Conversion optimization is not as easy as some people might think. More and more businesses are throwing themselves into it but underestimating the amount of resources and the work that needs to go into it.
Paul Rouke is the founder and CEO of PRWD, a conversion optimization agency based in the UK, and he agreed to have a chat with me to teach us about the most important aspects of conversion optimization. His 17+ years of experience in user experience and conversion optimization makes him one of the leading figures in the industry.
He is an author, international keynote speaker and revered trainer on the subject, whose real passion lies in championing industry, company and personal change. He has also worked with some of the UK’s biggest retailers.
On a daily basis, Paul runs PRWD, but he doesn’t just work with strategic directions and major accounts; he’s also a very passionate speaker and author and loves to train people in conversion optimization.
The ultimate aim of Paul’s work is to help the conversion industry to mature and to educate both the conversion industry and digital industry so that businesses can embrace the benefits and growth potential that conversion optimization brings.
Here are the major takeaways from the Paul Rouke interview:
- Invest time and resources in qualitative research. Understanding your client’s customers is crucial to great conversion optimization.
- The most common method of analyzing A/B test results is with the frequentist model. If you’re using this model, Paul recommends that you run a test for a minimum of two weeks.
- Mobile optimization is the future. People are now much more expectant of better mobile experiences, and they get frustrated quickly if a site isn’t mobile optimized.
Are you ready to do conversion optimization?
I asked Paul what he thinks should be a business’s first investment when they want to do conversion optimization and his answer was unlikely any of the answers I’ve previously heard.
Download his surprising tip here, and find out what you should invest in to make conversion optimization work for your business.
No testing without preparation
Before moving into an optimization program, you should invest time in doing qualitative user research, which is essentially trying to understand your client’s customers or potential customers.
Speaking to your client’s customers or their target audience is crucial in this process, and it will help you gain a better understanding of what, where, and how you should test.
Besides the qualitative research, there are two other main components when preparing to test. One is, of course, the data – what is the data telling us? What can we learn from it? And where are the best opportunities for optimization?
More often than not, you need to improve the way the configuration is set up, for instance in Google Analytics.
The second is all about using your experience. This is, of course, easier for people who have been in the industry for a long time. Combining your experience, in running tests, in the different areas of user experience and seeing what has worked and what hasn’t will undoubtedly make it easier for you to determine what, where, and how to test.
Where to test?
The “where to test” is a combination of the data and the big dropouts. For instance, if your visitors drop out in the first stage of checkout, you’d want to understand the reason that people are dropping out, using your qualitative insights.
Then, you’d test the confusion that people have at the stages of the checkout. Based on all of these components, you can start to build up a strong and solid hypothesis that identifies the problem area.
The importance of user experience designers
For Paul, it’s all based on the experience of running previous tests and using their expertise and experience in psychology and persuasion principles to understand what they can introduce to help to persuade customers to do what you’d like them to do.
Again, it’s a combination of different elements that determine the areas that you need to test and what the creative execution will be. Paul emphasizes the importance of bringing user experience designers into the mix when developing hypotheses.
The designers aren’t just the ones who go away and design what you want them to; they should be involved in the process from the very start, observing the research and thinking about how to make the user experience better.
How long should you test?
Many different factors go into deciding how long you should run a test: the traffic volume that goes into the test, the number of conversions that you and your clients are expecting to see or already see on a weekly and daily basis, and much more.
The most common method of analyzing A/B test results is with the frequentist model. If you’re using this model, Paul recommends that you run a test for a minimum of two weeks.
For some businesses, within two weeks, the data has settled down and has statistical significance, and the power rating is at a very good level, so you can begin to draw conclusions.
However, Paul emphasizes that how long you run a test for is very much dependent on the model you’re analyzing with, so two weeks isn’t always the most optimum.
If you work with bigger clients, you might be able to draw conclusions after just one or two days because of the massive amount of data going through the test.
However, you should run your tests for longer to ensure that the data has indeed settled down and you can confidently predict what the long-term effect of this test is going to be once you put it to 100%.
Mobile optimization — learnings from Paul
When talking about mobile optimization, Paul wanted to take me back two years to tell a fascinating story. Listen to Paul tell his story and hear what surprised him most when working with mobile optimization:
Let’s fast forward to today. Mobile is now part of every optimization program and research that PRWD does because of the proliferation of mobile and the increased use of mobile devices. The difference between two years ago and now, regarding user behavior, is people’s expectations.
People will get frustrated very quickly with the issues that they face if a site isn’t mobile optimized, which highlights the shift in user behavior that has happened within the past 18 months. All in all, people are much more expectant of better mobile experiences.
