Business Performance Conversion Testing Customer Experience Product Development UX

Deceiving your customers: dark patterns or bad design?

(This post originally appeared on the carwow Product & Engineering blog on Medium)

You may find this hard to believe, but not all people behind your favourite websites have your best interests in mind. Some, you might even say, are out to squeeze every last penny from you before you leave.

Ads covering every spare pixel are tiring and overlays can be downright condescending, but at least they’re being upfront about their intentions. The sneaky ones, the ones you can’t easily see, the ones built into the design – the ‘dark patterns’ – perhaps they’re the worst of all.

What are Dark Patterns?

Sounds like some kind of conspiracy theory from the dimly lit corners of the web, but ‘dark patterns’ is the term coined for practices on the web that deceive users into doing something unintended. You expect one thing, you get another., a site dedicated to educating people on the practices and naming and shaming offenders, describes it as:

“Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of the creator as being sloppy or lazy but with no ill intent. This type of bad design is known as a “UI anti-pattern”. Dark Patterns are different?—?they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.”

There are some great examples of this in the library on that site, but I want to share a possible dark pattern I personally encountered last week.

Colour me bad

Now on the grand scale of things, this one isn’t in the ‘Super-Evil’ category, more in the ‘Oh, that’s cheeky’ tier. And I feel a little bad naming them, as I liked the product and it was very helpful to me on a recent research project, but…

Informizely, formerly known as Insitez, offer a number of online survey tools?—?I’d used their very useful exit survey product to help understand why users were leaving a particular page on our website. It served it’s purpose, but I didn’t need it any more and didn’t want to keep on paying the monthly subscription fee.

So I logged into my account and opted to unsubscribe. This was the message I was presented with:

colour based dark patterns

It seemed so simple, but I hesitated. My brain went ___________. What had stopped me? It was only a fraction of a second and as soon as I realised I had to chuckle.

The colours were the wrong way round. Accepted norms in colour psychology say ‘red means stop, green means go’. If I want to proceed I click the green thing. Don’t I? Er, no.

Were they trying to trick me into keeping my subscription or could it just be ‘bad design’? The latter is possible, I suppose. A quick straw poll of a handful of designers in the office was met with laughter.


I’m guessing they’re not convinced. I’m just not sure what the thought process could have been behind the innocent selection of those colours and labels.

We’ll never know. I cancelled anyway. Using the red button. (that was the right one, wasn’t it?)

Lesson Learned

What can we take away from this? To borrow from Google… ‘Don’t be evil’. If you’re charged with growing a business, employing dark patterns might deliver you short term gains, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of your duped (/nearly duped) customers, serving only to build long term distrust in your brand.

**Bonus Dark Pattern**

In writing this I realised I encountered another potential dark pattern recently, buying trainers on the Sports Direct website. has a category for this type?—?the rather descriptive ‘Sneaky into basket’.

I selected a pair of Astroturf trainers, went to the checkout to pay, only to do a double take when I realised a magazine had automatically been added to my basket. It was only £1, but I certainly had no interest in it and was peeved that it had been added.

I wonder what percentage of customers complete their purchase completely unaware of this surreptitious addition?

shopping basket dark patterns

Business Performance Conversion Testing Customer Experience Product Development

Don’t let the HiPPO drive the bus

This article first appeared on the carwow blog on Medium.

Gut feel and opinion go a long way, but it can also take you down the wrong path if you don’t listen to your audience. At carwow, we’re strongly opinionated but it doesn’t rule our decision-making. We use data and user feedback to inform our opinions and decisions about product development and we’re better off for it.

Where do the Hippos come in?

‘HiPPO’ is a term I first heard 5 years ago. It an acronym for ‘Highest PaidPerson’s Opinion’ and was used to describe how many companies make decisions about their product development and marketing. When faced with a decision, the choice was made based on the opinion of a senior figure, with an absence of data or a conscious decision to ignore it.

My view of a HiPPO is less about the seniority and pay grade of an individual and more about the mindset. It’s very easy to believe we know best, or to assume “I could easily be our target customer” but it can be a dangerous habit. I’ve been working on websites since the last millennium (1999?—?yes, I’m that old!) and I’ve lost track of the number of conversion optimisation tests where I’ve guessed the wrong winner. You just don’t know. You need more information.

So if guessing is not an option…?

If you can accept that you don’t know all the solutions to your business problems, then the answer is very simple. You listen.

There are cryptic clues, hidden messages, explicit complaints, enthusiastic endorsements all over your business and from a wide variety of sources. Sometimes you just have to shut up and listen for them.

It’s a trait that’s strong in those who contribute to developing the product at carwow.

So how do we listen?

The information you seek comes in many forms and so you need to listen in different ways. This list isn’t extensive but does highlight a few of our methods.


To see what is happening we use a variety of data reporting sources?—?primarily MixPanel, Google Analytics and our own internal customer data. We can see who is using our website, how they interact and convert, and identify bottlenecks that are hindering growth.

On a more granular level, we can review pages using clickmaps, heatmaps and (one of my favourites) video recordings of users interacting with specific functionality on the site.

Feedback methods

Analytics is great at the ‘what’ part, but pretty lacking when it comes to understanding the ‘why’Why are users bouncing from your homepage? Why are they dropping out on your signup form? Why are they unsubscribing from your beautifully crafted emails?

Listen. They’re telling you why.

