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The 5 Types of CRO Tools & Why You Need Them

If you’ve read any of our past blog posts or viewed our Periodic Table of CRO Success Factors, you’ll know that we approach Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) as a scientific process.

With so many variables, using anything less than a data-driven, research-based approach can see even the best CRO efforts run into difficulty. Much like a scientist would never dream of setting foot in a laboratory without the necessary equipment and measurement systems, you need to ensure you’re thoroughly equipped with the right CRO tools and methodologies.

Serious female scientist writing on her clipboard in a laboratory.jpeg

Over the course of this blog, we’ll discuss the tools and techniques that are essential to your CRO ‘toolkit’. To kick-off our series, we’ll discuss the five elements in our periodic table that will help you to build a solid foundation for the rest of your CRO programme. These are: Surveys (Ts), Maps (Tm), A/B Tests (Tt), Heuristics (Th) and Existing Data (Te)..

The most successful CRO strategies begin with qualitative and quantitative research. To gather the most useful data, you have to equip yourself with the correct CRO tools

The end goal of any CRO programme is to get an increase in sales, by way of improving your visitors’ experience on your website. To identify what needs to be improved on your site to do this, you need to use the right tools to conduct thorough research and analysis of how people navigate your site. Without a bank of data, your CRO strategy is essentially built on guesses, hunches and well-meaning opinions – a flimsy foundation if ever there was one.

What is a CRO Tool?

Powerful on-site research tools can help accelerate your CRO programme, and can vary between survey tools such as on-site polls through to click and scroll maps. Not only do they save you time and money, you gain invaluable insights that could inform the rest of your CRO programme. We wouldn’t carry out a CRO programme without them.

The 5 Types of CRO Tools

If you have experience our conversion rate optimisation services or taken a look at our CRO periodic table, you’ll see we’ve listed the five CRO tools and techniques you need to implement in the first phase of your CRO process. These are: Surveys (Ts), Maps (Tm), A/B Tests (Tt), Heuristics (Th) and Existing Data (Te). Periodic Table of CRO Success Factors Zoom In

Let’s look at the ins and outs of each:

CRO Survey Tools – ‘Ts’

The end goal of any CRO programme is to make it as easy as possible (and dare we say, enjoyable) for visitors to become customers. To start your CRO off on the right foot, you need to be aware of the areas that hinder conversion, as well as those that help.

Survey tools are crucial as they enable you to analyse the all-important end user’s experience – a critical action which will contribute to the development of insightful hypotheses for you to test.

Casual woman using tablet while holding a card at homeSurvey tools are fundamental to a robust CRO process

These fall into two major groups: on-site polls and email surveys.

On-site surveys or polls range from on-page pop-ups with to longer questionnaires presented to visitors as they leave the site. While email surveys enable you to gather in-depth attitudinal and demographic data from existing and potential customers alike. Both types of surveys can be run using tools like Qualaroo and Hotjar for on-site pools, and Client Heartbeat for email surveys.

On-site Surveys

Surveys allow you to collect visitor feedback moments after the fact.

The beauty of employing on-site surveys is that they allow you to easily gather feedback from visitors at any point in their time on your site. This is when their user experience is top of mind, and as a result, their feedback is more likely to be ‘unfiltered’ or marred by outside influence or perceived expectations. Importantly, on-site surveys enable you to gather information about specific pages or elements of your site.

For example, if you’ve added a ‘quick checkout’ option, you can run a survey that specifically enquires about a visitor’s experience using that function. One question we often ask on the order confirmation page is ‘Is there anything that nearly stopped you from placing your order?’ It’s a great question to get inside the heads of your customers to understand the obstacles they overcame before they ordered from you. Another benefit of on-site surveys is that they enable you to target certain users based on their online activity, for example, new or returning visitors – furnishing you with further invaluable insight that you can incorporate your optimisation roadmap.

On-site Polls

On-site polls are particularly useful when you need to establish or investigate a particular visitor behaviour or conversion pain point.

If a certain product category is converting at below-average rates, for example, you can ask visitors why they aren’t buying the product in question. For example, if you’re an online florist, but your potted Orchids aren’t selling, you could ask visitors:

Qualaroo pop up 2

Similarly, if you’re experiencing a high shopping cart abandonment rate, cut to the chase and ask visitors why they’re leaving. Regardless of the problem or area you want to investigate, hone in on the problem and ask visitors directly about it.

