What Do CRO Agencies Do and How Should I Pick One?

James Parsons by James Parsons Updated May 14th, 2024 13 min read

0:00 Listen to audio podcast

Conversion Rate Optimization

CRO, or Conversion Rate Optimization, is a complex subject. It's also something that every serious business spends at least some focus on, though it may take a back seat to other forms of marketing for some firms.

What goes into CRO?

  • Improving the back-end code of a website to speed up and improve the site.
  • Improving the UI and UX of a site to make it more user-friendly.
  • Improving and guiding copywriting to align better with user intent.
  • Using psychological concepts ranging from persuasive rhetoric to color theory to better attract and capture users.
  • Structuring sales funnels and split testing iterative designs to improve conversions.
  • Adjusting and testing everything on a site, from fonts to image positions to icons, to identify improvements.

This just scratches the surface. Everything involved in CRO is aimed at reducing the friction between a user and a sign-up or conversion. It's also complex and multi-channeled; different kinds of conversions involve different sets of ads, different sets of promotion, different sets of content and copywriting, different landing pages, different designs, different focuses, different people, and more. And yet, all of it needs to fit within the cohesive brand identity.

It's no wonder that many businesses choose to outsource this element of marketing to a company that knows what they're doing. After all, while you might see some improvements just from flailing haphazardly, you also don't necessarily know why those improvements happened, how to replicate that success in an iterative fashion, or how to find other improvements in other areas.

30 Second Summary

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) reduces friction between a user and a sign-up or conversion. It includes enhancing website performance, user interface and experience, copywriting, employing psychological concepts for user attraction, and testing aspects like fonts and images. Different conversions require varied ads, promotions, and content strategies. Businesses often outsource CRO to specialized agencies. These agencies conduct audience research, user behavior analysis, and A/B testing. However, businesses with low traffic, smaller budgets, or an in-house team might not require a CRO agency.

What Does a CRO Agency Do for You?

A CRO agency handles CRO for you.

Alright, alright, I know that's not helpful to say. 🙂

A CRO agency steps in and takes over for or works with your existing teams. They can produce content, edit content, adjust design elements, create new landing pages and adjust old landing pages, optimize marketing copy, streamline the conversion process, and more.

In a way, it almost sounds like they do everything for you, except that's not really true.

Content Powered Content Production

A CRO agency is a marketing agency that focuses on taking the marketing, traffic, and position you already have, the traffic you already have incoming, and making it better. What they might not necessarily do is improve the marketing that exists to bring in new customers or even the marketing that retains existing customers. Their goal is to take your existing traffic and make sure you capture more of it.

Specific services a CRO agency provides might include:

  • Audience research. By investigating and evaluating your current audience, a CRO agency can determine what kinds of attributes they have and how to use those attributes to better attract them. They can align your content and design with audience demographics. Or conversely, they can tell you that the reason your conversion rates are low is that the audience you attract is not the audience you want and that you need to make adjustments to attract the people who would be truly interested in your products. They may do this through analytics on your site or on your social media, or even through proactive surveys and outreach.
  • User behavior analysis. Through the use of tools like visitor session activity recordings that track mouse movement, heatmaps that show where users click and where they avoid, and general session flow tracking, a CRO agency can view your site through the eyes of your users and can identify places where they're falling to friction or to roadblocks like something that looks like a button not being clickable.
  • Experimentation and split testing. A huge part of what a CRO agency does is the experimental process. They perform an analysis, and they develop a theory. They then make tests, such as changing images, fonts, colors, form positions, or CTAs, and segment your audience to show the test to some portion of that audience. This split test, or A/B test, then shows which version is better, and you can permanently implement the change for the better. Then, they repeat the process.

You might notice some gaps here.

For example, a CRO agency is probably not going to be handling or optimizing your PPC ads. Bringing in better-quality traffic is a way to improve conversion rates, but PPC ads are generally either your responsibility or the responsibility of an agency you hire for managed advertising. Similarly, they probably aren't going to be taking over your social media profiles. They might want access to your social analytics so they have more audience information, but the posts you create and the ads you run are all yours.

