Why Your High Conversion Rate Might Backfire (And How to Avoid It)

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The numbers on your graphs are up and to the right.

Conversion rates at or above industry averages.

But…

Revenue’s flat. Stagnating or declining even.

The problem is that those seemingly high conversion rates are a red herring. The sheer quantity of free trials or new leads looks enticing, seducing you with the promise of big numbers getting even bigger.

But in reality, the alluring illusion is sabotaging your results.

Here’s why.

Why Removing Friction isn’t Always a Good Idea

As an inexperienced marketing consultant years ago, I wanted to impress a new client by going above-and-beyond our agreed upon SEO scope; throwing in some badly needed landing page updates to skyrocket AdWords conversions.

It wouldn’t be that difficult. Page content was wordy and jargony. The number of form fields overwhelming.

Not to mention, we could improve the design, run a few quick iterative A/B tests, and start squeezing out more juice in no time.

Basic stuff. Common conversion rate optimization knowledge.

And yet they said no. Polite, but firm.

Why?

This business had a consultative sales process. The consumers were educated, and it was a big-ticket item that wasn’t taken lightly. Their customers researched and needed a thorough education in most cases. And they had to want to purchase. Badly.

Otherwise the sale, even if it went through, wouldn’t be profitable or end well for either party.

In other words, it literally doesn’t matter what color the CTA button would have been in the grand scheme of things. And as a newbie, I lacked that context.

In fact, persisting with some landing page optimization tactics that are so common today, like throwing up an exit intent pop up to artificially boost lead conversion rates, would probably only do more harm than good in the long run – turning off would-be customers to get a few extra conversions fooled by impulse.

We’re taught to remove friction to increase conversions. And that’s true. It does. You can swiftly raise conversions 11% by removing a few form fields. Making it easier to convert, quicker, usually resulting in better numbers.

But in this case, they were right. I was wrong. (First time that’s happened, I swear.)

Because many times when you use misguided tactics to increase conversion rates, you’re effectively lowering the lead quality that’s getting through.

When MORE Conversions LOWER Quality

Software company Moz learned this lesson first hand when analyzing who their most profitable customers were.

They looked at the number of free to paid trial conversions, taking into account how the number of website visits correlated with loyalty metrics like churn.

The findings, recounted by founder Rand Fishkin in this Whiteboard Friday, were surprising.

For example, Moz customers that converted on only the first or second website visit “tend to leave early and often”. The customer loyalty is low, with reportedly “very high churn and low retention”.

Contrast that with their best customers. The ones who’re most loyal, sticking around longer to drive up that Lifetime Value of a Customer. The average is 8 website visits prior to signing up for their free trial.

And even if they visit 14-20 more times, “that loyalty keeps increasing”.

Coincidentally, similar results were just shared in another recent Moz post. This time, Wordstream founder Larry Kim shared several CRO truth bombs to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the best strategies for increasing site conversions.

As you can imagine, the results weren’t what you’d expect.

They analyzed over 100,000 global companies, finding that most typically small results from A/B tests “don’t persist”, typically fizzling out over time for various reasons.

We’ve already seen this evidence.

But the big news was the fact that a “CRO increase in quantity typically lowers quality”.

He went on to share data from a customer that shows as landing page conversions increased, the quality of Marketing Qualified Leads (you know, the peeps who’re most likely gonna give you some loot) declined.

lp-conversion-rate-mql-leadsImage Source

This isn’t an isolated event either.

It happens in other channels where short-term, aggressive tactics used to increase a leading indicator, only upsetting the delicate balance of each system, resulting in sacrificing long-term gains.

Take precipitously declining email results. As subscriber recency sets in, open rates gradually decline.

Who cares, right? As open rates have been notoriously unreliable for almost a decade.

email-blast-average-open-rateImage Source

Well, it turns out, most clients and bosses do – that’s who.

So to overcome, you jack up volume. Even going so far as to resend the same campaigns to people who might have not opened the initial one.

But then, unsubscribes grow. People hate too many emails, with quantity or volume being amongst the primary complaint.

So let’s put it all out there.

Why do we obsess over tactical conversion rates? When the data shows, it can jeopardize the real goal (revenue)?

Here’s one thought, with a few ideas for ways to overcome.

3 Ways to Increase Bottom-Line Results (And Not Just Artificially Boost Conversion Rates).

Most clients and bosses have no idea what data-driven marketers do on a daily basis.

They get in, in theory. But they don’t understand it, in detail.

There’s a ton of nuance behind what drives what. And without a deeper understanding of how it all works, they lack the perspective. If you lack perspective, you gravitate towards surface level, easy to understand evidence.

