Why some of your projects take ten times too long
(And what to do about it.)
In the following talk, we describe how to make your company move at least ten times faster.
That may sound like an overstatement, but bear in mind that we’ve seen one company take six months to complete a task that took another company thirty minutes.
That’s 8,760 times slower.
We love the techniques that we describe in the following talk. They work amazingly well. One of our current clients, when they first joined us, was taking 119 days to turn an idea into a statistically significant win. We reduced that time to 7 days.
We hope you find the techniques as useful as we do.
A video of the talk
The talk in podcast format
To download the audio of this talk, and others, subscribe to our podcast.
What you should do now
If you are serious about becoming great at conversion, you should download our amazingly useful free reports.
Why some of your projects take ten times too long
What VOC Aggregators are, and why you need to find yours
According to Paul Graham of Y Combinator, to grow an early-stage web business, you should spend all of your waking hours on the following three activities:
- Build the product
- Talk to users
So we also talk to people who spend their whole lives speaking with users. For example, salespeople, consultants, and customer-support staff. We call these people “Voice-Of-Customer Aggregators” (or “VOC Aggregators”). VOC Aggregators already understand the users. And they don’t just know facts like “The average user is 40 years old with 2.4 children”; they know the users intuitively, much like you know your own family. In fact, they can often second-guess how the users would react to a particular idea. Plus, because they speak with so many users, they know the relative importance of each issue. When you talk to a VOC Aggregator, you harness the wisdom of thousands of hours of conversations with users.
Of course, you still need to talk to users. But you can accelerate your understanding by identifying your market’s VOC Aggregators and then talking to them.
With this in mind, the updated formula would be:
- Build the product
- Talk to users—and to people who talk to users
How to benefit from VOC Aggregation
Here’s what we recommend you do:
- Identify your own industry’s VOC Aggregators. They may be resellers, consultants, telesales people, customer-support people. They may work for your own company or for other companies in the same supply chain. They may work for online companies, mail-order companies, or bricks-and-mortar companies. So, for example, when we work for phone manufacturers, we spend a lot of time speaking with the staff of bricks-and-mortar phone stores.
- Talk to them. Ask them how they would sell your product. Their approach is likely to mirror the logic of how their customers buy.
- Implement as much of their feedback as you can. Add the rest to your product roadmap and marketing roadmap.
An example of VOC Aggregation
One of the roles of Conversion Rate Experts is to recommend marketing software to its clients. In this respect, we are a VOC Aggregator for marketing software. You might be interested to see this summary of our knowledge, which we created for vendors of marketing software. When you speak with your own industry’s VOC Aggregators, you may wish to ask them to create an equivalent document for your own situation.
So what about the third point, “Exercise”?
Well, you could always get a treadmill desk like our founder Karl’s…
What you should do now
If you are serious about becoming great at conversion, you should download our amazingly useful free reports.
The fastest way to understand users: talk to a “VOC Aggregator”
This page is written primarily to help software vendors.
We receive many emails from vendors of marketing software asking us to recommend their software to our clients and readers.
We are extremely cautious about which software we recommend. We usually write about software only after we’ve used it and seen great results. Perhaps because of our approach, our readers and clients trust our recommendations. Several vendors cite us as being one of the main reasons for their business’s success.
This page describes our workflow for evaluating and recommending software. For the last few years, we have emailed the information in this article to every software vendor who contacted us. By making the information public, we hope that it will help more vendors to explain the benefits of their products.
We get only once chance
In particular, it’s essential that the experience goes well the first time we recommend any service to a client. Our reputation depends upon it. Software companies tend to hugely underestimate how difficult it is to persuade a client to implement a new service. They also underestimate how much damage it does to Conversion Rate Experts’ reputation if things go wrong.
In short, we—and hence you (the vendor)—get only one chance. By following this process, we increase the likelihood of getting it right.
To recommend your software, we need the following information
- We don’t attend sales pitches, but we are always happy to watch a two-minute video or read a landing page. Most vendors’ videos are beautiful but slow-moving. We don’t need animations—we just need a tightly edited screen recording of what you’d show to a CEO.
Regardless of the format, we need to know the following information:
- Is it ready for our clients? If software is still in beta, we need to know.
- Who’s it for, really? Which verticals? Which types of business? Which sizes of business? Many vendors answer, “It’s for everyone.” But when we suggest they run a trial for a particular client—a B2C mobile website, for example—they say, “Come to think of it, we aren’t compatible with that.”
- Under which set of circumstances should we recommend that a client use your service? We are looking to develop a mental “if/then” rule, so we can easily spot when to recommend a particular type of software. Here’s an example of such a rule: “If we are optimizing a native mobile app that was built using [technology], then we should recommend [software].”
- What are the main alternatives to the software, and how is your software niched so it’s different from them? This is by far the quickest way of explaining it to us. It also demonstrates that your service has a clear positioning, and that you have the clarity and confidence to be honest about the competitive landscape.
- How does it work? What’s the mechanism by which one of our clients can make more money from it?
- What’s the proof that it works? (Case studies are ideal.)
- What’s the easiest way for one of our clients to start making money from your service? We are much more likely to try software if it can be set up with one line of code. If the next step is to have a series of exploratory meetings, things are much less likely to happen.
It can take a lot of work to answer the questions above, but the answers are likely to be valuable for all your sales materials. In fact, some vendors use the questions as a strategic roadmap.
What you should do now
If you are serious about becoming great at conversion, you should download our amazingly useful free reports.
How we evaluate marketing software
Here are some great resources we have recently shared with each other
- How to record iPhone sessions (by mirroring your iPhone’s screen to a Mac). This can be useful when you carry out usability tests on mobile websites and apps.
- Some great tips on speeding up companies. Includes the following quotes: “You can either set the pace of the market or be the one to react. Whoever is fastest out of the gate is the one everyone else has to react to.” “A lot of people assume dependencies where they don’t even exist.”
- Handy software for powering Q&A pages and knowledge-sharing communities.
- See the International Space Station as it passes over you. The iPhone app Star Guide alerts you when interesting things happen in the night sky. It’s worth the price if you have never seen a satellite flare. (The nearest we can find for Android is the ISS Detector Satellite Tracker. Let us know if you find a better one.)
- An example of a great pitch: an amazing combination of strategy, execution and persuasion: Elon Musk debuts the Tesla Powerwall.
- If you have Amazon Prime, then Amazon TV Fire Stick, which costs just $39, brings Amazon Instant Video and music to your TV. We love ours.
- A great guide to coding hyphens and dashes. If your developers turn your en dashes into hyphens, or code them wrong, send this to them.
News from inside Conversion Rate Experts
- One of our heroes, the world’s most famous linguist, Steven Pinker, described our recent article about writing as “terrific advice,” and recommended it to his followers.
- We have recently published two great new video testimonials from clients in financial services: goHenry and AAG. They are on this page. Jeff from AAG said, “I went into this project fairly skeptical that we’d be able to achieve a 30%+ improvement. At 50%+, it far exceeded our expectations.”
- We have published a useful case study about guarantees, describing how to do them right, how we grew a business by 49% by adding a guarantee, and how to know if a guarantee would work for your business.
What you should do now
Some great resources—including an amazing sales pitch from Elon Musk
Also, how to know if a guarantee would work for your business.
A guarantee can be powerful.
Like a chainsaw.
Used right, it can cut through customer objections.
Used wrong, it can cut through profits.
“A guarantee can be powerful. Like a chainsaw.” (Tweet this.)
This case study reveals what’s possible when you do it right. It describes how we made Australia’s largest computer-repair service even larger. We have done many things to grow Geeks2U‘s profits. The following experiments describe the work we did on its guarantees, which alone grew sales by 49%.
When (and why) do guarantees work?
Guarantees don’t always increase sales. To understand when a guarantee would help, consider the two major functions of a guarantee:
Function 1: A guarantee reduces the risk for the customer. If the company doesn’t fulfill the guarantee’s promise, the customer is compensated.
Function 2: A good guarantee self-evidently promises that your business will be harmed if you don’t honor your claims. It effectively says, “Our promise must be true. Otherwise we wouldn’t be in business.” It thus acts as a kind of proof.
Many people underestimate the importance of Function 2.
“A good guarantee promises that your business will be harmed if you don’t honor your claims.” (Tweet this.)
So guarantees are effective when…
- the visitors want what the company is promising,
- but they are nervous about the risk, or are skeptical about the claims,
- and your service does live up to its claims.
A guarantee would not be effective for a hot-dog cart, because visitors aren’t nervous about wasting a few dollars on a hot dog. And hot-dog carts don’t make claims that make visitors skeptical.
However, if a hot-dog cart were to claim to sell “the best hot dog you’ve ever tasted,” then a guarantee would help to overcome the prospects’ natural skepticism. And if the cart were to increase the price of its hot dogs to $10, a guarantee (such as “$10 for the best hot dog you have ever tasted—or it’s free”) would help to reduce the customers’ risk, and therefore increase the sales.
How (and why) we implemented a bold guarantee for Geeks2U
We have more-than-doubled the sales of many companies. For each of them, we began by understanding the psychology of its visitors. On this project, the breakthrough came when we started to ask our Golden Questions to Geeks2U’s customers, using several tools including Qualaroo, FluidSurveys, and Hotjar.
Geeks2U’s customers said they loved the following aspects of Geeks2U’s service:
- The outgoing and friendly technicians.
- The speedy service.
- Their ability to fix their customers’ computers right first time.
Plus, Geeks2U’s Net Promoter Score (a measure of customer satisfaction) was one of the highest we’ve seen.
There was no guarantee in writing, but in the rare instances when a customer was unhappy, Geeks2U would always do something about it.
Test 1: Adding a guarantee
So we created a guarantee—not out of thin air, but as a formalization of the great service that Geeks2U was already offering.
Our guarantee encapsulated those features of the service that we knew customers cared about. We A/B-tested the guarantee using Optimizely, and the page with the guarantee generated 11% more orders:
See how the guarantee is much more than a get-out clause. It’s a promise.
However, in the same test we included an alternative variation of the guarantee, one that was more specific and prominent. This version beat the one above, increasing sales by 21%:
Test 2: Improving the guarantee—by making it more concise and striking
The previous test confirmed that we were barking up the right tree. So we knew that the new guarantee was a “conversion lever.” Once you have found a “conversion lever,” pull it harder. (For further details about this, see “Mistake #2: The “Cinema Foyer Effect” in this article.)
So we iterated upon the guarantee, to make it even stronger.
The following heat map reveals one of the reasons why the guarantee worked: It was one of the most looked-at elements on the page.
We designed a new variation that distilled the previous winner into a single, powerful sentence, supported with a simple visual:
This new guarantee resulted in 24% more conversions—an overall improvement of 49% over the original “guarantee-less” page. Notice that the winning guarantee takes the form of a positive promise. It doesn’t say, “If you dislike our service…”; it says, “We guarantee that you’ll love our service.” The most common mistake with guarantees is to word the guarantee negatively—as a “get-out clause”—rather than in positive terms, as a promise.
Since we began working with Geeks2U, its sales have increased so much its call center has outgrown its premises.
A 9-step checklist for implementing a guarantee safely
Is your company hesitant to offer a bold guarantee? That’s understandable. A guarantee can do harm if it’s implemented badly. Also, with guarantees the feedback loop is long, because you can’t calculate the costs of invoked guarantees until after the guarantee period has expired.
The following workflow provides a low-risk way to implement a bold guarantee:
- Create the guarantee, based on the principles described above.
- Carry out scenario modeling, as follows: Create a table in which the columns represent different values of “Uplift in conversion,” and the rows represent different values of “Percentage of customers who invoke the guarantee.” Then work out the net change in profit for each combination. Also consider how guarantee claims would be handled operationally (accepting returns, restocking shelves, issuing refunds, etc.). If you are satisfied that the guarantee will generate additional profits, then proceed to the next step.
- Run the guarantee as an A/B-test for a short time—for just a few days, if that’s all the risk you can bear.
- Wait for the guarantee period to expire.
- Calculate the increase in profits, based on the measured uplift in sales.
- Calculate the cost of people invoking the guarantee. In our experience, the invokation rate tends to be lower than companies expect, sometimes by an order of magnitude.
- If you need more data (which you probably will), return to Step 3 and run the guarantee for longer. By doing this in small increments, you remove the risk caused by the long feedback loop.
- If you do have enough data, and the increase in profit more than offsets the cost of returns, make the guarantee permanent.
- Return to Step 1, creating a bolder guarantee.
The most fruitful activities you should be engaging in
We’ve had wins from many types of guarantees: price-match guarantees, satisfaction guarantees, payment-deferral guarantees—even weather guarantees. The wins typically come from three activities:
- Creating a guarantee for a company that doesn’t already offer one,
- Improving the wording of a guarantee (some guarantees should be compact, and some should be long)
- Placing the guarantee at the right moment in the conversion flow.
If your business is suitable for a guarantee, those three activities are likely to be effective for you.
A few words from the Managing Director of Geeks2U
Here’s a short video in which Geeks2U’s Managing Director, David Hancock, briefly describes what it’s like to work with us.
Our methodology requires a team effort. And Geeks2U has one of the best teams we have ever worked with. The team members are willing to test everything (even a risky guarantee). They are fun to work with, and they are fast at implementing ideas.
Another case study: The boldest guarantee we have tested
While we are on the subject of guarantees, you might be interested to hear about the boldest guarantee we ever tested. It was for Mobal, a telecoms company that sells phones for international travel. Previously, using financial modeling, we had correctly identified that Mobal could make huge profits by selling each phone at a subsidized price, and then making all of its money from subsequent call charges. So each time we sold a phone, we made a significant short-term loss. Offering a guarantee on such an offer might have sounded reckless.
Because the stakes were so high, we carried out a scenario analysis. It forecast that a guarantee would be likely to increase the overall profits, even taking into account the costs of servicing the guarantee. (This is where it helps to have a Cambridge Ph.D. scientist on your team.)
Fortunately, our modeling paid off. We tested a 60-day satisfaction guarantee—which was even longer than the average customer’s trip. The conversion rate rose, and the return rate turned out to be much lower than our safeguards had allowed for—so the guarantee was a huge success. Before long, the conversion rate was so high, Mobal was able to invest profitably up to a quarter of a million dollars per month in offline advertising.
Here’s a short video in which Mobal’s Alistair Scott describes the impact we had on Mobal’s business:
Could you use more case studies like this?
If you would like to see more of our clients’ results, you can find a long list at our “Clients and Results” page.
This article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here.
What you should do now
How to do guarantees right. And how we grew a business by 49% by adding a guarantee.
—includes some of our favorite software, resources and techniques for usability.
This is part of a series of articles, the first of which is here.
Usability problems kill conversions.
There’s no easier way to grow a business than to eliminate them.
(As an aside, in our experience, the three other easiest ways to grow a business are to optimize (i) its strategy, (ii) its value propositions, and (iii) its pricing.)
In this article, we describe how to find usability problems. And then solve them. And we explain why so many designers are “usability-blind.”
How to identify your usability problems using usability-tests
We carry out usability tests every day. We ask users to carry out tasks, and then we watch—mostly in silence—as they struggle to complete them. The tasks are usually typical goals of the website. (For example, “Add to your basket some smoking mittens, some metal-detecting sandals, and a photorealistic bacon scarf, and then proceed to the checkout.”)
This script by Steve Krug tells you exactly what to say during a usability-test.
If you’re a sadist with a technical bent, you will enjoy running usability tests. During tests, we see users caught in wild-goose chases, scratching their heads, and sometimes swearing or even hitting their keyboards.
Why do marketers make websites that cause people to punch peripherals? Because marketers are afflicted with the curse of knowledge, a cognitive bias that makes it extremely difficult to think about a problem from the perspective of someone who’s less informed. Marketers spend so long looking at their own websites, they can’t imagine what it would be like to see the website for the first time.
As a result, the website’s users appear to be stupid. It’s a compelling illusion. But look at it another way:
- Our users desired something
- We created a website to satisfy that desire
- And our users still can’t get what they desire.
Now who’s stupid?
How can you overcome the curse of knowledge? Design your processes for what you perceive to be a busy, lazy, drunk, amnesiac idiot—a “moron in a hurry”. Even geniuses with time on their hands will be grateful that you did.
How to recruit people to usability-test your website
You can carry out usability-tests with people from the following groups:
- People from the target demographic: For example, when we worked on a web app for photographers, we recruited photographers to test the website. (This article describes in more detail how we doubled PhotoShelter’s sales.)
- People who have already visited the website: We speak with existing customers, or we recruit visitors directly from the website using an invitation powered by Ethnio or Hotjar.
- People who just happen to be nearby when we need feedback: Sometimes, anyone will do. Such tests are more useful than they might sound. This practice even has a name: hallway usability testing—which makes it sound more legitimate than it feels when you’re doing it.
During usability-tests, we often use ScreenFlow to record a movie of the user’s screen. ScreenFlow can also simultaneously record video from the users’s webcam, so we can capture the user’s facial expressions (frustration, confusion, despondency, etc).
How to outsource your usability-testing
If you are too busy—or introverted—to carry out usability tests, you can pay for a service to do it for you. UserTesting.com provides a good service. If your budget is limited, you may wish to check out WhatUsersDo and FeedbackArmy. UsabilityHub even allows you to carry out tests for free, provided that, in exchange, you complete other people’s tests.
Here’s how those services work:
- Tell the service which page you want to test
- Specify what the user’s goal should be.
- Wait. Within one hour, you will receive videos of users using your website.
To learn more about usability testing, see our talk, “How to make millions from usability testing.”
How to identify usability problems caused by technical errors
One type of usability problem occurs when the website malfunctions. This is particularly common when the visitor is using an uncommon device or browser version—or when the page is new. The solution is to follow a robust quality-assurance (QA) process before any page goes live. Smashing Magazine’s list of “45 web design checklists and questionnaires” can be useful.
Identifying usability problems is only the starting point. You then need to come up with solutions to the problems. And that’s the hard part.
Why great usability is hard to learn
Great usability is hard to detect, because usable solutions are invisibly elegant. In the same way that you never notice that you have a spleen until you have a problem with your spleen. So it’s not easy to learn good usability.
The following three documents provide great examples of beautifully elegant solutions to usability problems. We urge you to read them:
- A designer’s war on misleading parking signs
- How can we prevent users from pouring water into the bean compartment of a coffee machine?
- Analyzing Minard’s visualization of Napoleon’s 1812 march
Three books that teach you the most important concepts of usability
There are many good books about usability, but the following ones will teach you most of the concepts you need to know.
Don’t Make Me Think
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
This book is an excellent introduction to web usability. It’s so entertaining—and contains such valuable life skills—that our co-founder Karl started reading it to his children. They found it boring. Kids these days…
Designed for Use
Designed for Use by Lukas Mathis
This book is less entertaining than Don’t Make Me Think (Karl’s kids would hate it), but it covers more usability concepts. If this book list seems worryingly short, that’s testament to how much ground this book covers.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R Tufte
This is the book that popularized Minard’s visualization of Napoleon’s 1812 march (mentioned above). It contains many examples of complex data shown in beautifully elegant ways. And it’s much more enjoyable to read than you’d guess from its dull title, its drab cover, and the last two sentences.
More useful usability resources
- The following video explains one of the most important—and subtle—concepts of usability: “Affordances: How design teaches us without words.”
- This article explains why it’s so important that visitors intuitively understand the mental model of how your website works.
- This set of virtual cards by nForm shows many useful usability techniques.
- One of the fastest—albeit dry—ways to learn about a subject is to read a glossary of its terms. This glossary of usability terms is good.
A reminder of how confusing websites are to non-designers
Finally, a video that describes the pains of completing an online checkout process:
What you can achieve with usability improvements
We keep a database of all our experiments. Here are just a few of the wins we have had by solving usability problems:
- $3 million/year from optimizing the checkout of an e-commerce store.
- 34% increase in upgrades for a software company.
- $1.4 million/year increase in sales for a travel company.
- 50% increase in orders for a product manufacturer.
- 90% increase in sales for a business-to-consumer company.
- 73% increase in sales for a clothing company.
- 22% more sales for a consumer electronics company.
In fact, almost every win has great usability woven into it. Just like most successful books have “good grammar” in them. If you’d like to read about other wins we’ve had, visit this page.
What you should do now
How to eliminate the usability problems that stifle your growth
Imagine that you asked someone to build a computer for you. And he came back with one of those pretend ones that you see in furniture stores. Just a shiny, empty plastic box. Functionally useless.
That’s how most website redesign projects happen. The agency builds a beautiful website, one that would look great in its portfolio. But it has no interest in measuring how well the website works. Or even if it works. Many clients hire us to rebuild the functionally useless new website that their agency has just finished building.
(If you know people whose websites were built with this blatant disregard for performance, please forward this article to them.)
Every week we hear someone say, “We’ll start to work on conversion rate optimization (CRO) once our new website is finished.” As if conversion were an optional extra—like a mouse mat. Conversion is a website’s goal. In fact, that’s how a conversion is defined: as a purchase, a lead, a registration, or whatever the website’s purpose is. Conversions are the reason the website exists.
CRO is thus the act of making a website good at doing what it was built for. CRO is a core activity, arguably the core activity.
How to do it right
Of course, some companies do understand the importance of conversion, and—unsurprisingly—they are doing well. Our clients include many of the world’s most successful web companies—including Google, Amazon, and Facebook. They focus obsessively on user experience and conversion. People often ask us, “Aren’t those companies already great at conversion?” Yes, of course they are. And they are eager to improve. They need to improve.
It’s the difference between winning and losing.
Look under the hood of any these companies and you’ll find a powerful conversion engine. You’ll also see that they have a crack team of engineers continually tuning that engine, constantly improving the customer experience.
These companies’ staff members are marketers and designers, but they bear little resemblance to the marketers or designers of old. Just like their businesses bear little resemblance to the bricks-and-mortar companies they disrupted. These marketers can accurately measure the results of their actions. Marketing blather is replaced with rigorous exploration and scientific testing. We call it scientific design. It works, and it puts competitors out of business. Just ask Altavista, Barnes & Noble and Myspace.
If your company is still basing its decisions on opinion, your website may be like one of those fake computers. Successful companies measure their work, to ensure they are growing. If you want to join them, read our free reports, or ask us to help. Our “Clients and Results” page contains a long list of wins—proof that we have grown our clients’ profits. With or without us, you need to be adding demonstrable wins like these to your resumé.
So before you spend another penny with a web-design agency, ask to see proof that it has grown its clients’ businesses. Don’t let it distract you with flashy portfolios and “creative awards.” And don’t get stuck in the following loop:
Nowadays, there’s no reason why an agency wouldn’t A/B-test all of its work.
Unless, of course, it is a fraud, selling shiny, empty plastic boxes.
What you should do now
How to tell if your expensive new website is useless
—including an amazing book that hardly anyone knows about.
(This is part of a series of articles, the first of which is here.)
Why you should learn to write clearly—and why so few people are good at it
When we ask a website’s visitors why they didn’t buy, they often report that they were confused. They hadn’t understood the words on the site. And visitors can’t buy what they can’t understand.
So, with millions of dollars at stake, why are many websites confusing?
Because writing intelligibly is harder than it sounds. For example, read the following sentence from The Guardian, written by an otherwise great writer:
“Dance music aficionados can argue interminably over which of the legendary singles Frankie Knuckles produced in the late 80s – singles, you can say without fear of contradiction, that played a part in changing the face of pop music for ever – is the best.”
That sentence is free of typos and punctuation errors. And it uses sophisticated words accurately. According to many rules of English, it’s written well.
Yet most people struggle to understand it, let alone work out what’s wrong with it, or how to fix it.
It’s hard to write clearly. In fact, it’s hard to find someone who can teach you how to write clearly. Schools tend to spend more time teaching pupils how to sound smart, or how to analyze Shakespearian prose, than how to be understood. Students are more likely to be told to memorize poetry than to carry out a readability test.
This is a disservice. Poetry can be life enriching, but the purpose of almost all writing is to communicate information.
So if your school didn’t teach you how to write intelligibly, how can you learn?
This article contains some fantastic resources for helping you to write more clearly. They have helped us to generate hundreds of millions for our clients. It’s hard to overstate how useful they are.
But first, let’s explore why so many writers are hard to understand.
Many books teach you to avoid errors. But that’s not the problem.
When most people want to improve their writing, they buy a book like “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” which is about how to avoid making mistakes. Such books describe rules like the following:
- “When there are brackets at the end of a sentence, put the period after the closing bracket (like this).”
- “If your whole sentence is in brackets, put the period inside the closing bracket. (Like this.)”
Such rules are useful to know, but they make little difference to whether your readers understand what you are saying.
Many teachers specialize in sounding intelligent. If you follow their advice, your sales will plummet.
Many teachers encourage writing in what Richard Lanham calls the “Official Style”—a style that sounds intelligent but which is hard to read. Lanham’s book Revising Prose teaches you how to translate Official-Style sentences into plain English. It contains the following example of how Warren Buffett, the world’s most-famous investor, translated a fund prospectus into plain English:
A paragraph written in the hard-to-read Official Style (good luck with understanding it!): “Maturity and duration management decisions are made in the context of an intermediate maturity orientation. The maturity structure of the portfolio is adjusted in anticipation of cyclical interest rate changes. Such adjustments are not made in an effort to capture short-term, day-to-day movements in the market, but instead are implemented in anticipation of longer term, secular shifts in the levels of interest rates (i.e. shifts transcending and/or not inherent in the business cycle). Adjustments made to shorten portfolio maturity and duration are made to limit capital losses during periods when interest rates are expected to rise. Conversely, adjustments made to lengthen maturation for the portfolio’s maturity and duration strategy lie in analysis of the U.S. and global economies, focusing on levels of real interest rates, monetary and fiscal policy actions, and cyclical indicators.”
The same paragraph rewritten in plain English by Warren Buffett: “We will try to profit by correctly predicting future interest rates. When we have no strong opinion, we will generally hold intermediate term bonds. But when we expect a major and sustained increase in rates, we will concentrate on short-term issues. And, conversely, if we expect a major shift to lower rates, we will buy long bonds. We will focus on the big picture and won’t make moves based on short-term considerations.”
No wonder fellow investors hang on Buffett’s every word.
The Official Style is prevalent in academic literature too. On the website LOLMyThesis, graduates self-deprecatingly translate the titles of their theses from the Official Style into plain English—usually to comic effect:
Original title of thesis: “Environmental Enrichment and the Striatum: The influence of environment on inhibitory circuitry within the striatum of environmentally enriched animals and behavioural consequences.” Rewritten title: “Having toys and bright colours in their cages makes mice smarter in their brains!”
Original title of thesis: “Challenging Ritual and Exploring Deposition within the Canals of Chavín de Huántar.” Rewritten title: “Ancient Peruvians threw stuff down a drain: maybe it was ritual, probably just trash.”
Original title of thesis: “The Punch Brothers’ The Blind Leaving the Blind: How Heterogeneous Stylistic Techniques Provide New Interpretations of Genre.” Rewritten title: A band that detests genre classifications is just gonna have to put up with it.
The rewritten titles are facetious, and many of them omit useful information. But they also reveal a truth: The Official Style is like medieval armour. It defends you from attack, but people can no longer hear what you’re saying.
If you were to write your website in the Official Style, your conversion rate would bomb. Your visitors would leave confused. Teachers and bosses may like intelligent-sounding text, but readers prefer text that’s easy to understand.
How to write so that people will understand you
Faced with all this bad advice, how can you learn to write well? The following tools, techniques, and books will help enormously.
A simple technique that helps you to write easy-to-read copy
The first technique for improving your writing is simple: Carry out readability tests. A readability test is simply a usability test carried out specifically on a piece of writing. We won’t go into detail about usability tests here; we described them in detail in our article “How to make millions from user testing.”
Speak first, write later
If you struggle to write clearly, you will find the following workaround useful. One of our clients, a company called Moz, had a common problem. Moz’s founder, Rand Fishkin, mentioned that in seven minutes he could persuade almost anyone to sign up. So face to face, Rand’s conversion rate was high. But he was frustrated that his website’s conversion rate was much lower.
We asked Rand to film himself saying what he would say during those seven minutes.
We transcribed the video, then used the transcript as a template for the company’s new landing page. And we embedded the video itself into the page.
The new page beat the old one, having a 53% higher conversion rate during the A/B test. Rand reported that, in total, we almost tripled his company’s conversion rate. If you’d like to learn more about this project, see this detailed case study.
Many people find that their spoken English is easier to understand than their written English. If you are one of those people, try the following workflow:
- Record yourself.
- Get the recording transcribed. We highly recommend SpeechPad for fast, accurate transcription.
- Edit your transcript and incorporate it into your website.
- A/B test the new page to confirm that your changes have increased your profits.
Hemingway app “makes your writing bold and clear”
Hemingway highlights long, complex sentences and common errors. It’s free. You won’t agree with all of its suggestions, but it provides a fresh pair of (robot) eyes. We use it regularly.
Grammarly is “the world’s most-accurate grammar checker”
Grammarly is the best proofreading tool we’ve found. Like Hemingway (the app, at least), it isn’t always right, but it can point out mistakes that you have overlooked.
Some fantastic books for improving your writing
On our office bookshelf, we have 52 books about writing, but only a few of them will help you to improve the clarity of your writing.
We recommend you start at the top of the following list and work your way down. If punctuation bores you, don’t be deterred. Most of the books aren’t about grammatical pedantry; they are about simple, practical techniques that will transform you into a better writer.
The Plain English Campaign
Free guides from the Plain English Campaign
The Plain English Campaign has some useful free guides. Start with “How to write in plain English.” Then read “The A to Z of Alternative Words,” which urges you to use words like use instead of utilizing words like utilize.
The Elements of Style
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Skip the first half of this book (sorry, Strunk!), because the following book by Hacker and Sommers trumps it. Instead, just read the second half (the section written by E.B. White), which concisely describes how to write clearly—and why it’s important to do so.
The Pocket Style Manual
The Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers
This is the only book that we keep on our desks. The first hundred pages contain many techniques for making your sentences easy to read. They include all the grammar and punctuation advice you’ll ever need (explained extremely concisely), plus many tips for readability. Good news: You can probably ignore everything after page 86.
Keys to Great Writing
Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers
This is our favorite book on the list. It teaches you the mechanics of writing well. It’s brilliantly concise, and is full of techniques that actually work. You have probably never heard of most of them. You may enjoy this book even if you hated English classes at school. We suspect that it particularly appeals to programmers, because it provides a much-needed logical framework for writing. The book summarizes several other books, including two other favorites of ours: Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace and The Sense of Structure: Writing from the Reader’s Perspective.
Writing Tools – 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
Writing Tools – 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
Why have we begun this paragraph with a question that we immediately answer? Because that’s a useful literary technique for introducing a subject.
If you’d like to discover more literary techniques, this book is full of them. Once you become aware of each technique, you’ll begin to spot it in other people’s writing. If you want to study an article that’s full of such techniques, try this one.
The Sense of Style
The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
Pinker is a cognitive scientist. In this book he explains how a knowledge of linguistics can help you to write better. By teaching you how language works, he helps you to become more intuitive about how to write well. If you want an even-deeper understanding of how language works, then read Pinker’s prior book The Language Instinct.
What you should do now
The 11 best resources for improving your writing
This article is based on the webinar we co-presented with Rand Fishkin from Moz. Rand’s section of the talk has been moved into a separate article, “Does CRO mess up SEO? Or vice versa?” The article you are currently reading began life as a transcript, but transcripts are hard to read. We believe that the content is too important to be buried in a transcript, so we have heavily copy-edited it. Think of this as a transcript-article. A transcr-article.
If you’d prefer, you can get the slides, video and podcast of the webinar here.
How we discovered these five conversion mistakes
Karl: Our “Clients and Results” page shows how we have grown businesses in many industries. When you’re a consultancy, you get to see many projects. If you’re smart, then every time you see something go wrong—or every time you do something wrong—then you update your methodology to prevent that mistake from ever happening again.
So we are reflective. We look at projects and think two things:
- “If we had to repeat that project again, what were the ‘vital-few’ fruitful activities that we carried out?”
- Whenever something goes wrong, we ask ourselves, “How can we prevent that from happening again?”
Some of the mistakes I’m about to describe are common. Fortunately, we have processes to prevent them from happening. And now you can prevent them from happening too.
Mistake #1: The “Keitai Denwa” Problem
We came across the “Keitai Denwa” Problem years ago, before we formed Conversion Rate Experts. My co-founder Ben and I were running a cell-phone company that had U.S. and Japanese branches. This is one of the Japanese company’s pages:
I have used Google Translate so that you can understand what the page is saying, at least in a crude Google-Translate kind of way:
I’d like you to think of how you would change this page to increase its conversion rate. The page sells phones for Japanese people who are traveling abroad. The customers use the phone on their travels and then, when they return home, they keep the phone in a desk ready for their next trip.
Before you read any further, take a moment to think about how you would increase the conversion rate of the page in the image above.
Here’s the punchline to the story: In about 2003, we installed analytics software on this site. The software revealed that fewer than 10 percent of our visitors were arriving from the keyword we were targeting, “kaigai keitai,” (which means “phone rental”). Most of the visitors—more than 90 percent of them—were arriving on this page from the keyword “keitai denwa,” which means “cell phone.”
So they were searching for something that we didn’t even offer: normal domestic cell phones. This was because, thanks to our focus on SEO, we were number one in Yahoo! (Japan’s top search engine at the time) for a keyword we hadn’t even targeted.
“Keitai denwa” was a ridiculously valuable ranking to have. Most of our visitors were looking to buy a domestic mobile phone, and then realized that we sold phones only for travel. So they left. It was painful to discover that, for a long time, we had had one of the web’s most valuable rankings, but we had squandered it because we didn’t sell what the visitors were looking for. It also was an effective way of learning that the only way you can increase a website’s conversion rate is to understand who the visitors are, what they want, and why they aren’t converting. By the time that we discovered this, it was too late—the ranking was starting to slip. We didn’t sell domestic phones, and before we could start, the domestic carriers displaced us in Yahoo!
The “Keitai Denwa” Problem taught us that you can’t critique a site without knowing about the visitors. Frustratingly, even once you’ve learned that lesson, even when you think, “I get it now. It’s obvious,” it’s easy to slip back into making judgments without having the data. Every day, it takes an incredible amount of discipline to avoid making this mistake—not just when you are writing a webpage, but also when you are giving a talk, selling a product, or even writing an email. It’s possible to learn this rule one day, and then break it the next. No matter how many marketing techniques you use, you’ll always fail if you don’t know your audience.
Mistake #2: The “Cinema Foyer Effect”
The following image shows A/B split-test data for a page.
We noticed that sometimes, no matter what you do on a page, you can’t get a win. And the longer you leave a test, it just stays inconclusive. The answer comes from the world of science. Scientists often carry out what’s called sensitivity analysis, which is a way of measuring which variables are affecting the results and which aren’t.
The following photo shows many levers.
Presumably they all do something. When you pull one of them, something happens somewhere else. But imagine that some of them weren’t connected to anything. No amount of pulling them would have any effect on anything. On your website, some of your pages—or page elements—can be like those disconnected levers. Not every page element will change the number of orders you receive, no matter how hard you pull it. An obvious example would be a page that receives no visitors. If no one ever visits your “Terms and Conditions” page, for example, then no amount of yanking on it will increase your profits, because it’s not connected to your goals. That’s an obvious example, but your site will have many other “disconnected levers” on it. You may even discover that your homepage is a disconnected lever. Sensitivity analysis is about changing variables and spotting which of them are connected to the goal and which aren’t. On a website, many of the page elements aren’t connected to anything and don’t affect the conversion rate, no matter what you do.
We had a client that came to us after a site-wide redesign. The client’s new site had a completely different appearance, but the conversion rate hadn’t changed. It transpired that the whole website, for reasons that I’ll hint at later, was a red herring. We identified the real levers (which was the onboarding process of the software itself) and instead worked on those.
How can you spot this problem? You know you have this problem when nothing you do to a particular page (or page element) makes a difference. All of your tests on it are inconclusive; none of them win, and equally importantly, none of them lose either. For example, you might discover that everything you do with testimonials makes no difference. You’re pulling on a lever that isn’t connected to anything.
A common example of this is what we call the “Cinema-Foyer Effect.” Imagine that you own the cinema shown in the following image.
See the poster for the movie called “New York”? Imagine that on some days you put the “New York” poster there, and then on other days you put a “Fast & Furious 6” poster there. My guess is that the poster would give no measurable uplift to the number of people who go to see Fast & Furious 6. Why? Because if you were to ask the cinema’s visitors how they decided which movie to go to, their answer wouldn’t be, “I looked at the posters, then made a decision.” They would say things like
- “A friend recommended this movie to me.”
- “It was recommended on a movie-reviews podcast that I subscribe to.”
- “I saw the trailer for it last time I came to the cinema.”
- “I saw on IMDb that it has high ratings.”
The posters in the cinema foyer would probably not get mentioned. The posters may have been near to the transaction, but they didn’t influence the decision. The decision happened in the customers’ minds, when they saw the persuasive content (the friend’s words, the podcast, the trailer or the IMDb page). To influence the customer’s decision, you must first identify the persuasive content.
So what can you do?
- Step 1. Be aware that you will sometimes be barking up the wrong tree.
- Step 2. Identify where and when the conversions are really happening. That’s the most important point.
- Step 3: Ask customers when and where the persuasive content was. Then find ways of improving, duplicating and amplifying that content. Don’t give up just because it’s not in the most convenient place for you. Don’t be like the drunk who drops his keys in a ditch, but then looks for them under a streetlamp because it’s lighter there.
A good example of this phenomenon is Dropbox. People often ask why Dropbox’s homepage contains a sign-up form and very little else. I believe that it’s because by the time someone arrives at Dropbox’s homepage, they are already persuaded. They aren’t thinking, “Oh, this looks an interesting service, I wonder what it does.” By the time they get to Dropbox’s homepage, they may have already used Dropbox—perhaps a friend has sent them some files—so they know what it is. Or maybe their friend has explained to them what Dropbox does. Maybe they’ve read reviews elsewhere.
So what Dropbox has discovered is that it doesn’t help to give detail on this page, presumably because of the Cinema-Foyer Effect. This page isn’t where the conversion happens. And so the best that Dropbox’s homepage can do is to skip to the installation process. Dropbox’s marketing team can focus its conversion efforts on identifying where the persuasive content is, and what it is, and then improving and amplifying it. Because Dropbox’s service is naturally viral—and because users love it—then Dropbox’s team is right to focus on enhancing the virality and customer satisfaction. It does so by continually optimizing its referral mechanisms (like its tell-a-friend program) and the usability of the product itself.
So with your business, identify what and where the persuasive content is.
Mistake #3: Returning customers can cause deafening noise
We discovered this problem with one of our first clients, a company that sold health supplements. As with many of these examples, we wish we could show the actual page we designed, because it was clearly much better. It felt like we had “cracked the walnut with a sledgehammer.” We had usability-tested it, and the users were emphatic that it was much more persuasive. The page contained mountains of proof and the product’s benefits were explained much better. Then we ran an A/B test, which didn’t reach significance. We were confounded. And then we realized where we had gone wrong. On any given day, about 95% of the company’s customers were repeat customers, people who had taken the health supplement before and who were returning to the site simply because they had run out and needed to reorder.
If a customer has already taken, say, ten bottles of a health supplement, and they are just returning to reorder, then the only thing the website needs to do is to let them place the order. Nothing on the landing page is going to make much difference. We realized that no matter how persuasive our new page was, the only thing that it could do was to increase the number of new customers—the green guys in the following slide:
So we ran the test again, but this time we measured the number of new customers. Back then, this was difficult to do; these days, it’s much easier. We did it by analyzing the company’s database and tracking new accounts. We discovered that our new page was generating 114% more new customers than the control. So we had more than doubled the conversion rate of new customers to the site. But our success had initially been hidden in the noise of repeat customers.
So if your business has a lot of repeat users, whether it’s because your service involves existing customers logging in (as with a SaaS company) or because you have many repeat customers, then be wary of this problem. Whenever you try to increase the rate of new customer acquisition, make sure that you track the new customers. Otherwise, your successes will get lost in the statistical variation from your existing ones.
Mistake #4 is not having ADA on the project
What do we mean by ADA? ADA stands for authority, duty, and ability. The concept arose from a conversation we had with the online strategist Mark Nunney, and describes a problem that we see in many companies. When we speak to a new prospect who’s thinking of signing up with us, we now want to know that the prospect’s team has the following three attributes:
“D” stands for “duty”: You need one person on the project who is ultimately responsible for increasing conversions.
“A” stands for “authority,” the person whose permission must be sought to do all of the following:
- Make changes
- Make decisions
- Spend money
- Do whatever is needed to keep the project moving.
Authority is often missing from a conversion team, usually because the person who has authority has delegated the project to people who don’t.
The other “A” stands for “ability,” the person or people who can either do the work themselves—or control those who can. These tend to be the designers, copywriters, developers and analysts.
If you are setting up a conversion team, ensure that the team has all three of the ADA attributes.
In addition, we notice that the rate of progress of a project is inversely proportional to the number of people on the project; large teams move excruciatingly slowly. We believe that this is for two reasons: (i) A large team is a clue that no one knows who has the duty (no one can confidently say, “This isn’t my project”). (ii) No one knows who has the authority. Beware of people who claim to have the authority but who always “pass decisions by” someone else.
To counter this problem, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously instituted the two-pizza rule, insisting that any team should be small enough to be fed with two pizzas. (Our friend Brian eats like a horse; if he were to join Amazon, he’d be forced to work solo.)
In terms of lean-ness, you’d ideally have all three ADA attributes within one person, because then there would be no need for lengthy hand-offs, emails, and meetings. As Paul Graham says, “Imagine what Apple was like when 100% of its employees were either Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak.”
If one or more of the ADA attributes is missing from your team, fix it. Progress will be painful until you do.
