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No, Really, You Should Test That
Having participated on a number of conference panels with Chris over the years — a real treat, by the way, if you ever have the opportunity to hear him present — I’ve personally heard him give that answer to a number of great questions from the audience.
Should I use complementary colors for my call-to-action buttons? Should I have site navigation on my landing page? Should I use a product image or a photo of a person for my hero shot?
“You should test that,” is what Chris would say. And it’s the right answer because it’s really the only one that’s universally true.
Of course, there’s more to it than those four words. Chris wrote an excellent, 300-page book, You Should Test That — with a foreword by analytics guru Avinash Kaushik — that dives into the detailed “what” and “how” of running an effective optimization program.
More than that, his book helps you think about your business more broadly through the lens of testing and experimentation.
To give you a taste of what the book covers, I’ll highlight three pieces from it that I’ve found particularly compelling.
Best Practices Aren’t Actually The Best Practice
Marketing is full of opinions. That’s one of the things that is great about marketing — our ability to generate creative ideas and embrace them passionately.
But that also gets us into trouble, because our human nature causes us to anchor to our ideas or accept them as gospel truth, without necessarily having statistically significant, objective data to back it up. To put it in the language of testing: we are often inclined to use a “sample size of one” — our own opinion or the opinion of our boss — to make a call about how a particular webpage should look or behave.
“You should test that” is a great reminder to check our instincts against reality. Think you have the best offer for a landing page? Wonderful. Test it. Let the data prove your hypothesis right.
Sometimes, however, it’s not our own opinion that leads us astray.
Digital marketing, perhaps more than any other discipline, is rife with articles and blog posts about “best practices.” The recipe for such things is to boil down a complex landscape of possibilities — which is what marketing optimization really is — into a checklist of dos and don’ts.
Although well-meaning, most of these so-called best practices are actually bunk. They take a specific instance, for a particular offering, in a particular market, at a particular time, and generalize it beyond what is reasonable. Landing page best practices are notorious for this. Chris gives a list of these that he’s heard over the years:
- Green buttons work best
- Red buttons work best
- Always include a smiling person
- Never include people
- Use long copy landing pages
- Minimize your copy length
The conflicting nature of many best practices makes the point perfectly: best practices are not always the best practice. In short, their validity depends enormously on the context in which they’re applied.
Since context can be tricky and subtle, the right answer is: “You should test that.”
By all means, take best practices as inspiration for new ideas of things to test. But test them in your context.
The LIFT Model
There are many models for systematically thinking about conversion optimization. I even created one of my own, the READY framework.
But I’ve always admired the model that Chris developed, the LIFT model, for its simplicity and power. A good portion of his book is devoted to explaining this model and showing the reader how to apply it.
In brief, the LIFT model identifies six factors that affect conversion rates:
- Value Proposition
The importance of your value proposition can’t be overstated. Real conversion optimization is not a bag of marketing tricks to get people to do things against their better judgment. If you want to motivate prospects to take action, you need to hone in on the real — and perceived — cost-benefit ratio of what you’re offering them, to make sure that it is genuinely desirable.
As Chris writes:
If your value proposition is weak, or weaker than that of competitors, you’ll have a difficult time improving your conversion rates, no matter how well designed your website and landing pages are.
However, once you have a strong value proposition, the other factors can have significant impact. You should critically evaluate, through the eyes of your prospects:
- How can you make the offer more relevant to visitors, based on the context from which they came?
- What can you do to give your offer greater clarity?
- What can you do to reduce the visitor’s anxiety in taking action?
- Can you eliminate unnecessary distraction from the page?
- And is there any way to nudge them forward by tapping into their internal urgency (or, with care, introducing some external urgency)?
Most of the best practices that have been promoted in landing page optimization over the years can actually be reversed engineered by applying the LIFT model to a particular page in a particular context. But it gives you a tool to think about why those practices may — or may not — be right in the context of your own page.
Should you have navigation links on your landing page? Well, it depends. Will removing them reduce distraction by eliminating irrelevant choices? Or will having them reduce anxiety, by assuring the visitor that there’s more to your company than just a single, disembodied landing page? Can a subset of your navigation be used to emphasize relevance? What’s the right balance between those factors for your audience?
Again, the answer to these questions is: “You should test that.” But the LIFT model does a fantastic job of helping you identify the right questions to ask.
Points Of Differentiation & Your Value Proposition
Given the importance of a strong value proposition, how should you think about developing yours?
Chris includes a model for thinking about your value proposition that I find immensely helpful.
It’s a Venn diagram with three circles:
- Prospect’s Desires
- Competitor’s Features
- Your Features
Where those three circles overlap are your points of parity (POPs). They’re important to your prospects, your competitors offer them, and you offer them, too. It’s important to acknowledge these, as they are often table stakes in winning business. But, they don’t give people a reason to favor you over your competition.
Instead, it’s the intersection of a prospect’s desires with your features where competitors don’t overlap — your points of difference (PODs) — where you have the best opportunities to craft a persuasive and unique value proposition. After all, differentiation is the Holy Grail in marketing.
While this may seem obvious, it’s surprising how many landing pages and websites come across with a “me too” presentation. Often this is because competitive analysis can cause us to pay too much attention to what competitors are doing and to focus on reassuring prospects that “we do that, too!” But it’s a siren song. The real treasure is in differentiation.
Chris also points out that there are typically many features you have that don’t resonate with prospects at all. They may be important to you, but if they don’t intersect with a prospect’s desires, they’re a distraction. He labels them points of irrelevance. The only differentiation that matters is the differentiation that matters to your prospects.
Of course, while this model can be a great inspiration for crafting your value proposition, how do you know which are the right points of parity and difference to emphasize on a particular page?
(Pause for effect.) “You should test that.”
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.