Conversion Heroes Part 7: Landing Page Optimization – An Interview with Tim Ash

Conversion Heroes

Conversion Heroes is a series of 5-question interviews with experts in the field of conversion. Subjects for discussion include landing pages, copywriting, conversion optimization, social media conversion, email marketing, organic SEO for landing pages and A/B & multivariate testing.

Today’s Conversion Hero is Tim Ash from Site Tuners

Tim AshTim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion.

He is the highly-regarded chairperson of Conversion Conference and a speaker at top Internet marketing conferences. Tim is a contributing columnist to several industry publications and is the author of the bestselling book Landing Page Optimization.

In my interview with Tim Ash, we discuss landing page optimization, the impacts of social media on conversion, and optimizing pages on a desert island.

1. Is 2010/11 the year of conversion optimization?

Oli: Optimization has become a hot topic this year, and the industry seems to be gaining a lot of momentum. Is it a fad, or an “about time” scenario?

Tim: Every year should be the year of optimization. This is not some kind of critical mass thing like “the year of mobile” or “the year of video”. Conversion goes to the heart of online marketing profitability and never goes in or out of style. Having said that, there is certainly a lot more attention being paid to it this year.

Oli: Are more people using landing pages than a few years ago?

Tim: A landing page is not necessarily a stand-alone page. My definition of a landing page is pretty broad: any page where traffic lands on the way to a measurable conversion action. This can be a stand-alone page, a micro-site, or a page deep within a larger site.

The conversion action can happen anywhere downstream of the landing page. So the whole path between the landing page and the conversion page (or pages) should be optimized.

We are seeing more adoption of stand-alone landing pages, especially for controllable traffic sources like pay-per-click or social media campaigns. It is always better to create targeted campaign-specific pages if possible.

Oli: Do you think landing pages are evolving and getting better? If so, what’s causing the shift?

Tim: I don’t think that landing pages are evolving. There are definitely fads, but these do not constitute an evolution.

Because of the increasing availability of faster Internet connections, landing pages more commonly use rich media or video. But it is often being done in a haphazard “just because you can” kind of way, with no connection to the underlying conversion.

I am afraid that there is endemic ignorance out there about what it takes to create high-converting pages. The lunatics are still running the asylum.

Oli: Where do you see landing pages headed now that social media is vying for a much larger segment of the conversion experience?

Tim: As persuasion expert Dr. Robert Cialdini rightfully points out, “social proof” or the consensus of like-minded peers can be a very powerful persuasion strategy.

When lots of other people similar to us are taking a certain action, it serves as a mental shortcut for us as well. We do not have to think, we just follow along with the herd.

By personalizing the experience and pulling in appropriate information from our extended social network, you can skyrocket conversion rates. Of course this should be done without being creepy in a big-brother kind of way, with full disclosure and respect for personal privacy.

Also, social information should be presented in an appropriate way that does not dominate the landing page. Yes you can put a big block of Facebook friend’s images on your page, But does that mean you should? This might take up a lot of valuable screen real estate.

Similarly, scrolling Twitter or Facebook updates will draw attention – sometimes inordinate amounts. Social proof is just one possible aspect of improving conversion. It should not overshadow everything.

2. User Centered Design (UCD) vs. Conversion Centered Design (CCD)

Standalone landing pages see less focus on UCD due to fewer interaction points and navigational structures, and while marketing conversion is an old topic, a new discipline of conversion centered design (or persuasion centric design) seems to be emerging.

Oli: Do you see the relentless pursuit of conversion as being at odds with the desire to provide a quality user experience, and how do you strike a balance between the two?

Tim: I do not see them as diametrically opposed. Rather, usability and user centered design are a subset of online persuasion.

All landing pages should, by definition, be focused on the user and helping them accomplish their task. But in the more traditional sense, user centered design is more focused on task analysis, user interface controls, and information architecture. For conversion, you also need to understand graphic design, copywriting, persuasion strategies, testing and statistics, and a number of other areas.

Oli: What types of persuasion devices or tactics do you use when trying to improve the impact of your clients pages?

Tim: We focus on making sure that the design is professional and has a clean and uncluttered look. All visual embellishments should be minimized unless they contribute directly to the conversion action. The visual priorities on the page should be clear and the visitor should be presented with a small number of high-level choices.

We also appropriately present trust in the form of client logos, media mentions, testimonials, and awards.

3. Attention Wizard

Attention Wizard seems like a great tool for verifying your designs, by illuminating areas likely to get the most attention.

Oli: Can you give us an overview of Attention Wizard, what it’s for, and the benefits it can bring to your landing pages?

Tim: One of the keys to designing an effective landing page is getting the visual design right. But how do you know if your design is going to be effective?