Mistake #5 is “Switching to the beauty lane”
Amazon’s website looks pleasant, but it’s not what you would call beautiful; its design is largely functional. This is true of most successful pure-play web companies (that is, companies that are successful because of their websites, not companies whose websites are being subsidized by other activities). Just look at Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and Craigslist. They all have functional design.
Now let’s look at what you might call a beautiful website. Take Rolex’s website. Or the website for M&Ms. Both look polished and elegant, as do most websites whose primary purpose is “branding” rather than functionality or selling. Now imagine how difficult it would be to make changes to either of those sites. They are so complex and polished, you couldn’t just say, “Let’s see what happens if we move this image to the left and add some text to the right.” There would be many considerations about the site layout, the text, and the font substitutions.
We often hear people say that they would like their website to be both functional and beautiful—as if Amazon, Twitter and Facebook haven’t considered doing that. The following image shows why this is so dangerous.
This is the first time we have shown this graph. We think it’s profound. Start by looking at the green blocks, which represent a website that’s designed for functionality, like Amazon et al. The axis that runs into the distance represents time, and the height of the bars represents the conversion rate.
Imagine that with your functional site you run an A/B test and get a win, so your conversion rate rises, as shown by the next green bar. Then you run another test, and you get another win. Each time you run a test, you increase the conversion rate, so those green bars rise like a steep staircase to success.
Now let’s assume that you redesign your functional-looking page, making it beautiful. And let’s assume (generously) that your beautiful page wins an A/B-test and has a 20% higher conversion rate. So far, so good; your business has grown, and you get a site that you’re proud to show to your friends.
But your next A/B test may take two or three times longer to create because you can no longer simply change the text. So your progress follows that of the orange bars in the chart above. Each time you change a webpage, you need to redesign the graphics, and consider the effects on the layout, and check with the branding department, and discover that you are going to break the clever CSS tricks that were need to make the previous navigation bar work in Internet Explorer, and then go through several rounds of QA-testing, and discover that you have broken the mobile version … and everyone is blaming each other, and your developers leave, and you wonder why it’s so hard to find good developers these days, and your competitors start to overtake you.
Welcome to the slow lane.
Most web companies—certainly more than half of them—are stuck in the slow lane. Their websites become elegant and beautiful—more beautiful than Amazon et al (surely that’s a clue that something’s wrong, no?)—and from then on things move more slowly, because every page, to beat the control, has to look elegant too. When you move from functional design to beautiful design, you may get an increase in conversion rate, but you do so at the cost of having to make every subsequent challenger page beautiful—otherwise every challenger page will miss out on that 20% beauty lift. The 20% beauty lift becomes a crippling tax on your rate of progress, maybe reducing your implementation rate by 50%, 70% or even more. Some companies are literally unable to make changes to certain pages, because they have wrapped themselves in so much complexity that progress reaches gridlock.
We see this time and time again. It’s really hard to persuade people of the benefits of being agile. The only thing we can point towards is the graph above, to this article we wrote about the subject, and to all those crazily successful companies that we’ve just shown. Of all of the mistakes that I’ve mentioned, this is the one that happens most often. It’s also infuriatingly hard to prevent people from making it—because the alternative is so alluring.
I hope I have persuaded you to resist the urge to change from the fast lane (the functional lane) to the slow lane (the beauty lane).
“What processes do we have in place to uncover the Cinema-Foyer Effect?”
Karl: I would say the main way of uncovering it is to ask customers that question about what persuaded them. You can ask the question in many ways:
- On a phone call with an existing customer.
- As an on-page survey.
- As a survey afterward to customers.
As with all questions, the question and the way of asking it are orthogonal; you can ask most questions with most types of survey tool. But those are the most popular ways of asking it.
Also, you can identify that effect by testing removing page elements and seeing whether they made a difference. That’s often useful. If you de-clutter a page, testing what happens if you remove an element, you often discover that the page doesn’t need to contain all of the things that are currently there.
Rand: In addition to online surveys, you mentioned the in-person survey or the over-the-phone survey. I have found time and time again that the qualitative data from watching two or three people go through your process and asking them to talk their thoughts out loud, and to say what they’re thinking, can be even more valuable—or at least as valuable—as the hundreds or thousands of data points that you get from the automated tools and from surveys.
When people talk out loud, suddenly designers and developers and your usability specialists and your conversion rate optimizers, all of a sudden go, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that when visitors were looking at that they thought X, Y, and Z.” And no one thinks to include that question in a survey or to give it as a response, so it can be pretty valuable.
What you should do now
Five interesting conversion mistakes we’ve made and seen
Rand Fishkin from Moz describes how to balance CRO and SEO to maximize your profits
This article is based on the webinar we co-presented with Rand Fishkin from Moz. Dr Karl Blanks’s section of the talk has been moved into a separate article, “Five common conversion mistakes we’ve made and seen.” The article you are currently reading began life as a transcript, but transcripts are hard to read. We believe that the content is too important to be buried in a transcript, so we have heavily copy-edited it. Think of this as a transcript-article. A transcr-article.
If you prefer, you can get the slides, video and podcast of the webinar here.
What you’ll get from this transcr-article
Karl: Hello, everyone. Welcome to today’s webinar, which is about how conversion can help with your SEO. I’m Karl Blanks and today my co-presenter—my co-star—is Rand Fishkin. Rand is the founder of Moz, and is one of the world’s leading authorities on SEO.
On today’s call, we are going to cover the following:
- Sometimes you should focus on conversion rate optimization (CRO) and sometimes you should focus on search engine optimization (SEO). Rand will describe when to focus on CRO versus SEO.
- Does CRO harm SEO? And does SEO harm CRO? Many companies depend on SEO for their livelihoods. They are understandably scared to carry out CRO, worrying that it may damage their SEO rankings. Rand will explain how CRO and SEO affect each other.
- We’ll have a Q&A session. I know there are many things that you would love to be able to ask Rand. Rand doesn’t often speak about conversion, so this is a rare opportunity.
So welcome, Rand.
Rand: Thanks for having me, Karl.
Karl: You’re always welcome. As I mentioned, everyone, Rand is the founder of Moz. If you don’t know Moz already, I urge you take a look at its site. Moz is an extremely credible company, and it has some fantastic tools that we use on our website and recommend to our clients. A few years ago, I heard HubSpot’s founder, Dharmesh Shah, say something like: “Think of what companies were like 50 years ago. Many of the things they did are now seen to be crude or controversial. There has been a huge culture change in many respects: gender equality, awareness of the environment, health and safety, and transparency. Already, many practices of the 1970s seem crude. You just need to look at 1970s advertising. Now consider that culture is likely to change at least as much, probably more, in the next 30 or 40 years. Think of which current practices will seem equally outdated.”
Rand has crafted a company culture that already makes many of today’s companies seem out-dated. He has embodied them in his company culture document, which he calls the TAGFEE code. I’d recommend you read it. It’s innovative, and we believe it’s a glimpse of the future.
Rand, at this point I should pass over to you, rather than talking about how great you are. Do you want to kick off?
When to focus on CRO vs. SEO
Rand: That’s very kind. Yeah, I’m happy to get started. I specifically want to talk about some mistakes we made and mistakes that we’ve seen. I particularly want to discuss misconceptions about how CRO and SEO are supposed to work together, do work together, and sometimes don’t work together. I’m going to start with some very high-level stuff.
The first part of this is about landing pages. There are some key differences in how marketers and website builders need to think about the architecture for the pages they want their visitors to land on, and the different use cases that the marketers have.
In the past at Moz, we had a misconception. Some of our pages were for SEO and content marketing:
- Driving brand traffic.
- Growing our authority with Google.
- Earning links, mentions, social shares and email referrals.
- Earning loyalty, trust and brand exposure.
- Earning positive social shares and links and engagement.
We wrongly believed that those pages were the same pages on which we would have people convert to taking our free trial or buying our software or our API. That was poor thinking. These pages are very different from a landing page for a conversion purpose.
How to optimize pages for SEO and content marketing
The following slide shows a recent Moz blog post by Craig Bradford.
I thought it was excellent. It talks about all these Google Analytics bugs and mistakes that lead to bad data. In fact, speaking of mistakes, Moz has made some of the mistakes that Craig talked about in this blog post. Super-useful post, right? But it is designed to do something very different than a landing page that would help with the conversion process, right? This blog post is designed to help marketers succeed at their work, to help them use Google Analytics better, to have them build a positive association with Moz, and to get to our website.
And I know that 90+ percent of the people who get to this page are probably just going to read this blog post. And then my hope is that some percent of them will Tweet it or put it on Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn or social network of their choice. A few will email it to their boss or their team, a few will comment on it, and the vast majority will read it, consume it, and then go away. And you might think, “Well, what are you gaining in that, Rand? What is Moz deriving value from there?” And the answer is the value that’s derived is one touch among many.
What many marketers don’t realize—and even those of us who do realize, we still make the mistake—is that we think about our marketing funnel as being single track. We think: “We want someone to come to this blog post. Now where is the call to action that’s going to send them to take a free trial? And what percent of those people can we get to the free trial? And what percent of those do we get to the cart? And what percent of those will sign up? And what percent of those will stay for their first month and invest?”
And that’s poor short-term thinking. Well, it’s good short-term thinking, but it’s bad long-terming thinking. The call to action (CTA) here is non-existent.
How to optimize pages in the conversion funnel
The page above is in Moz’s conversion funnel. Until now, I hadn’t seen our new pricing page; we just redesigned this. It’s kind of pretty. I think our mascot, Roger, looks cute there. But this page in our conversion funnel is built to convert. It’s a pricing page—it’s going to let you choose which price. It doesn’t need to target any search keywords. It doesn’t need to be shared or linked to or amplified (although a few people have shared it, Tweeted it, put it on Google+, and that kind of thing). But it doesn’t need those things, I’m not trying to get this page to rank for something. The only thing I really would want it to rank for is “Moz Pro pricing.” But otherwise, I don’t want this page to rank for “SEO tools,” or “better SEO,” or “help my site.” That’s the job of content.
Here’s how Moz’s funnel works. (Marketers are fascinated when they hear this, and I’m impressed that our team has been able to measure this.) I think it is seven-and-a-half visits to Moz’s website, on average, before someone takes a free trial. Four or five of those are usually to content, not to the sales pages, not to the pricing page or anything that’s in our funnel. And usually two of those touches come from social, a few come from organic search, usually one or two are direct. So we’re talking about a complex mix of people coming to us for a multitude of reasons, and landing on a variety of pages before they ever get to the free trial.
Here’s the most interesting part: If you visit us only two or three times before you take a free trial, you usually don’t end up staying with the subscription as long. You usually don’t even get through the free trial into the paid months. So in a weird twist of fate, I don’t want to convert you, right? It is not in Moz’s interest to convert someone on their first visit or their second visit or even their third or fourth visit. In fact, if you visit ten or more times before you convert, you tend to be an excellent customer; you stay subscribed much longer than the people who subscribed after having visited only three or four times. And so that’s why we have such separation between the content marketing and the conversion-focused funnel.
How to optimize pages for SEO and conversion
Now I want to make a caveat, which is that not everyone operates the same way Moz does; sometimes you will have pages that are both conversion-focused and trying to rank for something directly. The following page tries to do both:
I searched for “men’s tuxedos” in Google, and I got to Nordstrom’s website. I don’t particularly think highly of either of those tuxedos, but they do have one from Ted Baker, a Scottish designer who I think is phenomenal. This page, “Men’s Tuxedos and Formal Wear,” needs to both do a great job of ranking and be worthy of amplification. It needs to combine both.
Interestingly, this page ranks not because it has the most links of any page about men’s tuxedos, and not because it has the most shares, the best engagement, or those kinds of things; this page ranks because of the overall site’s domain authority. That’s how many, many pages that are both content and conversion-focused rank.
So when you ask, “Why is this page performing so well for this query?,” the answer is, “Because Nordstrom is a brand that, on and off the web, has built a remarkable reputation on all of the positive signals around its brand and its website as a whole.” And that’s why Google is ranking this page higher than a page that is on, say, MensTuxedos.com, that is hyperfocused and has done a bit more of that classic SEO stuff right. But Google has evolved past that.
This is a good example of why it pays to have a lot of great content marketing and brand-building content, content that gets you all of those other types of signals, and which is not necessarily conversion-focused. In fact, for a lot of content marketing, the conversion goal shouldn’t be, “Get someone to sign up and pay us,” or, “Get someone to purchase this product”; it should be, “How do we get people to know us, like us, share our stuff, amplify our message, become evangelists, engage with us, and become part of our community?”
That’s the real goal of content marketing.
And then that content marketing, the strength of those signals that you built up, will help all of the pages on your site—including the ones that are conversion-focused. So this is something that we’ve learned over the years, made a lot of errors with, and that I see marketers and business owners struggle with.
Does CRO mess up SEO? (Or can they live in harmony?)
The other big mistake that I find people making is worrying that their CRO efforts are going to mess up their SEO efforts—or vice versa.
I’ve heard conversion specialists say, “We’d love to do SEO on our website and we’d love to get more search traffic, but we just can’t afford to mess with the conversion funnel, because we have optimized these pages for conversion.” To which I shake my proverbial fist in the air and say, “That’s insane. There’s no conflict between the two.”
And the same is true the other way around. If you are doing SEO and you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, I got my page in perfect condition. Google just loves me, and I’m ranking number one. I don’t want to touch it, man. I don’t want to mess around with CRO and testing different versions of the landing page. What if I change something on the page and Google doesn’t rank me as highly anymore?” That’s crazy too. More proverbial fist-shaking.
What I’m showing here is sacrilegious from an SEO-practitioner standpoint. But I wanted to illustrate a very simplistic model of Google’s algorithm. These are broad elements that factor into a page’s ranking ability.
- Keyword and on-page: You get your keywords optimized and your on-page stuff optimized.
- Content quality, which includes everything that Google uses to measure whether a piece of content is high quality. They have sophisticated algorithms around topic modeling and many other kinds of analysis.
- Domain authority describes all the signals that your brand and website have built up from links and shares and engagement, etc. And content quality across the whole site—all that stuff that might go into something like Panda.
- Page authority: the individual shares and links and external signals that affect a page’s ranking ability.
- User and usage data describes things like pogo sticking, when people click on you in the search results, and then click back to the search results because they’re unhappy.
- Spam analysis: Are you doing shady stuff?
All this figures into ranking ability. But changes made to pages for conversion rate optimization (CRO) only affect the following three: (i) keyword, (ii) content quality, and (iii) user and usage data. So that’s good to know, right? Nothing I’m going to do for CRO is going to affect my domain authority, my page authority, or spam analysis negatively. I mean unless I’m doing something absolutely insane. I can’t imagine something that would be logical for CRO that would affect anything but these three.
So if your conversion rate is rising, meaning if you’re doing high-quality CRO, you are positively benefiting two of the things:
- You’re benefiting your content-quality signals; because with content quality, Google is looking at things that would lead people to say, “Yes, I want to buy from this,” “Yes, I want to convert,” “Yes, this is interesting to me.” Those content-quality signals Google uses are going to be correlated with the same things you’re optimizing for.
- And you’re benefiting user and usage data: The more people who are converting, the fewer people who are bouncing away, the more time people are spending on your site, the more they are engaging with you. Ta-da!
So the only one we have to worry about is keyword and on-page. And you almost never need to worry about it if you stick to some basic principles. I’ve never seen a CRO requirement that interferes with getting keyword-targeting right. The basics are:
- You have terms and phrases you want to target, for which you’re trying to rank. So try and get them in the page title, which should almost never affect CRO. When you’re doing CRO, you probably won’t be messing with your HTML page title anyway.
- The URL probably doesn’t matter much for CRO.
- The headline does matter for CRO. But for CRO, you almost certainly want to have the terms and phrases that you’re chasing after in your headline, because you’re trying to create that information set.
And so, almost all the time, these things perfectly align. And even when the alignment is imperfect, you can usually find a satisfactory combination of the two that’s going to work well. So it’s a mistake and a myth to think that you can’t mess with SEO or CRO because of the other one. And I worry about marketers who fear that stuff.
Karl: Rand didn’t want me to mention any call to action, but I’m doing it anyway: If you want to start the free 30-day trial for Moz, then here’s how to do it. And like I mentioned before, it’s a tool that we use and recommend to our clients. It’s so useful.
Rand: You’re mixing my brand and my conversion funnel, Karl.
Karl: I am, Rand, but you’re in my conversion funnel now. This is my slide.
Rand: Oh, okay. Fair enough.
Karl: If your annual revenue is more than $1,000,000, then if you’d like a free phone consultation from Conversion Rate Experts, then go to this page. If you’d like to work for us, go to this page. And if you’d like a free CRO toolkit and lots of useful articles, then go to this page.
“Are there any SEO issues, from a technical perspective, about showing different content to different users as part of split-testing software? Does this change if it’s done client-side or server-side?”
So the short answer is no, you don’t need to worry about it. Feel free to split-test. The technical issues, as far as Google is concerned, should be virtually non-existent.
Rand: The beauty of how SEO evolved is that the version that converts the best is now much better than the version that’s stuffed with keywords. Even for SEO, right? Because keyword usage is such a small part of getting your SEO right, and having high engagement, good conversion rates is such a big part of getting SEO right. And Google is really rewarding that; you can see that over time as they evaluate content quality and user- and usage-data signals and as they get all sorts of scary tracking about what all of us are doing on the web. The incentive for spammers to do that is gone.
Karl: It does genuinely scare many people. In the past, similar techniques could be harmful, couldn’t they?
Rand: Right. The biggest answer to this question is that Google has its own split-testing software: Google Analytics Content Experiments. They also have blog posts from their Webmaster Tools team telling you not to worry about it, and explaining that they recognize the testing software and can figure it out. So you’re very safe on that front.
“How did Moz go about finding out how long it takes visitors to become subscribers? I’m especially interested in how they were able to tie back subscribers to the length of visits to the site.”
Rand: This is how multi-channel attribution works, or is supposed to work. And we have two versions of that. One is a simple version that we did via Google Analytics. The other one is a little more complex, and we did it via a combination of Mixpanel, which we have on our site, and with our own in-house measurement tool called Gizmo.
So we looked at all of our subscribers: people who had taken a free trial, and people who hadn’t. And then we looked at their IP address or the cookie from them. And we looked at ones where the cookie had existed over the course of the last 90 or 180 days, whatever it was. And then we looked at how many times on average they visited the site and which channels on average they came through. And then we built up a model based on that.
You can do that through Google Analytics’ conversion-path tool. They have a system that will show you that. So they’ll have a little blue bar for social, a red bar for search, and yada yada. So you can see that, those paths.
And then, on the slightly more complex side, what we did is break out our subscribers into buckets. So we have, essentially, four buckets:
- People who are in their free trial, the first 30 days of their membership before they convert and pay.
- People who are in their first three months of membership—we call those the non-loyal bucket.
- The loyal bucket, which I think is people who have four to nine months of membership.
- People who have had over nine months of membership. We call them lifers.
We looked at those people and their paths to conversion. The lifers and loyals, on average, had visited many more than 7.5 times. They had made 10, 12, 15 visits before taking a free trial.
Conversely, many of the non-loyal folks, people who lasted between zero and four months, or who didn’t even make it through the free trial, had visited few times (maybe 1–4 times) prior to taking a free trial. If you come to Moz for the very first time and you sign up for a free trial, chances are you’re going to abandon before the first 30 days are over. And I think that shouldn’t be particularly surprising, given our audience. It’s relatively intuitive. But having the data to be able to prove to your management or your team is just invaluable.
So this is important for anyone out there with a subscription service, or where lifetime value and recidivism are important, or with customers who are buying multiple products over multiple visits. I’d urge you to go look at that as a path. It can reveal some fascinating stuff, and it’s not hard to get.
“Do PPC visitors’ usage data affect SEO ranking?”
Rand: Yes-ish, but it can be quite indirect. So the thing that I generally tell folks is, “If, over time, you are improving the happiness of your visitors, Google will reward you.” What we don’t know is how they’re measuring that, and which metrics they take into account. They aren’t pulling data from Google Analytics, but they almost certainly are from clicks on search results, and then bounces back to SERPs. They’re probably getting some data from things like Google+ and Android and Chrome Browser and all of these things where they have access to web-scale usage data.
So you’re okay if you’re improving the rate at which people do the following:
- Browse (the number of pages that someone visits when on your site)
- Return to your site
- Search for your brand
- Navigate directly to your pages to solve something
- Seek you out in the search results and prefer you over higher-ranked results because they’re comfortable with your brand.
All of those things probably have a direct or indirect impact on your rankings. And so one of the best things that you can do for SEO these days is to improve usability and user experience. And that fits nicely with conversion rate optimization, because usability and user experience are hugely tied to successful conversions.
Karl: Fantastic. That’s all we’ve got time for. It has been great to have you on the call, Rand.
Rand: Oh my gosh, I love doing this stuff with you, Karl.
Karl: No, likewise, it’s been great. Do you have anything else you’d like to add for the listeners/viewers?
Rand: No, although I do have one quick comment: You need to get on Twitter, man. I’ve been trying to reference you and call you out, but there’s no Twitter account for you or Conversion Rate Exerts that I can find. Get on Twitter.
Karl: I know, we need to.
Rand: The only reason I’m telling you, I want to promote you on Twitter and I can’t and that hurts me, it hurts me in my heart, my social-media-sharing heart.
Karl: Well, thank you very much for that. Yes, I’d appreciate a conversation. Twitter seems like a lot of work, and we try to stay focused, but maybe that’s one of the areas of focus that we are wrong about.
Rand: Even if you just have an account.
Karl: Oh, we do. It’s “crexperts.” We’ve just never Tweeted because it’s time consuming. People spend a lot of time on it.
Rand: It’s an addiction; I’m just trying to get you hooked.
Karl: Exactly. It feels like you are a heroin dealer trying to persuade me to try just a little bit of heroin. But thank you very much for the recommendations.
I should have mentioned that when we were working on Rand’s site, Rand kindly let us give away a screenshot of one of the winning pages that we developed for Moz’s tools. If you go to this page, you can download an extremely long page that we designed for Moz, which has loads of annotations about all the different things that we did.
Great to speak with you, Rand, and great to speak to you, everyone on the call. I look forward to the next time. Have a great day, everyone.
What you should do now
Does CRO mess up SEO? And vice versa?
Learning from your mistakes is expensive. So learn from ours.
Below, you’ll find the slides and video from a webcast we co-presented with Rand Fishkin, the co-founder of Moz. Rand is one of the web industry’s most innovative thought leaders. His company’s values—embodied by the acronym TAGFEE—are well worth reading; they are bold and innovative. In addition to being an expert in search engine optimization (SEO), he has extensive knowledge of conversion rate optimization (CRO), having contributed a whole chapter to the first edition of Marketing Sherpa’s Landing Page Handbook.
Dr Karl Blanks is the co-founder of Conversion Rate Experts, a consultancy that has designed pages for more top-500 websites than any other company. He has the benefit of having grown almost every type of web business.
What you’ll get from this page
How CRO affects SEO. Many companies worry that CRO will damage their search-engine rankings. Rand explains how to increase your conversions whilst keeping—or even enhancing—your organic rankings. (The section “Does CRO mess up SEO?” which starts at 13:57 minutes is a must-see.)
Strategic and tactical mistakes that Conversion Rate Experts has made and seen when optimizing for conversion. It’s likely that your company is making some of these mistakes right now, and can easily fix them. The mistakes are
- The “Kaigai Keitai” Problem
- The Cinema-Foyer Effect
- Why returning customers cause noise
- Not having ADA on the project
- Switching to the beauty track (this section, starting at 37:25 minutes is a must-see)
Q&A: Rand and Karl answer the attendees’ conversion questions, most of which were about the SEO implications of conversion rate optimization.
A video of the talk
The talk in podcast format
To download the audio of this talk, and others, subscribe to our podcast.
A transcript of the talk
This talk was converted into the following two articles:
What you should do now
Conversion mistakes we’ve made. And how conversion affects SEO. With Rand Fishkin from Moz.
(This is part of a series of articles, the first of which is here.)
The second mistake people make is what we call meek tweaking. They set up A/B-testing software, then they make daft changes. They change button colors and shuffle items around the page, just because they read that it worked for someone else. The following equation from the world of computer science explains why that approach is bad:
“GI–>GO” stands for “Garbage In” leads to “Garbage Out.” In other words, if you put garbage into your A/B-testing software, you will get garbage out of it. (Albeit optimized garbage.)
The following graph explains why that approach is more harmful than it sounds.
The horizontal axis shows the improvement you are looking to detect. The vertical axis shows the time it will take to detect that improvement.
The green line shows how long it will take for an A/B test to reach completion. It’s for a page that gets 300 views/day (that’s about 9,000 views/month). The shape of the curve would be similar (just higher or lower) for other traffic volumes.
Imagine that you have just designed a new version of such a page, and your new version has an 80% higher conversion rate than the existing version. As you can see in the graph, the time taken to detect that improvement would be just two days.
Whereas if your new version was only 20% better than the existing page, the split-test would take 23 days to reach completion.
In other words, to detect an improvement that’s a quarter as large (20% compared with 80%), then your A/B test would take over ten times as long (23 days compared with 2 days).
If you were looking to detect a 10% improvement, then the split-test would take several months to conclude.
The moral of the story is that small improvements take ages to detect, disproportionately and counterintuitively so.
So you should aim for bold, targeted changes, because
- Each change gets you more profit (an 80% improvement gives four times the benefit of a 20% improvement, obviously).
- It’s more fun and interesting.
- It’s much quicker.
Whereas if you’re doing what we call meek tweaking—making small, arbitrary changes, then
- You tend to get no wins. Your split-tests never reach conclusion.
- This becomes disheartening, and you lose motivation.
- You lose the buy-in from all the other people in your company whom you persuaded that A/B testing was going to be a good idea.
How to avoid meek tweaking (and ensure that your tests have a high likelihood of winning)
Most marketers do things to their websites that they’d never do to their bodies.
The following graphic went viral a few years ago:
The diagram shows the most common causes of death in people. You can see the data here. The most upsetting one is the “total odds of dying of any cause” which, of course, is 100%.
On seeing this diagram, only a fool would rush to a pharmacy and start taking medication against every possible ailment, wolfing down pills for diseases they don’t have. Such behavior would cause more harm than good. Instead, sensibly, when someone is ill, they go to a doctor who first diagnoses what’s wrong and only then prescribes the most relevant remedy.
That may sound obvious for health, but it’s not what people do with their websites. Most web marketers run straight to the “marketing pharmacy” and cram their webpages with every possible remedy. Then they wonder why they have a website that’s cluttered, full of distraction and converts no better—or even worse—than the previous version. Their visitors had specific objections, but instead of overcoming those objections, the marketers filled their pages with irrelevant distractions.
Your visitors’ attention is limited. You must treat it preciously.
O/CO (a remedy for Conversion Killer #2)
Our approach to conversion is much more effective than the one described above. We call it O/CO, which stands for “Objection/Counter-Objection.” This mental model is the web-marketing equivalent of the doctor diagnosing what is wrong, then coming up with an appropriate remedy.
How can you apply O/CO? First, you need to identify your visitors’ objections. There are many tools for finding out why your visitors don’t convert. In the article “14 tools that reveal why potential customers abandon your website,” we reveal some of the tools we use to find out why your visitors aren’t converting. By applying those tools to your website, you can hear your visitors’ objections in detail.
However, in the following section, we will describe an additional group of techniques that we find to be particularly fruitful.
Ultra-qualitative research (another remedy for Conversion Killer #2)
A Greek playwright once said, “If you want me to laugh, you must laugh first. If you want me to weep, you must weep first.” In other words, you can’t arouse a feeling in someone until you have experienced that feeling yourself.
In his book Making Ads Pay, the veteran copywriter John Caples illustrated this by describing a demonstration that his physics professor once carried out. The professor fastened two tuning forks close to each other, then struck one of them hard with a hammer. Its sound rang out like a gong. Then he seized the vibrating fork with his hand and the music stopped. But, to the class’s surprise, the other tuning fork had started to vibrate and was giving off the same musical note.
Caples observed that emotional vibrations work in the same way; they travel from one person to another. When you write, the tuning fork within you must vibrate at the same frequency as the tuning forks within your visitors.
So before you can write compelling copy, you must emotionally empathize with your visitors.
It isn’t easy, though. As a web marketer, your work is almost intrinsically ivory-tower work. It’s hard to even meet your visitors, never mind empathize with them. So how do you develop this emotional empathy? Quantitative feedback tools—like clickstream analytics—don’t help, because they just give you numbers. Qualitative feedback tools—like surveys—can give you the voice of the visitor, but they aren’t sufficient to turn you into a tuning fork. You need the following techniques, which we call ultra-qualitative. They are at the core of how we approach conversion. In fact, our consultants use them for every project they ever work on.
Ultra-qualitative technique #1: Method marketing
The first technique is method marketing (a term that was coined by the marketer Denny Hatch).
Robert De Niro is a method actor. When he came to New York for the filming of the movie Taxi Driver, he arrived early and proceeded to get a job as a real taxi driver. For two weeks, he worked long shifts. By the time filming began, De Niro was no longer a Hollywood celebrity trying to imagine how it must feel to be a taxi driver. He actually was a taxi driver. He had experienced the dangers. He had suffered the fatigue. And he felt at home in his car. He had gained the tacit knowledge of a real taxi driver.
Tacit knowledge is knowledge that is difficult to learn from the words of others. Perhaps the best way to appreciate its power is to read the following list:
Tacit knowledge: things that you can’t understand unless you have experienced them (excerpted from a thread on Quora)
- Being a parent/having a kid
- Having migraines
- Falling in love. (Incidentally, Norwegians have a word, “Forelsket,” which means “the indescribable euphoria experienced as you begin to fall in love.”)
- Having a loved one die
- Being drunk
- Being blind
- Spiritual enlightenment
- Being underwater
- The tastes of particular foods
- Being dumped/heartbreak
- Being gay
- Clinical depression or any other form of mental illness
- Holding your new-born child
- Being an identical twin
One of the Quora commenters explained it succinctly: “When one of these things happens, you join a club. Those in the club don’t need any explanation of what the experience is like. For those outside the club, no amount of explanation would suffice.”
All our consultants “join the club” by doing what we call method marketing. We insist that they become a customer and live the life of the customer. So by the time they write the webpage, they are writing from the heart. Of course, they then face the challenge of communicating their tacit knowledge, trying to welcome outsiders into the club. That’s why copywriting is hard. But at least they are trying to persuade the visitors from the perspective of a knowledgeable insider—not a naive outsider.
As proof of how valuable we think this technique is, the following images show examples of how much commitment we put into it.
Why are we wearing Power Rangers suits? We helped the company Morphsuits to win an award for fast growth. Morphsuits became the 18th-fastest-growing company in the UK, and its directors were invited to Richard Branson’s house to collect their Sunday Times FastTrack awards. The photo above shows one of our consultants testing out his fancy-dress Morphsuit on a night out with a friend. It’s hard to persuade someone to buy a lycra bodysuit unless you have personally experienced its benefits (“When you’re wearing a Morphsuit, things just happen”)—and you have managed to overcome your own objections.
The following photo shows some antibodies that we had ordered from a client that sold scientific supplies. We weren’t able to test the antibodies. In fact, we were wary about going anywhere near them. But during the unboxing process we noticed some valuable information that was wrongly absent from the website.
We had a client that sold sheds online. Our CEO, Ben, was the most in need of a new shed. (More accurately, he was the person least reluctant to get one.) Ben had many insights during the buying process. One of the more interesting ones happened once the shed was delivered to the front of his house. Ben discovered that the shed’s components would not fit easily through a standard doorway. They scraped the paint off the house’s door frame. Based on this feedback, our client redesigned all its sheds so that no component was too large to fit through a doorway. This improved the client’s customer feedback rating, which was already high. Some people would deem this to be outside of the remit of conversion rate optimization (CRO). But CRO is concerned with every customer interaction within the business, not just those in the early stages.
There are no exceptions to this rule. When one of our consultants was uncomfortable joining a dating site to understand how the whole process worked, Karl had to step in.
Karl stopped short of going on a date, but the process revealed many insights—including the fact that Karl’s datability index was 40%. (Karl insists that this indicated the presence of a major bug in the website’s rating algorithm.)
Ultra-qualitative technique #2: Method marketing with offline competitors
You can learn a lot from carrying out method marketing with competitors, particularly with offline ones. Offline companies are less subject to ivory-tower syndrome than online companies, because they have face-to-face contact with customers.
The following photo shows our co-founder, Karl, carrying out grueling research at the local bingo hall:
Karl learned that offline bingo is excellent in terms of usability. Offline bingo halls have solved many problems that online bingo still hadn’t solved. New players were led through an elegant onboarding process that introduced them to every type of game and service.
Finally, we have helped to grow several clients in weight loss, including MyFitnessPal, one of the world’s most-downloaded mobile apps for weight loss. And we have learned a lot of techniques by attending offline weight-loss clubs, like Weight Watchers.
The great thing about weight-loss groups is that you can speak with real customers. In fact, that’s what a Weight Watchers meeting is—a one-hour discussion group.
The following photos show Karl starting and finishing the Weight Watchers program. He adopted the traditional before-and-after poses.
He lost 32 pounds and gained even more insights.
Then he regained most of the pounds but kept the insights.
Ultra-qualitative technique #3: Becoming a salesperson (and modeling salespeople)
Selling face to face: Why we opened Japan’s first-ever Nokia store
Method marketing’s main drawback is that it is extremely un-quantitative: it allows you to understand only one customer (yourself). The best way to understand many customers well—albeit not so deeply—is to sell the product face to face.
In 2003 our founders, Ben and Karl, ran a web business called Mobal that provided cell phones to travelers. Mobal had a large Japanese presence, so Nokia asked Mobal to set up and manage Japan’s first bricks-and-mortar Nokia store. We had no intention of going into offline retail, but we took on the project because we relished the opportunity for our team to spend time selling face to face with our visitors.
Once the store was open, we created a spreadsheet for our team to complete. It contained two columns:
- Column 1: Objections. To this column, our team members added all the objections that they heard from visitors. For example, visitors would say, “Instead of buying one of these phones, I will save money by buying a local pre-paid SIM card when I arrive in my destination country.”
- Column 2: Counter-objections. To this column, our team members added the responses that they found to be the most effective. For example, in response to the objection above, we would reply: “If you buy a local pre-paid SIM card at your destination, you won’t know your phone number until you arrive, so your friends and family won’t know how to contact you.”
The spreadsheet of objections and counter-objections became our knowledgebase of tried-and-tested sales copy. We incorporated its content into the website, to great success; we more than doubled the conversion rate and the revenue of the business.
Usually, though, you aren’t in a position to open a bricks-and-mortar store. The following example is from the other end of the scrappiness spectrum. Whilst developing a new type of SIM card for world phones, we realized that we had spent too much time in our office ivory tower. So we visited a local flea market, where we spent several hours trying to sell the new prototype product face to face.
At first, we told our stall’s visitors that we were carrying out market research, and that we wanted to hear their feedback. This had two problems: (i) most people didn’t want to speak about market research, and (ii) those who did tended to give responses that were polite and false. Only when we tried to close the sale did we hear their true objections. So from then on, we tried to sell in earnest (even though our prime motive was to gather feedback). If a visitor showed interest, we would take down their name so we could notify them when the product became available.
This activity became a core part of our new-product-development process. Because our product was aimed at travelers, we soon graduated from flea markets to airports, where we would rent space for an exhibition stand.
You should model successful salespeople
While we were working on the website of a particular high-profile electronic device, we visited a store that sold the devices. The shop assistant, pictured below, was great at selling the product.
She sold several of the devices each week, and she knew the answers to all the questions that visitors asked. We asked her for her views on the manufacturer’s website, which she knew well because she had studied it when searching for answers to her visitors’ questions. She described 22 facts that her visitors needed to know but which weren’t mentioned on the company’s website. We incorporated these facts into the webpage, making it much more persuasive.
For many products, the salesperson holds a decision-tree in their head. What they say depends on how the visitor answered the previous question. In such cases, you should map out the decision-tree, and then turn it into a conversion flow.
What you should do now
Conversion Killer #2: Meek tweaking (and blindly applying best practices)
How to identify yours, and how to fight them.
In this series of articles, we reveal the conversion killers that are most likely to be wiping out your profits. You will
- Discover the 15 most common conversion killers. Your company’s nemesis will almost certainly be on the list.
- Get a mental model for understanding how to increase your website’s conversions. (Most people see it backward.)
- Discover how to identify which killers are currently massacring your conversions. (If you can’t spot your killers, you can’t defeat them.)
- Learn effective strategies for overcoming each killer and growing your profits.
This series of articles began life as a conference talk. Even if you saw the talk, you will benefit from reading the articles, because they contain more resources and examples.
Why you need to identify your company’s conversion killers
To every client we apply the CRE Methodology, which begins with us researching the client’s visitors, to understand
- What makes them tick.
- What stops them from ticking more often.
- How we can increase their dollars-per-tick (we might be straining the “tick” analogy here).
Fortune magazine described our approach as “a combination of multivariate statistical analysis and good old-fashion detective work.”
The research allows us to identify exactly why web visitors buy.
This series of articles is about the “don’ts.”
You should know how to spot each of the following killers. And you should know how to overcome each of them.
Any conversion practitioner should be able to quickly recognize each conversion killer when they see signs of it in research data. Some of the killers are subtle; if you miss them, you will waste your time working on the wrong aspect of your business. We see this happen a lot.
A good conversion practitioner should also know many strategies for overcoming each killer. For example, there are over a hundred ways of overcoming Conversion Killer #7 (“Lack of trust in your company”), and some of them are much more effective than others. For each killer, we will describe strategies that are interesting, little known or often overlooked.
Conversion Killer #1: Not A/B testing
Almost all the conversion killers are about visitors’ behavior. But the first two are about how you behave. The first killer is you if you aren’t A/B testing the changes you make to your website. If so, you aren’t alone. Most businesses make major changes to their websites without testing them. In fact, even companies that own A/B testing software often don’t use it. It just sits on their servers gathering virtual dust.
In our article about web design, we explain why (and how) the most successful web companies work. Testing is part of their standard workflow. If you aren’t running A/B tests, you should read it now.
If you don’t already have A/B-testing software, this article shows you what your options are.
This article is the first in a series. The next part is here.
What you should do now
Conversion Killers: The definitive guide—part one
We were recently interviewed for a podcast called Web Payload. The interview covered a lot of subjects that we haven’t discussed in public before, including
- Secret copywriting words.
- How we acquired clients like Google, Apple and Facebook.
- How our company works.
- Why we don’t do Twitter.
To hear the interview, and other talks of ours, subscribe to our podcast.
If you’d prefer to read a full transcript of the interview, visit Web Payload’s site.
What you should do now
Secret copywriting words and why we don’t do Twitter
When something is badly designed, society blames the user, when it should blame the designer. In the example above, Alf gets mocked, not the designer who made the dog-poo box look like the nearby postbox.
What you should do now
A usability problem
The most important question for sales, the ultimate “swipe file” of checkout processes, and more
Here are some great resources we’ve recently shared with each other:
The most important question to ask when selling services:
The “Dan Sullivan question” is a great way to identify what your clients really want. This one-page worksheet helps you to organize their responses to it.
The ultimate “swipe file” of checkout processes:
The Baymard Institute has published screenshots of the checkout processes of the world’s top 100 e-commerce sites. The basic report is free. The paid version has tooltips highlighting the good and bad aspects of each checkout process—and it’s cheaper than having to buy random objects from 100 web companies.
The best guide to web typography:
Matthew Butterick is an amazing writer. He makes typography fascinating. His latest book is available online, here. For us, the most useful material wasn’t in the “Typography in ten minutes” section, but in the section called “Type composition.” If you create an ellipsis by typing three periods, if you are hooked on ampersands, or if you still use two spaces after a period, then you’ll enjoy reading his arguments for why you’re writing like an amateur.
And if you already excel at typography, you might want to send the section entitled “Hyphens and dashes” to any designers or developers you ever work with, so they don’t mess up your em dashes, en dashes and hyphens.
Proof that you (and your prospects) believe in magic—and why it can grow your sales:
Do you believe that objects have souls? Matthew Hutson thinks you do. In this article and in this one, our friend Jeff Sexton summarizes Matthew’s book, which explains how some part of your brain believes in magic.
You are probably aware of the psychological triggers that Robert Cialdini and Joe Sugarman describe (and if you haven’t already read those books, you should). However, the “magical” triggers that Hutson talks about tend to be overlooked by direct-response marketers. In fact, they are seen more in brand advertising, particularly for luxury products. They are equally useful for conversion, though. In fact, in his book “My First 60 Years in Advertising,” the legendary direct-response copywriter Maxwell Sackheim describes how one of his biggest breakthroughs came when he started to introduce “romance” (which Hutson would call magical thinking) into his ads.
The Paper Airplane Exercise: A video that reveals a counterintuitive way to improve your team’s productivity:
In some companies, everyone’s busy but nothing gets shipped. This counterintuitive video (which is continued here) demonstrates why the answer might be to do less work. Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism” is an interesting resource on the same subject.
How to make your customer-support department ultra-productive:
The software Trello has four million users and just one customer support person. In this guide, Trello’s Brian Cervino explains the tools and techniques he uses to deliver superhuman levels of customer support.
The best places to get web fonts for your site:
This article reveals the best resources for finding web fonts.
Amazon’s leadership principles:
This article, from Amazon’s careers pages, describes the 14 principles that Amazon expects its leaders to follow. How many points out of ten would your leaders score for each of the 14 principles? How many points would you score?
We also recommend this TV documentary about Amazon’s rapid growth.
Why content marketing fails (and how to do it well):
Here’s a great slide deck from Moz’s Rand Fishkin about how content marketing works. And here’s another excellent guide to content marketing, by Neil Patel.
