How Personalization Can Help You Close Leads and Win Customers (with Examples)

Remember the last time you landed on the Amazon homepage and saw a bunch of recommendations based on your browsing habits?

Or that time when you got an email from your favorite airline thanking you by name and even mentioning your home city?

This is the power of personalization.

Personalization is easy enough to understand: the process of crafting personalized experiences for individual customers through data.

The data is pretty clear: personalization is good for your customers and your bottom-line.

  • 75% of customers say that they like when brands personalize the shopping experience for them (Aberdeen Group).
  • 74% of online customers get frustrated with website when content appears that has nothing to do with their interests (Janrain).
  • 86% of customers say that personalization affects their purchase decision (Infosys).
  • Marketers who personalize the user-experience and are able to implement the changes see on average a 19% uplift in sales (Monetate).

In this post, I’m going to help you understand personalization and show you how you can use it in your business.

Three Types of Personalization

Broadly speaking, you can divide any kind of on-site personalization into three categories:

1. Product-Specific Personalization

In this type of personalization, you show customers products based on what others have bought, or products that go well together (also called “affinity analysis”).

Essentially, it’s a way to upsell additional products based on what the customer is already viewing.

As an example, consider how Amazon shows you popular product combinations (“Frequently Bought Together”):

amazon-frequently-bought-together

Amazon also shows you products viewed/bought by other customers:

customers-bought-viewed-after-product

According to one study, this type of personalization generates the highest revenue for E-commerce stores:

personalied-product-recommendation-type-usage

It works due to three reasons:

  • Knowing that there are others who’ve bought similar products acts as powerful social proof, improving conversions.
  • Product recommendations are served right when customers are ready to buy. Think McDonald’s “Would you like fries with that?” upsell.
  • It encourages customers to view more products. Even if they don’t buy them, you get additional data and customers get exposed to new products.

This type of personalization is relatively easy to setup since it doesn’t require user-specific data. You can even set up product combinations (aka “Frequently Bought Together”) manually if you have a small inventory.

Similarly, setting up recommendations based on behavior of other customers (aka “Customers Who Viewed this Also Viewed”) is relatively easy if you have data on your customers’ behavior flow.

2. User-Focused Personalization

This personalization-type focuses on crafting customized experiences for every user.

You can further divide it into two sub-categories:

A. Data blind personalization

In this case, you know nothing about the user, so you gather key information right on the landing page itself.

For example, NakedWines asks you specific questions at the start to give you a personalized shopping experience. The more information they have on you, the better wine they’d be able to recommend.

nakedwines-survey-questionnaire

Unless you have a lot of customer data, most of your personalization will be data blind. You’ll have to use tactics to quickly gather customer information when they land on your site (more on this below).

Alternatively, you can personalize your site depending on information you already know – the user’s location, browsing device, referral source, etc.

For example, if you browse LLBean.com from Mexico, you’ll see an alert in Spanish notifying you about international shipping. LLBean can easily get this data from your browser itself.

ll-bean-geolocation

B. Data backed personalization

Users who’ve registered or bought something from your store fall into this category. Since you already have some data on these users’ preferences and shopping behavior, you can use it to create personalized experiences/recommendations.

For example, look at Amazon’s “You might also like” or “Inspired from your browsing history” recommendations.

amazon-inspired-by-your-browsing-history

Or Amazon’s “Featured Recommendations” based on recent history:

amazon-featured-recommendations

Data-backed personalization is a powerful tool for improving your conversions. Since it’s based on past user-behavior, you can show highly accurate recommendations to customers and increase your customer LTV.

3. Real-Time Personalization

Real-time personalization is a personalization technique that uses data collected from visitors to create personalized shopping experience on the fly.

In a way, it’s another form of data blind personalization, except it works in real-time.

For example, take a look at Burton‘s real-time weather-based personalization. Based on the weather at the user’s location, a tile on the homepage adapts and shows relevant products to buy.

burton-real-time-weather-personalization

Here’s another example from Volcom. Depending on your location, you would see two entirely different pages:

volcom-personalization

Real-time personalization often creates serendipitous “wow” moments for your customers. Using it too much, however, can leave visitors confused. Some users might even see it as an invasion of their privacy.

If you must use it, use it sparingly.

Before You Start Personalization: Things You’ll Need

We’ve seen how personalization can help you increase conversions while also improving your customer experience.

Before you can start the personalization process, however, there are a few things you’ll need.

1. The right audience

Unless you have a treasure trove of customer data and a crack team of data scientists to make sense of it (like Amazon), most of your personalization tactics will revolve around your “ideal” buyers.

These are buyers who have the money, the motivation and the need for your product.

The best way to identify this ideal audience is to create a thorough customer profile. This should more than just a brief statement like “Men who are above the age of 40 and who like sports”.

Instead, your “ideal buyer” customer profile should include the following:

  • Demographic information: This may include age, gender, location, ethnic background, marital status, income, and more.
  • Psychographic information: This information is about the customer’s psychology, interests, hobbies, values, lifestyle etc.
  • Firmographic information: This is more relevant to B2B businesses. Information on company name(s), size, industry, revenue etc.

How do you find this data?

This post from Chloe Mason Grey is a good place to start.

Most businesses will have multiple “ideal buyers” (say, a shoe store that sells running gear as well as formal dresswear). Use the data you gathered above to segregate your customers into distinct customer profiles.

2. The right message for the right customer

Different messages resonate with different customer profiles. Your 50-year old customer who buys $400 formal footwear isn’t going to respond to the same message as the 20-year old buying skateboarding shoes.

The next thing you’ll need for personalization, therefore, is the right messaging for different customer groups.

