Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How to Leverage Your Creativity to Convert Leads

Creativity (cre·a·tiv·i·ty)
krēāˈtivədē
noun

  1. the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Creativity may not immediately seem incredibly relevant to CRO. After all, CRO is often thought of as a study in best practices and procedural experimentation.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to look a little deeper.

Following best practices does matter of course. You should absolutely continue to optimize your pages with A/B testing, focusing on message-match and ensure your CTA’s are clear and concise.

But there are a number of interesting and entirely useful ways that you can “shake the trees” so to speak.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can flex your creative muscle to increase conversions.

Remind Me Why We Have to Do This?

One word. Oversaturation.

Users are increasingly “blind” to traditional forms of advertising. Just take a look at banner ads.

Users are essentially numb to them, and have been for a long time. In fact, studies show that users generally don’t even give site siderails a single consideration. I know I don’t, and I bet you don’t either.

This study showed that across all mediums and placements, CTR on banners lands somewhere around .05%. Yikes.

banner-ad-placement-performance

Same goes for spam emails, banners, popups… the list goes on.

I’m not saying these tactics don’t work, remarkably some of them still do. Banners are still valuable to expose new audiences to your brand identity even if they don’t garner clicks. Popups can still gather leads when implemented appropriately.

My point is, they’re no longer “fresh” enough to grab someone’s attention and create a memorable experience.

This is why leveraging creativity matters now more than ever. Without further ado, here are three wacky ways to do just that.

1. Be Original. Be Memorable.

“Just be yourself.”

I know, I know. This sounds like the advice Mom gave you before you went to summer camp. How’d it work out for you then? Stolen lunch money? Teasing?

While there are some potential downsides to being unique, particularly when surrounded by kids or teenagers, the perks can be pretty fantastic as well.

I’d go so far as to say that in the business world, being memorable is worth its weight in gold.

extraordinary-seth-godin-quote

Many customers make buying decisions based off emotional responses to brands. Whether it be to an ad, an email, or maybe a customer review they saw on YouTube.

The brands that tell compelling and memorable stories are the ones that land the most sales.

By being memorable and evoking a positive response from leads, you too can capitalize on this. A few ways to accomplish this…

  • Curate a quirky imagery style that you feature on ads, social platforms and your website. Moz does a fantastic job of this, check out their ad portfolio on MOAT.
  • Come up with a memorable and unusual catch phrase, then shout it to the world. When I think about slogans, my mind always races to Redbull. “Redbull gives you wings” is to this day, one of the most impactful, concise, and informative slogans I can think of.
  • Be disruptive with your advertising (screw the norms). Facebook canvas ads are a fantastic way to get creative with your approach. Check out this example by tieks.

tieks-mobile-app

Sticking out like a sore thumb is a good thing when it comes to converting leads. Making a lasting impression and being personable will endear your brand to leads.

Remember, you always want to view your digital funnel from the eyes of the visitor.

Discerning visitors have an inherent sense of authenticity. If you’re genuine with your approach to your product or service, that will come across loud and clear, and in turn builds trust.

The icing on the cake? The more a lead trusts you, the more likely they are to convert.

TLDR: Developing your brand’s unique voice and “personality” encourages consumer trust, which in turns produces sales.

2. Email Nurturing with Authenticity

We all know that email is massively effective when it comes to converting leads. It’s safe to assume each and everyone of you reading this tracks email signups as “goals” in your analytics platform of choice.

Hell, at RankPay we even have a tradition of lining up for high-fives when our MailChimp subscription level increases.

chimp-high-fives

Here’s the problem with emailing nowadays: Email users, aka the vast majority of people, are increasingly savvy as to what constitutes something of value in their inbox. You can’t just send an email with any old subject header and expect a double-digit open rate.

It’s time again to bust out our creativity and buck the trend.

In short, we want to be the unforgettable brand that’s unique but not bizarre enough to be off-putting.

For instance, I recently landed an opportunity by breaking all of the rules. Even the ones deliberately laid out in the denial letter I first received.

who-listens-to-instructions-email

With this in mind, start by taking a closer look at your own lead nurturing email campaigns. Are the subject lines innovative, quirky or unique? Do they have any personality?

Have some fun and try A/B testing novel subject lines where you let your personality shine through. Note that it’s OK if you hear your brain protesting…

“Play it safe! What are you doing? Best practices are established. You can’t go rogue like this!”

But do it. Click send. That quirky but endearing email subject line might be just what the doctor ordered.

When you have fun, your audience will recognize this intuitively. Smiles are infectious. Positive brand associations mean more conversions.

