The 4 Truths of Conversion Marketing

4 truths of conversion marketing
If you can understand the 4 fundamental aspects of visitor behavior you can design for better conversions.

In an earlier post, I likened customer interaction with your landing page to a dance between 2 parties. The primary point of that article was to understand the questions and barriers facing your potential customers, and to unlock a strategy for dealing with these issues.

Key to this process was understanding what your customer is thinking during their visit. We learned that there are 4 primary questions to be considered:

  1. What is this?
  2. How can it help me?
  3. Why should I trust you?
  4. How do I participate?

Working backwards from these questions we are able to establish the 4 pillars, or truths, of the conversion marketing process, and then we can begin to design landing page experiences that answer these questions – which will naturally evolve into better performance.

Truth 1 – The customer knows nothing

What is this?

An unfair statement perhaps, but it’s the best assumption to make if you want to design your landing pages with simplicity and clarity in mind.

What is the customer thinking?

Upon arrival at your landing page a visitor will have immediate questions:

  1. What is this page about?
  2. Does it match the expectations I had when I clicked on the ad leading me here?
  3. Who is the company I’m interacting with?

Hurdle #1 – First impression pain points

These questions pose the first potential stumbling block, where the quality of your message comes into play. Your visitor clicked an ad of some sort after being seduced by it’s message, and your design must reflect/repeat that same message along with a clear reference to your brand.

Common mistakes that can create barriers to conversion at this stage are:

  • Message mismatch: Not repeating the core message of your ad on your landing page will confuse people and make them click the back button.
  • Multiple messages: People can only handle a certain amount of information being thrown at them at one time. A classic example of this was taught to me by our CEO Rick Perreault. In a client meeting he used an advertising scenario to prove that a single focused message is more easily digested than multiple messages. I’d advise you to try this with a client some time.Here’s how it works:

    While in a meeting, quietly tear up 4 strips of paper and roll them into balls under the desk so no one can see.

    Then to demonstrate the importance of focusing on a single message, toss 1 paper ball over at the client. Chances are they’ll catch this easily.

    Then say “and here’s 3 messages at the same time” – throwing the other 3 balls. You can predict where this is going; the client will fumble and become disoriented as they try to catch 3 objects flying at them, and will invariably drop (miss) all 3.

Overcoming hurdle #1 – the 5 second rule

So, now that we are aware of the first hurdle (or barrier) that your visitor needs to jump over, how can we improve the landing page to ensure a greater chance of success? There is a simple usability test that can be leveraged to test how small or large the first hurdle is. (Remember we want the hurdle to be really, really small).

The 5 Second Rule was explored in an earlier post. Essentially, you show a test participant your landing page for 5 seconds (you can make this 8 or 10 if you want, as opinions on how long you have to be effective vary across the industry), then hide it and ask them the same questions we posed above (in what is the customer thinking?).

The 5 Second Rule applied in context
For a more genuine test, supply the test users with a simple page containing an advertisement (banner, Google paid search ad etc.) and have this click through to your landing page.

The diagram below shows the process involved in using this test to improve your landing page.

Apply this process to determine if your page passes Truth #1

If your test participants are failing the test, you need to refine the messaging or design of your page, and can use these tips to get started:

  • Simplify your message: Shorten the primary headline and read it aloud to see how easy it is to understand.
  • Answer the question directly: Make the headline answer the question – “What is this page offering?”. A statement such as “Win a $50 Starbucks Gift Certificate” makes it clear that it’s a contest of some type and the level of reward is clearly stated.
  • Arrange your message hierarchy correctly: You need to lead the reader through your messaging in a way that makes sense. To achieve this, you’ll be focused on top-to-bottom and left-to-right (for a western audience). Use a decreasing font size to help illustrate the relative weight of importance.To continue the previous example, you could say “Win a $50 Starbucks Gift Certificate” as the primary headline, and use a smaller “By answering our 6 question survey” beneath it for clarity.

Keep refining and testing until you have users answering your questions in a way that you’d wish your customers to answer them. The participants can be friends, family or people from your company, but it’s best if they have no understanding of the brand or particular offer your landing page is presenting.

If you have the money, you can post a message on Craigslist for participants (or use a recruitment company). A typical hour long usability session would cost you $40-$100 depending on the equivalent hourly rate of the demographic you are using. However, for a test this simple, you can probably get away with paying people $5-$10.

If you are feeling especially creative print out your ad and landing page, and get out on the street to ask strangers to click on your paper prototype. Having a basket of candy will be enough to entice people to join in if you can make it fun.

Ok, so we’re made our landing page totally awesome right? Not quite. Even though that seemed like a lot of work, we’re only a quarter of the way there. The next rule is concerned with relevance.

Truth 2 – People want something that makes their life/job easier or more interesting

How can it help me?

This may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked. You want to state more than just what your product or service is, you need to show how it will improve an aspect of the buyer’s life. This could be improved efficiency or workflow at work, or a more entertaining personal life.

What is the customer thinking?

At this point your visitor is thinking:

  1. How can this benefit me right now or in the future?

In order to answer that question, you need to answer some more detailed personal questions that deal with the specifics of your audience.

