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5 Conversion Principles to Always Test

| September 10, 2013
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“The time has come when advertising has in some hands reached the status of a science… The causes and effects have been analyzed until they are well understood. The correct methods of procedure have been proved and established.”

These insightful words from the legendary Claude Hopkins ring true for conversion rate optimization as well—while a truly great UI and design will also rely on intuition, certain elements of conversion have become somewhat ‘scientific.’

While you should never blindly follow conversion “best” practices without your own testing, Hopkins’ point here is that the fundamentals should be relied upon first and used as controls whenever you seek to improve the experience and conversion rate on your site.

Today, I’d like to highlight a few studies on CRO that point out some of these “methods and procedures” that have been proven and established in the world of CRO, and outline why they should always be tested.

Let’s get started!

1.) Segmentation is the Key to Persuasion

Most of us lambaste the idea that “one size fits all” in our day to day lives, but far too often I see marketers trying to apply this false idiom to their conversion strategy.

The truth is that if you have a variety of personas with differing needs, it’s better to appeal to them individually rather than with a catch-all strategy. At Help Scout, we’ve actually created individual pages for our two primary personas, one who is usually coming from email and another who typically already has a helpdesk. We even set up separate pages for folks coming from Zendesk and Desk.com!

What better way to convince someone to switch over than by giving them an individual page where a complete argument is laid out specifically for their concerns? Much better than trying to cram that information on the homepage.

I put this point first because research from Econsultancy has shown that this practice is one that many companies struggle with when it comes to CRO.

To fix this problem, your company needs to engage in a process called Customer Profiling, which is the art of creating a comprehensive dossier with the subsets of personas within your customer base, listing what their major concerns are, where they come from (inbound channels), and what sort of language they use, etc. The desired outcome is to get to know your customers’ problems better than they do!

This sort of information might seem excessive to some, but look at this quick example. We noticed one of our personas (“Growth Graham”) was consistently coming from Gmail, and one of his most cited problems was that emails were “slipping through the cracks” when doing team support.

Can you guess what copy on our page was dedicated to switching from email to Help Scout?

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When you do the same for your ideal customers and filter them to these targeted pages, it is very likely you’ll be pleased with the results.

2.) Dead Weight and Fitt’s Law

While adhering to the lessons of Fitt’s law is a known way to improve usability, you may be surprised to find that there are plenty of lessons that to apply to CRO.

Consider this case study by Techwyse in which an initial design of a trucking website made the mistake of giving ‘visual weight’ to a non-clickable red button promoting the company’s No Fee’s policy:

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A clear case of ‘dead weight’, as the object’s size isn’t correlated to its importance. Much more important for the company is the phone number, as most of their sales came via this channel.

Changes had to be made!

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Much better.

Although the mere fact that someone has looked at a page element longer cannot be used to assume (in all instances) that a conversion boost is imminent, the underlying lesson here is that elements should generally be sized to match their relative importance to the businesses’ desired outcome for the user.

While this sort of grouping and logical hierarchy has becoming increasingly prevalent in well-designed interfaces:

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…you should remember that visual hierarchies also apply on your marketing site, so be sure to analyze and test those large elements which take up plenty of real estate—are they really pointing users in the right direction, or are they just wasting space?

3.) Eliminate Similarity and Choice Overload

Marketers have recently embraced Sheena Iyengar’s research on when Choice is demotivating, an important study that shows how analysis paralysis can occur when we have too many choices.

If you are unfamiliar with her work, Professor Iyengar was able to show how a setup of 24 different types of jam was outperformed by a setup of 6 different types of jam.

Strangely, although more people tried samples from the 24-jam display (set up at a high-end grocery), nearly 10x the amount of people actually bought jam from the 6-jam display.

Her work is one of the most cited when examining why an excessive amount of choices can sometimes lead to slumping conversion rates.