3. Write Marketing Copy to Appeal to Emotions

Every chance you have to put words in front of your leads, is a chance to sell them on your solution. But without appealing to a lead’s emotions, we’re wasting these opportunities.

It’s understandable that us marketers occasionally struggle with this part. We become intimately familiar with our products and services, and it can become difficult to see the forest for the trees. That is to say that we lose sight of what a customer journey looks like from the prospect’s point of view.

prospects-point-of-view-funnelImage Source

One negative outcome of this lack of perspective can be uninspired copywriting. No need to be hard on yourself, it happens to all of us! Present company included.

Just the other day I caught myself writing a headline for a lead-nurturing email as follows: “The Best SEO Service for Small Businesses”. That’s all well and good. It’s a fairly standard headline in that it clearly highlights our company’s service and our target audience. But it’s not memorable and I’m not sure it will truly “connect” with readers.

Luckily I realized it, and took a step back to brainstorm. In the end, I decided to go with “The easy, affordable way to earn higher rankings.” This version has a lot going for it.

  • It’s punchy
  • It’s catchy
  • It connects with the problems this reader faces (budget and difficulty)
  • It conveys authority
  • It explains what we do

And again, I’d point out that being memorable matters. Generic = forgettable. Unique = memorable.

Let’s take a look at a few places you can put this to work for your business.

Company motto or slogan

Day in and day out I see brands without a good catch phrase.

Look at it this way: every single person is inundated with brand exposures from the moment they wake up. Some studies show individuals being exposed to literally thousands of ads each day.

Yankelovich, a market research firm, estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today. – New York Times

The thing is, there’s only so much room in our brains to remember all of these brand impressions. It’s thus critical that we aim to be one of the few brands that leaves a truly lasting impression.

When I’m helping clients develop these “quick pitches”, my process looks like this:

  • Brainstorm as many ideas as I can (25-100)
  • Pick the best 10-15
  • Iterate and improve
  • Get third-party feedback
  • Finalize 3-5 versions
  • A/B test for resonance

It’s so simple it hurts. But at the end of the day, it works.

Headlines

When it comes to being creative with your headlines, start by asking yourself a few key questions.

  • Does this convey our solution’s value to the customer?
  • Is it punchy and concise?
  • Does it appeal to emotions?
  • Is it consistent with our overall “story”?

These questions should get your gears turning and the creative juices flowing.

Remember, we want to craft a memorable message that our leads will not forget. We also want to make sure that we evoke an emotional response and appeal to the potential customer’s needs or desires.

Check out this killer example

brisket-master-headline

It’s got everything going for it. It’s punchy and unique. The wording matches the imagery. The use of the word savor as a verb is particularly great because it elicits a clearly emotional response from the audience. Who wouldn’t want to eat whatever they’re serving at this place?

Calls to action

You’ve probably already spent a lot of time optimizing the button size, color and placement. If not, be sure to check this guide on how to improve the efficacy of your CTAs in general.

Regarding the wording however, it’s important to take the chance to put something personal in the actual text. Instead of using a button that says “Submit” try something like “Start My Trial” or “Boost My Rankings”.

Copyblogger clearly showed data that corroborates using “first-person” CTA text will increase conversions. Cool right?

Last but not least, remember to be unique. Don’t be afraid to let personality shine through. Here’s an example of both a CTA and a form that I immediately loved.

punch-up-your-copy

Remember, Being Weird Isn’t So Bad

If you’ve watched Freaks and Geeks, you probably already believe this statement. If you’re more of the Biff type, there’s nothing wrong with you either. We love everyone here.

But I hope you’ll take the time to consider the advice above, as it can really work wonders on your conversion rate.

The key takeaways are to embrace personality, be genuine, and appeal to your customers emotions. The more a customer trusts your brand and remembers your message, the more likely they are to buy.

Write interesting copy, be weird with your subject lines, and be memorable! Let your freak flag fly!

About the Author: Sam Warren is the Manager of Marketing and Partnerships at RankPay.

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7 Steps to a Flawless Design Review

The design review can be one of the most stressful milestones in any website project. While feedback is a valuable part of the overall process, sometimes the process of getting there is complicated and unwieldy.

Facilitating a flawless design review takes commitment on the part of the primary designer and team participating in the review. You, the designer, can help establish a set of ground rules and process to help make each design review more valuable for everyone at the table, resulting in a better design project.

1. Figure Out the Logistics

There’s a time and place for design reviews. Some teams plan them on a schedule with the rest of the project to catch up on milestones, while others meet every month like clockwork. While the timing of your reviews may vary, it is a good idea to build them into the project timeline.