For example, if you sell software for businesses, you may want to show different landing pages for different segments of your target market.

DemandBase, for instance, mentions a customer’s company name and custom image (in this case, Salesforce) on its landing page:

demandbase-salesforce

Ideally, you should have separate messaging for each of your identified customer profiles.

For instance, suppose you identify two ideal customer profiles for your shoe store:

  • Millennials under 25 who buy cheap casual shoes, read Complex magazine and buy 10+ video games every year.
  • Professionals above 35 who buy expensive, but quality formal shoes, read niche fashion sites and occupy senior management positions.

You can then craft personalized messaging for both these customer profiles.

For your millennial buyers, for example, you might send them an email informing them about a new sneaker recently reviewed by Complex. For your older buyers, you could send them a personalized email about a classic Alden shoe that pairs perfectly with a quality suit.

Organize these messages in a “Messaging Matrix”, like this:

messaging-matrix

3. The right place to show your messages

Now that you know who your audience is and what messages resonate with them, it’s time to figure out where they hang out.

Ask yourself: which websites and social networks do they visit frequently? Do they regularly check their emails? Are there any apps they can’t live without?

Doing this will ensure that your personalized message reach your audience at the right place.

For example, if your customer research shows that most of your audience spends much of its time on email instead of reading blogs, investing time in personalized blog posts will be a waste of time.

Use this data to prioritize your message distribution. If you’ve worked out the message to get more conversions, then make sure you place it where the traffic is high (and of high quality).

For instance, Target shows its personalized recommendations right after you add a product to cart:

target-guests-also-bought

This will likely have strong conversions since it shows up right when the customer is ready to checkout.

How to Use Personalization in Your Business

By now, you should have:

  • A detailed profile of the “right” customer(s)
  • Messaging that resonates with these customers
  • A distribution system to deliver this messaging to your ideal customers.

The obvious question now is: how do you actually apply all this to personalization?

In this section I’ll share some strategies for using personalization.

1. Focus on capturing data

Data is the heart of personalization. In any personalization campaign, your focus should be to capture as much data as possible. This should include data for both logged-in and raw users.

Here are a few questions you should have answers to:

  • Traffic source: Where does your traffic come from? What devices and browsers do they use?
  • Behavior flow: What other pages do your visitors view? How long do they stay on these pages? Do they click/purchase anything from these pages?
  • Engagement metrics: What pages do your visitors engage with the most? What parts of the page do they spend the most time viewing?
  • Subjective data: Can customers actually find what they were looking for on your site? Use on-site forms to ask users such questions.
  • Click behavior: What links do your users click on? What links to they ignore?
  • CRM data: What part of the buying cycle are your users in? Use your CRM data to figure this out.
  • User data: When did your customer sign-up with you? How many products have they purchased from you? What is their average order value? Where are they located?
  • Search data: What keywords are customers searching for on your site?

Besides the above, you can also collect data when a user lands on a page and customize the experience on the fly. A very simple example of this is Lufthansa asking users what region and language they want to see the site in:

lufthansa-my-country-language

Here’s another example from Doggyloot. Instead of simply sending customers to the homepage, Doggyloot shows them a custom landing page based on the size of their dogs.

doggyloot-custom-landing-page

You can gradually ask for more and more data from the user to create more customized experiences. For instance, on the Sales Benchmark Index homepage, users are asked to choose their current role:

sbi-choose-your-role

Based on their choice, users are sent to a page with handpicked posts from the SBI blog:

sbi-personalized-page

If a user downloads an eBook or guide, SBI shows them additional content recommendations:

sbi-similar-blog-posts

Even the most basic data can help you create personalized experiences. JetBlue, for example, sent out customers a “happy anniversary” email to thank them for signing up.

jetblue-happy-anniversary-email

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need your own data to run personalized campaigns. Most ad platforms will likely already have lots of data you can leverage to create such experiences.

For example, you can run two Facebook campaigns:

  • Campaign #1: Targets 20-something first-time entrepreneurs who like TechCrunch and Hacker News.
  • Campaign #2: Targets CIOs at large companies who read CIO magazine and subscribe to niche industry blogs.

Since you’ve already qualified your audience, you can now create two custom landing pages for each of these two customer profiles.

For instance, your campaign #1 landing page might say “If you love Hacker News, you’ll love our tech community as well”, while the second landing page might share a whitepaper on a topic recently shared by CIO.

This is very raw personalization (if any), but it’s a quick alternative to combating a lack of data.

2. Personalize based on current position in the buyer’s journey

A user you’ve already touched multiple times wants to see very different things than a user landing on your site for the first time.

By combining data from your CRM, you can personalize your experience based on the user’s current position in the funnel.

For example, you might email a user late in the funnel a discount coupon to close the deal. A first-time visitor, on the other hand, can be sent to a personalized page with a beginner’s “how to guide”.

Lynton, an inbound marketing agency, shows this landing page to customers who haven’t been converted to leads yet (i.e. they are in the Awareness stage):

lynton-non-converted-leads

After Lynton has qualified the lead, it shows a custom landing page (for inbound marketers):

lynton-custom-landing-page

If you don’t have CRM data, you can also use keyword data to estimate the user’s position in the buyer’s journey.

For instance, if you’re selling analytics software, a user who searches for “what is analytics?” is likely in the “Awareness” stage. A customer who searches for “analytics software discounts” is probably in the “Decision” stage and can be shown a different page.

HubSpot, for example, has dedicated landing pages for “what is inbound marketing” (an Awareness stage keyword) and “best inbound marketing software” (a Consideration stage keyword).

inbound-marketing-consideration-awareness-stages

3. Personalize based on user’s past behavior

If the user has interacted with your business earlier, you can use that data to personalize her current experience.

