Hiring a conversion optimisation company

by David Mannheim

posted on: December 24th 2015

If you're looking for a good conversion rate optimisation company you're one of many.

Hiring a CRO agency is done for one of three things:

  1. Capacity
  2. Expertise
  3. Both

This isn't unlike any other task or requirement for a business and why you outsource. However, because of the demand of conversion rate optimisation, we have been faced with a paradoxical choice. Do we go with a company 200 miles away, does that matter? Do we go with a company that has worked in our sector? Do we go with a full service agency? What are our budget figures - can we afford the likes of the few leadership agencies in the UK?

I have a strong belief that CRO is where SEO was perhaps 3 to 5 years ago. A relatively "new" (although "immature" is a better word) and therefore exciting concept. It's also extremely measurable and highly valuable and, as a result, a much sought after service. This demand has not gone unnoticed; you can see agencies across the UK place landing pages up stating that they are "CRO experts" or have "plenty of experience in conversion rate optimisation" but do they?

It's not my job to out these folk but here to give away some tell-tale signs that perhaps that conversion optimisation agency you're looking at hiring isn't perhaps the best fit for your business. This might help your decision making process and ease that overwhelming amount of choice.

How do they do it?

Ask your agency to be "how would they increase your conversion rate?". Put them on the spot. What would they say? Would they start to go into a discussion about processes or tactics? Even better, ask them "what would they change on the site?". Again, as you're forcing their hand, what would they be more inclined to talk about - their process of how to optimise your conversion rate or immediate recognisable improvements.

[blockquote color="#a5d2d0" bordercolor="#a5d2d0" author="Peep Laja"]How would you do it? Your answer will tell me everything about your optimization know-how. If you start by mentioning tactics – “I’d make XYZ bigger” and “I’d change this and that” – I will instantly know that you’re an amateur. Because amateurs focus on tactics while the pros follow processes.[/blockquote]

Peep Laja actually had a quite funny rant in his Conversion XL 2015 presentation. He cited an experience of a potential client who said "the other guy who I've spoken to had loads of good ideas about increasing our conversion rate, what would you do?", putting Peep on the spot. I can't quite remember if Peep spoke about the processes or any changes, but made a facetious comment to the audience about this other guy being a clairvoyant. It's true. Without knowing the business or their users and, indeed, their motivations, how on earth can any feasible recommendations be made? They're made based on best practice which, as we all know, means nothing.

In short, does the optimisation agency have a process? Can it be written down? Can you see it? Are they inclined to talk about 'what' to do to increase your conversion rate rather than 'how' If so these are probably some agencies you might want to raise an eyebrow or two over.

Quantitive validation techniques

We've found, when hiring CRO consultants, the good ones will focus on data based methods - continually asking "why" to something. The bad ones will focus on low level techniques such as remote user testing. We've had a few who 'claim' to 'do' conversion rate optimisation and when asked to describe their process they will always start with remote user testing. Now that's not a bad thing, but when it's the be all and end all for their insight process alarm bells will start to ring. Instead, if that is how they start their process - ask why? Do they validate the findings through quantitative methods such as proving or disproving concepts or theories in Google Analytics?

The good ones, from experience, actually start from a quantitative approach which is much harder because it's less structured. And ironically, whilst that's what you want in a process; structure, looking at opportunities from a quantitative perspective can arguable reap more powerful benefits. I recommend you read that article - we're not saying that quantitative is better than qualitative research methods, just that, arguably, it's more difficult and although is, again arguably, unstructured, provides validation. Without validation, any form of hypothesis is based on both subjectivity and small sample sizes.

Doesn't just focus on wins

Good conversion optimisation agencies focus on learnings, not just wins. It's quite exciting isn't it? Seeing a 15% uplift in an experiment, or more, but what really happened? Understanding why that 15% uplift happened - and in what form against what metrics - can result in even bigger wins going forward. And not just within the practice of 'optimisation' but real business decisions.

Learning from tests is perhaps more effective, and more preached by those who know what they're doing, than small incremental wins.

[blockquote color="#a5d2d0" bordercolor="#a5d2d0" author="Joanna Wiebe"]Create a culture of experimentation that allows you, your team and your tribe to **learn** (not just to prove your hunches right).[/blockquote]


These are quite important in my view. What qualifications does your prospective agency have? Here are some qualifications to look out for:

  • Optimizely developer certification and strategy certification. These are notoriously difficult to get and at the time of writing, believe we're one of only 16 certified Optimizely developers in the UK. This then leads to partner levels at Optimizely of both one star, two star and three star (nb. we're a one star! One of only 7 in the UK)
  • GA partner status or GAIQ certification; both are useful. We have two team members that are GAIQ certified and working towards our GA Partner status at the time of writing (it's difficult), but both show proficiency with analytics which, as stated earlier, is extremely important
  • VWO certification is slightly easier to obtain but still worthy of note
  • Other certifications are available and useful such as:
    • Unbounce
    • Kissmetrics
    • Other AB testing tools such as Qubit or Adobe Test and Target

In addition, adversely, case studies are potentially less important in our industry. The reason because is two fold:

  • It's notoriously difficult to get case studies because our clients don't want their competitors to know a) that they're undertaking a practice of conversion optimisation and b) what exactly they did to increase their conversion rate, rife and ready for them to copy the same thing!
  • Naively, the above view is full of false promises. Every company is different, every user base is different and the perceptions and behaviours that go with every company are...guess what...different. This is why there are no such thing as best practices and as a result why 'case studies' matter (arguably) less in our industry

Some other articles that might help this process:





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David Mannheim

David is an experienced conversion optimiser and has worked across a series of core optimisation disciplines including web analytics, user experience and AB & MVT testing.

Hiring a conversion optimisation company

by David Mannheim Time to read: 5 min