Speaking of content marketing, here’s a stupid—and impressive—ad that we enjoyed. And here’s a shocking ad for Sprite that we enjoyed too.
What you should do now
15 great resources for growing businesses
Here are some great resources we’ve recently shared with each other (using Diigo):
162 lean tools and principles for making your company less dysfunctional:
If you ever wonder why your company takes so damned long to get anything done, you’ll find many of the answers in the article “Definitions of concepts from lean manufacturing.”
A good tool for designing products and services:
How Quality Function Deployment (QFD) works. QFD helps you to identify the relationships between features and benefits. It’s perhaps too logical, and leaves no room for intuition or gut feel, so use it to assist your intuition rather than to override it. We believe that tools like this are most useful when you use them in a scrappy way, not getting lost in the details.
Google Apps has grown up, and we’re using it more and more:
The Google Gooru blog shows you how to make the most of Google Apps. It recently presented four hours of free training for administrators. We also recommend its Ultimate Google Apps Training Guide and its training area, Gooru University.
Easier meeting setup with Google Calendar:
It surprises us how few people know how to create and reserve appointment slots using Google Calendar, so people can easily see when you’re free for a meeting. The feature is right there under your nose.
Accounting reports that actually provide useful information:
If you’re a CEO or business owner, the book “Managerial Accounting for Dummies” may be the only book about accounting that you ever need to read. Managerial accounts are the reports that are produced solely for your benefit; your end-of-year accountant doesn’t need to see them. Good reports make it easy to run your business. Bad ones make your business seem like a black box. The book shows you which reports you might want, and why you might want them. If you want to learn more about any of the subjects in the book, this longer book covers the same material but in more depth—and it has many useful diagrams. (Tip: This slightly older version of it costs less.)
Better presentations with PowerPoint and Keynote:
How to make the most of Amazon Prime:
Here’s how to share your Prime benefits—including free delivery—with anyone else in your household. No longer will your family get charged for shipping.
Virtual reality is worth following:
If you thought that virtual reality (VR) was something that died in the mid-nineties, you might be in for a surprise. Facebook recently acquired the leading VR technology company, Oculus VR, and the technology is now on the verge of going mainstream. This blog post by Jeff Atwood summarizes the recent rapid breakthroughs in VR, and the PDF “What VR Could, Should, And Almost Certainly Will Be Within Two Years” explains why VR is not just an “immersive experience”—it’s more like being teleported. This could be the future of the web, so learn about it now.
A helpful email marketing resource:
“Email patterns for web apps” is a useful list of the different types of emails that you may choose to send to your subscribers—for example, new-feature announcements, time-limited discounts and surveys to users.
How to get better feedback:
Hubspot’s CEO Dharmesh Shah says that “Critical feedback is the breakfast of champions. Defensiveness is the dinner of losers.” This is particularly true in conversion, because you need to understand why visitors aren’t taking action. The article “23 tools to make your feedback meaningful” contains some great tips for giving and receiving feedback.
We enjoyed these Pinterest fails. We imagine that, just outside of each photo, a parent is crying. We see companies implement conversion rate optimization with the same level of craftsmanship as went into that hedgehog cake—and we shake our heads when we hear them conclude that “this stuff doesn’t work.”
What the world’s best web companies do differently:
Our previous article was our most popular one in years. If you still haven’t seen it, read it now. It’s here: “We have designed pages for more top-500 websites than any other company. Here’s why they are winning.”
What you should do now
162 lean tools and principles for making your company less dysfunctional—plus some other fantastic resources
Apply these principles to your own business.
Our clients include many of the web’s most successful companies. In fact, as far as we’re aware, no other company has had the privilege of designing pages for as many of the world’s top 500 websites as we have. We say privilege because these companies are, by definition, already great at creating websites, and many of them (e.g., Google, Facebook, and Amazon) wouldn’t normally ask an external company to design pages for them.
When we look at how those companies improve their websites, it’s striking how their practices have almost nothing in common with the way that most other companies do it. Their approach is perhaps best described as “Scientific Web Design.” In this article, we describe how Scientific Web Design differs from most other web design, and we explain why it’s much more effective.
What you’ll get on this page
- Principle 1: Functional Design beats Aesthetic Design
- Why not design for function and aesthetics?
- Principle 2: The top companies carry out experiments on their websites
- Principle 3: For reasons that are subtle, the top companies make frequent, small changes, and rarely (if ever) have huge site redesigns
- Why some people wilfully ignore these principles
- How we follow all three principles—and why it makes life hard in the short term but easier in the long term
- How can you use these insights?
Take a look at the following two hammers:
Both hammers have been meticulously designed, but for different goals. Karl’s mother’s hammer was designed for beauty. The Stanley hammer was designed for hammering.
They represent two approaches to design:
- Aesthetic: Karl’s mother’s hammer represents good design to people who believe that design means “optimize for beauty.” It’s not good for hammering, so Karl’s mother uses her other hammer instead.
- Functional: The Stanley hammer represents good design to people who believe that design means “optimize for the product’s core function.”
Similarly, there are two approaches to web design:
- Aesthetic: Most web agencies design for beauty, paying little more than lip service toward the goals of the business and its customers.
- Functional: In our opinion, good web design means understanding your visitors—and your business—deeply, then designing to meet both of their needs. And by “deeply” we mean not obeying an executive who says “I know my customers,” but instead gaining deep insights through extensive research.
Which approach is most effective? Take a look at the homepages of Google, eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, LinkedIn, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and other sites in Alexa’s Top 500 list and decide for yourself. Are they designed for beauty, or does their form follow their function?
It amazes us how few people have noticed this.
To be clear, it’s fine to optimize for beauty if your insights indicate that your visitors will buy more as a result. At that point, functional design and aesthetic design become the same thing, and you should test making your website more beautiful. The mistake happens when companies think that pure aesthetics are a substitute for research and testing.
Scientific Web Design is functional.
Some people ask why they shouldn’t optimize for function and aesthetics. Even if their visitors are perfectly happy with the current appearance of the website, what’s the harm in being beautiful regardless?
It’s like asking “What’s the harm in giving Usain Bolt an egg and spoon to carry while he runs?” They don’t realize that beauty, like an egg and spoon, tends to slow progress to a crawl.
One of our first clients had one of the most beautiful, polished sites we had ever seen. We first noticed a problem when we asked the head developer to italicize a particular word. “That’s not just a 15-minute job,” he replied, “it will have to wait till next week.” We were amazed. We had just come from working in-house, where we had tripled our employer’s sales in 12 months. We were used to making changes quickly. Putting a word into italics would have taken us 60 seconds. We had taken that agility for granted.
Imagine if your site were as easy to edit as Wikipedia, Google Docs, or this page (which we urge you to read). How much more work would you get done? How quickly could you iterate? Typical web marketers could edit a Wikipedia page in one minute, but would take at least a day to make a similar change to their own site. That’s over a thousand times longer. Much of that time difference is because their own site is more complicated for aesthetic reasons: Fonts are substituted, decorative images are included, layouts are complicated, and ornamental graphics are included. The technical burden soon becomes immense: changes must be checked on multiple devices running multiple browsers on multiple operating systems; plug-ins conflict; fonts don’t render…
…and before long, you’re no longer outraged that it takes seven days—seven days!—to turn a word into italics.
Meanwhile, Facebook has pushed live several thousand more changes.
If your website is already more beautiful than Amazon’s, and your customers are happy with its appearance, are you sure that the best way to grow your business is to make it more beautiful, or have you just run out of ideas? Beauty can lead to sluggishness, and sluggishness can lead to economic death.
If you do make your website more beautiful, ensure your designs are minimalist—visually and technically. Keep them elegantly simple and easy to update. And don’t forget that—like the Stanley hammer—good functional design has a beauty of its own.
“Being able to figure out quickly what works and what doesn’t can mean the difference between survival and extinction”—Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist.
“If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness.”—Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.
When top companies change their websites, they measure the effects of the changes, using split-testing software or some other type of experimental technique. They want to know if their changes worked.
When you split-test, you get the following benefits:
1. You get to keep the effective changes
2. You get to discard the ineffective and even downright negative changes
One of our first clients, whose sales we more than tripled, stopped split-testing after we finished working with them. Their marketing manager then began making radical changes and persuaded his team that there was no need to split-test them, because they were “obviously better.” Within a year, the company’s sales had plummeted, and no one in the company knew why. The marketing manager was fired. Had he split-tested his changes, he wouldn’t have broken the company.
The following story from Microsoft’s Senior Statistician, Roger Longbotham, describes how Microsoft avoided a similar disaster: “We ran an experiment for a site where the management was reluctant to run the test because they considered it a “no-brainer” that the Treatment would win. We agreed the value proposition looked quite promising but proceeded with the experiment. The Treatment had some unexpected and subtle negative aspects that would not have been detected had we not run the experiment. If the Treatment had been launched we estimate the annual loss to the site would have been in the millions of dollars.”
3. You learn what you should be doing more (and less) of
Split-testing is like a compass: It tells you which direction to move in. One of our clients, a company in the telecoms industry, was debating whether to lower the price of its top-selling phone. The phone was already the lowest-priced in the marketplace. To measure how price-sensitive the company’s visitors were, we split-tested the existing price against zero dollars (completely free-of-charge). To everyone’s surprise, the zero-dollar offer didn’t sell more phones. Our research revealed that users were concerned that the free-phone deal was “too good to be true.” Concluding that the visitors weren’t sensitive to the price of the handset, we went in the other direction by split-testing higher prices. The winning page featured two higher-priced premium versions of the phone alongside the standard product. We then obtained a further win by offering optional upsells including accessories, insurance, call credit and 24-hour customer support. So not only did split-testing save the company from pointlessly destroying its margins, but it revealed an unexpected opportunity for growing its profits.
Scientific Web Design involves experiments, not arbitrary, unmeasured changes. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said: “Successful invention is inventions that customers care about. It’s actually relatively easy to invent new things that customers don’t care about. But successful invention, if you want to do a lot of that, you basically have to increase your rate of experimentation and that you can think of as a process—how do you go about organizing your systems, your people, all of your assets, your own daily life and how you spend time, how do you increase those things to increase your rate of experimentation? Because not all of your experiments are going to work.”
Principle 3: For reasons that are subtle, the top companies make frequent, small changes, and rarely (if ever) have huge site redesigns
“Every work day Facebook is safely updated with hundreds of changes including bug fixes, new features, and product improvements. Given hundreds of engineers, thousands of changes every week and hundreds of millions of users we have worldwide, this task seems like it should be impossible.”—Facebook’s Engineering Team.
The top companies update their sites frequently—often weekly and sometimes daily. The changes are usually improvements to parts of pages rather than complete page redesigns or website redesigns. If you update your site in small iterations like this, you get three benefits:
- You get to see what’s working (and what’s not working) on a granular level.
- Your site-improvement process stays nimble because it’s always in use, and is not mothballed until the next mega-redesign.
- Your work-in-progress decreases.
Work-in-progress is the toadstool of business; it looks harmless but is poisonous. For example,
- Any work-in-progress is wasted money until it sees the light of day.
- Managing work-in-progress is work in itself, particularly with large projects. Large projects constipate companies.
- Problems aren’t seen until the eleventh hour. Some companies hire us after having had a sitewide redesign that actually decreased their conversion rate. In fact, at the moment we are rescuing a website for which one of our clients had paid tens of millions of dollars. You might expect that a website that cost that much would perform extremely well. However, using this approach, we are redesigning it page by page, and our pages are considerably outperforming the existing ones.
- The longer a project takes, the greater the expectation for a massive win once the redesign goes live. This results in the additional inertia of deliberation, double- and triple-checking, and design-by-committee, all of which erode speed (a dangerous practice in highly competitive markets). It’s no surprise then, that:
- Many projects never complete.
That’s why Scientific Web Design entails carrying out frequent, iterative changes.
Some people choose not to follow the three principles of Scientific Web Design, for several reasons:
- Some people avoid accountability.
- People who work for agencies may not want their performance to be measured soon and frequently. There’s good money in quoting for huge white-elephant projects, delaying that moment of truth until all the money is in the bank.
- To uninitiated buyers, aesthetic design is easier to sell. Whether it’s hammers or websites, some people buy beauty.
How we follow all three principles—and why it makes life hard in the short term but easier in the long term
The three principles of Scientific Web Design are embedded into our methodology as follows:
- First, we analyse our clients’ websites and visitors. Through intensive research we identify the biggest opportunities for improvement.
- Next, we implement the changes in frequent, small, targeted iterations.
- We put our necks on the line by insisting that the changes be split-tested to prove (or disprove) that they have grown the business.
This makes life challenging, because of course not every experiment results in a win; but there’s a strength in it too: Our clients and team members get immediate feedback, so they discover what works (and what doesn’t) for their specific marketplace.
That’s rare in business.
By taking this approach, our clients’ internal processes over time get re-engineered for speed and profits—a hallmark of the top online businesses we have helped to grow. This is perhaps the most important aspect of our service.
If you are a regular reader of this site, you are likely to already be sold on the principles of Scientific Web Design. If so, here’s what you can do:
- If you are a marketer or designer, ensure that you follow the three success principles: Design pages that fulfil their primary purpose; measure and test everything you create; and minimize your work-in-progress. If you are new to conversion, you can easily bring yourself up to speed by reading our articles and downloading our free reports, which provide a fascinating (we think) introduction to making websites ultra-effective.
- If you are a manager, director or company owner and you are struggling to persuade your team to show any interest in conversion rate optimization, we urge you to first set the “ground rules”: Insist that they always follow the three principles. (1. Design pages that fulfill their primary purpose. 2. Measure and test everything you create. 3. Minimize your work-in-progress.) Pushing conversion knowledge upon someone is futile unless they are hungry for it. By insisting that your team follows the three principles, you align their goals with those of your business, and your team will devour any information that will be useful to them. Then, when they measurably grow your business, your challenge becomes to pay them enough to keep them. Conversion skills are in short supply.
- Whoever you are, spread the word. We estimate that, worldwide, fewer than 1% of marketing decisions follow the principles of Scientific Web Design. Much of the web-design industry actively avoids them. So when you see people violating the principles described in this article, speak out. Write your own articles about this subject. Be the child who dares to tell the emperor that he’s wearing no clothes (and is carrying an egg and spoon). You don’t need to have a scientific background—you just need to have the diligence and discipline to follow the principles. And when you encounter people who dare to follow the principles of Scientific Web Design, encourage and support them. They haven’t chosen the easy path.
What you should do now
We have designed pages for more top-500 websites than any other company. Here’s why they are winning.
And specific techniques you can use to understand and grow your own business
What you’ll get below
- Why we believe that culture is the root of all profits.
- Why we were inspired by the Zappos Culture Book.
- Here’s the email we sent to everyone in our team.
- Why we think you should create a culture book (it needn’t take more than ten minutes of your time).
- The weekly ritual that has helped us a lot.
- What our culture is like—according to our team members.
- What our culture is like—according to our founders.
- Our negative points, on which we need to improve—according to our team members.
We’d love to hear what you’ve learned about culture
This is the most-revealing article we’ve ever published. If you have personally solved some of the problems that we describe, we’d love to hear your suggestions.
We believe that the best way to increase our profits is to increase the profits of our clients. To do that, we need several things: great people, great processes and great clients. And the best way to do that is to have great working conditions. The following flowchart summarizes how we believe all of those things relate. In short, we believe that great working conditions are a critical foundation for mutual success.
We’re constantly looking to hire world-class people (we’re actively hiring now), so we’re always looking for ways to improve our working conditions. “Working conditions” encompasses several overlapping factors, including our team members’ compensation, our working environment, our company’s mission, the work itself, and our culture.
This article is about our culture.
Nurturing culture is particularly difficult for us, because we have 28 team members located remotely across 10 different countries on 3 continents. Though there are many advantages to working remotely, developing and nurturing a great company culture is a challenge. Because we can’t rely on water-cooler chat, we have had to find solutions that are systematic and reproducible.
In his book Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh describes how the culture of his first company deteriorated as the company grew. He came to loathe working there—so much so that he sold it.
When Hsieh later became CEO of Zappos, he pledged not to make the same mistakes. The second half of Delivering Happiness describes some of the things he did to develop and nurture the culture at Zappos.
One of “Tony’s crazy social experiments,” as his staff called them, particularly appealed to us. Hsieh decided to write a “culture book” to explain to newcomers what it was like to work at Zappos. But instead of simply writing a CEO’s “prescription” of what the culture should be, he asked all employees to write a short description of what the culture meant to them. He then compiled all of their contributions into a book and published it, unedited. If you’re in the US, you can order a printed copy of the Zappos Culture Book, free of charge, from here. If you’re outside the US, you can’t order a printed copy, but you can read it online here.
The Zappos Culture Book appealed to us for the following reasons:
- The employees collectively describe the culture more accurately than one person ever could.
- The book is credible. When you read it, you know that you’re reading a description of how current employees see things, and not what the CEO would like them to be.
- It helps potential job applicants to determine whether they’ll fit in.
- It provides social pressure for newcomers to conform. New recruits are more likely to adopt a company’s culture if they know that it’s a broad perception and not merely an occasional memo from the CEO.
We treasure our company’s culture, and would hate to see it deteriorate, so we chose to follow Hsieh’s plan, almost to the letter. Page 13 of Zappos Culture Book helpfully contains the exact email that Hsieh sent to his staff, and he encourages other companies to follow the same approach. We adapted his email to our situation and sent it to everyone in Conversion Rate Experts (CRE):
Subject: CRE Culture Book
We will be putting together a mini-book as part of our orientation package for all new hires about the CRE culture. Our culture is the combination of all our teams’ ideas about the culture, so we would like to include everyone’s thoughts in this book.
Please email me 100–500 words about what the CRE culture means to you. (What is the CRE culture? What’s different about it compared to other company cultures? What do you like about our culture?)
We will compile everyone’s contribution into the book. If you wish to remain anonymous, please indicate so in your response. We will be distributing the book to all new hires as well as the existing team (and will probably publish it on our website too).
Also, please do not talk to anyone about what you will be writing or what anyone else wrote.
Remember, there are no wrong answers. We want to know what the CRE culture means to you specifically at this point in time, and we expect different responses from different people.
The responses were mostly positive. Before we share them, we’ll add some balance by listing our negative points, on which we need to improve.
The exercise encouraged people to mention only the positive aspects of the culture. Fortunately, we also know what are the most negative aspects of our culture, because we survey our team every week using TINYpulse. To give balance, we exported all of the negative feedback from TINYpulse, then grouped it into themes. Here are the six negative aspects of our culture that are most frequently reported by our team:
- We need to do more to reduce stress: To some extent, measurable marketing is intrinsically stressful, because everything we create is tested. But there are many things we can do to make the work less stressful—and we’re aware that some of our processes add to the stress. We are currently working on this.
- We need to reconsider the areas in which we’re not transparent: Several team members mentioned that we’re becoming increasingly transparent, but they also reported that in some situations we’re opaque.
- Sometimes this is when information is commercially sensitive or strategically important. For example, we don’t publish our financial information.
- Sometimes it is because information relates to other people’s confidentiality. For example, if someone leaves our team, we need to balance transparency and discretion.
- And often it’s simply because we haven’t had time to think through the implications of disclosing information.
- We need better human resources (HR) processes: Many of our HR processes haven’t been formally documented. We’re currently looking to recruit someone who can create well-thought-out, non-bureaucratic processes for many of our personnel-related situations.
- No structure for career progression: When TINYpulse asked our team members, “Is your promotion and career path clear to you?” only 33% of them said yes. That doesn’t surprise us; it’s not clear to us either. We have a very flat organization and, to date, promotions within the company have happened on an ad-hoc, merit-based basis, as Jon mentions below. To some extent, career progression should be pragmatic but we do think we need processes for how people get promoted—or, at the very least, a written explanation for how it tends to happen.
- Our in-house training program has become sprawling: For example, new recruits are required to read through every win we’ve ever had, which was easy when we first began, but now takes ages and gives diminishing returns. We need to tidy it up.
- It’s hard to manage work-life balance: Even though many of our team members mention that CRE allows a great work-life balance, many also report that work often spills over into home life. That’s a problem that’s hard to solve for remote people—especially when the role is highly demanding and team members have a track record of being obsessed with the work. We are constantly looking for strategies that help with this.
Creating our culture book took just a few minutes—the time it took to send that email, plus the time each person took to write a response. We spent much more time writing this introduction.
You can start your own culture book simply by sending the above email to everyone in your company.
TINYpulse has helped us a lot. We suspect that before we started using TINYpulse our responses wouldn’t have been so positive. Every week, TINYpulse asks a different question to every member of our team. It then shows us the responses, which are anonymized. Even admins do not see who wrote what.
TINYpulse asks the questions that we should have been asking anyway. The responses often become our management to-do list.
Everyone’s contributions are pasted below, unedited (except for typos)
Note: The combined response of our founders—Ben and Karl—is at the bottom of the page, because it’s the longest, and because we guess you’ll be more interested in reading the other ones.
CRE culture is based on:
Trust. CRE trusts you to make the right decisions. We don’t micro-manage, so you’re free to tackle situations in your own way.
Ambition. We set ridiculous goals. Even more ridiculous: we usually hit them.
Getting results. Everything we do is tested. This proves our value to clients and makes us more effective due to constant feedback about what really works.
Intelligence. Each CRE team member is brilliant.
Helping each other. Everyone is ready to help at a moment’s notice. It’s a pleasure to be a part of!
Here are some of our thoughts with regard to the CRE culture:
- Culture of trial and error, no fear to pioneer new ways to run a business and solve business challenges.
- Innovative ways of building a company (working remotely, attracting talent from around the world and not letting geographical distance be an obstacle, working with consultants rather than employees), innovative way of working with clients (not meeting them—even though this might change ) offering innovative services (such as the fully managed approach)
- Extremely fast execution of new ideas.
- Share and reapply mentality and very friendly atmosphere among fellow consultants.
- Continuous optimization of business processes and exploring new ways to offer better CRO service.
I think the culture of CRE (and any business, really) is a side-effect of something else. Here, our culture is a reflection of the earned trust and genuine mutual respect shared among all of us on this team.
It almost feels trite to say that. It’s the kind of meaningless drivel you often find in corporate mission statements and annual reports.
But in the case of CRE, in the case of our team, it’s not a corporate sound bite. It’s very real. And I think it got that way because every person on the CRE team was hand-selected through the interview process for mainly two things: First, their off-the-charts expertise—everyone at CRE has a super power. And second, their ability to learn from, and with, each other.
Learning can mean a lot of things. Here, it’s mostly that curiosity of the scientific mindset: constantly asking questions like, “How can we measure this and make it better?” and, “What’s preventing this process from improving by double?” And this second part—the learning thing—is huge. Why? Because everyone on this team is free to say “we can improve this process” without stepping on anyone’s toes or risking that they’ll make someone feel badly. That’s what we’re all here for.
And it takes a lot of humility to do that. It takes an openness and willingness to work with and support one another.
In fact, if you had to create a single job description that applied to everyone at CRE, it might well be: “Use your head. Make yourself more valuable.”
One of the symptoms of a toxic company culture is when you notice internal fiefdoms and political alliances starting to form.
We don’t have that here. It’s bizarre, really. That is, until you understand the forces at play and why our culture has evolved this way. Because the more we’re open to change, to learning as individuals and as a team; the more freely we work with and help one another… the more successful we are at making our clients’ businesses grow. In turn, that means a steady supply of fresh opportunities for our team members. It’s a virtuous cycle. And we want to protect that.
Conversion Rate Experts are the cleverest company I’ve worked with in the sense that they have a deeply scrutinising recruitment process, and they tackle every aspect of their business from a scientific, logical approach.
There’s a remarkably clear sense of direction and accountability not found in the majority of businesses today.
It’s like the peer group you always wanted: there’s absolutely no ego or office politics and everyone is genuinely committed to helping one another succeed.
Who wouldn’t want to work for a company where the head office is in a thirteenth-century English countryside estate?
I started working with CRE (when there were only two people in the team) in 2007, and I quickly realised that CRE (driven by its founders) have a passion and culture where we constantly strive to be the best in everything we do.
That’s externally, how we work with our clients, or how we work internally with the rest of the team.
We never settle for second best, so on this journey I’ve met loads of fascinating people in the strive to be the best in the world in whatever we do.
When I started with CRE there was a dream and wish list to work with the best companies in the world, and now when I look at our clients page, we can say we do!—in only six years.
An achievement and a bold goal, which I personally think is a similar statement to “JFK” when he said “by the end of the decade we will have a man on the moon.”
David D’s contribution
The CRE culture is all about learning, sharing and optimizing—in an agile and safe environment where politics and egos do not exist. We are taught to help our clients build bigger and stronger businesses by understanding their customers. We are our clients’ friends and partners. By embracing remote working and collaboration we work with only the best colleagues in the world while still retaining a high degree of freedom. We are responsible and accountable for targets and numbers that are clear, measurable and within our control. Effort is recognized and praised within the whole organization. The constant quest to collect feedback on everything we do is what makes CRE stronger and smarter than any other organization I have worked in.
David W’s contribution
The culture at CRE is amazing. Sure I’ve worked in places before where colleagues would help each other out on projects, but at CRE it is on a totally different level. Just mention that you have a problem or question and you’ll quickly have an entire team willing to take time out from their busy schedule to help, not because it makes them look good, but because they genuinely want to see you succeed.
Everywhere I’ve ever worked has had some degree of “them and us” between senior management and staff. CRE is most definitely the exception; everyone is treated equally and has the opportunity to shape the business. I could make a suggestion today on how we could improve things, and the very next day we’d be working on making that a reality.
Work from anywhere in the world, with some of the most exciting clients in the world, get as much support as you need and have a lot of fun doing it. Like I said, amazing.
The CRE culture to me is one of mutual respect. There are no pecking orders or internal politics to contend with. Everyone just gets on with what they have to do and supports each other along the way. Everybody knows that to become a CRE consultant you have to have proved yourself previously. Therefore, nobody questions your ability so you don’t have a point to prove. In CRE results are everything so you know exactly what is expected of you. You need to increase the profits of your clients. Simple.
What is the CRE culture?
Wins are everything
What’s different about it compared to other company cultures?
Being able to measure exactly the performance improvements we deliver to clients on an ongoing basis is a great way to avoid office politics and to earn respect from your peers.
I really wish other companies would consider their clients as highly as we do ours, because if you expect the same quality of service in your day-to-day life…well you will certainly end up very frustrated.
The team spirit is very strong, all consultants know they can count on one another and this is really great.
What do you like about our culture?
Pursuing excellence, constantly. The willingness to test bold changes, staying lean and always innovating.
1. Brutally honest feedback
CRE has been built on the premise of brutally honest feedback. No one should be scared to raise their hand and let their voice be heard—and at the same time, no one should be hurt if someone has something constructive to say. We are all here to grow businesses (and our careers) together—so nothing is taboo. Everyone in the company loves hearing the truth. Everyone—from clients to consultants—fills out surveys on a regular basis so CRE can continuously improve its processes.
2. Open and Transparent
It’s hard to believe that CRE hasn’t always been as open and transparent as it is today—but based on feedback from point #1, in the three years that I have worked with CRE we have become a truly open and transparent company. We share all of our “conversion rate optimisation secrets” on our blog, we have mastermind calls where we learn from our successes (and failures), and Ben and Karl keep everyone in the company up to date on what is happening. You will never be left in the dark on anything.
3. Constant learning
Everyone in the company has a passion to learn and grow—and there’s no better place to do it. From Lawrence Bernstein’s swipe file to Karl’s intensive training program, there is unlimited potential to learn and grow…and everything we do has been tested and proven to work. You’ll learn CRO strategies that have made our clients hundreds of millions of dollars.
From weekly mastermind calls, to our brilliant Mastermind Group on Basecamp, you can tap into the minds of the world’s best conversion specialists. No matter what your question is, someone on the team likely has an answer. We are all here to help each other, and you’re never left feeling alone.
There’s no micro-managing and no time sheets at CRE. The only metric that matters are the wins you deliver to your clients.
There is a certain discomfort with the status quo
CRE is always morphing itself into a leaner, more-efficient, more-effective organism. That’s not just corporate-speak but the reality, as evidenced by a huge and growing body of knowledge and procedures in our private Evernote system.
It’s more structured than other companies
Much more measurement of customer-focused outcomes than in other companies. Karl and Ben are not kidding when they say “Wins are everything.” While other organizations tend to focus on budget variances and all sorts of internal ratios, CRE is focused on customers to a very high degree.
It’s less structured than other companies
No one cares where you live, or what time of day you work.
It’s fine to have projects or businesses on the side, and many people do. They can’t be in conflict with CRE work of course, but otherwise it’s not an issue.
It’s not political
I’ve been in corporate America for a long time and this is the least political organization I’ve ever been in. No back-stabbing and no intrigue. It’s an extremely supportive atmosphere.
Note: Do not wait to be promoted
First, it’s a very flat organization, with the founders on a conference call with everyone weekly, so there’s no room for “vice presidents” and “deputy assistant vice presidents.” Second, the only way to get promoted is to volunteer to do the work in the first place, in addition to whatever other work you do. Eventually you may get that function added to your job description for having already done it effectively.
What is the CRE culture?
CRE’s culture is based upon the open-minded nature of all individuals within the organization, whether management or otherwise. The concepts of sharing ideas, assisting peers, and team working are built into our DNA; enabling us to challenge ourselves to new heights, without fearing the consequences of working alone. Being part of a company that’s open to fresh ideas, means there are no limitations to what we can achieve. Pooling the experiences and resources of the whole team allows each individual to become smarter, faster and more knowledgeable by the day.
Being in a collaborative environment that learns and adapts to measurable outcomes, creates constant opportunities to improve (and witness those improvements). There’s no guesswork, so when something doesn’t quite work, you know why; and when something works brilliantly, you know how to make it happen again… and how you might better it next time. Measuring your own success makes working in a creative environment so much easier, because it allows you to focus on doing what you do best, rather than wasting time on flawed ideas.
What’s different about it compared to other company cultures?
CRE’s culture differs to other companies because there’s no snobbery; there’s always someone to share ideas or challenges with, no matter how big or small. Other companies have an ethos that prevents honest feedback; hence why those companies have a “them and us” culture between management and the workforce. CRE has the opposite approach, and as a result, listening to feedback breeds growth, enhances our learning, and keeps us up to date with the latest trends and technologies, which is paramount in CRO.
CRE encourages methodologies that are lean and work well, which eliminates the political constraints some other companies place in the way of “changing for the better”. Sure, not every idea is implemented, but those that result in the smarter use of our time are often welcomed.
What do you like about our culture?
The Founders have created a definitive feeling that we (the team) are CRE. Although we have our professional boundaries and we’re good at working hard, everyone is friendly! How many other companies can honestly say that? We have regular get-togethers outside of work, which means we socialize (but not in the kind of forced way you get from team-building days out).
Being part of CRE makes me feel like a crucial and valued cog in the system (that doesn’t function without the others). Each project brings new challenges, but it’s a great feeling when you know there’s a whole team on hand to critically evaluate your work and help you to bring it to the highest standards, before letting it loose on the web!
People from a traditional agency background are sometimes confused by CRE. They don’t know which box to put us in. To them, our approach and business model seem alien and we are often told that the strength, success and values of the company must surely become weaker and more dilute as the business grows.
Well, we’ve got news—not only have the founders of this business created an innovative new business model, but thanks to meticulous planning, adaptation, recruitment and overflowing enthusiasm CRE continues to go from strength to strength. In fact, the business consistently outperforms even its own rigorous targets and it shows no signs of slowing down either.
What kind of culture does this success breed among the people who work here? Refreshingly and surprisingly the CRE formula breeds a culture of success without greed, elitism without ego, collaboration without restraint and comradeship without politics. It breeds a team of experts united in a common purpose. A team where each member is proud to bring a highly valued specialism to the mix, and where every member treats the other with genuine respect.
Make no mistake—being a member of this team is hard work. Every day is intense and challenging but if you can handle the pace the rewards, both financial and just as importantly, emotional, are huge.
I’ve had a good think about what the culture means to me tonight, and I found it bloody hard work to put it into words so I just wrote stuff down and I’ve pretty much left it as is.
Here’s what the CRE culture means to me.
It’s Glen’s slippers, it’s horses on barges, it’s stubbornly sitting outside in the rain, it’s getting your rocks off, it’s Yard Times, it’s qualified noes, it’s about being between the toilets and food at conferences, it’s treadmills (quiet ones), it’s Beemers for babies, it’s em dashes—it’s bags that smell like farmyards, it’s burnt baguettes in the clubhouse, it’s jujitsu-ing the Chairman, it’s the CEO making brews for the troops, it’s bat fight, it’s canal locks, it’s jumping rivers, it’s ice lollies for starters, it’s crappy fridge magnets, it’s more Wookieish C3POs, it’s Sqwiggle mirror, it’s green ties and dark suits, it’s soundproof panels, it’s Lister_Suite and robertpeel, it’s massive (really massive) burgers, it’s bacon crack, it’s our culture.
What is the culture at CRE?
How about the best company culture I could possibly imagine!
CRE makes it very easy to achieve great results for our clients, to flourish as a conversion rate optimization consultant, and all of this while working in a friendly and transparent environment.
Possibly the best part of CRE’s culture is the people. Since CRE pools consultants from around the globe, the hiring process is strenuous, and very difficult. Only a handful make it. This means that the people working at CRE are a very special breed. Once you enter CRE, you are surrounded by brilliant minds, and the collective wisdom in the company is unlike anything I had ever seen. The people are beyond great.
By design, CRE is all about having a sound work/life balance. Taking vacation time is mandatory. Spending time with our loved ones is not seen as a detriment to our work, but as a welcomed activity. We are all fanatics of being more productive, which means we achieve the same great results for our clients while being more efficient (read: working less).
But the CRE culture is more than that, and in the future, it’s whatever we’ll all want it to be. CRE is by far the most dynamic company I’ve ever been part of. The company seeks our feedback and suggestions every week, whenever we raise our hands and identify an issue or concern, the company steps in and offers help or guidance, or finds and implements a great solution.
So in a way, CRE’s culture in the future will be shaped by me, and all the other consultants in the company. We all are CRE’s culture.
When I joined CRE in December 2012, the view I quickly reached was that the foundations for CRE’s culture were laid when our scientific methodology was defined, based around the idea that “wins are everything.”
An accountable, metric led, scientific approach to building websites and digital marketing communications is not the norm in our industry as we know.
So from my perspective, to implement it successfully (and make it scaleable) has led to consequences falling into place, domino-like, and which have shaped that culture:
- Recruitment: finding like-minded experts who can apply our methodology across brands and industries is not an easy task.
- Geography: as a result our consultants are spread worldwide, wherever we can find these CRO warriors (and wherever they want to work from).
- Working methods: and this had led to the need to create efficient processes and adapt tools to make it possible for us to operate as a single global CRO consultancy.
The creation of a highly collaborative working style and an open management method, which I have never seen before or since in any other organisation, allows us to manage our responses to a rapidly (and continually) changing market.
Our working style could ultimately fail to deliver without one defining characteristic being common to each of us, that is the will and ability to make things happen, to ignore egos and stamp on any idea of business politics hampering progress, to just get it done.
The result is something we’ve all seen eulogised in modern management theories, but which nearly always fails in practice because it is never truly wholly embraced: empowerment of the individual, collectively enhanced by the group.
This is what our culture means to me, and why I like and embrace it so wholeheartedly.
In other company cultures it can feel like someone (worst case: an unknown stakeholder) is watching over your shoulder in order to deliver a swift rebuke if protocols are not followed.
At CRE it feels like we have the entire team sitting together as group, lifting each other up rather than weighing us down.
For me that has resulted in one more aspect of our culture that I love—allowing me the opportunity to help develop and refine how we do what we do…to actively participate in shaping our culture rather than merely being a passive observer of it.
CRE culture is all about openness and helping each other. Instead of competition and working against each other, there’s a culture of sharing. Sharing the knowledge, sharing the thinking behind successes, sharing everything that has worked in the past. CRE consultants are the best teachers for each other, not competitors. That’s very different compared to practically all the other companies.
I also like the diversity and how interesting people in the company are. Not just in terms of work but also personally. Business-wise it’s absolutely inspiring to listen to stories about the companies that the consultants have worked with (almost all the biggest names are on the list). Personality-wise it’s a bunch of open, creative, entrepreneurial and generally very interesting people. I enjoy every minute spent with other consultants, be it talking about conversion optimization, past and future vacation plans, building your own house, picking a lock or living and working in the most beautiful parts of the world.
To recap: openness, sharing and exciting people. That’s what CRE Culture means to me.
In most businesses I’ve worked in, feedback and assessment are rarely encouraged and where they are, they aren’t implemented properly. At CRE, not only do they actively encourage feedback, they want you to be brutal about it and then they act upon it.
Despite us being a virtual business, I don’t feel distanced or detached from my colleagues. Whether it’s weekly conference calls or quarterly get togethers, CRE works really hard to ensure we’re able to develop relationships whether you see your colleagues every day or every three months.
CRE’s flexible approach to working means I’m more productive in my work and personal life. If you want to work at 6.00 a.m. or 11.00 p.m., either is fine. They judge you on what you do, not how you do it.
The CRE culture is very unique. Ben and Karl have created an incredible company which places a huge emphasis on sharing ideas and helping everyone to grow and succeed. I’ve never worked for another company like it.
What’s brilliant is that there’s no feeling of competition between team members, and because everyone’s backgrounds are so unique and different, the insights and suggestions put forward to overcome certain situations and get results for the clients is amazing.
Because everyone works remotely it gives you the freedom to work on your own terms, as long as you hit deadlines and deliver top-quality work, it doesn’t matter when you do the work or how you do it. That’s great for everyone because freedom is so important.
It’s also an added bonus that everyone meets up four times a year and gets on so well. It really helps create camaraderie when you’re working together on projects.
We originally wrote individual contributions to this, but they overlapped hugely, so we decided to combine them. Our company vision is the result of an ongoing collaboration over the years so it felt wrong for us to suddenly publish separate versions now. Thanks to Jean-Jacques and Darren for helping to develop the ideas, values, and beliefs in this section.
So what does CRE’s culture mean to us?
One of our mottos: “Become deserving of what you want”
Does success come to those who deserve it? For most of our lives, the answer has been no. But the world is changing quickly, and we believe that the answer will soon be yes. Good people—and good companies—will be successful.
The phrase “If you build it, they will come” used to be a “falsism.” But the internet has made consumers much better at finding great products and services.
Here’s an example. In the past, a bad restaurant in a tourist hotspot could prosper by preying on an endless supply of naive customers. Now, thanks to sites like TripAdvisor, prospective diners can find out the truth. So diners go to the best restaurants and they avoid the bad ones. The top-rated restaurants get almost all of the money.
If we ran a restaurant, we’d focus on delivering value—by cooking great food—in the firm belief that everything else would look after itself, because the truth would get out.
So one of our mottos is “Become deserving of what you want.” Consequently, we focus almost all of our efforts on delivering and improving our service.
Being the best in the world is seriously underrated
We’re fans of Seth Godin’s book The Dip, in which Godin argues that “Being the best in the world is seriously underrated.” He gives many examples of how, in most fields of achievement, you get almost no rewards until you become one of the best in the world—at which point the rewards come rushing in. One reason for this is because everyone wants the best. When visiting a new town, no one asks the concierge to recommend an average restaurant. They all want the best.
So if we were running a restaurant, we’d want our food to be not just good but the best, and we’d want our employees to be not just happy but the happiest, because being best is disproportionately more fruitful than being second, third or fourth.
How does this affect CRE?
Our goal is to build a company that deserves to be hugely successful, because it’s the best in the world at delivering value. Our two main stakeholders are our clients and our team members, so we deliver two types of value, one for each of them:
1. How do we come to deserve the best clients?
For our clients, we have the mantra “Wins are everything.” A “win” is a split-test in which our redesign of a client’s webpage is proven to generate more profit than the existing version of the page. Wins are what our clients are paying for.
How does our culture help us to get wins for clients? Well, we recruit people who are amazing at getting wins, and we train them in everything we know. We focus on their productivity and we create elegant, easy-to-use processes for them to follow, so their time isn’t wasted. We seek the (sometimes painful) truth by carrying out split-tests, usability tests, and surveys. And we try to spend as little time as possible doing work that is secondary to getting wins. For example
- We all travel as little as possible.
- Most of our sales come from word of mouth, not from outbound sales.
- Most of our marketing materials are byproducts of our consulting processes—like our case studies, for example.
2. How do we come to deserve the best team members?
Writing this has made us realize that we don’t have a mantra for attracting and retaining amazing team members. We guess it should be something like “CRE is leaps and bounds better than every other job you’ve had.” (We copied this from what Jeremy said on the video on our “Careers” page.) We focus on paying our team members much more than they’d normally get for such roles, we let them work from anywhere in the world (so they can spend time with friends and family), and we give them an environment in which they can do the best work of their lives.
Split-tests are cold and unforgiving. If people are being measured by split-tests, the last thing they need is an employer who’s also cold and unforgiving. They need support. Our culture is supportive, nice-natured, collaborative, energizing, and forgiving. Our managers are there to define the roles and then to provide support, enthusiasm, and encouragement.
We believe in giving people more help than they might expect. Here’s an example: Recently, we interviewed a consultant who didn’t quite pass the interviews, because he didn’t have enough experience. We told him so, but he was so close to making the grade that we offered to put him through our training course free of charge, on the basis that at the very least he’d benefit from having received the training. After he completed our training course, he still didn’t pass our tests, so we couldn’t take him on. Instead, we asked some of our contacts and put him in touch with several companies that were looking for conversion marketers.
It’s a small world, and it’s getting smaller. We try hard to leave everyone in a better position for having known us. We hope you have a new idea or two for having spent the time to read this article.
If you believe you’d enjoy working for us, please take a look at the positions we’re currently hiring for.
