CRO Is Key to Improving Your Association Marketing

Do you think association marketing isn’t getting any easier? So many “channels” exist—you figured out Twitter ads and then Snapchat showed up overnight! Rapid changes in technology enable us to give more and different experiences to the consumers we target.

But if you’re like me, sometimes you’re paralyzed by all the available options.

If you have tight budget constraints (and who in the non-profit arena doesn’t?), then the best way to improve your Marketing ROI is to turn your website into what our CMO Dave Martin likes to call a “conversion machine!”

This summer I had the chance to attend the Call to Action Conference (#CTAConf2017) in Vancouver, Canada, sponsored by Unbounce. The conference was jam-packed with actionable insight. Since the conference had a single-focus—improving conversion rates on your website—speakers were able to address the gamut of opportunities. Read on for my summary with actionable tips for how you can optimize your conversions with stories and experiences. (We already use most of these tips at Aptify, and I think they can help you too.)

Digital Acquisition Costs Are Sky High!

First off, to understand the benefits of conversion rate optimization (CRO), we need to know the current landscape. You probably instinctively notice this everytime you buy a Facebook ad, but digital acquisition costs are sky-high! You spend valuable money on paid ads or developing content. So you need to make every dollar stretch because costs are increasing much faster than marketing budgets.

Unbounce CTO Carl Schmidt threw out this insight to the crowd to start the conference. Digital ad spend is catching up to TV advertising—advertisers are catching on to “what works,” but the result is more “demand” in a market for online attention that has reached maximum supply in North America.

Social media guru Mari Smith told attendees Facebook is running out of ad inventory. Paid ad prices are going up. And what about “organic” reach of content to your market? Mari Smith says, “Organic reach is so 2012.” She estimates organic reach on Facebook pages is just 2% to 3% today. Social networks have become huge companies and have to monetize. “Wizard of Moz” Rand Fishkin said SEO is not about gaming mechanics anymore. The days of massive website traffic from technical coding expertise or “technical SEO” are gone.

CRO Is Critical to Maximize Topline Revenue

Those facts mean CRO is key. With online visitors so expensive to “buy” via advertising or “earn” via search engines, to maximize topline revenue you need to win more money and action from the people who already visit your website.

So what is CRO?

CRO means solving for your visitors. Just like you would organize inventory on a storefloor to encourage mall-goers to enter, then help them find a product and then the cash register, you need to make buying your products and services easy and intuitive online. The speakers at #CTAConf2017 emphasized two key factors to achieve this value.



Creating intuitive and easy-to-use conversion paths on your website is not always whiz-bang technical gadgetry. Allison Otting reminded attendees that “Relevance = hypertargeting.” You can use twenty filters to target a Facebook ad, but if you are marketing a generic widget and sound like a generic marketer you will be ignored. She told attendees to create stories for their visitors that are 1) relevant, 2) transparent, and 3) rescues them from a problem.

“Professional storyteller” Kimbra Hall explained the power of stories. Visitors relate and remember them, precisely because we make sense of all of our lives by stories.  (I don’t think of myself as a features list—do you?)

Hall explained every story has a Beginning (Normal) → Middle (Explain) → End (New Normal). You have to tell a compelling story if you want to move people from their status quo through the exertion of buying to get to a new normal that is better for their organization or family. That’s why Joel Klette (a copywriter who redid Hubspot’s product pages) says to write for buying intentions more than for buyer personas.

Buyer personas are important for your market research—and you should have them—but people buy your product because they need to fix a problem, not because they are a 30-year-old, female, caucasian junior marketing manager. (At Aptify, for example, we keep our buyer personas closely linked to the types of problems different roles attempt to fix with new membership software).


The experience a visitor has when they arrive on your website includes both the quality of the content (how helpful is it to their specific need?) and the quality of the website (how easy is it to quickly get what they need?).

The best experiences happen when marketing provides real answers that help solve problems for people. That’s why marketing provocateur Scott Stratten says to write good content, not vanity content. Because each of us does what is inspected, not expected, we need to build structures to incentivize solving visitors’ problems. If you use vanity metrics, like website visitors or time-on-site, you will incentivize cheap tactics that provide bad user experiences. Use metrics that move the needle for your business goals—if you’re an association, make your KPI views on your membership pricing page instead of total hits on your homepage.

