The CRO Master Class: Everything You Need to Know About Conversion Rate Optimization

Getting more traffic is hard and expensive. Getting more sales out of the same traffic is neither of these things.

This megapost on Conversion Rate Optimization gathers everything we've ever published about CRO in one place. When you're done with this post you'll know:

  • What CRO is
  • Why it matters
  • The quick wins that you can implement right away
  • How to test your CRO ideas
  • How to create a headline that gets clicks (because there's no point in optimizing if people aren't clicking)
  • How Amazon dominates with CRO
  • And much more including some great free resources

Ready? Let's roll!

CRO Master Class – Conversion Rate Optimization


What is Conversion Rate Optimization?

CRO is a way of improving the performance of a website by using research, analytics, and user feedback. It’s the process of making the visitors on your website do whatever it is you want them to do, and do it more often.

CRO is more sales from the same traffic and lower customer acquisition cost. But because your customers keep evolving, what pushes them to act will, too.
That means CRO needs to be an ongoing process of making your site the most powerful sales machine it can possibly be.

First, you gotta speak the language. Here’s a quick glossary of terms that will help you understand the rest of this stuff.

Conversion Rate Optimization Glossary

A/B test

A marketing experiment where two variations of a landing page, ad, email or other piece of online content are pitted against each other to determine which produces the highest conversion rate. A/B testing is the key to optimizing your marketing campaign. (Source:Unbounce)


The ultimate goal of your campaign. A conversion is whatever you decide it is – submitting a form, downloading a piece of content, signing up for a free trial, making a purchase. Every aspect of your marketing campaign should be nudging people toward conversion. (Source: Unbounce)


Call to action, the one thing you’re asking the customer to do on each page, email, or piece.

Landing page

A campaign-specific page distinct from your main website that has one goal and one call to action. A landing page could be a lead generation page or a click-through page for ecommerce. You should always send campaign traffic to a dedicated landing page. (Source: Unbounce)


Personas are fictional, generalized characters that encompass the various needs, goals, and observed behavior patterns among your real and potential customers. They help you understand your customers better. (Source: HubSpot)


Do This Now: Quick CRO Wins

Stop Hiding Your Value Prop 

Don't wait to tell people why you're better than your competition. If you have a powerful and clear value prop, bust it out early. We're talking above the fold, 2nd thing you read, early. 

And if you don't have a clear and powerful value prop, go fix that. Now.  

CRO Master Class – Conversion Rate Optimization

Zappos knows what's up. Their value prop is the very first thing on the page and they rake in $2b a year. Those two things are not unrelated. 

Test Headlines/Subject Lines

A/B testing is a cornerstone of Conversion Rate Optimization (more on that in a bit) and it's easier than it seems. Try this: Take that email you were writing and clone it (make a copy.) Now, leaving everything else the same, write one subject line that is practical, value-driven, and on the second, write a subject line that appeals to emotion. 

Send the two versions to half your list. Then, when one subject line gets more opens, switch to the version that works better and send to the second half of your list. 

Let's look at your site's CRO together.

Pick a time to come in and go over your site with our team. It's free and you'll learn way more about your site than any blog or whitepaper can ever tell you.


Move your CTA Up

We see sites, emails, and blogs that wait until the very end to push their readers to act. And often, it's too late. They're gone. 

Bump your call to action up to the middle or higher and watch that conversion rate lift.  

CRO Master Class – Conversion Rate Optimization

You can't miss the CTA on Logitech's wonderfully optimized site. There is no confusion about where you're supposed to click. 

Try Different CTAs

Speaking of your call to action, you should be trying different colors and language. Your CTA is what all of your effort is about – a little effort optimizing it can mean a huge boost in conversions. 

CRO Master Class – Conversion Rate Optimization 
No big deal, just a 90% increase in clicks by changing one word. 



Two offers is too many. Nails only work when you hammer in the point. Every landing page, email, or blog should have one thing you drive home.

The Logitech example under Tip #3 is also a perfect example of the power of simplicity. 

Be Clearer

Go through your content. If you can be clearer, do it. Your reader has a million things going on and doesn't really care about what you have to say. Clarity converts better. 

Most Stock Photos Are Trash

You know those pictures of people smiling while using a computer in a bright, empty house? Of course you do, because you've seen it 100 times. That picture is trash and being willing to use such low quality imagery doesn't say anything good about your company. 

Invest some time in finding images that don't suck.

And stop being so literal with your image choices. Be a little abstract or metaphorical with your image choice to make it more interesting. 


This. Don't use this. Or anything that looks like this. 

Hurry! Use Urgency Now. 

The one thing people don't wait to do is procrastinate. Shake them out of this inclination with an incentive to act now. "10% if you order today", "only 3 left", "free shipping for the next 4 hours."

