Monday, December 31, 2012

Permission to spam

Lots of web agencies and gurus are bent on "getting permission."  Someone gives you their email address and great! you are cleared to send email!  Business owners are nervous about getting labelled as spamming and they take each opt-out personally.

No one likes receiving spam, but you don't need permission to deliver a relevant message either.  Have you ever flashed your headlights at another car because they didn't have theirs on?  Or, chased down someone to let them know they inadvertently left something on top of their car.  (My father has driven away with the gas hose still in the filling tank a time or two.)

Spam, the food, consists of various parts of a pig with some filler, preservatives, and flavor enhancers.  The makers of Spam are under no false pretenses; it is not a Christmas Ham or Kobe filet.  It is not meant to be the best, freshest cut of meat.  It is meant to last on a shelf indefinitely and sustain life in an underground bunker.  

My point is, you know if you are making spam.  Spam content is nothing like fresh, relevant content.

If your emails are timely and relevant (to the receiver) they will never be considered spam.  Make it easy to opt-out and don't take it personally.  

If you have a list of emails, use it.  If you have an important relevant message, don't wait for permission.  The majority will be happy you flagged them down and told them.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lead generation and maturation

Lots of companies use their marketing teams to generate leads, but after the sales team picks out the most promising leads, the rest of the list gets put in file 13.  

There are some leads that will never pan out, i.e. they thought CRO meant Contract Research Organization and I could help them with research for their clinical trial.  However, most leads just aren't ready yet.

It is difficult to capture leads who are perfectly ripe.  You almost have to have inside information to find these leads.  Because companies who are ready to pull the trigger have likely been sitting on the problem for a while, they have already done their research, made their opinions, and know what they want.

Most leads for website Conversion Rate Optimization (my version of CRO), know they have a problem but don't know the best way to fix it.  Either their website isn't performing as well as their store front or they need to grow the business.  At this early stage, there are a number of available options.  Increase presence on search engines (SEO), increase spend on ads (PPC), increase social marketing efforts (SMM/SMO), or increase the effectiveness of their conversion funnel (CRO).  

Since CRO is the new division of the neighborhood, it is my job to help people understand what CRO is and how it can help them.  Only after they understand where CRO fits into the overall strategy will they be able to make an informed decision.  Since I am the one who helped them understand the landscape and form their opinions, more often than not, my name comes to the top of their list when they are ready to pull the trigger.

Keeping your leads alive, even the less promising ones, and helping them mature to the point of purchasing your services is not the quick way to get new business, but it is the best way to ensure strong growth for years to come.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ego driven design

Our site is beautiful, our awesome logo is front and center, and the site is a great representation of our company.  We've won many awards, we've handled tons of accounts, and we are all around pretty amazing. You should want to hire us!

Ego driven design and copy isn't always bad, but it doesn't do much for sales.  Letting the world know how awesome you are is great, after all someone has to tell the world, but you have to remember to include your customers too.  

You can achieve success, we'll make sure of it.  Based on our track record of helping awesome customers achieve amazing success, we can help you too.  The awards we have won show how dedicated we are to our craft and our customers.  This site is here to help you make an informed decision.  We're ready to help you succeed!

Does your site stroke your ego or your customers'? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nickels and Dimes

No one likes to be nickel-and-dimed.  It is understood that the price you pay for a product or a service pays for all the paper clips and toner.  If you feel that you need to charge for business expenses including administrative items, you need to review your pricing structure.

I had a CPA that would charge me for emails and phone calls to schedule meetings and even for the 5 minutes it took to assign a resource to my account for a tax review (0.08 hours).  This sort of practice made me wonder why I didn't have a line item for my part of his rent, electric bill, and water usage. 

These items are overhead.  The price of doing business.  I talk a lot about the psychology of doing business online and I would be remiss if I didn't talk about charging fees.  When you charge for overhead, you give your clients the power to second guess your choices.  Every line item on your invoice is a choice for your clients.  If they don't agree with the charge for administrative tasks or the amount of time you've billed for drafting an email, it's the client's right to dispute the price.  

Consider the following two prices for professional photography:

  • Professional Photo-shoot
    • E-mail - $25
    • Pre-session Prep - $25
    • Studio Fee - $50
    • Equipment Fee - $25
    • Photography Fee - $150
    • Image Sorting - $40
    • Image Backups - $25
    • Photo Editing - $250
    • Photo Processing - $35
    • 5 8x10 Prints - $50
    • Total - $675
  • All Inclusive Professional Photo-shoot
    • 1 - 1 1/2 hour Photo Session - $675

In the second option, "All Inclusive Professional Photo-shoot," you look at the photographer's previous work and decide if it is worth $675 for professional photos.  In the first option, you see that it's over $400 for photo sorting and editing.  Being the Photoshop enthusiast that you are, you begin to wonder if its worth $400 for someone else to edit and print the photos.  Couldn't you save $400 if the photographer just gave you the memory card after the shoot?

Breaking down your fees and charging for each item delivered makes it harder for your clients to judge the value of your work and harder for you to make the sale.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas wrapping paper

Merry Christmas everybody!

Just a quickie for Christmas.  Why do we use wrapping paper?  Why not just give gifts?  

Aside from being prettier than newspaper, wrapping paper creates mystery and excitement.  You don't know what's under it.  You get to tear it off and find a surprise inside.  The best part is, while the present is still wrapped, your imagination can run wild.

How can you bring some Christmas magic to your site and entertain your visitors' imaginations?