For example, a customer named Emily (who has already bought from you in the past) lands on your site. However, instead of her usual USA location, she seems to be browsing from Europe. You can change your site to show prices in Euros, or give her shipping information for Europe (while also greeting her by name).

There are a few things you must consider when personalizing your content based on past customer behavior:

  • Positive behavioral indicators: If you dig through your analytics, you’ll find that certain behavioral indicators signal a high conversion chance. For example, suppose your data shows that customers who view an item > 4 times are highly likely to convert. A personalization campaign that focuses on such customers would be more successful.
  • Exclude repeat customers: Showing personalized campaigns to customers who’ve already bought the same (or similar) products recently is a waste of resources. Dig through your analytics to exclude any such customers from your campaigns.

One easy way to personalize on-page content is to use “Smart Content”. This is content that essentially updates automatically based on available user data.

For example, on the “Play Like a Girl” homepage, new visitors see this message:

welcome-to-play-like-a-girl

Logged-in users, however, see a personalized greeting:

play-like-a-girl-personalization

Here’s another example from Nike showing how even simple data (in this case, the user’s gender) can help create a more personalized experience. Male users see the page on the left, while females see the page on the right:

nike-male-female-website

You can use user-data to personalize everything from landing pages to CTAs and forms. In fact, HubSpot’s data shows that personalized CTAs regularly outperform non-personalized CTAs:

hubspot-personalized-ctas

4. Personalization based on data from other users

This strategy involves using data from other users to personalize a user’s shopping experience.

For example, suppose your data shows that repeat customers prefer downloading whitepaper #5 while new customers read whitepaper #2 multiple times. You can use this information to push new users to the right download in your emails.

To make better use of customer data for serving personalized recommendations, there are a few things you need to know:

  • Ensure segment overlap, if possible: Instead of making blind recommendations based on-page behavior, show recommendations of similar products bought by customers in the same segment. For example, if you know a user belongs to the “millennial movie lover” segment, consider recommendations based on what other customers in this segment also bought, instead of generic recommendations.
  • Limit price variance: A customer looking at a $20 product isn’t very likely to buy a recommended product that costs $200. Setup maxima and minima prices for your recommended products to improve conversions.

The “customers who viewed this also viewed/bought” personalization is the best example of this. Besides what Amazon does, you can also push conversions up by showing the difference between what customers viewed and what they actually bought.

Target does this exceptionally well:

guests-also-viewed-ultimately-bought-target

If you don’t have a lot of customer data, you can also do product-level personalization. For example, ASOS upsells other clothes worn by its models with a section titled ‘Buy the Look’ after you add a product to your cart.

asos-buy-the-look

This technique is effective because the customer can see how the other items already fit together. Plus, it doesn’t require extensive user-data.

Another example that uses very little data is this landing page from Barilliance showing the number of marketers who’ve downloaded an eBook recently:

barilliane-personalization-whitepaper

Conclusion

Personalization is a powerful strategy for increasing conversions, but it is also easy to get overwhelmed by it.

If you haven’t already put this system in place by now, start small by using personalization on your top-converting pages. Split test personalized vs. non-personalized versions of these pages to see whether your users respond to these changes.

Remember that you don’t have to personalize every part of your site, just the bits that matter.

And finally, always keep testing.

About the Author: John Stevens is a seasoned marketer and entrepreneur. Currently, he’s the founder and marketing head at HostingFacts. He also helps businesses select better site building tools at WebsiteBuilder.org.

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Starting from Zero? A Customer Acquisition Playbook for New Websites

Every new ideas begins with a new domain name.

And with every new domain name, comes hundreds of problems.

Hosting, at this point, is the least of your worries.

Go ahead with some crappy shared one like Bluehost.

Because chances are you’re not going to get enough visits to even matter.

Here’s why, and how to fix it.

Why ‘Search’ Can’t Help You

Search engines haven’t really changed all that much over the past few years.

Sure, they use machine learning now. There was a Panda, a Penguin, and a Hummingbird.

Things have evolved. Been refined.

But they haven’t changed.

The principles are still the same.

They still use ‘spiders’ or bots, crawling and gathering data on millions of websites. Those pages are indexed; grouped into similar topics based on relevancy.

Higher rankings (i.e. greater visibility) still comes largely from the citations of others, increasing your popularity, authority, and overall trustworthiness of a site (including even qualitative factors).

The trouble, is that search engines have been designed – from the beginning – to reward websites that have been around the block (incorporating things like the domain age as a ranking factor).

Throw in the growing preference towards established brands and you got a problem.

New websites are anything but popular, authoritative, or trustworthy. In fact, you typically have to work twice as hard, because no one knows who you are (and they certainly don’t trust you – ready to hand over their credit card).

So while it’s tempting to wait around for the Google God’s to smile upon you, sending thousands of ‘free’ visits overnight, it ain’t likely.

But wait, because it’s about to get worse!

Advertising Probably Ain’t Gonna Happen, Either

One of the greatest misconceptions small or new ventures have that advertising is either (a) ineffective or (b) too expensive.

When done correctly, it’s neither.

Groupon successfully used it to fuel massive growth, acquiring 33 million subscribers in a single quarter. Bootstrapped AppSumo used it too.

But despite all this…

There’s an opportunity cost.

You need bodies. Equipment. Leases. Available money typically gets absorbed by the mind-numbing quantity of stuff needed to get a new venture off the ground.

Unless you’re Color (wow, how’s that for a dated reference?!), there’s probably not enough cash in the bank to throw around for advertising initially.

Hate to break it to you, but this now effectively rules out the two best methods for acquiring new customers.