For an example of this, visit just about every single page on Amazon. 

Reduce Friction

If it takes 5 clicks to buy from you, find a way to make that number 4. Shorten your forms, reduce the amount people have to read – make it as easy as possible for people to give you their money. 

Another thing Amazon is fantastic at. Their one-click purchase is a huge reason the site sells over $100,000 every minute.

If Visitors Aren't Clicking – Get Better Visitors

People miss this one all the time. And it's so simple. 

If you're getting traffic but no clicks, rethink where the traffic is coming from. Spend a little more time thinking about what you're offering, who would be excited to see your CTA, and where there hang out online. Then go find them and get your page or post in front of them. 

Don't be afraid to get a few unsubscribe notifications. Your email list should be full of people who like your brand, are interested in what you sell, or at least have some interest in your industry. If not, you're better off parting ways. You'll end up with higher conversion rates to show for it. 

Make It (More) Personal

This has the potential to be the polar opposite of a "quick tip," but by breaking it down into a small task you do everyday, you can keep itmanageable. 

Generic messages don't motivate much action. Personalized messages do. This is why it's vital to spend a few minutes every day doing some research, getting to know your customer better, and making incremental updates to your copy as you do. 

If you find out that the persona you're trying to reach is a CEO that's also on nonprofit boards, start finding ways to fold in altruism into your messaging. 

Alternatively, if you find out that she is the CMO of a company that is probably going through some serious belt tightening, dial up the value message. 

Do whatever you can to make your work seem personalized. 

Buttons That Look Like Buttons

If your CTA blends in, it isn't getting clicked. 

Make it look like a button. Make it stand out. (See Logitech example above.) Make it big and bright with arrows pointing at it if you have to.

We're all for brand standards. Love em. But your CTAs should not match the rest of your page. They should stand out, be unavoidable, unignorable.  

Higher Conversion Rates

Great copy with a button that stands out. Brb, giving all my money to the ASPCA. 

A/B Testing: The Cornerstone of Conversion Rate Optimization

You can read every article out there about the best way to build your website, but until you’ve tested it for yourself, it’s still just guesswork.

Because your customers are different. Your site is different. Your product is different. What works best for the people who wrote those best practices is at least somewhat different than what is going to work for you.

So make the best site you can then get to testing. How? Just like your science project.

  • Make a hypothesis
  • Design and run an experiment
  • Analyze results to form a conclusion

In terms of your website, here’s how that could look.

Hypothesis: Swapping the hero image on the page (man smiling at camera) with an image of a woman looking at the CTA button would increase the amount of people who click (conversions).

Experiment: Create a version of your page with the new image. Serve that page to half your audience and serve the original page to the other half. Run this test for 2 weeks.

Conclusion: The new image saw 8% higher. Version with new image to replace old version. But because both page’s conversions are still below industry averages, new tests will need to be done.

What can you test with an A/B test?

  • Headlines
  • Subheads
  • Body copy
  • Images
  • CTAs (copy, design, and placement)
  • Testimonials
  • Social Proof

What tools do I use for A/B testing?

Check out our post The Best Tools for Conversion Optimization or head straight over to VWO. These guys can tell you all about testing and give you the tools you need to get started.

All Conversions Start With a Click

The secret to getting clicks is actually pretty simple: Good copy, good visual.

We're going to focus on the copy for now. And, more specifically, your headline. (You can also apply this to subject lines, as well.)

That’s what stops people dead in their digital tracks. But how do you write the perfect headline? What are the ingredients?

Value. Intrigue. Relevance.

If your readers see even one of these in your headline – you’ll get some clicks. If they see more – you’ll get more.

That’s pretty much it.

But seeing as we never waste our reader's clicks (another key), we’ll explain how to incorporate each element. Once you’re done with this post, you’ll know exactly what’s needed to create that irresistible headline.

Deliver Value 

Always put the reader first. It’s up to you to do the research, to get to know your readers, to understand your ideal customer, and to give them content they will find valuable.

Solve a problem, educate them, entertain them – whatever you do, give readers something they find value in.

People aren’t reading you blog because they’re just so damn thirsty for info about your products. Focusing on yourself just reduces how much readers trust your blog. 

Use Intrigue

Curiosity may kill cats, but it's a miracle drug for driving traffic.

The word “secrets” prays on deep psychological wiring we’ll explain later. For now, just know that if you can make the reader wonder or spark their curiosity, you’re far more likely to get a click.

For emails, try a subject line that cuts off right before

- a key word, phrase, or clause. Did you feel that? The desire to know what was missing? Use that feeling to get clicks, but make sure you always answer the question that got the reader to click. Better yet, over deliver. If you get a click and don't pay it off, you're just click bait. 

Be Relevant 

What “relevant” means depends on your audience, not you. That applies to both topics and the age of the information.

