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Learn How User Research Boosts Clinical Trial Website ROI

Darcy Grabenstein

August 13, 2019

CRO: It’s Not What You Think

For those of us in the pharmaceutical industry, CRO stands for clinical research organization. In digital marketing, CRO stands for conversion rate optimization, and it’s an important part of any online marketing strategy. With 43 percent of clinical trial seekers using the internet, it’s imperative that clinical trial sponsors have an online marketing strategy.1

So what is this CRO and what’s it got to do with clinical trial engagement and recruitment? Everything. You’ve undoubtedly made a significant investment in your clinical trial website. But are you getting the greatest ROI? Launching a website is just the first step; you must continually optimize the site experience for the best results.

Conversion rate optimization is the process of increasing the percentage of clinical trial website visitors who convert (complete a goal/take a desired action) — such as filling out a contact form, searching for a clinical trial, reading study details, inquiring about a trial, registering for a trial or signing up to receive email notifications about study updates and summaries. Close to 70% of the public has never or rarely considered clinical studies as an option2, so it’s imperative that you move the needle when it comes to visitors to your clinical trial website.

Using CRO will help you understand how users navigate through your clinical trial website, what actions they take, and what’s getting in their way of taking the actions that meet your goals.

A variety of factors can impact how a visitor interacts with the content on your website. First, it helps to know a little bit about your visitors, where they originated, and what they do once they’re on your site. In addition to site traffic and conversions, here are a few more elements you might want to track:

  • How visitors found your site (what led them there)
  • Where visitors land when they enter your site (which page)
  • What areas of your website are the “stickiest” (where do visitors spend most of their time when they’re on your site)
  • Are they patients or caregivers (create your contact form to capture all the information you’re seeking)
  • What devices they use (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone)
  • What web browsers they use (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, etc.)
  • What search engine they use if that’s how they found your site (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, AOL, etc.)
  • Where they abandoned your site (where they were or what they were doing when they left your site)
  • Who are your return visitors (which visitors come back to your site, and how long between visits)

Where do you obtain all this information? One place to start is with Google Analytics, a free service offered by, you guessed it, Google. Google Analytics tracks and reports on your website’s traffic. For more detailed results, you could pay for more advanced online tools, hire a web analytics firm or develop and host your site with a company that provides reports and analysis for you.

A/B Testing

And now for a similar parallel: In the clinical research world, it’s all about testing. Testing drugs for various diseases, various disease stages, among various demographics, and more. In the digital marketing world, testing also plays a big role. A/B testing tells you what’s working/what’s not so that you can optimize your content to increase website traffic and conversions (in our case, clinical trial inquiries, email signups and registrations).

What website elements can you examine via an A/B test? The list is virtually endless; however, best practice dictates that you only test one element at a time so as not to skew your results. Here are a few examples of elements you can test:

  • Page layout
  • Images
  • Fonts (size of type, serif vs. non-serif, etc., for readability)
  • Colors (keep patient accessibility in mind)
  • Headlines (even including punctuation and capitalization)
  • Content (long vs. short, use of subheads and bullets, videos, animations, links, etc.)
  • Forms (layout, number of form fields, required fields, etc.)
  • Calls to action (wording, button size, color and placement, etc.)

Beyond Google Analytics

While it’s easy to track basic visitor analytics in Google Analytics, successful website optimization requires third-party tools and know-how. Creation of hypotheses, conducting the tests and interpretation of the results require a considerable amount of time and expertise.

While you begin to formulate these hypotheses, it’s important to capture the voice of the customer as well. In this case, it’s the patient. Just as many sponsors seek patient input for design of the clinical trial itself, it makes sense to do so for the design – and content – of the clinical trial website.

Of course, the best way to do this is to go directly to the source. A survey is a great way to capture customer insights. And an on-site survey (vs. one that’s sent via email) is ideal for obtaining feedback about your website, because you’re catching visitors while they are interacting with your site.

Other analytical tools include heatmaps, scrollmaps and session recordings. A heatmap is a visual representation of visitor clicks on a website, using color coding to indicate different levels of activity. The brighter or “hotter” an area is, the more interaction it represents. Red/orange/yellow areas reflect the most interactions, and purple/blue/green the least:

Scrollmaps help you understand to what point on a page users scroll and where they abandon the page. Depending on the scrolling behavior of your website visitors, you may want to adjust where you place the most important content on a page (like your search bar and featured trials). Of course, length of content is simply another area that’s worth an A/B test. Don’t let this rainbow-like report fool you; it’s more than just visually appealing as it provides valuable insights on scrolling behavior:

For deeper insights into visitor behavior, you can record and play back individual user sessions. You can capture a range of data, from mouse trails to pauses to confusion in filling out forms and more. Plus, you can slice and dice your segmentation by visitor, device, browser, etc. Here’s what a session recording looks like (it may look like a child’s scribble right now, but with accompanying statistics session recordings can offer eye-opening visitor information):

Website session recording

How It All Comes Together

Conducting A/B tests is one thing; how you apply the test results to your website is what’s key. The results won’t do you any good if they are sitting in a file folder on your computer.

Test. Analyze. Repeat. This should be your mantra. Let’s say you test Headline A against Headline B, and Headline A wins, based on visitor action on that page. Was it by a large or a small margin? How big was the test sample (that is, how many visitors viewed the pages with the two headlines)? How long did you run the test? Just as there are innumerable variables to test, the way you set up your test also can vary. Next, you might want to test Headline A against Headline C. The more you refine your content, the more you can improve your site conversion rate.

But it’s not just about the numbers. By offering relevant content in a user-friendly format, you provide an optimal online experience that encourages visitors to take desired actions. Keep visitors engaged, and you’ll keep them coming back to your site. Engaged visitors are also more likely to recommend your website to friends and family. This adds up to more traffic and, ultimately, more clinical trial participants. In the end, it’s all about improved patient outcomes. First, however, you’ve got to get patients into your trials.

Pew Internet & American Life Project 2019
2017 CISCRP Perceptions and Insights Study

TrialScope EngageTM enables clinical trial sponsors to communicate with patients and the public via user-friendly, high impact websites to openly share clinical trial information and results. It includes actionable analytics to help sponsors optimize traffic and participant recruitment.

About the author

Darcy Grabenstein is Senior Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at TrialScope. With a background in journalism and public relations, she has 30-plus years of experience in communications.