Conversion Masters Interview Samuel Larsen

Samuel Larsen

Buckle up for a delightful discussion with the master of conversions, Samuel Larsen.

1. Can you share a bit about your background and how you became a CRO specialist?

I've always had a passion for breaking things down and trying to improve them; even as a child, I would tweak with toys, radios, computers and whatever I could get my hands on, breaking them down and trying to understand them.

Back in 2015, I was studying business at a university with a strong desire to test what I had learned in the real world. I started by cold-calling local companies selling them websites from my student dorm, which then evolved into working on eCommerce sites. When one of my previous eCommerce clients contacted me for optimization, I was instantly hooked and fell in love with CRO. A year later, I was a university dropout, traveling Southeast Asia with my laptop and working remotely with clients.

Looking back, I was very fortunate to find such a great field at the right time and was there when eCommerce & Shopify boomed.

2. What inspired you to focus on helping businesses improve their conversion rates?

Back when I was just selling brochure websites for local businesses, most of my clients didn't have any kind of conversion goals with their sites. Their idea was that they needed a website, so they were going to just get a website and be done with it. I always found this very frustrating because I could see that there was so much more that they could gain from it.

So, when I got introduced to something where we can learn the intricacies of user behavior and improve key metrics over time, I found it irresistably captivating. This was an area that made a tangible impact on the client's business and could even improve the lives of millions of site visitors by providing them with a better online experience. It fueled everything I wanted from a field. I finally had ambitious clients, interesting problems to solve and meaningful challenges.

3. In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes businesses make that reduce their conversion rates?

Most businesses are just completely overwhelmed with the day-to-day fire killing and are barely scraping by. They know that they need some traffic to succeed, so as soon as they have that, they tend to focus exclusively on traffic optimization. Scaling requires constant adjustments because what got you the small success won't get you to a big one.

Having a standard site is okay initially, but once you've proven your business model, it is time to take proactive action to improve the purchase journey and experience continuously. Most merchants who fail never think of their positioning and competitive advantage; they likely just got lucky with the right products/ads/opportunities and eventually get wiped out of the market because they were just one-trick ponies.

It is business 101, but defining your positioning and adjusting your messaging to serve the people you are best positioned to serve is an art form that is most often overlooked. Nowadays, it is not enough to list your products anymore and hope for sales, the competition is just too tough for that. You really need to be able to define and deeply understand what makes your store unique and how you can hold that position to fend-off competitors. Ultimately, it is great business fundamentals that drive your conversion rates as well. We can do a lot on the CRO side to optimize, but it is still optimization instead of revolutionization.

4. What role do data analytics and Google Analytics play in your conversion optimization process?

I like to say that Analytics will tell us what is happening, where and how much, but it doesn't tell us why. We at CRO Gurus aren't as heavily reliant on Analytics as most other CRO agencies as we serve mostly small and medium-sized eCommerce stores that simply cannot be perfectly data-driven. We've adjusted our approach to suit these smaller merchants who need to maximize their bang for the buck by aiming to make significant impacts based on solid planning and reasoning.

Our general approach is to take calculated risks and then validate the ones we have less certainty about with testing. With testing, we don't need to read everything from past data perfectly, as we'll be able to test whether our assumptions are correct or not. Analytics is generally used as a focus tool to point us in the right direction so we don't waste time looking at what is already performing well and can focus on the largest opportunities instead.

5. What strategies or tactics do you find most effective in increasing website conversions?

Optimizing is not really about predetermined tactics or overall strategies but the process itself. Having seen well over 200 stores from the inside, we approach them quite differently based on the situation. I can, for example, say that increasing social proof tends to work in the vast majority of cases, but the tricky part is to know what kind of social proof to display and where.

The problem with standard tactics is that if you look at a site from a checklist perspective, adding all the recommended elements without addressing the underlying issues, your site will end up looking like a Christmas tree with all the bells and whistles but still misses the mark completely.

We have all the CRO checklists with hundreds of tactics but don't generally find them all that useful as they are always generic in nature. There's a serious skill needed to understand the deeper issues at play and try to solve those issues instead of shooting in the dark, hoping to hit a bullseye.

6. What advice would you give to businesses looking to improve their email collection strategies without being intrusive?

The nice thing about being nonintrusive is that it actually leads to higher conversion rates for those who see the popup. Furthermore, these people are also more valuable than the ones who subscribe prematurely.

For blogs, I love the idea of slicing your content into different categories based on the visitor's situation and designing lead magnets for them. If, for example, your visitor is looking for tips on the stock market, don't send them a lead magnet about bonds, as he hasn't shown interest in that yet. It is a simple concept but takes effort to implement, and that is why it is likely still so underused. The good part here, of course, is that because it is difficult, you have an opportunity to stand out from your competitors and monetize your visitors way better than the site.

7. How do you view the significance of customer surveys in the context of conversion optimization, and how do you use them?

Surveys are generally most useful when they are targeted at a specific problem and for high-traffic sites. So, the more specific a question we can ask and the larger the traffic volume, the more likely we are to use surveys and to benefit from them.

Overall, though, we've found existing reviews to be more useful, along with interviewing customer support. There's a lot of data out there already that doesn't require one to bother the visitors, so we first recommend exhausting this before jumping into surveys as a default tactic.

8. How do you balance between collecting emails and not overwhelming visitors with too many pop-ups?

This is simple, having multiple criteria for firing popups.

In Klaviyo, for example, we like to combine scroll-depth with time on the page and then have multiple exclusions where the popup doesn't show, for example, cart pages & checkout.

Ultimately, it comes down to financials: how much is each subscriber worth?

Can we justify showing the popups based on that number?

And how do things change when we change the settings?

9. Could you describe a particularly challenging conversion optimization project you've worked on and the results you achieved?

The most challenging ones tend to be companies that already have their package together well. They often have a smart CMO or a founder who hasn't slept on CRO. Often these are great clients though as they understand the process and they usually are running a fair bit of volume making even the smaller CRO gains significant.

My favorite is a fast fashion brand that we managed to help grow from 2.5 million to 18 million in yearly revenue by optimizing conversion rates, upsells and customer lifetime value over a 14-month period. This stands out to me as it is from the most competitive niche and one where we were allowed to experiment with everything freely and got some major wins proving that the combination of growing traffic, conversion, AOV and retention simultaneously can lead to explosive growth.

10. Finally, what advice would you offer to online stores that are seeking to enhance their conversion rates and overall performance, especially from the perspective of someone who has extensive experience in conversion optimization?

It is tough to give general CRO advice that would apply to all kinds of stores and situations (the devil really is in the details).

But there are still some universal rules that apply.
1. Don't seek to master everything yourself. As a business owner, you already have so many things on your plate that it is impossible to do everything well. Seek to work with experts instead of being the hero who is the center point of everything.
2. When hiring an agency/freelancer, they should be able to show you tangible deliverables from similar stores and outline their process convincingly. If it isn't clear to you what you are getting exactly, don't hire them.
3. Once you've hired a partner, if it doesn't show initial promise, move on to the next one. You'll be able to judge this quite quickly. A good agency can bring value to the first couple of calls already instead of making excuses.

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