User testing sessions

These are fun, try it. With user testing, you ask a participant to carry out tasks on your website, whilst you sit next to them and observe. They think out loud, telling you what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and how it makes them feel. All the while, you’re screaming inside your head:

“Click the big green button! It’s right there in front of you!!”

It’s an enlightening experience that really underlines the (potentially incorrect) assumptions you’ve made about how your product should function.

Don’t pass over this method thinking you don’t have the capability or experience to run these sessions. Instead, pick up a copy of Steve Krug’s book ‘Rocket Surgery Made Easy’. It’s a quick and immensely valuable read that will have you testing within the week.

Customer visits

Unlike user testing sessions which can be done in your office or in a testing lab, you can also learn a great deal by observing your customer in their own environment. carwow is a two-sided marketplace, matching car buyers with dealers, so we often visit the dealerships to see how our business customers incorporate our service into their working lives. You quickly spot the holes you can’t see from your desk.

Customer feedback loops

One of my favourite elements about the structure of carwow is that the Customer Service team are part of Product Development. If our goal is to build a product that enables the best car buying experience you’ll ever have, anyone needing to interact with Customer Service is evidence that we must continue to find ways to make it better. And if you’ve ever looked at the information handled by a Customer Service team then you’ll know it’s an embarrassment of riches for anyone looking to improve their service.

First places to look? Dive into your helpdesk enquiries, chat session data and your phone call transcripts. You’ll find problems, solutions, ideas and emotions.

Exit Surveys

When you look at analytics data, the most depressing moment is when a visitor leaves, task incomplete. Why? What put them off?

We’ll never know, is the natural assumption, they’ve gone. Well, true, but we can always ask them as they head out the door. Add an exit survey to your problematic page?—?a little slide-in single question survey box that appears as the user’s mouse moves perilously close to the browser menu bars?—?and ask them what’s wrong.

We did this on a signup form on carwow, asking:

What made you decide not to sign up today?


The results were illuminating, giving us some quick-fix issues to address and food for thought for some conversion tests to run. Handily, they’re also a great tool for capturing the voice of the customer, so you can use the same terminology they use in your web and email copy and not the usual jargon-laden marketing babble.

Insights as far as the eye can see. Now what?

I think you’ll agree, if you’ve looked at your analytics, spoken with customers and observed their actions, then you’re in a better, much more informed place to make decisions.

At carwow, all this information feeds into our design and development process. Our product managers, UX designers and developers assimilate this knowledge into our designs and code.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, so we A/B test major changes with our audience, ensuring that the choices we made based on their feedback were the correct ones.

And if not, we go back to the information, we listen some more and we iterate.

Business Performance Conversion Testing Customer Experience

Is Google’s No Captcha reCaptcha A Conversion Killer?

Spam is a pain in the arse. That’s pretty much something we all agree on. Some of it’s destructive; some malicious; most of it pointless; clogging up email; bloating CRM systems and messing up tracking and reporting.

reCAPTCHA, the most common counter measure, has long been a frustrating user experience, resulting in many an abandoned attempt to submit a web form. So when I heard about Google’s re-imagining of the reCAPTCHA I had to take a look.

So what is Google’s No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA?

In announcing the release on their online security blog, Google claim that their new API, which ‘radically simplifies the reCAPTCHA experience‘, will enable users ‘to securely and easily verify they’re human without actually having to solve a CAPTCHA. Instead, with just a single click, they’ll confirm they’re not a robot‘.

Sounds great. Check out their video, it’s worth it for context:

Sounds a little geeky, but I was genuinely excited to give this a try.

So does Google’s No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA reduce spam?

To test it, we implemented the reCAPTCHA on a lead generation form on our online accounting website.

Google reCAPTCHA on lead generation form

And the impact? Did it reduce spam?

Yes. It did, but it also had a rather painful unintended consequence – it killed genuine conversions.

In the interest of fairness, it’s worth saying this isn’t the most robust of evaluations – ideally tests should run longer, with more data. It ran for a full 24 hour period before we removed it. Given the numbers, I wasn’t prepared to keep it running.

So what happened?

If we compare the 24 hours with the reCAPTCHA versus the 24 hours prior without the reCAPTCHA, I can confirm it had the desired effect on the spam. Gone. Happy days.

Regarding conversions, lets take a look at some observations from studying the page and form data:

  • The pageviews for the two days were very similar
  • The percentages of unique users clicking the form submit button (‘Get started’) were practically identical over the two days

This suggests that the presence of the reCAPTCHA wasn’t off-putting to visitors. Those who wanted to sign up, would still try and do so regardless.

So far, so good.

The problem comes when you dig further into the conversion data. The number of successful form submissions FELL by 73% from one day to the next.

If we look at the number of unique users clicking on the form submit button and compare against the total number of clicks on the button we find our problem. Once the Google reCAPTCHA was added to the page the number of times the button was clicked DOUBLED – from an average of 1.7 times to 3.4 times.

Why? I can’t be sure, but I have a theory.

3 reasons why No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA kills conversions

1. The appearance isn’t customisable

As far as I can tell, the appearance of the reCAPTCHA is not customisable. It can only look like this:


As such, I don’t think it looks like part of the form. It looks more like a banner.

2. The checkbox is unconventional

I’m not convinced the ‘check box’ looks like a typical check box. It just looks like a square and as such a user may not be aware that they have to click it.

3. The copy is ambiguous

I have a concern about the ‘I’m not a robot‘ text. Does the average person know what a ‘robot’ actually is in this context? Considering you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re a web marketer or pretty tech-savvy. You know what a robot is, but are you an ‘average’ user?