That doesn’t leave us with very many other options.

So of those restricted possibilities, here are some of your best bets for a customer acquisition playbook for new sites.

Then Where Are Your Early Visits Going to Come From?

If you’ve looked at any analytics program in the past, you’ll notice that we’ve ruled out Search and Advertising. Only a few sources left.

Direct, or people typing in your URL, also isn’t likely initially because no one knows who you are.

So strike that one off your list too while you’re at it.

That leaves us with Referrals, Social and Email.

Awesome. Now we’re getting somewhere.

The DNS is pointed, WordPress blog up-and-running, and you’re ready to rattle off ~500 words about your latest and greatest.

Don’t.

Because nobody cares. That’s harsh. Unfortunately, also true.

Sure, you should get a landing page up. Create a blog. Prep. Cause you’re gonna need someplace to send people.

But then turn your attention outside. Because the biggest opportunities for early visits are going to come from proactively reaching out to other people.

Other communities, media properties, group’s, companies, bloggers, journalists.

In short, influencer marketing.

And while that phrase makes me cringe, using it in a blog post is guaranteed to shoot you to the top of Inbound.org (so alas, my hands are tied).

I’m also not referencing the half assed, trite, “Nice blog post!”-style of influencer marketing. Nor the incestuous, growth hackers talking about growth hacking to growth hackers, that’s also common these days.

But the good kind. That resembles old school marketing at it’s finest.

Specifically, here are five sources to tap today.

Source #1. Channel Partners

Perry Marshall’s 80/20 Sales and Marketing uses a visceral story to explain this first source: “Racking the Shotgun”.

The idea, which I’m no doubt about to butcher, is to go after the people most likely to respond.

Understanding distribution helps. In other words, where do people already go to buy stuff like yours?

Health conscious people buy organic food direct or at specialty food stores.

That’s why Liquid Aminos perform best on Amazon or Whole Foods, but probably not your neighborhood grocery market or (God forbid) Walmart.

If you want to find the people most likely to purchase your widget, go first to the places people are most likely to purchase something similar.

People learning how to code, are most likely going to freelance and send an invoice at a certain point in their life. Freshbooks working out a deal with Treehouse is a perfect example.

treehouse-student-perks

These can be official partnerships or revenue sharing agreements that can be tracked using specific codes or conversion points (like specific forms or landing pages).

Even simple, basic, old school cross promotions would work, such as running a joint-contest or sending email promotions to each other’s audience.

Source #2. Offline Events

Real people don’t read.

Normal people (i.e. your customers) don’t spend all day on Hacker News or Inbound.org.

So where do they get their news? Where do they find solutions to the big problems (like the ones you solve)?

Outside. IRL. At events.

Step 1. Go to them. (Shocking.)

Step 2. Volunteer/speak/help them.

Working events puts you in the middle of the action, and the people who matter, who can refer you and connect you with the best attendees. And volunteering effort, time or expertise is almost welcomed.

For example, there’s meetups happening all around you every single day.

sf-bayarea-machine-learning-meetup

Hakka Labs attends, records, and distributes the audio records of engineer related events making them a valuable asset to the community (and getting props in return).

hakka-video-of-talk

Source #3. PR Outreach

Everyone’s favorite PR advice is to just jump on HARO and… wait?

The problem with that approach, is that passiveness is a cancer in new ventures.

Instead, do some research to build your own media list. (After all, that’s what you’re paying for with most PR companies anyway.)

It’s easy. Here, I’ll show you.

Search Engine Journal was literally the first industry blog that popped in my head. I opened up a recent blog post and found the author.

Hi, Danny!:)

facebook-wants-to-kill-clickbait

The easiest way to ‘break the ice’ would be through social somewhere, where people are much more likely to actually respond (as opposed to cold email which makes you look like every other spammer imaginable).

For example, you could try LinkedIn to see if you have any connections who could recommend you. Now for some good old fashioned internet stalking… (c’mon – don’t act like you have no idea what your ex is up to now).

linkedin-common-connection

See. Literally the first try.

You can also save prospects in the LinkedIn Sales Navigator to get each and every single one of their updates in a specially tailored inbox that allows you to begin engaging with them on the daily until they recognize you.

I’d show you a picture, but I think I’ve already creeped Danny out enough for one day.

Source #4. Referrals from Your Early Visits (or Customers)

Some of the most successful companies on the face of the planet have used distribution hacks like referrals to skyrocket user growth (and revenue).

Dropbox, for example, went from 100,000 paying customers to over 4 million. In one year.

One of the Lean Startup’s “engines of growth” focused on sticky businesses, where you prevent people from churning and inspire true word-of-mouth so that growth “comes from the action of past customers”.

ReferralCandy is an excellent example, removing the technical requirements (and excuses) to implementing simple referral campaigns. They even integrate with Shopify!

referral-candy-referral-programsImage Source

The primary value proposition on Lob‘s website says, “Programmatically send physical mail at scale”. Um, yes please?! (Someone’s been reading their Copy Hackers.)

That means you can automatically kick off stuff to go out in the mail to new customers without doing, well much of anything after setting it up.

Giving your customers a reason to spread your Gospel doesn’t take a ton of effort. Just show you care and appreciate them.

Source #5. Become a Sought-After Expert

‘Thought leadership’ sounds like one of those business school myths perpetuated by narcissists.

But in reality, it makes everything easier.

Being your own brand gives channel partners a reason to work with you. It makes speaking at offline events (or working with online ones like Kissmetrics webinars) simple because they’re in constant need for industry practitioners who can share their expertise.

measure-influencer-roi-webinar

It gives you a ‘Halo Effect‘ when reaching out to the media or speaking with your own customers.