The designer always needs to be at the design review (if there are multiple designers working on the project, the lead designer should be there at a minimum). The lead designer should be the point person for the review and run the meeting. The group should not be too large; think five to eight people to keep the conversation manageable. Everyone involved in the discussion should have some understanding of the project, but should be somewhat independent as well to provide the most broad spectrum of understanding.

Participants may include the developer, client, sales team member, company president or CEO, marketing or branding team member, designers not working on the project or anyone else who might touch the project or company in any way.

Make sure to find a space that’s comfortable for everyone and provide a place to go over the visuals. You’ll probably need a room with a large screen and internet connection. Set a time for the meeting and create an agenda in advance so that everyone stays on task.

2. Send Invitations and Set Ground Rules

Try to remind reviewers about the meeting well in advance. Even if the dates and times are outlined in the project file, send a reminder at least a week in advance of the meeting.

Make sure to include everything a reviewer would need to come to the meeting ready to talk.

  • Time and location (or call in number if the meeting is virtual)
  • Outline of project goals and constraints
  • Specific goal of this review meeting
  • Project timeline (and where you are in the process)
  • Materials to bring (such as phones or tablets to view the design)

3. Prepare for the Meeting

The lead designer or art director should be running the design review. Prepare accordingly, especially if this kind of event is intimidating. (The more you go through this exercise, the easier it gets.)

Be ready to facilitate the conversation. Plan to ask questions that help get targeted results:

  • Do the color and typography palette reflect the tone of the content?
  • Are there missing elements in the design?
  • Does it work as anticipated?
  • Did you stumble on any parts of the design?
  • What things did you like?
  • What things did you not like?

Anticipate questions and concerns that might come up so that the discussion can keep moving forward. Know that reviewers might be thinking ahead of where the design is in its current iteration and try to keep the discussion focused.

Be prepared to stop the meeting if the group isn’t ready to discuss the design. Sadly, this happens all too much and just holding a meeting because it is on the calendar doesn’t benefit anyone.

4. Check Your Feelings at the Door

This might be the most important – and most difficult – step: You have to check your feelings at the door. Designers tend to be passionate about projects, but this is not the time or place for it. You need to step back and listen to feedback.

Not every bit of feedback will be useful. There’s probably a lot of it that actually won’t be useful at all. It’s ok to disregard some ideas from the design review. What you really want to look for are recurring themes in the feedback that might indicate a potential stumbling point in the design.

Remember: You are not the design. A design that is not liked is not a personal attack or reflection.

5. Start the Review with a Recap

Breathe. Walk in the room (or start the video chat) with confidence.

Start the design review with a recap:

  • Outline design goals
  • Explain the problems that needed to be solved
  • Describe the timeline and made milestones
  • Explain what happens next
  • Walk through the design and explain how it meets goals and solves problems

Once you break the ice, open the floor for feedback. Try not to let any one person dominate the conversation and have a process for allowing everyone to speak if necessary. Allow the conversation to continue until there’s about 10 minutes left for the meeting or comments come to a natural conclusion. 

6. Speak Honestly and Respectfully

Reviewers will speak open and honestly if you do the same thing. The way you act will set the tone for the entire review.

Make a point to take notes and ask questions as well. This shows that group that you care what they think. Pay particular attention to areas where there is a lot of people who not the same issue or areas where there’s a lot of discussion. There are places design flaws often lurk.

As the meeting winds down, recap the feedback you found most useful and invite the team to provide further feedback or ask questions within a certain time frame. Don’t commit to changes during the design review; you never know what will and won’t work until you get back to working on the project.

7. Follow Up After the Review

When you have a quiet minute, collect notes from the design review and follow up with a thank you to the team and next steps. Remind the team when the next milestone will hit and what they should expect to see at that time.

Conclusion

The design review process does not have to be painful. Practice will make these meetings more useful and effective, so don’t keep pushing them off.

Start with a plan of action and goals. Explain them clearly and respect and respond to feedback. You’ll become a better designer for it.

Creative Commons images are used in this article. You can find them at Unsplash.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

3 Copywriting Mistakes That Could Be Hurting Your Free Trial Engagement (And How to Fix Them Right Now)

Find a box with a CD-ROM in it, buy it, then learn how to use it.

That’s how I bought software as a kid. So when I first started working, I assumed that if I wanted to start using work-related software, I would have to pay for it the same way: upfront — site unseen! — just like the software of my youth.

I worried that I would have to justify the cost with only the specs, reviews, and sales guy’s word to make my case. (And if I was wrong, it would be my butt on the line.)

So I’m not exaggerating when I say that discovering I could try software for free actually improved my job performance and reduced new-on-the-job anxiety by ~62%.