  1. Do I really need this?
  2. Is it worth the effort involved?
  3. Is it different to what I’ve already experienced?

Hurdle #2 – Personal relevancy

Looking at the questions above, we can identify several momentum barriers:

  • Not showing how your product/service is unique? If you have a unique offering, you should be stating or showing this – don’t assume that people will comparison shop on your behalf.
  • No example of use: To trigger a sense of need in a customer, you should be illustrating how your product/service will integrate with their life. Don’t assume that people will automatically know how it will integrate into their existing day to day processes.
  • Unnecessary barriers to entry: Having an unbalanced risk/reward proposition will scare people away. If you are asking someone to do something, be careful how much you ask for. Brand ambassadors (those who have come to love your product/service) will be willing to go the extra mile for you – new potential customers will not.

Overcoming Hurdle #2 – focus on benefits not features

To quickly and effectively educate your visitors about what your product or service can do for them, you should focus primarily on benefits rather than features. Head & Shoulders wouldn’t be the world leader in dandruff shampoo if they’d come out trying to explain the scientific properties of their shampoo’s ingredients. By suggesting that the product can improve the health of your scalp or fix your itchy head, they got right to the relevant and personal questions that a customer would have about the product and it’s benefits.

As mentioned in the Hurdle for this Truth, an effective tactic can be to show your product/service in use. Think of the new wave of netbook laptop computers. The primary benefit is it’s tiny size. If all you do is say “We have really small laptops”, you are discussing a feature and are requiring the customer to piece together how it could be used. By showing a photo of someone using it on the food tray of a cramped airline, you are showing a benefit and usage in one go. Couple that with a headline that says “work on your presentation even when you’re sitting in economy” and you identify a real world problem, and provide a solution.

Here’s AT&T illustrating this concept through video:

PAUSE: Always have a backup plan – use a safety net

At this half way stage of the process you have hopefully grabbed the customer’s interest. However, not every interested customer is ready to buy at this point in time. With standalone landing pages, it’s critical that you offer up a “soft exit point” that allows them to leave, but remember you when they are ready to purchase. Remember, they got to you by clicking on an Ad and they might not be able to re-create the circumstancs by which they saw that Ad.

Using a Safety Net Call to Action

Provide your visitor with a low commitment method escape pod by utilizing one of the following techniques that keep them within your sphere of influence:

  • Follow us on Twitter: Once they are following you on Twitter they will be exposed to other marketing and brand messages that could entice them to buy in the future.
  • Remind Me: Provide a way for them to be reminded at a predetermined time in the future (1 day, 1 week, 1 month, specific date etc.) and be sure to place a trust statement beside it that explicitly states that you will not contact them at any other time.
  • The Takeaway: Provide a link to a download-able brochure (without having to complete a form).

Truth 3 – People are skeptical

Why should I trust you?

Online transactions are second nature to most people nowadays, but the same types of fear regarding security and trust remain. There are many subtle or unconscious triggers that can influence our customers belief in our authenticity and trustworthiness.

What is the customer thinking?

Your customer has decided that your offering is interesting, and now they’ve moved on to the validation phase. Questions they are asking now include:

  1. Why should I trust you?
  2. Is this a legitimate company?
  3. Is anyone else using this?

Hurdle #3 – The trust barrier

There are many factors that have the power to trigger a negative trust response from a visitor. Anything that causes a person to stop and question the validity of your message is a barrier to entry.

Common trust barriers:

  • No phone number
  • Unprofessional design
  • Design of landing page is inconsistent with banner
  • Long forms
  • Fake looking testimonials
  • Exaggerated claims
  • Predictable or overused stock photography

Overcoming Hurdle #3 – Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

When it comes to trust issues, you really have to learn to think like your customers. Look over your landing page and take note of any items that could match the trust barriers listed above. Ask yourself honest questions about whether you would trust this page/company yourself? Would you happily give your credit card to a company that presents themselves as you are doing?

When trying to design your landing pages without trust barriers, understand that subtle cues can be used to help allay the fears of your potential customers. Professional design and usability best practices can go a long way to remove the instinctive negative gut reaction that can occur.

7 things you can do to counteract commitment phobia:

  1. Multiple contact methods: Include a phone number, Twitter account, physical and email addresses.
  2. Remove the form: You may be using the page for lead generation, but if your conversion rate is low, it might be worth testing a brand exposure exercise. Give away your eBook or white paper completely free, but be sure that it has all of your branded elements and contact details in the PDF.
  3. Never use pop-ups or pop-unders: If you don’t use these or don’t know what they are – that’s a good thing. Keep it that way.
  4. Use endorsements by trusted people: If you have clients or users that are well known brands, leverage this on your landing page to answer the “who else is using this?” question.
  5. Professional design: It may be worth a small investment in a more professional design. A|B testing after the fact will help you identify how much this helped.
  6. Privacy: Provide links to a privacy statement and or terms and conditions to quell fears of email abuse. A good technique is to write “We’ll never sell your email address” beside and email form field.
  7. Co-branding: Affiliates drive traffic to your business, often to a landing page. To enhance the Ad Message Momentum using a co-branded landing page can improve your conversion rate.