Best of all, becoming a thought leader also gives you an audience who’s willing to cite, recommend or share your expertise.

Which raises your online popularity, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Which, if you remember, is the catalyst to finally getting scalable traffic from Organic Search.

Conclusion

The quicker you realize that new website visits aren’t coming from passive sources like Search or Advertising, and only from proactive ones like Referrals, the better.

It’s a tough pill to swallow at first, but it gives you a critical posture change that’s required to succeed in getting a new site off the ground.

Your initial prognosis is only as good as the people who can potentially refer you.

So as soon as possible, start focusing the bulk of your attention on helping others – whether as a resource, speaker, volunteer, rev-share partner, or whatever – the better your odds of success.

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

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:

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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.

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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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How to Use Qualitative Research to Expand on Your Marketing Personas

The marketing persona is a tried-and-true customer segmentation strategy that many companies rely on to get the big picture about the people they serve. At the same time, these marketers and their teams are gathering copious amounts of data from and about those customers.

Because there is so much data out there, it can be difficult to tie all that information to specific segments. But that doesn’t mean it has to go to waste. In fact, with the data you’re collecting right now, you can make some pretty impressive leaps in better understanding and serving your customers. Here’s how to do it.

Overview: What is Qualitative Research and Why Does It Matter?

Oftentimes, marketers will use terms like “qualitative research” and “quantitative research” to mean the same thing, when they are quite different. 

Qualitative research, as we’ll discuss here, is understanding the motivation behind something, its underlying reasons, opinions and so forth. From a marketing point of view, it asks why customers behave or react a certain way. A video of a user testing session or a focus group are examples of qualitative research.

Quantitative research, on the other hand, looks at the numbers to quantify opinions, attitudes and so on to create results from a larger sample size. These methods include surveys, polls and telephone interviews. It is designed to uncover things like shifts in perspective or to detect certain user patterns. Many times marketers will use both to better create fuller, multi-dimensional user personas – however, it’s the qualitative research that provides for the most insight in this case. The quantitative research simply backs up your findings.

To remember which is which, it may be helpful to keep in mind that quantitive is quantity. Quantity is numbers, and therefore quantitive research deals with numbers.

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A study last year from Cintell shows that understanding drivers and motivators from customers is on the priority list of B2B companies

Uncovering New Customer Personas

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By analyzing the qualitative data you’re gathering, you’ll start to see what motivates your customer to take action. But what if you can’t tie that motivation to any existing persona? The solution is to then create a new one! These days there are now more tools than ever available to help you discover customer intent and monitor customer behavior. You can tap into the “person behind the metrics” to add new facets to your existing personas – the kinds of deep, granular detail that haven’t been possible until now.

As your customer persona comes into better focus, you may even find some outlying information that just doesn’t add up. That’s where potentially creating a new persona, or an offshoot of an existing one, can help. New personas and segments represent a major positioning strategy that can give you that all-important “first mover” advantage with an untapped or under-served market.

Going Beyond the Numbers

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Another area where qualitative research shines with regard to marketing personas is getting at the underlying core of what makes that person tick. Humans are a fickle, ever-changing bunch, and it can be hard to pin down behavior of why they might abandon a cart one day and then seamlessly ride through checkout the next.

Marketers may look at the numbers to see that a great deal of people are stopping right before checkout and leaving without placing an order. The numbers tell us that much – but they don’t tell us why.

Taking a more qualitative approach, such as videoing a prospect going through the process and recording their thoughts as they proceed provide accurate, clear and actionable reasons why they made the choices they did. There’s no guesswork, no fruitless searching for reasons why. It’s all out there in the open, ready to be acted upon.

This kind of live recording also captures many things that typical analytics cannot, such as eye tracking, facial movements and reactions, so you can see precisely the effect that your call to action is having on prospects. What are they focusing on? What are they ignoring? What are they struggling with and what questions do they have? These are all questions that can be answered in great detail by analyzing the qualitative information you’ve gathered.

Putting the “Person” Back in Persona

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Finally, you could look at qualitative research as the type of study that puts the person back in persona. Analytical numbers are great for determining technical mishaps, uncovering the best ROI channels and other areas where core numbers make a difference. But with marketing personas, much of what has already been created is based on what little personal information can be gleaned from those numbers. I’m talking about things like gender, location, referrer, device and so on.

These details are great for building the “skeleton” of a persona – but they do nothing to dive into the motivations behind their actions. And despite our capricious urges as online shoppers, many of the things we do are predictable and can be measured. We typically ditch sites that ask for too much information from their forms, or require us to create an account first. We take a considerable amount of time to read reviews and comparison shop on larger purchases, and we often look for recommendations from those we trust before we decide. It’s not just human nature, it’s smart business.

Qualitative research puts these kinds of actions back into the marketing puzzle. Imagine showing a focus group your new product and gauging their reaction to how you’ve chosen to brand it. What are they focusing on, and is it the same thing that you thought would appeal to them? So much of what can be built out of a persona based on numbers alone is pure guesswork – but being able to see their reactions, their focus and their feedback firsthand provides the kind of insights you can’t get from charts and graphs.

Now It’s Your Turn…

Are you using qualitative research in your own marketing analyses? Have you uncovered any new persona segments or discovered something completely new about your target audience as a result? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at iElectrify.com and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!

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Lessons Learned From Integrating Marketo into a SaaS Marketing Strategy

Marketo, the lead nurturing platform, is one of the best tools for marketers to create long-term relationships with customers, from creating prospects to converting them into advocates.

