eCommerce CRO – Interview with Luke Carthy

Sep 28, 2020 11 min read


eCommerce CRO – Interview with Luke Carthy

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Customer acquisition has always been challenging for eCommerce businesses. It’s not something that we’ll launch a digital store, and people would rush to our store to make purchases.

Most of the time, eCommerce businesses struggle with identifying how to improve the user experience (UX) of their potential customers because better UX leads to better conversions.

That’s where Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) enters.

We know how CRO is confusing to most eCommerce business owners and their marketing teams. That’s what inspired us to interview one of the world’s brilliant eCommerce CRO experts, Luke Carthy.

Luke Carthy is a seasoned eCommerce growth consultant delivering powerful and quantifiable eCommerce sales growth for B2B and consumer brands for more than 12 years. His expertise includes SEO and CRO.

The best part of learning from him is that he is witty at times. Whether you’re attending his session or following his tweets, he shares his knowledge with a great sense of humor.

Let’s check out what you’re going to learn today in this interview-

  • How much importance does eCommerce businesses give to CRO compared to other marketing tactics?
  • Should every eCommerce business invest in CRO? Why?
  • Which companies can help generate better ROI with CRO – eCommerce solutions providers or digital marketing agencies?
  • A list of common CRO gaps to be found in eCommerce sites
  • How to use Google Analytics to help you with CRO?
  • How to prioritize CRO tasks at hand?
  • Recommended tools and technologies for CRO

Let’s begin.

1.According to you, how much weightage does a client/business owner give to CRO compared to the rest of the marketing efforts?

CRO is often a challenging skill set to win buy-in for. As a result, in most companies I’ve consulted for or previously worked with, CRO wasn’t even on their radar.

But let’s not forget that CRO covers a huge scope of areas and is commonly misperceived as merely A/B testing. CRO is so much more, from user surveys to site search optimization. It also straddles UX (and in my personal experience, bug fixes too).

Many senior executives can consider CRO a subset of SEO and is, therefore, the responsibility of the SEO team (and sometimes even the product team).

Very few companies, at least in my experience, accommodate for CRO well. Nor do many companies consider CRO as an independent, cornerstone skill to have within their biz. Many companies fail to see the potential and true value of proactively investing in conversion optimization.

By the end, If I’ve done this post justice, you’ll be raiding budgets for CRO spend!

In summary, for a business to begin to drum up an appetite and a curiosity for CRO, someone in the business needs to find problems and opportunities that only CRO can fix. Explain the issues found and educate the C-suite why CRO can make a difference to the business.

In my experience, the CRO catalyst has indeed stemmed from within the SEO team. Why? Well, SEOs are closer to product and development teams than almost any other digital department in a business. There’s real leverage potential there to weave in CRO amongst eCommerce SEO implementations.

More so, SEO is simply a cost center if it cannot turn increased organic traffic into an increase in conversions. Good SEOs see beyond traffic increases as a KPI. Good SEOs will have an invested interest in how that organic traffic is turning into sales and conversions.

Lastly, CRO changes can potentially start to bear fruit much sooner than SEO changes can too. You control much more of your website than you do the SERPs.

Want to get a business talking about CRO while simultaneously improving the business-wide confidence in SEO? Doubling-down on SEO spend/time investment with CRO would be a great conversation starter and a solid foot in the door.

2. Do you think CRO is for every eCommerce store? Why? 

I can’t think of a single reason why an eCommerce business would not benefit from even basic CRO. Another misconception is that CRO is costly or expensive. 

Some of the most effective CRO I’ve ever implemented has been completely free using free tools such as Google Analytics and using Lucky Orange’s free tier, which is a great way of getting eyes on a problem without the need to run it past stakeholders or management.

If you couldn’t already tell, I’ve always taken the ‘ask for forgiveness’ approach over the ‘ask for permission’ route. If I can find ways of getting what I want without even talking about troubling a credit card, bonus points!

The thing about CRO is you don’t know you have a conversion issue problem or bottleneck until you find it. In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Saying you don’t need CRO is dangerous and blaze, in my opinion. Whether you sell 100 items a year or 1000 an hour, investing in CRO will, at worst, allow you to understand your customers better than you did before and, at best- Increase conversion rate, sales, and other complementary KPIs like ROAS and LTV. Get into it!

Why wouldn’t you?

3. There is confusion in the market. Two types of people are talking about CRO – eCommerce Solution providers and digital marketing agencies. What is the difference between the two, and what can generate better ROI to a merchant?

My answer to this question may have a bunch of people triggered. But you’ve made an important distinction here.

I’m not sure if it’s confusion in the market as such; they’re just two different solutions to CRO, right?

For example, solution providers and SaaS companies that offer site search, product recommendations, personalization, session replay, heatmaps, etc. are tools to help you get CRO done. Or they are services to improve user experience, which in turn compliments and contributes to CRO uplift.

