All posts by Alex Birkett

Thumbnail

20 Conversion Optimization Tips for Zooming Past Your Competition

20 Conversion Optimization Tips for Zooming Past Your Competition

Conversion optimization (CRO) is one of the most impactful things you can do as a marketer.

I mean, bringing traffic to a website is important (because without traffic you’re designing for an audience of crickets). But without a cursory understanding of conversion optimization—including research, data-driven hypotheses, a/b tests, and analytical capabilities—you risk making decisions for your website traffic using only gut feel.

CRO can give your marketing team ideas for what you can be doing better to convert visitors into leads or customers, and it can help you discover which experiences are truly optimal, using A/B tests.

However, as with many marketing disciplines, conversion optimization is constantly misunderstood. It’s definitely not about testing button colors, and it’s not about proving to your colleagues that you’re right.

I’ve learned a lot about how to do CRO properly over the years, and below I’ve compiled 20 conversion optimization tips to help you do it well, too.

Conversion Optimization Tip 1:
Learn how to run an A/B test properly

Running an A/B test (an online controlled experiment) is one of the core practices of conversion optimization.

Testing two or more variations of a given page to see which performs best can seem easy due to the increased simplification of testing software. However, it’s still a methodology that uses statistical inference to make a decision as to which variant is best delivered to your audience. And there are a lot of fine distinctions that can throw things off.

What is A/B Testing?

There are many nuances we could get into here—Bayesian vs. frequentist statistics, one-tailed vs. two-tailed tests, etc.—but to make things simple, here are a few testing rules that should help you breeze past most common testing mistakes:

  • Always determine a sample size in advance and wait until your experiment is over before looking at “statistical significance.” You can use one of several online sample size calculators to get yours figured out.
  • Run your experiment for a few full business cycles (usually weekly cycles). A normal experiment may run for three or four weeks before you call your result.
  • Choose an overall evaluation criterion (or north star metric) that you’ll use to determine the success of an experiment. We’ll get into this more in Tip 4.
  • Before running the experiment, clearly write your hypothesis (here’s a good article on writing a true hypothesis) and how you plan to follow up on the experiment, whether it wins or loses.
  • Make sure your data tracking is implemented correctly so you’ll be able to pull the right numbers after the experiment ends.
  • Avoid interaction effects if you’re running multiple concurrent experiments.
  • QA your test setup and watch the early numbers for any wonky technical mistakes.

I like to put all of the above fine details in an experiment document with a unique ID so that it can be reviewed later—and so the process can be improved upon with time.

An example of experiment documentation
An example of experiment documentation using a unique ID.
Tip 1: Ensure you take the time to set up the parameters of your A/B test properly before you begin. Early mistakes and careless testing can compromise the results.

Conversion Optimization Tip 2:
Learn how to analyze an A/B test

The ability to analyze your test after it has run is obviously important as well (and can be pretty nuanced depending on how detailed you want to get).

For instance, do you call a test a winner if it’s above 95% statistical significance? Well, that’s a good place to begin, but there are a few other considerations as you develop your conversion optimization chops:

  • Does your experiment have a sample ratio mismatch?
    Basically, if your test was set up so that 50% of traffic goes to the control and 50% goes to the variant, your end results should reflect this ratio. If the ratio is pretty far off, you may have had a buggy experiment. (Here’s a good calculator to help you determine this.)
  • Bring your data outside of your testing tool.
    It’s nice to see your aggregate data trends in your tool’s dashboard, and their math is a good first look, but I personally like to have access to the raw data. This way you can analyze it in Excel and really trust it. You can also import your data to Google Analytics to view the effects on key segments.

This can also open up the opportunity for further insights-driven experiments and personalization. Does one segment react overwhelmingly positive to a test you’ve run? Might be a good opportunity to implement personalization.

Checking your overall success metric first (winner, loser, inconclusive) and then moving to a more granular analysis of segments and secondary effects is common practice among CRO practitioners.

Here’s how Chris McCormick from PRWD explains the process:

Once we have a high level understanding of how the test has performed, we start to dig below the surface to understand if there are any patterns or trends occurring. Examples of this would be: the day of the week, different product sets, new vs returning users, desktop vs mobile etc.

Also, there are tons of great A/B test analysis tools out there, like this one from CXL:

AB Test Calculator
Tip 2: Analyze your data carefully by ensuring that your sample ratio is correct. Then export it to a spreadsheet where you can check your overall success metric before moving on to more granular indicators.