This “lead nurturing” is a proven tactic for moving prospects through a marketing funnel and improving customer engagement. For a SaaS business, which can oftentimes rely on personalized demos or free trials for prospects, nurturing can be a critical component of the marketing strategy. Considering that 40-60% of free trial users will never become paying users, it is especially important to use nurturing to educate and engage your prospects through content, as well as to ensure they understand the value of becoming a loyal, paying customer.

First Lesson: Nurture with Educational Content

Whereas traditional businesses make a sale once a prospective customer converts, SaaS businesses rely on the success of software free trials, creating a higher-risk, higher-touch relationship with leads who haven’t converted into paying users.

Baremetrics used educational content and other tactics to reduce churn by 63%.

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But a lot of times, after bringing prospects into the funnel using educational and organic content, you may find yourself wondering: where are the conversions? When does the magic start to happen?

Second Lesson: Middle-of-the-Funnel Advantage

Because of the nature of the SaaS business model, there is a low barrier of entry for prospects. A common conversion point for many SaaS is a freemium model as it allows users to “try before they buy” into a subscription. Trouble is, once the user has already provided their contact info, the clock starts ticking. Unless your product is capable of selling itself, you’re going to need informational and promotional content to convince trial users to convert to paying users.

Because of the number of prospects and opportunities in the middle of the funnel, SaaS businesses are forced to segment users on more than a demographic score but also on a behavioral score. This is the activity your users have taken to get to the point where they are now.

Nurturing users who are in your free trial is a great way to test the effectiveness of your educational content. If more users convert after being delivered targeted messaging, Marketo is smart enough to convey similar content, a technique called Content Personalization.

These middle-of-the-funnel nurture campaigns can help your prospects stay enthralled during the trial; they can also assist with the final conversion point: your product or service.

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First-touch attribution is the crux of any SaaS marketing analytics effort. Understanding where your customers are coming from and how to pour gasoline on that fire is the surest way to scale growth. Marketo does this well. Every user that comes onto your radar is tracked by IP, even without any other information about that visitor.

However, Marketo is more than an email service and “automation” doesn’t simply mean customers are sent emails. Marketo also has a fantastic analytics feature and numerous integrations which can greatly improve every facet of your marketing process.

Consider These Implications

TRACK REPEATED USE

You cannot be passive and let free trial users sit idly by. Engaging and educating prospects should be a priority. Encouraging feedback and actual conversations with your customers is the only way you’re going to make those relationship real. Thus, a metric for your software should be repeated use from nurtured users. There are a number of in-app integrations that can assist with this, but a simple one is Google Analytics. Set up a custom property to track users who are using your service. A more robust option is Kissmetrics.

SYNC WITH CRM

A database sync to Salesforce or another CRM is critical, so come into the process with a clean database in hand, or face the consequences. Your CRM will sync with Marketo and send data back and forth. Any mistake you make with Marketo will reveal itself on the CRM side. Unless you’re a professional Salesforce Architect, be careful not to ruin years of work. You also certainly don’t want to upset your sales team.

CUSTOMER-FIRST, FIRST

You’ll need to sharpen your understanding of your customer base. Collecting emails for anyone who enters your funnel doesn’t help you nurture, so identify a way to segment prospects during the conversion. A great example of this is to invite your newsletter list to download an industry-specific ebook or white paper. If they take the (free) bait, then you know they are interested in that content. If you think you need 13 points of personal data to close a sale, try to figure out a way to get one or two more pieces of data every time you communicate with your audience. Develop your nurture campaign after you’ve defined your ideal customer.

Third Lesson: Develop a Roadmap

Your roadmap should be customer-focused, which should be second-nature to any successful SaaS. Customers are interacting with your Marketo implementation just as much as your marketing team.

Make sure you include reporting in your roadmap. A solid reporting framework will take some time to set up. To avoid common first-timer mistakes, include a simple report in every smart campaign you set up, the first time you set it up. You can always improve the report and identify your stakeholders later on at the reporting level, but going through every active campaign and checking the flow will save you a few hours of work later on.

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ReviewTrackers Process – Flow showing score and SQL alert.

Another good tip is to group alerts together using smart lists. Once a person (what a lead is called in Marketo) reaches qualification, ensure the right alert is triggered. Set up SQL alerts, MQL alerts, and a General alert, making sure the proper stakeholders are notified.

Lead scoring is the foundation of Marketo. Decide, with your sales team, how to establish a behavioral sales-qualified lead and a marketing-qualified lead. From there, develop your marketing-qualified leads as a ramp-up to the SQL.

You can add layers of personalization to every brand message you send your audience.

Setting Expectations, Managing Up and Down

You won’t find a perfect solution, but the advantage of Marketo is the numerous integrations with third-party solutions that can help. Direct third-party integrations with Marketo can be found at launchpoint.marketo.com, so if your SaaS relies on one specific tool, you may want to check there first and see if it is available.

Software solutions are rarely “turned on with the flick of a switch.” Make sure your executive team is aware of the scope and timeline of a marketing automation integration.

If your SaaS is currently using automation, a realistic time frame for moving to Marketo is 3 months.

If you’ve never used automation, expect it to take 6 months. Even then, marketing automation is an endeavor which may take years to master.

Something will inevitably break: your API, your CRM sync, your nurture streams, or a webhook. By anticipating the disconnect, you can implement redundancies.

Fourth Lesson: Start With a Phased Implementation

Don’t sync with your CRM on the first day. In fact, you may not want to sync with your CRM at all. Once you’ve synced to Marketo, there is no turning back. To implement this properly, start on-site with the Munchkin code, and split-test some leads with a Marketo form. These are your guinea pigs. As leads are added to your Marketo database, you’ll be to able to see just how much power the software has.