Monday, December 24, 2012

I see you

The average conversion rate across the web is 2%.  This means that out of 100 visitors, only 2 end up purchasing something.  To put it another way, imagine 98% of everybody walking out of the grocery store without buying anything.

2% is an average.  It includes a few very successful companies with 10-20%+ conversion rates, the wide majority of people who get less than 2% and even many companies with less than 1%.

Brick and mortar stores get conversion rates of 20-90%.  So, what's different about real stores and digital ones?

Before I answer that question, it is important to understand that real stores and digital ones are very different.  Everything about them is different, including the rules of business.  But, the same human concepts apply to both.

Your real store has a marquee sign that lets everyone know exactly what it is you do.  When someone walks in the door, you have samples and merchandise laid out for your visitors to browse.  You or one of your sales associates greets your guest to make them feel welcome and ensures they are able to find what they are looking for, including the answers to various questions.  When you recognize a repeat customer or visitor, you greet them in a different manner and build on your previous encounter.  Any information you have about your visitor is used as fodder to drive the conversation, build the relationship, and increase the likelihood of a sale.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but none of these things happen on the average website.  We don't all have a team of developers in the basement like Amazon, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from this.

Your homepage is your marquee AND the front of your store.  It helps people understand what you do and lets them browse some merchandise.  Find a way to greet your visitors and offer to show them around.  Live chat is just one way to solve this issue.  A popup with a video intro to your company or website, or even an understated "Welcome" in the header are a couple of other ways.

Recognize your repeat visitors.  Repeat visitors and customers are far more valuable than first-timers.  Google Analytics is great at keeping track of your visitors but unfortunately it doesn't offer a way for you to make use of that information in real time.  You will likely need to use cookies or another option from your development team to be able to take advantage of your repeat visitors.  Asking a first-time reader of your blog to sign up for email updates can be hit or miss, but asking a repeat reader to sign up is far more successful.

If you aren't convinced that this little change of letting your visitors know that you "see" them makes a difference, consider the difference between Facebook and LinkedIn.  If you want to know what an old girlfriend or boyfriend is doing, does it matter to you that Facebook doesn't tell him you looked at his profile and LinkedIn does?

The mere act of observation changes behavior [for the good].  Don't treat your online business like a sociological study, get involved and interact with your visitors.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Free Consult Fridays

This post is to officially announce Free Consult Fridays.  (The website hasn't caught up with the idea yet, so for the time being feel free to use the "contact" page to demonstrate your interest.)

The idea is that each Friday I will make myself available to do a phone call and screen share with 2 companies/people.  I will share my screen with you and do a live review of your website.  It's not meant to be a sales call or pressure to buy anything, just an honest review of your site.  (You do have to have a website.)  

Whether you're a big corporation or just getting started, high traffic or no traffic, new to the web or old hat, I'll give you some feedback on your site and try to help you over whatever hurdles you're facing.

Most reviews take 30-45 minutes, but I won't be watching the clock, so if it takes longer and you have the time, I'll stay on the line.  

Don't worry, I'm not trying to add you to some list.  Over the past few weeks, I've had the pleasure of helping a couple of friends with their websites and really enjoyed the experience.  I truly like helping companies succeed on the web and realize its true potential.  What you do after the call is up to you.

If you're interested in a slot for Free Consult Friday, fill out the contact page and let me know which week works best for you.  If you want to share your website and biggest question(s), I'll do a little prep work before our meeting so you have the full benefit of my time.  It's a first come first serve deal, so if you're interested, don't wait too long :)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Attention Deficit Disorder

There has never been so many companies vying for our attention or so much readily available information waiting to be consumed.  All this competition for our attention creates an attention deficit for many companies.

This attention deficit leaves most companies trying to come up with inventive ways to capture our attention.  All the emails with unnecessary icons (☮☯✈☠♥☣☤♫✍♛✰☺☼☂☚✔), banner ads, "viral" videos, and star bursts telling us we only have 6 hours to redeem this coupon! remind me of a child trying desperately to get his parent's attention.  (

But, what happens when one child throws a temper tantrum and another calmly draws a picture?  The child who threw the tantrum probably got the most attention, although it may have been in the form of a swift hand.  The reaction of giving attention to the loudest child only encourages both children to try harder for more attention.  

In business, you don't always get the most attention for doing the right thing, but your customers will appreciate you for it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

GA is not enough

If you are driving traffic to your website, Google Analytics can't give you the whole picture.

When your running a marketing campaign and driving traffic to your website through links in social media and paid ads, you need to know what ALL of those visitors are doing when they get to your site.  Google Analytics keeps track of the visitors who continue into your site or take the intended action, but GA loses the most important traffic segment, the ones who leave.

The visitors who leave are just as, if not more, important than the ones who stick around.  Those visitors tell you if you need to segment your traffic and send visitors from a particular source to a separate landing page or stop paying for that segment all together.

If you only have a 2% conversion rate and those visitors that convert are the only ones that are scrolling, you know you need to encourage more people to scroll or re-arrange your best content to be above the fold.  

You may also find that many visitors are trying to click on something that is not clickable.

All of these insights and more have been personal findings of my own with various websites.  If GA doesn't do it, how do you get this information?  Heatmaps, scrollmaps, and clickmaps.  

There are plenty of companies out there that offer these services.  If you want a simple, user friendly solution, I would suggest Crazy Egg.  If you want a more robust solution that offers advanced analytics and even recording, ClickTale maybe the best solution.