Conversion Optimization Tip 3:
Learn how to design your experiments

At the beginning, it’s important to consider the kind of experiment you want to run. There are a few options in terms of experimental design (at least, these are the most common ones online):

  1. A/B/n test
  2. Multivariate test
  3. Bandit test

A/B/n test

An A/B/n test is what you’re probably most used to.

It splits traffic equally among two or more variants and you determine which test won based on its effect size (assuming that other factors like sample size and test duration were sufficient).

ABCD Test Example
An A/B test with four variants: Image source

Multivariate test

In a multivariate test, on the other hand, you can test several variables on a page and hope to learn what the interaction effects are among elements.

In other words, if you were changing a headline, a feature image, and a CTA button, in a multivariate test you’d hope to learn which is the optimal combination of all of these elements and how they affect each other when grouped together.

A Multivariate Test

Generally speaking, it seems like experts run about ten a/b tests for every multivariate test. The strategy I go by is:

  • Use A/B testing to determine best layouts at a more macro-level.
  • Use MVT to polish the layouts to make sure all the elements interact with each other in the best possible way.

Bandit test

Bandits are a bit different. They are algorithms that seek to automatically update their traffic distribution based on indications of which result is best. Instead of waiting for four weeks to test something and then exposing the winner to 100% traffic, a bandit shifts its distribution in real time.

Experimental Design: Bandits

Bandits are great for campaigns where you’re looking to minimize regrets, such as short-term holiday campaigns and headline tests. They’re also good for automation at scale and targeting, specifically when you have lots of traffic and targeting rules and it’s tough to manage them all manually.

Unfortunately, while they are simpler from an experimental design perspective, they are much harder for engineers to implement technically. This is probably why they’re less common in the general marketing space, but an interesting topic nonetheless. If you want to learn more about bandits, read this article I wrote on the topic a few years ago.

Tip 3: Consider the kind of experiment you want to run. Depending on your needs, you might run an A/B/n test, a multivariate test, a bandit test, or some other form of experimental design.

Conversion Optimization Tip 4:
Choose your OEC

Returning to a point made earlier, it’s important to choose which north star metric you care about: this is your OEC (Overall Evaluation Criterion). If you don’t state this and agree upon it up front as stakeholders in an experiment, you’re welcoming the opportunity for ambiguous results and cherry-picked data.

Basically, we want to avoid the problem of HARKing: hypothesizing after results are known.

Twitter, for example, wrote on their engineering blog that they solve this by stating their overall evaluation criterion up front:

One way we guide experimenters away from cherry-picking is by requiring them to explicitly specify the metrics they expect to move during the set-up phase….An experimenter is free to explore all the other collected data and make new hypotheses, but the initial claim is set and can be easily examined.

The term OEC was popularized by Ronny Kohavi at Microsoft, and he’s written many papers that include the topic, but the sentiment is widely known by people who run lots of experiments. You need to choose which metric really matters, and which metric you’ll make decisions with.

Tip 4: In order to avoid ambiguous or compromised data, state your OEC (Overall Evaluation Criterion) before you begin and hold yourself to it. And never hypothesize after results are known.

Conversion Optimization Tip 5:
Some companies shouldn’t A/B test

You can still do optimization without A/B testing, but not every company can or should run A/B tests.

It’s a simple mathematical limitation:

Some businesses just don’t have the volume of traffic or discrete conversion events to make it worth running experiments.

Getting an adequate amount of traffic to a test ultimately helps ensure its validity, and you’ll need this as part of your sample size to ensure a test is cooked.

In addition, even if you could possibly squeeze out a valid test here and there, the marginal gains may not justify the costs when you compare it to other marketing activities in which you could engage.

That said, if you’re in this boat, you can still optimize. You can still set up adequate analytics, run user types on prototypes and new designs, watch session replays, and fix bugs.

Running experiments is a ton of fun, but not every business can or should run them (at least not until they bring some traffic and demand through the door first).

Tip 5: Determine whether your company can or even should run A/B tests. Consider both your volume of traffic and the resources you’ll need to allocate before investing the time.

Conversion Optimization Tip 6:
Landing pages help you accelerate and simplify testing

Using landing pages is correlated with greater conversions, largely because using them makes it easier to do a few things:

  • Measure discrete transitions through your funnel/customer journey.
  • Run controlled experiments (reducing confounding variables and wonky traffic mixes).
  • Test changes across templates to more easily reach a large enough sample size to get valid results.