The text also doesn’t have any instruction. Nothing tells you to check the box, so you have to work it out. In the words of Steve Krug, don’t make me think.

As such, my suspicion is that the ‘banner’ is ignored. The user believes they have completed the form and clicks the submit button. When nothing happens, the user continues to click the submit button thinking something is wrong with the website. This causes the number of form button clicks to double.

After a few clicks with nothing happening, they abandon the form and leave the site. Reduced spam, reduced customers.

Good effort, must try harder

I think Google’s intentions here are good. Everyone hates those old reCAPTCHAs. I’d happily never have to squint and cock my head to try and figure out another blurry photo of a house number just to access an online account. The new one does provide a better experience. I love the idea that they’re looking at the user’s entire engagement with the process – especially the mapping of a human’s jerky mouse movements that a robot struggles to recreate – but I think the execution needs more thought.

Personally, I’d rather any solution completely takes the onus off the user and is dealt with in the background by the technology. Less friction is not as good as no friction.

So, to quote their headline, ‘Tough on bots, easy on humans‘… yeah not so much Google. There’s a little more work to be done yet.

Business Performance Conversion Testing Customer Experience Innovation Product Development Search Engine Marketing

How to growth hack your business and achieve sustainable results

The first rule of Growth Hacking? Don’t talk about growth hacking.

That was my paraphrased tweet quoting one of the speakers at the Growth Hacking Conference in London recently. It seems I’m not the only one who isn’t a fan of the name but feels the principles behind it are sound, if a little misunderstood.

Many people (maybe just us Brits?) roll their eyes when they hear the phrase ‘growth hacking’, thinking it’s a cheesy term applied to the processes of inflating numbers exceptionally quickly with a goal of reaching a ridiculous valuation figure that gets Mark Zuckerberg jingling his pocket change.

So it was refreshing to hear so many of the speakers at the conference talking about sustainable growth – yes, build a product that scales, but also one that provides value to its audience, not just for 3 days, 3 weeks weeks or 3 months, but on an ongoing basis. A product that would be missed if it were no longer there.

I scribbled a lot of notes throughout that day, so let me share a few of them here, along with the speaker slidedecks. If you want more, head over to the collaborative Google doc that was edited live throughout the event.

Find Product / Market Fit

The Father of Growthhacking (or at least the phrase coiner), Sean Ellis (@SeanEllis) hosted the event and shared his thoughts on the drivers of growth:

  1. Right product in the right market and
  2. Successful execution of ideas

Product / Market fit was a theme throughout the day. Ellis posits that without it, sustainable growth just isn’t possible. In fact, it’s critical for strong organic growth (Growthhackers are particularly keen on organic growth. Most argue the paid stuff should come once you have traction. That’s not to say you can’t scale a paid channel to achieve growth. You just need deeper pockets).

Ellis has a useful way of determining if a business has a strong product / market fit. He surveys the customer base and asks how many would be ‘very disappointed’ if they couldn’t use the product anymore. If you can hit 40%, then you have a strong product / market fit. Then you need to stack the odds in your favour by understanding what those people are getting from your product so you can reproduce it / scale it with others.

Hustle to find scaleable growth

Zack Onisko (@zack415), from Creative Market, talked of trying out creative, out-of-the-box ideas to get to your goal in the shortest possible time. He referred to it as the Hustle stage – trying out a variety of channels, potentially non-scaleable, to try and find one that could be unlocked and scale.

Gaining Early Traction by Doing Things that Don’t Scale (Hustling) from Zack Onisko

He gave 20 ways to hustle, of which my favourites were:

  • Speaking with customers to find out how to improve the product
  • Go above and beyond with customers – sending them surprise gifts, thank-you messages, building brand loyalty
  • Give something away for signing up – asking for info is high friction, so do an exchange. They give you their email address, you give them something of value to them (i.e. a book, free service, money)
  • Forge partnerships with other likeminded businesses – help each other
  • ‘Eat your own dog food’ – make sure you use the product yourself. Understand it, know its weaknesses and improve them

Build a positive Net Promoter Score

NPS Driven Growth or How to grow your startup w from Nilan Peiris

Net Promoter Score (NPS), was discussed several times, particularly by Nilan Peiris (@nilanp) of TransferWise, as an effective tool for measuring how your audience views your brand or product. NPS asks a single question:

How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?

Customers answer on a 0-10 scale and labelled Detractors (0-6), Passives (7-8) or Promoters (9-10). To calculate your company’s NPS, take the percentage of customers who are Promoters and subtract the percentage who are Detractors.

Clearly you want as many Promoters and as few Detractors as possible. How do you do that? Build a ‘must-have’ product, provide great service and exceed expectations.

Be aware though that a large number of Passives isn’t ideal either as those people are indifferent to your product, meaning they’d have less resistance switching if an attractive alternative product was available.

Study your successes

It’s very easy to get caught up trying to figure out how you can persuade the disinterested to buy your product. An alternative approach was suggested by Dr Karl Blanks from Conversion Rate Experts. He suggests it’s more productive to focus on those that did buy. He recommends asking customers immediately after they have purchased this question:

What was the one thing that nearly made you not buy from us today?

Whatever their one thing was, it wasn’t enough to dissuade them, but it could be putting off many others who are dithering over their purchases also. If you can identify those issues and fix them, you’ll win those ‘almost-in-reach’ customers. That has got to be easier than trying to convert someone not interested in buying.

