Editor’s Note: For anyone new to this blog, Adam Lapp has been MarketingExperiments’ head of optimization for around three years. He’s been optimizing web paths for much longer, though – somewhere in the ballpark of 10 years. I’ve personally worked with Adam for five years now, and he has, hands down, the most brilliant optimization mind I’ve ever seen.
So naturally, I was thrilled when he sent me a draft of this post for the blog. It’s been a while since Adam took some time out of his busy schedule to write for our blog, but his posts are full of real-world optimization wisdom that many of our readers have found invaluable in the past.
The casual tone of this post may be a little different from what you might be used to on this blog. That’s because I’ve left Adam’s personal writing style, for the most part, intact. This post is written by a true expert and I wanted it to be as directly from the source as possible.
I hope you enjoy. Here’s Adam…
I remember I once I designed and ran four tests in a row — two product page tests and two homepage tests — for a Fortune 500 industrial supply company, and lost every time. The designs were solid – better navigation, easier to find buttons, improved copy and value proposition – but they all lost.
When I look back at it, these four tests lost because I was trying to optimize webpages.
So, what the heck am I talking about?
Well fortunately and unfortunately, the probability of a prospect converting begins increasing or decreasing long before they get your website.
At the beginning of the customer journey, when they are in the act of shopping, they likely have several tabs open, have a blurry vision in their head of what they want (that may or may not match what’s on your page), and could be anywhere from “super-urgent-peeing-their-pants” to fulfill their needs or just half-heartedly window shopping. At any time, these prospects potentially get a metaphorical puddle splashed on them by a metaphorical car driving down the metaphorical promenade.
The fact is, the problem you are trying to solve does not exist in on the page, it exists in the mind of the customer.
If you are focusing on the page, then you’ve already lost. You have to understand where prospects are in the process, what their values and pains are, and what mental conclusions they need to make prior to saying “yes” and buying.
You have to harness your customers’ motivation before you start changing page elements and writing new copy and putting that new design up on Adobe Target or Optimizely.
So how do you do this? Well let’s say you are staring at your ecommerce product page right now (well not now because you are reading this post) wondering why none of your recent changes have made an impact…
Step #1: Ask some questions to get inside the mind of the customer:
- Who am I optimizing for? Well, most people that come to my professional photography equipment site are small business owners who are concerned about price. I can’t compete with Amazon on that, so why would they buy from me? Well, one reason is that my staff knows everything about every camera and I doubt one out of 10,000 customer service reps at Amazon do. I’ll emphasize that on my product page.
- Where are they in the thought sequence? Well, everyone who lands on my iPhone 6 smartphone page probably knows most of the details already because they’ve been researching for months or have had an iPhone before. So I probably don’t need to use valuable space for phone details but rather why they should buy the phone from my company. Or better yet, maybe I shouldn’t have much content at all and just get out of their way.
- What conclusions do they need to make? So when a customer lands on my in-person corporate training page, they need to first conclude the product matches their need, then trust that my company can deliver the product, then conclude they want me to provide it to them, then know what the cost is, then conclude the value is worth the price, then feel comfortable filling out a form, then fill out the form. Okay, does my page currently help them make all these conclusions and in this order? No, okay, I need to make some changes.
Ultimately, you cannot optimize a webpage … only how your customer experiences a webpage. That’s why I said the act of converting on your site begins with birth. From age zero until now, your prospect has developed a unique way of looking at the world, and thus your webpage and copy. There’s a sequence of thoughts that has brought them to this page, and a sequence of thoughts occurring as they experience the page, that if you ignore, you will achieve minimal impact on conversion.
Step #2: Determine the where your customer is in the thought sequence
Where have they been and what is the next step in their thought sequence?
There are a few key things you can do to determine this:
- Find someone in that customer type. Let’s say you are marketing a website that provides articles, policies, and templates for IT professionals, you would be a fool not to get out of your marketer’s blind spot and your cube, and go over to the IT department at your own company. HINT, it’s usually the office or building with the lights out. Show them what you are working on, ask them questions, and figure out what would make them buy.
- Role play with a group. Let’s say most of your team leans toward the left. But your target audience leans toward the right. Would you send a donkey to sell to an elephant? No. So for an hour, become elephants. Feel their pain, where they are coming from, their values. Have people who participate do some up front preparation to get into character. Have fun with it. But more importantly, come out of that meeting with a new perspective on your target audience.
Step #3: Create a business-sensitive test plan
I’ll cover this in depth in part II of this blog post. Stay tuned next week and I’ll even provide a helpful infographic you can use as a cheat sheet for planning your tests.
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