To the first point, having a distinct landing page (i.e. something separate and easier to update than your website) gives you an easy tracking implementation, no matter what your user journey is.

For example, if you have a sidebar call to action that brings someone to a landing page, and then when they convert, they are brought to a “Thank You” page, it’s very easy to track each step of this and set up a funnel in Google Analytics to visualize the journey.

Google Analytics Funnel

Landing pages also help you scale your testing results while minimizing the resource cost of running the experiment. Ryan Farley, co-founder and head of growth at LawnStarter, puts it this way:

At LawnStarter, we have a variety of landing pages….SEO pages, Facebook landing pages, etc. We try to keep as many of the design elements such as the hero and explainer as similar as possible, so that way when we run a test, we can run it sitewide.

That is, if you find something that works on one landing page, you can apply it to several you have up and running.

Tip 6: Use landing pages to make it easier to test. Unbounce lets you build landing pages in hours—no coding required—and conduct unlimited A/B tests to maximize conversions.

Conversion Optimization Tip 7:
Build a growth model for your conversion funnel

Creating a model like this requires stepping back and asking, “how do we get customers?” From there, you can model out a funnel that best represents this journey.

Most of the time, marketers set up simple goal funnel visualization in Google Analytics to see this:

Google Analytics Funnel Visualization

This gives you a lot of leverage for future analysis and optimization.

For example, if one of the steps in your funnel is to land on a landing page, and your landing pages all have a similar format (e.g. offers.site.com), then you can see the aggregate conversion rate of that step in the funnel.

More importantly, you can run interesting analyses, such as path analysis and landing page comparison. Doing so, you can compare apples to apples with your landing pages and see which ones are underperforming:

Landing Page Comparison
The bar graph on the right allows you to quickly see how landing pages are performing compared to the site average.

I talk more about the process of finding underperforming landing pages in my piece on content optimization if you want to learn step-by-step how to do that.

Tip 7: Model out a funnel that represents the customer journey so that you can more easily target underperforming landing pages and run instructive analyses focused on growth.

Conversion Optimization Tip 8:
Pick low hanging fruit in the beginning

This is mostly advice from personal experience, so it’s anecdotal: when you first start working on a project or in an optimization role, pick off the low hanging fruit. By that, I mean over-index on the “ease” side of things and get some points on the board.

It may be more impactful to set up and run complex experiments that require many resources, but you’ll never pull the political influence necessary to set these up without some confidence in your abilities to get results as well as in the CRO process in general.

To inspire trust and to be able to command more resources and confidence, look for the easiest possible implementations and fixes before moving onto the complicated or risky stuff.

And fix bugs and clearly broken things first! Persuasive copywriting is pretty useless if your site takes days to load or pages are broken on certain browsers.

Tip 8: Score some easy wins by targeting low hanging fruit before you move on to more complex optimization tasks. Early wins give you the clout to drive bigger experiments later on.

Conversion Optimization Tip 9:
Where possible, reduce friction

Most conversion optimization falls under two categories (this is simplified, but mostly true):

  • Increasing motivation
  • Decreasing friction

Friction occurs when visitors become distracted, when they can’t accomplish a task, or simply when a task is arduous to accomplish. Generally speaking, the more “nice to have” your product is, the more friction matters to the conversion. This is reflected in BJ Fogg’s behavior model:

BJ FOGGs Behaviour Model

In other words, if you need to get a driver’s license, you’ll put up with pure hell at the DMV to get it, but you’ll drop out of the funnel at the most innocent error message if you’re only trying to buy something silly on drunkmall.com.

A few things that cut down on friction:

  • Make your site faster.
  • Trim needless form fields.
  • Cut down the amount of steps in your checkout or signup flow.

For an example on the last one, I like how Wordable designed their signup flow. You start out on the homepage:

Wordable

Click “Try It Free” and get a Google OAuth screen:

Wordable 0auth

Give permissions:

Wordable permissions

And voila! You’re in:

Wordable Dashboard

You can decrease friction by reducing feelings of uncertainty as well. Most of the time, this is done with copywriting or reassuring design elements.

An example is with HubSpot’s form builder. We emphasize that it’s “effortless” and that there is “no technical expertise required” to set it up:

Hubspot Form Builder

(And here’s a little reminder that HubSpot integrates beautifully with Unbounce, so you’ll be able to automatically populate your account with lead info collected on your Unbounce landing pages.)