Like Open Rates. Or Conversion Rates. Without taking into account the context of those numbers.

That’s not a knock. It’s the reality of specialization. That’s why you drop a car off with the mechanic and let them figure out why that funny sound happens each time you start your car.

Sometimes, doing things to increase conversion rates can backfire by ultimately decreasing real sales.

The better question, is how you should increase revenue from conversions without dangerously over-optimizing one thing at the expense of the bigger picture?

1. Value Prop Sucks? So Will Conversions

‘Product’ is one of the key, foundational elements of marketing. Has been for decades.

And that’s because Promotion and Distribution, or the stuff commonly called ‘marketing’ today, is heavily dependent on it.

A poor product makes Promotion incredibly difficult. Like rolling a boulder uphill.

A good product virtually sells itself. Like a boulder gathering momentum on a descent. Journalists jump at the chance to write about it. The rabid public quenches their starvation for this new widget in their life.

The value proposition is the way you communicate the most valuable aspect of your Product to a specific audience. Like a translation in their language to match their worldview.

It’s central to the MarketingExperiments’ conversion sequence heuristic, combining the four critical elements of Appeal, Exclusivity, Credibility and Clarity to explain why someone needs your thing.

conversion-sequenceImage Source

And it’s one of the driving forces behind which offers are the most appealing.

The conversion game changer – the ingredient most responsible for Unicorn status success – isn’t changing button color but having “massively differentiated offers”.

Spend the bulk of your efforts here, focusing on how value prop changes (not page design changes) influence conversions, to get a more meaningful increase in sales.

2. (Sometimes) More Friction is Better

The source or medium that delivers people to your website can tell you a lot about which customers need more friction and which need less.

Many times it tells you their ‘state of awareness’.

For example, people clicking on an AdWords link after typing in exactly what they’re looking for understand they have some need, but not brand awareness at this point. So they’re relatively cold, unfamiliar with who you are and why you’re credible or unique.

That’s OK for a simple, low-priced product or commodity purchase. That’s not OK for a high-touch product or intangible service.

Sending these visitors to a short-form landing page sans navigation would tank results. Similar to the Moz example earlier, they need a chance to look around. To browse. To become familiar.

visits-source-medium-google-analytics

Additional methods such as retargeting and marketing automation can be brought into play in order to build up the necessary trust, knowledge and level of confidence in order to keep this customer around for awhile.

Now contrast that to people who’ve been on the receiving end of emails, social messages, and retargeting ads for a few weeks. They have had a chance to develop familiarity through retargeting ads, and trust through interacting with your other available offers.

In this case, a direct, no-BS approach that’s concise might work best. In this case, the less friction, the better (generally speaking).

3. Optimize for Revenue & Sales, Not Just Conversions

In most cases, conversion tracking is technically set up properly.

A company has a rough idea of how many leads came in last month, and roughly which channels (or campaigns) drove them.

(This is bound to get a little more challenging with Google recently getting rid of converted clicks.)

how-you-count-conversions-adwordsImage Source

The problem is that outside of simple product sales, only a fraction of your leads are going to become actual customers.

Companies understand this in theory, yet still continue to make critical marketing and advertising decisions (like budget allocation) based on leads (and not customers) generated.

For example, let’s say Campaign A delivers 10 leads to Campaign B’s 3. At first blush, it gets priority (and money).

But how many of those leads become actual customers? What are the deal sizes or average transaction values for each? And how do those total revenue numbers for each campaign now stack up?

However factoring in the number of sales each campaign generates, not to mention total revenue, could conflict and tell a completely different story.

It also means you need a way to link actual customers (like John Smith) with revenue amounts ($5,000) against the channel or medium which delivered them (AdWords Campaign A) and the spend it took ($400).

If you’re not using an all-in-one CRM or marketing automation tool, try a simple free solution like LeadIn.

leadin-hubspot-on-wordpress

While you’ll have to do some manual data entry (boo!) to line up form conversions with what you’re seeing from other campaigns, it will help you begin to bridge the gap to discovering which marketing activities are resulting in the best ROI (yay!).

You have no business making any significant changes to a landing page until all of these other issues have been thoroughly reviewed first.

But when that happens, you can use something like the Kissmetrics A/B Test Report to see how changes might impact specific parts of your funnel. For example, you can see what impact a headline test might have (if any) on purchases.

Kissmetrics uses this on a few different steps in the funnel. For example:

  1. Initial Customer Sign Up
  2. Received Data (Customer successfully installed the JavaScript.)
  3. Received Custom Data (Customer set up custom events.)

