What is Conversion Research, Why is it Important for CRO, and How to do it Right?

conversion research


Conversion research is the foundation of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). It is the process of obtaining, organizing, and contextualizing data to make meaningful changes that improve conversion rates. Successful conversion research includes experience-based evaluations, quantitative research, and qualitative research.

Every business should aim for better conversion rates across the board. Even if your site is successful, there’s always room for growth! The average website conversion rate is in the neighbourhood of 2.35 percent. However, top-performing websites have 11.45 percent or more!

Reaching the upper echelons of Internet success is more than just a pipe dream. But, it takes a lot of work. The average business spends thousands of dollars a year performing conversion rate optimization, also known as CRO. Unfortunately, most of those efforts fail to produce the results companies are after.

The reason for those shortcomings? In most cases, it’s a lack of proper conversion research.


What is Conversion Research?

Research is an integral part of CRO, which centers around improving your site. The goal is to encourage users to perform a specific task. Whether that’s filling out a form or making a purchase, CRO prioritizes the user experience to improve engagement and facilitate action.

That concept is simple enough, but how does conversion research play into CRO? Well, the entire CRO process starts with research!

Conversion research is the methodical process of gathering and interpreting data that you can use during optimization. It’s all about finding relevant information regarding the conversion funnel and creating testable hypotheses that can result in measurable change.

We’re not talking about rudimentary data that anyone can find. When you perform solid conversion research, you’re getting in-depth information that’s unique to your site. Anyone can discover essential tips and make arbitrary guesses about why sites perform poorly. Accurate conversion research focuses on the exact reasons why users experience friction in the conversion funnel.


Why is it so Important for CRO?

Conversion optimization is 80% research and 20% experimentation.

Ultimately, conversion research should be the backbone of your CRO efforts. The information you find will guide your endeavours every step of the way.

The biggest problem that many marketers and business owners face during CRO is a lack of guidance. Approximately 68 percent of small companies don’t have a documented CRO strategy at all. Those that do often go about the process all wrong!

Around 50 percent try to improve conversion rates by simply brainstorming ideas. In both cases, those businesses are throwing whatever they can at the site and hoping something sticks.

You wouldn’t approach other facets of your business by tossing caution to the wind. So why treat your site that way?

Conversion research isn’t the most glamorous thing in the world. But, it’s systematic, deliberate, and fact-based. Chances are, it’ll take up a big part of your CRO budget and timeline. However, investing in solid research ensures that every change you make positively impacts your site.

When done right, research can provide a slew of benefits that make your efforts more effective than ever. It encourages you to follow the facts, sways you from following trends, and helps you make decisions on more than just a hunch.

More importantly: Conversion research can help you save time and money!


How to Do Conversion Research Right

Collecting data isn’t so cut and dry as some would think. The truth is that many variables come into play. To be successful, you have to scrutinize every detail that matters.

Conversion research isn’t about getting the most information possible. Having too much data can quickly cause analysis paralysis. The key is to uncover valuable and applicable information.

Research methods are flexible. However, most split the task up into three distinct categories. These include:

  • Experienced-based assessments
  • Quantitative research
  • Qualitative research



Experience-Based Assessments

This category covers the overall user experience. Other forms of research will dive into the nitty-gritty. However, this stage is one of the first ways that you can start identifying issues.

Experienced-based assessments are the only part of this process that’s going to rely on opinions. It’s a way to look at your site through a fresh pair of eyes. The outcome isn’t guaranteed, but it’s a good starting point. Plus, these assessments are quick and easy to perform.

Heuristic Evaluation

The first form of experienced-based research is heuristic analysis. In most cases, researchers will turn to an experienced professional. That could be a seasoned web developer, designer, or optimizer.

Either way, the goal is to go through the entire site page by page. During the evaluation, optimizers will pay close attention to finer details and assess the site using many different criteria.

The most common factors to consider are:

  • Relevance: Does the site deliver what it promised? Does it meet user expectations and provide the content and design a visitor is seeking? Is there anything you can do to make it even more relevant?
  • Clarity: Does the page have a clear intent? Does it state what the site is about and who it targets?
  • Comprehension: Is the content easy to read and understand? Are there any mixed messages or confusing copy?
  • Persuasiveness: Does the site provide any value to the user? Is it doing a good job of letting the visitor know why they should perform the desired action? Does it make a good case and motivate readers?
  • Friction: Is there anything that could stop the visitor from converting? Are any parts of the page causing doubt or hesitation? Do long processes or performance issues make readers second-guess their decision to convert?
  • Distraction: Does the page have anything that pulls unnecessary attention away from the primary message? Do flashing banners or over-the-top page elements pull focus from the desired action?