Using a tool BEFORE I had to recommend it to my colleagues and pull out the corporate credit card gave me a chance to see which tools actually did what we wanted them to do.

All of a sudden, the risk that we’d pay for something that didn’t have a key feature or turned out to be a user-unfriendly nightmare shrank to almost zero.

What’s the Point of a Free Trial, Anyway?

Your serious prospects approach their free trials of your software with a mindset similar to mine circa 2000-something: they want to reduce the likelihood of buying something that doesn’t work.

They’ve got a problem to solve, they’ve discovered that your app might solve it for them, but they’re not yet certain that your app will be quite right. The free trial is a chance for new users to see for themselves what it’s like to use your app.

But. It’s not up to your free trial users to figure out how your SaaS app actually works. It’s not your new users’ job to figure out how your app will turn them into a better version of themselves.

It’s yours.

Too many SaaS apps lose free trial users with erratic, boring, or vague lifecycle emails.

If you run a SaaS app in pretty much any niche, you have an enormous opportunity to outmaneuver your competitors during the free trial process.

I sign up for free trials all the time to see how they onboard new users, and most don’t do a good job. Most onboarding emails don’t make it easy to understand what to do next. Most apps leave it up to me (the brand new user) to figure out how to get started.

Why is this a problem?

Because every time you make your new readers pause and try to figure out what to do next, you create an opportunity for them to give up and just do nothing instead.

What should you say to new free trial users?

Alas, there is no single hard and set rule. Every SaaS app is unique. What you say in your free trial, how you say it, and when you deliver your message will be specific to your app.

But if your biggest problem is that you’re sending triggered emails to new free trial users but they still aren’t signing back in after the first 10 minutes of using your app, there’s a strong chance that the copy in your emails is to blame.

To fix it, pull up your emails and see if they’re are suffering from one of these 3 engagement-killing mistakes.

Mistake 1: Your emails ask people to do too much.

When you offer more choices, you inspire less action.

The famous jam paper that explained the paradox of choice (and the TED talk that made it famous) showed us how we may be unintentionally taxing our prospects’ decision-making resources by offering too many choices.

But that’s not the whole story.

A 2015 meta-analysis of the research found that the total quantity of options is just one of many factors that can contribute to decision fatigue.

Another factor is the way that options are presented to us. When the presentation of options makes it hard to determine what choice is right for us, we’re likely to defer making a decision.

So if you’re sending your free trial users emails that look like this one, then there’s a strong chance you’re causing some serious decision-deferring choice overload.

a-personal-welcome-9-linksIt would probably take all afternoon to do everything this email mentions, and I might not get any closer to my goal.

This message tosses out 9 links (including one that’s hidden by my redaction) without a clear messaging hierarchy to help me figure out what order I should click on them.

This email provides login info, asks me to read help articles, watch help videos on 3 separate channels, ask for help via email, read interviews, or read a blog that might be helpful–all under the umbrella of “important information”.

But for your trial users, the real important information is the information that helps them decide what to do next.

The Fix: Write each email for the sole purpose of getting your users to complete a single action–and remove text and links that don’t support that action.

This particular message might be rewritten to focus on getting a single reader to respond to the important request hiding at the bottom of that email:

hidden-request

In the now-famous experiment, sending a welcome-why-are-you-here email helped Groove get response rates of 41% while also providing juicy voice of customer data to power future messaging development and laying the foundation for more personal relationships with new users.

Whether you’re following Groove’s lead or not, your free trial emails should all follow the Rule of One for best results: get one reader to take you up on one offer.

One email, one action. That’s it.

Mistake 2: Your emails don’t ask readers to do something specific and measurable.

When you rewrite your emails so that they’re focused on a single action, make sure that action is a discrete, clearly defined task on the user’s path to activation.

Your reader should be able to complete the task you’ve asked them to complete–and they should be able to tell that they’ve completed it.

Unfortunately, lots of emails offer vague and nonspecific CTAs. Some of them even sound exciting — especially CTAs that use the word “explore”. Exploring is fun! It’s adventurous! Brave souls explore!

explore-my-accountJust because it sounds fun doesn’t mean it is.

All true of actual exploring. But your SaaS app is not the Louisiana Purchase.

When you ask someone to “explore” something — anything, really — you put the onus on the reader to figure out what to do.

And because exploring doesn’t have a clearly defined end, it’s impossible for your reader to figure out exactly what to do next–and when they’ve actually completed the thing you’ve asked them to do.

The Fix: Reduce cognitive overwhelm with a CTA that calls for readers to complete a clearly defined single task.