If you would like to discover more about our company culture—and some of our quirky ways of working—visit our “Careers” page.
What you should do now
How we try to get an accurate view of the culture in our remote-working business
If your colleagues aren’t persuaded that conversion is important, send them this article, which contains the same video we send to our clients’ teams.
You can share this article with your co-workers via email (using this mailto link) or, if you’re an extrovert, via one of the social sharing buttons at the bottom of the article.
Conversion is a team activity. If your bosses, co-workers, and employees don’t share your vision and enthusiasm, you’ll struggle to get results. Before you can convert your visitors, you must convert your co-workers. We discovered this the hard way. In our early days, we noticed that though many of our client projects moved rapidly, a few of them stumbled along the same rocky path:
- Phase 1: We’d be hired by a “kindred spirit”—someone who was excited about conversion and liked our approach to it.
- Phase 2: The project would be delegated by the Kindred Spirit to others who didn’t understand what conversion rate optimization (CRO) was, never mind why it was essential to a company’s success.
As a result, we started to feel less like we were part of a team of people pulling in the same direction…
…and more like how this salmon must feel:
A simple video that made a big difference
Then we had a breakthrough. We created an “onboarding” video, which we now send to every member of a client’s team before a project begins, including to the developers, graphic designers, UX designers, “brand police,” and legal teams. It describes the vital few things that everyone should know about CRO, including:
- Several non-obvious reasons why CRO is more important than it might appear.
- Why CRO benefits not just your company but also your career.
- The kind of results that companies have achieved with CRO.
- The seven steps of research-based CRO, and why they are much more effective than the more commonly used methods.
- The “cup of coffee” test, and why you must address bottlenecks head on.
- Six things that our most successful clients do differently (often dramatically so).
We also began inviting everyone in our clients’ teams to sign up to our email newsletter, because the more they learn, the more they’re empowered. Just because someone doesn’t have the word “conversion” in his or her job title doesn’t mean that CRO knowledge can’t change the course of his or her career.
The video—and email newsletter invites—worked even better than we had hoped. Now when we start a new project, the client’s team is usually enthusiastic because it has the background on what we’re doing and why.
Of course, we still encounter people who don’t “get” CRO no matter how much we explain it, but these days they tend to be outnumbered by the people who do understand its importance. In fact, several of our clients have adopted our methodology far beyond the “conversion department.” (For further details, read this interview with one of our clients, whom we helped to become the UK’s fifth-fastest-growing company.)
Here’s the video:
Even if your company has no plans of ever becoming a client of ours, you’ll find the video useful. If you’re short of time, just forward this article to your colleagues. If you have more time, feel free to adopt the structure of the talk and give a customized presentation to your team.
Incidentally, the first section of the video, up to 5:38 minutes point, answers the question “Who are Conversion Rate Experts and why should you listen to us?” If you already know the answer, then you may wish to skip that part. And if you’re adapting the talk for your own use, then replace that section with evidence of your own experience and expertise. Remember, if the listeners aren’t persuaded that you know what you’re talking about, they will question everything that follows.
Don’t keep your CRO know-how to yourself
When we started Conversion Rate Experts, we felt that educating a client’s wider team was a chore that stood in the way of our doing the real work. We soon realized that it’s a core CRO skill. In fact, perhaps the most important aspect of our service is that we help our clients to adopt the practices of the most successful web companies.
So before you convert your visitors, you must convert your co-workers. Don’t keep your CRO know-how to yourself. To get massive success you need to multiply your knowledge and effort over as many people as possible.
What you should do now
How to convince your company (or clients) to focus on conversion
The core function of many online businesses is to play “matchmaker”—to bring people together. Dating sites are the obvious example, but such businesses also include auction sites, trading platforms, job sites, social networks and classifieds sites.
The definition could also be extended to businesses that depend on user-generated content, like YouTube, Facebook, IMDb and StackOverflow.
In the following talk, we describe a winning strategy for both types of business, as well as some tools and techniques that are effective for growing them.
(We also show you a ridiculously simple strategy for beating people at the game Connect 4.)
The talk was originally given to the members of ICMA, the International Classified Media Association. If you have seen our talks before, we recommend you skip to the 7:40 minutes point and watch until the 18:50 minutes point, so you can see a strategy that will help you beat your competitors.
Here are the slides:
And here’s a video of the talk:
What you should do now
Does your website connect users to other users?
Our entire 68-point workflow for setting up and presenting successful webinars
What you’ll get on this page:
- Three reasons why we host webinars—and why you probably should too.
- Some great technology that will hugely improve the quality of your webinars.
- Proven templates for all the documents you’ll need to create (emails, blog posts, etc.).
- Pre-webinar tasks you must complete before you start.
- Some easy-to-make embarrassing webinar blunders we’ve made, and how you can avoid them.
- How to edit the slides and video and post them to your blog.
Why you should consider hosting webinars
Webinars are highly effective for communicating with your target market. In fact, this year we have experimented with turning down almost every conference speaking request we have received, and instead we have spent that time giving webinars. We have even presented remotely at “real-life” conferences:
It doesn’t appear to have hurt our business. This year, we have reclaimed a whole month that we would otherwise have spent visiting conferences, and we have had our highest sales ever.
Webinars have three huge benefits over other marketing channels:
- They allow a level of rapport that articles don’t.
- They are time-efficient, for you and for the attendees, who don’t need to travel to a conference either.
- They are highly scaleable. It’s unusual to have more than 100 people attend a talk at a web conference, but this is normal for a webinar.
However, no other marketing medium presents more opportunities for messing up. They are like a stressful cross between organizing an international conference, giving a presentation and making a VoIP call. Over the years, we’ve accumulated many tips for getting the best results from webinars, usually by making mistakes then asking ourselves, “How can we safeguard against that ever happening again?”
Step 1: Get the right technology
- If you’re wondering how our voices sound so professional (why are you laughing?), it’s because we use a great microphone (the Blue Yeti) with an anti-pop screen (like this one). We’ve recorded a comparison of the different microphone options, so you can hear what a huge difference it makes.
- Find a quiet, echo-free room from which to present: When we first moved into our offices, they were very echoey. So we had the walls lined with Ecophon Texona acoustic wall panels, and we had Ecophon Solo panels suspended from the ceiling. Now it’s like a recording studio in there.
- We have a “Do Not Disturb” sign for the door. This kind of thing, (not this one!). We just wish we could find one that can be read by delivery people, who appear to be blind to it.
- The webinar software we use is GoToWebinar.
Step 2: Have a kick-off meeting to agree the details of the webinar
We recommend you co-present webinars with other companies. That way, you provide valuable content to their subscribers, and in return you get exposure to a new audience. The following points will be useful when you have the first phone meeting with the people with whom you’ll be presenting:
- Before or during this call, send out a Google Doc that contains the planning templates for the call. To save you loads of time, here’s our template.
- Agree on the title of the talk. (Ideally, it would be a subject about which you have already created content.) As with all good headlines, a good title will compel the visitor into wanting to know more, probably by speaking in terms of benefits to the viewer. Our talk about usability, for example, was called “How to make millions from usability testing.”
- Agree who will be presenting, who will be moderating and who will be organizing (e.g., setting up the webinar software).
- Create an outline for the call, so each presenter knows how many minutes they can speak for. It’s a good idea to have 15 minutes for questions at the end. Agree now who will answer the questions.
- Assign one of your colleagues to join the webinar as an attendee, so they can see and hear what the attendees see and hear. If, at the start of the webinar, you accidentally start showing your screen without realizing it, this person can run into the office shouting and waving their arms.
- Agree upon the time and date for the webinar:
- Should you have multiple sessions for different time zones? Remember that time zones vary by date, so don’t just look at the time differences as they are today. Instead, use TimeAndDate’s Meeting Planner.
- Don’t have a webinar on a national holiday. Use Google Calendar’s “interesting calendars” feature to automatically add different countries’ national holidays to your calendar.
- Ensure that the presenters, moderators and organizer will join the webinar half an hour before it starts (so they can check that the technology is working).
- Agree upon the time and date for a “dress rehearsal” several days before the webinar, to agree on the final details and to test the slides and the technology. A 30-minute call should suffice. Twice during such calls we’ve encountered major problems. On one occasion, the other presenter took half an hour to get the technology working. On another, only a quarter of our screen was visible. You don’t want to leave that kind of problem till the day of the talk.
- Agree upon the time and date for a post-webinar call, so you can review any remaining tasks that need to be completed.
- Agree if and how each party will we be promoting the webinar to its followers.
- Give the presenters, moderators and organizers the URL of this article, so they can follow the checklist themselves.
- Ask for photo(s) of the presenters, and the email addresses of the presenter(s), moderator(s) and organizer(s). Also, share cell phone numbers in case any one of you needs to be contacted in an emergency.
- Confirm in writing everything that you’ve just agreed. You can do this by emailing the URL of the Google Doc to the presenters, moderators and organizers.
Step 3: Set dates in your calendar
- Send calendar invitations to the presenters, moderators and organizers.
- Reserve the meeting room from which you’ll present the webinar. You don’t want to start the webinar out of breath because you’ve just had to wrestle several people out of the room. (Incidentally, this task is in the “calendar” section because we book resources using our online calendar. The room from which we present has its own calendar.)
- Invite a colleague to be in the same room as you during the webinar—so they can be a “runner” if you need anything. This could be the same person who will be attending the webinar as a guest.
Step 4: In Google Docs, draft the blog post
- The blog post is surprisingly fiddly to set up, partly because the time zones are difficult to explain (and GoToWebinar doesn’t make things easy). This example of an announcement blog post has all the necessary parts. By drafting it in Google Docs, you can show it to the other parties before it goes live. This also saves you from the chicken-and-egg situation whereby you can’t publish the blog post till you have the GoToWebinar sign-up URL to include in it, but you can’t set up GoToWebinar until you have written the description of the session.
Step 5: Set up GoToWebinar
- Be careful who sets up GoToWebinar, because this person will receive all of the email enquiries (and there may be tens or hundreds of them). So give this job to your guest presenter (just a joke—the organizer should probably do it).
- Copy and paste from the Google Doc the description of the session and the follow-up emails.
Step 6: Publish the blog post announcing the webinar
- Once all the parties have agreed upon it, transfer the blog post from Google Docs to your site and to your co-presenter’s site.
- Follow your publicity plan for the post. (Email your subscribers, etc..) We usually send just one notification, because that’s what we’d do to a friend—and we treat our subscribers like our friends. (In fact, many of them are our friends.) Most companies find that they get higher sign-up rates by sending out a series of emails in the days leading up to the webinar.
Step 7: Write the talk and create the slides
- Send a slide template file to each person who’ll be creating slides.
- In this article we’ll not address how to write the talk itself. Instead we’ll focus on the activities that are specific to webinars. If you want advice on how to structure a persuasive, valuable talk then watch “How to beat most professional copywriters,” which contains a highly effective template for creating persuasive messages (and which follows those tips itself). Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate, is great too. If you want inspiration for creating slides, SlideShare’s “Featured” gallery is useful.
- Script into the talk a second introduction for latecomers.
- GoToWebinar’s interface shows how many people are actually watching the slides (as opposed to having the GoToWebinar window open in the background). You can increase the number of active viewers by regularly saying “Look at this slide” during the talk. Include in your script reminders to do this.
- When the presenters have submitted their slides, combine them into one slide deck and check that all of the fonts and transitions have worked. PowerPoint tip: when you paste in a new slide, you’ll see a small clipboard icon that asks you whether to “Keep Source Formatting” (choose this one!) or “Use Destination Theme” (don’t use this one, unless you secretly hate your co-presenter and want to hear him cry in front of a thousand people).
Step 8: The day before the call
- In case of emergency, print the following:
- Your slides (and annotate them if needed).
- The dial-in details.
- The Google Doc (which includes emergency contact details).
Step 9: About 30 minutes before the webinar
- Put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the office door.
- Restart your computer.
- Turn off any software that might slow down your computer, hog your bandwidth or hijack your screen:
- Close any applications you won’t be using—including ones that only appear in the menu bar, like Screenhero and Jing.
- Close any software that is likely to seize control of your screen. For example, instant messaging software, calendar software or notification software.
- Turn off backup software (like Time Machine).
- Turn off file-sync services (like Dropbox).
- If you use Apple Mac OS X Yosemite, open Notification Centre, scroll to the top, and activate “Do Not Disturb” mode, to prevent any embarrassing SMS messages you receive during the webinar from appearing on your screen.
- If you have it (and if you don’t, you’re missing a trick) activate Caffeine (for Mac), which stops your computer from going to sleep or starting your screen saver.
- Set yourself a reminder to restart your computer afterwards, so all of the above software starts again.
- Ensure your backup internet connections are ready (your wireless card, phone tethering, etc.).
- Minimize any possible sources of noise: Turn off doorbells, unplug unneeded phones (note that a phone in vibrate mode can still make a lot of noise). Close windows. If your door is locked, take the keys out of the door, in case someone needs to let themselves in.
- If you’ll be browsing live during the webinar, open a single, blank browser window in “Incognito” mode in a browser you don’t normally use. Delete the history from your web browser, so people can’t see your history and bookmarks.
- Tidy up your computer’s desktop.
- PowerPoint doesn’t work well with multiple monitors, so unplug any external monitors before you begin, and present the slides from your main screen.
- Start ScreenFlow (ideally on another computer) to record a backup of the webinar. And start your digital dictaphone recording.
- Join GoToWebinar. If you’re using a phone, not VoIP, check that “Mic and Speakers” is deselected in GoToWebinar’s control panel—otherwise you may hear loud feedback noise. Also, remember that when “Mic and Speakers” is selected, your voice can be heard by the other presenters as soon as you open GoToWebinar.
- If you’ll be using GoToWebinar’s “Mic and Speakers” VoIP service, then, regardless, activate the “Telephone” option, and write down the dial-in details. Then, if VoIP fails at any point, you can dial-in with a normal phone.
- The presenter should click “Record” when the webinar starts. (Someone who has a Windows computer should do this too, because GoToWebinar’s Mac client is apparently unreliable at recording sessions.)
- Throughout the session, presenters should ensure that they view the “Chat” section of the GoToWebinar control panel, in case other presenters need to contact them. If one of the presenters isn’t paying attention to your chats (perhaps their “Chat” panel is collapsed), here’s a clever way of getting their attention: On the webinar, tell the presenter that you have just chatted a URL to them, and ask them to forward it to all of the attendees. Then chat to them the URL of the resource along with a message saying “Please pay attention to my chats!”
- Set up a spare laptop on your desk (if you have one). Join the meeting as an attendee on it. This allows you to see what time lag there is between you showing a slide and the audience being able to see it. Also, start up instant messaging (Skype, etc.) so you can use it to communicate with other presenters if anything goes wrong.
- Ask everyone in the office to use different Wi-Fi connections from the one you’re using.
- Have a last-minute wee. You’ve earned it.
- Put a glass of water on your desk, in case your voice dries up during the recording.
- Let the other presenters know that the moderator will be controlling the slides during the presentation, so to advance the slides the presenters will need to keep saying “On the next slide, you’ll see…” or “If you move to the next slide, …” or “[Presenter’sName], if you could move to the next slide.” This turns out to be less awkward than it sounds. Alternatively, you can “Give Keyboard & Mouse” to them, but be aware that their mouse movements can wreak havoc if you forget to disable them when it’s your turn to speak.
- Listen to some exciting music as loud as you can bear, to energize yourself. Here’s our Spotify playlist of exciting songs—though you’ll probably want to create your own.
Step 10: Present the webinar
- Throughout the webinar, the moderator should watch the “Questions” and “Chat” panes in GoToWebinar’s control panel.
- When the talk starts, mute any presenters who aren’t speaking, to minimize any background noise, and to reduce the likelihood of bandwidth problems.
Step 11: After the webinar has finished
- Make sure you end the session, by closing GoToWebinar altogether. It’s surprisingly easy to leave it running (we’ve discovered). Don’t be fooled into thinking that the “Stop showing screen” button will stop the audio too.
- Convert the movie file of the recording (using GoToWebinar’s conversion software).
- If agreed beforehand, export the GoToWebinar reports and send them to the other presenters. Read all of the attendees’ questions, even if you haven’t promised to reply to all of them. Sometimes they contain personal messages that require action.
- Restart your computer, to restart the software that you paused before the session (Dropbox, Time Machine, etc.).
- Upload your slides to SlideShare. If you have used any non-standard fonts, then save the file as a PDF before uploading them, otherwise they’ll look terrible.
- Edit the video (we use ScreenFlow for Mac, but Camtasia for Windows is very similar): Crop any excess content from the start and end of the video. Optimize the sound by maximizing its volume, being careful that none of the peaks get too loud (in Screenflow they appear red when this happens). Screenflow has a feature called “Smooth volume levels,” which can be useful. However, if the other presenters are consistently quieter than you (because they don’t have an awesome microphone, perhaps), then it helps to turn their sections of the audio into separate clips, and then to edit the volumes of those clips independently. Export the video on “Web – High” setting. We export at a size of 1200 by 900 pixels. Then upload the video to your video-hosting service. Wistia and Vimeo are great.
- Embed the slides and video into a blog post (here’s an example). Don’t skip this stage; for every person who attends one of our live webinars, there are more than five people who see the video recording and/or the slides. Rather than create a new post, we edit the one that we used to announce the webinar, because it’s not needed any more, but there might still be links pointing at it.
- Publicize that it’s published (email your subscribers, show off at dinner parties, etc.).
Good luck, and let us know how you get on.
If you found this article useful, then you’ll (probably) love our free reports.
What you should do now
How to grow your business with webinars
The easiest way to understand why visitors aren’t converting is to ask them.
But what questions should you ask?
Below, you’ll find the slides and video from a webcast we co-presented with Sean Ellis, the CEO of Qualaroo. Sean has helped to grow some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups, including Dropbox, LogMeIn and Eventbrite.
Our advice comes from years of experience increasing conversion rates for highly successful companies such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Lloyds Banking Group, GQ, and Sony.
In this webcast, you’ll discover
- Six “golden questions” that we use to reveal exactly why visitors aren’t converting.
- A new way to think about questions, which will make it easier to know what to ask in any situation.
- Why we use the survey tool Qualaroo, and some inventive ways to use it to identify conversion opportunities.
Here are the slides:
And here’s a video of the talk:
If you want to try out Qualaroo, you can sign up for a free trial here.
What you should do now
“Golden questions” that reveal exactly why your visitors aren’t converting (slides and video)
Do you want to learn the “vital few” copywriting techniques that have the greatest impact on profits?
Below, you’ll find the slides and video from a webcast we co-presented with Paras Chopra, the founder and CEO of Visual Website Optimizer.
Paras has a wealth of experience with online testing. He started his company with no external funding—and his main competitor was Google. His software now powers A/B testing for over 3,000 companies including Microsoft, Groupon and Walt Disney.
Our advice comes from years of experience increasing conversion rates for highly successful companies such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Lloyds Banking Group, GQ, and Sony.
What you’ll get from the slides and video:
- Case studies: Three real-world A/B tests, and the lessons they teach us.
- The “vital few” most effective copywriting techniques-with which you can beat most professional copywriters. (If this sounds impossible, remember that most professional copywriters don’t split-test their work.)
- A winning copywriting template you can use to sell almost any product.
A video of the talk
The talk in podcast format
To download the audio of this talk, and others, subscribe to our podcast.
Resources mentioned during the talk
The mechanics of writing well
- The Elements of Style, a book by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.
- Professional Writing Style, an online guide to some advanced aspects of grammar and style.
- Free guides from the Plain English Campaign.
Some valuable resources from Visual Website Optimizer
- Visual Website Optimizer’s blog has many valuable blog posts, including 10 Quick Copy Tweaks for High-Converting Websites and How to Write eCommerce Product Descriptions that Sell Like Hotcakes.
Possibly useful links (depending on who you are) from Conversion Rate Experts
- To download screenshots of some of our winning pages, with annotations showing all of the copywriting techniques we used, subscribe to our free newsletter.
- Work for us: We are still growing fast, and we’re always hiring. To discover why our consultants love working for us, visit our “Careers” page.
- Become a client: If you’d like us to grow your business, and you have annual online profits of $1M or more, (or the equivalent in your own currency; we have worked with companies in 22 countries), then get in touch.
What you should do now
How to beat most professional copywriters
Here are some great resources we’ve recently shared with each other (using Diigo):
- Writing: Top 100 speeches of the 20th century. Some of the world’s most rousing, persuasive writing.
- Self-help: Read Joshua Uebergang’s 1,000 self-help books summarized in one page. Then, with all the time you’ve saved, you can treat yourself to 5,000 hours of Xbox and Doritos. You deserve it.
- Business: The 20 smartest things Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has ever said. Numbers six, eight and nine are particularly good. He’s a smart guy, that Jeff. He’ll go far.
- Analytics: Occam’s Razor Awesomeness. Some ready-to-use custom Google Analytics reports from Avinash Kaushik. (One reviewer endearingly nicknamed it “Avinash’s greatest hits.”)
- iPhone development: If you develop an iPhone app, Watchsend records video of your users interacting with it.
- Creating new products: Survey.io. A ready-made survey to help you with customer development. Created by the excellent KISSmetrics team.
- Screen recording: If you ever need to create or edit a screen-recording, ScreenFlow (for Mac) is great. And if you have an iOS device, then this is an enjoyable way to learn how to use all of Screenflow’s features. You’ll also find this list of keyboard shortcuts for Screenflow useful. If you’re on a PC, you’ll want Camtasia instead.
- Graphic design: Swiftly is an easy way to find a graphic designer to make quick fixes for you. It was created by 99designs.
- Mind-mapping software: iThoughtsHD is great mind mapping software for iOS. Its developer has recently launched a Mac version, called iThoughtsX.
- Problem solving: How to solve it. A summary of a short book about how to solve problems, which was recommended by the programmer Rich Hickey in his talk about solving hard problems.
- Cute: Sea otters holding hands. Not work (unless you work with sea otters).
- A handy trick: At the bottom of this article, you’ll see two bookmarklets labelled “Edit this Website” and “Done Editing.” Drag them to your bookmarks bar. They’ll enable you to edit any webpage. You’ll be editing the local version in your browser, not the version on the server, but this can be useful for quickly communicating to someone how the text on a page could be changed. Or maybe you’ll squander your newfound powers by editing news sites to trick your friends.
- Being happy: Happiness app for iPhone. The easiest way to be happier is to identify what makes you happy, and then do more of it. This app asks you, at sporadic intervals, how happy you are and why. You can later browse through your entries looking for patterns.
We’re still growing fast, and we’re always hiring. To discover why our consultants like working for us, take a look at our recently updated “Careers” page.
That’s all for now. Before you go, let’s have one last look at those otters.
What you should do now
Resources we’ve discovered recently (Sep 25, 2013)
It’s no exaggeration to say that this article could change the direction of your business.
We have an eccentric approach to user research, and it has led us into some strange situations. For good reason, though; it has helped us to make hundreds of millions for our clients.
Below, you’ll find the slides—and video—from one of our most popular talks, which we’ve given at several conferences but most recently to the subscribers of UserTesting.com.
The talk contains the usability tools and tips that give the most winning insights per minute, based on our experience.
It also includes some robots, a shed and ’90s rap legend Vanilla Ice.
So if there is a problem, yo, we’ll solve it. Check out our hook (slides) while the DJ (SlideShare and YouTube) revolves it (them):
Here are the slides:
And here’s a video of the talk:
The talk in podcast format
To download the audio of this talk, and others, subscribe to our podcast.
Resources mentioned during the talk
- Screenflow for Mac.
- Camtasia for Windows.
- AirServer for iPhone.
- Magitest for iPhone.
- UX Recorder for iPhone.
- Ethnio: For recruiting participants for remote usability tests.
- UserTesting.com: An outsourced usability-testing service.
Tools and other software
What you should do now
How to make millions from usability testing
When we discuss our clients’ progress, we often find ourselves saying “It’s like Osmos.” You might be interested to hear what we mean by that.
Your goal is to grow, which you do by absorbing bubbles that are smaller than you. If you come into contact with bubbles that are larger than you, you die.
To understand how it works, watch a minute or so of this video:
Osmos gives you a good feel for a phenomenon that occurs when you’re growing a business—except in business it takes several years to experience what takes just a few minutes in Osmos:
- At first, many challenges seem impossibly big—so big that it feels delusional to even contemplate them. But contemplate them you should, and you should plan for them, because…
- Sooner than you think, the challenges become within your grasp, and you need to be ready for them.
- Then, soon after, you look back and they seem so small as to be quaint.
And so it continues.
We’ve seen the “Osmos Effect” happen many times with our clients. As their company grows, they experience it in many ways:
- Media and publicity opportunities that once they’d have given their right arms for, later aren’t even worth the hassle.
- Business opportunities that once they’d have jumped at, later they feel guilty for not following up
- Competitors that once seemed like giants, later become irrelevant.
- Sales targets that once seemed like fantasy, later feel almost cute.
- An office that once seemed recklessly large, soon seems uncomfortably small.
In fact, the Osmos Effect applies to almost every aspect of a growing business. Visions that at first sound delusional later seem tame. The daunting becomes the trivial.
It’s important for you to gain an appreciation for this phenomenon, because otherwise you’ll never have the boldness to create the “delusional” plans in the first place. This is what Bill Gates was referring to when he said that “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Unfortunately, in business this phenomenon takes years to experience, so even if things go well it takes a long time to get a feel for it.
We know no better way to get a feel for it than by playing Osmos.
What you should do now
A fun game that helps you to acquire Bill Gates’s “10-year” skill
Our co-founder Karl has shared some useful conversion tips in a written interview with the guys from UserTesting.com
In the interview, he describes
- A simple mental “hack” that makes it much easier to write marketing copy.
- Why you need to become aware of the bottlenecks—and non-bottlenecks—in your company.
- How to increase conversions in many countries and languages without creating a rat’s nest of complexity.
- The “house visitor effect,” and how you can use it to identify problems with your website.
Wanted: Your “skunkworks” stories
A skunkworks is defined as an “environment that is intended to help a small group of individuals design a new idea by escaping routine organizational procedures.” Apple and Google both operate skunkworks facilities.
We know many conversion marketers who have created skunkworks programs, bypassing the regular channels and getting results much faster than would have been otherwise possible. Here are a few commonly used strategies:
- Fund some of your affiliates, on the understanding that they’ll use the money to test new offers.
- Create a subsidiary business solely for the purpose of experimentation.
- Have a separate AdWords budget just for experimentation.
- Give presentations to the rest of your organization, to persuade them why they must give you freedom to carry out tests (and to make the occasional inevitable mistake).
We’re currently compiling a comprehensive list of skunkworks strategies. If you have used any of the above techniques—or any other innovative methods for speeding up testing within your organization—we’d love to hear from you. Contact us to let us know your stories—and we’ll share our findings with you.
What you should do now
Some useful conversion tips and your “skunkworks” stories
This post is a mix of great resources we’ve recently shared with each other (using Diigo) plus some tools and techniques that have been invaluable in helping us to grow our own business. We’ve been meaning to share them with you for a while. We hope you like them.
- A one-minute introduction to Scrum development (video) by Axosoft. We use Scrum, and find it very useful. You’ll probably find it useful too. If you can’t spare 10 minutes, just watch the final 62 seconds of it.
- We’ve been using TINYpulse for several months now, and it works really well. It surveys your team each week, asking them questions that will help you to grow and improve.
- The founder of a tech company once expressed envy at how easily we had found product/market fit. We replied that it’s hard not to when you start as a service company. Conversely, most conversion tools fail because the founders don’t intimately understand the marketplace. This excellent article by Ben Ogle explains the advantages of first providing a service manually, then later automating it. This inspiring article from the founder of ZeroCater has a similar theme.
- Whether you appreciate it or not, your business has one or more bottlenecks restricting its growth. The Theory of Constraints (ToC) is a valuable methodology for identifying and removing them. When we started Conversion Rate Experts—with zero budget and no external investment—we planned our entire business strategy using a ToC “prerequisite chart,” which we’ve kept updated ever since. It has been invaluable, helping us to make bold decisions about what we should prioritize. Here are some of the best resources for learning ToC:
- It’s really hard to find a clear, concise introduction to ToC. This article by Robert McNally of Flying Logic is the best overview we’ve found (here’s another good one and here’s another (PDF)). This e-book (PDF) by Robert is the best detailed overview we’ve found.
- Once you understand the ToC Thinking Processes, this diagram (JPG) provides a useful overview of what they do, and how they relate to each other.
- The “Evaporating Cloud” is one of the Thinking Processes from ToC. It’s surprisingly hard to find a good explanation of how it works, though. [This is the best explanation we’ve found (PDF)]]10.
- If you want to read 444 pages about ToC, this book by William Dettmer is great.
- We use Omnigraffle for drawing ToC diagrams because, unlike many other drawing packages, it has a layout engine that automatically arranges the elements of the diagram. These ToC OmniGraffle templates are useful.
- The Beach Boys redubbed (video). This isn’t one of the must-have resources—in fact, it’s nothing to do with work—but it’s funny. It’s part of a recent trend of people badly redubbing pop videos. The Beach Boys’ harmonies weren’t so tight after all, were they?
- Depending on how someone answers a question in Qualaroo, you can now prompt a chat with Olark or Zopim. This could be really useful for screening out low-value chatters.
- If you ever get involved with selling medicines or health supplements in the UK, the MHRA’s “Blue Guide” (PDF) is the definitive document for what you can and can’t say. Their website is useful too.
- Zapier, Busyflow and IFTTT are great tools for linking up Basecamp, Trello, Google Apps and whatever other web apps you use.
- If you’re aiming to be a great copywriter, you should study the lives of other great writers and creators. For example, there are loads of lessons to be learned from the story of the Beatles. The movie The Compleat Beatles is a brief, inspiring introduction to the Beatles, which we watch regularly. Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to find a copy these days because it’s out of production. Apart from a YouTube ripped version, your only option is to buy a second-hand VHS video. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in how music works, you’ll also enjoy the composer Howard Goodall’s documentary about how the Beatles innovated musically.)
- The easiest, freeiest way of getting three user tests done: Go to UserTesting.com, click “Pricing & Sign Up,” select “3 Participants,” then use the gift code “3freeCRE” (without the quotes). We don’t normally mention special offers, but this one is worth breaking the rule for. We don’t profit from recommending it.
- In our last post, we mentioned three apps for creating guided tours of your site, but somehow we forgot to mention WalkMe.
That’s all for this week, apart from the news that we’re now paying for all the school meals for a second school in Africa. This one’s in Liberia:
What you should do now
Some little-known tools and techniques we’ve used to grow our own business
Here are some great resources we’ve recently shared with each other (using Diigo). Many of the comments were written at the time (which explains why some of them are in the first person):
- 100 email hacks (e-book). No matter how good you are at managing email, there’ll be something useful for you in this little treasure trove, which was written by the makers of Sanebox (which is great, by the way).
- How to be happy: There has been a lot of scientific research into what causes happiness and what doesn’t. Fortunately, the research has been summarized into a single book, “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubormirsky. Even more fortunately, someone has summarized the whole book into an eight-minute rap. Here it is. (It’s also available from iTunes, Amazon, etc..) It contains some really useful, counterintuitive advice that might (should) change your life. It’s hard to take it all in in one go, so it’s worth listening to repeatedly.
- I’ve just started using Workflowy. It now has an iPhone app. I was looking for an alternative to iThoughts HD, which is a great mind-mapping tool, but it doesn’t sync to Mac well. Mind maps are just indented bullet point lists. They have the advantage that they appeal to spacial memory, but they take up a lot of screen space. Workflowy seems great so far.
- Google Alerts doesn’t work very well these days. Mention.com is an alternative.
- A profile of Stumptown Coffee Roasters (video): A great example of a promotional video. It follows Pixar’s Rule #1: “You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.”
- Unathletic dog. Not work, but it made me laugh.
- I’m only saving this for the following extract: “In 1986, Michael Foot was the subject of one of the best-known newspaper headlines of all time. The Times ran an article about Foot, who had been put in charge of a nuclear disarmament committee. The headline stated “Foot Heads Arms Body.” Although originally written as a joke by editor Martyn Cornell, the paper ran it.
- If your site’s functionality is complicated, the following tools let you create a “welcome tour” for it in less than 15 minutes: Intro.js and Joyride.
- ÜberConference. A voice conference solution that has a great web-based management interface. You can see who’s on the call and who’s speaking, and you can mute people or put “earmuffs” on them. We haven’t tried it yet, but it looks useful.
- From Shopify, The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping (e-book).
- The Ergotron Workfit S is the best solution I’ve found so far for a standing desk compatible with Apple 27” monitors. I ordered two of them, and really love them. If you have an Apple Cinema Display, you’ll need one of these Vesa mounts. I also bought a muvman chair for my standing desk set-up, to support me while I’m standing. It’s apparently good for your posture, thanks to the four-degree angle. The height can be adjusted easily and quickly. It feels a bit weird at first (it’s not very comfortable but that’s not what I look for when I work) but you get used to it quickly.
The photo at the top of this article is one we received from the charity we support. We had sponsored a team of bikes for a charity race in Malawi, and this was the first time we got to see one of the bikes that we had donated.
Incidentally, we’re still growing and still hiring. If you know anyone who’d like to work for us, please let us know.
What you should do now
Resources we’ve discovered recently (Apr 2, 2013)
We’re growing at our fastest rate ever, and haven’t had time to write any articles lately. We promise to write some soon.
(Incidentally, if you know anyone who’d like to work for us, please let us know.)
In the meantime, here are some more great bookmarks we’ve recently shared with each other (using Diigo)—along with the comments we wrote at the time.
- Bessemer Venture Partners’ top 10 laws of ecommerce. Bessemer is a VC company that invests in ecommerce companies. This sophisticated document is invaluable for ecommerce businesses.
- “Probably the best sales manual ever written”. One of David Ogilvy’s first jobs involved writing the sales manual for AGA’s sales team. Fifty years later, Fortune magazine called it “probably the best sales manual ever written.” It’s extremely hard to get a copy of it, but this transcript has just appeared online.
- Samsung’s and Apple’s product lines in pictures. This article isn’t new, but I use it whenever I recommend to clients that they should focus their priorities more.
- A useful web developer checklist.
- Strikingly—Simple, beautiful mobile sites in minutes. When friends and family ask me how to create a website, I often recommend Squarespace or Moonfruit. Strikingly is another nice one.
- Black Mirror (TV series). I’ve just watched Season 1, Episode 3 of Black Mirror (it’s called “The Entire History of You”). I’d recommend it. It’s a fascinating and disturbing glimpse of how things will be in the future (probably in less than ten years’ time—but maybe before Christmas). It’s on Amazon and UK Netflix. [If you’re a US Netflix user, please let us know if it’s on US Netflix.]
- Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling. These rules are applicable to copywriting, building businesses, or making anything.
- ExpressBingo. A fascinating analysis of the themes (the appeals) of the stories on the front page of the UK’s Daily Express newspaper. It’s a important reminder that markets are more often defined by demand than by supply. (Pixar hinted at this in rule #2: “You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.” I imagine that the Pixar writers wouldn’t naturally choose to write a story about toy cars.)
- Two hamsters exercising. Not work, but it made me laugh.
- Text analysis, word-count, keyword density analyzer and prominence analysis. A tool for analyzing text, to see word frequencies, etc.. Could come in useful for summarizing voice-of-customer feedback.
- Hundreds of tools for marketers by Annie Cushing. A huge, well-compiled list of marketing tools.
- “Throw in the towel”. This blog is written by the guy who wrote Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean and several other movies. Halfway down the article, he gives a list of attributes of successful writers. The list is surprisingly consistent with our observations of what makes a good conversion copywriter.
- That “big break”. Another article from Mr Shrek. Highlights: (i) Give yourself ten years to become great. (ii) The key essential element is the compelling, attractive, filmic central idea. (iii) “All the barriers to success are an illusion. It was oddly easy to break into the business. Hollywood is a place that gives zero reward to the people who are just a tiny bit off, and huge rewards to the people who can provide the product dead on. Following sound strategies, and adding to them, has resulted in consistent successes, to an utterly absurd level.” (This sounds a lot like conversion rate optimization, doesn’t it?)
- “Strange attractor”. “Terry Shrek” again. “Strange attractor” is a better term for what the movie industry usually calls the “high concept.” In summary, your high concept needs to be strange (i.e., unique) and attractive (i.e., appealing). And you need one.
- Lunametrics’ guide to regular expressions (“RegEx”) for Google Analytics. This is a brilliantly written guide to using RegEx, which is useful for creating filters and goals, and for fine-tuning funnel steps. Written by our friend robb?(y|i)n Steif. (That’s a RegEx joke.)
- FoldingText (a plain-text editor for geeks). This is now my default text editor for my Mac (replacing Byword). Reasons I love it: (i) The files are in plain-text format, so they’re tiny and fast, and they aren’t tied to any proprietary software. (ii) It works with Markdown, so it’s possible to include links, headings, bullets, etc.. (iii) The Markdown code is only visible for the line you’re currently editing, so once your cursor moves away from a line, the software hides the Markdown code and just shows the formatted text. (iv) You can click on the headings to hide or reveal sections. I now use Microsoft Word only when a document requires a feature that Folding Text doesn’t have (like “Track Changes,” inserted images, or looking pretty).
In our last blog post, we included some useful links for clients who do PPC in-house. Here are some more:
- Text combination and permutation generators. The “Universal Text Combination Generator” is the one that’s useful for combining words into keywords for AdWords. (In that tool, each “Divider” should be a single space.)
- From PPC Hero, how to dynamically insert your PPC keywords into your landing page content (to improve relevance and possibly Quality Score).
- From SEOptimise, Excel hints for PPC.
- AdWords and generalized on-line matching. Apparently this paper gives a useful understanding of the mathematics of paid search (but it looks hard to read).
- From Bruce Greig, how to use Excel to generate keywords for AdWords. A formula that creates every combination of the words you’ve selected.
What you should do now
Resources we’ve discovered recently (Mar 15, 2013)
Our consultants use Diigo to share bookmarks with each other. A couple of weeks ago, we published a list of the sites we’d recently bookmarked, and asked you if you’d like us to do it again. That post received a star-rating of 4.8 out of 5.0, which we’ve taken to mean “yes.”
So here are some of the bookmarks we’ve shared with each other since then—along with the comments we wrote at the time.
- KeyCue. A Mac app that helps you find, remember, and learn menu shortcuts.
- Analytics Blog: Understanding and using Page Value. I’ve read several reports of why “Page Value” is a useful metric, because it shows you, on average, how much money a visitor spends after visiting a particular page. People say that a page with a high “Page Value” would make a good landing page, because it’s good at turning visitors into money. However, it’s hard to discern cause from effect. Pages with high “Page Value” are often ones that qualified shoppers should—or must—visit before ordering (for example customers are much more likely to have seen shopping cart pages or pages that contain information that’s required to make a decision). I wonder if it’s of any use at all. Let me know if you disagree.
- Google Analytics Reference Guide (PDF) from Blastam. This is really well written.
- Amazon Redshift is a fast, fully managed, petabyte-scale data warehouse service that makes it simple and cost-effective to efficiently analyze all your data using your existing business intelligence tools.
- Here’s what happens if you forget to close your HTML tags. You create the largest letter “P” on the web.
- An infomercial for the Sinclair C5 (video). Before Elon Musk, there was Clive Sinclair. It’s astonishing that this infomercial isn’t a parody. It has many highlights—like that “large boot,” the extra security feature for night-time driving (lights), and that the servicing is carried out by Hoover—but my favourite is the “designer-style weather cheater” at 4:47.
- Pictures of nice offices (Google, Adobe, etc.). When we designed our Hawkesyard office, we looked for pictures of really nice tech offices for inspiration. This blog is better than all the ones we found at the time.
- How to master your time. A nice article about how to focus on the important, not the urgent.
- An amazing Japanese removal company (video). This is an interesting video about an unusual—and amazingly diligent—removals company. It makes you realise how many services are just waiting to be radically improved.
- PopSurvey is looking good these days. We tried it when it was first launched, and it looks much better now. It has threaded logic, which may allow it to be used for lead gen. (On a similar subject, Qualaroo has recently started offering question-branching and conditional prompts.)
- Richard Armstrong’s swipe file. A direct-response swipe file (and inevitable self-promotion) from A-list copywriter Richard Armstrong. Contains some good examples of copywriting for fundraising (particularly the turtles letter).
- Stochastic Monte-Carlo epidemic model to demonstrate herd immunity. Not related to work. Just an elegant explanation of several epidemiology concepts. Read the instructions on the left-hand side.
- A chapter from the book The Toyota Way (PDF).
- A nice summary of lean methodology (PDF).
- TestFlight. A feedback mechanism for designers of iOS and Android apps.
- Worlds cutest frog (video). I’d happily swap the squirrel for this…thing.
- Speechpad. This is the transcription service that Mixergy uses for its interviews.
- Tips for work-life balance. Some sound advice.
- Correspondence bias. When someone else does something, we assume it’s because of their personality. But when we do something, we attribute it to the situation. “So when we see someone else kick a vending machine for no visible reason, we assume they are ‘an angry person.’ But when you yourself kick the vending machine, it’s because the bus was late, the train was early, your report is overdue, and now the damned vending machine has eaten your lunch money for the second day in a row. Surely, you think to yourself, anyone would kick the vending machine, in that situation.”
- Goats yelling like humans (video). These goats all make different noises. They have only one thing in common: they all sound human and ridiculous. I suspect they aren’t all real. (Power tip: Funny videos sound much funnier when you listen to them with headphones, for some reason.)
- Quality Score in high resolution. If your clients do PPC in-house, they may find this—and the following links—useful. This is the best explanation I’ve seen of how Quality Score works.
- The research papers of Hal Varian. Hal is Google’s Chief Economist, and his papers (particularly this one, this one and this one) contain some great clues as to how AdWords works.