A bonus tip from Blanks: reverse engineer success by creating a custom segment in Google Analytics for those that bought from you. Then look at their behaviour and the content they looked at and try and figure out why those were successful.

Find your customer’s voice

SEO Tactics to Love vs. Leave from Rand Fishkin

Moz‘s Rand Fishkin (@randfishkin) and his legendary coiffed hair adorned the stage to speak about organic SEO growth. His slides were full of great nuggets but if I’m only to pick one, I found his thoughts on using the customer’s language thought provoking. He discussed ‘intent keywords’ and how to build a list of them to target with content. Keyword suggestion tools have their limits, so he recommended these three activities to generate them:

  1. Look at your competitors activity – see what they rank for
  2. Talk to customers directly (and your sales people) – what words are used in the conversations
  3. Look for conversations online in forums and places like Reddit – what is the language used?

It’s surprising how often businesses make assumptions about the words to target for SEO and content. The gap between assumption and reality is often a chasm. Locate the words used by the customer, not you.

Other Awesome Speaker Decks

There were so many great speakers at the Growth Hacking Conference, it would take quite a lengthy post just to summarise the main takeaways. So instead I’ve rounded up the remaining slidedecks I could find and included them here.

Hands-on Hacks – A Flipbook of Inspirational Growth Wins from Marie Steinthaler

The 3 Ugly Ducklings of Growth. from Geckoboard

 A Growth Checklist

As the day closed, I tried to summarise the main takeaways in a list to take back to the office. So in my newly educated opinion, If you want to build sustainable growth for your business I would suggest:

  • Build an awesome product (find Product/Market match)
  • Develop a strong Customer Value Proposition (i.e. why you’re relevent, what you offer, why you’re better)
  • Provide great customer service
  • Build in feedback loops to your product (and act on it)
  • Find likeminded partners to promote
  • Ensure data / measurement are baked in to your product and processes
  • Optimise the journeys (using conversion rate optimisation testing, i.e A/B or MVT)
  • Delight your customers (and measure with NPS)
  • Find smart people to advise you (and to ground you when you fall in love with your product and can’t see when you’re wrong).

So, all in all a great conference, one of the best I’ve attended. There aren’t too many events you can attend where you can discuss product, data, conversion rate optimisation, customer service, partnerships, entrepreneurship, with smart people who are equally happy to talk about their mistakes as well as their successes. If its on again next year, I’d recommend you attend. I’ll see you there.

Awesome photo courtesy of Dan Barker, ecommerce & online marketing expert and dab hand with a camera. Worth a follow on Twitter @danbarker

Business Performance Conversion Testing Email Marketing

How to recover 52% of your abandoned shopping carts using email remarketing

When the subject of conversion optimisation comes up, most of the talk is about on-page optimisation – utilising A/B or multi-variant tests to determine which headlines, calls to action, images or page layout persuades your visitor to take the necessary steps to reach their goal (and yours).

It’s not the only way, mind you. There are ways to increase your conversions using channels outside of your website.

Let me paint you a picture.

Your company sells car insurance and I’m shopping around for a new policy. I dread this point every year and in fact it’s often the reason why I just renew my policy even though I could get a better deal elsewhere. But this year is different. I’m going to find the best deal and it just so happens I’ve found it on your website. 

I’m pretty pleased, that didn’t take long. So I start to fill out your online application form. The smile on my face slowly begins to fade. Within five minutes it’s a full on scowl. So many questions! You’re asking for dates for this, policy numbers for that and… oh my word, is this really worth it to save £40???

Thing is, I know that every insurance website will ask me this. If I want the saving, I’m just going to have to go dig out the old paperwork so I can answer the questions. But I don’t have time right now, I’ll do it tomorrow…

Or not, as so often is the case.

It’s not just insurance, it happens everywhere on the web where some kind of transaction is occurring. It’s typically referred to as an abandoned shopping cart, but it equally applies to non-ecommerce processes, such as lead generation forms, job applications and account registrations, for instance.

As optimisers, this pains us. It’s our job to convert as many visitors to customers as possible. We could just accept these as lost or we could figure out how to get them back.

Bringing them back

Remarketing, as the name suggests, is the activity of re-engaging with visitors who did not convert first time round. The most popular form of remarketing is via display advertising. A cookie is set when a user visits a site and if they do not convert then personalised display ads are targeted at them on their subsequent travels around the web. Major players of this technology include Struq, Criteo and Google.

That kind of remarketing can be very effective, but I want to talk to you about another type of remarketing that can do wonders for your conversion rate. Email remarketing.

Urgh, email marketing. Boring. With all the sexy new technology available, people would rather not talk about email. But you know what? It’s still one of the most effective marketing channels you can use.

Why? Because there’s infinitely less competition for attention within the private walls of their inbox than there is out there on the wide open web. Especially if the message is one to one, relevant and of value. For instance…

Hi Gary,

It looks like you weren’t able to complete your insurance application today, so we’ve saved the information you entered. When you’re ready, just click the link below to pick up where you left off and you’ll be insured in just a few minutes.

How I recovered 52% of abandoned shopping carts

Lets look at a real example. In a previous role I worked for, a leading job board in the UK. Advertising recruiters have a choice of buying job ad credits over the phone from a salesperson or they can do self-service via an ecommerce system, complete with shopping basket.

