CRO Essential Checklist: Hierarchy For Success

Close-up of a shopping cart icon on a computer keyboard key, symbolizing online shopping optimization in a CRO checklist.

What does CRO mean, and why does every website seem to have a different definition for it? Before I get to the CRO checklist, I’d like to start with one controversial opinion about conversion rate optimization: 

CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation) does not mean “increasing your website’s E-Commerce Conversion Rate Why is that controversial? Because every single CRO-related job description I’ve read over the last few years seems to think that’s the case. The job descriptions usually describe a role where the responsibilities start and end with one metric (E-Com Conv. Rate) and that there’s no responsibility for anything offsite, and other conversions are afterthoughts to purchases, which – to me – is fundamentally wrong. 

The Holistic CRO Approach

Here’s another way of thinking about it.

Imagine you are an athlete. You are in training for the Olympics and know that you need to improve your body and mind to qualify. So…

You can exercise as much as you want.

You can buy any exercise equipment you want.

You can download every single health-related app to track your progress, but there’s one limitation: you’re not allowed to decide what you eat. Somebody else decides that.

Now, imagine that someone else decides that you’re only allowed to eat junk food. 

It won’t matter how much you try to optimise your exercise routine, use analytics to guide you, or research fitness best practices to create benchmarks. Not having control over your food is going to seriously damage any progress you want to make. More than likely, your performance will stagnate or even get worse over time.

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Offsite Activities Equal Onsite Successes

How does the athlete analogy relate to CRO? Because it’s the exact same logic.

Saying that a CRO role starts and ends with website analytics without also having responsibility and significant input over traffic-generating channels (like ads, SoMe, email, etc.) is like expecting the athlete without control over their food or water to improve their performance. It ain’t gonna happen!

You also need to broaden your definition of what a “conversion” is. Think back to the last time you bought something online. I doubt you purchased without subscribing (to get that nice 10% off offer), reading reviews, watching an unboxing/comparison video, etc.

Why do you think your site traffic behaves any differently than you do when it comes to converting online? Purchases are important, but they usually come after several other conversions have already been performed.

Channel by Channel CRO

To me, CRO is a much bigger role that requires a solid understanding of each individual channel’s ability to generate traffic and conversions, and how those conversions feed into your KPI. Complex website analytics is nice-to-have, but let’s be honest, not a need-to-have until much later in the process.

You can use tools like HotJar or any other AI analytics to tell you exactly what is wrong with your website in a few seconds. That’s not the difficult part. The problem comes when you fix all of those issues and your E-Com Conversion Rate still doesn’t increase by much.

CRO requires taking a holistic approach to all of the traffic that’s coming to the site through all the various channels and all the conversions they influence. After that, you can begin analyzing the touchpoints before, during, and after the website has been visited.

Any CRO role that does not include/require significant input on social media content, ad set-up, affiliate/influencer marketing agreements, email/SMS messaging, and SEO is doomed to fail.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s put it into some sort of context.

The Pragmatic Hierarchy of CRO

Let’s forget about conversions for a minute – even if you’re aware that a conversion includes purchases, subscriptions, downloads, whatever. First, you need to build a solid foundation for your website. Otherwise, any changes you make will only ever be superficial.

Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a template, here’s my recommendation for the process of building a website that converts:

Reversed pyramid explaining conversion potential and CRO hierarchy in E-Commerce

1. Site Essentials:

  • Site Loading Time: The slower the site, the higher the bounce rate. Fix your slow site across all devices!
  • SSL Certificate For Every (Sub)Domain: You’d be surprised how often this is overlooked! Also, these expire, so make sure renewal is automated.
  • 1st Party Data: The cookie-less future is on the horizon. Switch from cookie-based tracking to first-party tracking and save yourself the headache of your site analytics suddenly becoming worthless.

  • Comperhensive SEO Plan: Please, please, please don’t leave SEO until it becomes a problem. If you don’t know how good/bad your SEO is, that’s an even bigger problem. Fix it now.

2. User Privacy and Trust:

  • Reviews + Q/A: Let people publicly review your site and ask questions about your products/services, then showcase the results. If you’re not proud of them, identify the recurring complaints and fix them until you are. Use TrustPilot or Yotpo.

  • Payment Gateways: It’s not enough to just include the MasterCard and Visa logos in your site footer. Research local payment options and integrate them, then showcase them so they’re visible. If people see that you offer local gateways that they already know and trust, they’re more likely to convert.

  • Privacy Policy: Imagine this… A privacy policy that could be read and understood by a human! I get that there is legal jargon that needs to be included to comply with data laws, but why not start off with a human-written introduction that briefly outlines what tools you use and how you use them? Wouldn’t that be something?!

  • Terms and Conditions: This is what your visitors should expect if they decide to become customers. This is a great place to include useful information, e.g. shipping prices + details, your return policy, payment options, etc. not because you have to, but because you want to be transparent.

Developer using tablet to oprimize UI and UX for CRO

3. UI and UX

  • Navigation: Does your site need 7+ headings? No. Does it need 15 subheadings per heading? No. Simplify your catalogue and your site to encourage people to get to where they need to go. Remember, it’s a menu, not an inventory!

  • Content is King: Struggling to generate the right kind of traffic without paying for it? Want to convince people your product/service will fix the problem your visitors have? The answer: content, content, content. This could be an article in itself but the summary is this: if you don’t have an SEO-optimised blog that is updated regularly, you’re only getting half the traffic and conversions you could be.