If you're only relying on Google Analytics to give you the insights you need, you may be missing the boat.

Free Kindle Book

The Kindle version of The Customer Creation Equation by Brian Massey, the Conversion Scientist is FREE today (Dec. 19) on Amazon.

It's a great book to dispel the myths of your online presence.  I would suggest anyone who is a website owner, business owner, or marketing manager to at least take a quick read through the introduction.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mobile is moving, are you ready?

An excellent slideshow from Business Insider about the future of mobile shows the growth of the mobile space.  Some key points are:

  • 30% of the world is online.
  • That 30% represents over 80% of the worlds money.
  • Tablets and smart phones have already saturated the American market.
  • Smart phone use is growing fast in other countries like China.
  • People do everything on a smart phone that they do on a PC + take pictures and play games.
  • We live in a multi-screen world (smart phone, mini-tablet, tablet, laptop, desktop monitor, tv)
So, how do you deal with website visitors who are on their smart phones... and all their other devices?

Let's look at your options:
  • Native Apps - Native apps sound like a great idea.  They fit perfectly on the device and are easy to use.  The problem is that you have to get them approved and convince people to download them.  If you need to cater to a large audience, you have to make a different app for Apple, Android, and now Windows, not to mention the myriad of devices and display sizes you'll need to accommodate.  In the end, native apps work best for a specific, well defined group to perform advanced tasks.
  • Device Specific Sites - The good ol' mobile site, but now you have to decide if you need a "tablet site", or "tv site."  These specific sites are great because they let you customize the experience in a way that is almost native w/o having to worry about approvals and downloads, but they are still loads of work to maintain.  Every landing page now needs 2, 3, 4 versions with device specific optimization.  Every bug fix has to be vetted on multiple devices, etc. 
  • Responsive Design - Responsive design is the new kid on the block.  While not "new" many people are hearing about this idea for the first time.  With responsive design, the layout of your site changes depending on the screen/window size but the content stays the same.  You can re-size pictures and videos, convert from a 3 column layout to 1 column, and even make the navigation easier to use with your finger, all on the fly.  This is definitely the most attractive option if you need your site to feel "native" on screens of different sizes, and don't want to maintain multiple sites.  Although, it still doesn't solve the issue of having to test at multiple screen sizes.
  • Do Nothing - Do almost nothing is my personal choice.  Despite the angry comments I'm sure I'll get, and being mindful that there are many cases where other options are better, I don't think we should cater to devices.  Devices should cater to us, and for the most part, they do.  Almost all smart phones and tablets have scaling and zoom features.  If you optimize your main site to be mindful of bandwidth and stubby fingers your site will work well on all devices.  Simplify navigation and buttons to make it easier to click on your target.  Consider using styles and patterns vs images to reduce page size and download times.  One site makes it easier to keep up with your online presence and it's no surprise that these same changes also tend to increase conversion rates.
The web is not just for computers anymore.  Whether you optimize for all devices or create native apps, the important thing to remember is that more of your customers are using multiple devices everyday.  

How well does your site work on an iPhone, Galaxy, Nexus, Kindle, Xbox?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Carrots and Sticks

On the surface, conversion rate optimization seems like it is just about carrots and sticks.  Various manipulations to push people through the funnel and increase transactions.  Carrots and sticks do increase transactions and even repeat transactions, but the other side of CRO is increasing loyalty.

Loyalty is when someone is willing to use your services or do something for you even when it may not be in their best interest.  So, how do you increase loyalty?

That's a great question.  One you should take a moment and ask yourself.  There are many paths to loyalty but every company is different.  After you strip away all the promotions, all the facts and figures, and all the things that differentiate your product from the next one, what reasons can you think of to stay loyal to your company?

It's at the bottom of a question like this, that we get down to our own emotions and feelings.  We care more. We are more dedicated, more interested, and love what we do.  Your company could undoubtedly use a little more of that feeling.  Don't just plaster it on your website to tell your visitors and customers, put it at the forefront of everything you do and show your customers why you get up every morning and go to work.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's time to increase your conversion rate

Most people think the best time to worry about conversion rates is when your site isn't doing well.  Hoping to pull their unsuccessful advertising campaigns out of the mud, they turn to website conversion rate optimization as a last hope.  

CRO can definitely help you reverse a bad trend, but the best time to start optimization is when you are already doing well.  The global average for website conversion rates is about 2%.  When you already have a solid or above average conversion rate, improvements to your site can provide exponential growth for your company.  

Website optimization techniques such as segmentation, trust building, and persuasion can give you a 30-70% increase over your current conversion rate.  If your website is already profitable, that increase goes straight to your bottom line.

Even if you have an awesome 10% conversion rate, that means that out of 10 visitors, only 1 finds what they're looking for.  You really don't think you could help 2?

Whether your site needs help or you're ready to capitalize on success, it's time to increase your conversion rate.

Still looking for excuses to start increasing your conversion rate?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The value of showing your work

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Magic, while entertaining, is scary if taken at face value.  Imagine a guy actually cutting a girl in half in front of thousands of people.  

Magic also makes things look easy.  When a guy escapes a straight jacket and locked chain in a fraction of a second while a mystic cloud of smoke passes by, it doesn't seem real.  There's clearly some sort of deception going on, and you would never consider using that lock to keep anything safe.

If you want your magic to be valuable, you have to show your work.  Show the audience that you pick the lock with your mouth.  Show that you spent years training and practicing so that you could do it perfectly when it counts. The audience doesn't have the conviction or skill to learn to pick locks with their mouth.  It doesn't cheapen the art, it enhances it.  