Remember to test your new page vs. the old one to determine how effective your changes were. Ideally, you’d test after each change to see which are the biggest influencers.

Another thing to consider is that trust extends in both directions. Not only do you want to convey a sense of trustworthiness, but you should present yourself in a way that is open and transparent, which shows that you are placing trust in your visitors. Somewhat akin to putting your head in a lions mouth (maybe).

Truth 4 – A customer that can see how to participate is more likely to try

How do I participate?

If a customer is ready to purchase, they should be given the white-glove treatment and gently and clearly guided toward the point of conversion.

In other words:

Let them put the coin in the slot, and make the slot very obvious.
Oli Gardner, circa about now

What is the customer thinking?

Ok, you’ve made it all the way to the point of conversion, the customer us primed and ready, they have their proverbial credit card out and are poised, anxiously anticipating “the thrill of the shop”, that beautiful moment where you get to engage in a decision to purchase. Shopping is fun right?

So what are they thinking?

  • I like this, how do I get it?
  • What do I do now?
  • Which of these big shiny buttons am I supposed to click?

You can tell by reading these, that your landing page has some focus and directional issues.

Hurdle #4 – An unclear objective

This is the worst time to piss off your customers with a poorly guided experience. They want to give you money (or their email address etc.) but they are momentarily stumped because they’re not sure what to do next. If you’ve done a good enough job to get them here, you must convert – so make the final action the most obvious and clear part of your whole page.

Some of the things you could be doing wrong if people are not converting at this stage:

  • Too many links: Don’t give your visitor 15 exits away from your conversion highway. Follow the Roman concept of a single straight road – destination conversionville.
  • Hiding the button: When you have a lead gen form it’s usually fairly obvious where the button is. But if your landing page is designed to take the visitor somewhere else you may just have a link or button sitting by itself. Don’t make it hard to find. This includes keeping it above the fold. You may be thinking that the user has been on your landing page for hours by now (based on how long it’s taken you to read this post), but in reality they’ve been sucking in subliminal information since arriving about 5 seconds ago, and if you haven’t made the destination action clear, it’s just one more reason for them to bug out.
  • The confidence-killing button CTA: Sometimes landing pages will offer something to a customer, suggesting it in the headline, photo and copy, and then the button at the end of the page doesn’t repeat the offer – this gives cause for pause.

Overcoming Hurdle #4 – Guide users toward a single goal

The key to closing the deal is to make it so obvious that an idiot with poor mouse skills could still get the job done.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind the ensure your customers can find their way at this most critical of times:

  1. Conversion Momentum: If you are offering a free $50 coupon for Starbucks, make the button say “Get your Starbucks coupon now” rather than “Submit” or “Go”. This subtle but important difference can make someone stop and wonder if you are truly going to provide what you say you will.
  2. Photo Directional Cues: Photographs of people that are looking at your call to action make visitors instinctively look in the same direction.
  3. Graphic Directional Cues: Use arrows to indicate the direction someone should move through your page, or point them directly at the call to action.
  4. Make the button massive: Although this goes against most of my regular website design principals, on a landing page you want to make it look a little like a Fisher Price kids toy.
  5. Increase the contrast of the CTA: Two things here; give your call to action room to breathe, and make it stand out using contrast. Don’t be subtle by placing a dark green button on a light green background (partially because that sounds fugly), landing page CTA’s should never be subtle.
  6. Use a last minute trust indicator: Place a trust indicator close to your call to action. This could be a statement regarding your privacy policy, or a link to a page of terms and conditions.
  7. The safety net: Remember this? (I mentioned it between Truths 2 & 3) If you’re looking for a place to put a safety net CTA, try sticking it below the main button. If change their mind at the last minute, you are right there, like a handy concierge, with an alternative option for their fun day out.
  8. Be audience appropriate: If clicking on your button is super exciting, because the customer is about to receive a free iPod (like immediately) then by all means use a youthful tone with multiple exclamation points “Get your free iPod right now dude!!!!!”. But if you’re signing up to receive a coffin brochure it would be wholly inappropriate and not at all related to the needs of the customer or the end result. Plus it can smack of in-authenticity. Remain calm and let your product or service communicate for you – ditch the hype bro!!!!!!

Phew, ok, that was a long long post. I hope you were able to learn something useful from it. Just remember that you can attack your landing page optimization in stages that are applicable to the phases of human interaction.

In our next post regarding the 4 Truths, we will be sharing our Conversion Marketing Scorecard that extends this process to the measurement realm, and will allow you to rate your landing pages (hot or not).


Oli Gardner

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About Oli Gardner
Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner has seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet. He’s obsessed with identifying and reversing bad marketing practices, and his disdain for marketers who send campaign traffic to their homepage is legendary, resulting in landing page rants that can peel paint off an unpainted wall. A prolific international keynote speaker, Oli is on a mission to rid the world of marketing mediocrity by using data-informed copywriting, design, interaction, and psychology to create a more delightful experience for marketers and customers alike. He was recently named the "The 2018 Marketer to Watch," in the under 46 category, by his mother.
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