- Some scripts for AdWords reporting, courtesy of PPC Hero.
- PPC Hero’s PPC Toolkit.
- How to improve Google AdWords Quality Score by RedFly.
- Distilled’s articles tends to be very good. Here are all the ones tagged with “PPC”.
- A script for automatically reporting Quality Score.
- SpeedPPC. When I used to do Adwords, this tool was a real game changer for me in terms of reducing the time spent with each account.
That’s all for this week.
What you should do now
Resources we’ve discovered recently (Feb 27, 2013)
Our consultants use Diigo to share bookmarks with each other. Every few days we receive an email from Diigo summarizing what we’ve all bookmarked. We enjoy receiving the emails, so we figured maybe you would too. Below, we’ve pasted some of the highlights from the past week.
For authenticity, (or maybe just to save time—you’ll never know), we haven’t rewritten the descriptions. They’re the the ones we wrote when we saved the bookmarks in Diigo. Though if we end up doing this regularly, we’ll almost certainly become self-conscious and affected when we write them.
- The seven types of waste. This can apply to visitor flows, or to your own workflows.
- How to use Google Analytics’ new attribution modeling tool.
- BBC – Your Paintings. The UK’s collection of oil paintings (210,000 of them) is now online.
- Bat orphans (video). This has nothing to do with work.
- Write The Docs – A two-day conference for technical writers, documentarians, and all those who write the docs. This looks like a great hub for technical writers.
- GetHuman.com. If you spend a lot of time stuck on hold, this tool will doing the waiting for you, then call you when you reach the front of the queue.
- Yast: Easy time tracking for freelancers and teams. This may come in handy for some of our clients and contractors. The video explains it well. It may actually come in useful for analyzing how you use your own time.
- How can users be prevented from pouring water into coffee machine beans compartment? Some ingenious solutions for fixing a usability problem. (Note that most of them involve changing “affordances.”)
- Discourse. Jeff Atwood’s new project: forum software that doesn’t look like it’s ten years old.
- A periodic table of visualization methods. Click on each “element” to see an example of it. I’ve just noticed a type of chart that’s missing: “The contrived, fake periodic table.” Those are popular.
- Gumroad – how it works. This is apparently the best platform for selling information products (like software, courses, audio, ebooks). It looks great. The user experience is amazing. You get a short URL that you can send prospects to.
- How we fired our office. Some good remote-collaboration tools.
- iDoneThis. A tool that asks employees what they got done each day. Might be useful for clients.
- SelfControl. A bit like Freedom, this app stops you from viewing certain sites for a limited time, so you can get something more useful done.
What you should do now
Resources we’ve discovered recently (Feb 11, 2013)
What you’ll get on this page:
- Card sorting, and two tools for doing it.
- Announcing CRE Engine: the easiest-ever way to grow your conversion rate.
- An exciting career opportunity.
We read a huge amount of visitor feedback from our clients’ sites. One of the most common complaints from visitors is that they can’t find what they are looking for. This is a serious problem: these visitors are actually unable to spend money.
Fortunately, there are several straightforward ways of fixing the problem. One of them is to optimize the information architecture of your site. “Card sorting” is a simple technique that allows your users to do this for you.
With card sorting, you write the name of each section of your site onto an index card. You then ask one of your users to arrange the cards into groups that make logical sense. If you do this with several users, you’ll start to notice trends (and new ideas) about how your site’s content should be organized.
The following tools make card sorting easier.
(By the way, we never profit in any way from recommending software.)
OptimalSort: a tool that enables you to carry out card sorting online
OptimalSort is a useful web app that saves you from having to get your users into the same room as you. You create a test in OptimalSort’s interface, then OptimalSort gives you a URL to send to your test participants. The participants, (ideally real users of your site), carry out the tests in their own time, saving you the time and hassle of having to moderate each test.
Once several card-sorting sessions have been carried out, OptimalSort collates the data into several useful reports, like this one:
Treejack: a tool that helps you to test your existing information architecture
The company that created OptimalSort also has another tool, Treejack, which helps you to identify problems with your existing navigation structure.
Treejack allows you to give users tasks, such as
- “You’re looking for the CD The Best of David Hasselhoff. Where would you find it?” (Answer: In the “Music” section.)
- “Your school science project is nearly finished, but you’ve run out of uranium ore. Where would you look?” (Answer: In the “Industrial & Scientific” section.)
- “You’re worried about the outlook for wooden toilet seats in China. Where would you seek reassurance?” (Answer: In the “Books” section.)
Once you’ve given the users their tasks, you then cross your fingers that they’ll click on the right part of your navigation structure. Treejack compiles their responses into reports, like the “pietree report” (shown below), which helps you to visualize problems with your navigation structure.
To discover more great tools for understanding your visitors, see this article.
For most of our clients, we provide finished copy and designs, which they then code and implement themselves.
However, some clients have asked us to code and implement the tests too. So over the past 12 months, we have developed a framework of technologies that enables us to do all the work of a project, while keeping you in control. We call it CRE Engine. CRE Engine allows us to do all the research, copywriting, design, coding and QA—and then, once the new version of each page is ready, you simply give us approval for the split-test to go live.
The entire project needn’t take more than 30 minutes of your IT department’s time.
We’ll be rolling out CRE Engine during 2013, first to existing clients then to new ones. If you’d like to be considered for it, complete our contact form, and we’ll send you further details.
Unfortunately, we can’t work with companies that have annual profits of less than $500,000. There just aren’t enough of us to go around. Please don’t take offense if this describes your business. We can still help you via our articles and reports.
We’re recruiting conversion consultants.
The top reasons our existing consultants joined us were
- Work from anywhere in the world you choose.
- Collaborate with prestigious clients.
- Get paid exceptionally well.
To see the other reasons—and other information about the role—visit our “Careers” page.
(If you work for one of our clients—or for a company actively considering using our services—we can’t consider you, unfortunately.)
What you should do now
Card sorting, CRE Engine and an exciting career opportunity
A poor experimental workflow can waste loads of your time. Here’s an extreme example: We’ve seen a company take six months to do something that took another company thirty minutes. That’s 8,760 times slower.
To grow quickly, you need to implement quickly, so our work with clients goes beyond suggesting what they should test; we build their in-house capability to “get stuff done.” This article describes a framework for speeding up your testing—so you can grow your profits quicker.
Many small changes or one big one?
If you’ve read the case study of our work with Crazy Egg, you may recall that the winning challenger homepage was much longer—and much more effective—than the control:
A reader recently asked us whether we had arrived at it via a series of iterations, or whether we had simply tested the new page against the old one.
We had done the latter.
But we wouldn’t always do that.
How much should you incorporate into each split-test? At one extreme, you could test every pixel change. At the other extreme, you could throw your whole year’s-worth of ideas into one test. The ideal lies somewhere in between. But where? Here are some of the issues that our consultants consider when deciding how many changes to include in a single split-test. These points should help you to decide which approach is best for you.
(Note that this question applies to multivariate tests as well as to A/B/n split-tests. In both cases, you’re faced with the question of how much to change in each page element.)
Why people do—and don’t—run tests
First, consider the following chart, which shows the main reasons why people do—and don’t—run split-tests:
The reason to run a split-test (represented by the green arrow) is to learn how a particular change affects conversion.
However, there are two drawbacks (represented by the yellow arrows): (i) each test costs money and takes time to implement, and (ii) each test takes time to run.
In practice, each forthcoming test can feel like a departing bus. Ideally you would put each change onto its own bus. However, buses may not come as often as you’d like, so it can be wise to squeeze in several changes, rather than waiting for the next one to come along. In the bus analogy, the yellow arrows represent the cost of each bus. The green arrow represents how important it is for each change to have its own bus.
When should you give each change its own split-test?
You may want to split-test every small change if:
- The green arrow is long: In other words, you have a strong desire to learn how each change affects conversion, maybe for one of the following reasons:
- Because the change is expensive. For example, if you’re about to offer a bold guarantee, if you’re changing the price, or if you’re about to start giving away a premium (a free gift), you need to know how successful the change is, so you can work out if it’s cost effective.
- Because the stakes are high. For example, you may be planning to implement this particular change on other sites, on other pages or in other media (e.g., in offline advertising), so a bad decision would be costly.
- You’re testing changes that you aren’t confident will be effective, so you need to rely on a split-test to tell you whether the changes are effective. This is fair enough. Most marketers are overconfident in their ability to spot a winner. Split-testing brings them down to earth with a bump.
- The upper, yellow arrow is short: The time and cost of implementing a test is low.
- The lower, yellow arrow is short: The time for a test to reach significance is low, perhaps because (i) the page gets a lot of traffic, so tests reach significance quickly, (ii) because you are testing changes that greatly outperform the control.
When should you cram many changes into one split-test?
You may prefer to include many changes in one split-test if:
- The green arrow is short. In other words, you’re okay not knowing how each individual change affects conversion.
- This may be because you’re testing many changes, and you’d be happy as long as the overall conversion rate increases.
- Or it may be because you’re highly confident that your changes will be effective. For example, you may be fixing things that are broken.
- The yellow arrows are long. This can be for several reasons. For example, because
- It takes you a lot of time and effort to get a test implemented. This can happen if (i) your workflows for creating content are inefficient, (ii) your company’s approval process is bureaucratic. Sometimes, “corporate brand police,” regulatory bodies and IT departments feel like goalkeepers who were put there to stop you from scoring, (iii) your development resources are inadequate, or (iv) your software and technology is poor or poorly integrated. Clients often ask us to help them improve these aspects of their business, aware that it makes so much difference to their overall success.
- Your changes are intertwined, so it would be fiddly or impossible to separate them into separate tests or to run them as a multivariate test.
- The page has few visitors, so a small improvement would take months to be detected (i.e., reach statistical significance). Multivariate testing (MVT) allows you to overcome this problem by carrying out several split-tests simultaneously on the same page. However, it usually takes more work to set up a multivariate test than a straightforward (A/B/n) split-test.
- You have an abundance of good, research-driven ideas to test, and implementation has become the bottleneck. There’s simply not enough time to implement and run each idea as a separate split-test. Also, this has an opportunity cost: While a profitable idea sits on your to-do list, you effectively lose money every day until it’s implemented.
How to use these insights to grow your business faster
- Consider whether you might progress faster by including more—or fewer—changes into each test.
- Try to identify the bottleneck in your testing process—then remove it. For example,
- If you’re short of good test ideas, find ways of generating more of them. (This article and this one should help.)
- If you’re limited by the rate at which you can design and implement tests, look for ways of speeding things up. You may find that certain types of test are easier to implement than others. For example, resist the urge to change page layouts. Wireframing software is great, but the second you open it, you’re committing to hours or even days of design work. Instead, explore whether your idea could be implemented in a way that doesn’t disrupt the existing page layout. Also, optimize your company’s workflow for getting content approved, looking for opportunities to remove bottlenecks or to move the approval process upstream so work isn’t vetoed at the eleventh hour. If all else fails, recruit additional designers or writers. You can justify their costs by calculating how much the conversion rate would need to increase in order to pay for them.
- If your page doesn’t have enough traffic, look for ways of getting more. For example, if you have many landing pages, consider whether you’d benefit by sending more traffic to one page, on which you can then run much quicker split-tests. Also consider whether you can drive more traffic to the page. The curve of profit–bid price is usually shaped like this…
…so if you’re currently to the left-hand side of the peak, bidding more per click will get you more traffic without decreasing your profits.
In summary, your approach to testing depends on your situation. Sometimes it’s worthwhile split-testing every small change. At other times, when ideas are plentiful and tests are scarce, it’s wise to bundle several ideas into a single test.
Either way, if you identify—and remove—the bottleneck in your workflow, you can greatly increase the speed at which you grow your company’s profits.
What you should do now
How to get bigger, quicker wins by optimizing your testing workflow
In this article, we’ll show you how to increase your win rate by doing some diligent research. Plus, we’ll show you the results of two interesting tests.
e-commerce sites have a particular challenge when it comes to conversion rate optimization: Implementation can require significant technical resources.
Because of this, it’s important that e-commerce marketers change only things that are likely to work. They don’t have the luxury of being able to “throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks.”
No one can win every test, of course, but you can increase your win rate. At Conversion Rate Experts, we have the advantage of having worked on many e-commerce stores, but even if you don’t have the benefit of experience, there are simple things you can do to radically improve your ability to design pages that increase profits.
This article describes the work we’ve been doing with Latin America’s largest network of florists. daFlores was the first to offer online flower delivery to South America, and now it delivers flowers worldwide. Its visitors speak many different languages, and come from an even greater number of countries. daFlores asked us whether we could help it to grow its already-successful business.
On this page, we reveal how we did it, so you can apply the same techniques to your business.
Note that, throughout this article, “we” refers to a team effort between Conversion Rate Experts (with our proven system and expertise) and daFlores (with its high-quality, pioneering service and dynamic team).
We started—as we always do—with objection collection
As you can imagine, daFlores’ visitors had a wide range of objections. Each objection is a potential conversion killer, so we sought to identify them all, using the following techniques:
- We ran surveys using 4Q (one for English-speaking customers and one for Spanish-speaking customers). This helped us to determine why certain visitors were not able to accomplish what they set out to do.
- We added Qualaroo exit surveys to specific pages where we wanted to learn further details about specific objections.
- We read thousands of lines of live chat transcripts—in Spanish and English—to discover what concerns visitors had before ordering.
- We asked the customer support team to create lists of the most common inquiries. If you’re short of time to do user research, we wholeheartedly recommend you do this. Your customer support people are an often-overlooked source of valuable insights. The feedback from daFlores’ customer support team was consistent with what we had discovered via the other research channels, and they helped us to understand visitors’ objections in a deeper, more empathic way.
- We emailed a SurveyMonkey survey to shopping cart abandoners, asking them—among other things—what had prevented them from completing their orders.
- We also gained many useful insights from ClickTale. For example,
- We watched videos of user sessions, which gave us valuable insights into how users navigated through the site and at which points they became frustrated and left.
- We set up various funnels to see how drop-out points varied by user type.
- We installed form analytics, which helped us to detect problems such as the way that people with different languages and in different locations entered addresses and phone numbers. This helped us to optimize the checkout process.
If you’d like to discover more tools for understanding your visitors, see this report.
The research revealed a huge amount of detail about daFlores’ visitors. For example, we identified that visitors from certain countries were having particular problems with the checkout and payment process. If you have distinct categories of visitors—for example, customers from different countries—remember that it might make sense to conduct user research separately for each category.
We made many improvements to the site—but here are two tiny ones that had huge impacts
Though it’s not glamorous work, the time that we spent understanding the visitors paid off many times over when it came to making improvements to the site. The research gave us a clear understanding of daFlores’ users’ objections, which made designing winning tests much easier. In fact, 83% of our tests have resulted in winners.
Rather than describing all of the improvements we made—many of which will be relevant only to daFlores’ business—we’ll now describe two of those tests. They are interesting because each of them involved a very small change to the site that had a disproportionately large impact on profits.
They also involve two principles—urgency and credibility—that are most likely relevant to your business.
1. Urgency: How a simple clock made visitors act
People often send flowers for important events—birthdays, anniversaries, etc.—so customers, particularly those who are ordering at last minute, need punctual delivery. Our research revealed that many visitors
- Were worried that flowers would not be delivered on time.
- Were not aware that daFlores offered same-day delivery.
There are a lot of ways of communicating urgency. In this case, we added to the category pages an image of a clock with the message: “Order in the next n hours for delivery today.” The number, n, was updated as the deadline approached.
This killed two birds with one stone: It made visitors aware of the same-day delivery service, and also created a feeling of urgency to order:
As always, we split-tested the original page (the control) against our design (the challenger), to verify that our recommendation had significantly grown the business.
Result: The test revealed that the clock and message gave a 27% uplift in orders.
2. A simple proof element: How Facebook helped to add credibility and trust
Some new visitors voiced concern that they had never heard of daFlores before. We needed to find a concise way of showing how popular daFlores is, and how happy its customers are. Our research revealed an impressive fact: No other flower delivery service had more Facebook “Likes” than daFlores. Split-testing revealed that mentioning this in the header—as shown in the image below—increased the conversion rate by a further 44%.
It’s possible that a Facebook logo could boost the credibility of your business even if you don’t have the most Facebook “Likes,” as long as the number is not unimpressive.
Don’t prescribe medication until you’ve diagnosed the symptoms
No competent doctor would prescribe medication without diagnosing the patient’s symptoms first. But the world of web design is still rife with people telling you to add supposedly miraculous page elements to your site, in ignorance of what your visitors actually want.
Yes, adding a clock and a Facebook graphic may work on your business, as it did for daFlores, but it’s important to understand why. For daFlores, they worked because they concisely overcame specific objections in visitors’ minds—objections that our research had uncovered.
A countdown timer may work on your site—but only if your website’s visitors would be persuaded by urgency.
Likewise, a Facebook graphic may work for you—if your visitors are concerned about your credibility.
If you want to get true breakthrough results, though, a comprehensive understanding of persuasion elements is not enough. You need to adopt a diagnosis-and-prescription approach.
And that’s the real secret to growing the conversion rate of e-commerce businesses.
A big thanks to the daFlores team
It is an absolute pleasure to be part of the daFlores team. We’d like to thank them for having confidence in Conversion Rate Experts, for trusting in our CRE Methodology, and for being so enthusiastic and relentlessly action-oriented.
A few words from the CEO and founder of daFlores, Francisco Bustos
Would you like to see more case studies like this?
If you would like to see more of our clients’ results, you can find a long list at our “Clients and Results” page.
This article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here.
What you should do now
Conversion for e-commerce: Two winning tests for a multilingual online florist
Do you suspect that your conversion rate couldn’t be improved upon? In this case study—which we believe is our most useful one yet—you’ll see specific methods for getting win after win from a site that already is an extremely strong performer.
Plus, we’ll tell you how to get a free, annotated PDF of all the persuasion techniques we used to create wins—so you can apply them to your own site.
Many people ask us if there’s a point at which conversion rate optimization gives diminishing returns. If that point does exist, Facebook, Amazon and Google don’t appear to have hit it yet. It’s astonishing what you can achieve with a sophisticated conversion strategy and a skilled team.
If you’re serious about conversion, you’ll most likely already know about Crazy Egg, the web-analytics service that allows you to see exactly where your website visitors click. We featured it in our list of tools that reveal why potential customers abandon your website. Crazy Egg came to us even though they already had an extremely strong site. In fact, they had even published case studies about it. They asked us if we could grow their business even further.
We have been able to engineer a long series of wins for them, which have increased their revenue well into the seven figures.
Note that “we” refers to a team effort between Conversion Rate Experts (with our proven system and expertise) and Crazy Egg (with its excellent tool and highly effective team).
In this document we’ll describe four of the wins that we believe can be directly useful to your business.
How we got those improvements
Given that we’ve published a list of 108 of the most effective conversion strategies, you might conclude that it’s difficult to know where to start the process of conversion optimization. We discovered long ago that our recommendations can never be better than our facts, so it’s critical to begin by gathering substantial visitor intelligence. That means:
- Gaining a deep understanding of what makes buyers buy
- Determining what makes some qualified visitors not buy
Here are the four primary objections we identified, and how we addressed them:
1. Some of Crazy Egg’s visitors were unclear about how heatmaps worked and exactly what sort of reports Crazy Egg would generate. If you’re not sure what a heatmap is, here’s a good explanation.
To counter this objection, we organized a case-study competition. We asked Crazy Egg’s customers to present particularly good examples of how they used Crazy Egg on their sites. This enabled us to use actual customers’ language on the site to help explain what heatmaps were and how they were used. We also got some great testimonials in the process.
2. As with many products, price was an objection. Prospects said that they weren’t sure whether they could justify paying Crazy Egg’s prices.
The fascinating thing about price is how one’s frame of reference makes all the difference. For example, $2,000 may sound like a lot of money for a shed, but when compared to the price of adding rooms to a home, it suddenly seems cheap.
We identified that Crazy Egg’s price could benefit from the principle of reframing. In order to prove what a bargain it was, we dived into academic research surrounding heatmaps and eye tracking. Though each technology has its champions and detractors, we discovered research from Carnegie Mellon University that indicated an 88 percent correlation between eye movement on a page and subsequent mouse movement in that zone. At the same time, we determined that the cost to conduct a formal eye-tracking study can run into six figures and take months to complete. Armed with this research, we described how Crazy Egg could deliver a great deal of visitor intelligence at a tiny fraction of the cost—and time—of other alternatives.
3. Some visitors thought that Crazy Egg was no different from overlay reports in Google Analytics. After having interviewed Crazy Egg’s customer-support people, we knew that they were experienced in describing the differences between Crazy Egg and Google Analytics, so we incorporated transcripts of their explanations into our new text.
4. A subset of visitors thought that Crazy Egg had fewer features than some competitors’ tools. We countered that objection by pointing out how the sheer number of features does not always translate into more insights. With web-analytics tools it’s easy to become overwhelmed by data overload. Sometimes “less is more.”
How we modified Crazy Egg’s homepage
Here is the original page or “control” from Crazy Egg’s site:
Here’s a thumbnail image of our challenger page next to a similarly scaled image of the control:
Your eyes are not playing tricks on you: The redesigned page is about 20 times as long as the control.
To identify which of the two versions was most effective at persuading visitors to become customers, we carried out an A/B split-test. We carried out this and all of the other split-tests described on this page using Google’s split-testing tool.
The results: Our new page outperformed the control by 30%.
The media would have us believe that people no longer have any capacity to concentrate. In reality, you cannot have a page that’s too long—only one that’s too boring. In the case of Crazy Egg’s home page, visitors wanted their many questions answered and that’s what we delivered. (If you’d like more people to scroll down your long pages, see the guide we wrote on the topic.)
Same message + different medium = 64% more conversions
People have different learning styles. Though the written word is still the bread-and-butter persuasion medium on the Web, it’s also important to appeal to people who prefer to learn by watching.
We therefore created a video to see if it increased the conversion rate. We wrote a three-minute script that encapsulated the key points of the sales message. Although it’s now possible to “point and shoot” a high-definition video in just minutes, a mediocre video could lose our audience in seconds—so we used the video production company Demo Duck to create the video. And we think they did an excellent job.
We hosted the video with Wistia, which we’d highly recommend.
The result? Even though the video’s message was similar to that of the rest of the page, during the split-test the version of the page with the video in it generated 64% more conversions than the control.
Crazy Egg’s co-founder Neil Patel has published this excellent article, which describes in detail how we made this video. He gives a good argument as to why you should focus most of your efforts on creating an effective script.
How a one-time offer increased the lifetime customer value
A small increase in a company’s average lifetime customer value can result in a huge increase in profit. An effective way of increasing that value is to incentivize customers to commit for a longer period, by offering a discount.
Discounts, however, can be treacherous ground: Some retailers have found out the hard way that when they offer sales too often, they’re training customers to wait for the next sale.
We recommended a different approach: Create a one-time offer to customers who recently signed up for any level of non-trial, paid service. We showed the following offer once to all existing customers:
Twenty-five percent of customers accepted this new offer. Because it was effective, we also incorporated it into the checkout process, so it was shown once to each new customer.
When calculating the revenue effect of implementing this offer, we factored in the lost revenue from having some customers take the offer and therefore not pay the higher fees associated with a month-to-month plan. After taking that into account, this one-time offer still considerably increased the company’s annual revenue.
Modifications like this are especially sweet because they don’t involve creating new products or adding to overhead. They’re a win–win because longer-term customers enjoy the price break and the business gets front-loaded revenues.
Optimizing the checkout gave 116% more sign-ups
Occasionally the most straightforward methods can result in astonishing improvements to profits. For example, after we created the previous win we turned our attention to what visitors were thinking during the checkout phase. This is a fruitful effort for many businesses, because prospects can often be spooked by what they see—or don’t see—at the moment they’re finalizing a transaction.
We installed Qualaroo (the survey tool formerly known as KISSinsights) on the page where visitors could sign up for a free trial, so we could understand what was on the minds of visitors right there. We discovered that they didn’t like having to put in a credit-card number for a free trial. They thought it was unnecessary at least, and quite possibly a scam. To counter that objection, we put an explanation box right under the free-trial sign-up button. It conspicuously answered that objection, by explaining how Crazy Egg would not, in fact, charge anything during the free trial, and how having a card on file prevents any one person signing up for multiple free trials.
Qualaroo also revealed that visitors were confused by subscription rates when they were quoted in both monthly and yearly amounts. Knowing that a confused mind hesitates, and that hesitation is the death of a sale, we took pains to clarify how their card would be charged for the yearly rate only after the free trial, but how they could cancel or downgrade at any time.
We also changed several other things, as you’ll see in the following screenshots. Here is the page before our changes:
And here it is after our modifications:
How did this revised page do in our test? It resulted in 116% more signups. (Perhaps we spoiled that surprise by mentioning it in the section heading.)
- This last win powerfully illustrates our principle of “unblocking arteries”: Many visitors previously were ready but not-quite willing to convert on the free-trial page, and were being blocked by objections that had not been addressed. By overcoming the objections, we eliminated the blockage, and sales flowed.
- The one-time offer test illustrates another important principle of conversion optimization: Don’t let the fear of a short-term loss stand in the way of a long-term gain. For instance, don’t decide that you won’t install a pop-up survey on your homepage because you think it clutters the look. Implement the survey, gather data for a week or so, and then take it down. It’s the same with testing generous offers, like the 40% discount/one-time offer for Crazy Egg; if testing had shown that it was not effective, we would have deleted it from the site.
- Be sure to test different media for serving up the same persuasive content. If your site is text-heavy, then try video, and vice versa. Also, tune your message to the medium. For example, some concepts can be explained much more succinctly by video than by text.
- Don’t believe nonsense “rules” about how “short pages sell better.” The Harry Potter series proved that you can get people to line up at midnight in bookstores to receive the next lengthy book, as long as it’s interesting. If you listen closely to your prospects and then make sure your website addresses what’s on their mind, you can achieve your own mini Harry Potter moment.
- We’re great fans of customer survey tools like SurveyMonkey, but sometimes you need a more targeted way of gathering intelligence. By applying Qualaroo to individual pages, it’s possible to discover what’s on the minds of visitors right then and there, so you can address those issues in precisely the right place.
Our gift to you: a free annotated PDF of the winning Crazy Egg homepage
If you’d like an annotated image of the Crazy Egg winning page, with many detailed callouts explaining the persuasion techniques behind each page element, just sign up to our newsletter.
Thanks to Amee Shah at Crazy Egg
We want to thank Amee Shah for her willingness to share this sensitive data.
Since these first tests, we’ve continued to have substantial wins for Crazy Egg as a result of conversion optimization; in fact, we always are running a test of some sort.
Does every test result in a win? No, but by taking a methodical, analytical approach, our win rate is much higher than it would be otherwise. Plus, every test does give us greater insight into what works, what doesn’t, and how to prioritize future test hypotheses. With Crazy Egg—and with your own business—there are always more tests that can be run to improve the bottom line.
Speaking of your business, we highly recommend Crazy Egg to gain insights into your own customers and would-be customers. We use Crazy Egg often, and we were recommending it long before we were hired by the company, so with a pure heart we can vouch for its effectiveness.
A few words from Crazy Egg’s founders
Will these techniques work on your business?
This article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here. Some of these techniques may not work on your site, but we believe that many of them will.
Could you use more case studies like this?
If you would like to see more of our clients’ results, you can find a long list at our “Clients and Results” page.
What you should do now
Does optimization ever end? How we grew Crazy Egg’s conversion rate by 363%
Here’s some good news—for us and for you:
Good news for us: One of our clients, Top Cashback, has been ranked number five in a list of the UK’s fastest-growing companies.
Good news for you: The Top Cashback team has kindly allowed us to describe what we did—with a focus on the techniques that are likely to be applicable to your own business. We can’t promise that the following techniques will get you an invitation to Richard Branson’s house, but we’d be amazed if some of them weren’t hugely profitable for you.
Dubious. That’s how a lot of people used to feel when they first visited the Top Cashback website.
Meanwhile, Top Cashback’s owners wondered why more people weren’t signing up. They thought their offer should be a “no brainer.” They knew the site could be working harder, but they’d tried and tested a few tweaks without any discernible impact. And they were cautious of making larger changes for fear of disrupting the business.
Enter Conversion Rate Experts (CRE).
We described to Top Cashback how we could get inside the heads of its visitors. And we reassured Top Cashback we could do it in a measured, methodical manner—which wouldn’t turn the business upside down or jeopardize its existing revenues.
Conversion rates increased by as much as 74%, and Top Cashback made it to number five in the 2011 Sunday Times “Fast Track 100” (a ranking of the UK’s fastest growing private companies).
Here’s how we did it. It’s important to note that “we” refers to a team effort between Conversion Rate Experts (with our proven system) and Top Cashback (with its valuable, well-positioned service and highly effective team).
Understanding Top Cashback’s value proposition
When we first learned about the Top Cashback offer, we agreed that it really should have been a “no brainer”:
- You sign up with Top Cashback.
- You buy from any of the 3,400 affiliated sites.
- You get great rebates from each of them, which are paid to you in hard cash (by bank transfer, through PayPal or, if you prefer, in the form of Amazon vouchers).
(For more details, see this description of how cashback works.) Top Cashback claims to be the UK’s most generous cashback site. It pays out at least 100% of the money it gets from its affiliates (sometimes even more). And it earns all of its revenue from online advertising.
Phase 1: Questions, questions
As with any Conversion Rate Experts (CRE) assignment, our first priority was to get authoritative answers to some important questions. Take a look at this useful description of the Conversion Rate Experts (CRE) Methodology, and you’ll see why we believe that this sort of groundwork is an absolute pre-requisite for any successful conversion programme.
(i) Find out why people decide to “walk away”
It’s always useful to talk to your customers. But it can be even more useful to understand the near-misses (people who could have been customers but ultimately walked away). So we used the survey tool 4Q to quiz the people who visited Top Cashback but didn’t sign up.
The feedback came flooding in:
- Some people thought it was just too good to be true (the offers were so attractive they were actually deterring potential customers).
- Others worried that they’d never receive their cashback.
- The less-skeptical visitors were intrigued, but assumed that it would be too much hassle to collect their cash.
- And then there were those who couldn’t really understand how the website worked, or what was in it for them.
(ii) Find out what people like about you—and what they’re saying about you to their friends
We spoke to people who had signed up, but we were careful to segment out the active customers from the less active ones. And we used another fantastic resource, Survey Monkey, to elicit the views of these respective segments. What did they like about the site? And what prevented them from using it more often?
Here’s a useful tip when using survey tools: Don’t put words into peoples’ mouths. Wherever possible, use open-ended questions. Clearly, it’s more time-consuming to go through the results. But you get real responses—rather than running the risk of simply reinforcing your preconceptions. If you force people to shoehorn their answers into a small number of “catch all” categories, you lose all of the rich insights.
This isn’t just theoretical; it’s powerful stuff. The use of open-ended questions helped to double the sales of one of our clients, Photoshelter.
(iii) Leave an open invitation for feedback
To ensure that we were collecting feedback from all of the site’s pages, we created a persistent, sitewide “Give Feedback” button using Kampyle. This button provided an open invitation for visitors to speak their minds. Kampyle’s back-end interface works like an email client, with an inbox and folders, making it easy to manage and reply to feedback comments.
(iv) Find out where they’re clicking
To help us understand which parts of the old and new pages attracted people’s attention, we used Crazy Egg, which helped us determine the focus for our tests.
(v) Find out exactly what it’s like to be a customer
Like every other CRE assignment, we became committed customers. We signed up for the service. Made our way through every phase of the funnel. Scrutinized every facet of the business. And looked out for any detail that had the potential to persuade or prevent a customer from committing.
(vi) Query an oft-overlooked database: The brains of the customer support team
We also quizzed the team at Top Cashback. We discussed the objections that were tough to address, and those that were easier to overcome. They also told us about their “fantasy tests” (those they’d always wanted to implement, but had never had the nerve).
Phase 2: Establishing the experimentation platform
By this stage, we had some really clear ideas about what would work. But, no matter how strong our instincts may be, we never run any risks with a client’s business. Before releasing any changes into the wild, we test them scientifically.
There are many great platforms for carrying out split-testing. We’ve taken a critical look under the hood of almost all of them. And, because we’re completely vendor-neutral, we’re always free to specify the right tool for each job. On this project, we chose to use Google’s split-testing tool.
Phase 3: Designing and testing the challenger pages
Next, we created a series of challenger pages, using the following process:
- We created wireframes of the pages using Mockflow.
- We tested the wireframes on users, including members of CRE’s team, and iteratively improved them until we were satisfied that they would be effective.
- We designed and coded the final pages.
- We used Google Website Optimizer to split-test the pages against the originals, to verify that they were statistically significantly better.
(Again, you might want to take a look at the CRE Methodology for more detail on the nuances—and quirks—of how we work.)
The following sections describe some of the more interesting things we tested. All of our tests were based on the insights we gleaned from the research described above. As you read about them, note how different this approach is from indiscriminately applying so-called best practices (for example, adding a new starburst here, or a re-worded offer there). Our tests were valuable not because we were using “magic buttons” but because we were in a position to overcome clearly defined objections with bold, relevant changes.
Three messages we needed to get across loudly and clearly
Message #1: “Top Cashback is NOT too good to be true.”
The most important task was to anticipate and address the concerns of the skeptical visitors. From our arsenal of trust-building techniques, we knew we could win them over.
For example, our research had revealed that Top Cashback had already picked up some great coverage from well-respected newspapers, like The Guardian and The Independent. So why not draw from the strength and reputation of these media brands by prominently placing their logos near the “Join” button?
We also knew that we could address the trust issue by using existing, satisfied customers—so we looked at ways to improve the existing tell-a-friend program.
Together with Top Cashback’s team, we brainstormed the options. Here are some of the changes we made to the tell-a-friend program:
- We added the referrer’s name to the tell-a-friend landing page (making it more personal).
- We made the calls to action more direct and compelling.
- And we re-thought the tell-a-friend newsletter (to address objections and reinforce benefits).
Message #2: “Yes, it’s suitable for you. Here’s why.”
It was also important to present the offer and the benefits in a clear, unambiguous manner.
So we developed a new headline for the homepage: “Save money every time you shop online!” This was combined with the new calls to action.
Again, no rocket science. And no hugely complex or disruptive changes. Just simple, research-driven improvements that could be applied within minutes.
Message #3: “Yes, it’s quick and easy to benefit. Just take a look.”
We saw that it was quick and easy for anyone to benefit from Top Cashback. In fact, the sign-up process could hardly be quicker or easier. All you need to do is enter your name and email address and choose a password. That’s it.
So we moved the super-short, super-simple sign-up form right up to the home page (it was previously lurking one layer down, which added to the impression that signing up may be long and complex).
We added the headline “Join Now—It’s Free.” And visitors could see, at a glance, exactly what they were getting into.
Apply the lessons elsewhere in the website
We also took these same lessons and applied them elsewhere in the website (especially where other sign-up flows were encountered). In particular, we used the clear benefit statements and media logos to support the calls to action.
And, the results were…
Right from the start of our ongoing relationship with Top Cashback, we began to achieve a series of significant uplifts in conversion rates—ranging from 17% on the homepage right through to 74% in one of the website’s other key conversion flows.
If you consider that millions of people visit Top Cashback, you can begin to appreciate the bottom-line impact of these improvements.
Based on the progressive uplifts in its business, Top Cashback was soon able to justify a national TV advertising campaign (which again re-applied those early lessons). This drove more people to the site, who were more inclined to sign up. More positive media coverage was generated. And Top Cashback was well on its way to becoming one of the UK’s fastest growing private companies.
Lessons learnt so far
One of the joys of working with Top Cashback is the company’s infectious enthusiasm and its “can do” attitude. The team are particularly open to our collaborative way of working. And many of the proposed changes came out of joint brainstorming sessions.
If you want to hear what it was like to work with us, take a look at this interview with Top Cashback’s Operations Manager, Adam Bullock. Adam describes how we helped to change the culture of the company to one of rapid, bold implementation.
For us, the key takeaway from the assignment is the way that a few simple, non-disruptive techniques can achieve spectacular results. In particular:
- Find out (not guess) why some people walk away. Addressing the objections of potential customers is incredibly important.
- Find out what other people like. Really listen to what your existing customers are saying. One of the best ways to articulate your benefits is to use the words that they use.
- Repeat changes throughout your website. If a change is effective, look for where else in the business it can be implemented.
- And again, prioritize those low-hanging fruit. Make the simple changes that have a high chance of increasing your conversion rate.
This article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here.
A few words from Top Cashback’s Operations Manager
Want more case studies like this?
If you would like to see more of our clients’ results, you can find a long, ever-growing list on our “Clients and Results” page.
What you should do now
How we helped a client become the fifth-fastest-growing company in the UK
Here are some interviews and articles that we have published on other sites:
- Discover some of the quirky techniques we use to get amazing results, in this webcast that we co-presented with SeeWhy. The session generated a huge amount of interest. After 46 minutes, we opened up the call to questions, and we had to bring the whole thing to an end just before the two-hour mark. It contained some fascinating material. You can watch a recording of it here.
- We were interviewed by Econsultancy, which asked us how we’d grow the visual monstrosity that is LingsCars.com, without removing any of its crazy magic. Read the interview here.
- Confused by all the “quick fixes” and “Top 10 lists” available? Have a look at this interview we gave to Kampyle on the dangers of “instant” solutions.
- Our chairman and co-founder, Dr Karl Blanks, gave his thoughts on the future of Internet Marketing—and on an amazing toy to buy for your kids—in an exclusive interview with BizzTeams.
What you should do now
Several things we have published elsewhere
This article is summarized in this 58-second video
The challenge: increase our opt-in rate
Recently, we aimed to improve the opt-in rate for the following page:
This page had been performing fine for us. We had surveyed our visitors using Qualaroo (formerly known as KISSinsights), Kampyle and 4Q, and most of their responses were complimentary. It wasn’t obvious that anything needed changing. In such situations, we often interrogate Crazy Egg.
Crazy Egg gave us the clue we needed
When we looked at the Crazy Egg overlay for our page, this is what we saw:
Notice how most of the clicks are where anyone would expect them to be—in the sign-up area for the free toolkit showcased on the page. (Ignore the rectangular area near the top of the page—it’s an entry overlay.)
If it hadn’t been for that pesky sidebar…
However, also notice how we were getting some clicks on the right sidebar area. It wasn’t red-hot, but we still got a noticeable number of clicks.
We realized that our site-wide sidebar was distracting some people from the task at hand, which was to download our free toolkit. We were practically asking them to click off to the right and not stay on topic.
We whipped up another page where everything stayed the same, except that we removed the right sidebar. The information in that sidebar appears in sidebars on other pages, so we were confident that sooner or later our visitors would see it all. A much higher priority was to have those visitors get our toolkit right now, so we’d have a way of contacting them in the future with news and other information.
Here’s the test page we created:
We tested it using Visual Website Optimizer. Here are the results:
The new version of the page generated 25.9% more opt-ins during the test period, and was 99% likely to be better than the control.
It never ends—nor should it
Crazy Egg is a powerful tool for understanding visitor behavior, which in turn allows you to help direct that behavior toward your desired outcomes. To discover some other fantastic tools, visit this page.
Disclosure: Crazy Egg is one of our clients—though we were recommending it years before it was a client.
What you should do now
Less is more: how we used Crazy Egg to boost our own conversions
We’ve noticed that our most successful clients have many of the same traits in common. If you’re serious about growing your business, you should study and emulate their habits and culture.
Here’s a good place to start: One of our clients, Top Cashback, has made number five in The Sunday Times “Fast Track 100”—a ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the UK.
Top Cashback grew from sales of just £600,000 in 2008 to £15,500,000 in 2011. And the company did so in the midst of a severe recession and in a highly competitive industry. Top Cashback’s Operations Manager, Adam Bullock, has kindly given us an interview about how they did it.
In case you’re not already aware of cashback websites, here’s how they work: A consumer signs up for the cashback website and then purchases services or goods from other websites via the cashback website’s affiliate links. Once the cashback website has received its affiliate payments, the site pays a percentage of that payment back to the consumer. Top Cashback claims to be the first cashback site to pay 100% of the cashback payment to the consumer. It earns all of its revenue from online advertising.
Q & A with Adam Bullock from Top Cashback
Q: Congratulations on getting so high on the “Fast Track 100.” How does it feel?
A: When someone suggested that we enter it, we thought we might make the top 100 or scrape along somewhere at the bottom in the 90s. When we saw that we were fifth, we actually went back and checked with them, as in “Are you sure?”
It was also remarkable because of the stiff competition and the fact that the numbers are calculated on three years of growth, not on just one great year.
Q: So you got invited to Sir Richard Branson’s house?
A: Yeah, they serve champagne to the winners, and we will get a tour of Richard Branson’s Oxford mansion. We’re all arguing about who gets to do that.
Q: Could you describe how Top Cashback started? What was the company like before we started working with you?
A: Mike and Oliver started Top Cashback six years ago. For three years, it was very small but kind of got by, with a few thousand new members each year. In the last three years, we ramped up our marketing a lot. We now have about 1.2 million members.
Before we worked with Conversion Rate Experts (CRE), we seemed to have no real structure to what we were doing. We, or an affiliate, would come up with an idea and we’d say, “All right, that sounds good,” and we’d stick it on the website. We just assumed that if we thought an idea was good, it would have a positive impact on growth. Before long, our pages became cluttered and we didn’t know what to do about it, because we were not measuring the effect of each successive addition. At the same time, we were quite afraid of making large changes, because we didn’t really know how to measure them.
When we signed with CRE and started to measure carefully, we soon realized that our assumption about a positive impact wasn’t always the case. We also gained confidence about making big changes because you told us that it’s the big changes that would have the big impact we had been looking for. We were more confident about testing them because our measurement tools were in place. If the changes didn’t result in the improvement we expected, we could promptly take them off and try something else.
