Website Conversion Rate Optimization: a webinar recap

Hit play above to watch a recording of the webinar. Or, you can read the transcript below. 

What you’ll learn in this webinar

What follows is a slightly edited transcript of a webinar held Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018. It’s a conversation between Ellen Jantsch, founder and digital marketer, Emily Belyea, founder and designer, and Matthew Morek, founder and product designer. 

Here are a few topics we go more in depth on below: 

  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) feels like a fancy acronym. One way to think about it is to ask yourself everyday “how do we make it as easy as possible for the user to say ‘yes’ to what I’m offering them?”.
  • How to use design and analytics in unison to improve your site. 
  • What questions to ask when you’re looking to work with a designer on your site. 
  • What you can do with limited resources to make a big impact on conversions. 
  • Executional design tips you can implement to help achieve different goals (i.e. establishing legitimacy, getting more sign ups). 
  • Why conversion rate, bounce rate, and time on site are valuable metrics. 

To stay in the loop on future webinars or to receive thoughtfully written content on similar topics, check out the Tuff newsletter.  

The Transcript


Ellen: Hey, everyone! Thanks for joining today’s webinar. We’re really excited today to talk about website conversion rate optimization for you or, potentially, for you clients. We’re lucky, we invited two really, really smart individuals both experts when it comes to web design, user experience, and conversion rates. So, I’m going to ask both of them to hop off mute really quickly and give an update on who they are and where they are today.

Emily: Awesome. Hey, everyone! My name is Emily and I run a design studio called Emily Belyea Creative. I help entrepreneurs basically take their idea from concept to creation through all-inclusive digital services like web design, brand identity, development and launch support. 

Matthew: Hi, I’m Matt. I run a small, one man design shop called Mad Bit. I hail from Manchester, UK. What I do is help my client’s solve the right problems. So, basically, identify what really their audience needs are and prioritize the design strategy and execution to a point where we solve only those things that need solving and leave everything else aside. 

Ellen: Great, and I’m Ellen. I work at the team here at Tuff. For you that don’t know, we’re a growth marketing agency that works with fast growing small businesses, start ups, and marketplaces to help them find traction and scale through a variety of different tactics. Tactics that include a few things like Facebook ads, Google ads, YouTube, Bing, SEO, Content Strategy, Email campaigns and more recently web design and development. And, that’s why we’re here today because a question we ask all the time, not just on the Tuff website, but with our clients is ‘how can we make our websites stickier?’. How can we make sure user’s our coming to our site and taking the action we want them to take? Whether that be filling out a form, calling our business, if you’re ecomm making a sale directly on site. Or, if your conversions are more like engagement metrics, so you want somebody to spend more time on your site — you want them to spend 2 minutes instead of 30 seconds. Or, if you want them to go to more pages on your site, you want them to go to 5 pages not just 1. And so, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Our conversation is broken up into three different sections: the problem, personal stories from Emily and Matthew, and actionable advice you can apply to your site. We’ll have time for questions at the end as well. 

So, let’s dive right in! 

Part 1: The Problem

Ellen: The first thing we want to tackle is breaking down this problem. So, what do we mean by optimizing your website for conversions? Emily, let’s start off with you, do you have a good example of how you’ve done this with a client recently? How you’ve tackled a project where you’re optimizing their site from the start, for conversions?

Emily: Yeah, absolutely! So, I mean, the way I think about optimizing a site for conversions is as simple as “how do we make it as easy as possible for the user to say ‘yes’ to what I’m offering them?”. I think as a marketer and designer that’s always the question we’re trying to answer. It’s always in testing and trying new things. Recently, an example I can go over, is specifically around the use of a CTA (Call to Action). So, I think that one of the simplest things you can do from the start and writing copy and designing your site is to make sure your call’s to action are specific. A recent client and their website, thebuyguys.com, prompts the user to ‘get an offer’. This sounds super straightforward but the primary reason their user’s are on their site is so they can get an offer on their house. And, they want to know how much they can sell it for. So, by giving them a form where they fill out their address and making our primary CTA right there in front of them ‘get an offer’, we’re basically asking them to do exactly what they came for and it’s also crystal clear so the likelihood of them clicking on it is really high. 

