan:
Holy smokes.

Jon:
So you think about that, and you’re like, “Man, I’m at a huge disadvantage here.” But the reality is, they’re looking at every little data point. That team has a wide range of people doing different items, you have data scientists to analyze all the data coming back. You have test developers to build out all the tests. You have conversion strategists who can help you to better understand what should be tested. You have experts in user testing, those people who speak to your consumers and understand how to get information out of their heads about what they’re thinking.

Jon:
So you have all of these other types of roles that exist that can combine, be like the Avengers, right? But individually, if you just have the Hulk out there or… I’m not a huge comic book guy. Maybe I’m mixing up my worlds here. But, I would say individually, they’re not going to be as great as they would be all together.

Ryan:
Interesting. So almost in putting it in terms I can quickly relate to would be PPC optimization. You can know conceptually that I really do need to be putting negative keywords into my account to eliminate some waste, but there’s a lot more to that, and there’s a lot more specialist in the die that I operate in so often. But also, as I’m looking at all the accounts we work in, the way we operate is very different on somebody that sells $50,000 CNC machines versus a five-dollar mug on their website.

Jon:
Exactly. We talked about this a little bit at one of our recent episodes, where I was interviewing you and I admitted to how I had a button checked in our ads account and it cost me $2,000 that I didn’t need to spend.

Ryan:
That was a fun one.

Jon:
Right. But here’s the thing, I thought I was doing the right thing by letting Google manage that. And it just kept bidding me up, bidding me up, bidding me up until I spent all this money. Where an expert who’s in it every day would know, “Hey, on the surface level, I get why you would want Google to own that and optimize that for you. But the reality here, is there’s a much better path ahead if you have experience here.” I think that’s where it really comes in, is having that experience and it means that you can rely on the tool, right, and you could just have a whole bunch of tools. The challenge is going to be, that you’re not going to see the gains that you would if you work with somebody who does nothing but optimization and has a team centered around that.

Jon:
Think of it this way. I spent 2,000 extra dollars I didn’t need to spend because I misused the tool, right? I could have spent that $2,000 with an expert who maybe could have generated me an extra $5,000. That would have been a massive return on my investment, by making the investment there, as opposed to clicking a button that I was trying to take the cheap way out, right?

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I guess, in the e-commerce space, we have some very major players like Amazon, a hundred people or more on their conversion rate optimization team. Shopify has a million businesses utilizing their platform. And I assume, again that’s an assumption so nobody quote me, but I assume they have an internal CRO team to a degree, because the more conversions they get, the more people use Shopify and the more money they make on the payment processing.

Ryan:
So with all of these major platforms having so much influence, do you ever think it’s possible that we fast forward five years and all of us just are so trained in Amazon and clicking this to get this, or Shopify clicking this to get this, that it’s almost standard like across e-com. Like checkout, I expect this, I do this, and there’s very little optimization beyond that.

Jon:
I hope that we get to that point, I don’t think we will. Now, here’s why I hope, because… I’ve mentioned this book a hundred times, that’s called Don’t Make Me Think, right? The whole premise is that we have conventions as internet users that we’ve become akin to that we know and we like, and it makes the internet easier to use if everybody follows those conventions, so I don’t have to think about it, right? Anytime you change that convention, you’re making the user of your site think. And that delays them converting. It makes them frustrated. They bounce. They leave. They desert, whatever you want to call it.

Jon:
I hope we get to the point where there’s a standard here, but I can promise you we never will. Now, here’s why, they can standardize things like checkout, right? Shopify has done a wonderful job with this and this is where their optimization team internally would come in, where they are optimizing the checkout experience. However, if you go to a Shopify site and they have a custom theme and it’s branded, you wouldn’t even know it’s on Shopify until you got to that checkout and then you know it’s a Shopify checkout, right?

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon:
And here’s the thing… So there is so much to optimize beyond that. We’re never in on the internet. And I hope we get to the point where things are standardized, but I never hope we get to the point where the internet just becomes this big gray area of everything being the same.

Ryan:
Yeah.

Jon:
Then it’s not going to be cool. We’re taking the branding out of the internet, which is part of what makes it really fun, is to go to a brand’s website and get a feel for that brand, have an understanding of what their value proposition is. I hope we don’t get to something where every website is just black text on white screen, with blue links, and the navs all look exactly the same, et cetera. I do think it’s important that some things are standardized and some usability aspects of websites are standardized. I think that’s important and we’re making strides to that, but there’s always going to be that brand pool. And it’s going to be a push against that standard experience that makes people think a little bit.

