There isn’t just one reason your campaign is stagnating. There’s MANY.
Even the slightest problem at any stage, from the offer, to the ad relevance, headline, page layout, CTA, and more, could cause bottlenecks for new customers.
The good news, is that spotting and fixing these issues isn’t terribly difficult. Many people have already done the work for you.
What follows is ten conversion studies from some of the best and brightest minds in the industry, that will walk you through a complete step-by-step checklist to fix and lift underperforming campaigns.
Here are the ten CRO best practices to get started using immediately.
1. Un-Suck Your Offer
When people think of increasing conversions, they naturally gravitate towards some form of A/B testing.
And when you start doing a little research online, you’ll find pages and pages and pages full of tests showing how minuscule A/B variations, like switching the button color, resulted in X% lift.
But the problem is that tiny changes typically only deliver tiny returns.
That’s what Larry Kim found after analyzing a combined $3 billion in annual ad spending:
“Across all of the high-performing landing pages, we saw massively creative and differentiated offers.”
In other words, the greatest contributing factor to high conversion rates wasn’t the headline. It wasn’t the layout. And it wasn’t theCTA.
Those things are important. Sure.
In the next few tips we’ll dive even deeper into uncovering how to fix or improve each of those features.
But the critical epiphany here is that it’s the offer – the underlying value proposition of whatever it is you’re putting in that headline, on that page, or in that CTA – that dictates whether your campaign’s gonna convert (or not).
So what makes a ‘good offer’? Study the best.
For B2B, diagnostic tools seem to be the most interesting path forward. For example, one of my favorites comes courtesy of IMPACT Branding.
Their ROI calculator allows people to enter a few basic data points, and then delivers instant results about how well they should be doing or could be doing.
The beauty of an offer like this is that it takes something intangible and hard to understand – like services – and makes the value proposition concrete and straightforward.
Even B2C companies can take a similar approach.
Case in point: Lowe’s Personalized Lawn Care Plan will give you a customizable action plan to take care of your lawn for the rest of the year (including variables like your climate, type of grass, etc. etc.).
These tools require a little more heavy lifting compared to the same old eBook or discount coupon. But that’s what makes them compelling and interesting – giving these companies a shot at hitting ‘unicorn’ conversion rate status.
2. Raise the (Ad Relevance) Roof
Selling face-to-face is relatively easy, because most communication is nonverbal. Your facial expressions, gestures, and posture can deliver up to 55% of what’s conveyed, while only about 7% comes down to the actual vocal content you’re using. That means people get a feeling – a sixth sense – that influences their purchasing decision.
All of that flies right out the window online, because you lose all context to 1’s and 0’s. In this black and white, relatively static environment, explicitness reigns supreme.
Online advertising uses relevance scores to define, measure and react to this. And those relevance scores are the driving factor, or leveraging point, that dictates the results you get and what you’re gonna pay.
For example, AdEspresso analyzed 104,256 ads over a 45 day period when the Facebook ad Relevance score was introduced.
The key finding was an incredibly strong correlation between your relevance score and your eventual Click-Through Rate and Cost Per Click.
In other words, when Relevance Score goes up, Cost Per Click and Click Through Rate go down. (The inverse is also true.)
This should be unsurprising, as it’s exactly how AdWords’ Quality Score has acted as well.
A study performed by Disruptive Advertising showed similar results to the ones above:
Jacob, Disruptive’s founder and CEO, wrote in Search Engine Journal:
In fact, our results are strikingly similar to those reported by Larry Kim. If your quality score increases by 1 point, your cost-per-conversion decreases by 13% (Larry puts it at 16%). If your quality score decreases by 1 point, your cost-per-conversion increases by 13%.”
This means your match between Audience (or Search Terms) + Advertisment + Landing Page needs to be on-point.
It’s a basic formula, and all of your new campaigns, variations, and testing should be done to make that Relevance number (or Quality Score) go as high as humanly possible.
And most get it wrong.
3. Neglect Message Match at Your Own Peril
One day, Oli from Unbounce painstakingly clicked on 300 paid ads to record ‘message match’.
And I think we can all agree, that no matter how ‘passionate’ it says you are about marketing on your LinkedIn profile, that sounds like a pretty terrible day.
It was a basic (but time-consuming) exercise, where he simply made a tally of the number of ad headlines he saw that strongly matched the landing pages they were linked to.
Considering we just explored how a match between those elements drives your Relevance (or Quality) scores – which drives the stuff that matters like how much it’s going to cost – that’s not just bad but catastrophic.
Getting ‘message match’ right isn’t insanely difficult or complex. Just attention to detail.
Beyond the obvious ad headline copied and pasted to your landing page headline, the supporting messaging, benefits used, and in the case of Facebook – even your images, all need to be present.
Oli goes on to show an excellent Facebook example for opening a small business account. Here’s the ad. Pay attention to the outlined headline, value prop, and image.
Here’s the landing page that people who click are sent to:
The very first section you see on the page lists the same headline, primary benefit or value proposition, and the little clip-art looking dude.
