If you don't test changes that have a significant impact on conversion, it doesn't really matter how you verify the impact – there won't be any.
Conversion tuning is the process of improving conversion rates by testing website changes. Whether done in a single engagement or as an ongoing series of tests, conversion tuning can improve the efficiency of all of your online marketing programs and significantly impact your bottom line. By testing alternatives to your current landing page designs, you can discover better-performing versions.
Determining Which Elements to Tune
While you can tune many design and copywriting elements of your website, you should focus your efforts on the "mission critical" parts of your site that lead to your desired, trackable actions. These parts can include any pages from your initial landing page to the last step in your conversion path, when the visitor completes the desired action. In the simplest case, your landing page and conversion action may be on the same page (when the action is a single-step form). In an e-commerce setting, your landing pages may be the website home page, category or brand pages, or individual product pages.
Once you have identified the page or pages you'd like to optimize, you can decompose them into specific elements to test. For each of these elements (or variables), you should test your current version and one or more alternatives.
The following variables are common in conversion tuning tests:
Choosing what to change and deciding on alternative versions is very important. If you don't test changes that have a significant impact on conversion, it doesn't really matter how you verify the impact – there won't be any.
How Granular Are the Elements You're Tuning?
The granularity of your test elements is the level of detail at which you will make changes to your page design. At one extreme, you can use specific and fine localized variations (such as changing button colors or text font sizes). At the other extreme, you can create coarse and fundamental changes that incorporate dozens of smaller individual design alternatives. It is not uncommon to completely redesign your whole landing page and test it head-to-head against your original.
In between is a continuum of possible scales at which you can test proposed changes. Sometimes these design alternatives can be nested within one another. For example, you may change the text of the call-to-action button on your form, change all of the text labels on the form input fields as well, or also change the size of the form and its position on the page.
An example of a fine granularity test is one that measures the effects of changing a single element. For one of my company's clients, we proposed testing an alternate headline for their lead capture form. We tested the original headline, "Free Quote Request, " against an alternate headline, "Instant Quote," and saw the form-fill conversion rate skyrocket by 58 percent.
Another client sought to improve the sign-up rate for a free trial of stock option research software. After considering the site's low data rate, combined with a number of fundamental issues with the original page design, our approach was a coarse granularity test of complete page redesigns. We tested two whole-page alternative redesigns against the original in a three-way head-to-head test. Both of the new designs significantly outperformed the original, with the winning page resulting in 75 percent higher revenue per visitor after completion of the free trial.
Just as important as determining what to test is selecting how to conduct your test. Several approaches are available, and which one you select depends on a number of factors including the size of your test, your website traffic levels, available in-house skill sets, and the quality of the desired results.
No matter what method you use, keep in mind that not all of your test plan ideas are going to make a positive impact on your conversion rate. It's impossible to know ahead of time which of your variables will be successful, so keep your expectations in check. Over time you will find the winning combination, but you may need to endure some short-term pain on your way to the long-term gain of improved performance and higher conversions.
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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+.
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