The Great Divide Between BS and Intelligent Optimization

The Great Divide Between BS and Intelligent Optimization

You can divide SEO tactics into two general categories: the black hat and the white hat.

I believe we can do a similar classification with conversion optimization. If we had two categories worth distinction they would be:

  1. BS CRO
  2. Intelligent CRO


Perhaps using the same concept of Black Hat and White Hat for conversion optimization is a step too far.

If we just used Black Hat CRO there would be a need to differentiate between pure ignorance and “maliciousness for personal gain.”

More often than not, the CRO that is practiced is simply misinformed and ineffectual. Nevertheless, this kind of practice still has a negative impact on the CRO industry.

Editor’s note: the views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent the views of ConversionXL. Feel free to discuss in the comments!

Why the need to create the distinction?

Two reasons…

First, there has never been a better example of “jumping on the bandwagon” when it comes to offering your services as a conversion optimization specialist (whether as a consultant, agent, vendor or in-house team member).

Image source
Image source

Second, there is an incredible and increasing amount of noise online regarding conversion optimization tactics.

To quote Peep Laja, founder of ConversionXL, from my book The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored, there is “ever-increasing bullshit content about CRO.”

Without a clear differentiation between the two very different approaches to conversion optimization (from doing it ineffectually, to doing it right), decision makers will continue to make ill-informed decisions; decisions that will have a long term impact on their businesses.

Personally, I am committed to helping those decision makers make more informed decisions when it comes to investing in conversion optimization.

Am I just being too idealistic?

I can totally understand why, to some people in the industry (particularly as the industry is still maturing), that splitting CRO into just two camps is too idealistic.

Maybe I am being idealistic, but I am intent on putting a stake in the ground, so that anyone who is in involved in conversion optimization knows which group they are in, and which group their business or agency sits in.

Why do I care?

Of course I could just continue running my agency and focusing on what we see as doing conversion optimization the right way.

After all the saying goes “the cream always rises to the top.”

Well it may well do, but personally I have a much broader way of thinking, which is ultimately this: I want to inspire those in the industry to lead the change.

A photo by dan carlson. unsplash.com/photos/FgPGGFlY1gY

The sooner people working across the globe in the digital industry focus their careers on doing conversion optimization (and all what comes with it) the right way, the sooner more people and by default, the industry, will realize its potential.

Why should you care?

If you work within a business and with colleagues who focus on Intelligent CRO, quite simply you will be more satisfied than if you focused on BS CRO.

  • You will have leaders who inspire other people.
  • You will be leading by example in a growing industry.
  • You will build a legacy that will only benefit you as the industry matures.

In 10 years’ time there will only be one winner when it comes to which group is the right way to go about conversion optimization.

winner

Okay, so what does this actually mean?

Here’s the way I view the dichotomy between the two approaches:

  • Egotism versus humility
  • Short term thinking versus long term thinking
  • Tactics versus strategy
  • Quick fling versus marriage
  • Quantity versus quality
  • Talk the talk versus walk the walk

The Differences Between BS and
Intelligent CRO

I have listed below the differences between BS and Intelligent CRO across a range of categories, after all, conversion optimization spans the entire spectrum of a business and has a broad reach across the digital industry. I’ll go over the differences between the two in the domain of the following:

  1. Business mentality/strategy
  2. Business leader/decision maker
  3. In-house optimization role
  4. Full service digital agency
  5. SEO agency
  6. Global media agency
  7. CRO agency
  8. Tool vendor
  9. Personal branding
  10. The approach to optimization
  11. Optimization tactics

1. Business mentality

BS CRO

  • A focus on short term gains
  • Continually invests in acquisition without considering the opportunity to convert more existing visitors
  • Investing significant amounts of budget for re-platforming without a clear understanding of the opportunities that exist on the current platform
  • A focus on investing in tools and technology rather than people and skills
  • A focus on doing things the way they have always been done

Intelligent CRO

  • A focus on short term gains and long term opportunities
  • Increasing investment to better understand online customer behavior in order to identify ways to improve
  • their online experience
  • Rethinking where significant marketing and IT budgets can be invested in order to maximize the return that the existing web platform is delivering
  • Investing in a multi-disciplinary team (either internal or through an agency) to harness their skills and experiences, with the tools and technology being used as simple a way to execute A/B tests
  • A focus on investing in process and methodology for conversion optimization
  • Rethinking how the business has previously done things, in order to innovate, pivot and harness opportunities through running strategic A/B tests

Business leader

BS CRO

  • I have all the answers and don’t need to quantify them (the classic, well-known HiPPO effect)
  • It is my website and I will have the final say in what goes live
  • I know my business and our services better than our customers
  • I’m not interested in what people in my business are saying
  • We have always done things this way and it has worked for us so far
  • I want to see immediate results or this is just a waste of time and money
  • Why do all that work when we can just pay to get more traffic?