On the other hand, digital agencies that offer CRO services are, for the most part, selling access to CRO skills and resources at various degrees of competency. Not all agencies are created equal, and many promises to deliver CRO without even practicing the basics. Just like SEO, CRO has become overused and tarnished somewhat by cowboys.

It’s not about which will offer the best results either, as there are many factors at play. The two main culprits are in-house resources available and the amount of budget to play with.

My two pence would always bring those skills and tools in-house where possible and use an agency as a resource ‘expansion pack’ as it were. So to use an example (this works with SEO too and no doubt other digital disciplines).

Hire an internal Head of CX or a senior CX manager with hands-on experience to get up close and personal with all things customer experience, conversion-centric data. The ultimate goal here is for this individual to understand the customer’s needs fully, wants, the business, and why customers want to do business with this brand.

This role would be immersed in the SaaS tools and solution providers listed above (site search, user surveys, etc.) to get a real feel for what customers love, hate, and find new ways to delight shoppers.

Being at one with powerful CRO tools also means that you can flag and understand optimizations and bottlenecks across all customer touchpoints. Now, here’s where leaning on a capable and proficient agency comes into its element and full potential.

Findings, ideas, problems identified (and context), etc. can be discussed and passed to the agency not only to lend an extra layer of expertise, perspective and problem solving, but they can also do a large amount of the heavy lifting when it comes to implementation and execution.

That’s how you deliver the best ROI. It’s not about choosing one or the other; it’s about using both, playing to each of their strengths, and getting maximum results.

My point here is that so many people and businesses get this wrong by simply chucking a problem at an agency and then blaming them when their output isn’t as effective as intended.

Equally, agencies can get into trouble for lying low and taking the easy road whilst collecting their retainers. It’s a two-way street, and agencies need to be seen as part of the team and not separate entities. You get out what you put in.

It was a big question, and it needed a big answer! I hope that helped.

4. What are the most common CRO gaps found in the eCommerce sites?

I go on about this so often, and yes, I’m like a broken record, but it’s super-important (I can’t stress this enough) and is so often neglected – site search.

This is especially when you’ve big traffic levels and lots of people using site search daily.

It can be quite literally the crystal ball and the gold mine to understanding your customer’s thought processes and how they go about trying to find the products they’re looking for.

There are very few businesses that I’ve worked with over my entire career that are listening to and optimizing site search well.

My career to one side, even as a customer shopping online, I’m constantly bumping into retailers that get site search wrong and leave stacks of cash on the table (a few examples below). Yet it often has some of the best-hidden treasure in the world of eCommerce CRO. What gives!?

Holland & Barrett is a large healthcare brand with a presence online and on the high street. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, searching for ‘coronavirus’ on their website yielded no results. Ouch!

Ecommerce CRO Gaps - Coronavirus Search on Holland & Barrett

Let me show it to you live-

Homebase is a large hardware store brand in the UK with stores across the country and an online presence. During the Black Friday event, searching online for ‘Black Friday’ yielded no results. Again, ouch!

Ecommerce CRO mistakes - Black Friday Search on Homebase

If you want to see more cringe-worthy site search cock-ups made by a bunch of household brands, you should check out my blog post that covers unthinkable site search mistakes during Black Friday last year. When you think about how many visitors would have searched for these queries… Criminal!

So how do you fix it?

Well, firstly, I suggest investing in a solid site search engine with a great analytics platform baked in. There are no shortage of options depending on your levels of traffic/queries, budget, ambitions, etc. However, a great site search does not have to be expensive.

I’m personally a huge fan of, have personally used (and frequently recommend):

Why? Well, these search engine offerings are far more powerful than the ‘out of the box’ solutions you get with Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify, etc. They’re not crazy expensive (typically less than £200 per month), and they’re effortless to use and manage.

They also give you some incredibly powerful insights that you won’t get with a bog-standard site search, including capturing misspellings, comprehensive reporting, and personalized search, to name a few. They’re scalable too.

5. How to use Google Analytics for CRO? 

I personally LOVE Google Analytics to help with CRO. However, many of the ‘out of the box’ functionality within Google Analytics can help you ‘sniff out’ a potential issue. Still, it falls short of providing you with solid and granular evidence.

This gap can be closed with a few tweaks and additions to the basic GA setup. One of the best ways to get closer to solid evidence is to capture error messages displayed to users and pass these to Google Analytics with a custom dimension.

This allows you to understand what URLs are getting what messages, and how you can take a bird’s eye view of errors and keep tabs on the number of errors that are firing. If they spike, this indicates a wider issue, and if they fall, this could also mean UX is improving, or it could be a red herring and be an issue that needs investigating too.

Another excellent example of going the extra mile within Google Analytics is to track site search and track the number of results returned within those site search queries.

One of the issues with the ‘out of the box’ site search tracking in GA is that it gives you intel on how often a search query is fired, but it doesn’t tell you whether the products returned for that search query were any good (or if there were any at all for that matter).