Tip 9: Cut down on anything that makes it harder for users to convert. This includes making sure your site is fast and trimming any forms or steps that aren’t necessary for checkout or signup.

Conversion Optimization Tip 10:
Help increase motivation

The second side of the conversion equation, as I mentioned, is motivation.

An excellent way to increase the motivation of a visitor is simply to make the process of conversion…fun. Most tasks online don’t need to be arduous or frustrating, we’ve just made them that way due to apathy and error.

Take, for example, your standard form or survey. Pretty boring, right?

Well, today, enough technological solutions exist to implement interactive or conversational forms and surveys.

One such solution is Survey Anyplace. I asked their founder and CEO, Stefan Debois, about how their product helps motivate people to convert, and here’s what he said:

An effective and original way to increase conversion is to use an interactive quiz on your website. Compared to a static form, people are more likely to engage in a quiz, because they get back something useful. An example is Eneco, a Dutch Utility company: in just 6 weeks, they converted more than 1000 website visitors with a single quiz.

Full companies have been built on the premise that the typical form is boring and could be made more fun and pleasant to complete (e.g. TypeForm). Just think, “how can I compel more people to move through this process?”

Other ways to do this that are quite commonplace involve invoking certain psychological triggers to compel forward momentum:

  • Implement social proof on your landing pages.
  • Use urgency to compel users to act more quickly.
  • Build out testimonials with well-known users to showcase authority.

There are many more ways to use psychological triggers to motivate conversions. Check out Robert Cialdini’s classic book, Influence, to learn more. Also, check out The Wheel of Persuasion for inspiration on persuasive triggers.

Tip 10: Make your conversion process fun in order to compel your visitors to keep moving forward. Increased interactivity, social proof, urgency, and testimonials that showcase authority can all help you here too.

Conversion Optimization Tip 11:
Clarity > Persuasion

While persuasion and motivation are really important, often the best way to convert visitors is to ensure they understand what you’re selling.

Stated differently, clarity trumps persuasion.

Use a five-second test to find out how clear your messaging is.

Conversion Optimization Tip 12:
Consider the “Pre-Click” Experience

People forget the pre-click experience. What does a user do before they hit your landing pages? What ad did they click? What did they search in Google to get to your blog post?

Knowing this stuff can help you create strong message match between your pre-click experience and your landing page.

Sergiu Iacob, SEO Manager at Bannersnack, explains their process for factoring in keywords:

When it comes to organic traffic, we establish the user intent by analyzing all the keywords a specific landing page ranks for. After we determine what the end result should look like, we adjust both our landing page and our in app user journey. The same process is used in the optimization of landing pages for search campaigns.

I’ve recommended the same thing before when it comes to capturing email leads. If you can’t figure out why people aren’t converting, figure out what keywords are bringing them to your site.

Usually, this results in a sort of passive “voice of customer” mining, where you can message match the keywords you’re ranking for with the offer on that page.

It makes it much easier to predict what messages your visitors will respond to. And it is, in fact, one of the cheapest forms of user research you can conduct.

AHRefs Keywords
Using Ahrefs to determine what keywords brought traffic to a page.
Tip 12: Don’t forget the pre-click experience. What do your users do before they hit your landing page? Make sure you have a strong message match between your ads (or emails) and the pages they link to.

Conversion Optimization Tip 13:
Build a repeatable CRO process

Despite some popular blog posts, conversion optimization isn’t about a series of “conversion tactics” or “growth hacks.” It’s about a process and a mindset.

Here’s how Peep Laja, founder of CXL, put it:

The quickest way to figure out whether someone is an amateur or a pro is this: amateurs focus on tactics (make the button bigger, write a better headline, give out coupons etc) while pros have a process they follow.

And, ideally, the CRO process is a never-ending one:

CRO Process

Conversion Optimization Tip 14:
Invest in education for your team

CRO people have to know a lot about a lot:

  • Statistics
  • UX design
  • User research
  • Front end technology
  • Copywriting

No one comes out the gate as a 10 out of 10 in all of those areas (most never end up there either). You, as an optimizer, need to be continuously learning and growing. If you’re a manager, you need to make sure your team is continuously learning and growing.

Conversion Optimization Tip 15:
Share insights

The fastest way to scale and leverage experimentation is to share your insights and learnings among the organization.

This becomes more and more valuable the larger your company grows. It also becomes harder and harder the more you grow.