Why would you pay to watch someone do something that's easy?  Demonstrate the value of your product or service by showing your conviction and dedication to the craft.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Keep in touch with your customers

Keeping in touch with your current and past customers does more than keep you at the front of their minds, it builds trust.  Trust is the cornerstone to any relationship.  Building these relationships doesn't mean you will instantly get more sales, but it does promote loyalty.

I recently talked with a company that has been collecting emails for their newsletter list for over a year.  The signup box says something to the effect of, "Signup for our newsletter to keep up with us and receive special offers."  They've been collecting emails, but they haven't sent a single one.  Most people have probably forgotten that they signed up for anything at all.  But worse, the company didn't keep their promise.  They didn't send any news or special offers.

In trying to encourage them to send out a bulk email, I was met with objections that some people may not like getting the email and would opt-out.  

  1. These people asked to receive emails.  It's rude to second guess them.
  2. What's better, a growing list of 20,000+ emails, or a list of 1,000 loyal and interested customers?
Not sending emails isn't just a waste of a good list, its a missed opportunity to build a relationship.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The power of focus

Focus is beautiful thing.  Our attention is like the sun, exploding in all directions.  With a magnifying glass, you can focus a small fraction of the sun's rays and start a fire almost instantly.  Our focus works the same way.

In today's world, your attention has never been in such high demand.  It's no different when it comes to your business.  If you can focus your attention and drive toward a single goal, free from distractions, the possibilities are endless.

In a popular documentary, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," Jiro Ono, an 85 year old sushi master, achieves this focus.  He endeavors everyday to create the best sushi in the world.  He doesn't serve appetizers or sake or beer.  He just serves sushi.  No distractions.  The result is that he earned 3 Michelin stars.  That means the Michelin guide considers his sushi so good, it's worth the trip to Japan just to try it.

The hardest part isn't focusing.  It's deciding what to focus on.

The other side of this exercise is: what are you doing today that isn't worth your attention?  By virtue of concentration, all your other work will receive more focus.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Segmenting your traffic

What's good for the goose, is not necessarily good for the gander.  

Not all of your visitors are the same.  So why treat them all the same?  They are male/female, returning customers/potential customers, from different industries with different interests at different times of the day, week, month, and year.  Any decent sized website can benefit from segmentation.

But, how do you tell if you need to segment your traffic?

Volatility is the number one indicator you may need to segment your traffic.  If one day your number are up and then next they are down, consider segmenting your traffic.  Various levels of segmentation allow you to optimize your website for each segment.

Segmentation starts with advertising.

Even if you display the same AdWords or Linkedin ad to everyone, your landing page should be customized to their interests.  

AdWords lets you segment your ads by location and keyword.  Linkedin lets you segment your ads by job title and skills.  If you own a plumbing supply store, you can segment your traffic by sending the weekender that searches, "How to fix a toilet," to a diagram page that also has supplies to purchase.  And send the professional plumber to the "toilet supply" category page.  

There are many ways to segment your traffic, but the results are the same.  Your visitors will feel more comfortable on your site and your conversion rates will climb.

Friday, December 7, 2012

There are monsters in my closet

There are monsters in my closet and under my bed, and the floor is made of molten hot lava.  Even though I desperately have to pee, there is no way I'm getting out from under my covers to brave the dark, just to ease my bladder.

Our minds are amazing.  They can take us to other worlds and whisk us into magnificent fantasies, but sometimes they turn against us.  As a child, your imagination paralyzed you with fear of monsters and bugs.  As an adult your imagination paralyzes you with fear of rejection, contempt, and failure.  

In business, often times the most difficult thing you can think to do, isn't.  You've just let your mind and the possibility of failure get the best of you.

If you're analyzing the risks and rewards, you've already wasted too much time thinking.  Try it out for a week, a month, a year.  It's probably easier than you thought.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Finding the perfect wedding gift

If you've ever been shopping for something as general as a "wedding gift" you know how hard it can be to find the right item.  Everything is relative, but not all things relate.  How do you compare a toaster to an iron?  Relative to an iron, my toaster does a terrible job removing wrinkles.

As humans we need to be able to grade things.  But in order to grade something and figure out which one is best, you have to be able to relate it to something else.  Product pages with a variety of items make it hard to  compare items and make a decision.

No matter what industry you're in, find a way to narrow your offerings (on any given page) so you're not asking your visitors to compare toasters and irons.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Business porn gets a bad rap

Business porn, more commonly referred to as stock art, isn't all bad.  Most web gurus cringe anytime they see a professional website with even a moderately generic photo.  But just like anything, there is a time and a place.

The University of Phoenix was recently dinged by a blog post for using "stock art" on one of their landing pages.  But, the University of Phoenix has well over 300,000 undergraduates and upward of 100,000 graduate students.  The generic image could have easily been taken by one of their professional staff photographers.  Also, the image used matched perfectly to their target audience.

Images are meant to help connect the visitor to the content.  Whether it's a blog post or a part of your main website, the most important thing is that the image reflects the content and the reader.  

Now, on the other hand, if you have a small service company and are using stock images for your main site, you're doing it wrong.  The whole point of being a small service company is that you care more and provide a more personal experience than the big nameless corporation.  Using, obviously, stock photography screams that you are generic and don't care.

What do your images say about your company?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to track form anxiety in GA

Forms seem simple.  Either someone fills them out or they don't.  But that's not always the whole story.  

