CRO As Explained by Emily Post, Classic Queen of Etiquette

Emily Post may have hit her stride way back when the Charleston was a trendy new dance and alcohol was illegal, but we can all learn a lot  about CRO from her timeless words of wisdom.

For a woman who died over 60 years ago, politeness maven Emily Post is pretty darn smart about CRO. Her classic book, called simply Etiquette, instructed generations of up-and-comer types on the basics of acting proper. As old-fashioned as that seems today, it turns out that her ideas are directly applicable to the world of conversion rate optimization.

Emily Post’s Take on Being a Great Host

Her words, immortalized by the Emily Post Institute, instruct the perfect host to greet visitors the following way:

Be welcoming and attentive. Make sure guests are greeted warmly, then made to feel welcome throughout the party. Look after each guest as much as you can. If you notice a guest with an empty glass or if there’s one person standing alone, take action and remedy the situation.”

Imagine these words applied not to a dinner party you’re hosting, but rather to the website you’re managing. Dinner party guests are now website visitors- it’s just a much bigger party.

Your Website is Your Dinner Party: Treat Your Guests Right

Emily Post suggests we give our dinner party guests the white-glove treatment. Meticulous attention given to their experience while visiting your home is how you end up with happy guests.

Apply the Emily Post mentality to your website guests and you’ll similarly end up with happy website visitors. This means treating all your visitors like special dinner guests. Give each visitor “personal” attention when they visit and when they re-visit your site (you’ll see how to do this in just a bit).

In Marketing, It’s Called Personalization

To make your visitors feel more “at home” on your site, you’ll need to serve up a personalized experience. In digital marketing circles, this is called, aptly, Personalization. Any way you can make your visitor feel he’s landed in exactly the right place for his desires and his needs, can be a form of personalization.

A Janrain study found that almost three-quarters of online consumers are frustrated when the content of a website seems to have nothing to do with their interests. Frustrated does not a happy visitor make! Serve them what they came for and away goes the frustration.

Better Visitor Handling = Better Conversions

If you could give each of your website visitors Emily Post level of white-glove treatment every time they visited your site, you’re more likely to encourage some sort of engagement with a much higher percentage of your visitors. They’re happy to see what they came looking for, after all, and happy to enjoy a pleasant experience once they arrive.

And as we all know, happy visitors are more likely to follow through on whatever call-to-action you’ve set up them. Likewise, unhappy visitors won’t stick around too long. They may simply leave your site, in search of satisfaction elsewhere.

After all, online consumers expect a better experience these days. They know it’s available, so if your site doesn’t satisfy their needs right away, they’re outta there, in search of someone who “gets” them. Over two-thirds of respondents in that same Janrain study cited above stated that if they visited a website and were shown an ad for a political party they disliked the most, they’d back out of there as fast as you could say “swing voter”. 

And an ad for a dating service? 57 percent would leave the site immediately if they were married. The message is clear:

“I’m your consumer: spend a little effort to get to know me!”

Marketers know this: 94% who work in-house for a brand know that personalization is critical to online success.

So, how do they do it?

How to Make Your Visitors Happy

Emily Post was writing about hosting dinner guests, but as you can see below, her words can be applied directly to to art of CRO, without changing a single word. 

We’ll parse out her words in order to show exactly how you should approach personalization on your own website.

Take a look:

“Make sure guests are greeted warmly…” 

This is clearly all about the landing page they see. Many site owners have one static home page and that’s what everyone sees, no matter who they are, where they came from, or whether they’re a first-time visitor or not.

If that describes you, then it’s time to move forward a few years in time and get on the bandwagon of personalization.

“…then made to feel welcome throughout the party.”

One thing a hostess never does, according to the Emily Post camp, is talk incessantly about herself, with little regard to whether people find it interesting or pleasant. For you, that translates into serving up more than just a bunch of great content.

Whaaaat? What happened to “content is king”? 

Great content is just the beginning. Now, to deliver a premium experience, you have to serve up tailored great content. The Emily Post-approved way to conduct dinner conversation is to consider what topics your guests would like to discuss. Entertaining a group of parents from your kid’s school? Maybe it’s best not to bring up politics or religion. Consider your audience and tailor your conversation to them.

For your website, that means making the web content you serve more relevant to who’s visiting. If you’ve ever shopped on Amazon, you’ve already seen this in action. They recommend products based on your past searches.

Amazon Personalization

Like metaphors? Here’s another way to think about personalization. It’s like the hostess, who can cook up any great dish to serve… but serving her chicken cordon bleu to a vegetarian isn’t going to go over very well now, is it? Serve your visitors the content they want to see, not what you think a generic audience would want to see.

If you nurture leads this way, with targeted content, you may experience what other online marketers experienced in a study conducted by DemandGen: a 20 percent increase in sales opportunities.

“Look after each guest as much as you can.”

Emily meant that once your guests are inside your home, keep an eye on them to make sure they’re having a good time. If you see anyone sitting alone in the corner looking forlorn or bored, act on it. Go over and strike up a conversation, make them feel at home. Lead them into the party and make them a part of what you’re trying to do, which is host a good time for all.

If you’re the website owner, it’s the same. Take each visitor and nurture them along the pathway and make them a part of what you’re trying to do. Only in this case, you’re not trying to host a good party, you’re most likely trying to lead people down some sort of funnel.

“If you notice a guest with an empty glass… take action and remedy the situation.”

Ever heard of “click indecision”? It’s one of the problems that occur when your website is not designed with User Experience (UX) in mind. Bad UX can be a multi fold problem that can manifest itself in many ways, actually. The one we’re concerned with here, however, is leaving your visitor confused as to what he should do on a page.

If your call-to-action isn’t prominent enough, your conversions will be low. It can be the wrong color or it can be too small. It can be placed too low – did you know that most visitors probably only read 60% of any article on your site? That means, if your CTA isn’t above the fold where they don’t have to scroll to see it, they may never see it at all.

There are around a million and a half ways to ensure good UX on your website, and each has the capacity for increasing conversions and decreasing bounce rate. Ignoring this is the social equivalent of ignoring that guest with an empty glass at your Emily Post-approved party. If you “don’t take action and remedy the situation” then it’s your loss.


If you remember only one thing from reading this, it’s that you should think of your website visitors as your esteemed guests. Try to serve them the best possible experience by considering what they are after when they visit your site rather than simply trying to make your site generically great or great according to your own personal set of values.

The focus is on the visitor, and the methodology is called Personalization. It’s not a new concept – as you’ve just seen, Emily Post was writing about it almost a century ago – it’s simply an old idea applied to the ever-evolving world of online marketing and e-commerce.

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