10 Conversion Killers and the Hacks to Fix Them

Conversion killers
There are conversion killers among us. Hack them before they hack into your KPIs. Image source.

There’s a good chance you’re killing the conversion rate of your landing pages.

Right now, as you read this, people are bouncing off your pages without a second thought.

You’re not alone. WordStream reports a median search conversion rate of just north of 2% – not very impressive. I think it’s safe to say we all have room to improve.

The problem is that conversion killers come in all shapes and sizes, from insidious leaks to show-stopping transgressions. And while you’ve surely read plenty of posts on how to fix them, I’m going to go one step further and show you how to turn your current conversion killers into conversion rate winners.

Part I: Design Offenses

1. You’re using image sliders

Too many homepages use image sliders to communicate different product features and promotions. It might seem like a good idea at first; if one message doesn’t appeal to the visitor, maybe the next one will!

Unfortunately, it turns out that sliders kill conversion rates. Jakob Nielsen warns against them, and so do lots of other people.

Hack: Be dynamic through personalization

The obvious option is to kill the slider and replace it with a static image; you can use inbound traffic or campaign sources to determine which image to serve up to your visitors.

While that’s a good start, you can take it one step further by making the static image more dynamic through personalization.

By using campaign or URL variables to identify various traffic sources, you can customize the messaging of your homepage to be more relevant to your visitors. For example, if you have a spring sale that is being covered by bloggers, providing them with a tagged link that prominently displays the sale on the homepage can improve conversion.

Consider what Grizzly Zoo did to improve engagement on their homepage: they tested this static image with buttons against an existing slider control:


Grizzly Zoo’s dynamic slider. Image source.


Grizzly Zoo’s static banner. Image source.

The company replaced their image slider, originally used to funnel visitors into the appropriate section of their site, with a static banner that let visitors self-select which pet category was most relevant to them. Instead of waiting for the slide for cat owners come through, visitors could instantly pick where to go next.

Their test showed a massive increase in hero-image engagement.

Conversion: Slider test results
Replacing the slider with a static banner resulted in a 2095% increase in conversions. Image source.

Only 1.96% of the visitors who saw the original version clicked through, while 43.03% of visitors clicked on an option from the optimized version. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s a 2095% increase.

2. Your site causes visual confusion

It’s common knowledge that people don’t actually read your website. If your visitor is from a Western culture, they’re scanning your site in a Z- or F-shaped pattern, hunting for clues as to when to slow down.

And if you’re not giving your visitors visual cues to guide them through the actions you want them to take, you’ll find that your conversion rate will suffer accordingly.

If you want to keep your conversion rate healthy, consider these visual tweaks to account for people’s gazing patterns.

Hack: Guide visitors with a darkened overlay

Redesigning your landing pages or checkout funnel to be visually fluid can take time, but there are small things you can do to reduce visual confusion.

Dialog boxes are generally used because you want your visitors to take action – and you don’t want them to be distracted by what lays underneath. Whenever a dialog box pops up on screen, try adding a dark semi-transparent layer over surrounding areas to help hone the focus of your visitors.

In this old but incredibly instructive case study, Bryan Eisenberg showed how Lands’ End was able to improve conversion rate by reducing visual noise as products were added to the shopping cart.

The original design had a lot of visual clutter surrounding the pop up, making it difficult to focus the attention of visitors.

Conversion: Lands' End checkout - before
This heatmap shows that Lands’ End’s original checkout design had excessive visual clutter. Image source.

The redesigned checkout page focuses the eye by greying out the area behind the pop up.

Conversion: Lands' End checkout - after
The visual clutter is dramatically reduced in Lands’ End’s checkout redesign. Image source.

This heatmap for the redesigned page shows dramatic results:

Conversion: Lands' End checkout - after (heatmap)
Greying out the area behind the pop up focuses visitor attention on the call to action. Image source.

By dimming out the background and upping the contrast of the “Continue Shopping” button – and effectively reducing visual confusion – Lands’ End improved cart performance dramatically.

3. You’re not where they’re looking

If people scan your pages in a Z- or F-shaped pattern, then how do your product pages map to that visual behavior?

Are your calls to action prominent within those gaze paths?

In other words, do you (and your designers) make the most of your valuable page real estate?

Hack: Let’s play a game of Battleship

Use Eisenberg’s Battleship grid concept to determine whether your page design matches up with the gaze patterns of your visitors.

Divide your page into a 10×10 grid and assign relative values to different areas of the grid. In Eisenberg’s example, he assigned values according to eyetracking, design composition and vision physiology guidelines.