Tasked with increasing revenue, I analysed the performance data to identify optimisation opportunities. I spotted one in the basket abandonment data. These people were interested enough to place a product in the shopping basket and start to fill out their billing details… but for some reason just couldn’t bring themselves to hit the ‘Buy’ button. Whilst there were plenty of on-page optimisations to do, I felt these people were so very close to a conversion that we had to try something a little different.

So what did we do?

We decided to utilise the Conversion Manager product from SeeWhy, which provides real time personalised messages to visitors that abandon shopping carts. With the software integrated with our system we were able to send triggered emails based on the behaviour of the visitor and the information they provided on the site.

Each visitor could receive up to 3 emails depending on their actions, or inaction, all written in a non-sales tone and featuring a link to their shopping basket, containing their partially completed data.

The result? 52% of those visitors who received a remarketing email from us returned to the shopping basket and completed their purchase.

So, a little more about the emails…

The first email needs to be sent immediately. There are 2 reasons – 1) not all abandonments are deliberate, sometimes people get kicked out of systems or lose internet connectivity and 2) the visitor is in a buying frame of mind if they were in your checkout, so now is a great time to reinforce your message and offering.

If the customer does not purchase (or register, or download, etc.) within 23 hours then send the 2nd email. People are creatures of habit and your visitors are likely to be back online the same time next day (i.e. lunch break). Why 23 hours and not 24? Well, that allows for any delay in the ISP delivering the email and for it to be ready waiting for them when they next login in.

If they’ve still not purchased after 6 days and 23 hours send them the 3rd and final email. Any more than this and it starts getting spammy. You might want to trial a discount voucher code in this final email (we did), as one last attempt to get them to complete their order.

Be careful of offering the discount any earlier than this. If your promotion occurs in the first email, you’ll train your visitors to abandon the shopping cart immediately, just to get the discount email. It’s a very patient customer who will wait a week to get their third email just to game the system.

The tone of the emails is important. A friendly customer service tone is what you’re after. An overly aggressive sales message will come across as spam – and remember, some of the abandonments may be because of genuine difficulties completing the process.

Make sure you capture the contents of a field as the data is entered. This makes it possible to return the user to the point they left off when they click the link in the email. This is a big win for the visitor – tell them in the email copy that they can pick right up where they left off. This’ll increase the likelihood of them finishing the transaction.

One of the advantages of using a product like SeeWhy is that it synchronises with your purchase data in realtime. This ensures that you don’t send out a remarketing email if the visitor has recently returned to the site and made a purchase. Failure to stop the scheduled email would result in a confusing experience for the customer – and a frustrating one if you’ve sent them a discount code moments after they purchased the product at full price.

So how did each email perform?

EmailTimingShared of Recovered Baskets
Email 1Immediate78%
Email 223 hours later16%
Email 36 days 23 hours later6%

As you can see, the vast majority of recovered shopping carts came from the first email. If need be, you could just implement a single email if you have limited resources and you’ll still likely experience an uplift. However, you may feel that it’s worth the additional work to recover the additional 22% from emails 2 and 3. It’s also worth noting that you can experiment with the timing of the emails. The ideal phasing of the three emails could be different for your product and audience.

So, if you’re looking to optimise your shopping basket (or your lead generation form, your sign-up process, or download page), think about all the channels at your disposal. To encourage visitors through the buying funnel, you could A/B or multi-variant test the content of your web pages. To pull browsing visitors who did not convert back to the site try remarketing via display adverting. But to get those people who were so close to buying that they almost completed your shopping basket process, give email remarketing a go. Guessing a 52% recovery would look pretty nice on your stats sheet?

Business Performance Conversion Testing

What a 3 year old can teach you about conversion rate optimisation

We do like to make things complicated.

We see something simple and feel like its missing something. It’s been a while since we launched this, we should probably do an upgrade; customers expect new features; some bells and whistles would be nice.

Tell me, what couldn’t be improved with some extra bells and whistles??

Turns out an awful lot. If you’re in the business of driving action online, of increasing revenue or sign ups or downloads, then you should care a lot about providing a simple path to conversion.

Done well, changes to overly complicated pages and processes will help your conversions improve. Mess them up and you’ll find the arrow pointing in the wrong direction.

So how do you ‘de-bell’ and ‘anti-whistle’ your cluttered webpages?

It’s simple. Watch a small child playing with a jigsaw puzzle.

Er, say what?

Yep, close your laptop, leave your desk and watch how a child plays.

I can’t claim to know how they think. I was one once, but sadly can’t recall anything of the thought process of my 3 year old self. What I can see, however, is that their actions are not encumbered by complex thought, scenario planning, or indecision, yet their play is incredibly efficient.

Sounds like a recipe for conversion rate optimization to me.

Let’s take a look at four jigsaw puzzle takeaways:

Appearance counts

Children can be fickle creatures. With plenty of exciting toys to choose from, it’s pretty hard for the humble jigsaw puzzle to stand out from the crowd. The child will scan the room and make instant decisions on objects. So what makes the child pick a puzzle? What makes it stand out?

The picture on the box.

The child is drawn to the image – the bright colors, the composition and of course, the appealing familiar characters. A dull, featureless image just won’t cut it.

Takeaway: Know your audience and make sure your website design appeals to that group. Making your site credible is important, whatever your industry. That doesn’t have to mean formal or corporate, just appropriately designed for your audience.

When someone lands on your site, they’ll make a split second judgement based on appearance. Get it right and they’ll pick your site from amongst all the other sites in the Internet toy room.

