Drive and Convert (Ep. 014): The Future of CRO
How can you prepare your businesses for operating in a future that has yet to be determined? Today, Jon explores the future of CRO.
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How can you prepare your businesses for operating in a future that has yet to be determined? Today, Jon explores the future of CRO. With such a high volume of transactions happening on Amazon and Shopify are we nearing the end of incremental improvement from CRO?
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All right, Jon, as a business owner and strategist, I’m constantly thinking about the future and how I can prepare my businesses, my teams, clients for operating in a future that has yet to be determined. For me, it’s just kind of fun to think through. Recently, one of the things that’s been on the top of my mind has been the future of CRO and how do we continue moving the needle to improve our sites, but doing that like five years in the future, what is that going to look like? With such a high volume of transactions happening on Amazon and Shopify, are we nearing the end of incremental improvements in CRO? That’s kind of the thought that’s going through, and I guarantee you have some serious opinions on this that I have no idea about. So I’m excited to learn from you what you’re looking for in the future.
But it also came top of mind because of a recent Google announcement that they’re going to start including site experience into their organic algorithm. And so let’s just start with that. Based on what you’ve heard and what you know about Google, what do you expect this to look like when it rolls out?
Well, I think that the biggest concern for brands and the biggest concern they should have is that if you haven’t been optimizing your site’s consumer experience, it’s going to severely impact your rankings, and thus your organic traffic is going to go way down. Google was kind enough to tell us now, even though it’s not going to roll out until 2021. So we’re recording in mid 2020. So they have given you a six months heads up, which is very nice of them.
They also have provided all the tools you need to be able to improve your site experience, including one of my favorites, Google Optimize, which is their A/B and multivariate testing tool set that they’ve released that’s great. So they’re not only just giving you the tool sets, but they’re also giving you the guidance on the fact that they want you to have a really great consumer experience. Say when they go to Google and search, and then they end up on your site, that they have a great experience and that they love the search results that Google is producing. So that’s what Google cares about right now, is they’re saying, yes, everybody knows if I need an answer, I can go to Google. But a lot of those sites that rank first have made the experience so poor in an effort to get listed higher that they don’t have a good experience on those search result pages.
How much in your opinion, and maybe you can assign a percentage, is the actual act of converting on a site the experience? Can you break that out into its own piece, you think?
Well, without question, I think Google has been very upfront about this. Normally they’d never release a specific percentage that anything weighs into that algorithm, but they are saying that it’s going to be one of the top factors.
Is the rate of conversion on a site?
They can track conversion to some degree, but I think what they’re looking at is how long are people staying on your site? How many pages are they looking at? Are they converting is definitely a factor in there, but are they bouncing right back to Google? And I think they’re looking at a lot of other metrics too. They’re looking at page speed. They have a whole bunch of algorithms and artificial intelligence, AI, that has gotten really, really good at telling things like, do you have a popup on your site where it, as content loads on the screen, that popup kind of moves around a little bit, and just because the page loads slowly and you have this bad user experience, and now people are trying to click buttons and the button keeps moving as the page loads.
I hate that.
Exactly. That’s the thing that Google does not want, that experience, what you just had, that emotional reaction. If you had clicked on the first item in a search engine result page, and you went to a site, and you had that reaction on that site, Google now knows that that’s what’s happening, based on their AI, because they can test for those type of experiences. And so really what they’re advocating for here is the consumer experience on your site, the user experience. And they’re asking you to make sure that you have a consumer friendly experience. And I think that’s really what’s going to matter.
Now, the outcome of that is naturally going to be higher conversion rates. So I’ve always been a proponent with CRO that says the goal of the brand is to convert higher, almost always, right? The goal of the consumer is to have a better experience. Those are actually very much aligned, because if you have a better experience, you’re going to convert more. And I think Google is recognizing that now, too.
You could take the stance of maybe some of the conspiracy theorists out there, that a higher converting website in the eCommerce space could hurt Google’s revenue, since people don’t have to go back to Google to keep researching. They’re just going to find it, buy it, kind of like how I usually convert, versus my wife, who’s all over the place in her conversion path. What would you say to those conspiracy theorists?
Well, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. I think it’s, you know, Google’s pretty upfront how they make their money. It’s what the ads on the search engine result pages for the vast majority of their revenue. So yeah, they want people to keep coming back to Google, but I can promise you that if I keep searching Google and I keep getting a search engine result as the first second, third, which are the only ones people are really clicking on for the vast majority of times, and the experience is crappy, I’m going to stop going to Google.
So they must know, because they’ve factored this in as one of the top ranking items in their algorithm, they must know that this is causing a concern, and they’re feeling a lot of pressure from tons of other search engines out there right now. I mean, you’ve probably heard of, what is it, DuckDuckGo. There’s all of these other search engines that are way more privacy focused right now. Windows, any Windows laptop comes with Bing as the default search engine, Microsoft search or whatever they’re calling it these days.