Form anxiety is when someone who would otherwise fill out your form chooses not to or stops half way through, because they don't feel comfortable.  There is also form frustration which can occur when someone makes a mistake or doesn't know the answer and decides to give up.  If you're only keeping track of the number of people who successfully complete your form, you could be leaving your visitors hanging.

I always recommend tracking these behaviors because they are generally easy to fix and result in big wins.  So, how do you do it?  ...with Google Analytics and events.

First, make sure that you are tracking your form as a goal or e-commerce transaction.  This will help you keep track of the raw number of completions.  

Next, you should be tracking form field input success and errors.  The goal is to see if you have one form field that is prone to errors or if your visitors consistently get to a particular section of your form and stop.  

I suggest tracking on blur.  Blur is when the user clicks on another input or part of the page.  It is possible to lose a couple of events with blur, but it is the least obtrusive to the process and will show you how many times someone visits a form field.  If you already have validation that verifies the user's input after each step, you can just add the tracking there.

Now for some sample code.  The GA event is highlighted in green.  This code is not meant to be plug-n-play, it is just to illustrate the point.
    function validate_and_log()
        var formId= 'My Form 1';
        var validity = 'invalid';
        var eleName = $(this).attr('name'); 
        //do the necessary validation
        if($(this).val() != '')
                validity = 'valid';
        _gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Forms', formId, eleName, validity]);

Monday, December 3, 2012

What do you do with your data?

So, you have a website, Google Analytics, and maybe even a Google AdWords account.  What are you doing with all that data?  Are you using it to refine your website and marketing in a way that maximizes results, or is it just sitting there like your exercise bike?

Sometimes, just like physical exercise, it's easiest to get started with a trainer.  If you need help learning how to translate your data into actionable insights, let's talk.

Friday, November 30, 2012

You don't need a flashy website

For most companies the answer to all their digital woes is a new website.  Web design has never been so elaborate or abundant, but the truth is that you don't need a fancy website to drive conversions.  If your website isn't delivering the results you want, it probably isn't the underlying functionality or background color that's holding you back.

Don't get me wrong, many websites out there need a radical makeover, but the most important things are purpose and flow.  Go through your website page by page and write down the following things.

  1. Page URL - You'll need to be able to find the same page later.
  2. Page Title - This is what shows up in your browser's tab.
  3. Page Purpose - What is your goal with this page.  Are you trying to explain something, sell something, brag?  Regardless of the purpose, you need 1 clear purpose per page.
  4. Effectiveness - Does the page serve its purpose?  Try to use analytics data or customer feedback to validate your rating.
  5. What next? - No matter what page you're on, there has to be a next step.  You don't want someone to sign up for your newsletter and then leave your site.  You want them to read more posts from your blog, connect with you on twitter and linkedin, and keep browsing.  When you stop the conversation, your visitors have no choice but to leave.
You don't need a new fandagled website with tons of features.  You just need a little different copy, a little cleaner layout, and clear next steps.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Websites are a sales crutch

One sales person recently told me that he viewed websites, meant to qualify traffic and generate leads, as a sales crutch.  Used in a derogatory manner, he was trying to say that letting a website do this work is not as effective and handicaps the sales people.  I was shocked that he felt this way and my own emotions prevented me from having a solid response.

I have a couple of heroes in the world of sales, namely Zig Ziglar and Ron Popeil.  As you may have heard, Mr. Ziglar passed away yesterday.  His passing has inspired me to look back through some of his material and reminded me of why we sell.

As a website conversion rate optimization consultant, my job is basically digital sales (why I group myself in with sales people.)  Great sales people aren't great because they can sell anything to anyone.  Great sales people are great because they know how to find a customer's weaknesses and strengthen them with the right solution.

If you're optimizing your website so that people don't read the fine print and end up buying something they don't want, you're on the wrong side.

Optimizing your website to help your customers understand their needs and find the right solution isn't a crutch for your sales people, its a service to your customers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blogging - If you build it, they will come.

Unfortunately, this isn't Field of Dreams and you're not Kevin Costner.  Blogs are a lot of work, and they aren't for everyone.  Every SEO and inbound marketing guru seems to be pushing this notion that "content is king."  You're not cool unless you have a blog to bring traffic to your website.

Assuming you still want to blog for you business, here are some pointers.

  1. Blog about your industry.  A blog about funny cats may get visitors, but I don't imagine very many of those visitors are interested in car parts.  Your blog has to be relevant to your business.
  2. Appeal to the correct side.  A blog about your industry and business can either attract customers or competition.  The ideal blog answers your customers' questions, not your colleagues'.
  3. Build a distribution network.  Too often, companies start a blog and become disenchanted because nobody reads it.  At the end of 2011, there were over 180 MILLION blogs!  Start with a list of personal contacts, then reach out to other successful bloggers.  You can use Twitter, FB, email, etc. to promote a blog, but having a network of people who will promote them for you, is the real key.  (Like the church calling tree.)
  4. Don't hope for conversions.  When a visitor comes to your site to read a blog, they are interested in information.  It's a pretty big leap from reader to customer.  Before publishing each post, think about the steps from the blog topic to a conversion and offer a clear next step.  You can't just hope for conversions, you have to lead the convers(at)ion.
There is plenty of other good advice; be creative, be original, be entertaining, be consistent, etc. etc.  My main point is: a blog isn't a sure-fire way to be found and attract customers.  Blog because you have something to say, not because everyone else is doing it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Because I said so...