When running on-site surveys, we use Qualaroo, but there are numerous on-site survey tools on the market, including free options like Qeryz and Freesurveycreator, as well as paid tools including:

Email Surveys

Email survey tools give you access to a wealth of consumer sentiment, insight and opinion, as well as demographic data.

Whereas on-site survey tools gather data about specific visitor actions or areas of your site, email surveys lend themselves to capturing detailed information from existing customers and potential customers alike.

The efficacy of your email surveys hinges on the questions you ask. If you want to gather attitudinal data, it’s advisable to use open-ended questions as this avoids influencing the respondent’s answer, while closed-ended questions are useful for gathering demographic data.

Examples of open-ended questions: 

  • Why did you buy from us and not another website or shop?
  • How would you describe our brand to a friend?
  • What do you like about Competitor X?
  • What do you like about us compared with Competitor X?
  • Why exactly did you need the product you came to the site for?
  • If you were CEO, how would you improve the website?

(Source: E-commerce Website Optimization)

The types of questions you need to ask are situationally dependant: what is it you want to know about your customers and their experience? There are multiple email survey tools that enable you to easily implement this crucial CRO tool, including:

Both are equally important, and when properly implemented and used in tandem, they furnish you with the data that’ll form the foundation of all subsequent CRO efforts. The bottom line? CRO survey tools are critical as they enable you to establish the areas that require improvement based on feedback from the people that matter the most – your website visitors and customers.

CRO Maps – ‘Tm’

Successful CRO is only possible if you’re equipped with accurate data about the way visitors navigate, and behave on your website.

Mapping tools are your ticket to gathering this invaluable data. Also referred to as heat maps, these invaluable CRO tools are based on real-time, actual visitor behavioural data, as opposed to visitor feedback which is subjective and can be skewed.

Close-up of hand holding compass in forest

Mapping tools enable you to track visitor behaviour and activity, which is why they’re such a crucial addition to your CRO toolkit

As with all other CRO tools, the types of maps that are most beneficial to your CRO efforts will be determined by your unique CRO and goals and challenges. Some heatmapping tools allow you to segment your view of what visitors clicked on depending on whether they are new or returning visitors, come from paid or organic search or by location.

Mapping tools enable you to establish the areas that are hindering conversion via easy-to-understand data visualisations

One of the most important functions of mapping tools is that they can pinpoint the areas on your site that are impeding conversion. There are multiple reasons why conversion rates are below average: a complicated conversion path, a call-to-action button that’s difficult to see, a weak or poorly communicated value proposition or a checkout form that’s so convoluted visitors abandon their carts in frustration. Without mapping tools, these issues may remain hidden in plain sight, thwarting all subsequent CRO actions as a result.

There are myriad types of maps, each with their own benefits you can utilise,  including: mouse movement maps, click maps, gaze plot (also known as eye-tracking) maps, scroll maps, list views and overlay maps.

CRO Click Maps

These indicate the areas where your visitors are ‘clicking’ (if they’re on a desktop), or ‘tapping’ (if they’re on a mobile or tablet). Clicks are indicated by ‘heat’ – the warmer a specific spot is, the more clicks that area has received. As such, ‘colder’ areas are those that receive relatively fewer clicks.

This mapping tool is especially useful for gathering information about the way visitors navigate your homepage, as well as any other page that contains multiple ‘clickable’ buttons.

NP-heatmap-168517-editedThis heatmap shows that visitors are clicking on the search bar and ‘View more…’, suggesting that they are looking for products that don’t appear on the main page. We could test the effects of featuring popular products on the homepage or having a more prominent search tool. (See what we actually did & the results in this case study).

CRO Scroll Maps

These indicate how far down the page visitors scroll, and therefore, the portion of the page the majority of your visitors actually see. The parts of a page that are read most often will be the ‘warmest’, while those that are seldom read will be ‘cooler’.

Because your visitors land on a page and then scroll downwards, scroll maps start at ‘warmer’ at the top of the page and then gradually become ‘cooler’ as one moves further down the page.

