Which Is Best – Hire a CRO Agency or Buy CRO Tools?

How can you tell whether you need a CRO agency or just a CRO tool? We'll show you.

A ton of traffic only delivers a ton of sales for your ecommerce website when those visitors “convert” from lookers into buyers. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) specialists don’t handle PPC ads, manage social media accounts, or develop your email campaigns. They turn traffic into dollars.

But why hire a CRO agency to boost lagging sales when so many excellent CRO tools are available? Can’t you just leverage the do-it-yourself approach and get the same results?

At The Good, we often speak with ecommerce marketing executives who are wrestling with that decision. After all, if you can spend less and get the same results… save the money.


In this article we’ll look at both sides of the CRO agency versus CRO tools battle. It’s no secret that I’m a believer in the value of dedicated CRO agencies, but my aim here is to deliver the arguments for and against as objectively as I can. I’m a CRO advocate because I’ve seen the results proper conversion rate optimization procedures can deliver.

CRO agencies aren’t for everyone, though. I’ll also reveal the two scenarios where CRO help is probably not a good idea.

Let’s focus on this question: Which is best for your company – hiring a CRO agency or relying on CRO tools?

Setting up the battle: CRO agencies versus CRO tools

When it comes to ecommerce, I keep my eyes on one thing: sales. I don’t care how pretty your website looks, how many superstars promote your products, or whether you’re running on the keenest edge of the latest technological marvels.

I’m not even concerned about whether you’re on the artificial intelligence and machine learning bandwagon and you’ve algorithms pouring out your virtual ears. What I do care about is sales. And that’s what you should care about too.

Let’s look at the CRO agency versus CRO tools debate through that same lens: which can deliver better ROI? Which leads to the best bottom line results?

The marvel of CRO tools

CRO tools are great. I’m a huge fan of many (but not all) of them. Heat map tools, A/B testing tools, user testing tools – get me around a roomful of products that can help me help you get more sales, and I’m like a kid in a candy store.

I want them all.

Tools take care of the tactical. They take care of measuring the statistical significance of a test and serving up the right variant. They help me perform testing procedures in one day that may have taken months to complete (if they were possible at all) not too many years ago.

CRO tools provide plenty of value when it comes to the technical challenges of conversion optimization… but tools and tactics will only get you so far.

The problem with CRO tools

Tools can help you accomplish tactical CRO tasks quickly and accurately. Properly set up, they can identify visitor patterns, tell you which version of a webpage is more likely to get the desired response from prospects, and more.

But tools are tactical elements. They can’t determine strategy.

Being able to run A/B tests doesn’t help you determine which A/B test to run. Even tools that are using machine learning and AI magic are limited to rearranging the design that is already present on your site. They aren’t adding strategic and creative insights to the mix.

Tools are like automobiles: they need a driver. Or they’re like taking aspirin for a broken bone when you really need the services of a physician.

Limitations of a toolset:

  • Tools are only part of the equation: Data is not useful in and of itself; it’s what you do with the data that can push sales up or drive them down.
  • Tools don’t provide vision: They give you lots of dots, but they can’t connect those dots for you. It takes someone who has solid CRO experience and has delivered verified CRO results at the helm.
  • Tools are limited in scope: You can only dip your toes into what you can test with WYSIWYG tools. Solid testing requires advanced knowledge and methods.

In other words, tools provide results… but they are limited results. To do the true work of conversion rate optimization (get more sales), you need a qualified observer and strategist. You need the help of a CRO agency, not just CRO tools.

Here’s why you should only settle for a genuine CRO agency

First, here’s why I say “genuine CRO agency”: Many companies actually specialize in digital marketing or website design, but they add CRO to their list of offerings to enlarge their stated capabilities.

Typically, those agencies will have Google-certified PPC managers and artistically-gifted graphic designers on staff, but they really don’t have anyone with the depth of experience necessary to qualify as a CRO specialist. Many marketing managers think CRO is easy. They know the theory and they have a few tools, so they hang out a shingle.

Don’t get sidetracked by the claims or prices that come from unqualified agencies. They will cost you sales and precious time. They may even damage your reputation or get your site penalized and buried in search results. Fair warning issued. Before you select a CRO agency for your ecommerce website, read this and follow the steps: 9 Crucial Questions to Ask a Conversion Rate Optimization Agency.

Why professional CRO help is irreplaceable

I’ve given you a list of reasons why tools aren’t the complete package for conversion rate optimization. Here’s an extension of that list from the CRO agency perspective.