Now for all the of the tests they run, they can go beyond just the initial surface level data (i.e. Initial Customer Sign Up) and go as far down as the third step (Received Custom Data) to get the most accurate data possible.

When you have this level of granularity into your funnel, you can easily spot when one variant or test results in increased Initial Sign Ups but loses in Received Custom Data (which happens often). In those cases, you can comfortably stick with the original because you’re not getting fooled by the lure of big vanity metrics.

funnel-testing-ab-test-kissmetrics-ab-test-report

Conclusion

It’s tempting to wanna make big numbers go up.

Especially when it’s something tactical and easy to understand like a page’s conversion rate.

But that rate doesn’t exist by itself.

Making it go up is easy. But doing so without sacrificing quality is hard.

If possible, start first by improving your offer, strategically adding friction or education, and setting up full funnel tracking to help you increase conversion (and revenue).

Making these changes with a deeper understanding that conversion rate increases will cascade down to lead quality will help make sure you’re not sacrificing results in the process.

About the Author: Brad Smith is a founding partner at Codeless Interactive, a digital agency specializing in creating personalized customer experiences. Brad’s blog also features more marketing thoughts, opinions and the occasional insight.



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People Pay, Not Pageviews. Here’s Why People Are Leaving Your Website Without Converting

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You’ve rolled out a lot of marketing tactics to boost traffic for your website. After copious amounts of content production, sharing, social engagement, and even paid ads, you feel like you can finally celebrate because your site is now pulling in tens of thousands of unique visits every month with a ton of page views.

However, if your conversions are bottoming out and growth is sluggish, then don’t celebrate just yet.

I hear about this problem on a regular basis. Unfortunately, pageviews don’t pay the bills. Purchases do.

If you’re struggling and want to improve your conversion rates, you should look beyond the traditional CRO recommendations and A/B testing recommendations for bottlenecks.

Here are some reasons why your visitors might be bailing on you:

Your Design is Turning Them Away

According to data from SmartInsights, more than 80% of people use smartphones as their primary method for accessing the web. You’ll see similar rates of mobile usage if you review visitor device information on your analytics platform.

It’s important to be aware of this trend, since 30% of mobile users admit to abandoning a transaction if the website isn’t fully optimized for mobile browsing.

Personally, I find it incredibly frustrating to visit a site on my phone, only to be greeted by a site that requires me to zoom in and scroll horizontally. It goes from bad to worse when a pop-up designed for desktop users suddenly fills my mobile screen and I’m unable to close it. That site is basically dead to me on mobile and I’ll never try to go back after that bad experience.

mobile-design-responsiveResponsive and mobile-compatible designs fit content to a mobile display, greatly reduce the need to zoom. Image Source

Google understands that frustration, and they have updated their algorithm to make mobile compatibility a ranking factor. If your site isn’t currently using a responsive, mobile-compatible design then it’s time to fix it. Otherwise you’ll miss out on conversions and risk a significant drop in organic search rank (and subsequent organic traffic).

Mobile usability aside, there are other on-page elements that can repel your visitors like:

  • Multiple calls to action that prevent them from taking action (analysis paralysis)
  • Poor navigation
  • Sliders and rotators
  • Too many steps in navigation to reach content/products
  • Confusing or cluttered content

Rather than guess at what makes a good user experience, you can quickly identify and work to eliminate a lot of usability issues by working with UserTesting.com. You can submit your site to be reviewed by real people and watch videos of how the interact with and react to your site.

Autoplay Videos Hijack the User Experience

Don’t you just love the autoplay feature on ESPN and CNN.com? You land on a page to read an article, a video loads (with an ad) and you scramble to hit the pause or mute button so you can read the article. Or you just hit the back button to read the story on a different site with a better user experience.

With that being said..

Implementing video on your website could work wonders for conversions. According to a Liveclicker survey among major retail brands, the more videos a visitor watches, the more likely they are to spend within your funnel.

videos-watched-average-order-value

According to a survey of major online retailers, the use of video on product pages lifted conversions an average of 9%.

But setting videos to autoplay could potentially harm your conversions. It’s potentially a major disruption. According to W3C (the group responsible for setting standards for web design best practices), autoplaying audio can interrupt the navigation process as a user has to search for the source of the audio to shut it down.

Certain groups of people, especially those with attention disorders, can be easily distracted by motion which can disrupt the user experience and make it difficult for them to focus.

Worst case scenario, the visitor has a negative reaction to the disruption and closes the page.

Instead of autoplaying the video, create a call-to-action that draws visitors’ attention to it and persuades them to click the play button on their own. Another option is to run the video on silent in the same way Facebook autoplays video in a user’s feed.

