Do You Have What it Takes?
…conversion [rate] optimization is the science and art of creating an experience for a website visitor with the goal of converting the visitor into a customer.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Create a good experience and your visitors will convert. But is it really that simple?
This post will explore why I believe CRO isn’t easy at all, and can’t be done successfully by just anyone or any company. Anything that combines “art” and “science” is going to be tricky to execute. Read on to understand how to build a balanced skill set (if you want to be an individual CRO practitioner) or a balanced in-house team (if you want CRO to be a permanent part of your company’s approach to doing business).
When I think of “art and science,” I always relate it to the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left brain owns “science,” and the right brain powers “art.” In terms of optimization, if you go too far to the right, you’re relying on aesthetics and cleverness. If you go too far to the left, you’re relying on technology or paralyzed by too much data.
Here are some of the skills needed to be successful in CRO, and which side of the brain they live on.
SCIENCE, a.k.a. Left-brain
- Basic understanding of statistics – CRO needs to be data-driven, and much of the data we use to do our jobs comes in the form of ratios, percentages, confidence levels, etc. This left brain activity is needed, if only at a basic level, to optimize. This doesn’t mean you need a PhD, it just means you need a basic understanding of principles.
- Basic understanding of mathematics - CRO requires a fair amount of calculations to prioritize activities, to estimate test durations, and to understand financial impacts. If I think about how many percentage change calculations I do per day, it’s scary
- Ability to control variables – The left brain is what keeps tests from spinning out of control with too many variables. Learning to “isolate variables” is invaluable, and your right brain won’t help you here.
- Ability to work with code – You don’t need to be a programmer to do CRO, but you need to understand how code works (and doesn’t work), how to administrate tests, etc.
- Analytical thought – Before you make any changes or run any tests, you need to do analysis. It usually starts by looking at web analytics data, but the left brain trick is being able to recognize patterns and anomalies in data. Otherwise, you’re just staring at reports and not taking any action.
- Project management – The left brain powers the discipline needed to stay on task, coordinate efforts of various resources, and execute on a continuous basis. The ability to juggle priorities among a diverse team of implementers, by the way, is the number one factor shared by our most successful clients.
- Attention to detail – Sometimes, the changes we make or tests we run don’t behave according to the hypothesis. Why? It’s usually some small detail that influenced behavior. The left brain lets us be detailed enough to notice that the copyright on a page is out-of-date, and may have caused a lack of credibility, which in turn soured test results.
ART, a.k.a. Right-brain
- Web design – Good design communicates effectively and influences behavior. At the very least, it puts people at ease, and makes them trust our marketing efforts. If it’s done well, it can even evoke a certain mood that makes people more inclined to take the actions we want them to take. Ever seen a design done by a very left-brained programmer? No offense, but it’s not pretty
- Psychology – The way people say they’ll behave (on surveys or in focus groups) is never the way they really behave when online. They behave according to the motivations of the moment. Even though analyzing the data from your website is a left-brained task (see Left-Brain item #5, above), the understanding of the psychological factors that drive online behavior is the playground of the intuitive right brain.
- Role-playing – Whether you use personas, segments, roles, or use cases, the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your prospects is a crucial right brain skill. Else, you’re just designing for yourself, and your narrow viewpoint won’t satisfy your whole target audience!
- Application of best practices – You may think the application of best practices is left brained. After all, it’s really just mimicry, right? Not so. The application of best practices takes right brain creativity to make sure you’re not simply copying other sites. The best practices must be synthesized into what works for your unique site.
- Bucking the best practices – Sometimes, best practices under-perform in our tests, which reminds us that they’re guidelines, not rules. Sometimes, you have to go counter to the prevailing logic or trend in order to find the solution that works best. This “outside the box” creativity is born out of the right brain.
- Copywriting – Good copy beats bad copy every time. Without the right brain, we wouldn’t have Shakespeare’s sonnets, and we wouldn’t have PPC ads, headlines, and calls to action that increase our KPIs.
- Post-test analysis – While pre-test analysis lives mostly in the left brain (see Right-brain item #2, above), we find that post-test analysis tends to draw on the right brain’s imagination. If one variation vastly outperforms others, or if the hypothesis isn’t validated, you really have to get imaginative to analyze why visitors responded in a certain counter-intuitive way.
In conclusion, if you want to be a CRO practitioner, you have to be very “balanced” between the two hemispheres of your brain. You practically have to be bipolar
If you want to build an in-house team to do CRO full-time, it’s not likely you’ll find a lot of applicants who are that balanced. But, you can hire intelligently to make sure your “dream team” has an even mix of left-brained and right-brained talents.
Finally, the secret, third option is to hire objective, trained, third party help. If you go that route, you’ll want to get a feel for whether or not they have the right mix of skills. If you go with FutureNow, we’ll not only tell you about our “skills mix,” we’ll even tell you our Myers-Briggs personality types! How’s that for transparency?