Twitter Tweens may think your headline is old news if it’s 2 hours old. Others may wait until the end of the week to read about what interests them. Once you know your audience (or desired audience), ensure you’re using fresh bait. Google Trends is a handy tool for that. (Compare topics to be sure you're picking the one that's generating more interest, or check that the topic you're about to invest a bunch of time covering is growing in interest. You can also use Good Trends to spot the seasonality of topic interest.)

Relevant simply means "important to the matter at hand," and it's up to you to figure out what that matter is for your reader. You're not going to be able to do this without solid personas. If you don't know who you're writing for – how are you ever going to know what's relevant to them?

The Science Behind the Click 

The Dual Process Theory says your brain is made up of two systems. One that is subconscious, automatic, and emotional. And a second that is conscious, rational, and not automatic – meaning it requires effort.

You can read all about how this theory applies to marketing here in my full notes from a conversion optimization conference – but basically, try to write headlines that can speak to both the rational and the emotional.

System one (the subconscious) is the strongest driver of action. We feel something, then we rationalize it. That’s why intrigue works. It’s why big bold words like “ultimate”, “hideous”,  “stunning”, and “never” work. These words make you feel something.

Once you feel something, you’re much more likely to click.

If writing a good headline is hard, that means you’re doing it right. Your content doesn’t matter if your headline can’t get them to read it. Spend time – a lot of time – on your headline.

And if you need more tips, try this and this. 

All The Wisdom From a Massive CRO Conference

Conversion XL Live is one of the biggest CRO conferences in world with attendees and speakers coming from every corner of the planet. We flew out to San Antonio to soak it all up and bring you back the tastiest nuggets of CRO wisdom.  

Nuggets of CRO Wisdom:

  • Prioritize quick wins – you’ll get buy-in from your bosses to spend more time on CRO
  • Testing is vital
  • Your brain has 2 systems: subconscious (rational, automatic) and conscious (emotional, requires effort.) Speak to both.
  • You must understand the customer journey
  • The Hook is an experience designed to connect the user’s problem with your solution with enough frequency to form a habit
  • A lot of psychology is bullshit
  • Focus on the subconscious as it controls 95% of decisions
  • Reduce friction (make it as easy as possible to do what you're asking)
  • Loss aversion (avoid) and incentives (desire) are the two main motivators
  • Understand the emotions behind the data (results)
  • Use social proof to overcome customer uncertainty (important for buying online)
  • Focus on the headline – seriously, spend a lot of time on it – it’s crucial
  • Testing should focus on quantity, quality, and profit
  • Testing should be part of your company’s DNA
  • Moderated user testing is critical for gaining insights
  • Be careful with what you experiment with – major website page edits have great risk 

How Amazon Dominates With CRO

No one does Conversion Rate Optimization better than Amazon. Their 35 sales per second (398 per second at their peak) is gaudy proof of this.

But what are they doing?


Amazon was a pioneer in mining consumer data to tailor the user experience for each user. Their algorithm may be complex, but what we can learn from it is simple: Personalization means more sales.

75% of consumers said Amazon offered the most customized experience. Walmart came in second with 8%.

Add a first name, last name, or company name to your email subject line; write blogs for very specific segments; use tools like “smart content” offered by HubSpot – take every opportunity to customize the user’s experience just for them. 

CRO Master Class – Conversion Rate Optimization

Reduced Friction

One-click shopping is a beautiful thing. It makes buying from Amazon even easier (reducing the friction of multi-step purchasing) which is great for busy consumers and for Amazon. It’s also a clear example of how Amazon makes it as easy as possible for their users to convert (ie: buy).

Complicated ordering is just one of many kinds of friction that get in the way of getting that sale. 

Social Proof

Uncertainty also keeps lots of customers from pulling the trigger while online shopping.

This squirrel mask looks great and is truly terrifying, but is it going to look like it does in the picture? How is it going to feel on my head while I'm waiting to scare the daylights out of my cat?"

When we have this uncertainty, we look for social proof. And Amazon is ready to help. They’ve incorporated all kinds of social proof (credible, relevant, numerical, specific…) 

CRO Master Class – Conversion Rate Optimization

If you want to use social proof to help people overcome their uncertainties, check out Angie Schottmuller’s presentation. She’s pretty much the boss of this subject.


Amazon is somewhat famous – or infamous if you're a shareholder – for their lack of profits.

Because their strategy values growth above profits, they’ve never stopped investing in themselves and in delighting their customer.

People signed up for Prime to get free shipping. Amazon delivered on that service and added music streaming, movie streaming, unlimited photo storage, and even 24-hour shipping in select areas. 

CRO Master Class – Conversion Rate Optimization

In fairness, they did raise the price by $20 since the program’s start, but for all they added it’s still a steal as the success of the program will attest.