Intelligent CRO

  • However experienced I am in my business, I know I don’t have all the answers and I will respect my staff and our customers (the new, re-invented HiPPO thinking)
  • I pay my team to improve our website and I will trust them to do the right things
  • I know my business and our services very deeply, but our customers and prospects have ideas and feedback which we simply have to listen to
  • I fully respect the ideas of my colleagues and I am continually learning myself
  • I provide everyone within my business an opportunity to be heard
  • We have achieved success getting to where we have, but in order to continue competing we need to be open to changing what we do and how we do it
  • Alongside seeing the potential of what conversion optimisation can do for my business, I recognise that anything truly worthwhile in business takes time, and we need to build the right foundations first
  • I know that by improving our conversion rate, I will be getting an increasingly better ROI from all the money we invest in acquiring traffic

In-house optimization role

BS CRO

  • What tricks and hacks can I use to get the biggest return quickly?
  • What can I do to set myself up for my next big role?

Intelligent CRO

  • Alongside looking for opportunities to get return on our investment quickly, what foundations can I start building to create sustainable success for my business?
  • What can I do to begin creating my legacy within my business?

Full service digital agency

BS CRO

  • How can we quickly start to upsell conversion optimization services to our existing clients?
  • How can we fast track to look like we specialize in conversion optimization?
  • What can we copy from specialist agencies who know what they are talking about?

Intelligent CRO

  • What can we do to become specialists at delivering intelligent conversion optimization and to provide added value to our existing clients?
  • What are the strategic changes we need to make to begin to truly invest in having a specialist team of people who really understand conversion optimization?
  • What are the lessons we can take from agencies who have chosen to specialize in conversion optimization to ensure that we do this the right way?
  • Should we consider just focusing on what we are best at, which isn’t conversion optimization?

SEO agency

BS CRO

  • How can we quickly start to upsell conversion optimization services to our existing clients?
  • How can we fast track our business to look like we specialize in conversion optimization?
  • How can we harness our specialism in SEO to start ranking high for search terms revolving around conversion optimization?
  • How can we offer our services as cheaply as possible to undercut the agencies who charge more, so we can build up our client list?
  • What content can we produce with punchy headlines which will attract visitors to our website and provide tricks, tips and hacks?

Intelligent CRO

  • What can we do to begin investing in becoming specialists in delivering intelligent conversion optimization to provide added value to our existing clients?
  • What are the strategic changes we need to make to begin to truly invest in having a specialist team of people who really understand conversion optimization?
  • How can we ensure that when visitors arrive at our website, we aren’t just talking the talk but can conduct Intelligent CRO?
  • What levels of investment in people and skills do we need to make to ensure that our CRO services are as credible and intelligent as our SEO services?
  • Once we have established our specialist team and have developed our process for conversion optimization, what content can we produce which will provide genuine value about our services and our approach?

Global media agency

BS CRO

  • How can we quickly start to upsell conversion optimization services to our existing clients?
  • How can we fast track our business to look like we specialize in conversion optimization?
  • How can we harness our credibility and trust with our global clients to ensure that they don’t look for another agency to deliver their CRO?
  • What can we copy from the industry’s most established and specialist conversion optimization agencies to fast track the development of our CRO services?

Intelligent CRO

  • What can we do to become specialists at delivering intelligent conversion optimization and to provide added value to our existing clients?
  • What are the strategic changes we need to make to begin to truly invest in having a specialist team of people who really understand conversion optimization?
  • How can we commit to offering conversion optimization services to the same level of quality and intelligence as established, specialist agencies, to ensure our global clients are fully benefiting from the impact of intelligent, strategic conversion optimization
  • What can we learn from the industry’s most established and specialist conversion optimization agencies to ensure that we are developing a first class service proposition in conversion optimization?

CRO agency

BS CRO

  • What is the quickest way we can build up a big client base?
  • How can we most quickly position ourselves as credible specialists?
  • How can we jump on the bandwagon and start making lots of money?
  • How cheaply can we package our services to undercut our competitors?

Intelligent CRO

  • What are the ways in which we can establish trust, credibility and authority in the conversion optimization industry?
  • How we will we go about developing an agency which has long term sustainability and that people want to work for?
  • How can we ensure that potential clients understand the difference between doing conversion intelligently versus doing it cheaply and with little intelligence and skills behind the process?
  • How can we help the whole industry mature, whilst fighting back against the barrage of content that is creating so much noise?

Tool vendor

BS CRO

  • How can we provide our clients using our tool with services to make more money?
  • What are the generic test ideas that have worked with some of our other clients that we may strike lucky with for this client?
  • How can we scale up our service team to offer more of our clients services on top of our tool, which we will label as “conversion optimization strategy” services?
  • How can we cement the general perception that personalization, machine learning, AI and data clouds are the most important areas that businesses need to be investing in for long term success?