By overlaying this grid onto your page, you can see where there are visual gaps within your design that might be costing you conversions. Take this insight back to your designers to design new tests for poor-performing pages.

Conversion: Battleship grid
Using a Battleship grid can help determine whether your page design matches up with the gaze patterns of your visitors. Image source:grokdotcom.com

In the image above you can see the model in action. The active window (the green area) is the area Eisenberg assigned the highest value. The image above shows that Dell does a good job of ensuring that their primary offer is in the main viewport of the visitor.

They also position their products and special offers in line with a typical Z- or F-pattern, assuming that their visitors will browse starting from the word “Desktops” in the upper left. Critical page components are placed in line with the assumed back-and-forth gaze path.

Part II: Social Proof Problems

4. You have sketchy testimonials

Testimonials are supposed to help, right?

Not necessarily.

Sometimes testimonials can actually hurt conversions; If you look around at your website and see very generic or poorly attributed testimonials, you’re probably not doing yourself any favors when it comes to conversion optimization.

At a minimum, you should be adding credibility to the testimonials by including a picture of the customer; 37Signals (now Basecamp) saw a 102.5% increase in conversions just by incorporating a customer picture next to the testimonial.

That’s not always enough, though – we can do better.

Hack: Leverage the legitimacy of other sites

Your customers are likely out there leaving comments, recommendations and reviews of your business on Yelp, Google, LinkedIn, Travelocity, Facebook and Twitter.

Why not leverage the testimonials they’ve left on other sites?

When you use the testimonials from trusted sites, you hit a trifecta of credibility: authenticity of real customer feedback, published on a credible website, with a more objective bent because it appeared elsewhere on the web.

5. Your product or company has no reviews

Having products without reviews is another common negative social proof element that can hurt conversions.

Whether good or bad in nature, any reviews on a product have been proven to improve sales. In fact, having just a few reviews can really increase the trust level of your site visitor.

Conversion: Reviews
A 2013 study showed that a large percentage of consumers look to reviews to influence opinions and purchases. Image source.

So how do you handle having few (or no) reviews?

Hack: Make friends with mobile

Increasingly, people are browsing the web on the go. Making your product review process streamlined for mobile users can drive a ton of additional reviews.

BazaarVoice increased the amount of reviews on the Buckle website by 146% after implementing a mobile review user experience.

Conversion: Mobile reviews
Optimizing for mobile users increased the total number of reviews on the BazaarVoice site by 146%. Image source.

For more on leveraging customer reviews for social proof, check out this article.

Part III: Trust Issues

6. You’re rounding your numbers

Credibility is key for conversions. When your site doesn’t look or feel credible to visitors, your conversion rate suffers. Too often, the elements we try to add to our site to improve credibility actually end up hurting conversions.

The theory of social proof states that in the absence of absolute certainty about a decision, people will act according to how others act around them.

That’s the idea behind putting the number of customers or visitors (or even hamburgers sold) on your website.

Beyond that, studies have shown that the precision of the number can have a big impact on believability. When you use round numbers, you can actually hurt the credibility of your website

Conversion: Basecamp round numbers
Avoid being vague if you want to sound credible. Image source.

While displaying the number of customers you have will likely outperform a test without any numbers at all, resist the urge to round them off.

Hack: Keep it real

Update the number of customers on your site in real time and let visitors know that the count is real and up to the minute. If you’re an ecommerce company, show the latest purchases on the site.

The precision of the numbers creates increased believability and should ultimately drive better conversions. If you’re not sure if it’ll be the case for your audience, run a test against your round number and see what wins.

7. Your trust badges are turning people off

If you have a shopping cart or other secured account creation process, you’re likely using trust indicators to show that your site is secure and trustworthy.

But depending on the badge you’re using, you may actually be hurting conversion rates.

Conversion: Trust badges
Of all the badges in this survey, the Norton Security badge gave the best sense of trust. Image source.

The badge you’re using to prove how secure your site is could be putting visitors off (especially if they don’t recognize it). Not to mention that many badges are poorly designed and look garish, which can hurt the credibility of your site.

Hack: Do it yourself

Why not create your own trust seal?

Before you scoff at the suggestion, consider this: Neil Patel has found the conversion rates for common trust seals and homemade ones to be about the same.

If you can’t afford the most popular certificates, simply reinforce that you’re using a secure server. If you’re using SSL, you’ll likely find that your own security statement coupled with an image of a lock results in a similar conversion lift as one of the lesser known badges.

These badges can be expensive, so why pay money if they’re going to end up costing you sales in the end?