Your Value Proposition is Unclear

If you’re not clearly communicating the value and benefits of your offer, then your visitors won’t feel compelled to click or make a purchase.

Why should they, if they have no idea what they’ll get out of the exchange?

Here’s a great example from Help Scout where they reference the launch of the Apple’s early iPod product. Not every member of their audience is tech-savvy, so trying to leverage storage capacity (a feature) would be meaningless to many people.

ipod-marketing-messaging

Instead, they communicated the real value and benefit of the product: 1,000 songs in your pocket.

Make sure your value proposition is crystal clear on your landing pages. Test different variations to see which phrasing gives you the best conversion lift.

Content Doesn’t Match Audience Intent

The first conversion opportunity isn’t on your website, it’s wherever your visitor came from. In most cases, this will be organic search or an ad elsewhere on the web. The headline and description make a specific promise to the reader and set their expectations.

If they arrive on your website and find something completely different, such as copy or offers that don’t match their intent, they’re more likely to click the back button.

For example, if you’re targeting enterprise businesses and your audience is mostly CMOs and upper-level marketers, they’re not likely to opt-in if you’re only offering a free e-book on local marketing strategies.

reduced-form-fields-testImage Source

Make sure the copy, design elements, offers, and calls-to-action all line up with user intent to lift conversions on your landing pages. This is where audience research pays off.

Understanding the specific needs and pain points of audience segments will help you create more targeted offers to keep your visitors engaged.

Site Load Time is Terrible

Kissmetrics produced an infographic that shows us just how load time can impact your bottom line. Not only is load time a ranking factor for organic search, but it can also have a pretty significant impact on conversions.

As many as 47% of consumers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. If they’re met with prolonged loading graphics or a hanging white page then you risk losing them – and their patience can be short.

In fact, a delay of just 1 second in load time can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.

Do everything you can to reduce page load time on your website in order to avoid negatively impacting your conversion rates. I recommend:

Opt-Ins Aren’t Optimized

The old trick for improving conversions with opt-in messages was to reduce the number of form fields. This advice was based on a study from 2008 so by now, it’s obsolete. In fact, ConversionXL examined another study by Unbounce that compared shortened forms to optimized forms.

The result?

The forms with fewer fields performed worse. Meanwhile, the forms with improved label copy instead of reduced field counts saw a 19.21% lift in conversions.

reduced-form-fields-test

So which method is the best approach?

The answer is “it depends.” There’s no concrete answer here. If you’re experiencing friction with opt-ins, then your ideal approach is to test variations and see what works best for your audience. Optimize the labels, try different field counts, adjust the call-to-action, and continue testing until you’re satisfied with the conversions.

Trouble with the Calls-to-Action

You would think that crafting an amazing offer, telling a great story with visuals, and writing dynamite copy would send your conversions through the roof. It’s actually quite the opposite.

Even if your audience is in tune with your offer, your conversions are going to suffer if you don’t have a strong, compelling call-to-action. In many cases, customers just won’t engage unless you specifically tell them what you want them to do.

storenvy call to action exampleA bold call to action captures attention and tells the audience what to do.

If you’re missing a call-to-action altogether, then you’re definitely going to suffer from low conversions. One study from Small Business Trends found that 70% of B2B businesses lack a call-to-action on their homepage.

Such a simple thing can have a major impact and at least it’s an easy fix:

  • Create a call-to-action that is prominent and stands out from other page elements
  • Make it compelling and focus on the value; what do visitors get by clicking?
  • Make your call-to-action relevant to match the audience’s intent
  • Use verbs and actionable language
  • Leverage urgency with words like “Now” and “Today”

Be sure test different versions of your call-to-action to determine which designs and copy offer the greatest lift in conversions.

See Where People Drop Off with Kissmetrics

Curious to know where people are dropping off before signing up? The Kissmetrics Funnel Report shows you.

Here’s how it looks:

kissmetrics ecommerce funnel

See where (and who) people are leaving the funnel, then A/B test those drop offs till you find improvements, which will increase overall funnel performance.

For more check out this post where we show you how to find areas of your site that need testing the most.

There’s No Secret Formula

There’s no one specific thing you can do to suddenly make your conversions soar. While these individual items could hurt your conversions, making a single adjustment isn’t guaranteed to change or improve anything.

Rather than taking a tactical approach to improving conversions, identify the elements that could be creating problems and start testing. A/B testing small changes is more likely to help improve conversions over time and eliminate trouble areas like these.

What have you done to increase conversions on your website? Share your approach and results with me in the comments below.