This type of mapping tools is especially useful for evaluating visitor behaviour on longer pages, and for flagging problematic design or copy components that may contribute to waning visitor interest.

Scrollmap AWA digital homepage - 2, 5-18-2016-829642-editedThis scrollmap of a previous version of the old AWA homepage shows that only around 50% of visitors scrolled to view the content below the fold (in green).

Mouse Movement Maps

These indicate the areas where desktop visitors move their mouse around your page, which gives you an indication of what they’re looking at. This information is especially telling as it gives you insight into the areas they hover their mouse over, as opposed to only the areas they click on.

Focused casual businessman working at his desk in his officeImportantly, this tells you exactly where visitors are leaving the buying funnel. This mapping tool is most effectively deployed on pages that have multiple, competing design elements like a checkout page or subscription form.

Not all mapping tools are made equal

As with any other platform or software you use in your CRO programme, the solution you choose should be based on your unique conversion challenges and objectives. While some tools offer simple, static visual representations of data, others boast multiple functions such as session recording and replay – a record of all on-screen visitor behaviour including scrolling, clicking, page dwell time and more.

Also, you can segment the heat maps, to allow you to analyse the activity of key classes of visitors, such as new vs. returning visitors or those coming from paid search vs. direct visits. We regularly review and compare (such as Crazy Egg vs Hotjar) the most commonly used tools to ensure we are on top of the latest developments. Some of the most popular mapping tools moving into 2022 include:

By integrating mapping tools into the research phase of your CRO programme, you’ll ensure that you’re equipped with the necessary data-driven insights.

A/B Tests – ‘Tt’

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing is essentially a method used to test how visitors respond to your website, and the various elements of it.

Simply put it sends 50% of your website visitors to see a new version of your website, and 50% to the existing version. This allows you to compare scientifically, whether it was the ‘variation’ (new version) or the ‘control’ (existing version) that generated the most orders and online revenue.

Businessman doing online shopping on couch in living roomA/B testing platforms use statistics to validate that one version is outperforming the other, and this form of testing can be useful both in the Research & Analysis phase as well as Execution, when you have developed a strong hypothesis you want to test.

How is A/B testing used for research?

Data gathered from A/B testing is invaluable, as it’s based on real-time visitor actions as opposed to visitor feedback, which is relayed after they’ve visited your site. In other words, this data is unsullied. It’s this kind of objective data that should inform the rest of your CRO process.

In the Research & Analysis phase, A/B testing can be used to test the importance of individual elements of your website, unlike during the Execution phase, when it is used to validate that changes to these website elements result in higher conversion and revenues.

Exclusion A/B testing

While there are several different types of A/B tests, exclusion A/B testing can be most useful in the research phase.

Exclusion tests entail the creation of a new variation of a page, where one aspect is hidden. For example, the words ‘Free delivery on order over £X’. This will enable you to discover how important this ‘offer’ is to your visitors, and crucially, whether it impacts sales. Alternatively, you could test hiding the offer at various aspects of the customer journey and analyse the impact – whether or not it lowers, or perhaps increases, sales.

The insights you gain from this enable you to understand the customer’s decision-making process from the time they first land on your homepage to the time they complete a purchase or close the tab.

A/B Testing Tools

You don’t have to be a coding aficionado to implement (and reap the rewards) of A/B testing.

There are lots of A/B testing tools on the market, many of which feature easy-to-use, ‘drag and drop’ interfaces which simplify and speed up the process.

These are suitable at the research stage but bear in mind, A/B tests done in the Execution phase are likely to be far more complex.  As such, it’s advisable to have a front-end developer (either in-house or outsourced) who’s well-versed in Javascript, jQuery and CSS at your disposal for Execution.

Popular simple A/B testing tools for small to medium-sized businesses:

  • Optimizely
  • Visual Website Optimizer (VWO)
  • ABTasty
  • Hiconversion

Platforms favoured by larger businesses include:

  • Adobe Test & Target
  • Oracle Maxymiser
  • Monetate
  • Sitespect
  • Qubit

The platform you choose will be dictated by your specific CRO requirements, budget and CRO goals. Bear in mind that as Avinash Kaushik (author of Web Analytics 2.0) points out, for every $1 you spend on tools you should be spending $9 on people to make use of these tools, so choose your tools wisely – and invest in people to use the tools rather than simply the tools themselves. You don’t want to put a Ferrari on the driveway with no-one to drive it.