Getting message match right isn’t technically difficult. It doesn’t take an advertising ninja with ten years of experience. Hell – an intern can do it.
It’s the little details that come from professional pride in your work. Or more accurately, giving a shit.
The rest of the page itself here quickly devolves into a messy, muddled mess. But we’ll save landing page layout critiques for another section below.
4. Headlines Should be as Specific as Possible
Clever vs. Clear is an age-old debate.
Many have tackled the subject.
Most, agree. That it depends.
Being clever or witty isn’t inherently bad. But it is when it sacrifices clarity.
Building on what we just discovered in the last section, each ad or page element needs to be as specific and explicit as possible.
For example, MarketingExperiments ran a multivariate test for six different dentist PPC headlines:
Dental Plans for $8.33 a month. Acceptance Guaranteed.
Over 55,000 Dental Care Providers. Acceptance Guaranteed.
Dental Care Coverage. Best Price Guaranteed.
Low-Cost Dental Care for the Uninsured.
Best Price Dental Care – Without Insurance.
First blush? Not bad. They’re all pretty basic, direct, and clear.
So which one, won?
The two top performing headlines – numbers two and three – both featured specific numbers.
There was also a ‘guarantee’ added for good measure. Beyond price, you could also feature details about quantity or the guarantee available to deliver facts and figures.
The worst performers – four and five – unsurprisingly featured the most generic jargon.
“Dental Care Coverage” is bland and obvious. “Best Price Guaranteed” can be improved by actually showing the price (as was done in headline two). And “Low Cost” probably appeared on every other ad on that search engine result page too.
The results weren’t even close.
When all else is equal, the more specific, the better.
5. Short Facebook Ad Headlines
Facebook ads are incredibly easy to screw up.
There’s the headline that needs to get attention. The description that needs to explain or highlight benefits. The image that needs to inspire and hold gazes. The CTA that needs to reinforce the action you want them to take.
None of this even includes the whole Audience Targeting, Value Prop and Settings (which can undermine even the best of ad creatives).
Point is, there’s a lot of variables you need to line up properly to get the results you’re seeking. And it’s tough.
One of the most common, basic Facebook advertising mistakes is also one of the most avoidable.
Using a headline that’s so long it gets cut off, resulting in a truncated fragment that loses all meaning (and credibility).
What makes this dumb mistake even more egregious, are the data points that tell you how long your headlines should be.
The shocking results?
Five words. Only 5!
That’s what AdEspresso discovered after looking at 37,259 Facebook ads.
This Hootsuite ad, while not within five words, is still a decent example to reference.
While it’s a little on the wordy-side overall, you’ll notice that they use specific numbers (as noted in in the last tip) in both the headline (“30-Day”), as well as in the supporting copy (“10 million+”).
The rest of the ad does a pretty good job supporting the primary value proposition as well, emphasizing how convenient and stress-free this tool can make your life.
It emphasizes a power word (“Free”) several times, next to “saving time”, “manage all on one simple dashboard”.
In an ideal world, your value proposition is simply the way you translate or frame the unique/compelling/differentiated end-result that people can get from your offer (discussed earlier).
In formal environments, this would be your unique selling proposition – the succinct and memorable thing that sets you apart.
6. A Value-Building CTA
A unique selling proposition sounds like… well, a bunch of crap to be honest.
Your ‘core competency’ sounds equally lame on the face of it.
But believe it or not, these borderline meaningless B-school terms actually can make a difference, as one MarketingExperiments test showed.
On the left, a classically generic B2B CTA offering free leads. No real headline. Some vague description about being contacted by a consultant (which, nobody wants). And then some bland “Click Here” button to top it all off. The perfect storm of suck.
The right, is the variation. It opens with a strong headline, before describing exactly what somebody’s going to get (i.e. the benefits) when they follow the headline’s advice. The CTA wording “Get Free Access” supports this same messaging. And there’s a few risk reversals (the Secure Site stamp and a 100% satisfaction guarantee) for good measure.
They’ve also upgraded the copy, replacing most of the meaningless jargon with specificity. In copywriting, you can use power words to cut through the fat; eliciting an emotional response quicker (which still influences even 71% of B2B buyers ) to grab attention and keep it.
The form itself is basically the same.
All you’re changing is how the offer is presented. From bland and unclear to specific and actionable.
The results? A 201% conversion increase.
The three CTA takeaways MarketingExperiments recommends?:
Guidance: Tell people exactly what you want them to do.
Information: Completely explain what they’re going to get (without jargon).
Anxiety Relief: Remove ‘friction’ or any doubt in their minds that this offer is going to be worth the effort.
7. Landing Page Length Depends on Visitor’s ‘State of Awareness’
Almost as age-old as ‘clever vs. clear’, is ‘short vs. long’.
The answer doesn’t become any clearer when you look at different studies online.
For example, Conversion Rate Experts are extremely good at creating long-form, high converting pages.
They grew CrazyEgg’s conversion rate 363%.
