The Conversion Rate Optimization Cheat Sheet for Developers

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Conversion rate optimization

Conversion rate optimization

As the go-to group for all things web, you, as the developer extraordinaire, often find yourself taking on the role of conversion optimizer. Because, let’s face it, no one else knows the site’s backend like you do. But keeping up with optimization, on top of everything else you do, is not easy.

Developers may be best placed to make sure that analytics tracking (such as Google Analytics tracking code) is installed correctly alongside split testing tools, and that custom goals and revenue tracking are accurately recording data from sites. – Luke Hay, Senior Conversion Strategist, Fresh Egg

Before we get too far, let’s define CRO. Conversion rate optimization is not the blind boosting of sales — because there are certainly easier ways to do that — like reducing your prices well below what your products are worth. You would probably go out of business anyway, so who cares about conversion then?

CRO is about systematic, steady, sustainable growth. It is optimizing your website (not your conversion rate) so that the business will grow. The goal, as my friend Peep Laja of ConversionXL states, is to “acquire customers more cheaply — from any channel — than your competitors, so that you can grow faster.” (PDF Warning)

This post is just for my developer friends — I know you are out there killing it day in and day out building awesome sites and are now finding that conversion optimization is cropping up on your Todoist with increasing frequency.

You are in a great spot to verify that Google Analytics (GA) is accurately capturing data on your split tests and ensure that custom goals and revenue tracking are setup correctly. But you are also perfectly positioned to create a Google Tag Master (GTM) strategy and implement other tracking tools and pixels.

Plus, I know that you are spending a substantial amount of time responding to fix requests from the marketing department, so it may be nice to have a little background on this CRO business.

You may ask, “Why do I want to get bogged down in all of this marketing stuff? I like building websites — and that’s what I want to do.”

There are two simple answers:

  1. Money.
  2. Money.

Clients are going to pay you more and you will offer more value to your employer if you understand how to turn the sites you build into conversion machines. Also, the era of building a site and waiting for it to happen is dead. If your sites are not built to convert, then they are little more than a virtual billboard on a desolate highway.

First Things First

Before you jump in and start changing a bunch of your analytics settings and tying them to various tests, you must understand where you come from.

Pizza meme

Establishing a solid baseline, a line in the sand, allows you to accurately interpret the results of all of the cool changes you are going to make. Without that foundation, you will be lost, and you may be lost without even realizing it (which is the worst).

You Have This Stuff in Order, Right?

Of course, before you can even start building the baseline, you need a few things:

  • Membership: as a full-time member of the team or founder of the project/business
  • Buy-in: cohesive agreement around the need to optimize (even if you aren’t sure about the goal just yet)
  • Access: logins for all of the tools you will use (GA, Mixpanel, KissMetrics, Periscope, etc.)
  • Knowledge: awareness of all of the business intelligence tools currently in-place

It’s Goal Time, Baby!

So you know where you stand, you have assembled your team and everyone is psyched to make some serious wins, except… what exactly qualifies as a win and how will you know it when you see it?

It’s possible that you already have some goals in place. They may even look something like this:

Business goals

Love the ambition, but I’m afraid you are going to have to dig a little deeper if you really want this to work. Not sure if your goals are meaningful? Check out these bad goal warning signs:

  1. You are drowning in data. Do you have a serious case of TMI (too much information)?
  2. This sounds all-too familiar: Goals, sure! I have tons of goals – let me show you my goal wall.
  3. Even with loads of data, you cannot answer key questions.

Not sure if your analytics are meaningful? If your data is healthy, you should be able to quickly and easily answer the following questions:

  1. Is the business growing?
  2. Is the business healthy?
  3. What are the results of our tests week-to-week/fortnight-to-fortnight/month-to-month?
  4. Are the changes we are making having a positive impact on conversions?
  5. What is happening right now? Is there anything occurring in the market that we need to capitalize on?
  6. Did something just break?

Just Give Me the KPI Already!

So there are really two things happening here: (1) you are getting your data in order and (2) you are developing a strategy to optimize growth.

There are also two things at play when it comes to landing on a Key Performance Indicator.

The first is to identify a high-level KPI. This is a traction method by which you define the health of the business — it is the one number that must continue to grow if the business is to survive.