Q: So measurement provided the safety net that made you feel fine about making those changes?
A: That’s it. Previously we wondered, “Should we make a change? Do we know if it’s going to work?” We were never on firm ground. We kind of knew about Google’s split-testing tool, but we never really used it properly, and we had no confidence that we knew what we were doing.
CRE gave us that knowledge in terms of the best way to run tests. So nowadays, we run a lot of tests. Using your methodology, we continually come up with improvements—big and small—so we regularly have better-performing pages on the site.
Q: You have an amazing-looking sales graph now, don’t you?
A: Yeah, it’s pretty nice.
Q: Many of our most successful clients have an amazing product or service. Our first task is often to communicate the benefits more prominently and clearly. Do you feel that was the case with our treatment of Top Cashback?
A: Yeah, but oddly enough it started not with listing the great features but instead with looking at objections. You helped us to put together surveys, and we got feedback from prospective members firsthand to explain why they didn’t sign up. And even if they did join but never signed in again, we tried to get feedback from them to help us understand what their objections were.
CRE came up with three lists: objections, “trust factors” (or things visitors didn’t believe), and things visitors didn’t understand. That gave us quite a clear structure of what we should be doing in terms of moving ahead.
So now we talk a lot in the office about trust factors. “What do we need on this page?” We might pull in a quote from The Sunday Times or The Telegraph or something like that to give us some credibility that Top Cashback isn’t a scam.
Q: What were the major challenges you found in terms of actually doing conversion rate optimization?
A: We initially worried that someone would come in and say we needed to drastically change the homepage and we would lose the whole message and half of the business. I mean, that was the main concern: that you were going to start telling us things that we didn’t really want to do.
When we actually started, you were very considerate. You described what would be ideal to do and what would be the minimum to do, and you then came up with something in between that would be a significant change but wouldn’t cause us to lose the whole experience of the site or lose the things that were important to us as a business.
One other challenge was just internally trying to make sure that our people had done their tasks before the next progress meeting with CRE. I guess that’s a problem with all businesses: that the day-to-day work sometimes takes priority over strategic things. But when we started seeing the results of the tests, we could justify it, and we managed to prioritize everything we needed to do.
Q: Can you remember how long it was before you saw positive results from the project?
A: Yeah, it was the very first test that we did, so it was within a few weeks. We were monitoring the split-testing results and we saw a 17% conversion rate improvement for people coming to the site and signing up. Because we’ve got millions of people visiting the site, that was great.
Q: One thing we find with lots of our clients is that sometimes a modest increase in the conversion rate can be the difference between their being able to afford certain types of traffic and not being able to. We’ve watched how you’ve managed to go from being a web company to being able to afford offline media. You’ve done a lot of that now, haven’t you?
A: Yeah, we did national TV advertising from June last year all the way throughout the rest of the year. We’re trying to see how we can reach out to people who aren’t aware of the Top Cashback site or still have doubt. As you mentioned earlier, when we sit down and look at our site, we sometimes think, “Why isn’t everyone using it?” It’s a no-brainer. “If you’re looking to buy products from a website, why don’t you come to us here? We can get you cash back.” Now we’re spreading that message both online and off.
Q: Some of our clients get more new ideas implemented than others. In fact, often there is a huge difference between the most productive clients and the least. Do you have any thoughts about implementation that you think make you particularly productive?
A: We thought if we’re going to be using CRE, then it was pointless to listen to your advice and not actually implement it. So we simply made a point of trying to do as many of the things that we’d discussed on the calls as possible. The other thing we do is not just make a change and move onto something new, but we circle back later and change it again. So for instance with the 17% conversion boost we talked about earlier, that was a change we made 12 months ago. We’re still looking at trying to improve it. Hopefully that 17% we saw may jump up to 19% or 20% or something like that.
We are also more methodical now about our decision-making process for tests. So when someone comes up with an idea, we now sit down and think, “What will this impact? Could it be done differently?” It helps us to avoid the negatives as well as achieve the positives.
Q: What surprised you about how our process has unfolded in your company?
A: For one, it was the amount of people who actually got involved and gave feedback and ideas. I’m used to getting sales pitches from companies where they seem great but then when the project actually starts, you get one contact who isn’t very contactable.
It was different with CRE—your consultant seemed always to be contactable, and at times you had multiple people giving feedback and ideas on what could be done to improve the site, which I think is something we needed. I hope as a company we are like that as well, but it was certainly refreshing to see that CRE would follow up on the promises you made.
Q: Can you remember why you chose CRE in the first place?
A: Two reasons, actually. One was that you were recommended to us personally. The other was that several of us had seen presentations by CRE at different events in the past.
Among all your slides is one where revenues jump up at the end with a massive spike. I’m quite skeptical of salespeople and what could be seen as a sales pitch, but after I spoke to you, it was pretty clear that all of your consultants were knowledgeable and passionate and that they had different transferable skills that they could apply. There seemed to be a big knowledge base from which we could pull to perhaps give us the direction that we needed, which we couldn’t see in our own little bubble.
See Top Cashback’s site
You may want to visit Top Cashback’s homepage to get some ideas about strategies to apply to your own site so that you can boost conversions.
See a detailed case study of what we did!
If you liked this interview and want to know the ins and outs of how we helped Top Cashback grow its business, take a look at the Top Cashback case study, which offers a more-detailed breakdown of what we did.
Also, make sure you’ve read our other case studies. They contain many principles you can apply to your business straight away.
This article and all of our case studies are subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here.
What you should do now
Habits of a highly successful web team: an interview with one of the UK’s fastest-growing web businesses
Do you use the Gmail client (or the Google Apps version) for your email? If so, here’s a fantastic recommendation: Install Boomerang for Gmail. We started using Boomerang about a year ago, and we use it many times every day.
If you ever find yourself creating reminder tasks like “Check that Bob replied to my email,” you’re aware of the following two problems:
- If you send 50 emails a day, you need to check 50 reminders, even if 49 of those people end up replying.
- It can be cumbersome to turn an email into a task. Gmail has unique URLs for each email thread, but they can be fiddly to copy and paste into a task list—and then slow to load when you click on them.
Boomerang helps you with these issues by adding a few buttons to the Gmail interface. The most useful of these says, in effect, “Notify me if I don’t hear back within N days.” So, whenever you send an email, you can tell Boomerang to notify you if the person doesn’t reply within a certain time frame. Ideally, the person will reply to you. But if—and only if—you don’t get a response, Boomerang will reply to you instead, reminding you that the person didn’t reply. Boomerang therefore allows you to “manage by exception,” notifying you only when someone doesn’t reply within the time you specified. And because of the way Boomerang works, the email thread gets moved to the top of your inbox, so it gets your attention.
We don’t profit from recommending this or any other software; we just love tools that help us get things done, and we know that you do too. If you found this useful, you’ll appreciate the following two articles:
- SEO Book has published a more in-depth guide to using Boomerang.
- Distilled has published a guide to other useful features of Gmail for search marketers.
What you should do now
Boomerang for Gmail helps you keep track of your projects
If you’ve studied our list of tools for understanding why your visitors aren’t converting—or if you’re a client of ours—then you’ll know that for the past four years we’ve been raving about Crazy Egg, and more recently, Qualaroo (formerly known as KISSinsights), both of which are the brainchildren of Neil Patel and Hiten Shah.
Well for the past few months, Neil and Hiten have been clients of ours. (So far, we’ve approximately doubled Crazy Egg’s revenues.) They kindly offered to turn our methodology into one of those beautiful infographics that the KISSmetrics guys create.
What you should do now
Infographic: Nine steps to better conversions
Do you use collaborative feedback software? This article explains why we believe you’d benefit from trying it. We’ll also tell you everything we know about the available software platforms.
Every week, our consultants meet to discuss the work they’ve created for clients. The process is fascinating. One consultant presents his or her work—a wireframe, a design, or maybe the client’s existing control—and the other consultants suggest how to improve it. This process allows us to draw upon our team’s wide-ranging experience.
We use collaborative feedback software to keep track of the suggestions made. Here’s how it works:
- Consultants upload an image into the software. (It’s all web hosted, so it’s really simple to do.)
- The consultants choose whom they’d like to invite to comment on the image.
- Those invited annotate the image with their suggestions and comments.
The software allows us to easily collect all of the feedback in one place. We find it to be more effective than verbal feedback because it encourages everyone to leave concrete, specific suggestions.
In the early stages of a design, you may prefer the users to be from within your own team. However, you may also choose to use the software when presenting designs to clients or senior management.
Here’s what we were looking for
When we were shopping for suitable software, we found many lists of contenders (thanks to Tripwire Magazine, Six Revisions, Vandelay Design, and several others). Rather than giving you detailed, impartial reviews, we’re just going to tell you what we settled on and why, in the hope that we can save you from spending hours trudging through sign-up processes.
What we wanted
- The ability to upload large (and often very long) images. Many of the apps failed to handle the unusually large files that we often create. We tested them using a screen-capture image of a long page (1,905 by 14,704 pixels and 8.5 MB). Some of the software apps made the image blurry, some took ages to load and scroll them, and some of them crashed or stalled.
- The ability to keep everything private within a defined group of people.
- Pleasant to use.
- Works in Chrome and Firefox, so we don’t have to remember to switch browsers.
- A way to allow all the consultants to view everyone’s feedback, preferably in real time without having to reload a page.
- A way to discuss each comment.
- A way to check off each comment once it has been completed—so it becomes like a task list.
Some nice features that you may want, but we didn’t
- The ability to get feedback from an open community.
- The ability to create defined tests for users (Usabilla and Chalkmark do this—see below for details).
Here’s the list of software we considered
The following list describes the software tools we considered. Scroll down to the next section if you’re interested in seeing only the ones we chose in the end. Also, note that these aren’t supposed to be detailed software reviews—they’re just our initial impressions as to whether each software solution would be suitable for our specific needs.
CritiqueTheSite. Wasn’t what we were looking for; it allows users to leave comments next to a site, a bit like Google Sidewiki.
ConceptFeedback. Doesn’t allow sharing with a closed community. Everything has to be made public.
Chalkmark. Is for moderated tests and does them well. We wondered whether we could use it for our needs, but it allows testers to click only once on the page, and then it moves to the next question.
ProofHQ. Looked like it would do the job. However, we found the interface to be too complex for our needs (maybe because it has some sophisticated permissions settings and workflow functionality).
Onotate—Looked very good, but it gave a weird error (a file appeared to have been uploaded twice, and then when we deleted one of the copies, it deleted both of them). Also, we failed to share the file with each other, so we moved on.
BounceApp. Was created by the same people who created Notable. You might consider it to be “Notable Lite.” With Bounce, everything’s public, which is why it wasn’t suitable for our needs. There’s a good comparison of the differences between Notable and Bounce in this article.
Usabilla. Has some really promising features but failed to upload our large image.
Twiddla. Is a real-time virtual whiteboard. You can upload images and watch people adding comments in real time. Unfortunately, it was unable to handle our large image, reducing it to a blurry thumbnail.
Vyew. Is another virtual whiteboard software. It gave us the same problems we had with Twiddla.
Scribblar. Is whiteboard software. It failed to upload our image, giving an error message: “Error. Upload failed.”
Cozimo. Managed to upload the image but struggled to display it. At certain zoom levels, parts of the image weren’t displayed.
Here’s the software we settled on
Unfortunately, we didn’t find one tool that had all the features we were looking for. We found two useful tools.
(By the way, none of the links on this page are affiliate links. We’re vendor neutral, and we don’t profit from recommending technology.)
So far, we haven’t been able to find anything that beats Notable. (That’s why we chose to use it for the image near the top of this page.) Notable doesn’t allow you to actually draw or write on the image—it just lets you attach comments to those orange rectangles. Also, we were hoping to find software that would allow us to see comments being added in real time without having to refresh the page, and that’s not possible with Notable either. However, for us, the fact that it runs really fast with no glitches more than makes up for that.
ConceptShare has all the features of Notable and many more, but it feels a bit slower, and we find it less intuitive. Its customer support is very good.
One of its packages is purpose made for critiquing video. Video is really hard to critique remotely, so if you know people who work with video, they might find this feature invaluable.
Would you like to learn more about conversion?
If you’d like to learn more about how to grow your business, you should see this list of useful tools for identifying why your visitors aren’t converting. You should also read the following case studies, which show our process in action:
- How we made an extra £14 million a year for a travel company
- How we made $1 million for SEOmoz—with one landing page and a few emails
- How we doubled the sales of a web app
- How we increased the conversion rate of Voices.com by over 400%
What you should do now
What’s the best software for critiquing webpages?
In split tests, long pages often beat shorter pages. But for a long page to be effective, readers must be aware that it’s long. If users don’t scroll—because they don’t want to or because they aren’t aware that the page is long—then all of your hard work has gone to waste.
Our consultants recently discussed ways of getting users to scroll down a page. You may be interested to read this summary of the techniques that arose from the discussions.
Why you should be testing long pages
As a rule of thumb, your page should contain at least as many words as you’d use when selling your product or service face to face. That’s because you don’t have the luxury of being able to ask for objections, so your page needs to address all of the most common objections. When Moz’s CEO, Rand Fishkin, told us that it takes him about nine minutes to sell Moz’s PRO service face to face, we realized that the landing page would have to be long. The winning page we designed for Moz was six times longer than the control, which it outperformed by 52%.
Some marketers are wary of long pages, associating them with aggressive sales techniques. Whenever someone tells you that they’d never buy from a long page, remind them how long Amazon’s pages are.
Where is the fold?
In web marketing, the term “above the fold” refers to the area of a page that users can see without scrolling.
The position of the fold will be different for different users, depending on many factors, including their screen resolution, how many bars (toolbars, tab bars, menu bars, system bars, etc.) are open, and whether they’ve zoomed in on the page. FoldTester is a tool that shows you where the fold will appear for different users.
The growing usage of mobile-phone browsers throws yet another monkey wrench into the fold machinery.
How to analyze the way your users scroll
Here are two ways to determine whether your users are missing important content because they aren’t scrolling:
- Conduct usability tests and observe whether the users scroll.
- Use a tool like ClickTale, which gives scroll-reach heatmaps about how far users scroll down your page.
Incidentally, ClickTale’s analysts have published some excellent research into how users scroll, which is based on the wealth of data that their tool captures.
Techniques for encouraging users to scroll
Here are six design strategies that may fix scrolling problems. As with any web usability issue, there’s no universal solution. Try to identify why users aren’t scrolling, overcome that particular problem, and then verify it with a split test.
1. Horizontal objects near the fold: how to avoid them, and what to replace them with.
Beware of horizontals. A band of horizontal white space that lies on the fold can be mistaken for the end of the page. (We call this a “false bottom.”) If you can’t remove the white space altogether, try to reduce its thickness so that you minimize the number of users for whom it lies along the fold.
A horizontal line or bar just above the fold also creates a false bottom, so be careful with those too.
If a page element is clearly straddling the fold, users will intuitively understand that the page continues below the fold. A simple way to remove all horizontals is to have page elements in each column end at different heights on the page. That way, at least one page element will straddle the fold, regardless of the user’s computer settings.
Ideally, the page elements that straddle the fold should be ones that have a well-known form, so it’s obvious when they are incomplete.
2. Use a background for the sides (and top) of the page.
Here’s an intriguing way to make it obvious that the page continues below the fold: Give the top, left-hand, and right-hand borders of the page a shade or texture that contrasts with the main content.
This technique appears to work because of the Gestalt effect, by making it clear that you can see all but one of the page’s sides.
3. In your sales copy, explicitly urge readers to scroll.
Be clear and direct with your users, telling them exactly what you’d like them to do. Don’t feel afraid to explicitly ask them to scroll; it’s fine to say, “Scroll down this page to…”
As with the rest of your copy, users will be more likely to act if you give them reasons for doing so. For example, “Scroll down this page to get a $10 off coupon” or “Scroll down this page to discover [valuable information]” is likely to outperform a reasonless call-to-action.
4. Add a please-scroll graphic just above the fold.
You may choose to add a please-scroll graphic just above the fold, where it’s likely to get noticed. Such a graphic may be placed where most users’ folds lie, as in this example:
Alternatively, you may wish to add the graphic to a freestanding object that’s fixed to the bottom of users’ browser windows. The graphic will then appear at the bottom of their page regardless of what their screen resolution is. Advantages of objects like these are that they don’t disrupt the design and that you can add them by using a simple script.
5. Add click-to-scroll functionality.
Make your please-scroll button clickable.
Why not make your please-scroll graphic clickable? If you click on the “Scroll for More” button on the Wiltshire Farm Foods page (see the image above), the page smoothly scrolls down.
Create links to target locations within the same page.
HTML allows you to link to target locations within the same page. Clicking on such a link automatically jumps you down to the section you’ve linked to.
These links can be incorporated into a Johnson box, as we did in our Moz case study, allowing users to jump to the section that interests them most.
6. Don’t force users to scroll horizontally.
Horizontal scrolling doesn’t come naturally to most web users. It normally becomes an issue when the users’ browser windows are narrower than the width for which the website was designed. One way to get around this is to design for small screen resolutions. Another is to separate your content from your layout, so you can use different style sheets for different devices, or use a liquid layout that automatically adjusts to the browser width.
Of course, every rule has its exceptions. Here is a showcase of creative websites that are specifically designed to use horizontal scrolling. However, even this showcase includes the caveat “Horizontal websites are not very user friendly.”
Long pages are effective, but only if your users know that they can scroll and are given compelling reasons to do so.
If you’d like a PDF screenshot of a long page that generated an additional million dollars per year for the client, with many detailed “tooltips” explaining the persuasion techniques behind each page element, just sign up to receive our free newsletter.
Finally, don’t forget the advice that @amateuradam shared on Twitter: “Before you close a web page make sure you scroll up to the top, so it’s in the right position for the next person.”
What you should do now
How to make users scroll down your page
Our clients Chris and Alan of sunshine.co.uk kindly share exactly how their company overcame the worst recession the travel industry has ever faced and added almost £14m to its balance sheet in 2010. How did the company grow so fast while its competition was shrinking? In three words: conversion rate optimization.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “conversion rate optimization” (CRO), it is the science of turning more website visitors into customers.
Q&A with Chris Clarkson, Marketing Director, and Alan Gilmour, Technical Director, from sunshine.co.uk
Q. So before we get into the behind-the-scenes questions of the project, can you paint a picture of how sunshine.co.uk approached marketing previously?
Chris: In the beginning we were selling holidays as cheaply as we possibly could. We were working on low margins and hoping for high volumes. Our original marketing approach was based on SEO and affiliate marketing.
Q. Why did you choose to work with Conversion Rate Experts?
Chris: Because of our work with SEO and affiliates we were looking for other ways to improve the website. We already had the traffic and CRO is about making better use of it—essentially more sales without more advertising costs.
Q. Were there any downsides to implementing CRO in your business? What were some of the major challenges you faced during the project?
Chris: Mostly the requirements on the development team as you get used to this new process where everything is tested. The actual changes we made and the surveys and stuff like that brought up a lot of issues. So creating content to combat these issues took time.
Alan: Every time we did a new test the results meant we would have to make changes to the site. So it’s not only the initial test that you have, you also have the results of the test that you then have to verify before you can start the next test. So as Chris said, there is quite a lot of development involved.
Q. Anything else you can think of, challenges, etc.?
Chris: Everything else we were quite up for. We were fairly committed from the start, which I think you have to be. We had other projects in line for development and they kind of got pushed aside with the time this was taking. But we got good results pretty much from the start so we knew it was a worthwhile sacrifice to make.
Q. How long was it before you saw the positive results from the project?
Chris: It was about 8 or 10 weeks after we started—that’s when we implemented the first changes based on surveying and testing.
Q. So how did things get broken down so that the project was more manageable? Where exactly did you start?
Chris: The very first thing we did was a customer survey that asked 8 or 10 questions and we got a lot of feedback from that. This helped us decide which direction we should take.
Alan: I would just say usability issues were where we spent quite a bit of time, making sure the customer could easily get from the initial search stage right through to the final booking stages. We’d find any hiccups then spend quite a lot of time getting user testing done by other users to improve the things we assumed were working but which were causing problems.
Q. What were some of the major lessons you learned along the way?
Chris: Test everything, that’s probably the main thing. Any changes are split tested to make sure they get a positive result. User testing is an extension of that and is something that gave us the biggest “face-palm” moments. You see something that seems pretty obvious to you, but when you see an actual customer using it… well, it is something everybody should do.
Q. So if you were talking to a business owner who has never conducted a usability test before, what would you say to them or what information would you pass along?
Chris: They really, really should do usability testing; it’s quite an eye-opener.
Alan: And be open to try anything and not to take anything personally because there have been a few suggestions in the past where we said, “That’s just never going to work,” and it has. So you just have to be open to anything.
Q. So what were some of the “worth their weight in gold” findings from the usability studies that you did?
Chris: This one doesn’t directly relate to conversion rates, but a high majority of contact you have with customers on a day-to-day basis is when people have issues and complaints. We did the survey and one of the first questions we asked was “How would you rate sunshine.co.uk?” A massive number of customers were giving us 10, 9, or 8, and they were the silent majority. But of course in your day-to-day dealings, you tend to speak with the small number of people who have had problems, so you forget that 96% or 99% of your customers had really good service, and it all went well for them. So that was quite an eye-opener, if you like.
Alan: We saw that and realized we needed a testimonial section on the site to share all the good feedback we had.
Q. What is the influx in revenue going to enable you to do?
Chris: We’ll be reinvesting and taking our profits and buying geo-domains to create smaller sites in particular areas. We are also going to apply the lessons we’ve learned from Conversion Rate Experts across those sites as well. One of the really good things about using them is they don’t do everything for you; they’re teaching you. So it has been a good learning experience.
Q. So I know that a lot of experiments and split tests were done during the project. Is there one that really stands out for you and what was learned?
Chris: I think one of the first ones we did was with the deals on our home page and it essentially gave you a rundown of the flight: where it was going and how many nights, price, etc. From the feedback again it was pointed out that it seemed too cheap and didn’t actually explain what was included. So we added more information. I think simply adding another sentence to the box got us a 19% conversion rate increase. That was when I realized that this is a good thing.
Q. What software and online tools did you use during the project?
Alan: The main thing that we were working with was Google’s split-testing tool and that’s enabled us to do all our split testing. It’s not really affecting the site dramatically and just operates in the background so that when customers arrive at the site they’re not aware that anything is being tested in any way. And the tool has extensive stats so you can log in and see how many bookings you’ve received or how many users have converted. I think that’s been the basis of all our testing so far.
But we have used other software that was recommended like Qualaroo for asking the customer questions when they arrive on the page, and Kampyle, which is another one where you get feedback from the customers.
Chris: Yeah, and we used Survey Monkey quite extensively as well.
Q. One of the things that I found most interesting was how you were able to turn a negative page element into a positive without changing your business. Can you talk about how testing not having a phone number listed on your site played out?
Chris: We never really had the phone number in the first place and we just didn’t make anything of it. But through user testing from the customers we found it was an issue. Some people seemed to think it caused trust issues, so Conversion Rate Experts suggested we take a different view of it and explain why we don’t have a phone number. The testing showed a positive result. In fact, most people seemed to quite like the explanation behind it.
Alan: And on a similar topic, recently on our booking pages we added the booking phone number for anyone who has a question when they are actually in the booking process. We noticed that even without people phoning in, just having the number there seems to be increasing the conversion.
Q. So to wrap things up, would you say the project affected your business philosophy and the way you run things?
Alan: Yeah, I think so. A lot of the time when we’re thinking of new things to add to the site, the first thing we do is try to think of it from a user’s point of view and how we can make it work in a similar fashion with all the improvements we’ve had with Conversion Rate Experts. So we want to use those things and just get it right from the start rather than just putting it up and hoping we’ve got it right and worrying about it later.
Chris: Yeah, measure, always measure.
Curious for more information?
If you want even more strategies to grow your business, check out the sunshine.co.uk case study, which shows how we made an extra £14m for the company. The case study gives a complete breakdown of the experiments we ran. As an added bonus, at the end of the case study you can download several free PDFs packed with even more quick wins and pro tips you can take to the bank. As with all of our case studies, this article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here.
What you should do now
Q&A: How sunshine.co.uk overcame the recession and doubled sales in six months
PhotoShelter is a web app that lets photographers easily create highly effective websites, allowing them to sell, market, and store their photography online. By applying our CRE Methodology™ to PhotoShelter’s website, we have helped it to double its annual sales. This is money that will continue to accrue every year.
How we got those improvements
When we started working with PhotoShelter, the company was already well beyond the stage of obtaining product/market fit; it was a successful business operating in a market that was relatively mature (at least in web terms) and competitive. It would never have doubled its sales if it had not aggressively tested its website to find improvements.
(Side note: If your company, product, service, web app, or whatever is still in its embryonic stages, we highly recommend you read these resources from four very intelligent guys: this article by Paul Buchheit, who created Gmail; this one by venture capitalist Paul Graham; this slide deck by Dave McClure; and these videos by retired entrepreneur Steve Blank.)
We have run many projects with PhotoShelter. Here are some of the activities that are most likely to apply to your own business:
1. How we improved the offer
Our surveys revealed that PhotoShelter’s visitors were anxious to try out the product. PhotoShelter already had a free version, but it had limited features, and an analysis of the business data revealed that it wasn’t particularly effective at persuading users to upgrade to the paid versions. On the other hand, we found that once users tried the fully functional version of PhotoShelter, they were likely to continue using it.
Armed with this insight, we established that our goal was to get as many visitors as possible to try out the fully functional paid version, by offering a no-risk $1 trial of it. The new conversion funnel was more popular with visitors than the “control,” as determined by a split test.
The split test was carried out using Google’s split-testing tool, but we obtained the results by analyzing data from PhotoShelter’s back-end system to compare the lifetime customer value of each group of customers.
2. How we got to understand the value of the service—so we could communicate it better
To better understand PhotoShelter’s service and its customers, we
- Organized discussions with serious photographers.
- Became paying customers of PhotoShelter.
- Surveyed PhotoShelter’s existing clients.
- Surveyed PhotoShelter’s prospects.
The insights gleaned from this research allowed us to better communicate PhotoShelter’s benefits, as seen through the eyes of its prospects.
Throughout the site, we used direct language about how PhotoShelter benefits photographers—based on things we knew they cared about, using language that we knew would resonate with them. Can you see how this stuff is no longer guesswork once you get under your customers’ skin?
For example, we reworded PhotoShelter’s table of benefits, prioritizing features that we knew the customers cared about, and expressing them in words that they would understand.
3. How we made a subtle—but effective—change to the architecture of the site
We surveyed the people who converted, to understand what made them different from those who didn’t. They reported that viewing examples of other photographers’ PhotoShelter websites had persuaded them to get their own.
An analysis of Google Analytics data confirmed that people who converted were much more likely to have seen examples of existing PhotoShelter websites.
Interestingly, this vital content was not prominently featured in PhotoShelter’s conversion funnel. We consequently added the Examples page to the global navigation bar. This subtle change may appear to have been trivial, but a split test confirmed it increased the site’s overall sales by 12%.
4. How we got new customers to engage with the product ASAP
With all companies, the conversion funnel extends far beyond the first sale. This is particularly true of web apps, which are usually charged as a monthly payment. We analyzed PhotoShelter’s entire customer journey to identify opportunities for increasing the customers’ satisfaction—and hence the lifetime customer value.
We wanted prospects to start using the product immediately after signing up. We therefore removed all distractions, showing users a linear path towards getting their first site set up. So, for example, we changed the user journey so that customers were encouraged to upload photos immediately after signing up.
Additionally, in response to customer surveys, we worked with PhotoShelter to create more help resources for new customers, to make it easier for them to get value from PhotoShelter.
- Test what matters most! Many people think that CRO involves tweaking different buttons, or following some set of “best practices.” The truth is that you have to identify the critical parts of your conversion funnel—and then be brave enough to test bold changes to them! With PhotoShelter, testing the offer was scary, but the pay-off was large.
- Discover what your customers care about, and then show it to them! PhotoShelter’s customers were happy to give feedback. We just had to ask them for it! We identified the key “persuasion assets” that customers stated as having been important in persuading them to convert. One example was seeing examples of real PhotoShelter-powered sites.
- Urge people to take action. Split testing verified the benefits of adding more calls-to-action. Once prospects converted, our job was not over; we needed to turn them into happy lifelong customers—ones who would recommend PhotoShelter to their friends. To discover another very simple yet extremely valuable change we made to PhotoShelter’s site, subscribe to our newsletter. The odds are your site is not doing this and you are missing out on conversions right now.
Some of the tools and techniques we used
- We spoke with photographers and carried out usability tests with them.
- To learn from visitors, we conducted exit surveys using 4Q.
- We also emailed customers to engage them directly, which proved to be overwhelmingly successful. PhotoShelter is lucky to have such devoted customers. The help they provided was priceless!
- We used Google’s split-testing tool.
- We also became paying customers of PhotoShelter and set up our own sites.
Thank you to PhotoShelter
PhotoShelter’s willingness to move forward with bold changes allowed the company to double sales, and it’s still growing! Successful conversion rate optimization requires a commitment from the consultants and the company; PhotoShelter certainly held up its end of the deal!
PhotoShelter has a great service and is helping over 60,000 photographers show their work. The company is helping many of them make a living from doing what they love.
This will work for your site!
Take one step at a time. The first step is to listen to the people interacting with your site. Give them the opportunity to talk to you, and you’ll discover eye-opening insights!
Based on these insights, make changes to your site, and then use split testing software to test the changes, so you can discover what your visitors prefer.
Our gift to you: a free PDF containing a powerful but simple “bonus tip”
To get a great additional tip that was incredibly effective for this project with PhotoShelter, subscribe to our free newsletter. We’ll send you a copy of the PDF straight away. The tip is a simple change to your site, but most companies aren’t using it. It’s applicable to pretty much any website.
This article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here.
What you should do now
How we doubled the sales of a web app (includes a useful PDF)
Sunshine.co.uk is a UK-based travel agency that offers cheap vacations. Within six months of working with Conversion Rate Experts, its conversion rate almost doubled.
This was achieved despite the fact that the rest of the UK travel industry was in crisis; the country was in the grips of a recession, airlines were collapsing, and the number of vacations booked was falling at its highest rate ever. In fact, during this period, the travel industry lost over £2.1 billion in profit. So, during this tough time, how did sunshine.co.uk double its revenue?
Conversion rate optimization, of course. (You had guessed that already, hadn’t you?) In this article, we’ll show you how we did it.
If you’d like to hear the sunshine.co.uk team’s thoughts about this project, take a look at our interview with the team.
How we did it
Surveying your customers is the bedrock of a successful campaign
All companies know they should survey their customers, but few do it regularly. And even fewer survey their customers well. With sunshine.co.uk, surveying was the foundation for the massive increases in conversion.
“Surveying our customers with Survey Monkey was mind blowing. Normally, the main customer contact we have is when the customer has an issue with a booking. With the survey, we found that the silent majority loved us.”—Chris Clarkson, Marketing Director of sunshine.co.uk
That’s not all. The survey also helped us understand why customers loved sunshine.co.uk—which we could then emphasize on the website.
Here are our top three tips for surveying your customers:
1. Make your surveys more qualitative—If you stick to multiple-choice questions, it’s easier to process the data for hundreds or thousands of customers. However, it won’t be anywhere near as valuable as if you asked questions with open-text-field responses.
Don’t get us wrong; multiple-choice questions have their uses, but we find that open-text fields are much more useful for improving your conversion rate.
2. Give customers an incentive to fill out the survey—The more people complete your surveys, the more valuable they’ll be. sunshine.co.uk decided to offer everyone who filled out the survey the chance to win the cost of their last vacation—which could be as much as several thousand pounds. This investment paid off quickly when we started to implement and test the ideas generated by the survey’s feedback.
3. The covering email is just as important as the survey and incentive—It’s essential to get the email right, to ensure that as many people as possible fill out the survey. This is what we did to ensure sunshine.co.uk’s email would be read:
- In the subject line, emphasize the benefit to customers. That’s why we used “Get your holiday free” instead of “Can you fill out our survey?”
- Sell the survey as you would your products or services. We emphasized that the survey was easy to fill out (“it only takes about 3 minutes”) and added the incentive (“win back the cost of your last holiday”).
- Emails should be personal. The more personal the email, the more likely people are to respond. That’s why we included the customer’s name in the email and signed it from a person, rather than from an impersonal marketing department. We emphasized this further by including a photo of sunshine.co.uk’s managing director, Chris Brown (and Pluto!).
In addition to using Survey Monkey, we recommend Qualaroo (formerly known as KISSinsights) for surveys. Qualaroo provides an incredibly quick way of adding a short survey (usually just one or two questions) to a particular page. You can create and launch a survey in less than a minute (we timed it ourselves, and it took 55 seconds), which completely changes your approach to surveying.
Usability testing will make you rich
We started doing usability testing quickly and easily with remote testers from usertesting.com and whatusersdo.com. While some testers were able to book a vacation easily—including flights, hotels, stopovers, and parking—others struggled.
“Usability testing was easily the biggest ‘wow’ and ‘facepalm’ moment.” —Chris Clarkson of sunshine.co.uk
Here are our top three tips for usability testing:
- Don’t test just your site; test your competitors’ too—By comparing sunshine.co.uk against the competition, we were quickly able to see what it was doing right—and what it could do better.
- Do it often—We carried out usability tests on every major redesign of the homepage, resort and hotel pages, and the booking process. This way, we could ensure the site was as user-friendly as possible before and after testing.
- Do it now—This is the most important point. A lot of people think usability testing is a good idea but put it off indefinitely. Don’t! You can get started in less than 10 minutes.
Know your analytics
Each type of research tool or technology gives you a slightly different view of your current business. Web analytics software such as Google Analytics or Adobe SiteCatalyst doesn’t give much rich information about what’s going on in your visitors’ heads, but it does reveal a lot of quantitative detail about the flow of users through your website. It’s particularly useful for helping you decide which pages to work on first.
Regular split testing is essential
Split testing with Google’s split-testing tool became a built-in part of sunshine.co.uk’s development process; nothing was changed on the website without being tested first. That way, we could see exactly which changes were increasing the conversion rate, which had no impact, and even which lowered the conversion rate.
It took just six split tests to almost double sunshine.co.uk’s annual revenue. But we actually did ten split tests in total. The advantage of CRO is that you can’t go backwards. If a test increases the conversion rate, you switch to the new version and increase revenue immediately. And if it doesn’t increase the conversion rate, you just stick with the original.
What we changed
Make it clear why you rock
When we started working with sunshine.co.uk, it wasn’t immediately clear why visitors should use its site rather than one of its competitors’.
To find out, we spoke with two of sunshine.co.uk’s founders, Chris Clarkson and Alan Gilmour. They had the inside knowledge of the travel industry and could tell us how they were different from the competition.
We also studied the data from the customer survey. We wanted to find out what customers liked about sunshine.co.uk and how they’d describe the company to a friend.
We took all of this data and distilled it into four main benefits:
- Lowest-price guarantee—sunshine.co.uk has incredibly low prices for vacations, so we backed this up with this compelling guarantee: If you can find a cheaper vacation, we’ll refund the difference—and give you a fiver on top.
- Peace of mind—Prospects were understandably anxious about the turmoil in the travel industry. sunshine.co.uk recognized this objection and emphasized a guarantee that allayed the prospects’ concerns: If a supplier goes out of business, you can claim your money back from us.
- ABTA-bonded—sunshine.co.uk is bonded by ABTA, the UK travel trade association. This reassures visitors even more that their booking and vacation are secure.
- No hidden charges—When booking a vacation, most customers are used to having baggage fees, taxes, and fuel surcharges added on. Not with sunshine.co.uk, which includes all of these from the start. It even includes supplier failure cover for free (most competitors charge extra for this).
These were sunshine.co.uk’s main benefits; they weren’t based just on vague opinion but were verified by customer research. By clearly communicating these benefits, we increased the conversion rate.
Uncover—and overcome—common objections and misunderstandings
Improving conversion isn’t just about expressing benefits; it’s about overcoming all the major objections.
Here’s one objection we identified: sunshine.co.uk’s prices are so low, they’re often unbelievable. (At the time of this writing, you can get a trip to the Algarve, including flights and accommodation, for just £91 per person for a whole week!)
In our usability tests, we discovered that visitors were often confused about the prices. Prospects weren’t sure if the prices were per person, if they were per night, or if flights and hotels were included. Ironically, the prices were so low that the company was harming its own conversion rate.
By clarifying the pricing, and what it included, we increased the conversion rate by 19%, adding an amazing £4 million to its annual revenue.
Turn negatives into positives
Visitors and usability testers often commented that no phone number was displayed on the site. This is deliberate—sunshine.co.uk keeps its costs down by accepting bookings online only.
But it can look odd if there isn’t a phone number. As one usability tester commented, “You make the website really friendly, but you also make it hard for people to call you.”
So instead of brushing over the fact that there was no phone number, we promoted the fact that it didn’t have one.
At the top right of every page—where you’d normally expect to see the phone number—it now says, “Where’s our phone number?” Clicking on the text opens a pop-up that contains the following text:
“We don’t have expensive call centres, so we can pass on these savings to you—making our holidays incredibly good value!”
The negative was turned into a positive—and visitors to sunshine.co.uk regularly comment on this feature now.
What all this meant
Here’s a short video interview, in which Chris Clarkson from sunshine.co.uk discusses his experience of working with us:
1. Annual revenue increased to £31 million
In 2009, sunshine.co.uk’s sales were £17 million; in 2010, sales were on target to hit £31 million. That’s a huge £14 million a year extra, as a direct result of its work on conversion rate optimization.
But it doesn’t stop there. Because the conversion rate almost doubled, it also meant that…
2. Travel affiliates could double their commission by working with sunshine.co.uk
sunshine.co.uk already had a successful affiliate program. And when its conversion rate increased, it wasn’t long before affiliates started to notice, making the program even more successful.
sunshine.co.uk’s biggest affiliate noticed that the pay-per-click (PPC) traffic he sent to sunshine.co.uk was converting twice as highly as the traffic he sent to competitors, so his earnings doubled.
We expect that sunshine.co.uk’s revenue will increase even further, as more affiliates discover the agency’s super-high conversion rate.
3. PPC offered huge potential for growth
PPC had previously been too expensive for sunshine.co.uk to consider. But with the higher conversion rate, huge volumes of traffic were suddenly available to the company.
As a result of working with Conversion Rate Experts, sunshine.co.uk could afford to increase its bids on PPC profitably—knowing that its higher conversion rate would mean it would still make a strong profit.
As a result, PPC is becoming one of sunshine.co.uk’s biggest growth areas. It’s likely to be a huge source of traffic, which will allow the company to increase its market share rapidly.
Thanks to sunshine.co.uk
We’d like to thank Chris, Alan, and the rest of sunshine.co.uk for their hard work during this project—and for allowing us to share this case study with you. We’d also like to thank Michelle from Caboodle Design. Without all of their help, none of the successes above would have been possible.
This article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here.
Our gift to you: a free PDF of conversion tips
If you’d like a PDF of some advanced conversion tips, just sign up to receive our free newsletter. All of these tips are currently being used by sunshine.co.uk, but they’re applicable to almost any type of website. We’ll send you a copy of the PDF straight away. It’s a quick two-page guide of advice that’ll help you boost your conversion rate.
Want more case studies like this?
If you would like to see more of our clients’ results, you can find a long list on our “Clients and Results” page.
What you should do now
How we made an extra £14 million a year for a travel company
Have you used Qualaroo (formerly known as KISSinsights) yet? It’s a fantastic tool from the people who created Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics. It lets you easily add smart-looking surveys to the bottom corner of your website.
Here are some of its features:
- Choose what type of response you want: you can have radio buttons, multiple-answer checkboxes, or open text fields.
- Choose whom you want to participate in the survey. For example, “Only show the survey to returning visitors who have been viewing the page for more than 50 seconds.”
- Ask several questions in one go.
- Receive email notifications of responses.
- Once the code has been added to your website, you can create and launch surveys entirely from within Qualaroo’s control panel, so you don’t require any further support from your web developers.
However, its best feature is that it’s intelligently designed, and is easy to use. It just works. We started using it a few weeks ago, and we’re hooked.
There’s a free version, so give Qualaroo a try, and let us know what you think.
(By the way, that’s not an affiliate link. We’re vendor neutral, and we don’t profit from recommending technology.)
Qualaroo is so good, we’ve added it to our illustrious list of tools for understanding why your website’s visitors aren’t converting.
What you should do now
Qualaroo (formerly known as KISSinsights): a free conversion tool you MUST use
When we first published this case study, Moz was called SEOmoz. Even though the company has since rebranded, the techniques described below are still as relevant as ever.
In this talk, Moz’s CEO, Rand Fishkin, raves about the work we did, explaining how the money that we generated enabled Moz to develop from a membership site into a web app.
Moz is one of the world’s largest providers of tools and resources for online marketing. The company was already highly successful, having a list of Fortune 500 clients as long as your arm. It had also conducted many split tests on its site. In fact, previous Moz split tests were the subject of 14 pages in an industry “best practices” guide for landing page optimization.
Nevertheless, in the first split test that Conversion Rate Experts conducted for Moz, we generated a 52% improvement in sales. It’s important to note that “we” refers to a team effort between Conversion Rate Experts (with our proven system) and Moz (with its solid products and a bias toward action).
Within the first four months of work, we increased annual revenues by $1 million.
Phase I—analyzing the business and designing a more effective landing page
We’ve all heard the business principle of “listen to your customers.” In analyzing the Moz business, we took that principle much further: We listened not only to paying customers but also to free-trial customers who hadn’t yet decided to subscribe to the paid service, and to customers who had canceled their subscriptions.
After all, it takes time, effort, and money to bring visitors to a website. It’s worth the effort to determine just what is going through the heads of buyers, non-buyers, and former buyers. We knew what actions people took—now we had to discover why they took them.