Rand Fishkin told attendees the point of search engines is Searcher Task Accomplishment.  Google is even beginning to prefer fastest answers over traditionally “good” results. Google wants people to get answers to their questions—so help Google do that and you will be rewarded. You’ve probably seen this yourself already in search results, but we need to acknowledge the change.

Speaker Mitch Joel asked attendees to think about how technology has changed daily lives. But we’re on the second wave of technological change—where tech has removed tech from tech.


Visitors to your website are used to easy navigation and intuitive user interfaces. Joel says if you can find something as consequential as a mate by swiping on a smartphone app (Tinder), what are the implications for customer expectations on your website?  You need to deliver. (Our own Community Brands President, JP Guilbaut, likes to say he wants an AMS upgrade to soon happen as stress-free as an iPhone iOS upgrade.)

So how do we deliver better experiences and convert more website visitors into revenue?

Better Experiences

Here are some tips from conference speakers.

Don’t Be Annoying – Design Empathy

Oli Gardner, Unbounce’s own evangelist, says to put designing for your user (instead of yourself) first.  Always remember, don’t be annoying, because one thing an A/B test does not measure is how many people are ticked off by a new tactic. Gardner provides an entire list of website/marketing “trends” you need to EXCISE NOW from your marketing in order to improve user experience and your conversion rates.

Message Match – Ads & Landing Pages

Allison Otting emphasized that your imagery and copy need to be consistent with each other in ads, on your landing pages, and from ad to page. Visitors should not be confused, because then they will leave or view you as less trustworthy. The fastest way to look unprofessional is concocted stock photos direct from the Internet—use real and obvious imagery. Put your real employees on your careers page, not models, etc.

UX QA Your Pages Like They Are Products – Because They Are

Rand Fishkin told attendees to perform QA on the “user experience of your pages like they are products—because they are.” That landing page a prospective customer comes to is a product too–it needs to work, provide value, and solve a problem. If you distract or the page fails usability, you will not earn much organic traffic from Google.

Correct the Difference Between PPC Results and Organic Results

Will Reynolds told attendees bluntly: “Google is building self-driving cars off the backs of DUMB PPC marketers!”

Look at the difference between PPC results for a keyword in Google versus the organic results.  The organic results is what Google is telling you it thinks people want when they search that keyword.  PPC results is what marketers supposedly think people who search that want.  Marketers, if that mismatch is the best we can do, we are failing. Make compelling PPC ads that are relevant to the problem someone is trying to solve when they search that—don’t scream “GET IN MY PIPELINE!”

Best Practices for Email Technology

Jessica Best told attendees we want to follow best practices for email, but we need to know to follow email technology best practices. Know your unsubscribe rates. Know your bounce rates against each email client and modulate your sending based on that data.

Our Responsibility

To be good marketers who optimize conversion rates on our websites, we have responsibilities—to success, and to our team’s goals and revenue targets for sure, but we also have responsibilities to our prospective customers or members. Only when we realize that will we really tell compelling stories and provide better experiences to the people we market.  We need to have integrity in the offers, tactics, and strategies we use.

Closing speaker Michael Agaard exhorted attendees to:

  • Fight confirmation bias
  • Do not torture data
  • Get out of the marketing bubble and think about normal people user experiences

April Dunford asked us to stop working for companies where we are asked to market crap (good luck optimizing conversion rates there). Scott Stratten reminded us integrity and trust are not renewable resources in our society. Ask every day, “Did I do good in my marketing today?” One thing I loved about my previous work marketing for an association was knowing our memberships improved people’s daily lives in their work. I was marketing to help them.  You might feel the same way as an association marketer—so use marketing tactics that live up to the good mission of your association.

When you are working to optimize conversion rates you get two rewards.

  1. Better marketing results.
  2. Better feelings about your work because you’re the one advocating for the best stories and experiences for the visitors.

Stay on top of the latest and greatest. Sign up now.

Recommended for you

Blog Subscribe

This will close in 0 seconds

This will close in 0 seconds

This will close in 0 seconds

This will close in 0 seconds

This will close in 0 seconds