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How startups benefit from CRO

Yes, SMEs and even startups should do CRO.

The core argument against it is that they lack sufficient traffic for A/B testing. The logic is solid: controlled experimentation is governed by the laws of statistics. Without traffic, you can’t do split testing.

Frankly, it’s a lame excuse for dismissing experimentation out of hand. And a costly one.

In a study of over 35,000 startups, researchers from Harvard Business School and Duke University conclude: “While relatively few firms adopt A/B testing, among those that do, we find increased performance on several critical dimensions…”

Not only is it possible to A/B testing on low-traffic sites, it’s advisable to do so. Testing isn’t limited to the website either. Think about ads, call centre scripts, SMS messages etc.

But A/B testing is just one part of Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO).

CRO is more than A/B testing

CRO is about understanding the world of your customer, coming up with theories about how your business can improve that for the customer and then testing those ideas.

Any business idea is rooted in assumptions. Some of those are more risky than others. The riskiest assumption, if untrue, could sink the ship. The earlier in the lifecycle of a business, the more fundamental those assumptions.

Techniques commonly used in CRO to unearth and explore customer hypotheses can be used effectively by startups to validate those assumptions. These include:

  • Customer Interviews
  • Usability Testing
  • Email Survey
  • Onsite Survey
  • Paid Ad Testing
  • Low-fi Prototypes

Customer Interviews

“Get the hell out of the building! The answers are not in the building,” Stanford professor Steve Blank famously advised.

There is no better way than semi-structured customer interviews to understand your customers’ needs, preferences, and pain points. This is particularly important early on. Do them in person, over the phone, or via video calls.

Have a few open-ended conversation starters, but don’t be too fixated on a script. It’s more important to know what to listen out for than what to ask. Let the interviewee talk.

Focus on the problems they are trying to solve, alternatives they have considered or tried, what goes wrong in the process and how they currently fix it. Resist the temptation to talk about your product or solution. This is an opportunity to understand how your solution can fit into the real world.

A golden question: “Tell me about the last time you did X” where X is the problem you are trying to solve with your product.

Usability Testing

You can learn so much about usability issues by observing users as they interact with your site or product.

It’s a good way to uncover issues that may be hindering the user experience, such as confusing navigation, unclear call-to-actions, slow-loading pages etc.

Early-stage businesses can start with a small sample of users and use low-cost tools like screen recording software or remote testing platforms.

Give participants specific tasks to perform and then just watch. Take notes of any difficulties they encounter, but don’t get involved! You’ll want to help the user, but the value is in watching them struggle. If they ask you a question, throw it back at them. For example, if they ask where to find a particular piece of information: “Where do you expect to find it?”

Email Survey

Email is the cheapest and quickest way to potentially collect mass feedback from your customers or prospects.

Use it to gather quantitative data on things such as persona attributes, product features, pricing, and competition. Craft concise and relevant questions that address specific concerns or areas of interest. Make sure you know how you will use each piece of data. If you can’t think of a way to act on insight, don’t ask the question.

Categorise and analyse the responses to identify trends or patterns.

Onsite Survey

This lets you gather real-time feedback from visitors while they are interacting with your website or app.

These surveys can help you identify potential roadblocks in the user journey, gauge customer satisfaction, or collect suggestions for improvement.

To create an effective onsite survey, post targeted questions at key points in the journey. For example, on the product page you might ask what other information users were looking for.

By analysing the responses, startups can uncover insights that can inform website improvements, content updates, or product enhancements.

Paid Ad Testing

This is one of the best ways to validate assumptions about demand, acquisition channel and value articulation. Assuming there’s a need for your product, test different features or benefits against each other to get a sense of what prospects find most appealing.

By creating multiple variations of ad creatives, headlines, and targeting options, you can determine which combinations resonate most with their target audience.

Allocate a portion of your advertising budget to run the different ad variations, closely monitoring their performance over time. Based on the results, of course you should optimise ad campaigns, focusing on the highest-performing variations to drive more traffic, leads, and conversions.

But the real value is in getting insights about your target market and messaging, that can be applied on the website and in the business more generally.

Low-fi Prototypes

Low-fidelity (low-fi) prototypes are simplified versions of a product or service, enabling startups and SMEs to test their concepts before investing in full-scale development.

They can take various forms, such as sketches, wireframes, or interactive mockups, and can help you quickly validate assumptions and gather feedback from potential users.

To create a low-fi prototype, highlight the core functionality and key features of the offering, without getting bogged down in design details or technical complexities.

By testing and iterating on low-fi prototypes, you make small incremental improvements that doesn’t cost much, based on real world data.

If your CRO programme is not delivering the highest ROI of all of your marketing spend, then we should talk.