  • Clear Design: Is your site easy to navigate? I’m not asking you, you’re just going to say “yeah, it’s not bad…”. To find out, ask your spouse, friend, or a relative to go through the most important parts of your website, without giving them any guidance, and see how well they do. If you’re just starting on C.R.O. then trust me, you don’t need complex analytics yet. Humans are much better at finding UX/UI problems than analytics tools and AI will ever be.

  • Metrics that Matter: Site speed (desktop and mobile) is the no. 1 metric, period. Don’t worry about anything else until you have that fixed. Once you’re confident things are quick and stable, then base metrics on your goals. Know this – metrics help guide you toward your goals, metrics are not goals.


  • KPI-based CTAs: Too many acronyms? Fair enough. All it means is that your website should guide people towards the goals you want to achieve. There’s no point in telling people to “Learn More” and “Explore” when you want them to “Buy Now” or “Add To Cart”, and vice versa. Cut to the chase.

4. Personalization 

  • Recommendations: Make sure your site offers intelligent recommendations based on each user’s site activity. For example, if you sell products that compliment one another, then make them mutually visible on the relevant product description pages. If you sell a shampoo and conditioner that focus on the same issue, make sure the customer can see there is a regimen to buy. This won’t just impact your E-Com Conversion Rate, it’ll also organically boost your average order value!

    Pro-tip: There are plenty of tools that will automate recommendations based on tags or categories. AI tools are becoming good at this, but CRMs like Klaviyo make it easy to communicate these on and off your website (e.g. email, SMS, integrated ad platforms, etc.)

  • CRM: Get one. Again, Yotpo is great at this. Make sure you gamify things so the customer wants to come back. Use progress bars, tiers, loyalty points etc. It not only boosts conversion rates with new customers, but it also rewards customer loyalty (i.e. customer lifetime value).
CRO expert analyzing real-time revenue data on a laptop to optimize conversion strategies.

5. Data Analytics

  • Tools: Now you can start the complex data analytics tasks! Start with HotJar, Google Analytics 4 (despite how terrible it is compared to UA), and whichever of the 10,000 available platforms you decide best meets your data needs.


Pro-Tip: your website platform will typically come with some sort of basic analytics. Generally, that will be a good place to start before spending money on anything too complex.

  • A/B Testing: Comparing which new variant of a CTA, layout, message, tool, etc. works best for your objectives. Give these time to run and only do one at a time. Don’t do multivariate testing unless you have a massive team that can measure every single variable.

    To use the athlete analogy one more time, imagine the athlete is now allowed to eat one piece of fruit per day in addition to junk food. Then the next day you let them eat some vegetables. Then the next day you decreased their junk food and increased their water intake… After a week, how do you know which change made the difference to their performance? How can you possibly know unless you do one change at a time? You can’t. Slow and steady wins the race!


  • Dynamic Pricing: Just as you keep an eye on your performance, content, and reviews, you should also review your pricing strategy. Where dynamic pricing comes in is in adapting to market demand. I don’t think that’s as easy as people think, especially if you have B2B/retail partners with set RRPs, but you can adapt some discounts to be user-specific.

    I would link this to the loyalty program, like airlines do. If you are a regular customer, you get better discounts. If not, you don’t.


Pro-Tip: Exercise extreme caution with dynamic pricing tools. Changing RRPs on a whim seems dangerous to me and I’ve never seen it work fluidly. In almost a decade of E-Commerce, I’ve never met anybody who has tried it and would recommended it.

  • ERO or Emotional Resonance Optimisation: This is an exciting concept that is only starting to enter serious CRO conversations. It calls for empathy and harmony driven design, story-telling, emotional triggers, community research, authenticity and trust, and emotional feedback… but I’ll discuss that in future articles.


I hope this article highlighted 2 things:

  • CRO is a journey that starts well before the visitor even consider purchasing on your website, and continues well after they do. Sometimes zooming out is better than zooming in!
  • You cannot build a house on sand. Start with the essential foundations of CRO and then look at complex analytics.


The most important thing to remember is this: metrics are not business goals. They are there to help you achieve real business goals and should be considered basic KPIs. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, digital departments got confused and started treating metrics as objectives and, ultimately, started to form job titles around them (e.g. CRO Manager).

The reality is this when it comes to CRO: you want a higher conversion rate because you want to generate more revenue…So, before you decide that you need to hire a CRO Manager because you’re concerned about one metric, remember this:

2% of 10,000 visitors is worth twice as much as 10% of 1,000

It’s not a question of quantity over quality but, given the choice, would you really choose 10% (of 1,000) instead of 2% (of 10,000)? Zoom out. Start at the start. Work your way up.

Because I know which of those 2 options I’d choose…


Adam McAreavy has been conquering the digital commerce world for the past 9+ years and he’s seen it all! He’s an expert in navigating any E-Commerce terrain.

Adam doesn’t just talk the talk – he walks the walk, having consulted for giants and built success stories across industries like home goods, fashion, baby products, and even eSports. Now, he shares his wisdom through articles that pack a punch. Need E-Commerce insights? This is your guy.

When he’s not launching B2C E-Commerce for billion-dollar enterprises and start-ups alike, you can find Adam doing DIY or swimming in Scandinavian fjords.

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