Why should I buy from you?  Why are you special?  Why do you need to know?

After you've answered the basics: who, what, when, and where, you need to answer why.  No one is persuaded by, "Because I said so."  

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Don't beat your visitors over the head with page after page of useless content or over-ripe sales speak.  Give 'em a taste.  Show them what they're missing, then see what questions they have.

Monday, November 26, 2012

If it ain't broke, test it!

Humans have always had a tendency to over "fix" things.  The saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  The problem with this is that if we never fixed "working" things, innovation wouldn't exist.  If we never fixed the telephone, we would still be using party lines.  We if never fixed the computer, we wouldn't have laptops.

Innovation is paramount to success, but sometimes it can be hard.  Hard because people are generally adverse to change.  When you make something new or enhance something old, you have to be cognitive of the fact that your "advances" threaten the current life of your customers.  In order to embrace your changes, they have to let go of what they know.

So, how do you get adoption of a new feature?

Let's first look at an example of how not to do it.  Facebook is constantly rolling out vast changes to its core functionality.  Games, updates to feeds, privacy settings, timeline, facial recognition, etc.  All of these changes came out as a vast update, at least to the general public.  There was no way to opt-out or go back.  If you're on Facebook, you're along for the ride.

When you release a change in this manner, it forces your customers to adapt or leave.  I worked for a publishing company of over 50 staffers and 200+ writers that used Basecamp for all their project management needs when 37signals, the owners of Basecamp, decided to release a major overhaul of the product.  It caused our entire organization to all but stop for a few days while we tried to learn the new system.  We didn't leave Basecamp, but they received plenty of nasty grams from our directors. 

Google, however, has made some very successful changes to their products.  Just the other day I was in my email when it asked me if I would like to try the new inbox message writer.  I decided to test it out.  I didn't like it and so I went back to the classic way of writing emails.  Note: Google asked if I would like to test out the new feature and let me go back to the previous version.  This method lets Google get valuable feedback on how many people are willing to try something new (an indicator that the old way can be improved), and how many people went back to the old way (an indicator of how well their change will be received).  

If you were to redesign Craigslist, a very successful online classified ads website that often gets dinged for its overly simple design, you could use this same method.  Many people believe that if Craigslist ever changed their design, they would lose many of their customers who value the overly simple layout and design.  You could easily make vast changes to the website via CSS and let visitors opt-in to using the new design and back out if they don't like it.  

If you have a strong customer base and are thinking about making a big change, consider testing your changes with an opt-in style test.  You could save yourself a lot of nasty phone calls and blog posts :)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Greedy algorithms for holiday split testing

If you're looking to test different offers or site elements this holiday season, consider using an epsilon greedy algorithm instead of a simple A/B split test.

A/B split tests direct 50% of your traffic to A and the other 50% to B.  This is the quickest way to achieve statistical significance.  But if one variation, A or B, is significantly better than the other, you sacrifice valuable conversions because a split test will continue to send traffic to the poor performing option.

An epsilon greedy algorithm, used to solve the multi-armed bandit problem, maximizes your average conversion rate during the test.  It keeps track of the current conversion rate of both of your options and sends the majority of your traffic to the one with the best conversion rate.  A small percentage of your traffic is used to continuously test the lower performing options.  You don't reach statistical significance as soon, but your average conversion rate during the test is higher.

If you're planning on continuously testing your site this holiday season, don't just get answers, maximize your conversion rate at the same time with an epsilon greedy algorithm.

Visual Website Optimizer's explanation of split testing vs MAB algorithms.

A simple greedy algorithm.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Use product titles to build anticipation

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today's menu is:
Oven Roasted Turkey Breast with Homemade Brown Gravy, Honey Glazed Ham, Sweet Potato Souffle, Garlic Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, French Cut Green Beans with Onion and Bacon, and Homemade Sweet Dinner Rolls.
Doesn't it just make your mouth water.  Much better than saying, turkey, gravy, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, and dinner rolls.

Do your product titles build anticipation?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rewards vs Incentives

The semantics of using rewards or incentives in the work place has gotten out of control.  The truth is that in this context, these words mean the same thing and are used for the same purpose; to get a better work product from your employees, be it measured in time, quality, effort, etc.  This idea extends to customer retention with loyalty programs and customer gifts.

The debates regarding these two terms aren't about which term to use, but how to achieve your goal.  In general, there are two ways to go about rewards/incentives for your employees and customers.  
  • Up front expectations: if you do X, you will get Y.  
  • Surprise gifts: you don't know if you'll get anything, but I'm known for giving "rewards."

The first option, taps into our competitive nature.  (This is how most loyalty programs work.)  We work diligently to rack up points and miles and achieve the highest status.  The problem is when something goes wrong; points don't get added correctly, the rules change, or it is too difficult to redeem your reward/incentive.  This causes employees and customers to get angry and loose faith in the company that made the system.  It was suppose to be a reward for performance, but because it brought out our competitive nature, it has become the spoils of winning.  No spoils, no win.

The second one, surprise gifts, is more like gambling.  It relies on our imagination and over estimation of unlikely events.  Zappos uses this technique, because they know those people who receive the gift of free express shipping are more likely to become ecstatic at receiving a gift.  Ecstatic customers are more likely to come back and tell their friends.  It becomes a game of getting the next gift.  This sort of program can be hard to keep secret.  If the "rules" to the program get out, it can quickly turn into a competition with expectations.