Paul says that they see different behavior and different tests work differently on desktops than on mobile devices, and he wants to share one opportunity with you, about mobile optimization:
Desktop vs. mobile testing
Regarding the testing methodology or growth methodology that runs the programs, the approach to optimization is very much the same. It’s the same research, the same understanding, the same data, the same qualitative insights, and you still involve the designers to come up with the creative concept.
Regarding the actual implementation and the build of mobile tests, it can be very different, but ultimately, you get the same results using the same process.
Are apps the future of mobile?
According to Paul, apps are not the future of mobile—at least not in the conversion optimization industry. There are a lot of apps out there, but the focus should still be on optimizing mobile sites before thinking about apps.
Paul recognizes that apps might get rebooted and become more in demand for agencies like PRWD, but he’ll cross that bridge when he get’s to it.
You’re almost ready to test!
Before running tests, you should review the configuration of the analytics. Paul says that in 100% of cases, he always finds that there is additional tracking that needs to be implemented to give you a richer insight for when you do start testing. Listen to Paul explain the number one thing businesses need to track:
When you’ve planned a test, drawn up a hypothesis, built up a design, and you’re ready to start testing it, understanding what metrics to track is crucial.
Paul suggests that you should coordinate with your client and come to an agreement on what the end conversion metric is. Determine the primary goal or the two or three KPIs this test may influence.
Forms above all
Many retailers lack visibility and clarity around their users’ behavior on forms and cannot define the problem areas such as which form fields users are hesitating on, which form typically leads to a higher percentage of people to exit the page or the process, and so on. Thus retailers should be putting a lot more effort into their forms.
It still surprises Paul to this day how many very basic usability issues there are within checkout forms in particular, for some of the biggest retailers. So anyone who’s running an e-commerce experience should look to ensure that they streamline, improve, and optimize their checkout forms.
Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be
One thing Paul hates is checkout experiences without a guest checkout option, where all new customers have to register and go through an account creation process.
This used to be prevalent for a lot of UK retailers three or four years ago, but to Paul’s aggravation, it still happens. He says that it is one of the most toxic things you can put in front of new potential customers.
When potential customers see “create an account” or “sign up” options, they automatically assume that it’s going to take a lot longer than they’d expected and that the company is just trying to get information from them.
The focus then shifts from the customer to the company, and it becomes more about the company, trying to sell something rather than creating an easy and user-friendly shopping experience.
Over the years, people have built up perceptions, based on bad experiences, which emphasizes the need to ensure that the visitors are given a very streamlined experience with their first purchase.
Communication is key
Paul makes the point that retailers should take advantage of their existing customers and ask them what their reasons are for choosing this particular webshop and not the competitors’.
Speaking to your customers enables you to identify what’s unique about your site, the type of shopping experience that you give them, and what attracts visitors to your site.
More importantly, you need to communicate these key messages to your visitors. Don’t just put them all on your landing page or your most popular page. Give it to your visitors throughout the entire customer journey, so they see these messages at different times.
A retailer who Paul believes has the best-in-class e-commerce experience is ASOS. Paul admires how they approach the overall user experience, and he has written a lot about this user experience and how other companies can learn from it.
Harness that social proof!
The third area that Paul touches upon is social proof. Social proof isn’t a new phenomenon, but businesses aren’t using it to its full potential. Listen to Paul give an example of a brand that has turned what would be a very boring product to buy, into one of the most persuasive and personable online experiences:
In conclusion, businesses should be much better at harnessing social proof on their website.
The future of conversion optimization
Paul hopes that conversion optimization will become more respected and appreciated, and eventually become more important than SEO.
During the past ten years, Google has grown very profitably by harnessing business’ and business leaders’ desire to drive traffic to their website and compete for people’s clicks and spend a lot of money on acquisition. That’s where the huge majority of marketing spend is currently made.
What we’ll start to see is a continued slow shift to more and more businesses equating a higher percentage of their marketing spend in conversion optimization, which will profit the industry in many ways.
It’s going to take time, and one of the challenges we face is that nearly the whole digital industry has jumped on the bandwagon of conversion optimization.
This will result in a lot of bad conversion optimization, and Paul has one last piece of advice for all businesses who want to offer conversion optimization to their clients: You need to offer it intelligently and be prepared to do it properly and to put the ground work in, rather than seeing it as a quick fix to make some more revenue from your clients.
Test, test, test. You should never stop testing, but make sure that you do the ground work and preparation before you start testing. Understand and define the problem areas, and then do the research to understand the underlying reasons. Then you can test.
Don’t just jump into conversion optimization because everyone else is doing it. Make sure you have the time and resources to do it properly, or you shouldn’t do it at all.
What are your experiences with mobile optimization? Have you tried to mobile optimize yet? Or have you had any awful or amazing mobile experiences we need to hear? Share your thoughts in the comment field below.