Do not get overly complicated here. Just keep it simple and remember that the answer is not always sales. If you are operating a VC-funded membership site, your core metric may be active users or something more ethereal like building a really freaking cool product.

Here’s a Hint:

If your business is… your high-level goal is to…
Commerce Increase the number of sales, size of sales and/or repeat purchasers
Subscription/SaaS Increase the number of free and paying subscribers and their AOV
Marketplace Increase the number and size of transactions

Now, it’s time to flesh out that high-level KPI — to get in there and really understand what makes it tick. This is what Andy Young, entrepreneur and “Startup Swiss Army Knife,” refers to as nuance.

Understanding Your High-Level KPI

Fleshing out your high-level KPI is all about understanding what else is influenced by and plays a contributing role to this holy grail of metrics. If you didn’t have a metric that told you your number of transactions was down, how else would you know? Possibly, you would look at the number of sellers fulfilling orders — no orders, no transactions, right?

How would you know sales are down? Perhaps you would look at your average inbound visitors or the number of unique customers in a given period. If those two aren’t looking so good, it is fair to say that your sales are not so pretty either.

Next, take a look at what is driving this metric. In a marketplace, this may be the number of suppliers or the number of customers. You are looking for the most important aspects of the KPI — what must be present for you to have any measurement at all?

If you are operating a marketplace, look at the number of suppliers and the number of customers because these are the two areas that need to continue to grow if your business is going to grow.

With all of this information firmly in your mind’s eye, it is time to tackle your One Key Metric. This is the number you will focus on week-to-week and month-to-month to determine whether or not your optimization attempts are flying high or falling flat.

The folks over at Lean Analytics have a great post on identifying the One Metric That Matters and Dave McClure of 500 Startups also tackles the topic in a presentation available on SlideShare. Check out these resources — then come back and we’ll get into the actionable stuff.

Back Now? Good, Let’s Go!

It’s time to look at the past and figure out the future.

With your OMTM all hashed-out, review the results of past attempts to improve that metric. Remember, there is a fairly good chance that the analytics were not being captured correctly so the data may be a little (or a lot) off but see what you glean from it anyway. Even if it is only how not to set-up your next attempt.


How Healthy Are Your Analytics?

Running a comprehensive check of all of your analytics tools is not for the faint of heart. So bust out your energy drink of choice and settle in for a long night of checking and re-checking. To keep you from losing your mind, I developed a checklist for Google Analytics. Once you make it through this spreadsheet you will have ninja-level GA answers.

With GA on track, take a look at your other tools. In Mixpanel, ensure that all of your tracked events tie back to your OMTM and use Properties to answer questions that are relevant to the OMTM.

If you are using KissMetrics, take a deep dive into defining Cohorts. For this, I refer you to KissMetrics’ blog post, How to Use Cohorts to Track Your True Conversion Rate — because really, why reinvent the wheel?

You may also want to check out Amplitude, Periscope, and Looker if you are seriously data-starved.

Rebuilding from the Ruins

If running through that GA Health Check left you crying and curled up in the corner rocking yourself to sleep — do not fret. Pick yourself up and start correcting all of the errors you found. Move forward knowing that your future data will be reliable, meaningful, and most importantly, actionable.

With so much delicious data about to be at your fingertips, set up a few different data collecting profiles to help you keep it all straight.

Within GA, create a filtered view and then add an unfiltered data profile, a client view and a testing environment view. Create custom reports, dashboards and advanced segments so that, if needed, you can create a truly comprehensive report.

Now is the time to share your progress with the rest of the team — especially marketing — since they may be the most surprised (and impressed!) by your stellar efforts. It is likely that your GA Health Check revealed CRO fixes that they were not even aware of.

Finally, correct all of the site-based errors revealed in the GA Health Check. Then, take a deep breath and let the data start to roll-in, secure in the fact that your source is sound.

Now, instead of throwing out different ads or popping up an endless supply of landing pages without truly know what is working… you, my friend, will have the power of proof!


Joshua BretagJoshua Bretag
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Joshua Bretag is a Growth Engineer and conversion expert at Blueprint Solutions. He creates scaleable growth teams and plans for fast paced start-ups.

conversionConversion rate optimizationdigital marketingjoelf
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