Jon:
I really don’t know how the experience, if you will, is going to be that much better over time. But I do think, if you’re a small shop and you’re using a BigCommerce or a Shopify, yes, use their default checkouts because they’re pretty good. But you’re going to get to a point where you’re noticing some checkout cart abandonment, and you want to improve those metrics. And at that point, you’re going to want to start to optimize those a little bit. That’s when you move up to something like Shopify Plus, where you’re paying a little more every month, but you get the ability to customize your checkout. And then you can start adding in some additional tools, you can start looking at moving some fields around, asking for less information if you’re not using it or don’t need it.

Jon:
And then on BigCommerce, one of the big things about BigCommerce is the customization that you can do with the platform. So their checkout, out of the box, if you’re a BigCommerce subscriber, you can alter that, which is great. It gives you a rope to kind of hurt yourself with a little bit there. But in time, it can… If you’re a smaller brand, you want to start using some of these tools, you have that capability.

Ryan:
For some of those bigger companies on BigCommerce, you can use something like a Bolt that is really focused on one thing only, and that’s streamlining that process.

Jon:
I’m glad you brought up Bolt, because that’s a great example of how they can take something that we just spent five minutes discussing as a standardized experience, and they’ve made it better. That’s a great example, where there’s always going to be room for improvement. How bolt has even done that, is they focused on reducing risk, right?

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon:
So you’re able to ask less information of the consumer, than you would on the standard Shopify checkout. That means you’re going to convert higher, but you don’t have to eat the risk of the fraudulent transactions as part of that, right? So you have options. And I think that there’s always going to be room for improvement, I really do.

Ryan:
Well, I think it’s also at this exact juncture to remind people, as I constantly had to be reminded, that conversion rate optimization is not checkout optimization. There is every step before, and I think this was a couple episodes ago, and a couple of steps after the fact of checkout, that conversion rate optimization plays.

Jon:
Yeah. [Crosstalk 00:13:39]…

Ryan:
So, often we as e-com companies and business owners focus, “Oh, I got to get people to check out, and then it’s done.” [inaudible 00:13:45] is over. But there’s that huge process.

Jon:
Right. Yeah. We’ve talked about this a few times where… What happens when somebody gets to your site? What’s their intention when they’re there? All the way through what happens after they check out, how do you optimize post purchase checkout? And I think there’s so much that can be done there. Again, very likely that it will never end in opportunities for optimization here.

Ryan:
Not every company is in a position to be able to start the full CRO agency or hire enough people to fully optimize their entire funnel of conversion, before and after giving the business money. Are there certain areas of CRO, outside of maybe just getting a Privy or a Hotjar or any of those other tools, that they can be doing something that would get them going towards official CRO? Like you’ve got to be able to grow the brand into a size to be able to afford a CRO agency or employees. So outside of just the tools, what… Is there AB test they can be doing? I mean, what does that look like for the e-commerce business owner doing a hundred thousand a year?

Jon:
Well, I think that most likely, you’re not going to want to even dive as deep as doing something like AB testing, because you don’t have enough traffic to prove those out, it’s not going to be a good return on your time or funds investment.

Jon:
Now, what I would recommend here is two-fold. One, start tracking some data. This is not complicated, but it will help you later just to have more timeline of data. Go into Google Analytics, turn on things like enhanced e-commerce, set up some additional dashboards. Just Google e-commerce analytics dashboards, you’ll find a bunch of great ways to set that up so you start tracking some good data, okay? There’s a easy checklist to follow there.

Jon:
Now, other thing is start tracking user engagement. How do I mean that? Well, go sign up for Hotjar, it’s $9, right, per month. Just sign up, go, and what you can do is you can start understanding how people are engaging with the content of your site. And I promise you, if you just spend one hour a week reviewing that data, you will learn where challenges are on your site, with things that you think you can do yourself that will improve conversion rates.

Jon:
Are you going to see massive gains? No, but I think if you’re in the situation where you have more time than you have money, as you’re growing your business and you’re starting out, spending that hour to better understand your consumers yourself will help you find a better product-market fit, it will help you to improve your website overall. And as you continue to grow, you’re already building that culture within yourself and your company with your team, as it grows, of understanding how consumers use your website and what data you should be looking at.

Jon:
If you just go out and you start talking to consumers, take a laptop, go to your local mall, or, I don’t care, bar, doesn’t really matter. Wherever your consumers hang out, right? Go to the coffee shop. Sit at the Starbucks and just say, “Hey, can I buy you a coffee, if you give me five minutes of your time, while they make your coffee. You’re just going to be standing there anyways. I’ll buy you a coffee. While they make it, I want you to use my website. I’m going to ask you to complete a task, and I’m just going to watch you do that. I just want you to tell me what you’re thinking as you go through those steps.” You will be amazed at what you learn. And all it takes is five, 10 minutes of someone’s time and the cost of a coffee. So anybody of any size can do this.