Ellen: I like that. Conversion Rate Optimization, or CRO, is such a fancy little acronym and I think the way you approach design with “how do I get a user to say ‘yes’?” feels like a very simplified version that’s easier to ask yourself every single day. Matthew, how about you?

Matthew: To me, like you said, CRO is a weird acronym. But, what it means to me, is really based around reducing the friction in the customer acquisition process. That’s what you’re trying to do, you’re trying to get a lead to do something meaningful. Like you said before, there’s a couple of actions you can take. And, a recent story I’ve got from the trenches really is a simple site I’ve designed and built for a client. It was a small, indie software developer who created an app for Mac and Windows and he wanted to improve conversions and lead generation primarily. What we did was asses what was wrong with the current website, why people were dropping off and we build a completely new website using story telling principles. And that way we basically removed most of the call to actions at the top and moved them to the bottom. We created enough engaging content to help people keep scrolling, keep reading the content, keep engaging with it. We put an ask right at the end of it which worked out great and we achieved 122% improvement in conversion rate. 

Ellen: That story is good for our next question, you talk about removing friction. You two look at websites every single day. When a client comes to you whether they’re saying ‘I need to improve my conversions, not enough people are picking up the phone and calling me or not enough people are filling out my form’, where do you start? Is it purely visual or do you hop into Google Analytics and start looking at the numbers so you know where to tackle first? What is your process so you know if a website needs to be improved to increase conversions? 

Emily: I’m a designer so, for me, visual is what leads things for me. So before I even get into data, I take a step back and look for one thing ‘What is the ask?’.  And sometimes it’s easier because people are coming to me and asking about their site and I haven’t been staring at their site for a long time. I have a unique perspective coming at it with fresh eyes and if I can’t figure out what the ask is, then chances are that’s our starting point. The first thing is we need to put our ask on the site and we need to make it crystal clear. If you do have a clear ask and you’re still not converting, then I take a look at ‘what is standing in the way of the ask?’, ‘What is our roadblock?’. That’s where I get into design and really looking at the user experience. First of all, ‘Is our ask right for our consumer?’. And, ‘Is our website responsive?’, maybe there’s literally a technical issue preventing the user from understanding what we’re trying to tell them. We could go into this very deeply but does your website have a color palette and a type scheme that makes it easy for the user to just show up and be able to get the information they need without having to make their way through all the clutter. That’s where design plays a role, as well as your messaging and copy. I’d say after looking at all of those surface things, that’s where I’d get into the data. 

Ellen: Building on that Emily, would you say that often when you work with clients on web design is it common for people to have one ask? I can imagine situations where there are multiple priorities for a site. What’s the best process for drilling into what the primary ask should be without losing some of the secondary CTAs on the site?

Emily: Absolutely. It’s not common for people to come to me and understand exactly what their ask is, that almost never happens. Frequently when I ask people what their ask is they say ‘For them to contact me?’. They kind of ask the question back to me.  I think determining what your primary ask is involves taking a huge step back and looking at what the journey and evolution of what your business goals are. If you’re just launching a consulting business for the first time, you have no idea what experience to share with people, you have no blog posts, or really a lot of content that leverages you as an expert in your field. Maybe, instead of your ask being to get clients to sign up for a session with you it should be to sign up for your newsletter. Then, you get into their inbox and can start talking to them and build that relationship from there. It depends on the business owner but I think it involves taking a really good look at your strategy and where you see yourself in the next 12 months. 

Ellen: Matthew, Emily has expressed that she’s quite visual. Do you feel the same way? When you’re looking at a website to think through ‘how can I improve conversions?’, is it data or visuals first? Or, a combination? 