Pretend I've put a gigantic asterisk on the previous paragraph, though. The truth is that the boundaries of what a CRO agency does and does not do are very fuzzy.

Some will do a lot more than others. Some might focus entirely on improving landing pages and the actual conversion process; some might take a more holistic view of your site but refuse to touch anything outside of your domain; some might take an audience-first perspective and put their skills to work on anything from your SERPs presentation to your checkout page. It all depends.

Should You Outsource Your CRO?

If you're with me so far, you might be wondering if a CRO agency is worth it.

They touch a lot of your site, and they likely have strong opinions on what works and what doesn't. On the one hand, that can improve your conversion rates and make your business more profitable; on the other, it cedes control of a lot of your site to a third party and can remove some of your unique voice and presentation. You can often feel like you're paying a lot of money to have your personality stripped from your business and to lose the feeling of control you enjoy over running a successful brand.

Generally, whether or not you decide to hire a CRO agency comes down to a few kinds of situations.

You have high traffic but poor conversion rates. There's a truth about the world of marketing where the larger your audience, the lower your conversion rates will be. That said, they don't have to be sub-1%, and, moreover, the more traffic you have, the more direct impact even a tenth of a percentage change can make. For an SMB where a 5% change just means five more sales, that's not a lot. For a large enterprise where a 0.5% change means 5,000 more sales, that can be significant.

Generally, if you have high incoming traffic but that traffic isn't converting, there's a reason for that somewhere. The reason might be a tangible roadblock on your site, a disconnect between your marketing and your product, or another cause that can be addressed. A CRO agency can identify exactly why the drop-off is happening and can help you fix it, and can be worth their weight in gold when they do.

CRO Agency Audit

You don't have the resources to dedicate to testing. Pretty much every business at this point is at least somewhat aware that split testing is important. But they often don't take it seriously. They set up tests and run them for way too long, or they forget about them. They run tests that aren't scientific, or that change too many variables to provide useful data. They fall behind in analyzing the results of tests and implementing changes.

Is your blog earning you business? If not, let's fix that.

We create blog content that converts - not just for ourselves, but for our clients, too.

We pick blog topics like hedge funds pick stocks. Then, we create articles that are 10x better to earn the top spot.

Content marketing has two ingredients - content and marketing. We've earned our black belts in both.

If you run an internet-based business and are looking to scale, schedule a call to speak with our founder:

It's perfectly reasonable. You have a lot going on in your day-to-day operations, and it's easy to forget some of the long-term initiatives that don't need daily attention. Since CRO is a slow and iterative process, the results aren't immediately noticeable in most cases, and that means it's easy to decide you want to spend your time and effort elsewhere. Hiring a CRO agency to handle it for you both speeds up and makes the process more efficient and gives you a more tangible incentive to implement changes and improvements.

You don't have the knowledge or the skill to do it yourself. There's no shame in that. I've known business owners of all sorts. Some just love to write blog posts, and the business is a way to monetize them. Some are absolute wizards with Shopify but don't care much about anything beyond it. Some are great at building teams but have blind spots for certain responsibilities.

CRO is something you can DIY, but you generally want high-class tools and apps to do it, and that means paying for those tools and apps, learning how to use them, and building up that skill set. It's a tall order for people who don't have the passion for it. It's also possible that the expense of those various tools added together ends up being more than you'd pay an agency to do the work for you, especially if you also factor in the expense of your time.

Finally, you might consider hiring a CRO agency as a way to help train an in-house CRO team. There's no better way to learn than by doing, so having your team assist the agency and pick up skills along the way will allow you to build institutional knowledge. That's the best option for long-term gains and profitability, but it requires plenty of forward thinking and expense that not all businesses can adopt.

When NOT to Hire a CRO Agency

CRO agencies can do a lot for you, but there are a few situations where you shouldn't consider them.