Jon:
Now, you don’t have to just be there all day, either. Do this for a couple hours. Get under 10 participants, and I promise you, you will walk away with a laundry list of improvements that you can make to your website. So if you don’t-

Ryan:
It’s almost like gorilla marketing in its purest form. Like, “You’ve never heard of my business before, I’m going to buy you a coffee and you’re going to see it.”

Jon:
Yeah. You’re not trying to sell them anything, right? You’re just trying to understand how they’re using your website so that you can take that data and improve. The idea here is that you’re getting an understanding of somebody who is a new to file customer, somebody who’s never been to your website before. You’re walking away with an understanding of what their first impressions of your site and the experience on your site. So the navigation, the funnel, how they find the right products, what they think of the content, right? All of those things are what you’re looking for. You’re not necessarily saying, “Hey, I want to introduce you to my business, so you buy something,” because then they’re not going to really have a great understanding.

Jon:
Now, there’s an amazing book out there. It’s called The Mom Test. You can get it on Amazon. It’s 20 bucks or something. It’s amazing. The Mom Test, we’ll have our producer put it in the show notes. The Mom Test, it’s got a pink cover, it looks like it’s a not really helpful book, but I will promise you that it is amazing. The whole thing about this book, is that it gives you an outline of how to ask the right questions about your product and your website to get customer feedback, so that you’re not asking them leading questions, that they’re only going to give you positive feedback.

Jon:
So why is it called The Mom Test? Because this should be questions that you can ask your mom where you’re going to get good feedback, not where you’re going to get the mom feedback of, “Oh, honey, that website is awesome. Yeah, of course it’s beautiful, you built it. This is the most usable website I’ve ever had.” No. You want somebody, even your mom, to give you the best feedback about how to improve your product and what they actually think. That’s where it gets important. So asking the right question is really the key here, but that’s something that 150 page book can teach you, and you’re not going to be expert right away. But again, going back to where we started this conversation, that is just one small item that you need to learn and master out of the whole range of conversion optimization. That’s why it gets really hard to do CRO versus CRI.

Ryan:
We have to trademark that. Nobody think. I want to go back, really quick though, to a point you made about traffic being too low for CRO, because I know you have this conversation constantly. And then I get to talk to some of these people because their traffic’s too low for CRO. But it crosses the minds of most business owners, as they’re starting up, “Hey, I’m getting traffic to my site. And it’s converting at,” I’m going to make it up “1%. If I just made that go from 1% to 2%, I would double my revenue and I didn’t even have to work on increasing traffic, which may be is a struggle for me or I’ve got really big competitors.”

Ryan:
All that is true, but sometimes that time and energy should probably be spent more on getting, maybe, more appropriate traffic or figuring out what traffic is coming and is not converting. But how do you have that conversation on the front end? Because I usually get it from you, at least, after you’ve already had some kind of conversation around, you just need more traffic. What insights would you give to people in that scenario?

Jon:
Well, I think, there’s a couple of things you have to really consider before you’re going to deep dive into optimization. The first is, have you found product-market fit, right? So is anybody, A, interested in your product and, B, are they going to buy it because it’s solving a pain they actually have? It’s one thing to get people to your site, but if the product isn’t really hitting with the market, then you are going to waste your money. You can optimize and have the best funnel and the best site ever, but if it’s really just not something people want or need, then you’ve wasted your money, right? So that’s the first thing.

Jon:
Now, a great way to determine that and the way that I usually determine it, because it’s really quick and it’s something most people know if they’re running or managing an e-com site, is number of unique monthly users to your site. Because here’s the thing, if you’ve generated enough traffic, that means people are interested. And if you’re able to drive traffic with ads, where you’re spending at a sustainable level, that means people have a pain point and they’re actually willing to click on an ad to solve that pain. That kind of proves it out, right?

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon:
Now, what’s that level? I generally want to see about 50,000 unique users per month before you’re going to start doing true optimization. That’s actually a pretty low number. It might feel like a mountain for some people, but if you’ve gotten to 50,000 per month… I mean, think about that, that’s 12,500 per week, it’s really not that many, right?

Jon:
The idea here is that you are able to drive enough people to your site, that you can start making scientifically-backed decisions. That’s really where you’re going to find those gains because you’re no longer relying on what you think is best, or those 10 people you interviewed at Starbucks. Now, you’re starting to get in mass enough data that you can prove stuff out to where it’s statistically relevant.