Matthew: I usually start with conversations with clients. We get on the phone, video call, or meet in person and basically we discuss the issue and ‘what are we trying to achieve?’. With that context, I’ll do a brief visual assessment. Some things are very easy to spot like Emily said. You may have to dig a little deeper but most things are evident from conversation alone. Then, if you need more information, you can ask for access to analytics if they have them. If they don’t, then you’re going off of visuals and I usually recommend they install Google Analytics to make sure we have some quantifiable data that we can assess. Normally, conversation first, analytics second, and visual is really a confirmation that we’re correct. When data is pretty solid, all you need is to go to a website and spot the visual and content problems. Start with the goals, move on to identify problems using all tools at your disposal. 

Ellen: It’s interesting because sites are so visual and both of you have been talking about the process and design has been almost the last element of that equation. Can you guys talk to me a little bit more about when you approach a website or project and you’re trying to design it from day 1 to boost conversions and be a really efficient website, what are some of the preliminary steps you take before you even have a conversation with a designer? 

Emily: One of the first questions I ask when I bring a new client onboard is ‘what is the single most important action you want the user to take?’. That response is what drives the strategy for the first step in the process – the wireframe. The wireframe is not the mockup, it’s the bare bones grayscale layout. It’s job is to figure out exactly what the user paths look like. Are we meeting the goals of the user? Our goals? Do we have all of our CTAs and opt-ins? Taking the time to A: understand the number one action we want the user to take and, B: understand who this user is, and putting it in the wireframe is something I would not be able to do my job without. The mockup design, the part where we make it look pretty and add type and colors, and the brand development are also extremely necessary but they come later in the process. Strategy discussions and wireframe are so important. For anyone out there looking to work with a designer, I would say you should ask them questions about their process right up front, and you really should be looking to hear those words ‘strategy’ and ‘wireframe’. Without that they might not be taking the time to understand your goals the way you need them to. 

Ellen: What about you, Matthew? Is that the same for you?

Matthew: It’s similar, definitely. My approach is based on strategy and analysis. I usually run a discovery stage with my clients. Some don’t need it, depending on the stage they’re in. Most of the people I interview in the initial assessment are in need of some discovery. By discovery I mean defining the attributes of who they are as an organization, their voice that comes through in copywriting, anything that speaks visually later on. That’s one part. Another part is identifying the goals. The company working with me, needs to have some sort of objective generally primary and secondary. In the case of a project I was currently working on, the primary goal was to download the free app. The second was to make a purchase. This was unusual because most of the time you want the purchase to happen as the primary action but it wasn’t the case because most people were coming from the free version of the app and going through an upgrade path. Things need: goals and attributes, user journeys, knowing how people want to use your site and what they are after. Identify the outcomes your user wants and align them with your business goals. So, if your business goal is to sell more products you need to identify why people are looking for the products you sell. You create a product and tailor it to an audience that already exists, you can’t solve a problem that doesn’t exist. You need to try and find out what your audience is looking for and align your goals with it. Then, I’m sure you’re going to be close to uncovering that way to makes sure your website converts better. 

Ellen: I think you both touched on something that feels relevant to a story Tuff has. You’re talking about strategy, you’re talking about goals but you’re also talking about user experience and how you expect someone to interact with your site. That, to us, feels critical to designing a site that’s going to convert. Oftentimes we have to remind ourselves that how we interact with a specific site as marketers might be very different than how a traditional user or target audience does. User research is a big part of that puzzle. I like to hear that, maybe, 80% of the work you two do is non-design. It’s understanding users, mapping out process, coming up with strategy and business objectives to make sure the output is a beautiful design. Speaking of which, I’d love for us to transition into the stories section of the webinar. 

Part 2: Personal stories from Emily and Matthew

Ellen: As a team, we’d love to get your feedback on our landing page for this webinar. A non-designer put together the landing page: 


See the site live, here: https://webinar.tuffgrowth.com/

Looking at this page, is there anything tangible, concrete, that you would update right away that you think would increase conversion rates for this webinar? 

