11 Insights From Conversion Elite 2017

The Conversion Elite conference was held in Manchester on 2nd November 2017 and included some of the best speakers on conversion rate optimisation

Conversion Elite, Manchester, 2nd November 2017

Whenever I attend a conference I like to spend five minutes at the end of the event to write down the big take-outs. This helps me reflect on the key themes and it forces me to consider what I should change or add to my approach to conversion rate optimisation.

Confirmation bias is the big enemy here and so it’s especially important to reflect on ideas or practices that contradict my own views about CRO. The temptation is to carry on regardless as that uses much less cognitive energy but there were some awesome people at Conversion Elite – Manchester, 2017, with valuable insights.

Insights From Conversion Elite:

So, what were the big themes and insights generated by the conference?

1. Business Optimisation Not Conversion Rate Optimisation!

This was a consistent theme throughout the day that for CRO to have the ear of the board and top executives we need to focus on changing the business through collaboration and experimentation rather than simply optimising the conversion rate.  For CRO to reach its full potential this requires a cultural change, reforming the business and not the tools.

A number of speakers touched on how working in small cross-functional “growth teams”  (e.g. developer, UX designer, copywriter, marketing specialist) is much more efficient and effective than traditional project working. FT.com was sighted by Craig Sullivan in a highly entertaining, but also insightful presentation.

The FT corporate model uses small teams with direct access to publish, an ability to access data directly, autonomy to make decisions and a lack of interference from management to encourage a culture of experimentation. Due to this model they don’t need project managers or business analysts and even have someone in the team who is given the responsibility to tell managers who turn up to meetings to f*** off!

Image of advantages of FT.com corporate model for optimisation
Image Source: Craig Sullivan, Conversion Elite, 2017

2. Customer Centricity:

User centricity means designing stuff for customers rather than for internal stakeholders. Too often features and new products are added for internal stakeholders rather because that’s what customers need or want. Rather than fixing or improving the existing product managers often decide to pour money and resources into launching a shiny new feature because that is perceived as sexier rather than dealing with existing shit.

3. Fix Shit First.

On a similar vein Craig Sullivan pointed out that the biggest problem facing users is broken shit and poorly designed user experiences. All too often people focus on persuasion and motivation of visitors rather than fixing broken shit and improving usability. If you want to shift the needle you are much more likely to achieve this by addressing these two issues first.


Image of chart showing how to shift the needle for conversion rates
Image Source: Craig Sullivan, Conversion Elite, 2017


4. Accessibility Is Often Neglected:

Abi Hough delivered an excellent presentation reminding us that we are all getting older and that for an increasing proportion of web users accessibility is limited in some way. More than one in seven people in the UK have some kind of permanent disability and this includes 6.1m users who have impairments that affect the way they use the internet. Many users also suffer from temporary or circumstantial disabilities caused by such factors as the weather, noise pollution and alcohol.

Image of ways of checking for accessibility on a website from Abi Hough
Image Source: Abi Hough, Endless Gain, Conversion Elite 2017


5. What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) Editors Have Their Limitations:

Although WYSIWYG visual editors make building A/B tests easier, they can create problems for more complicated tests. Annemarie Klaassen gave the example of a test on a travel website where the images change on a regular basis. Using a visual editor rapidly resulted in a mass of code that started to slow the page down as each update replicated code used by the editor. So, only use visual editors for simple tests and learn to code or get a developer to code more complicated tests.


6. Go To A Company That Values CRO:

A number of speakers talked about how many companies don’t get CRO, are not customer centric and lack a culture that encourages experimentation. There was a general consensus that in the long run these companies won’t survive as they will be squeezed out by more customer centric and experimental organisations. So, if you work for a company that does not value CRO and isn’t customer centric the conclusion was that you are better off moving to somewhere that does put the customer first.


7. Review Where Your Organisation Stands On CRO:

Even if your organisation is moving towards becoming more customer centric, it is worthwhile taking a step back and conducting an evaluation of where exactly you stand. Paul Rouke,  and Nathan Timmins presented a powerful case study of Sun Transfers and how PRWD used their conversion optimisation Maturity Model to identify areas for improvement. The CRO Maturity Model offers a great framework for evaluating how much or little progress your organisation has made to becoming a truly customer centric business.

Image of 21 assessment points from PRWD CRO maturity model
Image Source: Paul Rouke & Nathan Timmins, Conversion Elite, 2017

8. Customer Willingness To Put Up With Friction Is Not An Indication Of Goodwill:

Management often confuse a willingness of customers to put up with a poor user experience with goodwill and loyalty. This is delusional because behaviour is driven by our motivations and not goodwill.  If a customer is determined to get their son or daughter a certain present for Christmas they will jump through hoops to get it, but this has nothing to do with “goodwill”. Companies that don’t reduce friction to a minimum will suffer in the long run as even the most motivated customer will gradually find other sites that are easier to transact on.

9. Too Much Focus On Acquisition:

Jeffrey Eisenberg highlighted how often CRO is too focused on acquisition and how he has been working with a company that sees a huge fall off at activation. Companies spend large sums of money acquiring customers, but then don’t pay enough attention to engaging with them and retaining them for the long term. Jeffrey also arranged for signed copies of his new book Be Like Amazon to be won during the conference.

10. Sample Pollution Affects A/B Testing:

Annemarie Klaassen highlighted the dangers of sample pollution in A/B testing. This can be caused by a number of factors including users clearing their cookies, incognito browsing, cross-device usage, cross-browser usage and customer journey effects. When you have indications that suggest high sample pollution it is worth trying to test for as few weeks as possible, test on 100% of traffic, keep to just one variation if possible and test bolder changes.

11. Test Concepts Not Just Variations:

To really make an impact on the business try testing concepts rather than variations of a variable. Be bold and test hypothesis over years to make an impact for the long term rather than just for a few months. Amazon for example created Amazon Prime as a concept to test and now achieves a conversion rate of 74 per cent.

Image of Amazon Prime interstitial after proceed to checkout
Image Source: Amazon.co.uk



The key theme from the conference is that CRO requires a change in mind set to make organisations more customer centric. For growth this requires breaking down internal silos and working in small cross-functional teams with autonomy to focus on outcomes. What many companies do is to focus on short-term business needs of cutting costs or persuading more customers to buy merchandise that may not be in their best interests. This is not sustainable in the long run.  Instead organisations need to change their focus to what is the primary concern of their customer and changes will then automatically become more relevant and create more value for the business in the long run.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.

By Neal Cole

Founder of Conversion Uplift and an expert in digital marketing and conversion rate optimisation.


  1. Great summary of Conversion Elite, Thanks Neil! It seems that Breaking down internal Silos was covered quite a bit. We will be announcing Conversion Elite London dates very soon…

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