Heuristic Review – ‘Th’

Heuristic testing entails the evaluation of a site by a group of experienced optimisers, using a predetermined evaluative framework. While often misunderstood, heuristics can be an extremely useful CRO tool, as it gives you access to insight from those who have optimised hundreds of other websites who’re well-versed in the nuts and bolts of website optimisation. It’s worth noting that the use of heuristics in CRO is often criticised as it can tend towards a subjective opinion, as opposed to hard facts. A heuristic review is part of the research process, not all of it – and the entire research phase should include lots of other data sources.

Group of young colleagues using laptop at officeBefore we get started, let’s look at what heuristics is – and isn’t

Derived from the Ancient Greek word for ‘find’ or ‘discover’, Wikipedia defines heuristics as “any approach to problem solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals.”

This broad explanation has left much room for misinterpretation of the term, and whilst heuristics is not a data-driven approach, it isn’t based on subjective opinions either. In the context of CRO optimisation, heuristics is best thought of as a process whereby a website is evaluated using a framework of pre-determined criteria.

The outcome of your heuristic evaluation is only as good as your framework

To get the most out of your heuristic review, you need to provide your reviewers with criteria they’ll use to analyse your site. This ensures that findings aren’t marred by bias, subjectivity or a reviewer’s “tunnel vision”.  In the context of CRO, the most frequently-used elements of a heuristic framework are:

  • Motivation
  • Value Proposition
  • Relevance
  • Incentive
  • Distractions
  • Anxiety and Frictions

These six criteria seek to address every aspect of the purchasing process, and the behaviour that facilitates (or hinders) it


Your customers are motivated to buy by an inherent need – whether consciously or subconsciously. Since the end goal of the CRO process is to match this behaviour as closely as possible, your heuristic evaluation needs to begin here. Focus on your visitors’ motivations and needs when evaluating the site – you should have already collected survey data, so have this information at the ready.

Value Proposition

A compelling and convincing value proposition persuades customers to buy from you as opposed to clicking away to one of your competitors. As mentioned in the book (co-authored by AWA digital founders Dan Croxen-John and Johann Van Tonder) ‘E-commerce Website Optimization’,  this concept is vital in the overall CRO process, and your review team should spend time answering these questions:

  • “Is the value proposition easy to understand?”
  • “Is it conveyed clearly?”
  • “How does it fare compared to the expectations of our customers”
  • “How does it fare against the value propositions of our competitors?” and crucially,
  • “Does it convey how our product or service will fulfill the needs of our customers?” (We discuss this heuristic principle in more detail in the book mentioned above.)


This heuristic is used to determine whether your brand’s message is in line with your specific target market and their associated buying behaviour, challenges and needs. Your review team needs to determine whether these key messages are consistent, clear and convincing throughout their time on your site.


Your review team needs to establish the ways your site, or aspects of it, are incentivising conversion. They need to answer questions like: How does your site incentivise purchasing behaviour? What are the aspects used to do this? Is an incentive, like a discount code, strong enough to convert? Can these incentives be communicated more clearly?, and so on.


Getting – and keeping – the attention of your customers long enough for them to convert is crucial. In a world where distractions abound, you need to make sure that no site elements are unwittingly distracting visitors from completing a purchase. As such, evaluators need to identify any site elements that are drawing attention away from conversion.

Anxiety and Frictions

As pointed out in the book, the heuristic principles anxiety and friction “are negative forces that get in the way of conversions, even when a user is highly motivated and everything else falls in place.” There’s a subtle difference between the two: while anxiety is an intangible emotion, existing solely in the mind of a visitor, frictions are site features that make the purchasing process difficult to complete.

Stressed businesswoman sitting at her desk in the officeTo get the most out of your heuristics review, it’s important to keep the following guidelines in mind

The ideal number of reviewers is between three and five. If you’re short on staff, ensure you use at least two people to prevent subjective bias and ensure all conversion issues are identified.

Encourage your team to collaborate: this saves you time and avoids duplicate reviews. It also allows for the objective discussion of issues and the most prudent way to address them.