Emily: There are two things that immediately come to mind are. First, it’s very text heavy right off the bat. Matthew, you were just saying features are useless to people so are ‘about’s’ and paragraphs. I want to know what I’m going to get out of it, what am I going to walk away with. So, bullets might be helpful with a quick ‘what am I going to get out of this’ would be great. Also, let’s get that register button above the fold! You’re making people work for it and I think we could use the space up top a little better to have users see that form and button right away. As a designer who does landing pages a lot sometimes people will come to me with tons and tons of content, plus a form, and button, and all of the fields and ask for it to be above the fold. One trick you can use if you can’t get your button above the fold is just ask a register button above the fold and have it link down to your form or to a pop up. 

Ellen: So it sounds like less text, or prioritize your text, and make sure your CTAs are always above the fold. I think you’re right, we’re looking at this on desktop but if we think about mobile that’s a pretty long scroll to get someone down to register for the webinar. Matthew, would you echo what Emily said? Or, any other insights on this page to make it better and more conversion rate friendly?

Matthew: Some of it, yeah. Text usually isn’t the problem when it’s the right text. Like Emily said, features can be meaningless. You could convert the big paragraph into a few points to better explain what people can get out of this, some actionable points to convey the idea better. The headline is spot on, it gives you the value proposition which is the most important part. I’m not used to landing pages for webinars but I’m used to landing pages for events, which a webinar is a form of event. The type of people that might be looking at this page will wonder ‘when does it happen?’. You need to make the time critical events clear, the time, the date, the timezone in this digital age. You need to make sure people understand exactly when and where it happens. I agree about the call to action. In the case of this very sweet and very short page, it should be above the fold. I’m not a big believer in the mythical fold because you can structure the landing page to tell a story, it doesn’t have to be a properly written epic but at least the principles. You can make people scroll, read, engage and put the ask at the end where they’re convinced — or not, not everyone is going to be up for your value proposition. These are just a few quick ones, generally I agree with Emily. 

Ellen: You guys were generous with your feedback, I designed this page. A word we talked about a lot in this was ‘landing page’. Talk to me about this, we work with a lot of clients who are running high scale, very expensive Google Ad campaigns. We have this discussion a lot, when does it make sense to send a user to a landing page vs. sending someone to a full blown website? Or, is this something you should be conversion testing with an A/B perspective all the time? When someone comes to you how do you guide them through that decision of a landing page with no navigation or a full blown website? 

Emily: Typically, the way I use this decision making process is: are we trying to get them to do something very very specific, say in preparation for the launch of the website?, ‘are we trying to get them to sign up for an event, like a webinar?. Something where you don’t need to redo the whole page. Again, very specific asks that are secondary to what your ask is as a company. If we don’t want to clutter our websites with a third request, a landing page is a great way to do that because you can market it in the same you would send out a link to your website but you don’t have to add it to your site. 

Matthew: Yeah, I agree. Generally a dedicated landing page is great if, for example you launch a new product line and you want people to know about it. You get a subdomain for your main domain and send people to a specific site. Another thing might be, like Emily said, events. These are perfect for landing pages. I think it’s really down to the context of what you’re trying to sell. If it’s something already available on your website and you’re looking to promote it, it wouldn’t be too difficult to manage the traffic for a service already on your website. 

Ellen: At Tuff I feel really lucky because we work with both of you and you get to field questions for us all the time. For people on the call who are looking at their website or working with a client and don’t have design in-house or someone they can go and brainstorm with, if resources are limited, where would they start making small improvements that feel feasible? 

Emily: What I always tell people is if you don’t have in-house design, there are a lot of tools on the internet you can use to put something together. 

Ellen: What are some of your favorites? 