Essentially, by sharing you can avoid reinventing the wheel, you can bring new teammates up to speed faster, and you can scale and spread winning insights to teams who then shorten their time to testing. Invest in some sort of insights management system, no matter how basic.

Full products have been built around this, such as GrowthHackers’ North Star and Effective Experiments.

Effective Experiments
Tip 15: Share what you learn within your organization. The bigger your company grows, the more important information sharing becomes—but the more difficult it will become as well.

Conversion Optimization Tip 16:
Keep your cognitive biases in check

As the great Richard Feynman once said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

We’re all afflicted by cognitive biases, ranging from confirmation bias to the availability heuristic. Some of these can really impact our testing programs, specifically confirmation bias (and its close cousin, the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy) where you only seek out pieces of data that confirm your previous beliefs and throw out those that go against them.

Experimenter Bias

It may be worthwhile (and entertaining) simply to run down Wikipedia’s giant list of cognitive biases and gauge where you may currently be running blind or biases.

Tip 16: Be cognizant of your own cognitive biases. If you’re not careful, they can influence the outcome of your experiments and cause you to miss (or misinterpret) key insights in your data.

Conversion Optimization Tip 17:
Evangelize CRO to your greater org

Having a dedicated CRO team is great. Evangelizing the work you’re doing to the rest of the organization? Even better.

Evangelize your CRO
Spread the word about the importance of CRO within your org.

When an entire organization buys into the value of data-informed decision making and experimentation, magical things can happen. Ideas burst forth, and innovation becomes easy. Annoying roadblocks are deconstructed. HiPPO-driven decision making is deprioritized behind proper experiments.

Things you can do to evangelize CRO and experimentation:

  • Write down your learnings each week on a company wiki.
  • Send out a newsletter with live experiments and experiment results each week to interested parties.
  • Recruit an executive sponsor with lots of internal influence.
  • Sing your praises when you get big wins. Sing it loud.
  • Make testing fun, and make it easier for others to join in and pitch ideas.
  • Make it easier for people outside of the CRO team to sponsor tests.
  • Say the word “hypothesis” a lot (who knows, it might work).

This is all a kind of art; there are no universal methods for spreading the good gospel of CRO. But it’s important that you know it’s probably going to be something of an uphill battle, depending on how big your company is and what the culture has traditionally been like.

Tip 17: Spread the gospel of CRO across your organization in order to ensure others buy into the value of data-driven decision making and experimentation.

Conversion Optimization Tip 18:
Be skeptical with CRO case studies

This isn’t so much a conversion optimization tip as it is life advice: be skeptical, especially when marketing is involved.

I say this as a marketer. Marketers exaggerate stuff. Some marketers omit important details that derail a narrative. Sometimes, they don’t understand p values, or how to set up a proper test (maybe they haven’t read Tip 1 in this article).

In short, especially in content marketing, marketers are incentivized to publish sensational case studies regardless of their statistical merit.

All of that results in a pretty grim standard for the current CRO case study.

Don’t get me wrong, some case studies are excellent, and you can learn a lot from them. Digital Marketer lays out a few rules for detecting quality case studies:

  • Did they publish total visitors?
  • Did they share the lift percentage correctly?
  • Did they share the raw conversions? (Does the lack of raw conversions hurt my case study?)
  • Did they identify the primary conversion metric?
  • Did they publish the confidence rate? Is it >90%?
  • Did they share the test procedure?
  • Did they only use data to justify the conclusion?
  • Did they share the test timeline and date?

Without context or knowledge of the underlying data, a case study might be a whole lot of nonsense. And if you want a good cathartic rant on bad case studies, then Andrew Anderson’s essay is a must-read.

According to a study...
Tip 18: Approach existing material on CRO with a skeptical mindset. Marketers are often incentivized to publish case studies with sensational results, regardless of the quality of the data that supports them.

Conversion Optimization Tip 19:
Calculate the cost of additional research vs. just running it

Matt Gershoff, CEO of Conductrics, is one of the smartest people I know regarding statistics, experimentation, machine learning, and general decision theory. He has stated some version of the following on a few occasions:

  • Marketing is about decision-making under uncertainty.
  • It’s about assessing how much uncertainty is reduced with additional data.
  • It must consider, “What is the value in that reduction of uncertainty?”
  • And it must consider, “Is that value greater than the cost of the data/time/opportunity costs?”

Yes, conversion research is good. No, you shouldn’t run blind and just test random things.