During the analysis, optimizers should stick to the criteria and keep things simple. That way, you can quickly assess your findings and create a plan to move forward.

user testing

User Research and Testing

User testing is another form of experience-based assessment. It can also fall into the category of qualitative research. However, simple user tests are better for getting general opinions about the UX and design.

The goal here is not to get long, drawn-out answers. Avoid questions like:

  • Did you enjoy the site?
  • Did you feel that the page was secure?
  • Would you buy from this site?

The point is to observe users and see how they would act naturally.

There are many ways to recruit testers. However, they should always be from your target demographic. Testers need to represent the people you’re trying to convert.

After you gather testers, create some protocols. The testing guidelines can be as simple or complex as you want. Either way, the user test should consist of:

  • A simple task
  • A broad task
  • Funnel completion

Observing how the testers complete those tasks can give you some valuable insight into what your visitors experience.



Quantitative Research

The next category of research is, arguably, the most important. Quantitative analysis is all about measurable data. It’s the process of collecting and analyzing numerical data to find patterns and leaks in the conversion funnel.

Think of quantitative research as the “What, where, and how much.” It’s a chance to pinpoint overlooked problems and validate the ideas you got from the experienced-based research.

There are several types of data you can collect here.

Technical Analysis

Technical bugs can have a massive impact on conversion rates. No one wants to visit a site that doesn’t perform well. We already know that slow page load times turn visitors away. But have you considered how long it takes before your site becomes interactive?

The “Time to Interactive” metric is more important than people think. Sure, a site can load quickly. However, that fast load time is useless if the various page components take forever to become usable!

The same goes for poor device optimization. Mobile traffic already converts less than half the rate of desktop traffic. When you throw buggy performance into the mix, conversion rates dip even more.

What about browser compatibility? Your visitors are going to use a wide range of software to access your site. Do things perform well across the board?

All of these issues matter!

There are many things to consider. You want your site to perform well for every visitor on every device. Some of the most crucial elements to look for are:

  • Slow load times
  • Low page interactive times
  • Broken links
  • Missing elements
  • Slow-loading scripts
  • Caching efficiency
  • 404 pages
  • Poor browser performance
  • Device compatibility

Web Analytics

Web analytics help you understand what’s happening on your website. It goes beyond the technical side of things and focuses on behaviours. Some essential parameters include:

  • Individual page traffic
  • Bounce rates
  • How a visitor got to your site
  • Frequency of visits
  • Where your traffic originates
  • What device visitors are using
  • Value per visit
  • Viewing duration
  • Exit pages

Understanding how your audience interacts with your site can make all the difference. Assessing the data allows you to spot leaks and figure out where you’re losing money.

For example, maybe product category pages are to blame. With web analytics, you’ll be able to see that users left those pages quickly. Alternatively, it could be a subpar landing page. In that case, your bounce rates would be high.

Web analytics are easy to contextualize and can point you in the right direction for improvement.

User Tracking

Did you know that you can track user activity directly? Doing so puts behavioural trends into perspective. However, it’s different from user testing. There are no protocols or tasks in place. Instead, you’re looking at pure, unadulterated browsing.

This form of research transforms a somewhat arbitrary concept into quantifiable data that you can use.

There are several forms of user tracking available.

Session Recording

Session recording is, perhaps, one of the most simple. As the name suggests, it involves direct screen recordings of browsing activity. You can see every movement of the mouse and click.

Analyzing recordings can be time-consuming. However, it offers a broader look at the general habits of a visitor.

Mouse Tracking

Mouse tracking is a bit more refined. It follows many users and quantifies data into a readable map. There, you can uncover how your audience interacts with your site and how they navigate.

Click Tracking

Click tracking is similar to the previous technique. However, this method revolves around defined clicks. It shows what links users take advantage of most, which can become helpful in design and efficiency changes.

Attention Maps

Also known as “eye-tracking heat maps,” this technology is a game-changer. Instead of relying on mouse activity, you can see what parts of the page your visitors pay attention to the most!

The technology tracks eye movement to show you the most visible aspects of a page. See where your audience looks first and analyze how their visually navigate.