So I think they’re feeling that pressure of making sure that people have a great experience, so they continue to come back and search on Google. That’s why they’re making it such an important factor. Will it cost them some money? I don’t know. I think they must’ve done that math, but I will tell you that I’m excited that this is new and that they’re making a big stance for this, because it’s needed. It’s really needed.
Speaking of competitors to Google, Amazon controls over 50% of the online transactions in the world. And how much in the future do you think Amazon is going to impact the way we view a checkout or a conversion process? If we play it out, say, let’s just say Amazon is going to continue increasing in dominance. You can’t do much with their checkout. So are we going to be so conditioned as Amazon Prime members that anything that deviates from Amazon’s checkout process is going to throw us for a loop, and we’re not going to know what to do? Kind of like the idiocracy model, where we just get dumber, because it’s so simple for us?
Well, I think that’s the internet. The evolution of the internet has been that way for years. And I think we did a prior episode where we talked all about how eventually what’s going to happen, are we going to totally optimize ourselves out of optimization, right? You’re going to have done so much optimization that every experience is going to be the same. And I don’t think that’s going to happen. But I do think, I mention this book all the time, it’s called Don’t Make Me Think.
And the whole point of that is that as consumers get used to conventions, it makes it easier for them if you follow those conventions. It’s so true today that people are used to Amazon checkout. They’re used to the Shopify checkout. They’re used to these platforms that have grown to be the monsters in this space. And if you really deviate from those best practices, then you are potentially creating a barrier. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas that can be optimized in those. There most certainly are. But at the same time, looking at Amazon as an example, in terms of how to convert better and not just on the checkout, I think Amazon does a lot of nice things.
But you know what? It’s akin to when a small footwear brand comes to work with The Good, and they say, “I really like what Nike is doing. I want to do what Nike does. Can you help me do that?” And I say, “Well, but you’re not Nike. Think about this. Nike has hundreds of product lines across all these different sports. Their marketing is based on the celebrity of getting athletes to market for them. And you don’t have the money to go out and get LeBron James to market your shoe. You are fighting a 10,000 pound gorilla here, trying to fight a gorilla fight when you’re not a gorilla. So think about having the better consumer experience.”
Nike can get away with having a worse consumer experience because of how ubiquitous their brand is. It’s the same thing with Amazon. I go to Amazon to buy something because I know they’re going to probably have what I want. And it’s a quick and easy way to just go there, type in what I’m looking for, get a handful of options, do some research, and buy something at a decent price point. And I know I can get it in a couple of days. But if I really want to find a particular item, I don’t go to Amazon to buy that particular item. I’ll go to the brand website to do that research, because I know in my research it’s going to get way, way deeper, even though maybe the consumer experience isn’t going to be as good. Maybe I won’t get it in two days. However, I know that I’m going to have more content and I’m going to have a better research path on that brand site than I will on Amazon.
Amazon is great for not going very deep, but going very wide. Looking at tons of different products, but not going very deep into the research on each of those individual products. And a brand site is different. It’s going to help me go real deep on products, but not very wide on competitors. So I think they serve different purposes. And it depends on if I’m looking for a commodity, right? Like, I was looking at ethernet cables yesterday. I needed a 50 foot ethernet cable. I just ordered it off Amazon, because it doesn’t matter. It’s a commodity. I can get an ethernet cable anywhere. But I know I can get it in two days. I needed it quickly. In fact, they dropped it off the next day and it said, have it by next day. And I was like, perfect. That’s what I need.
So I didn’t even look anywhere else at price. It was fine. It was like a $10, $15 cable. It’s not going to break the bank to do that. If I saved two bucks going someplace else, it didn’t matter to me. But I think that’s where Amazon has its place. And I don’t want people to get confused by thinking we have to meet Amazon’s experience, because they’re doing a lot of things that I would not recommend and do not test well. Their navigation is a mess, but it’s like walking into one store, in a retail store, versus walking into your local mall that has hundreds of stores. And Amazon is trying to be that mall, when you’re trying to just be the retailer. And you really need to take that approach a little differently.
Looking forward a couple of years, and maybe the physical checkout process on a site is pretty standard across a lot of things. I mean, there’s Bolt right now. There’s even Shopify checkout that’s been very simplified. So CRO, I would assume over the last five to 10 years that you’ve been doing it, you’ve had to educate some people on just the basics of checkout. Like, why are you doing checkout this way? So if that goes away, it sounds like you’re saying CRO becomes more of a brand experience on your side rather than, okay, you changed your checkout button from pink to purple, and then look at that [inaudible 00:12:29] type thing.
