Insights

The Evolution of Conversion Rate Optimisation

Blog / 15 Dec 2017

Tags: Conversion Rate Optimisation / CRO / Website Optimisation

Conversion Rate Optimisation has gone through many changes in the nine years we’ve been sponsoring the CRO report with Econsultancy and I wanted to use this opportunity to set out what the future of CRO is, based on our position as market leaders and using the data from this year’s report.

The report itself shows all the signs that CRO is no longer the young upstart of digital marketing and is entering the mainstream phase of its development. We see its importance seemingly dropping (people calling it ‘crucial’ has dropped to 50% from 55% last year); results flattening out (this is the first year results haven’t increased in history of the report); a maturity model that hasn’t changed significantly but with budgets increasing again (over 50% saying it has increased between 10-50%). But rather than this change of status allowing us to rest on our laurels, we need to use it to push harder for more change, not allow it to stop innovation.

CRO report graph

Enhancing the Entire Customer Experience

We have the opportunity to enhance the entire customer experience with the power of CRO and in 2018 the industry focus needs to be on things that will drive change rather than ‘business as usual’. Innovation, better use of technology and ultimately allowing the bright minds we have to drive this change, will be key.
 
Engagement and the overall customer experience is where the industry is and should be focusing on in 2018. Whilst we will always have fundamentals that we need to test, the industry has slowly been moving towards bigger and bolder experiments and 2018 needs to be about testing more than website changes or even customer journeys. 2018 needs to be about testing a business proposition, challenging the business model and testing different ways of engaging and converting your customers.
 
For me, the CRO industry is evolving into Experience Optimisation. With CRO we were focused on improving metrics like conversion rate, but with Experience Optimisation we look at optimising the experience through multiple tools. Experimentation should be a mantra. Improving the customer experience regardless of touchpoint should be the objective. Whilst the end goal is always about improved results, those can come through better engagement, better and more interactions with your customers and an improved cross device experience. For the modern user, brand loyalty is being replaced with experience loyalty, which is something you gain by continuously evolving the customer experience. There is no better example of this than how ASOS is poised to overtake M&S in marketing value. They are a business that have, from day one, focused on improving the user experience through innovation and lifecycle engagement. For most businesses in 2018, the focus should be on progressive design rather than redesign.
 

Optimisation Beyond the Website

On a similar theme, we need to consistently expand beyond the website more in 2018. We need to see every customer interaction as an opportunity to experiment and improve. One clear example of this is app testing, which has failed to kick off over the last few years. The recent CRO report from Econsultancy showed the use of testing in apps has remained flat for several years, but we all know the use of apps by consumers continues to grow exponentially. I also think we will continue to see the rise of the Progressive Web App (PWA), because of the many benefits it provides like reliability on poor networks. We are, after all, talking about a concept that combines the best of a mobile site and an app. This will bring with it another series of experiences that will need optimising.

Moving beyond the app and continuing the theme of CRO moving into the new world, as an industry we need to be seriously looking at the Internet of Things. How do I optimise the customer experience with chatbots? What interactions should we be having with wearables? How do all these new devices and channels interact? How do we optimise this overall experience? 2018 must be about moving beyond the traditional CRO channels and devices, it needs to be about pushing into these new areas.
 

Getting Personal

If we truly want 2018 to be the year we focus on optimising the experience for our customers, then the next topic is fundamental to the future – personalisation. This will be key for many reasons, with the biggest being that websites are getting better! It’s much harder to achieve success through simple testing. Therefore, the best way to improve the experience is to personalise it and make it more about the individual and less about a generic website. We are not simply talking about product recommendations here, we are talking about changing the entire customer journey, ultimately the customer experience, to fit what we know about the user.
 
A big part of this is going to be the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Part of this will be automated testing (more on that in a minute) but the other area I believe will have a massive impact, is the ability to utilise predictive analytics. We can move away from reactive personalisation and make it proactive. Imagine if you are constantly running algorithms to tell you when someone is showing signs of leaving your website and you could immediately change the customer experience to try and prevent that. Particularly if that data was also informing you what sorts of things would grab their attention. This is a game changer for the industry and will separate a good customer experience from the one your customer really wants in 2018.
 

People Still Make the Difference

So, let’s talk technology. It’s the future for CRO, it’s also the thing that will allow the human to be the single most important thing going forward – stay with me on this…
 
I firmly believe that the rise of AI in the modern world will transform what we see as CRO now, the abilities we will have to experiment on a mass scale will grow exponentially. Just look at something like Sentient’s Ascend product, through the power of AI you can test multiple ideas at once and the tool will choose from these often-disparate tests and find ways of combining them to give new and winning test combinations. And it’s not just these young upstarts with this ability, the likes of Optimizely and Adobe have automated personalisation built into their tools now too. Simply put, it removes the hard work.
 
The concern I hear voiced most often, is that it’s taking the human element away from testing. If the computer can do all this, surely the Marketer/Optimisation Expert/Analyst is being phased out. Nonsense! I was told this when we started the marketing automation revolution in 2001 and at every conference I ever spoke at for the following 10 years I gave the same answer that applies to AI in CRO today – we are removing the repetitive and frankly unintelligent aspect of the job, leaving you more time to focus on the clever stuff that only a human can drive – the message, the creativity, ultimately the ability to be different. As everyone gets the ability to automate testing, it will be the human element that will make your brand stand out. The more computing automates the basics, the more it will be you that can make the difference.
 
The evolution of CRO? I think it’s about people and the decisions they make. It’s about being brave and YOU being the difference.
 
It’s also time we stopped calling ourselves CRO and came up with a name more in tune with the influence we have across the customer experience. We already do more than increase conversion rates and in the future we will influence the entire business. Our role is to optimise all user experiences, so shouldn’t that be ‘Experience Optimisation’?