In past columns I have spoken about how brand guardians and IT staff can stand in the way of conversion improvement and landing page testing projects. But there are several other classes of naysayers at many companies. It's important to understand their perspectives and concerns in order to get the best results possible out of your conversion rate optimization projects.
There are typically several procedural gatekeepers in a company. They are responsible for avoiding high-impact or publicly embarrassing problems. Common functional areas for gatekeepers are:
Legal. Depending on your industry, your legal department may insist on reviewing all publicly accessible documents (including any proposed landing pages). They will make sure that you don't make any wild or exaggerated marketing claims that can expose you to liability. Your proposed headlines and sales copy can be edited into a form that is no longer compelling to your audience. Your legal team may also insist that various disclaimers and policies appear on the page. If you are forced into this situation, try to visually deemphasize this information (by using lower-contrast font colors or smaller font sizes, placing it into a scrollable window, or relegating it to supporting pages via links). Do not allow a long list of fine print to become the dominant visual focus of your page.
Regulatory compliance. Some industries are heavily regulated by federal or state laws. If this is true in your case, you may assign an in-house person to make sure that all activities are in compliance with the law. This may require a review of your proposed landing pages. Often, specific language must be used to describe certain features of your product or service. Details of the terms and conditions of your offer must also appear.
Business development. Your landing page does not exist in a vacuum. It is possible that your business has significant offline marketing components, multiple distribution channels, alliances, and partnership agreements of various kinds. Some of these may restrict your ability to test various aspects of your landing page. For example, you may be bound by non-compete agreements not to sell certain products or services on the Web, or you may have to enforce minimum pricing standards in order to avoid undercutting your distributors. If you have co-marketing agreements with business partners, you may have to adhere to additional marketing rules that they have in place.
C-level officers in your company are often driven leaders. In fact, that is how they go to the top. This includes not only the chief executive officer (CEO), chief operating officer (COO), chief marketing officer (CMO), chief technical officer (CTO), and chief financial officer (CFO), but also the top vice presidential levels. They are all different in their roles and responsibilities, but share the authority to fire you (or at least make your life miserable).
Many can effectively delegate responsibilities to subordinates. Others can't. We have seen a surprisingly high level of meddling in landing page testing by managers who should be several levels removed from the operational testing. Landing page testing is often the target of their attention for the following reasons:
High visibility. Landing pages are exposed to the public and seen by huge numbers of your company's potential prospects.
Large potential profit impact. In many cases, landing page testing has by far the largest profit impact of any online marketing activity. C-level executives love to follow the money trail, and pay particular attention to projects that can have a large impact on the bottom line.
Testing is fun. When you show a high-level executive your proposed test plan, they may want to get involved themselves. The brainstorming process is fun. It lets the creative juices flow. Many C-level execs like to roll up their sleeves and try to guess what your audience will respond to. Unfortunately, just because C-level executives can get involved in landing page optimization does not mean that they should. Their opinions are based on gut feelings and hunches that are philosophically the polar opposite of large-scale statistical sampling of your audience's actual behavior. And these opinions carry disproportional weight in the decision-making process. Precious slots in the test plan must be relegated to the pet choices of the executives, at the expense of more promising alternatives that your optimization team may develop.
The financial gatekeeper considerations vary based on the size of your business:
Sign-off authority. Different levels of managers have different limits on the size of purchases that they can approve independently. Depending on the scope of your testing program, you may need to get several levels of budget approval, including the CFO or even CEO.
Budget cycles. The length of your budget cycle and the timing of the next budget planning process can delay your project by many months. You may need to reallocate some funds from the current approved budget in order to start your testing earlier. This is often difficult since it comes out of some other activity that presumably has some internal company support (since it was approved as part of the current budget).
Once you understand the perspectives of the naysayers in your organization, you will more easily be able to turn them into active supporters and yaysayers.
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Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.
Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."
Connect with Tim on Google+.
March 19, 2014