  • When your traffic is low. A CRO agency is there to take your existing traffic and improve your conversions; they aren't a marketing agency that boosts your traffic in the first place. Plus, if your traffic is low, you probably can't afford a dedicated CRO agency anyway.
  • When your budgets are small. CRO agencies are expensive, though costs vary of course, but if you don't have a lot of money to spare, you'll be better off with growth hacks and other small-scale experiments for the time being.
  • When you already have an in-house team. Hiring a CRO agency with the goal of replacing your in-house team is likely not going to be beneficial. You lose institutional knowledge and probably pay more for it, and you lose the agency when you stop paying for it, as well.

There are plenty of successful businesses that never hire CRO agencies themselves, so don't think of it as a 100% requirement for high-tier success.

What Makes a Good CRO Agency?

When you're considering picking a CRO agency, you need to be able to look past their own marketing and into the things they do, the results they deliver, and the way they work with you.

Most CRO agencies are going to offer free consultations. They'll have an agent look over your site and your marketing and possibly even request analytics reports, and they can give you some top-level overviews and key points they'd want to address and talk to you about what kind of benefits they can bring to the table. This kind of one-on-one discussion is important because it shows you what they're looking at (and what they aren't), and you can get a feel for their personality. I'm a big believer that the personality of a contractor is almost as important as the results.

Conversion Sciences CRO Agency

Look into the agency's area of expertise. CRO is broadly the same across industries, but a B2C agency might not be as good for a B2B business and vice versa, and some agencies specialize in certain niches and won't be as useful to you in yours. A CRO agency specializing in hospitality might not be the best pick for your online toy store, you know?

You should also ask to look at case studies. CRO agencies are going to have case studies about what they've done and what effect their changes have made. Look for information as specific as possible; the agencies are likely going to anonymize company names, but if they have graphs without numbers, you can't be assured of the value of what they're doing.

You might also consider asking if they have current or past clients that you can contact. Asking someone who currently works with the agency can be a good way to get insight into whether or not they'll be all they're cracked up to be.

Don't forget to just look over the CRO agency's site. Go through their conversion process and see how smooth it feels. After all, you're a potential customer; if they can't even get the process right for their own page, what hope do you have of them getting it right for yours?

Finally, don't forget to keep your budget in mind. CRO agencies often charge somewhere between $3,000 and $10,000 per month, though you may be able to find outliers. You need to be able to sustain the expense and be assured that the improvements in conversion rates that you get are worth the cost, otherwise you're in the red until you drop the agency, and that's not a great situation for anyone to be in.

Examples of Good CRO Agencies

There are hundreds of CRO agencies out there, as well as many other agencies doing other kinds of marketing work, who include some elements of CRO in their services.

Experiment Zone CRO Agency

Here are a few I've been impressed with, either from working with them, working with a client of theirs, or just evaluating their sites myself:

There are also plenty of guides on the best CRO agencies out there, with big names like SplitBase, Conversion, Structured, KlientBoost, and Single Grain as options as well. I mostly don't list these as recommendations because they're huge companies used to working with global firms, not my usual SMB audience, so they're likely outside of the range and scope you're looking for. Still, there are plenty of options to explore.

Finally, you can also just work with me by hiring my agency. Content Powered isn't just a CRO agency, don't get me wrong. I produce content focused on bringing in a larger, better audience to your existing site. I've written more than my share of guides on CRO, and I often help with a variety of CRO, SEO, onsite coding, and other issues for my clients. After all, I could write you the best content in the world, but if it's not converting, you aren't going to keep me around, are you?

So, give me a call, and let's talk about what I can do for you.

Written by James Parsons

James Parsons is the founder and CEO of Content Powered, a premier content marketing agency that leverages nearly two decades of his experience in content marketing to drive business growth. Renowned for founding and scaling multi-million dollar eCommerce businesses through strategic content marketing, James has become a trusted voice in the industry, sharing his insights in Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and other leading publications. His background encompasses key roles across various agencies, contributing to the content strategies of major brands like eBay and Expedia. James's expertise spans SEO, conversion rate optimization, and effective content strategies, making him a pivotal figure in the industry.