Stephen Sheppard

C.R.O Specialist

Conversion rate optimisation is very much a multi-faceted discipline. It sits on the boundaries of technical and non-technical roles and also spans both the logical and creative sides of the brain. As such, hiring for a conversion rate optimisation expert can be a difficult process. But by understanding some of the core aspects of the role, it is possible to write a prioritised checklist of skills to look for.

Depending on the seniority of your hire, you may expect potential candidates to have all of these skills, or maybe just a few of them. But as you read through this list, be mindful that many of the subsequent skills/experiences are built on top of the others; the early skills form the essential foundations upon which the rest are formed. So if you find a candidate with all the right experience but that struggles with mental maths, for example, you might want to take their “experience” with a pinch of salt…!

Mental Maths

In today’s world of calculators available on virtually every device out there, there is often a question as to whether this is entirely necessary, for most professions, not just conversion rate optimisation. But looking critically at the role of the CRO expert should show you that this is probably the most vital skills upon which all others can be built.

CRO is a relatively new discipline in its current form, and often that means that decision-makers at the top of businesses were unlikely to have been directly exposed to it while they were making their way up the ladder. As such, they tend to be rather sceptical around concepts that they are unfamiliar with; that’s just human nature. But what it means for the CRO specialist is that they bear a weight of responsibility to ensure that CRO is a trusted discipline within their business and that means maintaining the credibility of what they do.

A core component of CRO is to drive business change. As such, substantial business decisions can be made based on the data presented from optimisation campaigns and while the credibility is there, this is acceptable to most businesses. But the very minute that a senior decision-maker spots a mathematical error in a presentation, the whole CRO programme comes into question. And that is why mental maths is so important – rough approximations made during analysis can spot glaring errors before them being shared more widely and therefore protect the credibility of your optimisation programme. Because without that, you have very little!

Web Analytics Experience

Once you’ve established that your candidate has the mathematical ability to maintain the credibility of your programme, the next skill to assess is their experience with web analytics. Although there are many other data sources available for identifying opportunities for optimisation, web analytics data will almost certainly be a core component.

Depending on the web analytics platform you use, you may want your optimiser to have demonstrable experience in a specific tool, but realistically, anyone with a firm working knowledge of a mainstream platform should be able to adapt to a new interface and new terminology fairly quickly.

The real importance of web analytics experience is recognising the obvious opportunity. What this means is that when presented with a whole screen of data, can they quickly lock onto the most pertinent information on the page? And demonstrating that comfort with data also stands them in good stead when it comes to analysing your test data.

If you’re looking for a junior hire, these first two skills represent the baseline; limited web analytics experience could be acceptable if they show an aptitude for data in general, but knowing that their maths is dependable will remove a great deal of risk from their hire.

User Experience (UX) Exposure

The first two skillsets are predominantly logical ones; without them, this next skill is rudderless, hence why they come first! “User experience” is an incredibly broad term covering a lot of different disciplines but in the context of the conversion rate optimiser, it has two main applications:

a) Can the candidate put themselves in the shoes of a visitor and explain why the webpage in question results in the data associated with it?
b) Can the candidate then take that ‘why’ and construct a new ‘what’ to alleviate the issue(s)?

So this is where the creative mindset now comes into play. It is imperative for even a middle-weight optimiser to be able to put themselves into the position of a variety of visitor types and to hypothesise as to their drivers and their needs; without this, they cannot effectively explain the why. And being unable to effectively explain the why means that the what that they go on to produce is baseless.

Now that what does not need to be a fully interactive HTML mock-up or indeed a painstakingly annotated wireframe. But it does need to show the general direction that any new design/layout should take and most importantly how that relates back to the hypothesis of why the page/process is failing to convert.

DATA > INSIGHT > RECOMMENDATION

Essentially, your candidate needs to be able to recognise the importance of this flow once they have convinced you of their user experience acumen to tick off this phase:

Broad Digital Marketing Knowledge

This is another skill you should expect from a middle-weight optimiser and anyone that is attempting to gain a position at that level (unless they are taking a real shot-to-nothing!) would almost struggle to have not gained some exposure in this area but don’t take anything for granted!

In this context, “digital marketing” is predominantly referring to the means of customer acquisition and retention which are employed widely by digital businesses and what effect that they might have on the running of an optimisation programme. So understanding how concerns around SEO might come up when running redirect tests, or knowing that generally speaking, PPC visitors convert more often than natural search visitors so looking at the traffic composition of a particular landing page test to see if traffic split is a factor, to use a couple of examples.

You don’t need these guys to have been running point on enterprise-level GDN campaigns or to have single-handedly managed the paid social account of a worldwide brand, but failure to have read and learned about the broader digital industry will undoubtedly lessen their ability to see the wider picture.

Web Language Knowledge

#5 probably sits on the cusp between middle-weight and senior CROers, with those at the upper echelons of what is required almost certainly pushing at the senior level but without doubt, a middle-weight hire should be expected to have some knowledge here and looking to increase it.

But let’s be clear on this one – you aren’t looking to hire a developer, you’re looking for a CRO expert. So what you care about them knowing about web languages is a little different. Building complex tests in pure JavaScript is something best left to the web development specialists, but your candidates’ understanding of how an HTML structure can affect the building of a test is undeniably important. That should be considered a baseline for a middle-weight optimiser, while a senior hire should understand how AJAX can affect what you are changing, using the browser console to verify the availability of elements and using that experience and knowledge to help the developers short-cut the investigations they need to do.

Without web language knowledge, the effective planning of optimisation campaigns can be undone and remember that a smooth pipeline of plans and builds are part of your programme’s credibility too.

Self-Service & Managed Service Experience

One for the senior guys here, but probably becoming more common as the conversion rate optimisation market matures. Running an optimisation programme that has a mixture of self-service testing (i.e. tests that are run using internal resources only) and managed service testing (i.e. some or all of the work is outsourced to a specialist agency) has become fairly commonplace amongst larger organisations and therefore it is important that senior team members have that exposure.

Firstly, this experience should help them to optimise the value of the output from any third party resources – they shouldn’t be paying superstar JavaScript developers to change button colours or headline copy after all. Knowing what can be easily taken on in-house is an essential part of their senior role.

And secondly, coordinating a programme with two disparate sets of staff involved brings its own challenges, particularly around ensuring that tests are kept mutually exclusive of one another. This may sound a little like a project manager’s role, but the CRO experience is also essential to coming up with the most creative solutions that balance throughput and output.

Client-Side & Agency/Vendor-Side Roles

It feels almost unfair to set this as a “must-have” for a senior optimiser, but there are some substantial benefits to having worked on different sides of the fence, whether you are hiring for agency-side or client-side roles. Understanding the pressures that both sides can come under helps everyone to work cohesively as a team, and it’s a well-known fact that optimisation programmes that represent genuine partnerships between the two sides are the ones that are most successful.

Having vendor-side experience can also be a huge bonus, particularly when it comes to selecting a vendor for a client-side business. Vendor-side employees tend to have the inside track on the strengths and weaknesses of products that might not be common knowledge, and the fact that they use the same tool day in, day out, cannot be overlooked.

But beyond just knowledge of tools, a senior optimiser should be a key player in determining the project management and delivery methodologies that the team uses and should understand the pitfalls of each. Exposure to multiple agencies and/or vendors can often provide this, as well as client-side models which are starting to mature now there is an industry shift towards in-house programmes.

So if your candidate has only ever been client-side, or doesn’t have any vendor-side experience, it doesn’t mean that they cannot be a senior member of your team, but do consider the weighting you give to another candidate who does. The greater their exposure to different approaches, often the more insightful their methodology is.