Right. I mean, look, I think CRO has evolved over the past, we’ve been doing this 11 years now, but over the past five years, it’s become something that most people know about. If you’re on the eComm side of any reasonable size, you’re looking at and doing some CRO. I think the biggest difference here is that you’re right, that there are areas that are transactional that just need to be transactional. And then there’s areas of a site that are going to have a better consumer experience, that are going to then reflect better on the brand.
And I think that’s what you mean by branded experience, where if I go to a site and I just have a poor experience, then I am at that point going to have a bad reflection of the brand. And I think that’s exactly what Google is trying to prevent here, is saying that you need to have a good reflection of your brand so that people don’t just equate that Google, where you started, gave you a bad experience, as well, by sending you someplace that has a bad experience.
Got it. Okay. So if you’re looking five years into the future and making some crazy predictions or looking at, what are you preparing your agency, The Good, for in the CRO space? What are you maybe not doing now that you think you will be doing in CRO in five years?
I think that what needs to be happening is a way to make this more accessible to brands of all sizes, first of all. I think CRO, just like most technologies and consulting and things of that sort, it’s for the elite when it starts. You have to be able to afford it. It’s a competitive advantage. And so you’re looking at the top one percent is able to take advantage of it. Then it starts filtering down. And that’s what we’ve seen over the past five, six years, has been really the first five years that we did CRO, it was only for massive brands. And then it started getting to the point where those mid market brands really knew it was something they needed to do, and it became more available, and the tool sets got more available.
We went from having just Optimizely, which is a great platform, but it’s $10,000 a month to use, just the platform, to having Visual Website Optimizer, which was a couple hundred dollars a month, to now we’re at Google Optimize, which is just as good as VWO, and it’s free from Google. We’ve kind of run that whole gamut, and each of those tools have their space, don’t get me wrong, and they’re good at individual items. But my point here is we’ve gone from $10,000 a month to free over a span of a few years, and I think we’re going to see that democratization of CRO continue to happen.
So what needs to happen is that it needs to have these methodologies, and the strategy behind them need to catch up with the tool sets and need to be accessible to brands of all sizes. And right now that’s not the case. The only things that are out there are eLearning, where you as a small eComm owner, and you’re wearing tons of hats, you don’t have time to sit down and learn for 25 hours and watch videos and then figure out how the heck do I apply this to my site specifically, and pick and choose, and then still act on it, right?
So you’ve invested all this time and you still haven’t made any changes to your site. So there’s some ways to fix that, and we’re working on that at The Good, but really I think that democratization of CRO is where this needs to go. And I think in addition to that, I think we’re really going to see tool sets continue to evolve, and I think AI is going to play an even bigger role. As you know, we’ve been proponents of that for years. We do AI eye tracking heat maps, which is our way of dipping our toe into that. And we’ve been tracking it for years, and looking and testing at those algorithms to the point where we wanted to make sure it was something that worked before we heavily invest in it. And we’re ready to heavily invest in it and go all in. Being a data driven company, we’re seeing a lot of artificial intelligence with big data sets really start to pay off and make this successful to brands of all sizes.
That’s [inaudible 00:16:46]. I think that is going to be phenomenal, when these small companies that we know of that need the CRO services are able to get those at a point that makes sense for them financially and for the improvements that’ll make. That’ll be cool. Okay, here’s a fun one. Besides the death of the email capture pop up that you’re so advocating for and the death of Wheelio spin-to-win, do you see something that we all currently expect on an eCommerce site to not be a part of an eCommerce site in the next two or three years?
Yeah. I think putting your credit card in is going to go away. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’m fully in on the Apple ecosystem. And if other ecosystems catch up with this, I know Google has done a lot with this, with Google Pay, but Apple Pay, I will now, if I’m searching online to buy something, I will use Safari just so that on my phone or even on my laptop, I can just do Apple Pay and not have to go get my wallet. I don’t want to have to memorize my credit card. I don’t want to have to deal with any of that.
And in fact, it’s just like retail. If I have the option to use Apple Pay and not touch anything and not give somebody my credit card to swipe or even have to touch the screen to do it myself, I will do that. And I use Apple Pay every single time. I was even in a drive thru getting food the other day and I used Apple Pay, and it’s just like that’s my first question anymore. It’s like, do you take Apple Pay, because I don’t want to touch anything. And it’s so convenient. So same thing online. Everyone expects to have to put in their credit card. I think we’re going to see that go away. Shopify has taken a big leap in that direction, by making it, you can put in your phone number and then it will auto fill out your information. It’ll send you a text and confirm, and then you can auto fill all your information in. I think there’s a lot of things like that that are going to start happening, just as a way to make this process way easier.
Yeah. I’m excited for that. It’s during this pandemic, where we’re not going into an office or commuting, I found that I don’t have my wallet on me. And so when I’m off somewhere else on our property and I want to transact, I don’t want to go get my wallet. So if it already has my information, I’m more than likely to go to that site, and I may pay an extra dollar. But for me, it’s like, nah, it would have cost me 10 minutes of walking somewhere on my big property. So I’ll pay the premium to use, so that it’s already stored.