Zapier does this well. This app helps you connect what feels like an infinite number of apps to do all sorts of cool things (including powering the technical logistics behind managing your lead nurturing messaging).

With so many options, it would be easy for free trial users to get overwhelmed. They could explore their options, but then decide not to do anything.

So instead of leaving it up to new users to decide what to do next, Zapier’s first email removes some of the cognitive drain of “Shoot, how will I choose?” and offers a CTA tightly bound around completing a single task.

zapier-build-your-first-workflowI love this email, and if I was going to rewrite it I would try other CTAs that don’t sound like they’re asking your reader to do work.

You already know what steps a new free trial user needs to complete to get to the point where your app suddenly becomes a can’t-live-without-it tool. You might even know the different steps different populations take to get to the point of activation.

Use your knowledge to guide your free trial users along the steps of that path.

Mistake 3: Your emails don’t connect the CTA to the outcome your free trial users want.

If you’ve rewritten your emails to get users to complete one and only specific and measurable action, that’s a great start.

Unfortunately, one of the most common grade-F CTAs I see in onboarding emails are the ones that don’t connect completing the action to solving a problem.

They make a call to action (the CTA “sign in” and its synonyms appear with devastating frequency), but they don’t make a call to value–so readers have no reason to expect that anything good will happen after they log back in.

Did logging into anything ever solve anyone’s problems? Of course not.

It’s what happens after you log back in that makes the difference.

The Fix: If your email’s CTA could easily appear in the free trial email sequence of another app outside of your category, change it.

If you’ve conducted your jobs-to-be-done research, you also know why your readers are using your app–and the outcome they hope to achieve.

Instead of “Log in to Your Account” or “Sign Back In Now”, your free trial email CTAs should make it clear that someone who clicks on this link will be moving closer to the goal they want to achieve with your app.

Buffer does a great job of sending an email that connects my click to what happens after the click.

After I signed up for a trial but didn’t finish setup, I got an email asking me to connect my accounts that also had some background info on what accounts, exactly, we’re talking about here. (In case I forgot what Buffer is.)

buffer-connect-social-profileThis email shows me everything I can connect to Buffer and makes it abundantly clear what I need to click to move forward.

Buffer could have sent an email that said “log back in” or even “connect a profile”. But “login” = boring and “connect a profile” = kind of vague.

Instead, this email makes it abundantly clear what to do with this email (click on the link that says “click here”) and the meaningful reason why you should take that next step (because it’s what you need to do to connect your social profiles).

Are You Making it Easy for Free Trial Users to Disappear?

When I first learned about free trials for software, I was over the moon. “Look at all this stuff I get to try!” “Look at all these opinions I get to form!” “Look at how few people I have to talk to before I make my decision!”

But what are all these thoughts really about?

What are your new free trial users really thinking when they sign up for your app?

My hypothesis is this: free trial users are really thinking some version of: “Look how little risk there is to trying this software. Let’s see if it works.”

The free trial reduces the risk of having to buy before you try. Your free trial messaging is what helps your prospect understand for themselves if your software will solve a problem.

What can you do to help free trial users understand that yes, your product can change their life?

Make it easier for free trial users to evaluate your app with focused, specific, and meaningful lifecycle emails.

About the Author: Alli Blum helps SaaS apps build messages that get customers. Click to get her copywriting checklist for high-converting SaaS onboarding emails.

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Browser Watch, April 2017

Every month, we scour the Internet far and wide to bring web designers the latest and most relevant news stories about browsers. Here’s another edition of Browser Watch, running down everything from the interesting to the surprising in the world of browsers and everything related to it.

Google Chrome Is The Most Hacker-Proof Browser Available

In addition to speed and performance, Google Chrome has also developed a reputation for security. That’s now being confirmed after the 10th edition of Pwn2Own, which is a computer-hacking contest held annually. The aim of this contest is for hackers to aggressively attack hardware and software to discover and exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities. Chrome came out as the most impregnable—only being attacked once, but not within the allotted time limit. The worst performing browser? Microsoft’s Edge browser, which was successfully attacked five times.

Chrome 57 Marks Beginning of More Efficient Power Usage

In another boon for Chrome, its latest update will finally take it easier on your computer’s CPU. According to BGR, Chrome 57 will now extend battery life by minimizing the power impact from factors that users can’t even see. This is a reference to Chrome’s background tabs. Users are familiar with the browser’s tendency to eat up resources when they have many tabs open in the background. Now, thanks to 57’s individual background tab throttling feature, there’ll be 25% fewer busy tabs that are going to be running the background.