Intelligent CRO

  • What are we best at? How can we best add value to our clients by enhancing our platform?
  • How can we let specialist conversion optimization agencies do what they are best at?
  • How can we educate our clients on the importance of truly understanding their visitors and customers through both qualitative and quantitative research techniques?
  • How can we educate our clients on the importance of seeing A/B testing as not just small tweaks, but the potential to provide strategic insights into their customers and their behavior?
  • How can we best partner with specialist agencies to offer our clients with the very best of all three worlds – technology, people/skills and process/methodology?
  • How can we educate our clients on the importance of investing in people, skills, process and methodology to become the brains behind using our technology? (Editor’s note: right here)
  • How can we educate our clients that before they focus on personalization, they need to address the wide range of opportunities to improve their UX for every visitor to their website?

Personal branding

English_&_Hebrew_Coke_labels

BS CRO

  • How can I quickly make a name for myself as a conversion optimization specialist?
  • What ways can I get some big wins behind me which I can shout about, even if the results may not be statistically significant (who will know anyway?)
  • What can I do to make it look like I know what I am doing?

Intelligent CRO

  • What are the things I need to start doing to begin establishing myself as a respected specialist in conversion optimization?
  • How can I add short and long term value to my business or my client?
  • What do I need to do and what time do I need to invest to become a specialist in conversion optimization?

The approach to optimization

BS CRO

  • Running just basic tests on buttons, colors and headlines
  • Just using the testing tool WYSIWYG editor to set-up tests
  • Relying on the testing tool to let you know when a version has “won”
  • Focusing on how many tests you can run without measuring how many deliver genuine uplifts
  • Apart from “increase our conversion rate” there are no success metrics in place
  • Conversion optimization isn’t seen as a strategic area of focus
  • There is little, if any budget assigned to investing in people, skills and processes for conversion optimization
  • Ideas for improving the website are driven from the top of the business down
  • There are no Voice of Customer or user behavior insight tools used
  • There are no learnings taken from completed tests
  • Test results and learnings aren’t shared with people from across the business – mainly with there not being any

Intelligent CRO

  • Running tests across “the full spectrum of A/B testing” – iterative, innovative and strategic
  • Using Javascript developers to handle code tests rather than relying on the WYSIWYG editor of the testing tool
  • Truly understanding statistics in conversion optimization
  • Focusing on developing intelligent hypotheses with a user driven “why?” behind the test
  • In addition to “increase our conversion rate” you are measuring test success rate and average uplift per test, along with other key business metrics
  • Conversion optimization is seen as a strategic area of focus for the business
  • There is an increasing budget assigned to investing in people, skills and processes for conversion optimisation
  • Ideas for improving the website are driven mainly from people working closest to customers and visitors on a daily basis
  • There is voice of the customer and user behavior insight tools used
  • There are learnings taken from completed tests that can provide insights to the rest of the business
  • Test results and learnings are shared with people from across the business, engaging stakeholders and people from across departments
  • Our methodology is to understand and optimise both online and offline customer experiences
  • The business is 100% committed to doing conversion optimisation “the right way” in order to achieve long term, sustainable business growth

Optimization tactics

BS CRO

  • A focus on converting visitors at all costs, irrespective of the brand impression they are left with
  • Using “dark patterns” to trick visitors into converting
  • Copying best practice tips and tricks to see whether they work for your visitors

Intelligent CRO

  • Focus on understanding how visitors can be persuaded to become long term customers with a significant lifetime order value
  • Investing in understanding how the non-conscious mind of humans works to understand how people can be persuaded to take a desired action
  • Understanding best practices and considering how they can be used within a test hypothesis

Conclusion

So there we have it. The lines have been drawn. Above are what I believe to be the differences between BS CRO and Intelligent CRO, from company and agency DNA down to personal career choices.

In your experience what else describes BS or Intelligent Optimization? Have you seen people and agencies make a conscious decision to move away from BS optimization? Which of the types of agencies do you feel are the worst culprits for BS optimization and why?

Feature image source

Join the Conversation Add Your Comment

  1. Great read Paul, although a bit lengthy and filled with links that don’t open in a new tab.

    My view on this, is that I believe there are a lot of companies that don’t know that they (and their partners) are engaged in BS optimization. Would be great to have some kind of a tool for them to use and get a measure on the extend their current CRO efforts could be classified as BS. At the same time, the tool will help them point out how to transform those parts from BS to Intelligent CRO.

    Maybe a future project for you? :)

  2. Hi Bas. Thanks for your comment and considered thoughts (I’ll have a word with the editor about the external links!).

    It is really interesting you talking about the potential of a tool to help decision makers understand how intelligent or not their current CRO approach is. At my agency we have recently launched the beta of our free Conversion Optimisation Maturity Audit™ to do exactly this and plenty more. You’ll see details of it on my Twitter feed. Please let me know your thoughts when you get chance, thanks

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The Great Divide Between BS and Intelligent Optimization