Think about your use of colour, headline, imagery, layout and trust marks, but overall make it clear that it delivers on their need.

Speed & simplicity

Kids have a short attention span, so toys need to peak their interest immediately. If they’re too complex or confusing they’ll quickly lose interest. A child will do several simple puzzles, excited by the achievement of completing each of them, but will balk at a larger, more complex puzzle that requires greater concentration and effort.

Takeaway: Steve Krug wrote a great usability book called ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, the title of which should be a mantra for anyone tasked with building processes. If your webpage makes me stop and ask “What do I do next?” or “How do I buy this?” then something has gone horribly wrong.

Cut out the unnecessary stuff and just focus on letting the user complete the process as quickly as possible. Filling your customer database with a wealth of ‘enriching’ data is unlikely to be worth the trade-off of losing potential customers through poor process design.

Visual Clues

How does a three year old start a puzzle?

Scatter puzzle pieces on the floor and watch which piece they reach for first. Invariably it will be a face – Mickey Mouse’s big eyes or Bob the Builder’s bright yellow hat. They’ll latch on to these visual clues to give them a bearing. They’ll repeat this process until they can join pieces together.

Where they struggle is when they try to match pieces with indistinct imagery – green grass or blue sky – it just becomes a process of trial and error to see which pieces fit.

Takeaway: You can’t always afford to be subtle in your design. If you want your visitor to click a button to move into your purchase funnel, then make sure that button stands out from the rest of the page elements.

It’s all very well having a colour palette to adhere to in your Brand Guidelines, but if your button blends in it won’t do much for your conversion rate. Repeat after me: It’s okay to be different.

Don’t stop at colour, experiment with size, shape and location too.

Remove obstacles

A quick way to lose a child’s attention is to present them with an obstacle, such as a piece of the puzzle missing from the box. They won’t go looking for it. They’ll give up and go play with something else.

Takeaway: The same applies to your website. If your landing page or process has unnecessary obstacles – such as poor process flow, clumsy navigation, broken functionality or unnecessary actions then your users will give up early and go find your competitors. Remove the obstacles and your conversions will increase.

Two things to watch out for on your site:

  1. If you’re running an ecommerce site then trust is essential. If any part of your process breaks or behaves in an unconventional way then it will introduce doubt into your visitor’s mind. This could result in an abandoned shopping cart.
  2. Fix your form errors. As a user, it’s so frustrating to complete a form and then be presented with angry red error messages saying you’ve made a mistake. If you want my password to be 8 characters, containing at least 1 numerical character, then tell me upfront. If my telephone number has to have a space after the area code then tell me (actually, just figure it out in your code, you’re smart enough). And don’t you dare remove the info I’ve already typed in other fields when you’re busy presenting me with error messages. Test your form over and over again and try and break it. Don’t rely on your users having infinite patience.

The conversion payoff

Have you ever seen the look on a child’s face when they click that last piece of puzzle into place? They’re so proud of what they’ve done, they’ll probably want to do it again.

The same goes for your customers. If you make it easy for them to get the product or service they need, to make it a pleasurable experience not a painful one, then they’ll come back time and time again.

What other conversion lessons could you take from how a child views the world? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Business Performance Conversion Testing

Challenging your routines for performance optimisation

When we do something for long enough, we start to find ourselves falling into routines. It’s how we get through the day, the week, life, without having to over-analyse everything. The problem is those routines aren’t always for the best. We take shortcuts, connect dots where they shouldn’t be connected and hold on to conventions.

We believe what we’re doing is right. It only backfires when we’re completely wrong. Most of the time we don’t really notice, as the consequences are either too small or we don’t know what we’re missing.

In business though, it can make the difference being bad, good or even great at your job. You can continue to move along being average, getting average results for your average company or you can stop and question what you’re doing.

Let me give you an example. One of the websites I work on has a daily email process that has traditionally taken a long time to run due to the volume of recipients. It’s a core process, with a big return for the business. We’re pleased with the contribution it provides. We accept that it’s going to take all day to run, but that’s fine as long it gets sent to the customer.

There are a number of big assumptions in play here: 1) that’s how long it has to take to get through that volume 2) the business impact is optimal 3) daily is the important time factor for the customer.

Then one day, we upgraded the hardware running our core email process. Overnight, a 12 hour process was reduced to 4 hours and all emails are now delivered before 9 am instead of 4 pm.

Take a look at what happened to the traffic (split by hour of the day)…

Why was the behaviour so dramatically different?

Well, in a moment of serendipity, the hardware upgrade occurred at about the same time new customer research landed on my desk that revealed distinct time of day differences in user needs and behaviour. To quote a few lines…

Before work: This is the most common time to check email alerts. Many jobseekers rely solely on alerts to learn of opportunities, saving them having to check the source repeatedly. Reviewing alerts often takes place on the move using mobile or tablet devices to bookmark interesting roles and positions for further research at a later time.

So our acceptance of the previous process – the routine we had established – had in fact throttled user behaviour. Customers had wanted their email early, before work, and we’d only fulfilled that for a minority. Removing this limitation meant we could deliver on their needs and they responded eagerly.

This was fantastic news for the business, but I’d have to admit, it was a stroke of luck rather than genius. We made a change from a backend technical need and we were fortunate to see a positive business performance uplift. With the user research to hand we were able to understand the reason behind the performance change. But it could so easily have been very different – what if we’d set the process to run at the end of the day instead? It also made us realise that we’d been sitting on a missed opportunity.