Google and Symantec May Go to War

Everyone has probably seen security-software company Symantec’s certifications on various websites, which many users take as the gospel truth of a site’s security. However, Google has begun taking Symantec to task for its alleged failure to properly investigate whether a domain is safe for browsing before it issues its web certificates of security. According to Android Headlines, Google might soon penalize Symantec by drastically reducing the level of trust that its Chrome browser attributes by default to Symantec certificates.

Safari Technology Preview 27 Release Features New Reload Page

Apple released the 27th Safari Technology Preview update, the highlight of which is a new Reload Page From Origin feature, according to MacRumors. This option allows users to reload a page without having to rely on cached resources. Another big browser change is the elimination of the Disable Caches option from the browser’s Development menu. Rounding out the update is a whole series of fixes and improvements to Web API, JavaScript, Web Inspector, CSS, WebCrypto, Accessibility and Rendering. Safari Technology Preview is Apple’s experimental browser that tests new features that might one day make it into Safari’s future release updates.

Apple Shows off Demos of its Proposed WebGPU Browser Engine

Earlier in the year, Apple talked about a new GPU that would strive toward more powerful Internet graphics. Now, Apple has released a few demos to show developers what its new standard can do, according to 9 to 5 Mac. Developers have the opportunity to play around with Apple’s new WebGPU demos by going to Apple’s WebKit webpage. Once there, they’ll have the chance to see four new demos in total, but they’ll have to use Safari Technology Preview, as well as activate WebGPU from the Developer menu.

New Firefox User Interface Called Photon in the Works

For Firefox’s upcoming 57 release, there’s a new user interface that the company’s working on. Named Photon, its mockup designs feature rectangular tabs that will take the place of the current round ones. But that’s not all. Users can also expect a new tab page and a new and centered address bar. Overall, this is the first major overhaul of Firefox’s UI in a number of years, since 2014, to be exact.

Firefox 52 Adds a Whole Roster of New Features

Recently, Firefox debuted Firefox 52, and it was a mega update that included a huge collection of new additions, according to TechSpot. The biggest change in the pack is WebAssembly, which allows almost native performance in apps and games, something that should be welcome for gamers on any browser. Another big improvement is the automatic identification and activation of public, Wi-Fi login services at airports and hotels. Finally, Netscape Plugin API plugins have been disabled while security also gets a big boost with a warning to users who are on webpages that are not using HTTPS during sign-in.

Downloads of Opera More Than Double After Congressional Internet Privacy Vote, Allegedly

When the House of Representatives joined the Senate to reverse privacy rules the Federal Communications Commission passed last year (but hadn’t yet taken effect), the Opera browser seems to have been the biggest winner. The company reported that, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, new U.S. users of the VPN-equipped browser more than doubled as a reflex action to privacy fears, according to Computerworld. However, statistically, third-party metrics, such as those provided by analytics company StatCounter, do not verify Opera’s claim of more users flocking to its browser.

Microsoft Edge Actually Records an Uptick in its Users

In something of a surprise, Microsoft Edge, the company’s latest browser, saw a bit of an uptick in its user share. After the browser’s user numbers fell to humiliating lows last year, the browser rebounded slightly with 0.06% more users this year, according to figures provided by NetMarketShare, a statistics company. As a result, currently 5.61% of all browser users depend on Edge to access the Internet. Still, this is far cry from the high of 16% of all worldwide browser activity Edge accounted for when Windows 10 recently rolled out since the browser was the default in that release.

There you have it! Now you know all you need to know about the latest and most important developments in browser news over the past month. Join us again next month for another roundup of the most relevant browser stories for designers and developers alike.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Four Statistical Concepts Every Online Marketer Should Know

Analytics is a big part of online marketing and therefore, it’s essential to have a good understanding of how to interpret numbers.

In this post, I’m going to present four statistical concepts I believe will be valuable to anyone working in online marketing.

Statistics: A Sexy Skill

To some people, statistics may sound like a boring topic, but to others, it may very well be one of the most attractive skills. Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, even calls it sexy:

I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer engineers would’ve been the sexy job of the 1990s? The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades […]

The first three abilities mentioned by Hal Varian is all reflected in the quality of your work. That is the ability to understand, process and extract value from data.

And the last two – that is the ability to visualize and communicate data – are reflected in your relationships with clients or your boss. Good work is worth nothing if you can’t communicate it to your clients.

In LinkedIn’s yearly summary of the hottest skills you will also find statistics in the top:

Data isn’t going anywhere. Our top skill category last year, statistical analysis and data mining, is still sitting comfortably at #2. It is the only skill category that is consistently ranked in the top 4 across all of the countries we analyzed. We still live in an increasingly data-driven world, and businesses are still aggressively hiring experts in data storage, retrieval and analysis.