That’s exactly it.
I didn’t even think about that, but that’s very true. I may be lazy sometimes. Okay.
Sometimes. We’ll leave it at that.
Sometimes. Yes, sometimes. Is there something out there that you see that if just something on an eCommerce site that if a brand adopted it now, they would have a pretty significant advantage over competitors in the next couple of years, if they really took a leap of faith? Outside of using our services, because we’re so amazing, what would that look like, do you think, if you had to pick one thing? It’s like, yeah, most people aren’t using this yet, but I think if they do, they’re going to have a big advantage in a couple of years.
I think that it’s not just one tool, and I don’t even want to go to a hundred percent to tools, because I think that’s the first spot that every eComm owner looks to, is like what’s the new greatest and hottest tool that I can deploy on my site and be ahead of everybody else on that? A tool is only going to do one of two things. It’s either going to help you do something better, or it’s going to expose a weakness. And what we see is a lot of brands jumping into tools.
And what I would like to see these brands doing is using tools like Klaviyo, for instance, to do email followups post purchase. We have a whole episode, go back and look for post purchase emails and what people should do for post purchase optimization. I talk about all the different email flows that you should be thinking about post purchase, and there’s so many things like that that brands right now just aren’t doing. And I’m not a big proponent of just having a best practice checklist, but I will tell you, there are a bunch of items that when we jump into work with a brand, we just immediately look at and evaluate and figure out what are the top opportunity areas here.
And I’m always surprised, no matter what the size of the brand is, that there’s almost always things on that list. And one of them is, as I mentioned, post purchase followups. One is definitely the checkout. Are they optimized around that? You mentioned Bolt and Shopify and things like that. And I think there’s a lot of great optimization happening in check out right now.
I think there’s also a lot of optimization that can be happening in just assets on the site. What do I mean by that? Well, like product photos. You and I have talked a lot about 360 photos, and the revolution that’s coming with that, in the past. And I think that that’s, you know, having better product photos as more people are going online to purchase, is really going to matter, because you can’t touch a product right now. So making sure that you have a way to see every angle, to really understand what you’re buying, is going to be really important.
And I think reviews and social proof is a huge one that people miss out on. And I’d be shocked if more brands don’t do that in the future, because there are right and wrong ways to do that. But it is something that if you don’t have reviews on your site, people start getting suspect about trust. They don’t trust your brand as much. They’re wondering why you’re not sharing reviews or collecting them. And we’ve seen time and again, consumers trust what other consumers have to say more than what a brand has to say.
That’s awesome. So thank you for all of that information. That definitely got my mind going, and some of my brands and what I should be doing that I’m probably not, because I’m stuck in the minutiae of the business myself. So thank you for all those insights of what we’re going to be looking for in the future of CRO. Any parting thoughts or words on the future of CRO?
Well, I think the best way to stay ahead of the curve is to start tracking your data today. Understand how people are engaging with your site. Make sure you’re tracking every click and movement. And if you do that now, no matter what tool you deploy, no matter what you start doing down the line, you will have more data to make informed decisions, because you’re going to have a longer timeline to look at trends. You’re going to have a longer timeline of data to look at what potential changes you made and when, and what the impact of those were, so that you can skip having to collect all that data and wait around before you can take action.
Because the biggest issue I see with brands who aren’t collecting data when we start working with them, is they start getting anxious, because they say, “Hey, we’re just sitting and waiting right now.” And I said, “Yeah, we need to get all this data that you weren’t collecting forever, so we can make informed decisions. And then we can act.” So it’s this whole issue of eComm brands who come to the table ready to act, but then they don’t have the information or data to do it, and then they get anxious because they were so ready to act. They made the decision to act, but then they can’t do anything yet. And so they have to fill that gap somehow. And I think that’s a big concern for eComm brands, and I think we’re going to see more and more brands collecting data. And I think it’s becoming a lot more popular and easy. The tool sets are so easy right now.
But just get some data collecting every click and movement. Set up Hotjar and just let it run. Even if you can’t do much else, just set up heat maps and let them run for a while. Do some session recordings and let them sit there. Google analytics, of course, but there’s even tools like Glew, G-L-E-W, that is amazing for helping you understand your consumer audiences. All of that data is really going to be important. So that’s what I would recommend. If you want to be able to take advantage of what’s coming down the line in the future, start collecting data today.
You heard it here first. Jon Macdonald says collect data. Do it. Thanks, Jon. Appreciate your time.
About the Author
Jon MacDonald is founder and President of The Good, a conversion rate optimization firm that has achieved results for some of the largest online brands including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, Verizon, Intel and more. Jon regularly contributes content on conversion optimization to publications like Entrepreneur and Inc. He knows how to get visitors to take action.