Emily: Well, I use the design tools. A lot of my clients will use Canva to make their own graphics. Or, a really easy Adobe program (don’t be intimidated!) is Adobe Experience. It’s a drag and drop design tool. I’d encourage anyone to check it out. Those are two right off the bat. You can use those to create little things. In terms of where to start, if you can get into your Google Analytics and look at your data, great! If that feels like too much then, again, look at your site, think about the user experience and ask yourself ‘what can I add to [fill in the blank], legitimize me, invite users to engage with our content and hear our story?’. What are the pieces that are missing? A general checklist of things I usually go through with my clients to fill these gaps is: adding a press bar with ‘as seen in’ to legitimize, adding client logos for social proof to let people know you’re in business and serving similar business, look at your call to action button colors and copy, add blog posts to your homepage to give people a preview, a chat widget if you want people to instantaneously engage with you, an FAQ page if you’re having trouble with people understanding. Ask, what is my immediate issue I’m trying to solve and go through the checklist to see if any of these executional items could help. 

Ellen: It sounds like you’re encouraging people, even if they’re not a designer, to explore and experiment. As long as you’re not going to break your website, hop in and try things out. There’s so much to learn from whether it’s short term improvements or long term. A tool I want to add to your list that I’d say is a bit easier than Google Analytics is HotJar. HotJar is a recording software so you can record sessions on your site to see where people navigate, how far down they scroll, where people might be getting stuck, how do they interact with a form. For me, I’m a more visual learner so seeing how people interact in real time can help brainstorm ideas to make improvements. Matthew, what would you say to people who don’t have a lot of resources or in-house design to make improvements to a site?

Matthew: I would start with more of a broad overview. Instead of applying some bandaids, I’d take a broad overview on the pages you’re looking to improve. Figure out whether your value proposition is right, whether your market fit is right, whether you’re reaching the right people. You might be paying for traffic irrelevant to your site. You know more about driving traffic. Before you start driving traffic from paid advertising and social media, you need to make sure your value proposition is on point. You need to make sure your call’s to action are good. If they’re not working or there’s some piece of javascript getting blocked you’ll end up with a page that’s disabled. Another thing to check is the content, is it relevant and engaging? How is it structured on the page? I’d recommend that before jumping into visuals and testing, start with a broad overview to figure out if your page is achieving it’s goal. If you don’t have a budget, you should still talk to your customers. Find 1, 2, 5, 10 customers and ask if they have 10 minutes to tell you about their recent experience. If you have past customers that used the site you’re looking to improve, talk to them. Talk about their frustrations or if they even remember the process. This might give you a better idea than trying to shift around boxes. Let’s be honest, unless you’re using tools like HotJar, you’ll be blindfolded on making the page work better.

Ellen: I love the idea. Even if you can only talk to a few people, get on the phone and talk to them or email. That’s something we could apply more at Tuff because learning from your actual users is going to be so much more relevant than an idea you have in your own head. You can get validation from people who you’ve built your site for. Before going into actionable advice, do either of you have a very specific story of a small update whether it was color, type, removing a page, adding more whitespace, that you felt had a really drastic impact on conversions or site experience?

Emily: I would say one of the smallest things that can be done, at least that has had such a big impact for my clients, is organizing or refreshing their brand identity in way that contributes to their website. A lot of entrepreneurs bootstrap their branding from the start. They might pick a few colors, have their cousin design a logo, and get a site up. I admire that, it’s a great way to start and then maybe later on invest. A lot of times what happens is, because you don’t have these type schemes, color layouts, and organizational systems for your identity, everything is a little disorganized and all over the place. What this is doing is confusing the user’s brain and it’s a little harder for them to wrap their brain around what you’re asking them to do. A lot of time, we’ll do a brand refresh where I’ll strip everything down and organize it like a professional organizer might do with a closet. Throw out some things that are random and not contributing to the brand and goals and bring some things in that are. I’ll give them a style guide that organizes everything and lays out ‘here’s what your primary call to action button looks like’, etc. A little structure with branding goes a long way. 