About the Author: Andrew Raso is the co-founder and director of Online Marketing Gurus, a fast-growing, award-winning search company working with brands including HelloMolly, Baku Swimwear, and Forcast. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewraso1 or on LinkedIn.



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How to Grind Customer Acquisition to a Halt with these Conversion Killing Design Trends

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QR codes are largely pointless.

The concept is decent. But the execution is flawed.

Think about it for a second:

You’re forcing people to take an additional step to download an application prior to using it (because let’s be honest, only sociopaths have QR code readers on their phone).

Design trends like flat design, unconventional navigation and carousel sliders are no different. They sound harmless in theory. Some are fun to mess with. But most can do more harm than good if you’re not careful.

They’re also perfect examples of how herd behavior can actually backfire and grind conversions to a halt.

Here’s why, and how to avoid it.

When Flat Design Strikes Back

Parallax is like the design equivalent to Andre’s fashion.

When used with discretion, it can enhance the overall aesthetic, breaking up important sections of pages with visually intriguing movement that adds layers and depth to the site.

But that’s just it. When is it ever used sparingly?

Parallax is an innocent example though. We can gripe about the minor drawbacks here or there, however it’s not gonna kill you.

Flat design has been another wide-sweeping trend the past few years, with the goal of bringing simplicity back to user interfaces. Again, it’s largely beneficial. Until it isn’t.

The premise of the excellent Don’t Make Me Think is somewhat obvious. The best user interfaces (and online user experiences) make it easy for people to intuitively find things or figure them out.

Flat design becomes problematic for example, when you leave form fields naked. Or if you strip away critical shading, colors and borders. The result, is that you’re making key page elements – you know, the stuff you want people to do on the page so you can get more $$$ – completely indistinguishable to the common user.

Those visual cues were there not just for aesthetic, but to tell the user what to do (and where to do it).

Again, flat design by itself isn’t bad. What you do with it can be though. This HubSpot example below helps bridge the gap between using flat design to stay contemporary, yet providing interactive animations for the user like the form field lengthening (along with a blinking cursor) so visitors know exactly what to do when they get here.

hubspot-website-grader

Yet another example of cleverness sinking conversions are simple text links.

Links are one of the obvious primary page elements that (a) help people navigate or (b) are a precursor to conversions.

It should go without saying then, that text links should still capture some resemblance to the ones we’ve grown up on and become accustomed to seeing over the past decade+.

That means links should be some kind of blue. While an underline would also be nice.

This sounds so trite and obvious that we shouldn’t need to debate or back up sources. But here’s four for the hell of it.

Let’s keep in mind though that many of these are relatively minor examples.

The more egregious conversion killers are still to come.

Putting the ‘A’ Back in IA

Information architecture (IA) is a fancy term that helps consultants charge more by making them sound smarter explains how stuff is organized on a website.

That means the logical organization of stuff into categories or buckets, how they’re linked together, and how a user might flow from one thing to the next until they get to their intended destination.

The most obvious example of this problem comes when viewing your analytics data, and seeing people leaving your top pages in droves before they get to the money, err page.

Page navigation or menus should, in theory, help solve this. However that doesn’t happen when they’re multi-level navs or using overly vague naming convention as UserTesting.com has discovered after looking at 100,000 usability studies.

On large sites, they point to Amazon as a great example of using a large pop-out section to avoid the difficulties often associated with multi-level navs.

amazon-multi-level-navs

Largely because they can see all of their options at once, without needing the fine motor skills of a professional athlete to carefully select yet another drop down and avoid having to start over completely like a third grader that keeps failing the same level of their favorite Xbox game.

There should also be a clear site hierarchy that helps users intuitively understand what’s primary, what’s subordinate, and what’s a subgroup.

Navigation labels can also trip people up, especially when uncommon terminology, overly clever or internal names are used in place of the obvious, yet standardardized options.

It’s also a baby step away from talking past your customers and losing them entirely. From a broader perspective, it’s also a perfect microcosm that illustrates when a company’s worldview is completely opposite of their customers.

correlation-brand-strength-mckinseyImage Source

When in doubt, standardize. Even better, is if you include some ‘trigger words’ that get people to take action.

Beyond the design and labeling, keeping your site hierarchy flat can help keep the most important information just a few simple clicks away from most primary pages. Stuff doesn’t get buried, or lost down a rabbit hole of endless subcategory scavenger hunts.

deep-flat-site-architectureImage Source

Beyond helping visitors find stuff, which in turn should grease conversions, these improvements also help SEO. The better the organization, the more people come to the site, the better the experiences and the more conversions. (I would call this synergy if I wasn’t afraid of you calling me a D-bag.)

All of these issues bring us to one of the biggest pet peeves of all. And this one really gets the blood boiling.