Passing the number of results found to a hit-scope custom dimension can add that much-needed resolution and clarify Google’s site search tracking.

These are just a few ways GA can be used to help with CRO – I’ve created a presentation on this very topic titled, How to Smash Google Analytics For Ecommerce and you can get your hands on the slides here.

Combined with Google Tag Manager and 3rd party tools for session replay, user survey tools like TypeForm can give you insight that otherwise may have been missed.

6. How should one prioritize the CRO tasks on hand?

I like to use a straightforward formula to help me prioritize tasks. It’s worked well for me as a consultant, as an in-house SEO, and in a previous life as a product owner/scrum master.

  1. Big gains that can be delivered via quick wins/easy fixes
  2. Small gains that can be accomplished via quick wins/easy fixes
  3. Big gains that can only be achieved via larger projects/complex fix
  4. Small gains that can be won via larger projects/complex fix

When you think about it, CRO or otherwise, any business (especially eCommerce) needs revenue and sales to exist. Building your priority list to best support that lifeline is no wrong way to go, and it rarely lets me down.

What’s even more satisfying is knowing that very few people at the C-suite level will disagree with the above (break-fix aside).

7. What tools and technologies do you recommend for conversion rate optimization of an eCommerce site? 

OK, so this is a question similar to what Suganthan nailed in his eCommerce SEO post that made me immediately bookmark and share it. It wouldn’t be right for me to avoid answering the same question for CRO! Let’s go!

    • Typeform Gorgeous, clean, simple, distraction-free user surveys and forms
    • Luckyorange The underdog of the heatmaps and session recording world, in my opinion. It trumps HotJar and CrazyEgg (often the go-to players in this space). Luckyorange has more functionality and more cost-effective prices.
    • UserReplay – Enterprise level heatmaps and some. So good, not well known, but it’s not cheap and for a very good reason.
    • ZenDeskLive chat, customer tickets, CRM, etc. all under one roof? Gold for any CRO and a customer service team’s best friend.
    • NewRelicOk, you got me, it’s not a CRO tool, but it helps build a case and add additional perspective to issues elsewhere. For example, heavy scripts slowing down the site, etc. You know how us SEOs/CROs like to go hard on the tags.
    • KlaviyoEmail for eCommerce. Super cost-effective. Every eCommerce start-up should have Klaviyo in their toolkits.
    • Segmentify – My absolute go-to for product recommendations. Super clever, omnichannel too, and they do a tasty PoC (proof of concept) to show you what they’ve got and won over stakeholders.  Incredibly great value also. Cost-effective.
    • Ometria Enterprise Klaviyo but so good. More than just email. Personalization, segmentation, AI smarts, cross-channel support (ideal if online and offline sales channels), product recommendations, etc.
    • Sailthru Like Ometria and some- my go-to for an enterprise ecommerce that does everything and the kitchen sink
    • Survey Monkey You already know what this is. The swiss army knife of surveys.
    • BrowserStack This tool for real device testing on virtual machines. No emulators. So good and easy to use. Cheap too, and every device, OS, and browser combo you need.
    • Feefo Product and merchant reviews. Like Trustpilot but better, in my opinion. Cheaper too.
    • Answerbase Like Amazon Q&A but on your website. Great if you sell a complex product set, for example, bathroom suites (lots of variables).
    • Non-techie friends, family, grandparents, and kids – Give them your website and tell them to complete tasks without prompts or hints. You’ll learn loads. People can be tools, right?

Lastly, we’ve got technical SEO.

Maybe it’s time to start identifying technical CRO too? 🤔

Ecommerce CRO: It’s About Winning Customers

Every business needs conversions to happen faster. Companies need to understand what their customers are searching for, expecting from your sites, and how you can make this search and buy process easier.

So CRO is for every eCommerce business,

  • Marketplaces
  • Branded sites with an omnichannel presence
  • Small-scale/niche brands
  • Retailers
  • Local businesses planning to go online

Irrespective of your stage of online business, invest in CRO before it’s too late.

Use the strategies, tips, best practices, tools, and clarifications shared by Luke to make a use case for your business, present it to your C-suite, and instantly get started with CRO.

With immense pleasure, we would like to thank Luke for taking out time to share his wonderful insights on how eCommerce businesses can leverage CRO to enhance customer experience and speed up customer acquisition.

What did you like the most about this interview? Tell us on social media – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.

Do you want us to cover such insightful interviews with any expert? Share your favorite expert at [email protected].

Himani Kankaria is a content writing and marketing consultant, a brand ambassador of Hootsuite. With 7+ years of SEO & digital marketing experience, she has helped various enterprises to achieve 800% organic growth YoY. She shifted her focus from core SEO to content writing and marketing utilizing her SEO skills just to offer enterprises with high-quality content that ranks on Page 1 of Google and even converts. Himani talks a lot and loves dancing. She enjoys networking with the like-minded people and enthusiastic about achieving new heights in life.