The best rewards are spontaneous (at least to the receiver), they are not monetarily based, and a clear correlation is shown. 

Even though you may have been working on the algorithm for months, the appearance of spontaneity makes the customer feel special and valued.  

Monetary gifts, cash or gift cards, are worth their exact value.  A thoughtful gift comes with the added value of appreciation, enjoyment, and lasting memories.

Regardless of the gift, a clear correlation helps the receiver understand why the gift was given.  This naturally increases that behavior.

  • You have worked so hard to make this a record year for the company.  I'm giving you and your family an all expenses paid vacation.
  • Thank you for ordering from us and being so patient on the phone.  I'm giving you a free upgrade to priority shipping.

Rewards and incentives seem like a great idea, but if not done correctly, they can do more harm than good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Give 'em a sneak preview

If your company is doing something for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, don't wait to tell people.  There is so much going on that it will be hard to capture anyone's attention this weekend.

The die-hards are already mapping our their route and putting together a play by play.  The agoraphobics have already stocked up on a weeks worth of food, so they don't have to be subjected to the mayhem.  You won't be able to change someone's plan with a sandwich board and a guy on the corner dressed as a hot-dog.

If you're planning something big for this holiday shopping bonanza, now is the time to let everyone know.  Put up a poster, send out a mass email, and give everyone a sneak preview.  You don't want to miss your chance to be a part of their plans.

Note: This tactic works for other times of year too.  If you're hoping to capture unused budgets before the end of the year, or to be a part of next years budget, don't wait until January to tell everyone.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pricing tears

Most businesses that use pricing tiers miss the point, which makes me sad.  They end up using prices that are all roughly the same.  When you have similar prices, it actually makes the purchasing decision harder.  Prices are generally a symbol of value and as such, when you have different feature sets at nearly the same price, it says the extra features aren't worth much.

It takes nearly 4 times as much money to purchase twice as much enjoyment.  To test this, lets imagine I just gave you $5.  Think about all the things you can do with a free $5.  I think about food.  $5 will get me a cheap meal at a fast food restaurant.

If I were to double that and give you $10, the value of what you can get doesn't change much.  You can still really only afford a meal at a fast food restaurant, but maybe now can get a full sized meal with a drink and fries.

If I double the offer again to $20, you can afford a meal at a decent restaurant.  This change for me, the chance to eat at a decent restaurant vs a fast food restaurant, would likely double my enjoyment of the meal.

If your product tiers stand to double the experience, you should have 3-4 degrees of separation between the prices.  This serves to elevate the value of the options even more.  If you only raise the price a little, because the extra features don't really increase your costs, it serves not only to cheapen the higher option, but also the lower options.

The Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 is almost 3x the price of the basic Ford Mustang.  The basic Mustang is just a sports car, but the Shelby is a super car.  Having the option of a super car that looks just like the sports car makes both the sports car and the super car more desirable.

Pricing tiers aren't meant to allow more people into the market at exactly the price they desire, they are a tool to increase value and desirability of your offering.  If your goal is to let your customers choose the price, consider รก la carte.

Friday, November 16, 2012

CRO best practices aren't

Following best practices is not a best practice.  At best, best practices are just what worked well for a number of other people, but best practices are just a shortcut.  Like any shortcut, if you follow best practices, you may not end up where you want to be.

Look at it a different way.  If you want to know how Seth Godin thinks, don't read his books and blog, read what he reads.  Reading what Seth writes will only teach you what he thinks, not how he thinks.  If you read what Seth reads, you can learn the thought process that lead to his popular books and blog.  

If you want your website to be successful, don't copy other successful websites.  Find out how they found the path to success.  Then, you can find your own path to success.

Website conversion optimization is about finding a path to success for your website, not implementing best practices.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Never miss an opportunity to talk to your customers

When things go better than expected, it's easy to talk to the customer and revel in your success.  But, when things go bad, we all have a natural tendency to shy away from contact, hoping the customer won't notice, and that we can fix it.  

Sometimes this works, and a hard conversation is avoided.  More often than not, this just makes the problem worse.

When the customer realizes there's an issue, they feel late to the party, they lose trust in your ability to handle things correctly, and they are left with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Chances are they noticed before you thought they would, and they complained to a colleague, friend, or spouse.  Would you rather your customers yell at you or about you?

Whether things are good, bad, or just okay, never miss an opportunity to talk to your customers, deliver the news, and include them in your process.  The outcome may surprise you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How to earn the trust of a stranger

Engaging a visitor to purchase a product on your website is like earning the trust of a stranger in the mall.  

Trust comes from many different places.  What you're wearing, the way you walk, the way to you talk and even the look in your eyes can serve to add or reduce trust in the exchange.  To begin a conversation, you generally only need a warm smile and a simple greeting.  If you want to make it past the common courtesy of a friendly greeting, you will need to bond.  

The best way to bond with someone is to share a common interest or view.  You can use visual cues from their wardrobe or belongings to find something that resonates with you and strike up a conversation about your shared interest.  Once you have earned the appropriate level of trust, you can ask your question or give your pitch.  

There are different levels of trust, necessary to achieve different results.  The general rule is that the higher the stakes, the more trust is necessary.  To ask someone for directions, a simple greeting will probably build up more than enough trust.  To ask someone for their birthday may require a little more. It is also important to realize that there is no common exchange rate for trust.  Different people require different amounts of trust for the same action.