One interesting pricing strategy that brings up more questions on choice and conversions comes from a recent academic study at Yale that showcases how similarity can also be a conversion killer when it comes to showcasing options. Researchers found that if two similar items are priced the same, consumers are much less likely to buy one than if their prices are even slightly different.

In fact, in a case study where they changed the prices of two similar packs of gum, the researchers found that 31% more participants chose to purchase an item when the prices were changed!

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This means that when consumers are confronted with two similar products at two similar prices, they face another dilemma of choice.

The solution here isn’t to set all of your identically made socks at different prices for each color. Rather, you should recognize the psychology of what’s happening: when similar items have the same price, consumers are inclined to defer their decision instead of actually taking action.

When your business sells products that are fairly similar but contain different features (for example, a crew-neck shirt and a V-neck shirt), you should consider testing this principle by changing their prices so that they are slightly different from one another.

4.) Bad Typography will Kill Conversions

A high converting web page will always be one that is actually read and understood. You might be surprised to find that your site’s typography plays a far more important role in this aspect than just making things “pretty.”

According to this study on readability, typography and spacing greatly influences reading comprehension. The study revealed how small margins managed to help people read faster, but that it greatly reduced their comprehension of the text on the page:

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Just because your page might be considered a “squeeze” page doesn’t mean you need to squeeze the text until it is illegible!

To fix these problems, first take a look at the following typography guidelines by Rafal Tomal, Copyblogger’s lead designer.

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Improve your margins: To address the main issue in the study, Rafal recommends increasing the white space in your margins and adding a bit more line height to the body of your text so that the spacing looks natural and “open”, making even long blocks of text look more approachable.

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Increase contrast: I’m not sure what causes designers to fall in love with the “light text on gray background” look, but it’s quite a hassle for readers who want to read the text on the page. If someone is taking time out of their day to read something on your site, you should make it as easy as possible.

Lastly, I want to address a separate problem that often occurs when analyzing text and conversion rates—pacing.

As can be seen from this study, when it comes to longer text on a page, you will definitely lose a few people:

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However, length is often a great way to qualify visitors and can result in better leads (as explained by Neil Patel), making up for the loss of people too intimated by the page length.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to alleviate some of this problem however, and Rafal’s last recommendation is to create a better pace of reading by including more obvious subheadings that are in starker contrast to the body text on the page:

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This breaks up reading into chunks instead of slamming users with a giant wall o’ text, and is a great way to keep long landing pages approachable.

5.) Headlines + Compelling Value Propositions

It’s said that human beings are visual creatures, and while that is probably true, it doesn’t take away from the FACT that on webpages, headlines are king, not images.

In the Poynter study Eyetrack III, it is clearly showcased how headlines were able to capture reader attention far more consistently than images on the page. In fact, headlines were regularly the single most viewed element on any page.

Here are some important points about headlines that the study highlights:

  • Headlines draw people’s attention almost immediately, and outperform pictures by a large margin.
  • People scan only the first couple of words in a headline before they make their decision to leave or stay.
  • Your headline has approximately ~1 second to capture a reader’s attention before being ignored.

There’s also a case to made for crystal-clear headlines, as tempting as creativity may be. “Boring” headlines are often the easiest way to clearly showcase your value proposition, which is the main compelling reason why people should buy from you!

Consider this quick case study on changing a headline with slightly ambiguous copy to one with a totally obvious value proposition:

  1. Simple Fix for Blown Head Gaskets
  2. Repairs Blown Head Gaskets in Just One Hour

That second example improved conversions by a hefty 58%, and creates a compelling case for spending plenty of time making sure your headline (no matter where you are using it) is creating a completely obvious and highly persuasive case for how you can solve your customer’s problems.

Is it any wonder then that some of the web’s smartest startups follow this rule as if it were iron clad?

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Maybe not the most creative copy you’ve ever seen, but when a visitors lands on these pages and see the large headline, they can immediately answer the question: “Will this solve my problem?”

Your Turn

What did you think about the points made here? Are there any conversion principles that you swear by for your own site?

Thanks for reading, we’ll see you in the comments below!