What Is Conversion Rate Optimisation? (In English)!

In a recent meeting with Richard Addis; founder of Shakeup Media and former Express Editor, (not to mention associate Editor of The Daily Mail, The Sunday Telegraph, The Financial Times and The Evening Standard), our conversation turned to what is it about our approach (at theMediaFlow) that makes us different?

I explained that at the core of every service, our focus is on maximising revenues through commercial performance optimisation and conversion rate optimisation.

Richard made an extremely valid point; that in the online industry, online marketing services particularly, are described using alienating jargon; self-congratulatory titles and pretty meaningless three letter acronyms.

I cannot help but agree. SEM, SEO, MMO, SMM, SMO, CRO, CTR, CPM, PPC, GUI… (I could go on) might be the stuff of a geek meet-up. However for most small to medium sized businesses, who are seeking to expand to the web, these terms mean nothing.

I wanted to walk through all the steps, to explain in particular – Conversion Rate Optimisation .

What the hell does that mean?

Quite simply; I’m in Marks and Spencer, all the packaging is gorgeous, the products are clearly priced and labelled, everything is laid out in an order that makes sense and the shelves are always full. Once I walk towards the till, every irresistible treat I could ever desire in a moment of weakness sits beside me as I move forward at a brisk pace towards the payment point of my choice (of which there are many).

Gorgeous packaging, clear pricing and labelling; an intuitive store layout, full shelves, additional treats, fast payment process and multiple payment options: none of which are there by accident.

Online, offline, mail order, whatever… it matters not the physical medium to purchase. Every purchase medium has multiple variables, and the tweaking of these variables will affect how well my product sells. That’s conversion rate optimisation.

So why ‘conversion’ not ‘sales’ optimisation?

Websites can make money through advertising, selling physical goods, selling virtual/digital goods (like gifts you see on Facebook, or downloading a ringtone); providing a service (e.g. insurance) or by providing qualified leads to service providers. Soooo many different online business models exist and not all of them are direct sales models. Hence the term ‘conversion’ is used to cover any activity that results in revenue.

Conversion rate is therefore the percentage rate at which revenue actions occur, compared to volume of unique or total visits, for the same time period.

Where Do You Start?

We start by identifying all of your conversion metrics, and ensuring that each one is tracked. We then take the user journey, imagining we would like to buy your product, fill in your lead form, or download your e-book. We do this in multiple browsers and we’re paying attention to usability, functionality and technical performance.

Then What?

Data analysis… Lots of it… Tonnes in fact!

Not everybody’s cup of tea; but we love it. We analyse every single metric and every single variable available.

We establish average’ behaviours’ across types of traffic, types of browser, types of visitor (new or returning), we then look at specific deviations of a percentage greater than ‘normal’ deviations.

We look for anomalous patterns and data points and compare this with error logs and visitor by browser/OS data. (Oooh look. I’ve done it again! OS = operating system.)

We compare all of the data findings with the online user journey and seek to identify holes, low performance areas, broken areas of the site, poor trafficked areas, high bail-out pages, low conversion rates.

Then We Make Our Bespoke Recommendations

Data and research is presented and recommendations are made, which may often include A/B testing different layouts, changing colours here and there, tweaking the layout of landing pages. Cross browser errors and other technical corrections will be listed, and we also look off-site too. We make recommendations for optimising the route to site, for commercial intent. Recommendations for more relevant keywords, keywords with more purchase-intent, optimising external profiles in social media and such-like.

No Matter What Site These General Rules Should Help…

1. Your site needs a search box; which should be top and centre or top right, for highest engagement (on every page).

2. Your search box should be 50 characters wide minimum.

3. Don’t put any text in the search box (users scan the page for the big white stripe, and I’ve actually seen “Search here” appear high in site search logs for brands that should know way better).

4. Any actionable item needs a rollover state (be it a link, a button, whatever…)

5. Any call to action should be above the fold, or designed in such a way that highest performing items are prioritised on list-style landing pages.

6. Red can work as a colour choice for sale prices or cheap goods prices, otherwise avoid.

7. Make your content font size at least 12pt or risk losing 2MM (UK) visually impaired users (RNIB).

8. Make sure your error page is commercialised.

If you would like to know more about conversion rate optimisation and commercial usability, we’d love to hear from you.

About the author


Nichola Stott

Nichola is Founder and Director of theMediaFlow; with over 10 years experience in online marketing, over six of which in search. Nichola learned all about search at Yahoo! as head of UK search partners.


  1. Hi Nic,

    Been reading your blogs very interesting. Do you go after B2B or B2C customers? B2b comes down to ‘do they have the concept of a lead’ and once they have come to your landing page to convert them thru effect landing pages. Spoke to Eylard yesterday about the project he’s working on, also very interesting


  2. pam says:

    To optimise conversions you should employ a web analytics provider such as clicktale to show you how your customers enagage eith your site. From the results fo the aggregate behaviours, real time videos and heatmaps you can mend any deficiencies and make it easier for visitors to your site to become buyers.

  3. Nichola says:


    Nice to hear from you, and I’m pleased the material is useful; particularly for another ex-Yahoo! buddy.

    I can honestly say that the sales plan I spent three days creating before we launched has never been touched, as every one of our clients has been referred or introduced to us.It happens that each of our customers market consumer products to consumer audiences.

    I think that principles of commercial web usability remain the same regardless of the type of customer; however when it comes to audience strategy, the plan may be different here.

    @Pam – absolutely! I wanted to steer clear of going into too much detail into analytical tools and data collection methodologies in this post and just get to the ‘meat’ of what CRO is. You’ve given me a nice idea for a follow up though! ;-)

  4. @pam you probably already know about it but for the benefit of others attentionwizard.com is one of those tools you should add to your list for heatmapping, although the beta is one image file a day it really is a great one to add to the landing page optimization arsenal.

    A great webinar from the same fella (Tim Ash) on youtube is available its a lengthy watch but great for those inexperienced at landing page optimization.

  5. Just as i finished typing that comment Google went and launched another product: Browser Size (http://browsersize.googlelabs.com/) now this is one of their best ones yet

  6. Nichola says:

    @Dean. As always – thanks for your really valid and useful points. Unfortunately my to-do list for the rest of the morning now has to wait as this Browsersize product has to be put to the test right now!

    Excellent find ;-)

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