7 CRO Lessons Learned in 2013

By Kayla Kurtz | @one800kayla | Senior Digital Advisor at Hanapin Marketing

For this month’s series, we’re providing a little bit of perspective on the hectic events of 2013. As we’ve left Enhanced Campaigns pretty well covered this year, this week we’ll be dedicating our time to some of the other (non-Enhanced Campaigns) initiatives, tactics, strategies, and features that we used to excel in 2013 here at PPC Hero.


As Eric explained yesterday, December’s series is related to those things in 2013 that our team has found to be the most enlightening or crucial to continued PPC growth and/or performance. The list of things that have changed over the last year is much more expansive, but when presented with the opportunity to discuss what I found most effective in the last year – I was a bit caught off guard. How does one narrow that list down and pick just ONE?? Really, in our case, we had to pick just FIVE…but you get it.

Of those topics thrown in the kitty, I felt most drawn to CRO (conversion rate optimization). Specifically, how do strategies towards CRO, and that facet of digital marketing, impact PPC? Certainly conversion rates have always been a focus (or almost always, I assume), but when is it time to stop letting website traffic volume produce the results you want from a conversion standpoint?

PPC has not been a channel focused on purely traffic volume for quite some time, so when did we as PPC managers decide that CRO was an individual and segmented area of a brand’s digital marketing strategy? One that did not, necessarily, need to be lined up with the keyword-level methods implemented in paid search campaigns? Silly, I say. So much so that the team at Hanapin considers CRO to be a portion of our Enterprise account management scope of work, because it isn’t all about sending clicks or interface-level conversions anymore.  Ultimately our team will be judged on the bottom line, and that line is true conversion rates…making it our responsibility to own as much of the improvement of that area as possible.

Through the process of making CRO a more direct client initiative in 2013, I’ve learned a thing or two or seven and in true PPC Hero fashion – why wouldn’t I share those with you?! In no particular order…


  • Don’t put the CRO cart before your PPC horse.

It’s incredibly exciting when accounts come on board that are already jazzed about getting some serious CRO work on the books, but what if the account structure itself is in need of a little TLC, first? Optimizing traffic for higher conversion rates will somewhat un-do itself if you then go back and rework ad groups to contain different themes of keywords (be it more or less terms), which could send a different kind of searcher to your landing page. Now, please don’t read that as a solid way to put off doing CRO, (“Welllllll, we might do a little more ad group restructuring next month sooooo….”) but if you know for a fact you’ve got a long road ahead in terms of clean up on the interface side – do consider at least only making obvious CRO improvements (i.e. fixing a broken form, etc.) for a little while; that way you can track where your performance increases really came from, be it the rework of your keyword structure(s) or on the CRO side.


  • Not every medium will react the same way to your CRO tests or changes.

Generally speaking, an improvement in the ability to convert on your site will be beneficial to traffic sources that enter your website. Notice I said ‘generally.’ Paid search searchers do sometimes want to be spoken to in a different way or tone than organic searchers, and even more – search network searchers vs. Display network searchers vs. mobile device searchers…I’m getting in to the convolution weeds so I’ll stop, but the point remains that you could see a couple percentage points of a decrease in your SEO traffic conversion rates as your PPC traffic sees an increase, purely due to searcher preferences. Keep an eye on this and if it seems to be holding true that more often than not, a PPC CRO increase results in a CRO decrease for other mediums, consider breaking out PPC-specific landing pages and optimizing those for conversions separate from the rest of the site.


  • ‘On the fly’ belongs in restaurants, not in CRO testing.

Ok, it doesn’t even belong in restaurants because usually it means your poor server has forgotten something, but it REALLY doesn’t belong in CRO testing. Sit down ahead of a testing cycle and map out potential roads you could take with this cycle – are you testing images or form length? Emotional copy or factual? Produce a Win/Lose flowchart of what could come next in the testing process ahead of time, that way you’re not scrambling to decide how to proceed. If you’ve got a statistically relevant test, you need to move to the next one to continue that momentum and progress.


  • It isn’t always overhaul, but incremental tweaks, that allow for the biggest gains in CRO.

I still have quite a few conversations with prospective clients who are under the impression that CRO services require a complete burn down and rebuild of their website. The very, super good news is that is NOT the case. In fact, over the last year, our team has learned that the most beneficial and consistent wins come from what may seem like small tweaks (i.e. adding additional checkout button options throughout an ecommerce landing page). Make sure as you’re building the plan I mentioned above that you include small (and maybe even some large) tests to make sure you’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water.


  • Don’t be a fool – utilize software for CRO testing.

Not only for the true A/B capabilities, but please – don’t just have your web developer change something on your site live and not keep a portion of your traffic set to a control page. You may be right, but you may be crazy, and if that test doesn’t work and you have to revert…conversion rates may never fully recover. Utilizing CRO software (i.e. Optimizely, Liveball, etc.) gives you higher trackability of your results/progress, as well as keeping a portion of your traffic stable while you test for higher rates overall.


  • Stock images can, and will, be the death of you.

Am I being dramatic? A little. Should you avoid stock images if you can help it? Absolutely. Do people really dislike it when a customer testimonial occurs next to a stock photo of someone staring them down? Definitely. Short and sweet and just one of my favorite things about CRO, because you can never sell your searcher short for being incredibly smart and thus offended that you wouldn’t think they don’t know that person isn’t really your happy customer.


  • Isn’t there a cute saying about ‘assuming?’

There is, and I won’t explicitly say it, but stop assuming you know what will make for a higher conversion rate or that you know what your searchers absolutely want. You’ve definitely got a good idea of places to start, but test everything. Assuming something will be beneficial to CRO that you’ve not actually tested can be catastrophic. This is also something to keep in mind from the client-facing side of things, in that you shouldn’t assume everyone you report to fully understand what is being done in terms of CRO or how those changes benefit the bottom line. Over-report if necessary!


Overall this year has taught us that when it comes to CRO – you need to plan, test, monitor, plan some more, test again…and don’t stop testing! What have been your biggest takeaways in terms of CRO in 2013? Share them with us (the good and the bad!) in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and stay tuned the rest of this week as the rest of the team unveils their 2013 retrospectives!