Ryan:
That’s a great insight, I think, on just a number, but also, I think, on market fit. I talked to so many startup businesses throughout the course of my day, weeks, months, but so many entrepreneurs come up with a really cool product that they just love, but unfortunately they have no idea who their market is or who they really think is going to buy. They have an idea like, “Oh, I really thought this company was going to buy it.” But if you’ve created a product that hasn’t existed before, nobody’s searching for it. Or they’re maybe searching for a problem, but getting a shopping ad to show appropriately, that image may not solve or cause them to take that click. So it becomes a much deeper conversation of, what are you going to do to get this into market? Not necessarily start by optimizing your site. It’s, you’ve got to really find that fit, whether you go to social, whether you go to Google for that, whether you go to retail for that.

Jon:
Yep. That’s exactly it. Conversion optimization is usually step two, right? So first step is… I would say step zero, is find product-market fit, right? Then step one is drive traffic. Then step two is, once you’ve proven those out, you want to start getting a higher ROAS or return on ad spend. At that point, that’s when conversion optimization can help get you to that next level. And I say this all the time, Ryan, when…

Jon:
We have dozens of clients that share both Logical Position and The Good as partners and vendors. What we find, and I say this all the time, is when you have a company like LP that can really drive qualified traffic and you have a company like The Good that can help you convert that traffic at a high level, it is like adding fuel to a fire because it just accelerates things. And it really starts to show that you can start making a living off of your website, or take it to that next level that you never thought was possible.

Jon:
That’s really where the gains can come in is, at that level, after you found product-market fit, you’re driving some traffic, now you really want to take it to the next level. And then it becomes this great circle of, “Hey, you got your conversion rate up. Now, you have more money to spend on driving more traffic. And then you take that funds from the sales you’re getting there, you reinvest it in additional optimization.” You just keep going in that circle and it continues to compound that growth over time.

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). It makes entrepreneurs, startups, even existing business owners nervous when you start talking about paying for traffic, but the value there, even if you’re doing that to get to the point where you can use CRO, is you get the insight into the intent of that visitor. If you’re just focusing on organic traffic, that’s great by the way. We’ve already mentioned in this podcast before, there is no such thing as free traffic. You’re going to pay for all of it in time, money, energy. But when you’re using Google Analytics, you don’t get the insight of what did they actually search when they came to my site, when they came through an organic link, or they came direct to my site. I don’t know how they got… I don’t know why they got my link, or they knew my website.

Ryan:
But if they’re using paid search, you get all this really cool data of saying, “Hey, they searched specifically for this, clicked on my ad, went exactly to this page where I sent them, and they either took the action I wanted or didn’t.” So I can get a lot more of those insights. And you can even get… If you are paying for it, because obviously Google is a for-profit organization, if you do pay for clicks on Google Ads, you can use Google search console to connect Google Analytics and Google Ads, and you will actually get the search queries on your organic traffic, and see how that is operating and what that search intent is, and where you’re ranking. That’ll actually give you real average ranking for an organic query. Phenomenal data. But again, you have to pay for it by utilizing the Google Ads platform.

Ryan:
So some business owners out there that are listening, you do have to take the leap and actually pay for some traffic to get some of these insights that let you figure out where your market fit may be or may not be. And it becomes exciting, but also challenging. And so I will put an asterisk by that, that Google does have a great product for starting up and getting your business going. A lot of their smart campaigns, smart shopping can be very powerful to get a business up and running on Google shopping, unfortunately, you don’t get that search query data. That becomes problematic when you’re really trying to figure out your intent or what you’re actually showing for on Google that is becoming so valuable and why your business is growing. So just be aware of that, that you may actually have to do some more manual work in there, but, man, there’s a lot of opportunity.

Jon:
I didn’t even know about that one. So now, I don’t have to get the… What is that message that shows up in Google Analytics now? It always says something about like not found or…

Ryan:
Not provided.

Jon:
Thank you. Yeah.

Ryan:
That came about 10 years ago. It was great for Google because you’re forcing people to pay for it, I get it. That data does exist though, you just have to pay.

Jon:
Yep. Well, that’s good to know. Ryan, this has been a great conversation. Are there any other questions that I can answer for you on how to do CRO DIY?

Ryan:
No, I’ve just got to go get some things on my website so I can get to the level that I can pay you to take my CRO to the next level.

Jon:
Well, I know you and I know you’ve already found product-market fit on all of these, so drive that traffic, which you’re expert at, and then I can come back and help you convert, and we can go from there.

Ryan:
Yeah. Thanks for enlightening me and helping me figure out some of these details of CRO that I didn’t know, so that I’m not just doing CRI all the time.

Jon:
Go trademark that right away.

Ryan:
Thanks, Jon.

Jon:
Thanks, Ryan.

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