8 Steps to Conducting an Ecommerce CRO Audit (+ Mistakes to Avoid)

With rising customer acquisition costs increasingly cutting into the profits of many ecommerce brands, optimizing for conversions is essential. Understandably, though, it can be hard to know where to start to make the greatest impact quickly. 

We often encounter frustrated ecommerce leaders who feel like they’ve tried everything—creating landing pages, adding testimonials, implementing quizzes, redesigning product pages, and so on. But at the end of the day, they’re still unsure which factors are hurting or contributing to their online stores’ conversion rates. 

Sound familiar? An ecommerce conversion rate optimization (CRO) audit can get you the clarity you need and serve as a blueprint for effective execution of your CRO strategy. Here, we’ll explore the steps to conducting a CRO audit and common mistakes to avoid. 

What is an ecommerce CRO audit?

An ecommerce CRO audit looks at various aspects of your ecommerce website and landing pages, including content, design, layout, functionality, and user experience. In other words, it’s a comprehensive evaluation of your entire sales funnel meant to reveal what’s working, what’s not, and how to fix any issues identified. 

More specifically, CRO audits unlock new insights about your customers’ behaviors, wants, and needs via quantitative and qualitative data. The audit process is critical for determining how to fix what’s hurting your conversion rate and what strengths are worth capitalizing on. 

When should you conduct a CRO audit?

When to conduct an audit depends on your company's stage of development, business goals, and website traffic. You need enough data so that any testing generates statistically significant results that accurately reflect the behaviors, wants, and needs of your target customers. So, for example, an audit wouldn’t be as useful for a new brand with monthly traffic in the mid-thousands as it would be for an established brand with traffic numbers in the tens or hundreds of thousands. 

If your company is at a stage where audits would be valuable, you should plan to do one at least semi-annually, if not quarterly. Audits can also be beneficial when:

  • Your conversion rates are low: If your website is receiving a lot of traffic while conversion rates are low, an audit can help diagnose the issue. 
  • You’re heading into a peak season: An audit optimizes your website before a busy season—ensuring you convert increased traffic. 
  • You want to modify your website: If you’re thinking about redesigning or making changes to your website, an audit makes sure your changes will generate results. 
  • You achieve growth targets: Adjusting your website as your business grows is critical. Using growth benchmarks to schedule an audit, such as sales or number of website visitors, ensures that your website remains relevant.

Now that we’ve covered the when, what about the how?

How to conduct an ecommerce CRO audit

Are you looking to perform a conversion optimization audit? Here’s a step-by-step approach to guide you through the process.

1. Identify key conversion actions to target

Getting started with an ecommerce CRO audit can feel overwhelming. While analyzing your current site performance is critical, how do you determine where to focus?

Start by looking at your macro conversions. These are the primary actions you want a user to take on your ecommerce site (e.g., purchasing or signing up for a subscription). 

From there, map your entire customer journey. Use micro conversions—secondary actions that indicate how your customer engages with your sales funnel—to identify the steps customers take from product discovery to completing a purchase. Analyzing product views, adds to cart, bounce rates, cart abandonment rates, or other micro conversions can help you determine where website visitors lose interest.

2. Audit priority pages

Use your findings to identify and prioritize where you want to focus your efforts. Although auditing every web page would be ideal, it may not always be feasible due to limited resources. Many brands start with their key landing pages, home pages, collection pages, or product pages. 

Use Google Analytics to dive deep into the customer experience of each page. Heatmaps, scrollmaps, and clickmaps are also valuable tools to understand user behavior on your website. For example, heatmaps can show where shoppers’ attention tends to be concentrated on specific pages—either indicating interests they have or on-site elements that are causing confusion. Other quantitative metrics like bounce rate may then be able to tell you which of those two is accurate. 

3. Establish and prioritize objectives 

Once you’ve identified areas for improvement, you don’t want to start testing or implementing changes right away. That would be a surefire way to waste time, money, and other resources. Why? 

For one thing, you need more context on the root cause of those problem areas before you can come up with viable solutions. (We’ll talk about how to gather that context next.) But you also need to prioritize ruthlessly and focus on making the improvements that will get you the closest to your business goals the fastest. At SplitBase, we prioritize tests that fall into either or both of these two categories: 

  1. They address frustrating problems that affect a large number of potential customers.
  2. They are easy to implement and will have a significant impact.

While we also utilize our own custom prioritization framework that takes dozens of factors into consideration, most of these fall under the two points above. So, if it’s your first time conducting an audit, this is a simple way to ensure you’ll be focusing on the things that matter without overcomplicating the process.

4. Conduct audience research 

Now, back to identifying the root cause of problem areas on your website. Studying website analytics and other sources of quantitative data like clickmaps answers the question, “What is wrong with my website?” Qualitative research—in the case of CRO, gathering information on your audience—provides the “why.” 

Image description: At SplitBase, quantitative and qualitative data is critical to a strategy that delivers results

During customer research, you might ask the following questions:

  • Why do people buy from my brand?
  • Why don’t people buy from my brand?
  • What are the customer’s biggest questions? 
  • Is the website and checkout process easy to navigate? 
  • What’s missing from the website that would motivate people to take action?

You might also consider whether the way your brand speaks to your audience and about your products mirrors the way that your target audience speaks. In our experience, using voice of customer (VoC) data to inform the way your brand communicates can make your brand more attractive to potential customers and drive conversions. 

There are several methods for conducting audience research and gathering VoC data. Surveys, polls, usability testing, session recordings, customer interviews, and customer chat logs help uncover your shoppers’ motivations and pain points. 