That said, this was actually a very positive experience, as we got to learn some valuable lessons that influence our thinking and approach going forward:

  1. Just because something is done one way it doesn’t mean it’s the best way or that it will continue to be the best way. Things change.
  2. Don’t assume you know what’s best for customers. It’s important to keep searching for insights. Ask them what they want.
  3. Bear in mind that what people say and what they want isn’t always the same thing. You need to verify that the actions match the words. You can mitigate the risk of change by running A/B or multi-variant tests – show a sample of your audience the new version and everyone else gets the default, existing version. Opinions lose out to results.

Those might seem rather simplistic – and perhaps obvious – suggestions, but can you honestly say you’re talking to your customers often enough or testing your changes to see if they’re actually improving your offering?

We’re all pushed for time, so going with what we believe is right or maintaining our routine is often seen as the quickest and easiest way of getting things done. But so much of this is a mind-set rather than reality. We need to change the way we think. Research and testing need to inform our decisions, not routines and opinion.

If you want to give your routines and assumptions a rude awakening, get yourself along to the Conversion Conference in London on 27-28th November. The past two years it has proven to be the most valuable conference I’ve attended for challenging my views on business performance. You’ll come away exhausted, but full of questions and ideas.

You’ll look even more of a genius in the office if you use this discount code – ITSDIGITALMARKETING2012 – when booking to get a 15% discount on your tickets.

Conversion Testing

The Recruiters Guide to Optimising Job Ads

Smart ecommerce retailers enjoy healthier profits by employing conversion rate optimisation techniques on their websites. Smart recruiters could do well by following suit.

If you’re new to the term ‘conversion rate optimisation’, its essentially getting more people to do the thing you want them to do. In retail terms, getting more people who land on a product page to place the item in their basket and pay for it.

If you flip the retail scenario over to recruitment, browsing shoppers are your candidates, buyers are your applicants and product pages are your job ads. From all the jobs on the display, you want the jobseeker to select yours. The transaction, in this instance, is made with the CV.

Of course, it’s clearly not just about the volume of applications, relevancy is crucial too. So you also need to ensure an accuracy match between the ‘buyer’ and ‘product’.

So how do you get more relevant applicants to apply for your jobs?

The Ad Content

The most important element for aiding conversion is the content of your advert. It makes the ‘sale’.

Focus on the information important to jobseekers – the three most important criteria for job seekers are 1) the job title 2) the location and 3) the salary. It’s essential you consider all three; without them you’ll struggle to get the conversion.

So this means no in-house job titles – use standard, recognisable titles. Not only will they turn up in searches, it’ll give the jobseeker a clear idea of the responsibility level and position within the company.

With locations, nothing frustrates a candidate more than to see multiple locations on an advert. You may think you’re increasing your chances of applications by having your ad show up in a variety of candidate searches, but in reality you’re just introducing doubt into the jobseeker’s mind. Where exactly is this job? Do I need to travel to all these locations? Every instance of doubt reduces your conversion rate.

When it comes to salary numbers are always best, not ‘negotiable’ or ‘competitive’. People want to know how much they’re going to earn. Are you going to go to the effort of applying and interviewing only to find the job pays less than your current role? No.

Benefit not feature-led text – anyone that’s ever written successful sales copy knows this rule – its about them not you. Tell them what the job will do for them. What can they get from working at your company? Opportunities, renumeration, culture, progression, empowerment. Start your job ad copy by addressing their needs. Using your opening couple of paragraphs to talk about what your company does is a wasted opportunity to make a quick, positive impression.

The Ad Design

Whilst the content makes the sale, the design of your ad creates the first impression and promotes movement through to the next stage.

What does the appearance of your ad say about your company? If your ad is designed and branded, rather than just text, what impression is it conveying? Professional? exciting? innovative? cheap?

Include a strong headline – not always used on job ads, but common place on high converting commerce sites, a headline can be used to tell the visitor exactly what you can do for them. You have a fraction of a second to grab their attention – the headline will stand out on the page and if written well will entice them to read on rather than hit the Back button.

On retail sites and online banks, Trust Marks (e.g.padlock security symbols, Association membership logos) are used to reassure the visitor the site is safe and trustworthy to use. Does the same work for recruitment? Its worth a test. Try adding your Investor in People logo, membership badges for industry bodies, and any awards you have won. Giving a little insight into your company’s heritage could demonstrate your stability and pedigree to a potential recruit.

Use a strong, clear Call to Action – I can’t possibly overstate the importance of the call to action element in any page design. You’d be surprised how often this is overlooked. If you want the visitor to do something after viewing the page, then make it blatantly obvious what to do next and how to do it. Invariably this involves a button, so make sure it really stands out on the page. The wording is crucial. Don’t use dull text like ‘Next’ or ‘Application Form’, tell them what to do – ‘Apply Now’.

There is a whole load of science behind the use of imagery to aid conversion, but let me distill it down to this: people respond well to images of real people.

If you’re using photos in your company’s job advert, don’t use stock library images. Nothing says impersonal like cheesy grins on besuited models. If you want to use visuals in your ads, use photos of your real staff. Show me the people I’ll be working alongside.

Test it

I’m confident that applying the advice above will help increase both the volume and the relevancy of your applications. But don’t just take my word for it, test it. If the job ad is up on your site and gets a decent volume of traffic, try using an A/B testing tool like Google Website Optimizer to measure it.

If your advert is on a job board, try running two versions of your ad at the same time and see which performs better. It’s not quite as scientific, but will give you a good idea of whether it’s worked.