Here are some of the methods we used to analyze Moz’s visitors:
- We asked paying members what they liked most about the Moz service, what ultimately convinced them to sign up, and how they would describe the service to a friend (among many other questions).
- Next, we asked non-paying (free trial) members many questions, including what would make them sign up for the service, which tools they liked the most and the least, and what their most time-consuming SEO tasks were.
- Then, we talked with paying members who had canceled, asking them the obvious question: “Why did you cancel?” We also wanted them to tell us the one thing that would bring them back.
- We learned from face-to-face selling. Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, could easily sell the service face to face at conferences but commented that he wished his website could be as effective. We therefore asked Rand to pretend we were the prospect while we recorded his approach. We then compared what was on the current website with the details Rand used to sell Moz face to face. This technique enabled us to identify what was missing from the website.
- We became the customer, which is a great way to see first-hand the good and not-so-good aspects of the actual customer experience.
- Next, we incorporated our findings into revised “wireframe” pages. A wireframe is a quick rendering of a proposed page, and it allows you to prototype quickly without bogging down programmers or designers. We then recruited people from the Moz Twitter feed to participate in usability tests of those wireframes. We wanted to know what they liked and didn’t like on a big-picture basis.
Through an iterative process of usability testing, modifying the page, and repeating, we eventually arrived at a version that we were confident would outperform the current one. We ran a split test to see how visitors would react to it. Using a statistically significant sample of more than 5,000 visitors, we achieved a 52% increase in sales of Moz’s PRO membership.
Some of the proven techniques we used in the landing page
1. We created a page long enough to tell the story.
There’s a popular myth among web marketers that “long pages don’t sell.” These people believe that it’s much better to have short pages that don’t require scrolling.
What we’ve discovered from many client consultations around the world is this: What counts is not how long your page is but rather how engaging it is.
In our analysis of Rand’s effective face-to-face presentation, we noticed that he needed at least five minutes to make the case for Moz’s paid product. Yet the existing page was more like a one-minute summary. Once we added the key elements of Rand’s presentation, the page became much longer:
It’s interesting to note that Amazon.com, which is known for its relentless testing, tends to have extremely long product pages. Just see the page for its Kindle reader. (None of the links on this page are affiliate links, by the way.) Amazon realizes that buyers are engaged and want to know what they’re getting into. (If you want to know how far people scroll down your own pages, one good tool is ClickTale.)
2. We infused the headline with curiosity rather than overt “buy me” language.
Too many marketers rush into a sale right in the headline, before they’ve generated sufficient reader interest.
The original headline wasn’t bad:
We designed our new headline not to sell anything but to make visitors stop and pay attention. Here’s the new one:
This headline not only shows how some of the biggest companies on the planet rely on Moz, but it also incites curiosity by indicating that the readers will gain value just from reading the page.
3. We explained precisely what customers would get at each level.
Our analysis of customer emails and surveys made us realize that some customers weren’t aware of the impressive array of tools they’d get with a paid membership. In addition, they seemed to be confused about which tool was available at which membership level.
One handy chart solved both of those problems at a glance. Plus, visitors could hover over any element of the chart to reveal more details.
We also recognized that paid customers loved the “Q&A” feature but that the existing site did not mention it. It’s where members could ask detailed questions and get customized, personalized answers from the Moz team of experts. We made the Q&A service prominent in the new chart, and we created a separate section for it.
4. We showcased things that customers cared about but that Moz had taken for granted.
Almost every company takes some of its most impressive “persuasion assets” for granted. Moz was no exception; for example, it was so accustomed to dealing with major firms as clients that it was somewhat “ho hum” about that fact.
We greatly increased the logo display of Moz’s well-known clients because it included so many world-famous brands.
We also added a long section of testimonials from professional SEO specialists. Sometimes comments from one’s peers—other professional SEOs in this case—can be even more influential than endorsements from brand-name clients.
5. We augmented the message with video.
Some people are most influenced by text, while others find audio or video to be more helpful.
Because we had videotaped Rand’s live presentation earlier, it was a simple matter to add highlights of his points to a short video on the page.
So that’s how we achieved the 52% improvement with the landing page. Next, we turned our attention to the offer.
Phase II—testing the offer
Our improved page did indeed tell the Moz story more completely, so it was now time to be brave with a call-to-action that could not be ignored.
1. We lowered the “risk bar,” to make it easier for customers to try the service.
We knew from customer research that visitors to the site were impressed with the tools but sometimes were just not sure if the tools would work in their own situations.
To overcome this objection, we made a special offer to Moz’s free subscribers: a 30-day full-featured membership for just $1.
2. We asked non-subscribers to tell us why they didn’t want even a $1 membership.
We could hardly lower the risk bar any further, so we really wanted to know what was on the minds of those visitors who refused even the $1 offer. And how do you read people’s minds? By asking them questions! In the first promotional email, we asked, “IF YOU DECIDE YOU DON’T WANT TO CLAIM THIS SPECIAL $1 OFFER … then please send a reply to this email with a brief explanation of why you aren’t interested.”
It turned out that about 500 of them had the same concern: Did our $1 trial contain a hidden catch that committed them to a long-term contract?
The answer was no, and this bit of feedback prompted us to send a follow-up email explaining that nothing was hidden—and that they could use the entire site for 30 days and cancel even on the last day with no commitment and no hard feelings.
That email resulted in another subscription boost.
Phases I and II succeeded in getting people comfortable with Moz and in persuading them to try out the PRO service. We had one remaining task:
Phase III—improving lifetime customer value (LCV) and retention
We of course knew that a $1 offer would boost subscriptions, but the real goal was to keep these users active beyond the trial period. A marketer’s toolbox contains many retention strategies, and we used several with Moz.
“Involvement devices” are one of the most widely applicable retention strategies. Involvement devices are mechanisms that help your customers or prospects derive value from your service quickly and easily. Here’s how we used this strategy with Moz:
We created a quick-start guide so customers could get quick wins.
We had 30 days to impress our new subscribers. The key was to get them to use the service and experience some quick wins with all the Moz tools.
We therefore stayed close to our subscribers with a series of 10 quick and easy things they could do to boost their search engine rankings within the first 30 days.
These three phases helped Moz to achieve a conversion increase of around 170% over four months and to generate more than $1 million in additional revenue.
- Lots of businesses assume they know what their customers think and want, but very few businesses ever take the time to find out for sure. Put your own ideas aside and get as much customer feedback about your website and products as you can. You simply cannot overdo this activity.
- Compile a list of objections and, for each one, create a counter-objection. When visitors don’t buy, it’s for a reason—perhaps the price is too high, the product description is too vague, the site contains insufficient proof to back up the claims, or any of a hundred other objections. Take the most-common objections and methodically address each one through testimonials, case histories, examples, screen shots, and any other proof you can muster.
- Be bold in your tests but conservative in your exposure. We ran a $1 offer but did not advertise it to the world. Only existing subscribers saw it, and we carefully monitored the volume of sign-ups. You can afford to go for big, bold tests when you manage your downside.
- Use as much text as you need to fully explain your product or service and back up your claims with proof. There’s no such thing as a too-long page—only a too-boring one.
- Remember that when you sell face to face, you need to answer only one person’s objections. When you sell on the web, you must anticipate and address all the major objections, so don’t handicap yourself for the sake of some old myth about page length.
- Separate yourself from your competitors by offering something of value right away. Perhaps offer a truly valuable special report, or a full-featured trial membership. When you “give before you get,” you put visitors at ease by proving your value and avoiding the hype.
Some of the tools we used
- Adobe Test&Target was used to carry out split tests.
- IndexTools (now known as Yahoo! Site Analytics) was used to understand the types of visitors coming to the website and how they behaved once there.
- Adobe Illustrator was used to create the wireframes. These days, we’re fairly smitten with Balsamiq, which takes about three milliseconds to learn to use.
- Twitter was used to recruit usability testers.
- Survey Monkey was used to conduct surveys of buyers, non-buyers, and former buyers—though we highly recommend SurveyGizmo too.
- The video was hosted with Vimeo.
The importance of having a great product
We were impressed by Moz from the very beginning. Though many companies build tools in order to sell them, Moz took a different approach: It built SEO tools for the express purpose of using them internally in its consulting practice with Fortune 500 companies and other major clients. These tools were not built to sell—they were built to work.
Later, Moz realized that other businesses could benefit from the same tools and thus its membership site was born.
Moz’s thoughts on the CRO process
Here’s a short video from Moz’s CEO:
Will these techniques work on your website?
This article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here. The results we achieved for Moz were extreme; not all projects yield the same spectacular results.
Conversion rate optimization is not about gimmicks; it’s not even about tools. It’s about getting inside the heads of your visitors, understanding them, and then aligning your offerings with their interests.
If you do that—no matter what your business is—we think you’ll be amazed at the results.
Our gift to you: a free annotated PDF of the winning Moz page
If you’d like a screenshot of Moz’s winning page, with many “tooltips” explaining, in detail, the persuasion techniques behind each page element, just sign up to receive our free newsletter. We’ll send you a copy of the PDF straight away. We reckon it’s going to be an eye-opener for you, revealing persuasive techniques you might otherwise have overlooked.
Want more case studies like this?
If you would like to see more of our clients’ results, you can find a long list here.
Thanks to Moz
We’d like to thank Rand for allowing us to discuss the details of this project. We’d also like to thank the great Moz staff who worked with us on this project: Scott Willoughby, Sarah Bird, Jeff Pollard, Matt Heilman, Sam Niccolls, and Adam Feldstein. Moz is highly successful for several reasons: It’s committed to creating a great product, it has a close relationship with its customers, it’s brave, and it’s willing to take action through experiments to improve not only its products but also its website.
If you think you could benefit from Moz’s industrial-strength suite of SEO tools, visit Moz.
What you should do now
How we made $1 million for Moz (formerly SEOmoz)—with one landing page and a few emails
The music industry can teach web marketers a valuable lesson about how to maximize conversions. If you’re looking at buying multivariate testing software, this article will help you put things into perspective.
As you probably already know, split-testing software—and multivariate testing software—tells you which version of your page generates the most conversions. There’s a two-step process:
Step 1—the Content Creator: Someone creates different versions of a page (or page element).
Step 2—the Scorekeeper: Multivariate testing software keeps score of which version generates the most conversions—and declares a winner once there’s enough data.
The software is an extremely valuable part of the process. Without a scorekeeper, you’d never know which version of the page to keep. However, some newcomers appear to be under the illusion that the software is almost magical—that it can create winning pages out of thin air. It’s not true.
To understand this point, think of how the music industry works:
Step 1—the Content Creator: The artist (such as Radiohead, Coldplay or Madonna) records and promotes a song.
Step 2—the Scorekeeper: A company (such as Billboard, Gallup or iTunes) keeps score of which songs have sold the most copies—then declares the winners (by publishing the pop charts).
Now, if you were a record label looking to create a hit song, you wouldn’t just ask the guy next door to record thousands of tunes, then throw them all at the charts, hoping for a winner. You’d be much better off relying on a fantastic recording artist. That’s because the first step—creating the content—is by far the most important step. That’s presumably why Polydor Records signed a £130m (US$204m) deal with U2.
The same principle applies to your web business: you’ll only get fantastic increases in profits if you make the right changes to your webpages.
In other words, what matters is what you test.
Please don’t misunderstand us: we think multivariate testing software is essential for a web business. And there are some great solutions on the market.
Just don’t expect the software to be more than a highly sophisticated scorekeeper.
If you want help creating amazing content, you could do a lot worse than read our free reports.
What you should do now
Multivariate Testing’s Role in CRO (Radiohead versus iTunes)
…but we are keeping up this “announcement” blog post so anyone who wants to host a webinar can use it as a template. Why would we do that? Because it’s part of our incredibly useful guide to hosting a webinar.
Upcoming webcast: “Golden questions” that reveal why your visitors aren’t converting
The easiest way to understand why visitors aren’t converting is to ask them.
But what questions should you ask?
In this webcast, you’ll discover
- Six “golden questions” that we use to reveal exactly why visitors aren’t converting.
- A new way to think about questions, which will make it easier to know what to ask in any situation.
- Why we use the survey tool Qualaroo, and some inventive ways to use it to identify conversion opportunities.
We’ll co-present the webcast with Sean Ellis, the CEO of Qualaroo. Sean has helped to grow some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups, including Dropbox, LogMeIn and Eventbrite.
How to reserve your place
We’ll present the webcast twice this Thursday, October 31. There’s no reason to attend both sessions, unless you’re like that amnesic guy out of the movie Memento. (In which case you’ll probably spend the time frantically tattooing our slides onto your cluttered chest.)
Each session will be 60 minutes long.
This is “Time-Zone-Confusion Week” when some countries have left daylight savings time but others haven’t. If in doubt, be sure to use the time-zone checkers above.
What you should do now
The following webinar has already happened…
At the start of 2009, Voices.com, one of the leading marketplaces for voice-over talent, began working with Conversion Rate Experts. The result? Its conversion rate increased by over 400%—from less than 5% to 22%.
How we achieved those improvements
The most important part of any project is the exploratory work that occurs at the beginning; FORTUNE’s article about us described this stage as the “detective work.” (One of our consultants described it, rather unglamorously, as “dumpster-diving for details.”) Our in-depth analysis of Voices.com included the following:
- We studied Voices.com’s analytics account to understand which components of the sales funnel contained the biggest opportunities for improvement.
- We analyzed 510 visitor surveys to understand the mindset of those who arrived at the Voices.com site but didn’t ultimately subscribe.
- We studied all of Voices.com’s sales literature and interviewed the company’s CEO so we could identify all of the company’s “persuasion assets.” This is a term we use to describe a company’s assets that would likely impress prospects. Persuasion assets can come in many forms, and we’ve discovered valuable overlooked persuasion assets in the businesses of every client we’ve ever worked with.
- We analyzed Voices.com’s competitors’ websites to understand the strategies they were using and what the opportunities were for positioning Voices.com against them.
Once we understood the prospects’ main objections, and what could be done to overcome them, we created new test pages.
Here are a few things that gave us quick wins
We achieved the 400% increase by doing eleven experiments, which we carried out at five different stages of the conversion funnel. Some of the changes we made were very specific to Voices.com’s business, but others will likely work for most other businesses. Here are the ones that might apply to your business, regardless of what kind it is:
1. Finding and communicating proof
Adding proof to the homepage had a significant effect: Voices.com had some impressive “claims to fame” that could really influence prospective customers but that weren’t clearly communicated on the website. For example, Voices.com’s customers happened to include many household names:
2. Segmenting (by visitor type or by visitor intention)
The site had two distinct types of visitor: voice-over artists and companies looking for voice-over artists. There was a great benefit from immediately and clearly segmenting these types of visitor into separate conversion funnels.
3. Demonstration videos
Often, the biggest obstacle facing prospects is that they don’t understand what they are about to sign up for. Voices.com overcame this obstacle by adding clearly communicated demonstration videos.
4. Hidden opportunities in the sales funnel
Once you’ve increased the conversion rate of one section of your sales funnel, it’s important to take a “50,000-foot view” of the business, to look for new opportunities that have arisen because of the improvement.
Many clients expect us to work only on their landing pages and are surprised that we analyze the whole customer journey—from the initial ads to the retention of long-term customers—in order to identify opportunities. For one client, we identified an opportunity for offline marketing and devised a hugely successful direct mail campaign; for another, we identified an opportunity for viral growth and implemented a “Tell-a-Friend” program that became one of its top sources of business.
Once we had increased the conversion rate of Voices.com’s sales funnel, we identified that there was a big opportunity for email marketing. We then designed a hugely successful email marketing campaign for increasing its lifetime customer value.
- Find out why customers aren’t converting; don’t just guess. If you don’t know what the objections of your customers are, your chances of overcoming them are very slim.
- Don’t “hide your light under a bushel.” If your company is the best at something—and if you have proof—make certain the proof is prominently placed on your website.
- Consider segmenting your visitors. How do you know whether to segment visitors? If your most common visitor intentions can’t be addressed with the same message, you should segment them. Similarly, if you have more than one type of visitor, and all visitors can’t all be served by the same message, you’ll probably have to segment them. Beware that segmentation can create a lot of extra work, so do it only if you absolutely have to.
- People don’t buy what they don’t understand. Clearly explain your service, so that prospects are more likely to feel in control and take action.
- Sometimes, video is the best medium for explaining things—and for providing proof. Web video needn’t cost a lot, as we’ll reveal soon (subscribe to our newsletter to receive details). Screen capture videos can easily be carried out using Camtasia (for PC) or Screenflow (which is our preferred option for Mac).
Some of the tools we used
- For running split tests and multivariate tests, we used Google’s split-testing tool.
- To better understand how users interacted with the website, we used Crazy Egg.
- We identified user-experience issues by commissioning usability tests from UserTesting.com.
- The videos were hosted with YouTube. (Here’s a great guide for advanced YouTube techniques.)
- We analyzed survey feedback to understand visitor intent and to identify common questions and objections. We use many survey tools, including Survey Monkey and Survey Gizmo (we highly recommend Survey Gizmo).
Have you tested audio yet?
We were customers of Voices.com three years before it became our client. In 2006, we managed to achieve a double-digit increase in conversion for one of our clients by adding an auto-playing audio message, which was recorded by a voice-over artist we discovered from Voices.com. Good voice-over artists are like good graphic designers—they make your company seem extremely professional. They can be particularly useful for tutorial videos, for auto-playing audio messages, or even for automated telephone systems (IVRs).
If you haven’t already used Voices.com, it’s one of the most pleasant tasks you’ll ever carry out as a web marketer. You just paste your text into Voices.com’s window, and then within hours you’ll receive many audition recordings from voice-over artists. You then play the role of Simon Cowell, deciding which voice-over is the best. (To get in character, you might even decide to pull your pants up to your rib cage.)
David Ciccarelli, CEO of Voices.com, described the process as being a “fascinating and profitable experience.” Watch this video to learn more.
We’d like to thank David for sharing this case study. If you think you’d benefit from adding nicely spoken audio to your website, visit Voices.com.
Will these techniques work on your website?
This article is subject to our Testimonial Protocol, which is described here. A 400% increase is extreme; not all experiments yield the same spectacular results. However, we’re using these techniques every day, and we expect at least some of them to be valuable to your business.
Want more case studies like this?
If you want to see more of our clients’ results, our “Clients and Results” page contains a big list of them.
What you should do now
How we increased the conversion rate of Voices.com by over 400%
If you’re serious about online profits, you need to be carrying out split tests on your webpages. The results from split testing can be amazing; increases in revenue of over 100% are not uncommon.
What is a split test?
In a simple split test, different visitors see different versions of one of your pages. For example, some visitors may see the existing version of a page, whereas others see a new version. Split-testing software “keeps score” of which version generates the most conversions. (A conversion can be whatever you want it to be—orders placed, leads submitted, etc.)
Once you have enough data, the software announces which page was the winner. You then promote that page to be the new “champion.”
The test described above would be called an A/B test, because two page versions were tested, Version A and Version B. A test with three page versions would be called an A/B/C test. “A/B/n” is often used as shorthand for a test that has n different page versions.
What is multivariate testing?
Depending on how frequently you get conversions, it can take weeks or months—or longer—to collect enough data to declare a winner. You may get frustrated waiting for one test to finish before you run the next one. If so, multivariate testing may help. It allows you to carry out several A/B/n split tests on different page elements simultaneously. For example, you may choose to test two different headlines whilst testing two different calls to action.
If you haven’t heard of multivariate testing, maybe you know it by another name, such as
- Taguchi method (which is a type of multivariate testing).
- The name of one of the software tools, such as Visual Website Optimizer, Optimizely, Adobe Test&Target, Sitespect, and Google Analytics Content Experiments (which is free).
Most of the software tools allow you to carry out both multivariate tests and A/B/n split tests.
Here are some great resources to help you get the best results from multivariate testing software:
- You can see the results of other companies’ split tests by visiting Anne Holland’s Which Test Won? site and ABTests.com.
- Avinash Kaushik’s book Web Analytics—An Hour A Day contains some solid advice on carrying out split testing. See pages 237–262. Here is one of Avinash’s blog posts about experimentation and testing.
- Marketing Sherpa’s Landing Page Handbook is an intelligently written overview of the subject.
- This article includes an overview of multivariate testing, and a list of 108 ways to use it.
- Jonathan Mendez created this good and thorough guide to multivariate testing.
- Our comparison of A/B-testing tools should help you to identify the software that’s most suitable for your needs.
What you should do now
What you can achieve with Google Analytics Content Experiments (and other multivariate testing software)
Full disclosure: This article was written before we engaged with Apple as a client, so it isn’t influenced or informed by our relationship with the company.
How do you persuade your prospects of your products’ quality? Use this strategy: Show the work that went into creating the product.
This can take two forms:
Show the work that went into inventing the product.
Show the work that goes into creating each individual product.
For example, if you were selling Rolex watches, you could tell the story of how the watch was designed, or you could describe the painstaking process by which each individual watch is manufactured. Or you could do both.
How this technique was used to sell beer 100 years ago
Advertising legend Claude Hopkins used this strategy to revolutionize the sales of Schlitz beer in the early 1900s. He did so simply by being the first to describe how beer was made. He toured Schlitz’s operations and noted down all the interesting aspects of the company’s process. In particular, he highlighted those that supported Schlitz’s main claim: that its beer was pure. The campaign was a huge success. Within a few months, Schlitz went from fifth place to being tied for first in the market.
Even if you’ve heard the story before, you probably haven’t seen any of Hopkins’s ads. Here’s one of them:
Apparently, the techniques he describes in the ad were common to many beers; Hopkins was simply the first to mention them, thereby implying that the techniques were unique to Schlitz.
How Apple is using this technique to sell laptops
Hopkins’s ads now look comically out of date, but the technique is still as fresh as a daisy. Here’s a fantastic modern-day equivalent—the following video shows the work that went into creating the body of Apple’s MacBook Pro laptop:
(You need to watch only the first three minutes of the video.)
If you’re too busy to watch it—and we recommend you do—here’s what happens: Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design passionately describes—and shows—how the body of each MacBook Pro laptop is carved from a single block of metal. According to Apple, this increases the reliability and robustness of the laptop, and allows it to be lighter and smaller. It’s a brilliantly persuasive piece of marketing.
Unlike in the Schlitz example, Apple’s manufacturing techniques do appear to be unique to Apple, which makes the video even more effective.
At Conversion Rate Experts, we have had great success with this technique, having incorporated it into winning webpages for clients in weight loss, B2B products, and health supplements, and achieving conversion improvements of 67%, 101%, and 114%, respectively.
Why does it work?
This strategy works for several reasons:
1. It adds credibility to your claims. When you describe the work that went into creating a product, you are providing supporting evidence for the product’s features. Many breweries were claiming that their beer was pure, but Schlitz was the first to give justification as to why its beer was pure.
2. It is concrete. People struggle to think in terms of abstract concepts. “Pure” is a vague, abstract concept, whereas “beer being dripped over frigid pipes in a plate-glass room” is concrete.
3. It tells a story. People respond well to stories. Stories can be considered the “native programming language” of the human brain.
4. It gives you something new to say. In some mature markets, it’s hard to think of anything new that can be said about a product.
5. It gives you something to say when the product’s benefits or features are not easily discernible. If you’re selling bottled water or luxury watches, it’s hard for prospects to discern the benefits—and the benefits themselves aren’t even particularly interesting. The background story can be the most compelling aspect of the product.
6. It can give “romance” to the product. People love to associate objects with romantic pasts. For example, which guitar player would not like to play Jimi Hendrix’s guitar? Don’t underestimate the power of romance in your copy, particularly if you’re selling something that doesn’t have many logical benefits.
So, how can you use this strategy?
- List the main benefits of your product.
- Presumably, you go to extreme lengths to create these benefits. Would your prospects be impressed if they could see the work that went into creating the product or service?
- Remember, you are likely to underestimate your own achievements. Even if a technique is commonplace, it may still be impressive to your prospects.
- Bring your process to life. Tell the story. Feature the people who worked on it—and show the passion behind it.
- Be highly specific: Lexus is smart to say its Certified Pre-Owned cars go through a “rigorous 161-point checklist,” rather than just saying “a rigorous screening process.”
When will this strategy not work?
Clearly, this strategy will work only to support a particular claim. If Apple’s prospects didn’t care about quality and elegance, the video would have no effect on their behavior. If certain prospects were PC users, and their main objection was that they didn’t want to learn a new operating system, the video would not affect conversion.
If you didn’t read this article out loud…
…then you missed out on saying the word “Schlitz’s.”
What you should do now
How Apple is brilliantly using a 100-year-old persuasion strategy
Here’s a strange prediction from Google’s Chief Economist: “I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding.”
That quote came from a New York Times article about the rapidly increasing demand for statisticians.
He’s talking about you, conversion fans. You may not think of yourself as being a statistician—you may not have it written on your business card—but if you’re basing your marketing on data, not on whims, you are already one of the new wave.
We may be in the minority now, but someday all marketing will be carried out this way.
Another article, published by Wired magazine earlier this year, describes how Google’s business models have evolved. Here’s a great quote from the Wired article:
“Hal Varian [Google’s Chief Economist] believes that a new era is dawning for what you might call the datarati—and it’s all about harnessing supply and demand. ‘What’s ubiquitous and cheap?’ Varian asks. ‘Data.’ And what is scarce? The analytic ability to utilize that data. As a result, he believes that the kind of technical person who once would have wound up working for a hedge fund on Wall Street will now work at a firm whose business hinges on making smart, daring choices—decisions based on surprising results gleaned from algorithmic spelunking and executed with the confidence that comes from really doing the math.”
Hal is a fantastically insightful guy—and, of course, he has the benefit of sitting at the cutting edge of innovation. So his advice is worth taking.
Here are a few things that any web business can do now to benefit from this approach:
- Start making decisions based on data, not on opinion.
- Get analytics set up well, so you really know which pages, products, acquisition sources, and so on your money is coming from. Knowledge really is power (and profit).
- Start carrying out split tests (A/B tests or multivariate tests) on different aspects of your business.
- Create a culture in which people are rewarded for carrying out tests, not punished for making mistakes.
This might sound like a lot of work. In fact, it’s really liberating. Imagine being able to end long debates with “let’s test it and see who’s right.” Imagine being able to make business decisions based on insight that your competitors don’t have. And imagine never taking a step wrong, because every decision you make is tested, so you almost immediately know whether it was the right thing to do or not.
So, that’s today’s word of the day: “datarati.”
If you missed the Wired magazine article when it came out, it is particularly worth reading: It’s here.
What you should do now
Google’s prediction: What will be the "sexy" job in the next ten years?
In the movie Monsters vs. Aliens, the President has two huge red buttons.
The one on the left launches every nuclear weapon in the country; the one on the right makes a latte.
The President asks, “Who designed this ridiculous system?”
His colleagues reply, “You did.”
Throughout the movie, he keeps almost pressing the wrong button, by accident. Whenever he leans towards it, everyone screams hysterically.
Now, if you have ever carried out a usability test, you’ll know this feeling well. You’ll regularly find yourself screaming, “No!” (though you have to do so internally) when the participant is about to make a “conversion-killing” mistake. Some website elements are effectively “Nuke” buttons. In other words, they are traps that reduce the likelihood of conversion.
Does your own website contain any “Nuke” buttons?
Here’s how to find out if you’re making the same mistake as the President did: Look at one of your mission-critical webpages—such as your homepage or one of your landing pages—and then look at each link and button, one at a time, and answer the following two questions:
Question 1: “If visitors click on this button, what will they see next?” (Open the link in a separate tab, just to check.)
Question 2: “Will clicking on this increase—or decrease—the likelihood of visitors taking the action we want them to take?”
You may be surprised by what you discover.
Types of “Nuke” buttons
Here are some of the most common types of “Nuke” buttons:
“Nuke” Button Type 1: the “Empty Cart” button. The internet is riddled with shopping carts that have “Empty Cart” buttons in them. Can you imagine a supermarket in which half of the checkouts are traps where a member of the staff would grab your shopping cart and put all the items back on the shelves? An “Empty Cart” feature would never exist in the offline world.
But, online, they are commonplace. Here’s an example of one:
Notice how this “Empty Cart” button is identical in appearance to the “Place Order” button. It’s even located on the right-hand side, where you might imagine the “Place Order” button to be. One false click and the order is nuked.
“Nuke” Button Type 2: the “Reset Form” button. Strangely, it’s hard to even imagine a scenario in which a “Reset Form” button would ever be needed. It’s not as if you’d ever fill out your name and address, and then think, “No, wait, that’s not me!” Perhaps “Reset Form” buttons are designed to safeguard people who are in witness protection programs.
Here’s an example of a “Reset Form” button, waiting to catch its next victim.
“Nuke” Button Type 3: the “Too-Easy-To-Click-Accidentally” button. Hotmail’s “Sign Out” button is tiny and sits beneath a much larger “Nuke” button that jeopardizes the user experience. In the image below, you might expect that the arrow is hovering over the “Sign Out” button.
In fact, when clicked, it opens up a drop-down box for the much larger “Karl” button, which is immediately above the “Sign Out” button.
As a result, it’s surprisingly difficult to work out how to sign out of Hotmail, or to change users.
This usability error isn’t trivial. Many Hotmail users access their email from public computers. Failing to sign out could result in identity theft.
“Nuke” Button Type 4: the “Your Session Has Expired” feature. Some shopping carts spontaneously destroy the visitor’s data after a certain time period. Why?
Clearly, in some situations, it makes sense to expire a session after a certain period of inactivity, for security reasons. But in those cases, it’s essential that the session be automatically saved for next time; otherwise, the visitor’s hard work is destroyed.
The “Your Session Has Expired” nuke isn’t a button at all, but it has the same self-destruct power of any “Nuke” button. It’s really a “time bomb” version of the “Reset Form” or “Empty Cart” “Nuke” buttons.
In a way, it’s more destructive, because it doesn’t even require a click; it can be triggered by a bathroom break.
“Nuke” Button Type 5: the Irrelevant Link. This one is perhaps the most common of all. It sounds obvious, but a link shouldn’t be on a page unless you want at least some of the visitors to click on it. Many links cause visitors to veer off to an obscure part of the website—or to another website—never to return.
An obvious example of an irrelevant link is found on websites that have banner ads on their shopping cart pages. If customers are about to place an order, do you really want them to see a distracting banner ad like this?
Keep an eye out for “Nuke” buttons
“Nuke” buttons are easy to overlook. Try to identify them in your own site, then remove them before they destroy more conversions.
Together, we can disarm the web.
Right, let’s have a latte.
What you should do now
Conversion killers—does your site contain any "Nuke" buttons?
Here’s a handy tool for capturing ideas from your customers: UserVoice.com. It’s effectively an “ideas box”, into which your website’s visitors can suggest ideas for improving your website and business. They can also vote on which ideas they like most.
It has a lot of similarities with Kampyle, but with a social aspect.
If you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to read our free report, “Tools That Reveal Why People Abandon Your Website”. These tools tell you exactly why many of your visitors aren’t ordering, so you don’t have to guess at how to persuade them. They provide a brilliantly reliable way of increasing your website’s profits.
What you should do now
A handy tool for capturing ideas from your customers: UserVoice
A few weeks ago, we gave you 5 reasons why you should get obsessed with conversion rate optimization.
Some companies will follow this advice, and thrive, and some will ignore it, and struggle. Fortunately, you have an unfair advantage: the mere fact that you’re on this page means you’re in the top few percent of web marketers who understand the importance of conversion.
But if you’re still having difficulty persuading the rest of your company that you should be investing in conversion rate optimization, maybe you’d like to tell them about this:
Despite the recession, Vodafone, one of the world’s largest mobile communications companies, chose to work with Conversion Rate Experts to optimize its visitors’ online experience.
Kevin Woodberry, the Online Marketing Manager of Vodafone Specialist Communications, gave the following reason:
The big attraction of conversion rate optimization is that it benefits both ourselves and our customers. Working with Conversion Rate Experts has been an absolute eye-opener. Getting started is surprisingly simple.
Split-testing tells you which of your pages your visitors prefer. Your website’s visitors get a better service that’s aimed at their exact needs, which is great for profits. Follow Kevin. It needn’t cost anything, and there’s no better time to start putting the pressure on your competitors.
What you should do now
What do successful companies like Vodafone do in a recession?
Here’s another fantastic tool for increasing your website’s conversion rate: It’s called UserTesting.com. If you haven’t used it before, you should—it’s great. It tells you why people leave your website (and loads of other interesting things).
UserTesting.com provides you with a video recording of how visitors are interacting with your website. This is done by capturing the browsing session of an anonymous usability tester and recording their spoken commentary. The video and a written summary of the tester’s views can be with you within hours. It takes less than ten minutes to commission a test…and all for just $19.
Anyway, last week, we recommended UserTesting.com to one of our new clients. This morning we reviewed the feedback, which you may find interesting:
Our client asked the following question to five usability testers: “What would have caused you to leave this website?“
Here are three of the responses:
“The site seemed kind of amateurish. There was a feeling that the company did not take the website seriously.”
“In general, I think the home page needs a refresh to make it more attractive – it is now more like a virtual storefront than one from a company as well established as [company name].”
“It was unprofessional and amateur looking and hard to find the correct link to use. Regardless of what size company you may be, a website can make you look as though you are the largest company in the UK…in any industry.”
Comments like this are surprisingly common—we see them regularly.
A success story—how graphic design gave an overnight 7.4% improvement
In response to similar feedback, another of our clients carried out a very simple page re-design. They didn’t change a word of copy, nor did they change which elements were on the page, or their position. In fact, they just redesigned a few of the page elements, to give the page a more consistent design.
Here are the results:
The test results show a 7.4% increase in conversion. If that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, imagine what you’d need to pay a salesperson to increase your business by 7.4% indefinitely!
So, our message for today is, “If your visitors are concerned about the appearance or professionalism of your site, you could get a serious measurable improvement by redesigning it.”
What you should do now
Is your graphic design helping or hurting your business?
In the current economic climate, your website’s conversion rate is more important than ever. Here are five reasons why conversion rate optimization should be your top priority.
Reason 1: The obvious one—you get more customers, free
The obvious reason to improve your conversion rate is that you want more customers without having to spend a penny more on advertising. But there are other, even better, reasons…
Reason 2: The “slight edge” phenomenon
In many competitions, “the winner takes all” (or at least “the winner takes most”). This is particularly true of internet marketing.
This has an important implication: If you want to be twice as profitable as your competitors, you don’t have to be twice as good as them. You just have to be slightly better. This phenomenon is sometimes called the “slight edge.”
The horse on the right has the slight edge:
In particular, you need to have a higher profit-per-visitor than your competitors do. Small increases to your profit-per-visitor can have an enormous effect on your business’s profitability and success.
A word of warning: This is no time for complacency. Once you have the slight edge over your competitors, you need to make sure you stay ahead.
Reason 3: Conversion rate optimization makes financial sense—because your profit is surprisingly sensitive to your conversion rate
The following diagram shows how a modest increase in conversion rate—say 50%—can have an enormous effect on a company’s profit:
That’s because the profit from the additional conversions goes straight to your bottom line. In fact, a 10% change in conversion rate can mean the difference between making a profit and suffering a loss.
Reason 4: Conversion rate optimization makes your business more robust
When your conversion rate increases, suddenly you can afford to advertise in other media (online and offline), which makes your company much more robust.
This can create a “virtuous circle”* of benefits for your company, and a vicious circle for your competitors.
- a “vicious circle in a good way”
Reason 5: The first-mover advantage
Here’s a final reason why you should be taking action now to improve your conversion rate: If your competitors aren’t doing it already, they will be soon. And there’s an enormous advantage to being in the lead rather than lagging behind. Once you’re ahead, you gain money; if you’re always playing catch-up, you’re losing money.
Does your business depend on free traffic or SEO?
If so, here’s a special note for you:
If your web business depends on free traffic from Google or other search engines, here are the benefits you’ll get from improving your conversion rate:
- The obvious benefit: You can generate more money out of thin air from your existing rankings.
- Your customers will like you more, so there’s a better chance they’ll stay with you for longer.
- Your increased conversion rate will mean you can profitably advertise in different media—such as PPC, affiliate marketing, or offline—which means your business will be much more stable. You’ll no longer be hooked on free traffic and no longer at the whim of a Google algorithm change.
- If you do it right, increasing your conversion rate will make your website more appealing to visitors, so other sites are more likely to link to it.
What you should do now
5 reasons to get obsessed with conversion rate optimization
Here’s a big problem with web design: If you want to make your website better at turning visitors into customers (or subscribers), you need to understand why most of your visitors are leaving!
However, visitors who leave your site come and go without a trace, so how do you know what they wanted? How do you know what would have persuaded them to take action?
If you owned a real-life bricks-and-mortar store, this would be easy: You’d hear their objections. You’d be able to ask questions. You’d hear what they muttered as they headed for the door.
Capturing the voice of the customer is more difficult with the web, but it can be done. Here are 14 tools to get you started!
Track where your visitors came from, and which links they clicked on, using Google Analytics
Web analytics software is essential for understanding your visitors. It tells you detailed statistics about the visitors to your website—where they came from, and which links they clicked on once they arrived.
Despite being free, Google Analytics is surprisingly sophisticated, and it is sufficient for most websites.
- If you want to become better at web analytics, we recommend you read Occam’s Razor, Avinash Kaushik’s blog, and his book, Web Analytics—An Hour A Day.
Easy-to-interpret “heatmaps” from Crazy Egg show exactly where visitors clicked—even if it wasn’t on a link
Google Analytics will tell you what links your visitors click on, but Crazy Egg shows you which parts of your pages your visitors click on. There’s a subtle difference: Crazy Egg shows you clicks even if they weren’t on a link. This information is displayed as a “heatmap,” like this:
This approach offers several advantages:
- Crazy Egg will even show things that are not clickable. You’ll discover that visitors are clicking on parts of the page that aren’t links but perhaps should be. For example, if you discover visitors are clicking on a product photo, you may choose to allow the picture to be magnified, or you may decide readers want to read more information about it. Similarly, they may wrongly believe that a particular graphic is navigation.
- This approach will also reveal, at a glance, which parts of the page are getting the most attention. This can be particularly useful when you’re showing the data to people who aren’t experienced in web analytics.
- If several of the links on your page lead to the same URL—for example, if there are three links to a particular product page—Crazy Egg will show you which of the links your visitors clicked on. This is possible with analytics, but requires some set-up.
- Ever wondered how far visitors scroll down your pages? Crazy Egg can show you with an easy-to-interpret heatmap. On really long pages, it can also be useful to see which parts of the page get the most attention (based on the average viewing time). This can be great for identifying which parts of your page are most important to your visitors.
Our recommendation: Install Crazy Egg on your most important pages (in terms of revenue and traffic) and on any pages you feel may have usability issues.
Use “in-page web analytics” from ClickTale to show videos of visitors’ screens. ClickTale is the perfect complement to Google Analytics
ClickTale refers to itself as being “in-page web analytics” (as opposed to other analytics software, which is largely concerned with movement between pages). ClickTale is similar to Crazy Egg but in addition measures keystrokes and movement of the mouse. It has several useful functions:
- Want to watch movies of your visitors’ screens as they use your website? ClickTale allows you to do that too. You can view each visitor’s browsing session as a Flash video. (There is a limit to how many videos can be stored.) It may sound impossible, and ever-so-slightly creepy, but it’s true. It’s as if you were looking over their shoulders. You can even see their cursor and their keystrokes.You can choose which video to watch, based on attributes such as visitors’ country of origin, how much time they spend on the site, or the number of pages they visited. You may choose to watch videos of visitors who appear to be struggling—for example, those who visit the same page several times.
- Study how people are interacting with your forms. ClickTale has five reports that allow you to see how visitors are interacting with your forms. For example, the Drop Report shows you the percentage of visitors that dropped out at each field while filling in a form; knowing this information will allow you to fix the form fields that are losing you customers.
- Get a feel for how people use websites. ClickTale is not a substitute for carrying out usability tests, discussed farther down this page. However, watching a few videos will give you a better idea of how people interact with websites. You can watch the videos at high speed too (up to ten times normal speed).
Some companies are unable to use the standard version of ClickTale. This includes financial companies, which are regulated as to how their data must be stored. ClickTale offers an enterprise version for such cases. A service called TeaLeaf is another popular alternative.
Use Olark to let your visitors tell you what’s missing from the page!
Live chat can allow you to hear from visitors who wouldn’t call you. They might prefer live chat because
- They don’t have access to a phone.
- They are in a public place (or at work) and don’t want to be heard.
- Live chat doesn’t cost money.
- They don’t want to be stuck at the end of a phone waiting for someone to answer.
The most important reason they may not call you is
- A phone call can be more of a commitment than a live chat.
What you can learn from live chat
- Which pages are giving people problems.
- Which products people are asking questions about.
- What their main questions, concerns, and objections are.
- Which of your answers, reassurances, and counter-objections persuade visitors to take further action.
If your customer service staff is providing your live chat, you may choose to read through the transcripts of the chats regularly to find insights you can apply to your website.
An added bonus!: Using live chat may actually increase your conversion rate, because you (or one of your customer service staff) can personally help the customers to take action.
(What’s the story) SurveyMonkey
Your customers know the answers to a surprising number of your marketing questions. Why not ask them?
SurveyMonkey provides an easy way of sending out surveys, then collecting and interpreting the results.
Here are a few good questions to ask your customers.
Start with this (answers should be on a scale from 0 to 10):
- How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?
This is often referred to as the “Net Promoter” question. It can be deceptively useful. See this page for the theory behind it, and details of how to analyze the data from it.
A similar question is
- In the past six months, have you criticized or spoken highly of [YourCompanyName] to a friend, colleague, or family member? If so, please give details.
This is a great way to jog the customer’s memory and to elicit specific criticism or specific praise. In the latter case, you might get a testimonial.