Ellen: Sounds similar to what we talked about earlier, wireframes are critical as is user research. Design isn’t important yet. Matthew, what about you? Any examples of making a small edit you saw a significant impact from. 

Matthew: Yes! I have a good one from last year. I was working with an ecommerce client and we were trying to optimize their checkout process. It was good but we saw an opportunity to make it better and more efficient. Instead of diving right into visual design we decided we needed to dig a little deeper. We spent about a day going through the check out steps and we identified that the delivery and shipping options available were far too many. There were about 6-7 delivery options. What I did was ask one of the staff members to talk to a few customers and confirm that they did get confused by all the options and that next day delivery would be spot on. We researched what delivery options were most important to people and we narrowed it to standard delivery, next day delivery, and in-person collection at the store. This improved conversion rates by about 60%. We tested the change over 2 weeks and didn’t touch anything else. Narrowing down the options made a big impact. 

Ellen: That’s a huge upgrade! It’s cool to hear you guys put on your investigator hats and got curious. Again, that’s not necessarily a design exclusive trait. As marketers and consultants, being curious and digging around in data and looking at the numbers can really have a massive impact. You stripped options away instead of adding more and that made a big impact. 

Part 3: Actionable advice you can apply to your site

Ellen: That brings us to the last section. As a business owner, if you fire up your Google Analytics (and, it depends on the business objective), what would you say is the most important metric? If you’re thinking about your website, wanting people to spend time on your website, or say yes to something, what metric do you guys go back to on a daily basis. What is your desert island metric that everyone on this webinar should be tracking today. 

Emily: I’d say every time all the time, the conversion rate. Look at the visit to sign up percentage. It allows us to look at the funnels performance as a whole and then we can narrow down on a certain area. The landing page where that sign up needs to happen, is the page designed to make that easy? Is the CTA to the form written in a way that promotes action? When we start to figure out what is working and what is not. Another piece to zero in on is CTAs, where are they appearing? Is my tone and voice consistent through out the whole funnel. A lot of marketers struggle with sounding a bit to sales-y rather than authentic and real. 

Ellen: It sounds like you can look at conversion rates along the entire ecommerce journey. Looking at the entire user journey, if a conversion rate is low at a specific step, you can work on that one rather than a blanket conversion rate. Matthew, what about you in terms of your desert island metric?

Matthew: I wouldn’t stick to conversion rate because it’s very subjective. The same client I talked about before with the delivery options, had a completely different website in 2012. He had it for very few years and the conversion rate was around 2%. That was good for them. When we introduced the new website, the conversion rate jumped to 8%. It’s a little too subjective. The metric I turn to is bounce rate and drop off rate. This is when someone has come in from a referral website and leaves within a few seconds without interacting with the content. Drop off rate is when they don’t go anywhere else but they close the browser. These are similar and they give a good indication on if your content is engaging and relevant. It gives an indication in product market fit in terms of what you’re offering. For example, if you’re driving traffic from PPC and your message doesn’t ring a bell you’ll have a large drop off. Usually it’s not the PPC traffic, it’s the fact that the landing page or your home page is not really well crafted in terms of value proposition. PPC offers you such a narrow window and you need to follow through with that on your website. You need to instill confidence, trust, and relevance. That’s where drop off and bounce rate is helpful. To give you some context, if it’s around 70% – 75% that can be really normal. If it’s anything above 80%, you’ve got a big problem. 

Ellen: What’s nice about bounce rate is if you are running paid campaigns you can integrate your accounts to see what campaigns have a high drop off rate and which ones don’t and allocate your budget accordingly. It sounds like conversion rate and bounce rate. One I’d add to the mix is time on site. We look at that a lot at Tuff because we want people finding the content valuable and relevant. 

I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface but I want to open up time for questions. 


Tune into the webinar at :50 minutes to hear what questions the audience asked and how Ellen, Emily, and Matthew addressed them. 

We’d also love to hear any questions you have. Shoot us an email at hello@tuffgrowth.com! 

How to say hello and continue the conversation

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