It’s finally time to bring up the elephant in the room: F-ing carousels.

Carousels: The Epitome of Groupthink in Action

B2B companies love themselves some carousel sliders.

In a quick analysis conducted for Search Engine Land, one author found 18 out of 30 B2B websites (in different industries no less) all had one directly on their homepage.

Despite the data-backed facts that they’re terrible usability, conversions, and speed. Three things that fly in the face of good web experiences.

Why are they so bad? Let me count the ways.

For starters, people don’t actually use them (like less than ~1%). For example, peep the data from Harrison Jones’ aforementioned Search Engine Land analysis:

carousel-conversions-website-statsImage Source

In each of the three scenarios, the slide received a less than 1% click through rate. Part of the reason, is because these pervasive sliders can mimic banner blindness (thus causing people to ignore them entirely).

Beyond the fact that nobody actually clicks on them, they also commonly fail to load properly on mobile devices. While also potentially hurting SEO a number of ways by (1) not having static content (2) misusing header tags, (3) using high-res images that might slow the site down, and (4) resulting in ‘thin’ content if outdated technology is used.

should-i-use-a-carouselImage Source

Ok, ok. If they’re so bad, why do companies keep using them?

Compromise.

Therefore it’s not just the carousel itself that’s so bad. (Although as we’ve established, they do suck.)

What’s so bad about carousels is how they happen.

They’re the result of too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many HiPPOs in a room that all want their voice heard, or interests promoted, front-and-center on your website’s most valuable real estate.

When design by committee happens, everyone loses.

Designers lose because their excellent work slowly erodes away.

Marketers lose because their voices get overrun and ignored.

And ultimately the very same HiPPOs lose because their selfish actions – well intentioned or not – ultimately result in a worse web experience for visitors, which results in lower website conversions and less revenue.

Conclusion

Offline, print design is static and passive. Its focus is on beauty and art.

However web design is about interaction. Its focus should be form and function. Utilitarian even.

Design trends like flat design, parallax, navigation structure and labeling can all have a significant impact on the success (or failure) of your site.

Elements like carousel sliders not only water-down your objectives, but actively work against them too.

The bad news about web design is that it’s never finished.

But the good news about web design is that it’s never finished. You’re unable to truly fail if you own up to mistakes by quickly making them right through embracing testing and iteration.

About the Author: Brad Smith is a founding partner at Codeless Interactive, a digital agency specializing in creating personalized customer experiences. Brad’s blog also features more marketing thoughts, opinions and the occasional insight.



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9 Conversion Rate Optimization Misconceptions (and How They’re Costing You Money)

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There are few marketing practices more misunderstood than conversion rate optimization.

Some businesses see it as an unnecessary expense that doesn’t really move their business goals.

Most others see it as a silver bullet for all their marketing woes. From growing traffic to converting more leads, CROs are often expected to do it all.

Some of these misconceptions are harmless. Others, however, can cost you money, time and valuable resources.

So in this post, I’ll clear some of the common misconceptions about conversion rate optimization that are hurting your website and your business.

1. CRO is a single skill

One of the biggest misconceptions among businesses is an entrenched belief that CRO is a single skill set.

They might even call upon their “CRO guy” when they want to get more conversions from their sites.

In truth, CRO is a broad practice that encompasses a wide range of skills. To be effective at conversion rate optimization, you need at least three different skill sets:

  • Copywriting: Whether or not you can write persuasive copy will have a big impact on your final conversion rates.
  • Design: From your site’s UI/UX to its choice in graphics, every design element on your site impacts conversion rates. You’ll need a skilled UI/UX designer with knowledge of conversion rate optimization.
  • Analytics: You’ll need someone with the necessary skills to run tests and analyze their results.

Depending on how you run your tests, you might also need a developer to code up page variants.

Keep this in mind whenever you approach the idea of using CRO on your site.

2. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is all about following “best practices”

I’m sure you must have stumbled upon best tips and tactics blog posts to boost your conversion rate. You may have also gone ahead and tried to implement those so called best practices but did they really work?

And if they did, do you really know why they worked?

The truth is that there are no one-size-fits-all “best practices” you can apply to your industry that will be guaranteed to work.

Your focus must be on how you can remove true barriers that are hindering with the flow to improve conversion rather than making little changes that worked for someone else.

For example, a common piece of advice for creating CTAs is to use a color like green (traditionally associated with nature or “go”).

Yet, when this best practice is put into practice, it doesn’t always hold up.

In one study, changing from green to red colored buttons actually increased conversion rates by 21%.

button-color-change-increased-conversions

Understand that conversion rate optimization is not a checklist that you can run down.