This is a short list of the services a CRO agency can provide (but tools alone can’t):

  • You get more breadth: CRO specialists can listen to visitors (literally). They can either watch visitor interaction live, review past actions, or even speak directly with your website visitors to gather information to a depth that tools are incapable of reaching.
  • You get creative problem solving: A qualified CRO agency team can deliver creative ideas from diverse experience backgrounds. Each member provides fresh perspectives and unique insight.
  • You save time and money: A qualified CRO agency manager can help you avoid directionless or low-impact testing plans that waste resources. Qualified CRO teams provide expert experimentation programs that quickly get to the stuck points in your path to sales and begin delivering results that move the bottom line in the desired direction.
  • You get quicker results: Nimble development cycles allow the CRO team to change focus as they get more data and feedback from ongoing tests. Testing that feedback fuels more ideas, iterations, and rapidly hones in on the best configurations for broader design patterns. They build on what works and drop what doesn’t work.
  • You avoid A/B pitfalls: A/B testing is a specialized development mindset. If you build tests without experience you’ll likely track the wrong things, incorrectly track the right things, or miss insights. A professional CRO firm like The Good doesn’t just build the tests out so they work. We know what to track and we’re well aware of common traps (like data noise) that can lead to data leaks.
  • Your CRO agency keeps you headed in the right direction: Goals can be misleading. Just because a test sample reveals the most frequently chose actions, it doesn’t mean you’ve discovered the path to success. For instance, you may be able to get visitors to access a certain product page more often or engage more frequently with your ecommerce website’s content, but those visitors may not add to cart or complete your checkout procedure more often. That means you have a new problem to track down, and the discovery may spawn a test altering the language, images, or another limiting factor.

It’s amazing how many ideas are generated and problems are spotted by “failed tests” when viewed by a CRO professional. In fact, at The Good we don’t call them winners and losers at all. We often call them “winning tests” and “learning tests.”

Take a hiatus from being 'creative' and look at your website like a lab, not like an easel Joanna Wiebe - @copyhackers Click To Tweet

If you want to see a live example of how a CRO professional can provide powerful conversion insights, start with one of our free landing page evaluations.

Why your in-house team may not be the best choice for your CRO work

The team that designed or approved the design for an ecommerce site are the worst choices for the job of conversion rate optimization. That’s because they bring a lot of unconscious (or even conscious) predetermined judgment, confirmation bias, and tunnel vision to the work.

  • A CEO or owner may have a limiting presupposition of who their clients actually are. That mistake, no matter how passionately it is believed, will limit the company’s sales and growth.
  • A designer may have sunk hundreds of hours into a feature that is actually tanking the conversion rate. Seeing and admitting that mistake is that last thing that person wants to do.
  • Someone who’s been looking at the same website every day for years may be missing some obvious mistakes. They may actually be incapable of perceiving them.

If your in-house team hasn’t been able to significantly boost your conversion rate thus far, how are they going to suddenly see the problems now? I can often be heard saying “it is hard to read the label from inside the jar.”

Hiring the right CRO agency helps you circumvent those issues. Not only that, but the conversation between the CRO agency team and your in-house team can provide valuable education that will help them minimize pitfalls in the future.

Hire a CRO Agency or Buy CRO Tools: Which Do You Choose?

When you want to drive results for the long-term health of your company, you’ll be way better off working with a genuine CRO specialist than simply turning to a tool. Buying a robust set of CRO tools alone may save you money in the short term, but that decision will cost you in the long term.

Don’t sacrifice the long-term health of your website by being short-sighted.

One more thing: I said in the introduction that CRO agencies aren’t the best choice for everyone. There are two cases where tools are the best choice:

If you don’t read the nine crucial questions and end up hiring an incompetent CRO vendor, you’ll be better off relying on a toolset.
If you absolutely cannot come up with the budget to hire a qualified CRO agency, then tools may be better than nothing.

Where do you find the right CRO agency and what does it cost to get professional CRO help?
That’s simple: Contact The Good.


David Hoos headshot
About the author: David Hoos is the Director of Marketing at The Good, conversion rate experts who deliver more revenues, customers, and leads. David and the team at The Good have made a practice of advising brands on how to see online revenue double through their conversion rate optimization services.


  • Author’s gravatar

    Thanks for this excellent article David, and the 9 Crucial Questions piece, which sadly came my way a few months too late. I made the mistake of not asking some of the questions there and lost a lot of time and money. So I hope these articles reach others like me in the same situation.


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