Use Amazon’s CRO Tricks

  • Personalize everywhere you can
  • Make it as easy as possible for the user to do whatever you’re asking them to do
  • Use social proof
  • Create loyal customers by giving a little something extra

Optimize Your Social Media For Conversions (Clicks/Engagement)

You can apply CRO thinking to all sorts of stuff. Basically, anywhere you're trying to get users to take some desired action. 

That means websites, ads, apps, and even your approach to social can be conversion rate optimized. 

It's important to remember that people behave differently on your website than they do in an app or on social – so the way you optimize each will be different.

Here are some easy tips for improving your conversion rate on social 

Be Vivid 

Vivid, or highly stimulating brand posts, have been shown to directly correlate with increased interaction. Bright, highly contrasting colors and pictures are more attention-grabbing than subdued images, leading to higher click-through rates, and videos offer the additional sensory stimulation of sound. Importantly, vivid brand posts have also been shown to increase positive attitude toward a brand.

Share Positivity

Followers of a business can react with positive, negative, or neutral attitudes on a post. In posts that have been received well, positive online discussion can lead to empathy and favorable feelings among readers. When a business produces a post that leads to positive feedback, sharing and promoting the post among various social media outlets can be an effective way to market a brand.

Be Interactive

Highly interactive posts are those which encourage communication. Including a link, for example, makes a post more interactive than simply presenting informative text. Asking a question can be another method of encouraging interactivity – not only does a question prompt responsiveness from a customer, but it provides an opportunity for a business to react, fostering personalized two-way communication.

If done successfully, building a brand on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media platforms can allow a business to establish and expand a following. With access to billions of users, social media offers a substantial degree of exposure for entrepreneurs who can navigate it effectively. Please contact us for more information on how to optimize social media as a marketing tool.

Know The Platform

People will watch a video much longer on YouTube than on Facebook. Hastags are great for Instagram and Twitter, but can look kinda dumb on Facebook. Snapchat users are young. There are a million little difference in who uses which social media platforms and how. Optimizing for each platform begins with learning these difference and ends with big gains in clicks and engagement.

Never Stop Learning:
6 Conversion Rate Optimization Articles that Don't Suck  

CRO Master Class – Conversion Rate Optimization


While it’s possible that quote is wildly misattributed, it does pack a salient message for marketers: If you’re not reading, you’re in for a surprise akin to being incinerated by a comet.

Marketing laws go extinct faster than Snapchat messages. (And while we’re on the subject, Snapchat is pretty fertile ground for savvy marketers trying to reach 18-24 year olds.) Keeping up with all the shiny new things making waves in your news feed can be exhausting.

So instead of trying to wade through it all in search of something worth a damn, we thought we’d just bring it straight to you.

Six Conversion Optimization Articles That Don’t Suck

How To Write Convincing Copy
“When we write for scanners, we are enabling and encouraging an increasingly poor ability to concentrate ON OUR VERY OWN MESSAGES.”

5 Ways Consumers Connect to Stores With Mobile Shopping
“...with mobile, marketers have the unique power to match marketing messages with signals of intent and context. What are they looking for? Where are they right now? What kind of person is shopping? With mobile, marketers know.”

How to Flirt With Your Customers Across Multiple Social Media Platforms
"...engagement is something that is earned, not given. The more work you put in crafting great posts according to the standards of each medium, the more positive response you’ll get.”

Does Keyword Research Even Matter Anymore?
“...basic keyword research on its own will not get your as far as you need to go with your online marketing! Your standard practice of typing a few phrases into Google Keyword Planner and exporting the list into your tracking software isn’t how it’s done anymore.

You have to be willing to dive deeper into your research to uncover the who, what, and why of each of your keywords.”

Fighting Content Fatigue
“Smell that? That’s the scent of 52,776 sweaty, desperate content marketers trying to grab a tiny slice of your attention. [...] And the reason you’re smelling those content marketers, instead of eating up what they’re dishing out, is because we’re all experiencing “content fatigue”. Our content overload detectors are so sensitive that they’re being tripped up by even the slightest infraction.”

Which Headline Attracts More Readers
Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights from The New York Times. In this piece, Mark Bulik, a senior editor, writes about recent tests designed to see what kind of headlines attract most readers.

See, even if reading these didn’t protect you from the heat death of falling space debris, they’d still be worth reading on face value alone. And if you want a steady stream of this kind of knowledge, check out my list of CRO Masters who keep their social feeds jam packed with this kind of great stuff.

You can also follow Story Block Media on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll find the good the stuff for you and tweet them out on the regular.

Now stop reading this and go put what you just learned into action. It may seem a little awkward at first, but with a little practice you'll begin to see opportunities to deploy your new knowledge and get more of those sweet, sweet conversions. 

Are you converting to best of your ability?



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