So let’s take a look at some of the statistical concepts online marketers should know.

1. The Pareto Principle

You have probably already heard about the Pareto principle. You may know it as the 80/20 rule as it states, according to Wikipedia, that “for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”

The principle is named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who found that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas and 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population.

italians-italy-pareto-principleImage Source

The Pareto principle occurs frequently, and by knowing this, you will be able to take advantage of it. If you can figure out which 20% of your time produces 80% of your business’ results, you can spend more time on those activities and less time on others.

pareto-principle-80-20

Do you need to restructure an AdWords account but don’t have the time for a complete makeover? You can start by identifying the 20% keywords currently bringing the most sales and start from there.

Or maybe you need to increase conversion rates by optimizing the landing pages on a website with hundreds of landing pages? Again, you will probably find that around 20% of the landing pages are generating 80% of the conversions. So why not start there?

The Pareto principle is a simple heuristic that is often useful in online marketing.

2. The Law of Large Numbers

The law of large numbers tells us that if you repeat a random experiment often enough, the average of the outcomes will converge towards the expected value.

Take a series of coin tosses for example. Heads and tails have equal odds so you would expect each side to come up half the time. But if you were to toss the coin 10 times I bet you wouldn’t be too confident that each side would come up exactly 5 times. You can easily imagine scenarios where heads would come up six or seven times instead of five. Actually, it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine getting even eight heads out of ten tosses (there is more than a 4% chance of this happening).

Now, what if we changed the number of tosses from 10 to 1,000? Would this change anything? According to the law of large numbers, it should.

With ten tosses the thought of getting 80% heads wasn’t unheard of. But can you imagine tossing a coin 1,000 times and getting 800 heads? I doubt it. And rightly so. The chance of this happening is so small I would need 86 zeroes to type it out. With 1,000 tosses you would expect something closer to an equal amount of heads and tails than with 10 tosses.

So our coin tossing example illustrates quite well what the law of large numbers tells us: The more we repeat a random experiment, the more will the outcomes converge towards the expected value.

all-heads-all-tails-graphImage Source

In his superb book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman tells the story of a large investment by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Some researchers had tried to identify the most successful schools in the hope of discovering what distinguishes them from others.

One of the conclusions was that the most successful schools, on average, were small. And it’s not difficult to come up with possible explanations for this. Maybe smaller schools can give more personal attention and encouragement than larger schools.

small-big-schools

Because of this, the Gates Foundation invested in the creation of smaller schools, even splitting large schools into smaller ones.

The problem is it’s wrong. As Kahneman writes:

If the statisticians who reported to the Gates Foundation had asked about the characteristics of the worst schools, they would have found that bad schools also tend to be smaller than average. The truth is that small schools are not better on average; they are simply more variable.

Just like a small number of coin tosses are more variable than a larger number, a small school is also more variable than a large school.

How is this relevant in online marketing?

Let’s say you want to investigate which cities have the lowest conversion rate on your website. You might go to the Geo report in Google Analytics and sort by conversion rate in ascending order. And there you have it. The 10 cities with the lowest conversion rate. You might very well reach a conclusion similar to the statisticians reporting to the Gates Foundation: the low converting cities are all rather small.

But before initiating a big national campaign to increase brand awareness in small cities, you should take a look at the cities at the other end of the table. These high converting cities are probably also small. So perhaps the small cities are not worse or better than larger cities. They are probably just more variable due to fewer visitors.

The same applies to A/B tests and this is why you need a certain amount of data before you can rely on the results from an A/B test and call it statistical significant.

So what are we to do about it?

We should not make too hasty generalizations. The fallacy of making an assumption based on a small sample group is sometimes called the law of small numbers.

In cases like this where you are trying to identify the characteristics of the best or the worst of something, it would be wise to always check the other end of the spectrum. Sometimes you will find that the top and bottom share the same characteristics.

Let me show a final example. The graph below shows the value per session for every hour of the day. At first, it may seem like some of the nighttime hours are the most valuable hours of the day. But instead of just rushing to a conclusion we should consider the least valuable hours of the day. It appears that they are also at night.

per-session-value-google-analytics

Is there some reason why the data for the nighttime hours should be more variable than the rest of the day?

As the graph below shows, we only get a very small amount of traffic at night. This is just like the schools. One hour at night is like one small school. It could be really good (like 1, 4 and 6 in the morning) or really bad (like 2, 3 and 5 in the morning). But the difference might as well be due to randomness.

per-session-value-sessions

The law of large numbers tells us to put more trust in the value of the hours with many sessions than in the hours with only a few sessions.