Instead, see it as a holistic practice where you aim to create a compelling user experience without sacrificing revenue. Your goal is to figure out your specific customers and what will work on your specific website.

To do this, you need to:

Keep in mind that average A/B testing takes 4 weeks to run, so there is no point trying every possible “101 best practices”.

Here’s an example:

Plenty of studies show video is better for conversions than static images or text.

Based on this, Brookdale Living, a community living service for seniors, tested two variants of its homepage – one with a static image:

brookdale-living-without-video

And one with a video.

brookdale-living-with-video

If you had to go by “best practices”, you’d assume the video page to win.

Yet, results showed that the static image variant had more engagement and drove more revenues (over $100,000 more).

Here’s another example:

WedBuddy, a SaaS tool that helps couples create wedding websites, had a landing page that emphasized its free trial:

wedbuddy-free-trial-test

On paper, this makes perfect sense. After all, the word “free” is associated with higher click-throughs and sign-ups, especially when offered as a trial.

WedBuddy, however, realized that emphasizing the “free” nature of the service actually harmed conversions. People who signed-up thinking that the service would be free were harder to convert into paying customers.

To counter this, WedBuddy changed its landing page copy to focus on value instead of the “free trial”:

wedbuddy-copy-change-test

That’s not the only change WedBuddy made.

It also went against convention and actually decreased the number of testimonials and list of benefits.

The final page was significantly shorter and had less social proof than the original variant:

wedbuddy-original-variant-test

The result?

139% increase in clicks and 73% increase in free trial sign-ups.

The lesson: don’t blindly copy best practices. Instead, test them out and use them only if they actually help your target audience. For every case study proving a “best practice”, you’ll also find 5 others that prove the contrary.

3. Conversion rate optimization is all about making small changes that lead to big rewards

You might have seen case studies like these:

my-free-unbounce-ab-test

Here, changing a single word (“my” instead of “free”) resulted in 90% more clicks.

Going by such case studies, you might be tempted to find that silver bullet where making a small change will reap big rewards.

In truth, case studies like these are incredibly misleading and give you only partial information.

They don’t tell you:

  • How long the test was done.
  • Whether the traffic remained constant throughout the testing period.
  • What other changes were made on the site.

If you really want to double your conversion rate, focus on following a framework that tests all elements of your site that get in the way of user experience and conversions.

Don’t try to find these “holy grail” small elements. Take more risks by drastically redesigning your site with new a layout, color and images.

4. Conversion rate optimization is just about split testing

For most people conversion rate optimization is all about split testing site elements.

The truth is that CRO is all about identifying the actions of your users that lead to them buying from you. A CRO consultant’s job isn’t just to create tests; it is to identify and fix barriers to conversion on a site.

To do this, start off by asking yourself if your user’s basic needs are met or not. Try to understand your user’s psychology and what prevents them from buying your product.

You don’t even need a lot of traffic for this. A basic usability test using the “think aloud protocol” may reveal plenty of user-experience roadblocks.

Here’s a good model to work out what to focus on:

cro-pyramid

Based on this, your CRO practice should focus on the following (in decreasing order of priority):

  • Functionality: Can the site perform basic functions? Does it work across devices? Are the buttons clickable?
  • Accessibility: Is the site accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities, devices or locations?
  • Usability: Is the site usable? Can people actually use it without guidance to find what they want?
  • Intuitivity: Can users intuitively figure out the site’s navigation and content?
  • Persuasiveness: Is the site persuasive? Can it convince users to hand over their contact information or purchase a product?

You shouldn’t completely ignore A/B testing altogether, but rather know when it is appropriate to implement.

5. No one reads long sales copy

“People don’t read anymore”

“They have short attention spans”

“People are already too distracted”

These are all common refrains you’ve likely heard a thousand times.

This leads many businesses to believe that long sales copy can’t sell.

In truth, people are now reading more than ever. Specially when someone becomes interested in any activity of actual commercial value, such as starting a business or getting a new job.

This popular post by Neil Patel on online marketing, for example, is over 30,000 words long, yet it has hundreds of shares and backlinks.

quicksprout-share-data

In fact, an analysis of over 1M search results by Backlinko found that longer content consistently outranks shorter content because people perceive longer content to have more value.

word-count-google-rankings

In his book Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy says:

“All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short … advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not.”

If your copy offers strong benefits that’s relevant to the reader, they will read every word of it.

As the advertising adage goes, “The more you tell, the more you sell.”