One way is to do eye-tracking studies and see what people are actually looking at. However, it takes time and quite a bit of money to do this. Another way is to track people’s mouse movements on your page and group many visitors actions together into a sort of “attention heatmap”. This is effective, but it requires time to collect this data, and involves actual visitors to the page.

The third approach is to simulate what people will pay attention to on the page. We know quite a bit about how visual attention works in the brain, and by using a complex statistical model we can create a prediction of what they will pay attention to. The output of that model is an “attention heatmap” overlay on the landing page, showing the areas where visual attention is likely to be focused.

This is obviously not as accurate as eye tracking or mouse tracking, but it can be very effective at diagnosing major attention problems, and there are two big advantages to simulating visual attention in this way. First, the results are instant, and can be applied not only to screenshots of real pages, but also to design mockups before the page even goes live. Second, the cost is minimal, especially when compared to actual eye tracking or usability studies.

What AttentionWizard does is clearly illustrate the impact if the internet ADD generation. By predicting areas that are distracting people we should be able to design more focused experiences.

Oli: How can AttentionWizard be used to increase conversions?

Tim: Think of it this way – there is good attention, and there is bad attention.

Good attention is focusing on the product image or “hero shot”. It is also any attention on the headline or call to action area. Bad attention is due to other prominent visual elements on the page that are not related to the conversion. These kinds of unnecessary visual embellishments often compete for attention and distract us from looking at the desired elements on the page.

AttentionWizard lets you identify bad attention, and minimize it by redesigning your page. Similarly, seeing an attention heatmap may alert you that there is not enough focus on the important parts of the page. So you can redesign and fine-tune your page by repeatedly running it through AttentionWizard until you get the focus right.

Oli: How much of the interpretation of the heatmaps is left up to the user? In other words, do you see common or repeating patterns that can be mapped to known design problems?

Tim: There are common problems that we find. Often visual hotspots are formed simply by the use of strong colors, and contrasting areas of the page.

We also see an overuse of people photographs (skintones and faces), which are very rich sources of information in our environment, and will always get attention hotspots where pictures of people are on a page).

We have heatmap interpretation services as part of our interactive landing page Express Reviews, but otherwise the clients are on their own to interpret and use the heatmaps.

Oli: What happens next? Once a user has a clear display of what’s not working on their page re: attention, do you provide a set of principles to help re-stucture or fix the page?

Tim: Each situation is specific. Visual attention is only part of the puzzle.

Landing page optimization also involves your brand, value proposition, positioning and messaging, copywriting, psychology and persuasion techniques. So it is impossible to provide universal fixes for landing pages without involving real people either through consulting best-practices, or by testing your ideas on your website visitors.

4. There aren’t enough people using landing pages

Oli: Do you have any advice for practitioners to convince their bosses/clients to invest more in optimization?

Tim: Marketing investments should always be done on an ROI basis. You should fund those activities that drop the most profit dollars to the bottom line. As long as the return is high, these types of projects pay for themselves very quickly.

Speak the language of economics (and not some kind of techno-geek ghetto language), and you should be able to get support from managers and clients.

Oli: What’s worse, a poorly converting landing page or no landing page at all?

Tim: As I mentioned earlier, my definition of a landing page is pretty broad. But I believe you are asking about stand-alone pages versus sending the traffic to a page on the corporate website.

In that case, a stand-alone page is usually best. But there is no reason it has to be poorly converting.

A quick best-practices scrub and redesign of the page can usually fix many of the problems.

5. The Desert Island Landing Page Retreat

Oli: You’ve been sent to a deserted island to spend 1 month optimizing the world’s most important landing page. You have an opportunity to bring 2 people with you to assist as you perform your work.

  • Chef
  • Scientist
  • Information Architect
  • Designer
  • Copywriter
  • Marketer
  • Doctor
  • Wife/girlfriend

If you could only pick 2, who would they be, and why?

Tim: Wife and girlfriend of course! That sounds like the most fun as long as they are getting along…

Seriously, I would bring the two people who most closely matched the demographic of the intended target audience. Their roles do not matter.

I would ask them a lot of questions to uncover how they experience the world, and what is important to them regarding the subject of the landing page.

I would then mock up some crude wireframe designs and have them give their feedback to uncover additional problems. What would be left after repeated refinements should be a pretty solid page.

Thanks to Tim for being our latest Conversion Hero and sharing his expert knowledge with our blog readers.

More Conversion Heroes

Part 1: Roberta Rosenberg on Copywriting for Landing Pages
Part 2: Dan Martell on Social Media Conversion
Part 3: Paras Chopra on Split Testing
Part 4: John Hossack on PPC
Part 5: Chris Goward on Conversion Rate Optimization
Part 6: Cindy Alvarez on Point-of-Conversion Feedback
Part 7: Tim Ash on Landing Page Optimization

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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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