Establish a pilot program, literally. Draw a line in the sand and announce to all stakeholders about the new automation program and be sure they understand the implications. Your sales team, your management, your social media agency, etc. Make sure they understand how the leads are different and what the expected outcome is.

Once you have a successful pilot program, move your newsletters and landing pages to Marketo. A/B test to ensure your copy and visuals haven’t impacted conversions.

Finally, take the plunge. Sync your CRM. Drive traffic with email blasts, re-qualify old leads in your database, and add customers that have re-engaged to your nurture campaigns.

Set up reporting and make sure stakeholders understand the data. Not all CRM data will align with Marketo, so if there is a discrepancy, choose one reporting engine and stick with it.

Fifth Lesson: Adding Your Favorite Integrations

Chances are, there is a way to integrate Marketo with the tools and processes you are already using. Sometimes, you’ll find an integration at the Launchpoint portal, but if you don’t, there’s a webhook for that. Here are some useful integrations for a SaaS:

SLACK

The Marketo-Slack integration has improved our productivity, reduced emails, and increased response time for customer inquiries. Through the webhook integration, our entire sales team is alerted of our customers and prospects’ interesting moments, demo requests, and free trial conversions. They are able to quickly claim a lead, discuss opportunities and follow up, right in the Marketo channel. Jenna Molby has a fantastic guide for setup, which can be found here.

WORDPRESS

WordPress.org, the open-source publishing platform, is one of the most popular self-hosting options for website and blogs. Due to its low cost and easy customization, it is especially popular amongst the lean startup crowd. While there are some integrations available for Marketo and WordPress, it may be easier for most SaaS companies to use the gravity form add-on and Marketo munchkin code to track visitors on your site.

SUMOME

SumoMe is a suite of lead generation tools designed to grow traffic and increase conversions. It includes a number of pop-ups, pop-overs, slide-ins, and widgets that can improve newsletter subscriptions and social shares. The integration with Marketo is relatively new and the full documentation for integration can be found here.

Conclusion

For a SaaS, the middle of the funnel can be extremely important, especially for businesses with a freemium model. It can keep prospects engaged, educate them, and ensure they get the most out of your software. It can align sales teams and ensure they are receiving the most qualified leads possible based on prospects’ interaction with marketing assets. It can help you reduce churn and improve retention. With a proper setup and numerous integrations, Marketo can communicate with customers at the most opportune moment, and deliver a personalized experience not possible with other automation suites. Integration in your SaaS marketing strategy is worth the effort.

About the Author: Brian Sparker is Head of Content Marketing for ReviewTrackers, a review monitoring and customer feedback platform designed to help companies efficiently monitor online reviews, manage reputation, and enhance the customer experience in ways that make a positive impact on the bottom line.

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5 Ways to Maximize Audience Engagement with a Single Word: Easy

Let’s start with what might sound like an obvious fact: the more engaged your audience, the more likely they are to eventually give you money.

Engagement is, of course, a fluid concept that refers to a host of metrics, including bounce rates, pages per visit, session durations, attention minutes, scroll depth, media clicks, social shares, comments and micro conversions. For content-oriented sites – where “sticky” viewership is what drives sales – optimizing for engagement-oriented metrics is often the best way to maximize revenue.

Why? Because until you have a loyal, engaged audience that’s hungry for your content – not to mention, an audience that actually trusts you – you’ll never have a chance at monetization.

Unfortunately, the internet is a noisy place. The insane proliferation of all things content – not just blogging but social, mobile, audio, video, and app (thank you Pokémon Go) – have made engagement more difficult than ever. Today, the world’s biggest bloggers and content producers are focusing their engagement goals on attention, customizing metrics tools to measure attention, and creating strategies that aim to attract attention.

So, what does it all comes down to?

One word: easy.

Unless your content is easy – easy to (1) scan, (2) interact with, (3) load, (4) share, and even (5) monetize – it doesn’t stand a chance.

1. Easy to Scan

Just like the opening line above, this first tip might seem obvious. Sadly many brands still create pages without taking important aspects of their layout into account, such as the font sizes and typefaces of the text, or the use of bullet lists and subheadlines to break up the experience into digestible chunks.

When your visitors open your web pages and see long blog posts with ornate, small text that has no breathing room, this can immediately drive them to leave the site and find something else that’s easier to follow.

Eye scan data shows that on the web, people don’t exactly read very much. Instead, we “scan” pages, running our eyes from top to bottom along the left side of text blocks, in a pattern that resembles the letter F. When something catches our eye as potentially interesting, we’ll read a few words across to the right, but then we move on. The more inviting your design and typography styles are, the more likely people will be to actually read complete sections of your pages.

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Tools like FontPair will help you find the perfect Google Font pairings to compliment your site and brand messaging, which can, in turn, help increase your site’s visit times and engagement performance. To create your stylesheets with selections based on FontPair’s recommended combinations, you can easily identify the fonts most suitable for your brand, download them for free and start publishing pages that are optimized for engagement.

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Alongside of a scannable layout and font, do not overlook the crucial role that visuals play in your pages ability to command attention. Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images, and infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than other any other type of content.

As Neil Patel points out in his Guide to Creating a Killer blog:

Be sure to include as much visual content into your articles as possible.

The brain processes images far faster than text. Creating an attention-grabbing image at the top of your article is simply a great way to engage users and encourage them to read the article.

Adding images throughout the article also helps people keep reading, and encourages sharing.

Generally speaking, the more images, the better. Or at least to a point – you don’t want to overwhelm people with visual noise.

2. Easy to Interact With

Engagement, attention, and interaction all go hand in hand.