But at the end of the day, we need to calculate how much additional value a reduction in uncertainty via additional research gives us.

If you can run a cheap A/B test that takes almost no time to set up? And it doesn’t interfere with any other tests or present an opportunity cost? Ship it. Because why not?

But if you’re changing an element of your checkout funnel that could prove to be disastrous to your bottom line, well, you probably want to mitigate any possible downside. Bring out the heavy guns—user testing, prototyping, focus groups, whatever—because this is a case where you want to reduce as much uncertainty as possible.

Tip 19: Balance the value of doing more research with the costs (including opportunity costs) associated with it. Sometimes running a quick and dirty A/B test will be sufficient for your needs.

Conversion Optimization Tip 20:
CRO never ends

You can’t just run a few tests and call it quits.

The big wins from the early days of working on a relatively unoptimized site may taper off, but CRO never ends. Times change. Competitors and technologies come and go. Your traffic mix changes. Hopefully, your business changes as well.

As such, even the best test results are perishable, given enough time. So plan to stick it out for the long run and keep experimenting and growing.

Think Kaizen.

Kaizen

Conclusion

There you go, 20 conversion optimization tips. That’s not all there is to know; this is a never-ending journey, just like the process of growth and optimization itself. But these tips should get you started and moving in the right direction.

This article:

20 Conversion Optimization Tips for Zooming Past Your Competition

Thumbnail

Stop Making These Common Mistakes with Your Website Popups (Includes Examples and Quick Fixes)

Depending on who you talk to, website popups are either a godsend for list building and subsequent revenue creation, or they’re a nuclear bomb for the user experience.

Some can’t stand popups and completely disregard sites that use them (or that’s what they say, at least). And there are even entire websites dedicated to hating on especially bad popups.

However, many marketers are fully charmed to their capabilities for revenue generation, lead collection, and driving attention and conversions in general.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, though.

You can create website popups that aren’t detrimental to the user experience; In fact, if you do it really well, you can even improve the user experience with the right offer and presentation.

We all want to be companies that care a lot about our visitors and make the best popups possible, so it goes without saying, we care about timing, targeting, and triggering (i.e. who we send offers to, when we send them, and what those offers are). After all, the main reasons visitors get annoyed by popups are 1) when they disrupt the user experience and 2) when they offer no value or help:

Fortunately, you can easily solve for these things. In this article I’ll outline common website popup mistakes with real examples, and I’ll cover a few ways to remedy these mistakes.

Mistake 1: Poor timing

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make with website popups is with timing. It’s almost always the case that we trigger popups too soon (i.e. right away, no matter the context of the page or visitor).

On an Inbound.org discussion, Dustin J. Verburg had this to say:

“The most hilarious popups are the ones that say ‘LOVE THIS CONTENT? SUBSCRIBE FOR MORE’ because they assault my eyes before I even read two words of the article.

Now I guess I’ll never know if I love the content, because I close the tab immediately and never come back.”

Similar to Dustin, imagine you’re taking break from work to check out GrowthHackers. You find an article on the front page that looks interesting. You open it and immediately get this:

Woah, what’s this full screen takeover? I know this is common today, but most people are jarred by this experience.

Now you may not even remember what the article was, so you’re likely to click away and go back to actual work.

One possible way to remedy this – just spitballing here – could be to add some copy explaining that the visitor needs to click to continue on to the article. Forbes does this (though Forbes could never claim a good user experience without a good laugh):

At least you know where you’re at (the logo is prominent) and what to do (continue to site). But, it goes without saying, Forbes’ experience is not ideal so don’t copy it.

So how do you fix poor timing?

The best possible solution for user experience is to trigger a popup at a time that actually benefits a visitor. On a long-form blog article, this is usually at some point of strong user engagement, either measured by time on site or, better, by scroll-depth and content engagement.

You can do this with an on-scroll popup created in Unbounce.

Once you’re happy with your design, simply set your trigger for when someone scrolls through a certain percentage of the page, or even after a delay you specify:

Click above for a larger, clearer image.

Overall, poor timing is a common problem, and it’s almost never intentional. We simply act hastily when setting up popups, or we spend all of our time crafting the offer and forget that when the offer is shown matters too.

I want to point out, however, that it’s not always a bad decision to throw a popup at visitors on arrival. It’s all about context.