Your website should have a friendly greeting and be able to strike up a conversation about a common interest with your visitors.  There is no harm in too much trust.  Someone who trusts you with their life, will easily trust you with their email.

Can your website earn the trust of a stranger?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Trust is everything

Trust is everywhere.  It may even be more ubiquitous than hydrogen.  Trust boils down to expectations, and these expectations are what run the world and maintain the status quo.  You trust your doctor to give you good advice, the grocery store to stock the groceries you want, McDonald's to have happy meals, the government to make decisions in the best interest of the people, terrorists to die for their cause, and that you'll wake up tomorrow.  

If you lose trust in any of these, it changes everything; where you shop, where you eat, who you give your taxes to, and even your personal sense of security.  Pandora's box is said to contain hope.  If it were lost, the world would lose hope and be in disarray.  But hope is just a function of trust.  You trust that you have the power to change your circumstances and that someone out there has your back.

Your website visitors trust you, but maybe not in the right way.  They trust you to provide a mediocre product, not to care about them, and to screw them over.  Whatever they trust you for, you've earned it.  While trust is not easy to earn, it is to lose.  Surprise your customers with excellent service and honestly care about their satisfaction.  You may even earn a different kind of trust.

Monday, November 12, 2012

CRO improves lead generation on the web

Website conversion rate optimization isn't just for e-commerce sites with millions of visitors.  CRO can improve your online lead generation, no matter what size your business is.  

Lots of small businesses have two problems with their online lead generation.  One, they don't get very many leads, and two, the ones they do get are soft leads.

Most companies view these problems as a numbers game.  If my website has a 10% conversion rate for leads, and I close about 10% of those leads, then I need 100 visitors for my website to get 1 new customer. While this logic is sound, it doesn't address the problems.  Why are you only closing the deal with 10% of your leads?

I find that most websites do a poor job of qualifying and prepping leads.  It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you can just get someone's number or email, you can sell them anything.  You don't want to scare them off with a high price or slow manufacturing time, so you wait until you talk to them to break the news.  

Your website can sell your products and services better than any sales person.  Not because your website is better at convincing people to buy, but because it can talk to thousands of people at the same time, and let them do the leg work of qualifying themselves for your offering.  If your website weeds out the un-committed visitors, prepares your leads with the downside, and excites them about getting started, all you have to do is take orders.  Website conversion optimization isn't just about increasing your conversion rate, it's about increasing the quality of those conversions too.  A 3% conversion rate with a 100% closing rate, would triple the size of the business in the math above.

Could your online leads be better?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Persuasive marketing with reciprocity

The principle of Reciprocity is that when you give something to someone, they not only give you something in return, they want to.

I've noticed a trend on the web where more and more companies are requiring that you give them your email in order to read their case studies or blog posts about a particular topic.  Other companies are charging a "tweet" for the article, sight unseen, as payment.

This is not a great use of reciprocity.  When websites require the exchange upfront, the reciprocation is on their part.  For your email or tweet, they will share their knowledge with you.

If you have a website, consider the consequences.  This doesn't promote loyal followers that will spread your message.  This creates individuals who feel that you owe them for their payment.  The job of exciting them and exceeding their expectations has just gotten exponentially harder.

If you give useful information to your visitors, they will feel a sort of debt to you.  The more useful the information, the more likely they are to return and feel the need to reciprocate.  If you want a tweet or their email address, all you have to do is ask.  The beauty of reciprocity is that you can build up credit and ask for something big when it counts.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

7 Myths about split tests

Split tests or A/B tests are the best way to determine the impact of your changes.  They are fairly simple to perform and more people could benefit from doing them more regularly, but there are a few myths that I believe are holding people back.

  1. You will get results - Not all tests are created equal.  Actually, most tests don't have a significant impact on the business (maybe why more people don't test.)  If you do your homework and get insights into what affects your visitors, you have a better chance of crafting a significant test.
  2. Test everything - "Everything" doesn't matter to your visitors.  I don't buy a product online just because the "Buy Now" button is red.  On the other hand, if I can't find the buy now button, there is a good chance I will go somewhere else.
  3. Statistical significance is all that matters - Statistical significance is only important in the world of statistics.  Statistical significance is a good indicator that your test is valid, but make sure that your results are good for the company as well.
  4. Your results will hold - Not all results stand the test of time.  This happens for a number of different reasons, but suffice it to say, the world, your visitors, and the web is constantly changing.  Just because people are worried about security today, doesn't mean they will be tomorrow.
  5. Never show your test to returning visitors - If you have long time visitors to your website, on one hand, you don't want to shock them with a crazy test, but if your test is valid, a little improvement may be all they need to convert.
  6. Multivariate testing (MVT) is the holy grail - MVT rarely works.  If you want to find out which one of 3 ads works best in which one of 2 spots in combination with one of 3 headlines, you are looking at 18 different combinations.  If a simple A/B test takes 2 weeks to get enough visitors to be relevant, you could be looking at 18-36 weeks before you get a positive result from your MVT.  If you decided to test all 18 combinations with A/B tests, you could realize incremental results every 2 weeks.
  7. You should always be testing - Not all websites get enough traffic to do split testing efficiently.  For those that do get tons of traffic, if you have a high number of returning visitors, too much change can make the site feel unstable.  Every situation is different, but you don't want to loose confidence from your returning visitors by constantly changing the core of your website.
If you're thinking about doing a split test or are already doing them, hopefully this list will help you avoid some of the pitfalls.  If you have found other myths or unexpected results in your split tests, please share in the comments.