- If you could have us create something just for you, what would it be?
Your customers can be a great source of ideas for new products, and this question is a great way of collecting those ideas. More straightforward—but less thought-provoking—wording would be this:
- What other products or services should we offer?
If you don’t know how you differ from your competitors, there’s a good chance your customers can tell you! This simple question can be really useful:
- How would you describe us to a friend?
This reveals why your customers like you. Similarly, you could ask a question along the lines of the following:
- Which other options did you consider before choosing our product or service?
- Why did you decide to use us?
It’s particularly important to ask the above two questions before you undertake any re-branding exercise, so you understand what your existing positioning is.
- Do you use us for all your [ProductType] or do you also use alternative companies?
- If so, why?
You may choose to ask some questions to a small fraction of your customers. This particularly applies to the following question, which could encourage your customers to shop around:
- Why do you use [YourCompanyName or YourProductName] rather than the alternatives?
If you want your customers to use you more often, you could do worse than to ask them this:
- What would persuade you to use us more often?
Can you see how this can save you a lot of trial and error?
If your customers are likely to know other potential customers, these questions can be useful:
- How could we persuade your friends or colleagues to use us?
- If you were in charge of our company, how would you persuade people like yourself to use us?
Your customers may also have strong views about where you should be advertising, so you might want to ask this:
- If you were in charge of our company, how would you spread the word about us?
Asking questions to your non-customers
One of the hardest tasks in web marketing is to capture the views of visitors who have no interest in what you’re currently offering. In this situation, you may choose to drive some of that traffic to a survey page, and then offer an incentive—maybe a free report—for completing the survey. By asking open-ended questions to these visitors, you can learn what they were searching for, and what you’d need to do to provide it.
Other things you need to know about your customers
You need to know which of your products your customers like most, and why.
Note: The products that are most-liked aren’t necessarily the ones that you sell most of. Just because a restaurant might sell a lot of lasagna doesn’t mean their lasagna is well-liked. In fact, it might be deterring customers from ever coming back.
By knowing which of your products is most-liked, you can
- Design the most effective sales funnel, so your most-liked products aren’t hidden away.
- Improve your existing products, to make purchasers more likely to buy from you again.
Note that your survey can constantly be changing, which will allow you to keep getting deeper insights into your visitors and customers. One survey may reveal insights that you decide to pursue with questions in subsequent surveys.
Use iPerceptions to ask your visitors why they visited you, and whether their visit was successful
Web analytics expert Avinash Kaushik suggests that you survey your visitors as they leave your website. Here are the incredibly useful questions he proposes you ask:
Question 1: Based on today’s visit, how would you rate your site experience overall?
Question 2: Which of the following best describes the primary purpose of your visit?
Question 3: Were you able to complete the purpose of your visit today?
If they answer yes to Question 3, ask this:
Question 4: What do you value most about the [Company] website?
If they answer no to Question 3, ask this:
Question 5: Would you please tell us why you were not able to complete the purpose of your visit today?
iPerceptions teamed up with Avinash to offer a ready-made way of implementing this survey on your website. Visit iperceptions.com to start using it today.
Qualaroo is a fantastic on-page survey tool
Here are some of its features:
- Choose what type of response you want; you can have radio buttons, multiple-answer checkboxes, or open text fields.
- Choose the people who will participate in the survey. For example, you can arrange to “Show the survey only to returning visitors who have been viewing the page for more than 50 seconds.”
- Ask several questions in one go.
- Receive email notifications of responses.
- Once the code has been added to your website, you can create and launch surveys entirely from within the Qualaroo control panel, so you won’t require any further support from your web developers.
However, its best features are that it’s intelligently designed, and it’s easy to use. It just works.
You can sign up for it here.
Get a big dose of reality by watching your users in action. Find out more in Steve Krug’s book
A usability test simply involves observing someone using your website and noting any issues that arise. It’s not rocket science—in fact, it sounds a bit mundane—but it’s perhaps the most useful technique on this list.
You can carry out usability tests in several ways, but most involve giving participants a task to carry out, asking them to speak their thoughts aloud, and then recording the results, somehow, for later analysis.
To get started, visit Steve Krug’s website, and download this excellent script. Steve Krug is the author of a great book called Don’t Make Me Think—A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. We highly recommend it. Steve’s script was designed for lab usability tests, so you can ignore the references to microphones and screen recordings.
We recommend you find the nearest public place with Wi-Fi (Starbucks is a good choice!), and start getting people to look at your website. Simply take notes with pen and paper, and you’ll soon have a huge list of ideas for improving your webpages. You’ll be amazed at the number of insights you can get from carrying out just three tests.
So, bookmark this page, grab your laptop, and do some usability tests now!
Tip: You tend to learn more from non-web-savvy visitors than you do from techie ones. Techies tend to be better at coping with pages that contain errors, whereas other users are more easily derailed.
Tips when talking to your visitors
- During the interview, encourage criticism.
- Present yourself as being independent. The interviewee needs to know that you won’t take the criticism personally.
- You can elicit more criticism if you introduce the interview by saying, “We feel that our website needs to be improved. Would you agree?” or “We’ve just started working with a new web-design company. What do you think of this?”
Who should carry out the usability tests?
Many of our clients choose to do the interviewing themselves (we normally recommend that the copywriter get involved somehow). If you want to outsource that too, you can. We recommend doing the first few yourself. Trust us; you’ll learn a lot.
Using pop-up surveys with Ethnio allows you to recruit participants for your usability tests
Once you have fixed the more obvious problems with your website, it’s time to carry out some usability tests on qualified prospects—that is, people who actually visit your website.
You could do this by asking existing customers to carry out usability tests, and that’s often a good idea. However, your customers have already used your website, and, by definition, they managed to overcome its shortcomings. Asking your customers whether they like you can be the same as asking your spouse if he or she loves you. Of course—by definition!
Ideally you want to interview your visitors who aren’t customers yet. That’s where Ethnio comes to the rescue.
Ethnio provides an easy way of adding a pop-up survey to your website. The survey asks your visitors if they’d like to participate in a usability test. You can customize the survey, so you can ask them details about themselves, such as why they visited your site and whether this is their first visit. You’ll probably have to offer them a small cash incentive for participating in your tests. People’s willingness to participate depends on which type of market you’re in; visitors to some types of website, such as financial services, tend to be particularly reluctant to start a conversation. In other markets, visitors love to get involved.
Once visitors have completed the survey, their details appear in a table in Ethnio’s interface. Based on their answers, you can decide whether you’d like to carry out a usability test with them. That’s all that Ethnio does; once you have the visitors’ details, you can interview them however you like—by phone (with screen-sharing software such as GoToMeeting or join.me), or in person.
Bear in mind that the people who want to be interviewed don’t necessarily represent your average visitor—in particular, they may be more time-rich and cash-poor than your average visitor. However, they are still much more qualified than most people.
- Ethnio provides a great sample script to use when interviewing visitors.
- We use GoToMeeting or join.me for screen sharing.
- FreeConference.com is good for making phone calls, as it allows you to download an MP3 of the call afterwards. You can therefore keep a record of your visitors’ comments and get them transcribed.
- You’ll probably need to offer an incentive to get people involved. We like to reward people with gift cards from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, because they are quick to send, and because visitors instantly recognize them as being valuable—they’re not some sneaky voucher that’s full of weasel clauses and restrictions.
Use your ears and mouth (and go outside). If you can’t sell it face to face, how can you expect to sell it online?
Strictly speaking, using your ears and mouth isn’t a tool—it’s something you do. No one has packaged up this activity into a neat little subscription service, which is perhaps why so few people do it. To elevate its status, we have given this activity its own logo and have included it in this list, where it belongs.
If you’re like us, you spend too many hours indoors in front of your computer. To really understand your website’s visitors, however, you need to seek out opportunities to meet them. That means going outside.
Does your website sell diet plans? Then go to your local gym and talk to people. Get to know them, listen to their opinions, show them your website, and ask them all the things you can’t ask your website’s visitors.
Alternatively, spend a few hours interviewing your company’s customer support staff—or anyone who regularly sells to your customers. These people spend all day speaking with your website’s visitors and understand them better than anyone.
You’d be surprised how much effort we go to in order to speak with real customers. Someday we’ll write about it. Not now though, because we need to tell you about more good stuff.
Use Kampyle to allow your visitors to easily give feedback on your webpages
Kampyle allows your visitors to give feedback on your site, via a little button that sits at the edge of each webpage. (Ours is that green “Feedback” button that follows you down the right-hand side of this page.) The button leads to a pop-up survey, which allows visitors to give their feedback.
The website’s owner can then sign into Kampyle’s website to see an interface for managing all the feedback that has been received. (It feels a bit like an email client, with an inbox and folders.) If visitors leave their email address, the website’s owner can easily inform them when the owner has responded to the feedback.
One of our clients achieved a double-digit improvement in its conversion rate as a result of an insight obtained through Kampyle.
Would you like to know what your visitors want? They’re typing it into your website’s search tool!
Here’s Google’s guide to setting up Google Site Search:
Not only does this help your visitors find the page they’re looking for, but it also provides you with a wealth of information about how to improve your website.
Are visitors searching for content that doesn’t exist? If so, consider adding it to your website.
Are they searching for content that does exist? If so, do the following:
- Check whether the search would have revealed the most relevant page.
- Consider whether the content they were looking for should be added to—or made more prominent on—the page from which they launched their search.
Here are some great resources for internal search:
- A guide to internal site search analytics.
- How to integrate Google Search with Google Analytics.
- If you’re using WordPress, here’s a great article about how to enhance its search function.
Use search engines to track what people are saying about you
Several search engines track buzz in real time, and you can discover what people are saying about your website on blogs, forums, and social media networks. These search engines are a useful addition to Google Alerts—or the even-better alternative, Talkwalker Alerts—which you should also be using. These days, we tend to use Twitter Search and Topsy a lot.
As you are reading through the results, make a list of what people are saying. What do they like about your website? What don’t they like about it?
Then consider how you can fix any problems. And use split-testing software (discussed next) to test the new version against your current design.
When we re-designed our own website, we used this technique to make a list of people who had commented on our old website. We then personally asked them for feedback when testing our new design.
Use Google Analytics Content Experiments (formerly known as Google Website Optimizer) to test different versions of your webpages to see which is the best
Now that you understand your visitors better, you’ll have lots of ideas about what to change on your website.
But hold your horses! Don’t just make those changes and hope for the best. You need to test your ideas!
Instead of guessing what content your visitors like best, test everything using Google Analytics Content Experiments (GACE), a free tool for carrying out split tests (in particular, A/B split tests and multivariate tests).
Specifically, Google Analytics Content Experiments allows you to
- Create many different variations of a webpage.
- Measure which is best at getting your visitors to
- Spend money.
- Sign up to your newsletter.
- Or whatever it is you want them to do.
You can then promote the winning page to become your official new version.
Get started with Google Analytics Content Experiments here. Or compare the alternatives here.
Although Google Analytics Content Experiments gives you an amazing ability to test what variation works best, you’ll quickly discover that by far the hardest part of this process is knowing what to test—which is why we wrote this page. You might also be interested in another report we wrote—Split-testing 101—which contains a lot more information about split-testing.
What you should do now
14 tools that reveal why potential customers abandon your website
Done that? Great!
Here are some other fantastic marketing resources for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
To keep the integrity of this list, we recommend only things that we understand well and that we recommend to our clients. So this is not one of those cynically compiled lists, where the author just does a Google search and then publishes the results.
(By the way, we don’t profit from any of these recommendations.)
Ten “must-have” (in our opinion) books for web marketing
Don’t Make Me Thinkby Steve Krug
Perhaps you already own this book (if you don’t, buy it now!). We are amazed, though, how many people own it, read it, love it, and then don’t do what it says!
The most important thing about this book is making sure that you carry out usability tests. In fact, rather than wait for the book to arrive, go and ask the people next door to test out your website—now! Watch them make mistakes, watch them get lost, and hear them tell you all the things that Google Analytics never could.
The Dip by Seth Godin
“Being the best in the world is seriously underrated” is the first sentence of this book. It’s perhaps the most convincing argument we’ve seen for why a company (or a person) must position itself (or him/herself).
And it’s only 80-ish pages long.
Web Analytics—An Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik
Avinash is one of the world’s leading web analytics gurus. We met him at Google’s headquarters, where he spends a lot of time working with the Google Analytics team.
Analytics can be a dry subject, and Avinash is great at focusing on how to use it as a practical tool for optimizing a business. His approach is based on his experience running a company’s analytics department, so he focuses on practical, profitable activities, not just getting lost in data and theory. This book contains a lot of good advice. Pages 237–262 cover testing.
Avinash also has a great blog to help you keep up to date.
Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
Claude was part salesman, part scientist. He spent most of his life measuring what works in advertising, and what doesn’t. It’s almost unbelievable that this book was written in 1923. It’s still one of the best books on advertising. Claude was born 85 years too early; he’d have loved the internet.
Landing page optimization and conversion rate optimization (CRO)
Conversion Reports by Conversion Rate Experts
These reports (which you can get for free here) reveal exactly how we more-than-doubled the sales of several of our clients. The reports are free of charge and contain over a hundred techniques that you can (and should) use to grow your own company.
Web Design for ROI by Lance Loveday and Sandra Niehaus
This web design book understands that websites are about doing business, not about pretty graphics and code. We also like their free PDF, Web Site Strategy.
Our own views on web design, which are fairly controversial, are outlined in this article.
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
Inc magazine called Michael Gerber “the world’s #1 small business guru.” The big idea is that the business owner should go from being what Gerber calls a “technician” (that is, a do-er) to being an entrepreneur.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker
This book can be hard work (especially the first chapter), but it’s a great guide to many aspects of entrepreneurship, particularly the “Entrepreneurial Strategies” and the “Seven Sources for Innovative Opportunity.”
Search engine optimization
SEO Book by Aaron Wall
Aaron’s guide to SEO is honest, outspoken, and thorough. It’s no longer available in book format; instead, it has been turned into a training program, payable by monthly subscription. We think it’s a great value. Aaron also posts excellent content on his blog.
Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords by Perry Marshall
Perry takes a direct response marketer’s approach to AdWords. This book is packed with “I’d-never-have-thought-of-that” tricks and techniques.
What you should do now
The best (in our opinion) online marketing resources
At last, we have a blog! And to celebrate we’re giving you loads of valuable stuff…
1. Updated today: Our free report on improving your conversion rate
In 2006, we wrote a quick-start guide for split-testing. It immediately became Alexa’s 3rd-highest Mover and Shaker of the week, and prompted Google’s Tom Leung to invite us to partner with them.
Today we’re releasing an updated version. It contains some extra tools, a few more tips and loads of minor modifications to reflect our current thinking on how to maximize your website’s profits. You can get it here.
2. Must-have books (in our opinion) for web marketing
We fanatically consume information about business growth and conversion rate improvement. Today we’re publishing our list of 10 “must-have” books (in our opinion) for web marketing.
3. Have a play with this tool, which allows you to “mind read” your visitors’ thoughts
Here’s a big problem with conversion rate optimization: To increase your website’s conversion rate, you need to find a way of persuading people who aren’t currently converting.
But those people arrive and leave without trace! How do you know what they wanted? How do you know what would have persuaded them to take action?
If you owned a real-life bricks-and-mortar store, this would be easy. You’d hear their objections. You’d be able to ask questions. You’d hear what they muttered as they headed for the door.
Capturing the voice-of-the-customer is more difficult with the web, but it can be done. One tool we use is called Kampyle. Kampyle lets you “mind read” your visitors’ thoughts (albeit in the most un-spectacular way possible: you allow them to give feedback via a form).
Perhaps the best way to understand how Kampyle works is to try it out. Once you have had a look around our site, click the button that says “feedback,” which hovers on the right-hand-side of this page (or click here). The Kampyle survey will then appear.
What you won’t see (unless you sign up for Kampyle) is that the website owner can then sign in to Kampyle’s website to see an interface for managing all of the feedback that has been received. (It feels a bit like an email client, having an inbox and folders.) If the visitor leaves their email address, you can easily inform them when you have responded to their feedback.
4. Be first to hear about new tools and techniques
What you should do now
Introducing the Conversion Rate Experts blog
Includes a list of 108 ways to increase your website’s profits
Here’s how to get lots more customers—free—using split-testing software.
Using split-testing software is a powerful way to increase your website’s conversion rate (that is, its ability to turn visitors into customers). Many of the web’s most powerful companies, including Amazon and Google, use this technique. Here’s our essential guide to increasing your conversion rate using split-testing software. It contains 108 simple techniques for growing your business.
First, what does split-testing software do?
If you had two possible headlines for your webpage but couldn’t decide which one to use, you could run an A/B split-test in which
- Half of your visitors would see Headline A, and
- The other half would see Headline B.
You could then tally the orders for each headline and determine which headline brought you the most.
The split-testing software lets you carry out tests like this, although such tests often take several weeks to finish.
Multivariate testing, however, allows you to carry out many such tests concurrently!
For example, while you are testing which headline to use, you can also test many other page elements (such as text, images, prices, offers, and buttons)—all at once. Each of your visitors will see a different combination of these elements, and then the multivariate-testing software will work out, on average, which of the elements performed the best. This information will help you put together a high-converting “super-page.”
For example, if we were to use multivariate-testing software on the following page, we could test the following:
And we would be testing these variables all at the same time! Not only that, but the multivariate-testing software would tell us which version of each page element, on average, brought in the most customers!
Powerful, isn’t it?
A little later, you’ll find a link that allows you to compare software platforms.
If you read this entire article…
…you’ll know more about conversion rate optimization (CRO) than 99% of web marketers!
And you’ll see several pictures of squirrels … for reasons that will never really become apparent!
Here’s a squirrel now.
When we say “conversion rate,” we mean the percentage of your visitors who end up reaching a given goal. Maybe this badly drawn picture will help:
Typical goals include making a purchase, submitting an inquiry form, and signing up for a free newsletter. (Speaking of newsletters, make sure to sign up for our newsletter. It’s as useful as this article.)
Why you need to increase your conversion rate
You need to make conversion rates your number-one priority for these three reasons:
1. There’s lots of room for improvement. Most websites are losing buckets of money every day because they do an atrocious job of selling products or services to their visitors.
2. Paid search will keep getting more competitive. And increasing your bids is not the answer.
3. Split-testing software is now highly affordable. Split-testing software allows you to test changes to your website—and tells you which changes brought in the most customers.
Unfortunately, though, split-testing software doesn’t tell you what to test. That’s where our expertise comes into play. And this whole website gives you a taste of what we can do.
Some exciting benefits of increasing your conversion rate
If you double your website’s conversion rate, you will halve your “cost-per-acquisition” (CPA). This tool shows you how much extra you’ll earn. (By the way, CPA means how much it costs to get each new customer.)
When your conversion rate does increase, however, we recommend you don’t just sit back and enjoy the profits (tempting as it might be to do so). Instead, we recommend you take advantage of the fact you can now afford to pay twice as much per visitor. This means
1. You can pay about twice as much per click on AdWords, which can bring you a disproportionate number of additional visitors.
2. You can start advertising in media that had previously been too expensive for you, such as
- Full-page magazine ads
- Newspaper ads
- Direct mail
- Radio ads
- TV infomercials
3. Your affiliates can earn twice as much as before, and this will cause the large affiliates to leave your competitors and join you.
4. As the number of orders skyrockets, your company gets greater bargaining power with its suppliers, so its cost-per-unit-sold tends to fall—so the company becomes more efficient because of economies of scale. This means the boost to your net profit is deceptively high.
In summary, if you increase your conversion rate, your business will grow much more than you might expect!
Why many companies can double their conversion rate
What’s your current conversion rate? 5%? 10%? Don’t know? A 10% conversion rate means that of every 10 visitors to your site, nine walk away empty-handed. Do you really believe you couldn’t lower that number to eight out of 10?
Look at it another way: To double your conversion rate, you just need to increase the conversion rate of your
- Ads by 19%
- Homepage by 19%
- Product page by 19%
- Shopping cart by 19%
(Note that the figure is 19%, not 25%, because each improvement compounds upon the previous one.)
These increases may sound daunting, but to increase your homepage’s conversion rate by 25%, for example, you would have to make just a 2.27% improvement to ten aspects of your website. For example:
- Your company’s tagline
- Your headline
- Your introductory text
- Your offer
- Your guarantee
- Your picture
- Your readability
- Your usability
- Your navigation
- Your products
- Your pricing
- Your offers
- Your premium (covered in Tip 45)
- Your testimonials
- Your call-to-action
- Your site layout
- Your return policy
- And the list goes on…
Does a 25% increase sound more achievable now?
In summary, once you’ve finished reading this article, you need to clear your desk and start working on increasing your site’s conversion rate—and hope your competitors aren’t reading this too.
Will these techniques work for YOUR website?
We have applied these techniques to almost all kinds of websites, such as
- Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) websites.
- Websites in diverse industries, including finance, health, travel, technology, leisure, and food.
- Websites of all sizes, from start-up to enterprise level.
- Websites that sell physical goods, services, and information.
- Websites for merchants, affiliates, publishers, and e-commerce stores.
Here we go! These are some of the techniques we’d use if we were working on your site.
A word of warning: Don’t be daunted by this list! If you did everything on it, you’d probably be the best marketer in the world! In reality, doing just one of these 108 things could be enough to double your conversion rate. The most important thing is to do something—now!
So, let’s get started!
First, you’ll need to choose the kind of split-testing to do:
1. Time split-tests (also known as “before-and-after tests”)—These stink. We put them in the list only so we could mention how bad they are. If your orders go up and down week by week (and whose don’t?), time split-tests tend to lead to wrong decisions.
2. A/B split-tests—Many times, a simple A/B split-test is all that’s needed.
3. Multivariate testing—Which multivariate software should you use? The following platforms tend to be popular with our clients: Visual Website Optimizer, Optimizely, Adobe Test&Target, Sitespect, and Google Analytics Content Experiments (which is free). If you’d like much more detail, see our comparison table of split-testing software.
Split-testing software becomes much more powerful when you use it alongside other tools. Here are the other tools and techniques you’ll need in your marketing arsenal:
4. Google AdWords—AdWords is valuable as a targeted source of traffic, but it can also be used to run split-tests by creating two identical ads with different destination URLs. However, for several reasons, it’s difficult to create an accurate scientific test using AdWords, so we don’t recommend using AdWords to carry out split-tests.
5. Live Chat—Few tools tell you anything about your “non-customers”—that is, the visitors who arrived at your site but then left for whatever reason. You rarely get feedback from these people. They are unlikely to call you, but you might just persuade them to use a Live Chat feature.
6. Web analytics—At the most basic level, the “Site Overlay” feature tells you where visitors to your site click, where they don’t click, and where they are when they leave your site. We’ve heard web analysts say, “There are piles of gold waiting for you in your log files,” and they are right—in a vague, over-poetic kind of way. It turns out that you can learn a lot from your web analytics package.
7. Usability testing—You can carry out this testing on pretty much anyone you can get your hands on. These tests are gold dust—literally.
If we could have just one testing tool, it would be usability testing. Web analytics tell you what visitors are doing, but usability testing tells you why. No other tool provides so many head-slapping, “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that” moments.
9. Eyetracking—This tool shows you which things visitors to your site see but don’t click on. And it tells you which things they don’t click on because they don’t see them. Got that? Most eyetracking is carried out using custom hardware, so you need to get a company to do it for you.
10. “Poor-man’s eyetracking”—About five seconds into each usability test, ask testers what they have looked at so far. They usually find it easy to tell you.
11. Clickmapping—A clickmap is an image of a page that’s annotated with information about where visitors clicked. Here are two good options:
- Crazy Egg is a service that allows you to see the parts of your page that your visitors click on, and how far they scroll down your pages.
- ClickTale is similar to Crazy Egg but allows you to view Flash movies of your visitors’ browsing sessions. You can see how far visitors scroll down your pages, view how they interact with your forms, and learn about many other aspects of their visit.
12. Customer surveys—Your customers know why they ordered. And why they nearly didn’t. Ask them about it. Many survey services are available. SurveyMonkey is very widely used.
13. Co-opetition—Short for “cooperative competition,” this is a technique by which you sell your competitors’ products from your website (usually via an affiliate program). Co-opetition can teach you a lot about your competitors’ conversion rates. And if your visitors prefer your competitors’ products, this is an easy way to find out!
Here are some tips for getting into the right mindset:
14. Stop having debates with your colleagues about who likes what. If in doubt, test. Your mantra should be “Let the customers decide.”
15. Start to think of your business as a constantly shifting experiment. By continually carrying out tests, you will learn which factors increase your profits and which don’t.
16. Learn your other new mantra. When your colleagues object to the changes you’re making, remind them that this is just an exploratory experiment to “learn what happens,” not a long-term decision. Let this become your mantra: “It’s just an experiment; it’s just an experiment.”
17. Copy what works for others (within limits). In particular, copy companies that appear to be tracking and testing. You can spot them because they are using the techniques in this list.
18. Copy the techniques that marketers, who have been testing for decades, have developed; that is, copy direct-response advertisers. The internet may be new, but your visitors aren’t. For about 100 years, direct-response advertisers have been running split-tests to find out what works. It’s easy to spot their ads in magazines, newspapers, and direct mail—they have tracking codes and coupons in the bottom corner. And the ads often look a bit cluttered.
19. Place bets with your colleagues about which test sample will win. You’ll be amazed at how often you are wrong. Only the top few percent of marketers appreciate that it’s impossible to always spot the winner. Race to become one of them.
20. Make sure you have great people working on this project. This is the most important job in your company. You have three options:
Do it in-house, with your best staff.
Get experts in, and do it in-house.
Outsource it to an expert who has a vested interest in making it a big success.
21. Locate (or become) your company’s best salesperson. Your website is your electronic salesperson. It has the advantage of being able to sell to thousands of customers at the same time. However, only person-to-person selling will teach you the reactions of prospects to certain types of arguments and approaches. It is by far the quickest and most effective way of finding out what appeals to your prospects and what doesn’t. The words on your website need to have been tested on real people. No amount of online testing will give you this gut feel. So, you have a choice: Either become your company’s best salesperson, or seek out the best salesperson and listen to how that person sells the product.
22. Don’t test the small stuff. Test big, bold changes. This has two advantages:
- You’ll get the results quicker (it’s a statistics thing).
- You’re more likely to achieve improvements.
23. Test changes in two stages:
Fix all the “broken” things (which you’ll discover during your usability testing). This is worth doing first, because it’s the easiest way to make quick improvements.
Test new ideas that could significantly grow your business. Do this next.
24. Don’t worry about temporarily lowering your conversion rate. If a test is a failure, you get one bad day of business. If a test is a success, you get a lifetime of success.
25. Don’t end the test too soon! Make sure you have enough data! Some marketers say you need to test for two weeks. Some say you need to collect at least 30 orders. Some use gut feel. They are all wrong. The only correct answer is to use the right statistical tool:
- For split-tests of AdWords ads, use this tool.
- For split-tests using multivariate testing software, use the software’s built-in statistical significance calculator.
The tools we just mentioned tell you whether your results are significant—or whether you don’t have enough data yet and your results are due just to chance.
26. The best place to start is to identify the weak links in your marketing funnel. Sketch out a brief overview of your marketing funnel, from advertising all the way through to closing the sale. This will include the following:
- Your advertising
- Your sales force
- Your homepage
- Your product pages
- Your checkout pages
- Your “Order Confirmation” page
- Your call center staff
- How the package is sent out
27. Test stuff that your usability testers told you to change. (You ARE going to do usability testing, aren’t you? Promise us!)
Getting your message straight before you start
28. What’s your company’s positioning? In other words, what makes you different from or better than all your competitors? Have you ever tested your positioning against possible alternatives? Draw up a short list to test—and then your visitors can let you know which positioning is most important to them!
29. Rank the top five points you want to communicate to your visitors. You want to make sure that, whatever else your visitors learn from your site, they definitely learn these top five pieces of information.
30. Consider all the different types of visitors who might view your site and then try to write for all of them. You might find it easier to use customer archetypes (sometimes called “personas” or “avatars”) for this. A “customer archetype” is a single person who is used to represent a certain segment of visitors. Some tips:
- You may choose to use real people as your archetypes (for example, a customer that you know well and that is characteristic of a certain segment of visitors).
- Or you may choose to create fictional characters who embody the characteristics of a certain segment of visitors. Warning: If you choose to use fictional characters, be sure to base them on an understanding of your real visitors. Don’t sit in an ivory tower dreaming up people who don’t exist.
31. For each page, make sure you know what all the “visitor intentions” are. For example, some visitors might be looking to make a purchase, some might be looking for customer support, and others might be trying to apply for a job with you.
Instead of just guessing their intentions, survey them to find out for sure. The 4Q tool is a free, easy-to-implement tool for getting started. Some of our clients choose to create their own exit surveys.
32. Test everything! Seriously. Test everything. That’s it. We’ve finished. We’re going home now.
What’s that? You want more details? OK, then…
33. Identify which products bring you the most overall profit, and then put them in a prime location on the page. We mean, above the fold (that is, on the upper part of the page so users don’t have to scroll down to see it), preferably on the left-hand side.
34. Headlines are extremely important. If your visitors don’t like the headline, they won’t read any further. A simple yet effective approach is to express your main message in a headline that
Is worded in terms of benefit to the customer, not in terms of product features.
Suggests that the customer will get the results with ease.
Is believable (meaning, it contains some kind of proof).
35. What you say is more important than how you say it. You’ll achieve the biggest improvements by changing the core message of your headline, rather than just tweaking the wording.
36. If you don’t know how to describe your product’s features in terms of benefits, carry out this exercise: Imagine customers are looking at your headline and asking, “Why should I care about that?” You would likely answer this question by describing a benefit.
37. Struggling to come up with a good headline? Adapt headlines from publications such as Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, and MSN.com, which use formulaic headlines that have been proven to work consistently. An MSN headline might be “Seven ADHD truths you may not know.” Replacing “ADHD” with your product name would give an instantly compelling headline. Our newsletter offers you some great resources for writing winning headlines.
Headlines are vital: That’s why we used up four of our 108 tips on them (plus, writing 108 tips is starting to sound like a lot of hard work).
38. Visitors will view the tagline under your logo almost as much as the headline itself. Therefore, make sure it clearly expresses distinct “positioning”; that is, it should describe what you do and how you fit into the marketplace.
39. Test high and low prices, because customers don’t always seek out the lowest prices. There’s such a thing as “reassuringly expensive.”
40. Test odd pricing. “Odd pricing” means prices that end with a seven or a nine. Items with these prices tend to sell better than those with prices that end with a zero. Would you or I be fooled by odd pricing? No, of course not; we’re far too smart! But someone’s falling for it, because this phenomenon has been proven valid repeatedly.
41. Test different offers, such as
- A one-month free trial
- Buy one, get one free
- Pay in installments
- Longer commitment
- Shorter commitment
- Buy now, pay later
- First one free
- Automatic renewal
- We’ll hold your check for 30 days
In general, do whatever you can to get the product into the customer’s hands. If you’re so confident in your product, prove it by taking some of the risk.
42. Divide your product or service into a standard version (for the prospects who are price sensitive) and a premium version (for the ones who aren’t). This also has the psychological advantage of turning the prospect’s decision into an either/or decision rather than a yes/no decision.
43. Even more extreme than creating a standard version and a premium version is to try changing what you sell. For example, are you selling
- The product itself?
- A catalog of products?
- A free report about the product or about the problem?
- An invitation for a salesperson to call?
In general, the larger the purchase, the less effective it will be to attempt to sell it in one step.
44. Many of the visitors who leave without ordering exit the site because you don’t offer the product or service they are looking for. The answer is often to start selling what customers are looking for, or at least become an affiliate for it.
45. Test different premiums—that is, the bonuses customers get if they order. These include free reports, gifts, and accessories.
46. Add a guarantee, or test different ones. Start with the bravest guarantee you dare test, and if it works, test a braver one.
47. Add testimonials from happy customers. In general, a video testimonial is better than a testimonial with an image, which is better than a testimonial with just a name, which is better than an anonymous testimonial.
48. Add testimonials from the media. If you don’t have any currently, try giving media outlets free stuff in exchange for reviews and feedback.
49. Develop a systematic way for collecting testimonials. Train your sales staff to request a testimonial whenever they receive a compliment. Email your customers asking for testimonials.
50. Test different calls-to-action. The “call-to-action” is what you want customers to do next. It is often written on the “Proceed” button. Test direct calls-to-action such as “Buy Now and Get 10% Off” as well as indirect ones such as “Learn More.”
51. Try making the “Call-to-Action” button nice and visible. Large, brightly colored buttons often convert better—they seem to draw the reader’s attention.
52. Test different reasons why visitors should act promptly (e.g., “Offer ends Wednesday” or “Only 42 tickets left”). Please note, we’re definitely not suggesting you lie to your visitors—your conversion rate depends heavily on credibility and trust. However, if you look at your own business, you’ll probably find that you already have real reasons why prospects should reply promptly. If not, you can find ways of rewarding them for doing so.
53. Make the right stuff pop. “Pop” just means “stand out.” You can do this in several ways, such as
- Use bold.
- Use italics.
- Highlight important words.
- Use hand-drawn annotation, which always commands attention. (This is higher risk and depends on the image you want to portray.)
Having a great layout
54. Make sure the things your visitors see first are the things you want them to see. A single-column layout in the style of a long single-column sales letter allows you to control the order in which visitors view your site.
55. Where do website visitors look? Ensure that your most valuable content is placed where visitors actually look, which you can determine using eyetracking.
56. Remove clutter. Imagine that every pixel on your page either increases the conversion rate or decreases it—or just takes up space. If you can get rid of page elements that aren’t working, you create more space for those that are.
57. Ensure that the layout reflects the architecture of your information. Constantly look for ways to tidy up your information into ordered sections. Then ensure that each section uses the principle of progressive disclosure, so users see only the information they need at any given point. You can hide detailed information in many ways, such as in a less prominent font, in tooltips, in overlays, and in subpages.
58. Decide what to feature on your homepage. Write a list of the products or services your visitors are looking for. Chances are, you can divide their intentions into categories and subcategories. Allocate space on the webpage according to the popularity (and value) of these categories.
59. In the same vein, consider creating a list of your top-selling items. These lists are popular, because visitors find it reassuring to buy products that others have bought.
60. Test different navigation structures. For example, reword the headings on your navigation bar so visitors can understand them. Or rearrange the navigation entirely so the sections are organized in a way that is more intuitive to users.
61. If you’re confident your visitors are on the most relevant page for their needs, consider removing the navigation bar (or at least moving it somewhere less prominent). In such cases, navigation bars can be a distraction.
62. If your website has a “cool,” unconventional layout, try a conventional layout. Conventions are conventions for a reason—they make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for.
63. Does your site contain any gratuitous links that you never really considered your visitors might actually click on? Remove any distracting links that lead to places you don’t want visitors to go!
64. Use a nice, large font for your headline.
65. Make the first letter of your body copy a drop cap—that is, a letter that’s much larger than the ones that follow. A drop cap can effectively bridge the gap between the headline and the body copy.
66. Another way to bridge the gap is to have your introductory paragraph be in a slightly more prominent font size than succeeding paragraphs.
67. Test different images. The following kinds tend to increase sales:
- Images of the product.
- Images of the product being used, maybe by someone visitors perceive as a role model.
- Images of the successful outcome of the product.
- Images of happy customers holding the product (that is, a testimonial and product shot all in one).
Attention-grabbing images are great, but only if they help to communicate your sales message (which they rarely do).
68. Test giving your visitors the option to zoom in to see a larger image of the product.
69. Put captions under your images and test them. For some weird reason, people almost always read the captions under images.
70. Call-outs (that is, text pointing to particular parts of the picture) can communicate a lot of information in a small space, and visitors tend to read them.
71. Test violators, which are attention-getting shapes such as starbursts, ovals, and banners.
72. If your page is long and requires scrolling, consider repeating your “Call-to-Action” button several times on the page. Which reminds us: Have you claimed your copy of our valuable newsletter yet?
73. If your page requires scrolling, remove any “false bottoms”—that is, layout elements that imply customers have reached the bottom of the page when they haven’t.
74. Many websites find they get higher conversion rates if their page is set out in the form of a sales letter with a personable one-on-one style of writing. Despite what your feelings might be about such websites, in some markets they often work.
75. Marketers have been debating for a long time about how much copy to include. In general, write as much as it takes to communicate your entire sales message and to overcome all the likely objections. You are aiming to condense as many persuasive arguments and as much relevant information into as little text as possible. Conveying all of this information will usually require more words than most websites currently use.
76. Use straightforward language. No reader is too sophisticated for short, simple sentences.
77. Fill your body copy with benefits, not just product features.
78. Include all the information that customers could possibly require in order to make a purchase. (Note that it doesn’t all need to be on the main product page.)
79. Make sure to address all the common objections that your customers bring up. Compile a chart of objections and counter-objections, and then rank them in order of importance.
80. Test different font sizes to make your text more readable.
81. Test different font shades. For body copy, black on white is usually a safe bet.
82. Near the end of the body copy, consider having a series of bullet points (or better still, check marks) that summarize the major benefits.
83. Rewrite your article for visitors who skim as they read. Disperse subheads (such as our “Body copy,” above) throughout, and use bold to ensure the right things pop.
84. Consider putting the start of your order form on the product page itself.
85. Adding audio can be a very effective method of selling your products and services. Xiosoft Audio is an easy way to put audio onto your website.
86. Video can be effective too. Perhaps the easiest approach is to embed YouTube videos.
Services like LiveActor and MyWebPresenters offer on-site spokespeople. You submit a script and then choose one of their actors to read it aloud. They then send you some code to add to your website. This code displays the finished video, which hovers at the bottom of the browser.
You’d be surprised how many potential customers abandon their shopping carts before they reach the checkout. In fact, your web analytics tool will show you exactly how many do.
87. Repeat your offer and main benefits on the first page of your shopping cart or order form. Some customers click on the “Buy Now” button just to see what the price and shipping cost will be, so you don’t want to miss out on this chance to persuade them.
88. Don’t ask for too much information, which can be tiresome and off-putting for customers. Do you really need their fax number before they place an order? Even if it loses you a small fraction of orders (which it will)?
89. The moment that you request information is the right moment to provide timely reassurance as to why you need that info. For example
- Under the email field, say something like, “We hate spam as much as you do.”
- Under the “Order Now” button, remind customers of your guarantee and your return policy.
90. Having thumbnail photos of the products in your cart can increase the likelihood of customers completing their orders (presumably because they feel they can’t abandon the GIFs at your checkout?!).
91. Use Ajax or DHTML to hide the parts of forms that aren’t needed. Both of these technologies allow visitors to open or collapse sections of the page without needing the whole page to reload.
92. Replace long dropdown lists with a text field that has an auto-suggest feature.
93. Show additional ways to order (e.g., by phone or by fax). Some customers prefer to order in a certain way. Sometimes the presence of the phone number itself can increase reassurance, even if customers don’t actually call you.
94. Do you have an “Enter Your Coupon” field on your shopping cart page? Test whether this is turning customers away. (Shoppers often resent ordering when they see that others are getting a better deal.)
A nice bit of borrowed credibility
95. Try adding “reassurance logos” such as
|ControlScan ID Theft Protection (includes criminal background checks on your staff!).|
|VeriSign SSL Certificate (shows your data is encrypted using SSL).|
|Website security company that provides Premium PCI Security Scanning Services to businesses worldwide.|
|Better Business Bureau Online (BBBOnline) reliability program.|
|Better Business Bureau Online (BBBOnline) privacy program.|
|The “Traffic ranking certified by Alexa”.|
|The logo of your shipping carriers (FedEx, UPS, etc).|
|Credit card logos, at the point where they are entered.|
|Your online payment provider logo (PayPal, WorldPay, etc).|
96. Test a different version of your “About Us” page. Show yourselves as real, likable individuals, not just members of a cold, faceless corporation.
97. Make your message consistent. Do whatever you can to ensure your sales message remains the same all the way from ads through to order placement.
98. Immediately after customers have ordered—or agreed to anything—they are in a particularly agreeable mood (seasoned salespeople refer to this phenomenon as the “yes set” or “yes ladder”). Take advantage of your customers’ positive frame of mind by offering them additional products or services.
99. A good “Refer-a-Friend” program placed on the “Order Confirmation” page can be very effective at generating new, high-value customers. (Speaking of friends, would any of YOUR friends benefit from reading this article? Send them a link—they’ll love you for it!)
100. The “Order Confirmation” page is a great place from which to sell other products (this is known as “cross-selling”).
101. Be careful with entry pop-ups and exit pop-ups. These sometimes work well; sometimes, however, they just irritate users.
102. View your website using different browsers and screen resolutions to see how your customers see it. Handy tools for doing this are www.crossbrowsertesting.com, www.browsercam.com, and browsershots.org.
103. Minimize your website’s load times (here’s a nice tool for checking your site).
104. Get your “Site Search” feature working. Google Mini and Google Free Web Search both enable your visitors to search your site using Google. Then use your analytics package to discover what your visitors were searching for. Then, consider adding that content to your webpage—or making it more prominent.
105. Consider making everything clickable. Visitors click on everything—pictures in particular. And if they are clicking on something, it’s because they expect something to happen.
106. If you have advertising on your site, test that. With many advertising programs (such as Google’s AdSense and Chitika), you can split advertising into channels. You can then test the following and measure which variations bring in the most revenue:
- Different sizes of an ad
- Different shapes of an ad
- Different positions of an ad
107. Another way of increasing the revenue per visitor is by increasing the average Lifetime Customer Value (LCV) of visitors who order.
108. Sign up to receive your Conversion Rate Experts newsletter! It takes you by the hand through many of the 108 tips we’ve covered in this article—and lets you peek into our world of conversion rate testing. It’s free, and it will change your life (for the better).
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