#1: Mindset of an Optimizer

This is lesson no. 1 where we are just getting warmed up.

In order to achieve our goals, we need to be clear on what we’re doing here.

As we explained in our Conversion Optimization Guide, this is the systematic process of getting more visitors to take a specific desired action.

Is it higher conversion rates? Not really. Reduce your prices to 99 cents for every product, and your conversion rates will go up immediately. But you’ll probably go out of business.

So “conversion optimization” itself is a misnomer – we should NOT optimize for conversions alone. Even the people who named it dislike the name now.

So what is it about then?

It’s about growth.

The question to ask is this: How do we optimize our website so that our business will grow?

As SEO is increasingly difficult (good luck trying to out compete anyone if you’re just getting started) and pay-per-click costs increasingly more expensive (AdWords, Facebook, you name it) – it’s getting harder and harder to grow. It’s hard to make paid customer acquisition profitable since it just costs too much.

The lever you can’t do without in this game is conversion optimization (and we should call it ‘growth optimization’ instead). It’s essential for growth. If you can acquire customers more cheaply – from any channel- than your competitors, you can grow faster.

It’s about better marketing

There are 2 approaches to improving a website.

  1. You go in and change what you think might be a good idea to change – mainly on the home page – and hope the sales will go up.
  2. You start by figuring out which pages cause the biggest drop-offs – where the flow is stuck. Once you understand WHERE the problem is, you proceed to identifying WHAT the problem is. You seek to understand your customers better – their needs, sources of hesitation, conversations going on inside their minds. You gather whatever quantifiable data you can to understand what people are doing on the site, and the impact each individual widget or form field has on the revenue.

Yeah – that really is a no-brainer choice. You can do way better marketing if your messaging and offers actually correspond to what the market wants, and if you focus on pages where you have the biggest leaks.

BUT – most of the world still operates using the first approach. I talk to a lot of executives in my line of work. You’d be surprised how many well-known companies are still completely in the dark. They do some things well in general – or they wouldn’t be well-known – but the wasted opportunity is huge.

Some of it is due to ignorance, some of it due to resistance to change (even testing opposition). Companies run by leaders with optimization opposition will eventually be eaten by the competition.

So how does one become a good optimizer?

STEP #1: Accept these inalienable truths

  1. Your opinion doesn’t matter. If there’s anything I’ve learned in this business, it’s that opinions don’t make money. My friend and mentor Craig Sullivan likes to say that “opinions are like assholes – everybody’s got one”. You are not your customer, and you have lots of different kinds of customers. Implement this rule in your company: whenever somebody voices an opinion, they have to preface it by saying: “In my insignificant, unsupported, baseless opinion”. That will set the right tone for the importance of whatever is to follow.
  2. You don’t know what will work. Every now and then you meet someone – typically someone (self-)important – who will proclaim to know what works, what should be changed on the site for improved results. Well, they’re full of shit. Nobody knows what will work. If we did, we’d all be billionaires. Unfortunately, magic crystal balls don’t exist. That’s why we need split testing.
  3. There are no magic templates for higher conversions. There’s no universally best product page layout, no “best home page design” layout. There are no things that always work. Marketers that tell you otherwise by selling “tests that always win” ebooks are just after your money. For every best practice you find, I will show you 10 tests where it failed. Best practices work – but only on half the sites. You don’t know which half your site belongs to. Stop thinking in tactics, and start thinking in processes. As the saying goes, if you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.

Once you accept these truths, it’s far easier to move ahead. We humans like our egos – and we like to tickle our egos. But we need to move past that. Conversion optimization is very humbling in this regard. I have seen too many times my ideas – that I was super confident in – fail badly in A/B tests.

I’ve been in this business for many years – but when I have to predict a winner in a test, I get it right about 60-70% of the time. Only slightly better than flipping a coin. Not nearly good enough.

So stop guessing, and stop liking your own ideas so much. Separate yourself from opinions.

STEP #2: Turn your unsupported and baseless opinions into data-informed, educated hypotheses

You need to move away from random guessing, and focus instead on KNOWING what’s happening, and understanding WHY.

Conversion optimization will be very effective once you move away from testing crap that doesn’t matter, and start approaching it like the process that it is:

Set goals → Set up measurement and gather data → Analyze data → Turn data into insights → Turn insights into prioritized hypotheses → Test your hypotheses → Get data from tests → Back to data analysis. And round and round we go.

Supplemental reading:

Read Next Lesson or Download guide as PDF

  • #1: Mindset of an Optimizer

    You seek to understand your customers better - their needs, sources of hesitation, conversations going on inside their minds.
  • #2: Conversion Research

    Would you rather have a doctor operate on you based on an opinion, or careful examination and tests? Exactly. That's why we need to conduct proper conversion research.
  • #3: Google Analytics for Conversion Optimization

    Where are the problems? What are the problems? How big are those problems? We can find answers in Google Analytics.
  • #4: Mouse Tracking and Heat Maps

    We can record what people do with their mouse / trackpad, and can quantify that information. Some of that data is insightful.
  • #5: Learning From Customers (Qualitative Surveys)

    When quantitative stuff tells you what, where and how much, then qualitative tells you 'why'. It often offers much more insight than anything else for coming up with winning test hypotheses.
  • #6: Using Qualitative On-Site Surveys

    What's keeping people from taking action on your website? We can figure it out.
  • #7: User Testing

    Your website is complicated and the copy doesn't make any sense to your customers. That's what user testing can tell you - along with specifics.
  • #8: From Data to Test Hypotheses

    The success of your testing program depends on testing the right stuff. Here's how.
  • #9: Getting A/B Testing Right

    Most A/B test run are meaningless - since people don't know how to run tests. You need to understand some basic math and statistical concepts. And you DON'T stop a test once it reaches significance.
  • #10: Learning from Test Results

    So B was better than A. Now what? Or maybe the test ended in "no difference". But what about the insights hidden in segments? There's a ton of stuff to learn from test outcomes.
  • Conclusion

    Conversion optimization is not a list of tactics. Either you have a process, or you don't know what you're doing.