In fact, interactive content is one of the most exciting solutions for keeping users engaged and interested in your site.

With interactive content, site visitors feel a heightened sense of attachment to your pages, as they’ve essentially played a role in how your content takes shape. By spending time interacting with your site, they’re all the more likely to share their content experiences with their peers.

It’s easy to create and embed interactive elements for your pages using tools like Playbuzz. A free platform for editorial use, Playbuzz allows you to create customizable content for your website in the form of quizzes, polls, flip cards and more. This platform is an excellent opportunity to increase attention minutes and social sharing, and it also helps inject a sense of meaningful connection to the user experience.

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What’s more, interactive content is a powerful monetization strategy. Pura Vida Bracelets, for example, hit the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in large part due to their seven-question quiz:

The quiz has been taken by more than 37,000 site visitors, 18,000 of whom have opted to provide their email addresses, which is a mind blowing conversion rate of 48.6%. Not only does the quiz suggest the perfect bracelet, but also uses the data collected to highlight specific aspects of a visitor’s personality. The interactive nature of the quiz can help create strong bonds between the company and customers who ultimately become brand evangelists.

In addition to quizzes, polls, and flip cards, another hallmark of making your content easy to interact with is online chat. Unfortunately, the mistake many companies make on the online-chat front is forcing visitors and customers to come to them through a confusing maze of email strings and on-site logins. Instead, make chat insanely easy by going to your audience through a native tool like Facebook Messenger. Messenger is an easy way to not only provide instant feedback and brand announcements, but to also manage ecommerce engagement.

There are even tools like Bontact that allow marketers to offer multi-platform live chat to site visitors. So a conversation that starts in the widget on your web pages can easily move to Messenger, text, Skype, phone, email, screenshare or any number of other platforms.

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In the age of branded experiences spanning multiple devices, platforms, apps and customer journey phases, giving your site visitors the ability to interact with you on the channel of their choice can make a lasting impression.

3. Easy to Load

One of the biggest attention-killers for websites is the amount of time that it takes for the site to load. Over half of all web sessions are on mobile devices, which don’t support the same connectivity speeds as computers. What’s more, we’re spending more and more time with our screens, so that time is becoming increasingly scarce and user patience is dwindling.

Data shows that just one second in load delays can drop conversions by 7%, three seconds of waiting for pages to load decreases satisfaction rates by 16%, and load time lags of four seconds make for 25% higher bounce rates. That’s an engagement killer if ever there was one.

There are, however, solutions for improving your site delivery times, such as minimizing image file sizes with a tool like ImageOptim (Mac) or TinyPNG (web app) and using platforms like Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Content Marketing Institute’s recent “Tips and Tools to Ensure Speed Doesn’t Kill Your Site” offers a handful of low-hanging, speed-optimizing fruits designed specifically for content marketers to implement.

For truly rapid page loads, however – especially in the world of ecommerce – you may need to look into non-DIY solutions. CMI’s last tip is all about investing in a content delivery network (CDN), which is essentially a network of servers that host your site’s media assets in different locations around the world, for faster access.

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For best-in-class page load speeds, it’s imperative to use intelligent and customizable caching algorithms. On average, websites that use CDNs are much faster and consume significantly less bandwidth than those that don’t.

4. Easy to Share

Social sharing is, to a great extent, the highest level of engagement that there is.

When your site visitors share your pages, it means one of two things. Either they’ve enjoyed the experience so much that they want their like-minded peers to benefit from it as well, or they find your content so valuable that they believe sharing it will make them look good.

One of the best ways to maximize content sharing is to make it easy to do. When all it takes is a click of a button, people will be all the more likely to engage in this manner, putting you in great position to reach new audience members and expand your customer base.

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Social Warfare is one of many WordPress plugins that can add attractive share buttons to content pages. This tool is optimized for speed and aesthetics, but it has other features that differentiate it as well. Social Warfare supports thousands of preset design variations, allows site managers to customize default share text, and even appends UTM codes to share URLs for superior attribution in Google Analytics.

5. Easy to Monetize

The content publishing industry today is faced with some serious financial challenges, as it’s getting harder and harder to turn a profit. The online advertising ecosystem is in a state of disarray, with a lack of viable solutions for making money from mobile users, trade groups operating with inconsistent viewability standards, and rampant fraudulent billing practices.

What’s more, in their efforts to grab people’s attention, publishers have been allowing advertisers to book placements in formats that are too interruptive. This is why we’re seeing the rise of ad blockers today, and to win our audiences back, publishers need to change the way they operate. There are even ways to drive revenues from content pages without turning your audience off by being too pushy, intrusive or forceful – ways that increase onsite engagement rather than killing it.

An effective way to achieve this is by integrating contextual ads into your content. Imonomy’s technology scans your web pages and automatically pairs your site’s images with relevant, engaging banner ads.

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Because the in-image ads are displayed together with, and selected to match, your site’s images, this platform delivers high viewability rates and improved engagement with your site’s visitors. This, of course, translates to higher revenues in ways that don’t compromise on content engagement.

Engagement Should Be Easy

It’s essential to have a dynamic, thorough engagement strategy that maximizes interactions and time on site. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “Attention is the single most important asset.”

If your company is unable to grab the attention of its target audience and keep them meaningfully engaged on your website, sustainable revenues will be hard to come by.

And the one word to remember – when it comes to engagement and attention – is easy. This means your content should be easy to …

  1. Scan
  2. Interact With
  3. Load
  4. Share
  5. Monetize

About the Author: Nadav is a veteran online marketer and the Founder & CEO of InboundJunction, an Israel-based content marketing company. Nadav helps well-known brands in boosting their online visibility through PR, SEO and Social Media.

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

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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