5. Formulate a hypothesis

Armed with data, you can then develop a solid hypothesis about what tests would be worth running to increase your conversions. What does a hypothesis look like? We like this hypothesis framework from Craig Sullivan, CEO of Optimise or Die LTD. 

Image source

To be clear, not every hypothesis of yours will be correct, even if it’s research-backed and data-driven as hypotheses developed via the Testing Trifecta are. However, the results of your test will point you in the right direction. 

In any case, developing a hypothesis like this is step three in what we call the Testing Trifecta. In other words, the process of analyzing quantitative and qualitative data and then developing a roadmap for your A/B testing efforts.

Image description: Our Testing Trifecta methodology

At SplitBase, we’ve used this methodology successfully for hundreds of direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce brands. For instance, we conducted a CRO audit for DIFF Eyewear (after which we worked together for over four years doing continuous testing and optimization of their website). While researching their mobile customer acquisition strategy, we identified that the brand’s paid traffic led to its site's homepage, best sellers page, or collection pages. 

Our comprehensive audience research revealed an opportunity to develop landing pages with messaging specific to their pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. We hypothesized that landing pages with research-based messaging would improve conversions for paid traffic, and that hypothesis was correct. We found that traffic to the new landing pages converted 55% better than traffic sent to those other pages! 

After conducting an audit, what’s next?

With your audit done, you can then move on to another key part of the conversion rate optimization process—testing. Specifically, ongoing testing and experimentation to allow you to continuously learn and improve even as your brand, target customers, and industry evolve. Here’s a high-level overview of the steps involved. 

1. Design and conduct tests

Once you’ve formulated a hypothesis, it’s time to design your tests. A/B testing and multivariate testing can both be valuable methods for validating your research. While A/B testing evaluates changes to one element, multivariate testing examines how combining different website elements affects conversion. Determining your testing method will depend on your hypothesis. 

When designing your test, choose the number of variations you will run. Ensure that the sample size and duration of your tests are appropriate to generate statistically significant results. (You can use a sample size calculator like Optimizely’s to figure out the numbers. As for how long your tests should run, we recommend ​​waiting until you have at least 100 conversions per variation, reach your required sample size, run three to four full weeks, and also reach at least 95% statistical significance. 

From there, you can set up your tests. While there are several testing tools available, it’s best to use developers to code your variations. Devs will be able to evaluate each test for browser and device compatibility, ensuring experiments function correctly and generate accurate results. 

2. Analyze your results

If your experiment validates your hypothesis, implement your changes. If not, analyze why the test failed, tweak your thesis, and relaunch your experiment. Record your hypotheses, test details, and findings to avoid repeating the same experiment.

3. Continuously monitor changes and iterate

CRO is not a one-time event. As consumer behavior evolves, you may need to tweak your strategy. To know what tweaks are necessary, of course, you’ll need to conduct audits periodically. Using our data-driven Testing Trifecta process to do this will not only help you use your resources wisely but also get the best return on your investment in conversion rate optimization. 

Common mistakes when conducting an ecommerce CRO audit

What are some common pitfalls brands fall into when tackling ecommerce CRO audits? There are many, including falling victim to confirmation bias and failing to eliminate validity threats that impact data accuracy

Performing an audit only when there’s a problem

If you see customer acquisition costs increasing or sales declining, a CRO audit can help diagnose the problem and identify solutions. But you don’t need to wait until there’s a problem to conduct an audit. If you take a proactive approach to meeting the evolving expectations of your target audience, you’ll have an advantage over competitors who don’t. 

Relying on CRO “best practices”

Today, the internet is full of quick tips to improve CRO. Many brands turn to these “best practices” to develop their optimization strategies. For example, a brand may notice a low call-to-action (CTA) click rate. Best practices say that a dominant, eye-catching color can help, yet many brands have been left stumped when they change button color and see little to no improvement in their metrics. 

The thing is: Best practices can be helpful when brainstorming a solution to a problem, but there’s no guarantee that these approaches will work for your business. This is why research to understand the “what” and the “why” of a problem is critical before implementing changes.

Excessive reliance on VoC data

As mentioned, voice of customer data can help inform brand messaging, but you have to use it cautiously. Customers don’t always know what they want or need. As a result, blindly using VoC data could water down your unique value proposition, dilute your brand voice, or even cause you to develop the wrong solutions. 

For example, customer interviews may indicate a desire for a single-step check-out process. But usability testing shows that new customers want the option of reviewing their order details before placing an order. Making the change based solely on the customer interviews would likely negatively impact conversions. 

On the other hand, by combining quantitative and qualitative data to develop your CRO strategy, you ensure changes you implement support the desires and documented behaviors of your customers.

Conduct a CRO audit designed for your business

Regular CRO audits optimize your conversion funnel, ensuring seamless customer experiences that drive revenue for your brand today and future-proof your business long-term. Conducting these audits can be an extensive process, though, especially if you do your due diligence as far as research goes. That said, if you don’t have the time or resources to do audits at a regular cadence in-house, it’s worth considering a partnership with a reputable CRO agency

At SplitBase, we specialize in helping Shopify brands specifically optimize their conversion rates, AOV, and ultimately reduce CAC so they can make more money. Not only do we rely on the Testing Trifecta to help us make impactful, data-driven decisions but we offer weekly consulting sessions and continuous insights to ensure long-term revenue growth. Ready to grow your ecommerce sales? Get a free proposal today.