Conversion rate optimisation is not just for the likes of retailers like Amazon. It can be applied to any industry or business model that involves an exchange of information or a transaction. The smart ones are doing it already. Be the smart recruiter.

Business Performance Conversion Testing

Who owns Conversion Rate Optimisation in your company?

“Who owns the website?”

It’s a simple question, but one that is difficult to answer. I couldn’t say for sure, when I was asked it this week. If you asked the same question to people from different departments across your organisation, I expect you’d get many different answers. The majority of which would be along the lines of “I/we do”.

Perhaps the answers differ because each department has a different understanding of the question. IT builds and maintains the product/website, so they own it. Sales are selling the product, so they own it. Marketing are promoting and attracting the customers, so they own it.

So if it’s hard to answer the question at such a general level, how do you answer the second question:

Who owns conversion rate optimisation?

Who is responsible for making sure that your product is converting as many of your site visitors into customers?

Let’s look at what may go into adding a new product or feature to your website (this will vary considerably, of course, across companies. Use your imagination!).

A solution to a customer need is identified. It is evaluated (business / strategic fit, cost benefit analysis, etc.), a business requirement drawn up, a technical spec produced. Wireframes sketched, code written, design created. Tested. Launched.

Throughout that somewhat whirlwind tour of the development cycle, it touched people from multiple disciplines and departments. Commercial people, technical people and creative people.

So who is responsible for making sure the new product converts?


If you’re producing the wireframes for the process flow and the page layouts, you’re heavily involved in conversion rate optimisation. Do you own it?

IT Development

If you’re writing the code that produces the pages and functionality within a process, you’re heavily involved in conversion rate optimisation. Do you own it?


If you’re responsible for driving the traffic into your site and ensuring as many convert (register, buy, subscribe, etc.), then you’re heavily involved in conversion rate optimisation. Do you own it?

You’re probably sensing a trend here.

Conversion rate optimisation clearly affects people across many areas of a business, making it very difficult to pin ownership on one department or person.

And when no one owns an activity, it usually goes one of two ways.

1.       It either gets neglected and doesn’t happen, or

2.       You spend a lot of time arguing and achieved nothing

So, how do you determine who owns it?

I don’t have a definitive answer – though I do have an opinion – but I’d love to know how it’s done in other companies. I know there are some very bright people out there who must have gone through this thought process before, so it’d be great if you could share your opinion in the comments.

So, my opinion?

I think you need to go back to a question I asked earlier:

Who is responsible for making sure that your product is converting as many of your site visitors into customers?

Who actually tracks and is measured by site conversion performance? Find that person in your organisation and you have your answer.From one company to the next that person could sit in different departments. In my current organisation it is a Marketing person, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me something different.

The department doesn’t matter as much as the person. They need to have an inquisitive mind, a need to delve in and understand why. They need to understand cause and effect, and what makes people tick. They need to be excited about the concept of continuous optimisation and grin from ear to ear when their percentage points trek northwards.

No true journey is best done alone however.

Conversion optimisation is at its most effective when a business and its people are working together to achieve it. Not wasting time about who owns it – that has been decided – but bringing together their talents and skill-sets in a coordinated movement to improve processes and designs in the areas they touch. So it’s a cultural thing too.

So, who owns conversion rate optimisation in your company? I’d love to hear your thoughts or about your experiences overcoming the same question. Or maybe you have a totally different way of viewing it – I can’t wait to hear that 

Business Performance Conversion Testing

Talk like a customer to attract a customer

Does your Search specialist input into the briefing of your creative agency for your next print, TV or radio campaign? No? How about your Email marketer?

Probably not and why would they? That’s offline. These guys focus on clicks not branding, right?

In many businesses there is a distinct line separating the Online (technical) marketers and the Offline (creative) marketers. And that’s a big mistake.

Qualitative versus Quantitative (or both)

Think about it. The Creatives discuss the brand, its values, the messaging and then create ‘above the line’ ads to raise awareness or shift perceptions and hopefully, eventually, increase conversions and revenue.

The brief comes from the business. The ads come from the minds of the Creatives.

What’s missing from the process is the audience. Budget allowing, you’ll show your ads to focus groups – maybe a total of 10-100 people depending on the size of your wallet. This will give you valuable ideas and insight, but still requires some interpretation.

Understanding which words your audience will respond to is difficult. Especially when the feedback is qualitative.

What is missing is the quantitative data, and it’s sitting right under your nose.

If you’re running PPC or email campaigns, you already know the words that encourage the click / action:

  • The high click-thru Adwords headlines and copy
  • The headlines and call to action on your highest converting landing pages
  • The subject lines of emails with the highest open rates

And of course, you’ve been running conversion tests on the whole process to identify the best copy, message, offers, guarantees, etc. Let’s not forget, there’s also your Analytics package, which shows you the words customers are using to find you through search engines in the first place.

This data is extremely valuable to the development of your offline campaign.

Blah, blah, blah

With all this data to hand it’s important to ensure you work with Creatives who appreciate it. Creating a visual / aural work of art is great, but it’s not enough.

If your ad is full of words or phrases unfamiliar to your audience then you’re simply not going to connect with them. Use their language. What do your customers call your products / services? How do they refer to it in conversation? What does your data say?

Once you’ve figured that out go through your ad scripts and throw out anything that smacks of marketing talk.

Your agency might not appreciate it, but your customers – and your conversion rate – will.