For example, Moz tested a longer landing page which resulted in a 52% increase in sales:

moz-landing-page-length-test

Similarly, Crazyegg’s longer homepage increased the site’s conversion rate by 363% by making the homepage about 20 times longer.

crazy-egg-landing-page-length-test

6. Your user demographics and audience personas don’t matter

Stop telling yourself that:

  1. You don’t need to survey or talk to your target audience.
  2. You know your audience very well.
  3. You know what’s exactly going on in your audience’s minds.
  4. You make changes according to what you think is right and your audience must follow.

Wrong.

Regardless of the industry you’re in, there is a very good chance your marketing is reaching to many different customer profiles in different demographics who would naturally have different motivations.

The wider your range of products, the more customer profiles and demographics you’ll target.

For example, let’s say you’re selling beer online. A customer who just turned 18 would have different motivations to buy your product as compared to a 50 year old man who wants have a pint after a hard day’s work.

Do you really think it is possible to think about all the market segments without doing any user research? There will be people with all kinds of personalities that will visit your website.

Some may want to have an in-depth description of how you brew your beer. Some would just buy looking at the reviews.

If you want your visitors to convert, get their feedback and use that information to craft changes accordingly.

Worse, lots of businesses believe that if they simply copy the design and copy of a successful website, they too can experience a massive increase in conversion rate, regardless of what their users are actually like.

Wrong. Again.

Successful websites convert better because they create an experience tailor made for their users. They research their audience and give them something they want.

Conversion case studies are there not for you to copy exactly, but for you to gain insights from.

7. If you focus on CRO alone, you can build a successful business

Because of all the love CRO has received of late, some businesses believe that if they win the CRO game their online business will start to shine.

CRO may help you increase your conversion rate from 1% to 2% which in turn will have a big impact on your sales. For it to work, however, you still need to get traffic, create a brand and keep attracting customers back to your site.

For instance, if you’re selling a $100/month product with a 1% conversion rate and 10,000 visitors/month, there are multiple ways you can double your earnings:

  • Improving conversion rate to 2%.
  • Increase traffic to 20,000 visitors/month with the same conversion rate.
  • Reduce customer churn.
  • Increase conversion rate to 1.25% and traffic by 6,000 visitors.

Focusing on CRO is great since it gives you a solid, data-driven foundation for converting customers and generating leads. This doesn’t mean that you should neglect other aspects of your business such as marketing, sales and the product itself.

8. You need to create a uniform experience for all your customers

For most businesses, creating a high converting page is a big deal.

But is it really okay to use that same landing page for all your visitors?

Your website is getting traffic from all sorts of channels – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, etc. Each of these customers come from a different context in mind and has different expectation from your website.

A user coming in from search expects to find answer to his query, while someone coming in after clicking a picture on Twitter expects something else.

To tackle this issue, if resources permit, try creating separate landing pages for users coming in from different channels.

For example, a few guest bloggers welcome users on a separate landing page instead of the home page when they click on “About The Author” section.

welcome-copyblogger-readers

Similarly, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger links to his “About” page on ProBlogger’s Twitter profile.

darren-rowse-twitter-profile-bio

This works since the ProBlogger handle is tied to Darren. It makes sense to give readers coming from Twitter a better background on Darren, the person and the blogger.

Expedia’s Twitter profile, on the other hand, links to the Expedia Viewfinder travel blog instead of the flight search page.

expedia-viewfinder-twitter-bio

This is appropriate since people coming in from social media aren’t necessarily looking for flights. Instead, Expedia wants to offer them a brand experience through its blog.

Try this on your own landing pages. Understand the expectations of your users and create an experience tailored for them.

9. Conversion is the only metric you should care about

What really is the end goal of CRO?

Conversion? Yes.

But who are you really trying to convert? For many visitors that come to your website (for the first time) conversion is a process. It may happen on their first visit, or it may happen on the tenth visit.

You can show them how they can buy your product and remove all the barriers standing in their way, but ultimately they will have to make the decision.

While conversion rate is important, it is only a part of the whole process. Instead, you should also pay attention to other meaningful metrics like – Visitor Recency (how long between visits) and Visitor Loyalty (how frequently people visit), etc.

Conclusion

CRO has the potential to make a major difference in your conversion rate, but only if you’re willing to take a structured and systematic approach that relies on data and not myths and preconceived notions.

Before testing out anything you must understand your users and their problems. Stop all the guesswork and get down to do some user research. Workout the exact reasons why visitors aren’t converting and implement the correct solution(s). Do this consistently enough and you’ll never struggle with poor conversion rates again.

About the Author: Khalid Saleh is the co-founder and CEO of conversion optimization company Invesp, a leading provider of conversion rate optimization landing page optimization solutions.



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