3. Relative and Absolute Numbers

Imagine reading about a new drug that reduces the risk of getting a dangerous disease by 25%. At first, this might sound very promising but does it really tell us what the real benefit of taking the new drug is?

Let’s assume 20 in 1,000 people get the disease without the drug. By taking the drug, this number is reduced to 15 in 1,000 people. While this is indeed a 25% relative drop, we should also consider the absolute reduction.

In absolute numbers, the new drug has only reduced the number of people getting the disease from 20 in 1,000 to 15 in 1,000 people. So while it’s true that 25% fewer people get the disease, it’s also true that the actual risk of getting the disease is only 0.5 percentage points lower (reduced from 2.0% to 1.5%). Depending on potential side effects the new drug may not sound as promising anymore.

There is one important distinction to be made here. Percentage change must not be confused with a change in percentage points.

How is this relevant in online marketing?

If someone told you that the conversion rate of your website had been reduced by 2% you need to be sure what is implied by this number. Your reaction should be considerably different if the person meant to say the conversion rate has been reduced from 4% to 2% (a drop of 2 percentage points) than if it was just a reduction from 4% to 3.92% (a 2 percentage drop).

2-percentage-points-2-percentage-drop

When talking about changes we need to make sure everyone knows what the numbers mean. Are we talking about the relative or absolute numbers? Are we using percentages or percentage points?

We also need to be especially wary of relative numbers when the starting point is a very small number. If your AdWords campaign is generating 50% fewer conversions, you won’t panic if it is just a drop from 2 conversions to 1. But if it’s a drop from 2,000 to 1,000 conversions then you might consider panicking. A drop of 1 conversion is probably just a random fluctuation while a drop of 1,000 conversions might be caused by a serious issue.

source-medium-cpc

In the example above you can see exactly how percentages will mislead when the absolute numbers are low. While the goal completions is down by 50 percent and the conversion rate is down by 63 percent, the actual change in goals completed is just 1. Not exactly something that would make you panic.

It just shows how percentages can be misleading when the absolute numbers are omitted.

4. Simpson’s Paradox

Simpson’s paradox, as stated on Wikipedia, is the name of a paradox “in which a trend appears in different groups of data but disappears or reverses when these groups are combined.”

A textbook example of the Simpson’s paradox is the study of the 1973 admission figures for the University of California, Berkeley. The numbers showed that men applying were more likely than women to be admitted. 44% of all the men who applied got admitted while only 35% of women did.

men-women-applicants-admitted

The paradox arises when examining the individual departments since it appears that no department was significantly biased against women. As shown below, four of the six departments actually had a small bias in favor of women.

men-women-departments-admitted

If you take a closer look at the number of applicants in the six departments, you will see that women tended to apply to generally competitive departments with low rates of admission (C, D, E, and F) while the majority of men applied to department A and B which have the highest admittance rate for both sexes.

So while the rate of women accepted is higher in 4 of the 6 departments, the total rate of admissions was higher for men because more men applied to departments with high rates of admission.

How is this relevant in online marketing you might ask?

Say you want to compare the performance of two landing pages on your website. Looking at the conversion rates you conclude that page A is better than page B since page A has a conversion rate of 4.39% compared to only 3.49% of page B.

landing-page-visits-conversions-rate

But look what happens if we segment the two landing pages by the traffic sources as shown below.

traffic-sources-conversion-rate

Now we see that even though page A has a higher total conversion rate, page B is actually doing better for every individual traffic source. Page A is not better; it just happens to get a lot more of its traffic from the high converting traffic sources than page B does. This is Simpson’s paradox – just like the example with college admission figures.

So what are we to do about it?

First of all, we should make sure to run properly randomized trials. If the numbers above were from an actual split-test of two landing pages, it would clearly be flawed since the traffic sources are skewed that much.

Apart from that, we should remember to always segment our data. As Avinash Kaushik wrote in a blog post: “There is no KPI so insightful all by itself, even in a trend or against a forecast, that it can’t be made more impactful by applying segmentation.”

Conclusion

I hope you have found the four statistical concepts interesting and hopefully learned something new to help you in your work.

Knowledge of statistics will only get more important in online marketing, and by educating yourself, you can make sure to stay ahead in a world where we are getting access to more and more interesting data.

As Hal Varian said, the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians! And with the combination of statistical skills and online marketing you will possess some of the most attractive skills at the moment.

About the Author: Frederik Hyldig is the Head of PPC at s360 – one of the leading digital agencies in Scandinavia. Frederik has been featured on PPC Hero, Wordstream, Moz and other leading search marketing blogs.

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