Scroll Maps

Last but not least, we have scroll maps. This tool provides a visual representation of how readers scroll through the page. For example, do they only go halfway through before leaving, or do they spend more time on one section? With this form of tracking, you can find out!



Qualitative Research

The last research category is qualitative analysis. If quantitative research is the “what, where, and how much,” qualitative research is the “why.”

It’s a form of natural inquiry that businesses usually obtain from first-hand observation.

Qualitative research gives your audience a voice and provides a little insight into their thought processes, motivations, and frustrations.

There’s no established way to perform this kind of evaluation. It’s more “off-the-cuff” and flexible.

That said, there are several ways conversion researchers gather data.

Polls and Surveys

User surveys and polls are a great way to get some honest feedback. They can fill the gaps between the data you already know. Not only that, but surveys can highlight issues that no amount of complex data can show. For example, they can provide insight into motivation or differing opinions.

The key to gathering pertinent information from surveys is to ask open-ended questions.

You can use targeted questions to further your investigation about core issues. But open questions give your audience more freedom to speak their mind. Some good examples include:

  • What were your first impressions of visiting our site?
  • Did you consider any of our competitors?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish on our site?
  • How did you hear about us?
  • Would you recommend us to a friend?

Keep the surveys relatively short. Eight to ten questions are ideal. Anything longer might seem like an inconvenience.

Organic Visitor Interactions

There’s a good chance that you already have several sources of direct feedback from your visitors. Just look at all the places where your audience leaves comments.

We’re talking about:

  • Social media comments
  • User reviews
  • Third-party opinion sites
  • Blog post remarks
  • Forum posts

It can take time sifting through all of those interactions, but they’re a goldmine of qualitative data.

People feel more open to air their grievances and give praise when given a chance to speak on a public stage. Comments can bring previously unknown issues to light.

If you have a solid social media presence, you can also use it for ethnography research. All of the persona information you need is ripe for the taking. You can easily understand how different people react to your site just by paying attention to comments!

Interviews and Focus Groups

There’s no better way to get opinions than to perform live interviews. Having honest conversations can help you understand behaviours, motivations, preferences, and overall experiences.

Conducting interviews isn’t as cut-and-dry as you would expect. It requires adequate preparation. Not only do you need the right participants, but you have to create a comfortable environment where they are comfortable enough to be truthful.

Qualitative interview techniques are complex, and there are many different ways to get the answers you seek.

For example, some researchers prefer to use focus groups to capitalize on shared experiences and mutual communication between participants. Others like to throw one-on-on interviews with a structured, semi-structured, or unstructured narrative.

Whatever the case may be, interviews provide tons of helpful information. The key is to collect data strategically and efficiently.

Support Logs

Does your company keep logs of support calls or live chat sessions? If not, you’re missing out on a treasure trove of qualitative data!

Support interactions revolve around customer questions, opinions, and issues. But most importantly, those logs can show you precisely what’s unclear about your site, service, or product.

Use them to your advantage! Look to the records to figure out how users interact with your site and what kinds of hurdles they’re overcoming. That information is easy to gather. Plus, it’s free and doesn’t require you to entice people for opinions.

Your customer support team is the first line of one-on-one interaction your audience has. No one knows about common issues more than your support department, so it pays to work with them directly.

Usability Tests

Earlier, we talked a bit about how user testing was helpful for experience-based assessment. In the early phases of research, it’s great for getting general opinions. However, you can use it for in-depth qualitative research as well.

Usability testing is a favourite among optimizers because it puts you in the shoes of the end-user. The goal is to see how they interact with your site without any outside influence.

Tests can be moderated or unmoderated. You can perform them remotely or in person, too. Whatever the case may be, tests should involve basic tasks and tons of feedback.

Encourage participants to be vocal about the experience and provide as much opinion as possible. Many tools and testing software are available as well. They can help you collect data on mouse movement, eye tracking, and more.


Putting Your Findings to Good Use

Performing efficient conversion research is no easy task. But the information you gather has the potential to change your site for the better! It gives you all the data you need to make meaningful improvements.

Use your findings to identify issues big and small. Then, form test hypotheses and go through a round of A/B testing. Before you know it, you might see a noticeable conversion rate boost.

CRO is an ever-evolving game of cat and mouse. While many try it to no avail, proper conversion research can make your efforts a success!

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