For example, if you’re shopping for clothes, there are a million options available. Therefore, it’s imperative for ecommerce shops to grab your attention as quickly as possible with an attractive offer. This is why you see so many website popups with discounts on arrival on ecommerce sites, like this one from Candle Delirium:

As well as this one from BustedTees:

It’s a very common tactic. We’ll go over it specifically in regard to ecommerce later in section three.

In general, it’s important to analyze a visitor’s behavior and trigger the popup at the exact moment (or as close to it as possible) that someone would want to subscribe/download your offer/etc. It’s a lot of work to tease out when this may be, but the analysis is worth it as you’ll annoy fewer visitors and convert more subscribers or leads.

Fix annoying timing: Consider the user experience. Does it warrant an on-arrival popup? If not, what’s the absolute ideal timing for a popup, based on user intent, behavior, and offer?

Mistake 2: Poor targeting

Poor targeting is a broad problem that’s usually made up of a mismatch between who you’re targeting and what offer you’re sending (though, you could also add in when you’re targeting them as a variable as well).

For instance, if you’re targeting a first time organic visitor to a blog post with a popup that announces a new product feature, you may spur some confusion. Rather, you should try to target based on appropriate user attributes, as well as within the context of where they are in the user journey. A better offer for a first time blog visitor might be an ebook or email course on a topic related to the blog post.

An example of poor targeting is LawnStarter’s guide on their post about where new residents of Birmingham are moving from. It’s a cool infographic-based guide they’re offering up, but the popup is really irrelevant to the content of the post someone’s currently reading in this case:

In another, better example, Mailshake has a massive guide on cold emailing, which would be a daunting read in a single session. It’s probably appropriate, then, that they offer the book up for download via a sticky bar at the bottom of a related article:

There are ways they could improve copy, design, or the offer itself, but the core point is that their targeting is spot on (i.e. after someone’s reading something about cold emailing, and offered up as added, downloadable value).

Now, if I already visited this page and downloaded the playbook, and they still hit me with this offer, then we’d have a targeting problem. They could use the fact that I’m a repeat visitor, as well as a subscriber already, to target me with a warmer offer, such as a deeper email course, a webinar, or possibly even a consultation/demo depending on their sales cycle and buyer’s journey.

The fix for poor targeting

Remember with targeting, you’re simply trying to align your offer with your visitor and where they are in their awareness and interest of your company and product.

This is where the value of progressive profiling comes in. But if you’re not doing that, at the very least you should be aligning the offers on your page with the intent of the traffic on that page.

You can also target offers based on URLs, location, referral source, and cookies. Really think about who is receiving your offer and at what point in the customer journey before you set a popup live.

With popups created in Unbounce, for example, you can use referral source as a way to target appropriate offers to someone who’s come from social traffic, vs. someone who’s arrived via AdWords traffic:

Simply create your popup, and in advanced targeting, select which referral sources you’d like to have access to the offer:

Fix targeting the wrong people at the wrong time with the wrong offer Analyze your customer journey and intent levels on content. Craft offers according to customer journey status as well as on-site user behavior.

Mistake 3: Offers with no obvious value

How many times have you been on a blog that simply wants you to sign up for a mailing list, no value promised or given? Like this:

If you’re an active reader of the blog, maybe this works. After all, you already know the value of the content and simply want to sign up for updates. Makes sense. But I’d wager this type of active reader is a small percentage of traffic, and these people will sign up however they can. Thereby the popup isn’t useful for everyone else.

As we covered before, a much better way to capture attention is with a discount, like Allen Edmonds offers here as soon as I land on the site (on another note, this is a great use of an immediate triggering. It’s not an annoying popup when it delivers me a discount).

This is a super common ecommerce tactic.

It’s a competitive world out there, and giving an immediate hit in the form of a discount is a good way to capture some of that oh so valuable attention. It’s especially common when used on first time visitors to the homepage, as a homepage visitor’s experience is generally more variable and less intent-based (if they land on a product page from a search ad, it’s a bit of a different story).

Here’s an example from Levi’s:

The fact that most ecommerce sites have similar messages nowadays is indicative of a creativity problem, one that presents itself to marketers in any industry. We look to competitors and to the consensus and think that we can’t fall behind, so we replicate tactics.

However, I’m more interested in sites, like Four Sigmatic, that push beyond and implement a creative offer, like their lottery style subscription featured below. (This is one of the only popups I’ve signed up for in months, by the way):

Offering up poor or no value is really the least forgivable mistake if you’re a marketer. Crafting offers that align to your buyer persona is your job. Also, it’s fun. If you have a bland offer, this could easily be the biggest opportunity for lifting conversions, as well as improving the user experience (no one is complaining about awesome offers).

