Note from Caleb: Most people waste their time on “testing conversions” because they test things that are too small. In this post from Peter Sandeen, learn how to test your conversions the right way: by making big changes.
Conversion optimization and A/B testing are becoming common among even the smallest businesses. And for good reason.
If done right, they can create huge increases in profits. But there’s a common misbelief about testing, which is reinforced even by many experts.
They say, “Test one thing at a time so you know how each change affects your conversion rates.”
But if business results are more important than statistical analysis, you shouldn’t just test one thing at a time.
It might sound good, but it’s slow and ineffective, and the benefits are marginal.
Instead, take the results-focused approach.
How much traffic do you need?
People often ask, “How much traffic do I need before I can start testing?”
It depends on how big the difference between conversion rates is.
The less traffic you get, the longer running a test will take.
When you don’t have huge visitor numbers, you have to focus on tests that create big differences in conversions. Otherwise each test will take weeks or months.
At the same time, you don’t need a lot of traffic to get reliable results fairly quickly if you don’t fall for the one thing at a time belief.
Testing the details rarely works
Maybe you’ve heard that orange is the best button color for conversions. Or maybe you’ve heard that green or red is better.
The only way to know what works for you is to test it. And sometimes a different button color multiplies conversion rates.
But you’re more likely to get struck by lightning eight times before breakfast.
The new color can only make a real difference when it makes people notice the button significantly more easily.
The same goes with testing other design details; you’ll see a difference only if the changes make visitors focus on different things on the page.
Change the message
Successful conversion optimization is about testing what message works best and how it is best communicated.
For example, the following two headlines have the same message, so testing them won’t make a big difference.
- “The new XYZ gadget makes drilling easier than ever”
- “Drilling is super easy with the help of XYZ gadget”
However, changing your headlines can create big differences. That is, if you change the overall message.
Instead of focusing on how easy drilling is with the new gadget, you could make the alternative headline about precision, speed, consistency, or a number of other aspects (maybe the gadget allows you to drill square holes).
When you focus on another benefit (or otherwise another aspect) of the gadget, you find out which main idea is most interesting for your visitors.
The point is, as long as you don’t change the message, there’s no real difference in what visitors experience, and your conversion rates will stay the same.
So, what exactly are you supposed to do?
Focus on what makes the difference
Your conversion rates depend almost entirely on three things:
- How strong your value proposition is
- How well you communicate your value proposition
- Traffic quality
We’re not talking about traffic generation now, so I’ll skip the third point here.
Your value proposition is the collection of the most persuasive, believable reasons your target audience has for taking the action you want.
In other words, the stronger it is, the better reasons people have for moving forward (converting).
And the better you communicate it, the better people understand those reasons.
You need to know what your value proposition is to be able to create effective tests. But you need to know that anyway to get good conversion rates.
If you don’t know it (or it’s weak), you can’t point to good reasons for doing anything you ask. Whether it’s joining your email list or buying your products.
Create BIG tests
A BIG test is a test where you change what parts of your value proposition you focus on (drilling easily vs. fast or accurately).
And no, you don’t just change the headline; you change everything about the page to focus on the different aspect of your value proposition.
You might need to change page layout, images, and other design elements along with the page copy to get the new message across as well as possible.
For example, here’s the home page of Dogs — Lost and Found, a fictitious dog shelter.
The message of the page—the aspect of the value proposition the page focuses on—is “help these dogs be happy because it’s unfair that they’re locked up in a shelter or on the streets.”
The image is there to spark feelings of pity. The tagline, headline, and button underline how unfair it is that some dogs are tossed to the streets.
A BIG test could, for example, look like this:
Here the message is “find a new family member or best friend.”
The image creates an idea of a great day at the beach with your kids and dog—your family. The tagline, headline, and button focus on what the reader can get.
The page focuses on a different aspect of the value proposition, and that makes a real difference.
The button color, for example, is a trivial detail compared to how the different message affects conversions.
If you had started testing by changing one detail at a time, it would’ve taken weeks or months to get to the new version.
Time for the nitty-gritty
When you’ve tested focusing on different aspects of your value proposition, you can get into the details.
Test a different headline with the same message but different wording. Test the button color. Try another picture with the same general idea.
But more importantly, find the weak points of your page and change or test them.
For example, I ran a test on one of my landing pages. The only difference was the addition of a “featured in” bar into the header.
Even though nothing else changed, conversion rate went up by 37%.
I decided to run such a “small test” because one weak point of the page was lack of context and credibility.
Similarly, you need to look at your site and pages systematically to find the weak points.
Maybe your conversion rate is suffering from lack of clarity; people don’t stay on your site if they don’t immediately understand what they can get from you.
Or maybe you’re describing your offer so that it doesn’t feel relevant for your visitors; would you stay on a site that offered something that seems irrelevant to you?
But all that comes after testing what aspects of your value proposition are best at persuading visitors to convert.
If you want to figure out what’s the favorite food of your best friend, you won’t change the food you serve one ingredient at a time until you hit find the answer.
Rather, you try all kinds of foods to see which is closest to her favorite before perfecting any one recipe.
All you need to do
Start by getting really clear about your value proposition.
If you don’t know what it is, you can’t get to the next step.
Make sure the page you’re optimizing is focused on communicating your value proposition. If it’s not, change it until it is; you’ll definitely see a lift in your conversion rates.
Then create an alternate version of the page that focuses on different aspects of your value proposition. In other words, a page that stresses different reasons for taking the action you’re asking for.
And finally, share your experience and questions in the comments below.