Should you bring your Conversion Rate Optimisation in-house?

When first delving into the world of optimisation testing, many companies will be tempted to opt for an agency. Or perhaps you’re already working with an agency but curious about how to further improve the culture of testing within your company. Agencies can be great for producing informative website audits, but when it comes to running a regular test and learn cycle and understanding what’s best for your business, it may be time to hire in-house.

The Benefits

Enlisting the skills of an in-house Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) Manager, whether it be on a permanent or contract basis, gives your company full control over which A/B tests are prioritised and run. An in-house CRO Manager will understand the specifics of your business on a deeper level because they are surrounded daily by its challenges and goals, and they’ll be in a better position to prioritise testing accordingly.

For example; if a new product feature has been proposed, the benefits to an in-house CRO specialist include:

  • encouraging daily close collaboration between your designers, developers and product managers to discuss the potential for testing the new feature
  • working with developers to build and run a test which will not interfere with upcoming website releases
  • working with company analytics to measure the potential success of the new product feature before it’s launched

In-house CROs are typically closer to your customers too since they have more time to observe funnel behaviour and conduct qualitative research as part of their role.

Agencies typically know what has worked well for other businesses and want to implement similar tests rather than something specific to your business. These ideas may work for you, and following best practices is a great place to start. But understanding your customers on a more personal level is something only an in-house team can achieve because they have the time available to dedicate to your customers.

The focus of an in-house CRO should be on including the whole business in their process. Encouraging colleagues to share test ideas, communicating regularly and clearly with the business to share best practices and success stories. The benefits to an in-house CRO extend all the way to the final step of the test and learn process — getting successful tests into the final code base. An agency lacks the day-to-day visibility to get tests into developer sprints as other fixes and features can often be prioritised into development instead.

The Drawbacks

The most obvious downside to moving your company’s conversion rate optimisation in-house is the cost associated with hiring a dedicated resource. This cost is especially pronounced if they are inexperienced or require prolonged training to get them up to speed. But perhaps you already have an employee championing the idea of A/B testing, in which case, giving them the opportunity to explore conversion rate optimisation further as a career path might be beneficial to both them and the business.

In-house CROs may also suffer from over-specialisation; when they’re so close to the brand that it becomes difficult to see solutions. This is why it’s important for them to develop relationships both within and outside of the company in order to continue generating test ideas. This is where an agency’s exposure to different industries and accounts prevents their ideas from becoming stagnant.

Eventually, you may even require a whole optimisation team, and ensuring a suitable ROI from that is something an analyst or your CRO manager should be able to provide. A typical Optimisation team is comprised of a manager, one or more front-end developers, and one or more analysts. These roles are clearly defined within the team, but being open to learning and assisting colleagues, especially during busier times, results in a fully rounded team with great career prospects for everyone.

Don’t Rule out Agencies

There is still a very strong need for agencies who specialise in conversion optimisation; they still have their place as strong CRO advocates and their combined experience is incredibly useful for businesses who are beginning their journey into conversion rate optimisation. Agencies already have access to the skills required to analyse & build tests whereas an individual based in-house might require training.

I currently work as an in-house optimisation manager and attend regular workshops with agencies & consultants which are helpful in developing new ideas and road-maps and assisting me in keeping up-to-date with the latest trends.

However, for our (pretty unique) business, being an in-house team has allowed us to really focus on our customers’ needs and work towards optimising our websites for them, whilst driving conversion. We can test at a faster pace and react quickly to the business and the market without worrying about additional billable hours.

If you’re in the market for a CRO agency, then I highly recommend reading this article by Bryan Eisenberg about what to look for in an agency, but don’t write off the idea of bringing the role in-house either. In an ideal world your business should benefit from both in-house and agency insights, but every business is different.

What are your experiences working with agencies vs in-house teams? What other pros & cons can you think of? Let me know.