Foot Cardigan does a really good job of offering value and conveying it in a fun way too:

Triggering popups with zero value? Think about ways you can give massive value to your site visitors, so much that they really want to give you their email, and create an offer for this.

Mistake 4: Poor design

If you use Unbounce Popups, it’s almost hard to create an ugly one. Still though, the internet is filled with eye-sore examples:

Design matters. A poorly designed website element can throw off your whole brand perception, which is important in creating trust, value, and in easing friction.

As Ott Niggulis put it in a ConversionXL article:

“Success in business online is all down to trust. You either see something that makes you trust a vendor or you don’t. Trust is also directly linked to conversions – if people leave your website because it’s so badly designed that it makes you seem untrustworthy then you’re missing out on lost prospects, customers, sales, and profits.

Good design = trust = more conversions = more money in your pocket. It’s as easy as that.”

That same article cites a study where 15 participants were directed to Google health information that was relevant to them, then they were asked about their first impressions of the sites.

Out of all the factors mentioned for distrusting a website, 94% were design related. Crazy!

So don’t just put up a poorly designed popup thinking the message will be the focus. Put some effort into it.

Of course, you don’t always need to look like a luxury brand. If cheap spartan is your schtick, then it can work for you. After all, Paul Graham’s site isn’t pretty but it’s so, so valuable:

Image of Paul Graham’s site.

As Aurora Bedford from NN/g explains it, it’s more about matching design to your brand values and objectives:

“The most important thing to remember is that the initial perception of the site must actually match the business — not every website needs to strive to create a perception of luxury and sophistication, as what is valuable to one user may be at complete odds with another.”

No matter what your brand positioning may be, however, make sure you clean up obvious design mistakes before hitting publish.

Fix up bad design: Spend a few hours longer designing your popup, hire a designer, or use a tool like Unbounce with a template.

Mistake 5: Poor Copy

Presenting your offers with clear copy is huge. Most copywriting, not just on popups but online in general, is:

  • Boring
  • Vague
  • Confusing
  • Cringe-inducing

…in that order, I’d wager. Not often do you find crisp, clear, and compelling copy (unless it was whipped up by a professional, of course).

As with the example below, you’re more likely to find copy that’s vague (how many ebooks, which ones, etc.) and cringe-inducing (Rocking with a capital R is pretty goofy):

The copy you write for your popup may be the most effective mechanism you have for converting visitors (outside of the targeting rules). Here’s how Talia Wolf, founder of GetUplift, put it in an Inbound.org comment:

“Many people are trying to capture your customer’s attention too so you need to give them a good reason for subscribing/not leaving.

It’s not enough to talk about yourself, you need to address the customer’s needs: one way is by highlighting the value your customer gains. The other, highlighting what they might lose. (Example: “Join thousands of happy customers” vs. “Don’t lose this unique content we’re giving our subscribers only”

Her website has a solid example of a popup with great copywriting, by the way:

Sometimes, all you need to do is pull your message to the top and make it prominent. Often we try to write clever copy instead of clear copy, but clear always beats clever.

For example, if the following popup led with the money offered for the account, it’d probably be more compelling than their current vague headline:

Mistake 6: Overload

Sometimes websites can get pretty aggressive. Here’s an experience I ran into on Brooks Brothers’ website:

One (pretty value-less) popup that I click out of, only to be followed by another one:

Now, there’s just a lot of clutter going on here. Different colors, different offers, different banners. As a first time visitor, I’m not sure what’s going on. Plus, they have animated snowfall, which adds to the clutter.

This is quite extreme, but it’s not uncommon for marketers to see some results with a popup and go overboard, triggering two, three, even four in a single session. When all of this occurs within 10 seconds of being on the site, things get annoying quickly.

Take down too many popups: Simplify and strategically target any popups on your site. They shouldn’t appear everywhere for everyone, your targeting is key.

The lesson

Popups don’t need to be annoying. Rather, they can actually add to the user experience if you put a little time and effort into analysis and creative targeting and triggering.

If you avoid the mistakes here, not only will your popups be less likely to feel intrusive, but they’ll convert better and they’ll convert the types of subscribers and leads you actually want.

Run a popup experiment of your own See Unbounce templates you can get up and running today.

Link: 

Stop Making These Common Mistakes with Your Website Popups (Includes Examples and Quick Fixes)