They did something similar for Moz (back in the old days when there was still an ‘SEO’ on the front), which resulted in an additional $1 million bucks. Not bad!
Others have succeeded by doing the opposite too.
For example, Basecamp (then 37Signals) did a test that reinvented their basic, longer page to a shorter, testimonial-driven one. The results shot up to a 102.5% conversion increase.
Michael Aagaard increased conversions 11% by going from long-to-short with this gym landing page:
The best possible explanation I’ve seen – and actionable rule of thumb to go off – comes (originally) from Breakthrough Advertising (proving again that what’s old is new.)
Joanna dissects ‘State of Awareness’ further, going into great detail about the five stages of awareness and how you can alter messaging based on where someone might be in each.
But the TL;DR version?
The less need aware (and brand aware) someone is, longer is probably required.
Logically that makes sense. They don’t know who you are, and may not even know they have a need for what you’re talking about yet. So you gots to ‘splain it to them.
Persuade and cajole them. (Example: paid traffic.)
Contrast that with someone who already recognizes you and intimately understands the problem they’re dealing with. Shorter is probably fine.
They don’t need the extra bells and whistles, and giving them the hard sell might even turn them off and backfire. (Example: email newsletter subscriber.)
8. The Best Social proof
I have this theory.
And I’m pretty sure that it’s accurate.
Marketing for large, well-known brands, is easy.
Hitting the numbers might not always be. Execution will always be a challenge with so much at stake and so many people involved.
But getting people to buy your stuff, when there’s a big Coca-Cola or McDonald’s logo on it, gives you an incredible advantage.
People know you. They grew up with you. They see you literally everywhere. And as a result, they trust you.
Now contrast that with the other… 99% of people reading this right now. Chances are, your company can’t afford Super Bowl or Olympics ads.
That’s probably why you’re on Facebook advertising in the first place.
Instead, you’ve got a big hump to overcome. You need to convince people – on a daily basis – that you’re credible and trustworthy. Even though they’ve never heard of you. Or seen you before.
Online, that means social proof.
The usual suspects include client logos, testimonials, phone numbers, addresses, ‘safe badges’, press mentions, and many more.
But which, are best?
ConversionXL has been pumping out some excellent original research lately, with one that sets out to answer this question definitively.
While an initial eye-tracking test didn’t reveal much of significance, there were some interesting findings for where people’s attention went and how long it stayed.
For example, some social proof elements resulted in the longest ‘fixation’ of a viewer, while others were more likely to be remembered afterwards.
Enough already. Which were the best?
It’s no surprise that generally speaking, higher profile (of logos, press mentions or social followings) outperformed lower ones. But only by a bit.
The real winner here, is photos. Specifically, of people.
Testimonials with real photos produced the highest recall among viewers.
9. The Best Visual Cues
Online, people don’t read.
They scan, multitask, and are distracted by any number of auto-play ads or Slack messages at a given time.
Visual cues can help, giving subtle nods and directions to visitors to subconsciously tell them where to scan next.
Problem is, just like with social proof, there are a huge variety of ways you can use these. Which perform best?
Fortunately, ConversionXL did another research study to determine which forms of visual cues people paid attention to most.
For example, let’s say your landing page has a traditional opt-in form. Which directional or visual cue works best to get them to look over at that form and consider typing in their information?
Skipping straight to the punch line: illustrated or drawn elements resulted in longest ‘dwell’ time on the page.
The shortest, came courtesy of a person looking away from the form.
Interestingly, ‘lines’ and ‘arrows’ resulted in the longest time looking at a form. Huge, prominent forms and triangles came next. Then Human looking at the form.
Finally, using no cue at all actually outperformed the person looking away from the form.
10. #CantStopWontStop Following Up
The vast majority of ‘free trial’ subscribers are worthless.
One study from Benchmark pegs that number as high as 80%!
So let’s say you’ve all of these things so far in order. Your ad campaigns are converting a decent number of visitors, and that number’s growing as you continue to implement the lessons listed above.
But even when you get people to finally create an account or sign up… the work’s still not done.
There’s a huge moat you still need to get people across before they’re going to give you their hard-earned cash.
Here, Optimizely excellently deconstructs the sequence Groove used to boost trial-to-paid conversion rates by 10%.
First, use welcome emails (which are four-to-five times more likely to get opened than regular ones) to solicit customer feedback and start engaging like the one in the email example below, which received a 41% response rate.
Next, start building out behaviorally-triggered emails to up-the-ante. In all, they created 22 different ones like the example below, which was used below to follow up with those who’ve created an account, but not yet set up their mailboxes.
There are countless variables that make up a single, successful campaign.
Fixing one, is fine. But fixing ALL of them is the only way to get those conversions you’re shooting for (and deserve).
Thankfully, some of the best CRO professionals in the industry already did the work for us. Their work and studies have helped provide us with a simple cheat sheet to follow. A checklist to implement.
Take the next few hours to comb through your own campaigns to see where some of these issues might be lurking.
Because after all, the CRO best practices you need are already out there (or, here now).
You just need to do something about it now.