How to improve your conversion rate through marginal gains

In recent years, Team Sky have seen their success blossom taking part in both track and road cycling events. Most recently, Geraint Thomas became the 3rd British cyclist to win the Tour de France, following on from Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in recent years.  The success achieved by Team Sky has not come about by chance – it has come through highly accurate performance monitoring, and continuous exercises targeting minute by minute improvements, led by the then British Cycling performance director, Sir Dave Brailsford.

What are marginal gains?

Sir Dave Brailsford is well know for coining the term ‘marginal gains’. This is a concept by which you strip back everything you can think of for a specific output, with the aim of continuously improving each element by a marginal percentage. This will then subsequently improve the overall effectiveness of a specific output by combining these increments together, through this “always on” philosophy of testing. This means that for those working towards a large output or objective, teams need to work collectively to identify all of the smaller components which comprise this larger output, and assess which of these smaller components could be improved. All of the improvements we can make to these smaller components, result in an overall improved output. Simple, right?

Here is a quote from Brailsford explaining this…

The whole principle of marginal gains came from the idea that if you broke down everything that could impact on a cycling performance — absolutely everything you could think of — and then you improved everything little thing by 1%, when you clump it all together, you’re going to get quite a significant increase in performance. So we set about looking at everything we could.

An example of this can be found when the team considered the beds the Tour de France cyclists were sleeping in. They had identified that during the tour a cyclist could potentially sleep in 21 different hotel beds, and potentially 21 different postures through the make and quality of the bed.  Though 1 night’s sleep on 1 bed wouldn’t necessarily influence someone winning or not winning the Tour de France over the whole event, he identified that cyclists should be able to sleep in consistent beds. To overcome this they setup a process by which Team Sky cyclists would have the same exact bed setup for them at each of the hotels, meaning that their sleeping posture was consistent across the whole event.

What does marginal gains have to do with CRO?

The core principle of conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is to increase the number of users who complete the desired goal on your website, whether that be submitting a quote form, buying a product online or downloading a brochure. It’s easy to get lost in these big actions though, with many businesses becoming frustrated that they don’t know how to get more of their users to convert.

When executed correctly, however, CRO will never go out to immediately improve the number of people who purchase a product or complete a form. Instead, the most effective and long-lasting CRO results are achieved by identifying smaller improvements for a given goal journey, testing various improvements for them, analysing results, and then making the best performing improvements permanent. This process can be summarised as per the following graphic.

It’s easy to see how the process of improving your website’s conversion rate is closely linked to the concept of marginal gains, as similar to the practices carried out by Sir Dave Brailsford. It would be fair to say that here at Clicky, our CRO team consider Brailsford’s ‘marginal gains’ principle as key to all of our ongoing testing and personalisation experiments. It is through conducting conversion rate optimisation work that we can identify areas on a user journey which, though they may seem small, can ultimately lead to a larger improvement in performance and more goal conversions. In our time, we’ve seen tiny details such as changing the font, small changes in colour, tiny placement changes, and even amending just a few words of copy in a paragraph, all contribute to an overall improvement in conversion rate.

What does marginal gain mean for your business?

If we had to list our three main takeaways from Brailsford’s approach, and what this could mean for your marketing team or even your entire business, we’d break it down to these:

  • Optimisation mindset – everyone working in your team needs to have the mindset that if we want to work to improve the performance of a given goal, we need to not just be accepting of, but strongly encouraging a culture of testing, optimisation, and continuous experimentation
  • Every little helps – Brailsford acknowledges that he doesn’t coach his athletes, he manages a group of specialists who carry out their own coaching exercises to an expert level. He trusts that each of these coaches, no matter their area, are delivering a small improvement which will contribute to the overall goal. To bring this back to CRO, sometimes it doesn’t matter how small the testing focus is – we’ve seen small copy changes generate greater results than redesigning entire pages or navigation structures
  • Identify KPIs (key performance indicators) – by breaking down his overall target into smaller, realistic goals, Brailsford was able to achieve a result which many hadn’t thought possible. All of our CRO clients here at Clicky have an overall goal which we must achieve to ensure the profitability of the exercise, but this is then broken into smaller ‘focus’ goals. This might consist of breaking down a large goal, for example, purchasing a product, into smaller goals, such as the number of people who land on the product page, improving the number of people who add the product to their basket, improving the number of people who complete all of the fields on the checkout form, etc

How can Clicky help you with your marginal gains?

At Clicky we have a specialist CRO team who offer a range of services and testing opportunities, ranging from a one-off project exercise to improve a specific area of the website, through to an ongoing long-term improvement exercise spanning your entire website.

Interested? Get in touch for a free initial consultation and bespoke CRO plan with our Google qualified digital team.

Whether you’re completely new to CRO or have run into a bit of a brick wall with your testing, our team can help you to make more of the traffic you already have.

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Written by Rhodri Lloyd

Digital Strategy Executive

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