Team of designers working together on a computer-241295-edited

Use a framework that contains the six principles outlined above, without these fixed criteria, your heuristic evaluation is “simply an “expert review”, which generally only scratches the surface compared with a systematic heuristic evaluation.”

Before your group evaluation begins, issue reviewers with a comprehensive brief.

This should contain the following:

  • The URL of the site, or of the individual pages that need review
  • Target market personas
  • A list of the heuristic principles mentioned above
  • Buying scenarios as dictated by your personas
  • Specific tasks each evaluator needs to complete
  • The device they need to use

Heuristics form a crucial CRO technique that will help you to further optimise your site on a granular level. That said, successful CRO is a continual process that requires a scientific approach.

Existing Data – ‘Te’

Chances are, you already have a veritable gold mine of data, such as customer or market research reports, gathering dust on some shelf.

You don’t have to start gathering data for your CRO programmes from scratch

Tablet pc cup of coffee and notepad at table

Organisations often overlook their existing data when kicking off their CRO programmes, needlessly spending time and resources gathering information they already have, as a result. Existing data is rich in insights, and can be divided into three categories:

  1. Previous research (like a focus group or on-site survey)
  2. Transcripts from interactions with your customers
  3. Brand sentiment (such as social media mentions and conversations)

There are a myriad sources of organisational data in each of the three areas outlined above

We’ve included this CRO tool in our periodic table as tapping into previously gathered data can be incredibly beneficial in the initial stage of your CRO process.

Previous Research

Attentive creative business team in meeting at office

Previous research may include past usability studies, customer surveys and focus groups, market research and analysis, and target market and persona research.

Information gathered from past research efforts gives you a good idea of your historic trends, a better idea of your customer base and the areas that have previously hindered conversion. This information is a great starting point – think of it as a “You are here” on your CRO journey.

In addition to research, there may also be existing data from previous CRO work such as A/B testing. One of our clients had previously done a lot of split testing with Qubit, and we analysed those tests and results in the research phase of the CRO programme.

Another client, a shoe retailer, had heatmaps dating back two years, so we could see the evolution of the site and the impact on visitor behaviour. Read the case study here.

Transcripts of Conversations With Customers

All CRO efforts revolve around your customers, so gathering as much information about them is key. Glean this existing data from customer support emails and calls, as well as transcripts of live on-site chats with visitors. These are all priceless glimpses into general customer sentiment, as well as areas that are frustrating or problematic for visitors.

Pretty young business woman group with headphones smiling at you against white backgroundBrand Sentiment

Your target market’s perception and opinion of your organisation is what drives (or hinders) the very first step towards conversion – visits to your site. Examining brand sentiment can be an informative and worthwhile exercise that guides the rest of your CRO programme.

Tap into this sentiment by monitoring your social media accounts and conducting an analysis of social media sentiment –  what you are trying to do is to identify the language and tone of voice that your customers use when either praising or criticising you on social media. You can also calculate your net promoter score, which is based on how likely your customers are to recommend you to a friend or colleague.

Laughing friends enjoying coffee with laptop in cafe-113562-editedAs well as providing pivotal insight, incorporating existing data into your CRO research and analysis offers additional benefits

You save money by not having to perform additional research. In addition, utilising existing data that would otherwise linger forgotten in a filing cabinet helps maximise the ROI of your initial investment. Importantly, you can also kick-off your CRO programme and extract insights immediately, as opposed to spending time setting up surveys and having to wait for the results.

Lastly, by analysing existing data before gathering additional information, you’re able to pinpoint areas that require additional research based on the age of the data. But be aware – data has a shelf-life, and over time stops being a worthwhile contribution to your research. Make sure the data is still relevant and useful.

The most successful CRO programmes are those based on data, which is why incorporating the information you already have on hand is so important. Your hypothesis will generally not be based on existing data alone, but it all helps to build a picture.

CRO Tools What’s Next?

CRO tools will provide you with the insights you need to develop your CRO programme throughout every stage. Tools are constantly developing, so it’s vital you know how to use each tool to get the best out of it. If you’re not sure how tools could benefit you, get in touch to see how we could help.

Remember, tools themselves are not enough, a structured CRO process is what drives increases in conversion, sales and visitor satisfaction. 

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