Part IV: Message Match Murder

8. Your messaging is inconsistent

People are distracted and in a hurry when they’re on the web. They’re foraging for the information that will help them achieve their goals. If they feel they are headed in the wrong direction, they’ll immediately course correct.

In the early days of the web, researchers at the Xerox PARC laboratory in Palo Alto defined this as “information scent.”

In other words, people follow visual and information clues that help them find what they’re looking for. If they lose the scent, they’ll abandon the trail. If the information scent is strong, they’ll keep going.

The question is: how strong are the scent trails you’re building through your advertising, landing pages and site pages?

Oli Gardner of Unbounce champions the importance of message match in improving conversions. Message match is what you use to keep information scent high across your digital properties and campaigns.

Good message match looks like this:

Facebook Ad:

Conversion: RBC Facebook ad

Landing Page:

Conversion: Message match landing page
Masterful message match: RBC maintained information scent from their Facebook ad to their landing page. Image source.

The message is consistent from one page to the next, preserving the information scent.

Hack: Say the right thing at the right time

Fixing your message match is a great place to start, but how do you take it to the next level?

Try dynamically generating your message match from ad to landing page. If you’re using Unbounce, you can do this with their dynamic text replacement feature.

You can also do this by passing in URL-specific parameters to configure your landing page to match your ad copy.

9. Your offers disappear

Making bold offers to drive user interest is nothing new, but if you don’t keep the offer in front of the user throughout the funnel, you could be introducing doubt into the visitor’s mind and hurting conversions in the process.

If you’re offering a special promotion to encourage purchases (such as free shipping), it’s important to keep that promotion messaging persistent as the user moves through the checkout flow. If an offer disappears along the conversion process, visitors can lose confidence in their purchase and abandon their checkout.

Hack: Get personal

Personalize your offer messaging so that each visitor sees consistent, relevant offers throughout their experience. Putting the offer on the home, category and product pages is great for exposure, but adding it to the shopping cart will keep users’ confidence high that they still have access to that promotion when they check out.

Ecommerce company Asos does a good job of reinforcing its free shipping offer throughout the checkout process:

Step 1:

Conversion: Asos cart

Step 2:

Conversion: Asos cart 2
Asos’ continued mention of free shipping reduces checkout friction. Image source.

Part V: The Conversion Serial Killer

10. You’re not actually fixing what matters

There’s a lot of conflicting advice about conversion optimization floating around the internet, which is why any smart marketer will always test assumptions.

But here’s the thing: if you’re simply guessing at what to test next, you’re likely wasting time and money.

How do you avoid that?

Easy. Just ask visitors what it is that’s stopping them from buying, and use that information to prioritize your testing.

Hack: Ask your customers what they care about

Surveying users is not particularly exciting or revolutionary, but it can have a huge impact on campaign performance. Conversion Rate Experts says that understanding your visitors is key to designing experiences that actually matter to them:

In our opinion, good web design means understanding your visitors—and your business—deeply, then designing to meet both of their needs. And by “deeply” we mean not obeying an executive who says “I know my customers,” but instead gaining deep insights through extensive research.

So what’s the hack here? The hack is asking the right questions. If you don’t know where to start, Conversion Rate Experts understands what types of questions you should be asking your visitors.

My favorite?

Ask successful users where they almost got tripped up in your conversion funnel.

In fact, if you go back to that spot in the funnel, it’s likely you’ll find plenty of other folks who couldn’t get past that point. Start there and find your biggest testing wins right off the bat.

Hack into your conversion killers

Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of 10 unfortunately all-too-common conversion killers, it’s time to do some damage. Start identifying conversion leaks on your site so you can not only fix the blunders, but actually make them work in your favor.

Most of these changes are easy to make, but that doesn’t mean you should just start testing them randomly. Take some time to go back through your site, identify your most important pages, collect user feedback and prioritize which tests you’ll run first. That’s the best way to focus on what will really move the needle for your site.

It’s my hope that these ideas inspire you not just to fix what’s broken on your site, but to take the extra step to make those elements the driving force in improving your conversion rates going forward.

Have a favorite conversion hack or optimization opportunity that I didn’t mention here? Share it in the comments!

— Sean Ellis

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About Sean Ellis
Sean Ellis is the CEO of Qualaroo and founder of GrowthHackers.com. Prior to Qualaroo, Sean held marketing leadership roles with breakout companies including Dropbox, LogMeIn (IPO), Uproar (IPO), Eventbrite and Lookout. You can follow Sean on Twitter: @SeanEllis and read Qualaroo's Beginner's Guide to CRO.
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