A few months ago I had the pleasure of seeing Benji Rabhan present at a conference for online marketing consultants.
The instant Benji took the stage, he started asking the audience for feedback about the content, speed and format of his talk so he could make the most of the time he had with the audience.
Yes, he was literally optimizing his presentation!
And that’s no surprise because Benji truly lives and breathes conversion optimization.
His presentation covered stuff I haven’t heard anyone else in the conversion world talking about. He also did a few Hot Seats, evaluating already successful websites from a conversion standpoint, and providing eye-opening insights into how to make the sites even better.
Keep in mind that this was at a conference with a fairly high level group of Internet marketers and, despite some other fantastic presentations, Benji’s talk generated more buzz than any other over the long weekend.
His unique insights into business and conversion optimization are a big reason why Benji was honored as an Empact100 award recipient in November 2011. This honor is given to the top 100 American entrepreneurs under the age of 30. Most recently, Benji was awarded Top 10 Digital Entrepreneurs by MO.COM, along side other winners such as the founder of REDDIT.
In this interview, Benji shares some of his strategies and, at times, unorthodox views, on conversion optimization.
1. Can you describe a change you made to a client’s website that’s had the biggest impact on conversions? What made that change so successful?
It’s hard to outline one specific time where one change made crazy big results, mainly because results mean different things in different cases. You can get huge results from a tiny 1% increase in conversion rate; and you can get mediocre results from huge percentage increases.
But one of our more recent wins this year was actually the opposite of what most people think you should do. Using what we call the “Digital Foot In The Door” technique, we were able to get a 363% increase in conversions on an already highly converting website.
The product was a relatively low value in terms of need–people buy it, use it, and it’s gone. So we needed to convince visitors that the value was higher than they perceived it to be and keep them in the funnel long enough to purchase the product.
We added a delaying step in the process which is essentially a “processing” screen with a progress bar and some other fancy details. We forced them to wait an extra 2+ minutes to buy. The processing delay raised the perceived value and also kept the visitor from going back to Google to look at a competitor.
This technique we created is based on the foot in the door technique of door-to-door sales. Back in the day, salesmen would literally put their foot in the door to force the person to listen longer to the sales pitch.
We’ve used this technique many times, and it only works for certain situations. In this case, though, it was a slam dunk.
2. Tell us about a change/test you thought was going to work in boosting conversions but backfired. What did you learn from this?
We’re very fortunate because that honestly doesn’t happen to us very often. The biggest backfire we do see happen to our clients usually happens before they come to us. This is where we hear a lot more horror stories than we’ve ever experienced ourselves.
You’ve probably heard it before. A business owner says, “Let’s redo our website. Let’s make it pretty.” And so they spend a ton of time and energy and money building the whole thing. They redo their site with new branding, the works. They make it so pretty even the boss’ mom loves it, and then they launch the site without ever split testing it – without even running a single test. Usually they find their conversions just totally go in the trash. The worst part is they don’t even know it for a few months because they just launch the site and assume because it’s prettier, that it’s better.
I always tell people just because a site is ugly, doesn’t mean it’s not going to convert well. And just because it’s pretty it doesn’t mean it’s going to convert well either. You have to test and trust the numbers – not just the new site, but test the new site *against* the old site.
We have a client that is a major affiliate for one of the Fortune500 companies. You’ve definitely heard of them, I just can’t talk about it. What they do is design these niche versions of the site. They control their own marketing just like normal affiliate marketing works. So they take in the calls and they sell the product on behalf of this Fortune500 company, and they sell probably more of the product than the actual company does.
In this particular instance, the main company rebranded everything. They took their whole image and they said, let’s redo everything. They launched a new website – this hugely awesome, beautiful, gorgeous, interactive site with buttons and sliders and all these things, and it was great. It looked really cool from a beauty perspective, from a designer perspective, and from a brand perspective. But it totally bombed. When they actually put up the site, no one was calling! The visitors couldn’t find the actual services they wanted. They couldn’t find the products. They had no idea where to go.
These poor confused visitors ended up going back to Google and found my client, who is an affiliate instead. And so all of a sudden, out of nowhere, for like two months, my client had like 300% increase in call volume and traffic volume and conversions because the main brand totally, totally made this big mistake with their conversion by launching a new site without testing the conversion rate and by launching it without really keeping conversion in mind, which is crazy.
So, yeah. Always test your sites.
3. What are the top 3 metrics you’re looking at on a site to gauge its effectiveness from a conversion standpoint and what are you looking for in each?
I don’t have any hard and fast rules. Every client is different. What metrics are most important really depends where the person is at — how sophisticated is their funnel; what results they currently have.
The first thing we always do is ask, where are you? What does your funnel look like? What is the current conversion rate? Are you tracking the conversion rate properly? How are you defining the goal of the conversion? Is it some little step where you’re measuring how many people go from here to there? Or do you see the conversion rate the way we like to see it, as what we call the Bottom Line Conversion Rate, which is your actual cash flow and your actual profit.
Generally, the first metric we want to look at is the client’s current conversion rate. What are the actual results they are getting right now? It’s critical to know the baseline, so you know whether your optimizing is helping or hurting. Obviously, we’re a little bit biased because of the experience we’ve had over the years, so we actually know usually when a conversion rate seems low. If it’s like a half percent and we feel like it should be 3%, then we know we’ve got a lot of room to grow and there’s a lot to do there.
We also look at the individual conversion rates for each step in the funnel. I call these micro-conversion rates. These can be clicking from one page to another, signing up for a mailing list, hitting the buy now button.
Once we know the micro-conversion rates for each step, we know what’s driving the third metric, which is the bottom line conversion rate. This is the whole top to bottom funnel measure. How many people are going in at the top, and how much money is coming out at the end of the process.
4. If a site owner could only focus on 1 aspect of their website (ie. headline, offer, copy, funnel, layout, images) in order to boost conversions, what would it be and why?
I would say the first and most important thing, if you’re looking to make a significant change in your website, is the funnel.
How have you designed the process, the sales flow of your site?
Do visitors have to go through ten pages to get where they want to go?
Do you give them a lot of unnecessary information?
Do you give them enough information?
What is the offer as they go down the process?
That is really the biggest thing to focus on initially when you’re first starting your conversion process.
Now, we do have some very big clients that simply can’t make any kind of major changes to their funnel. So, then you start smaller. You say, okay well, where are we right now? What *can* we change that could make a difference. It’s different for every business.
You know, I’ve seen sites where their page is beautiful, the opt-in is great, or the call to action is great, but their headline is totally off. I actually saw one of those earlier today. And so in this case what I want to do is just start with the headline. But that’s my experience and my opinion telling me where to start. So there’s no general rule for that. It depends entirely on the individual case and where you are currently.
So I would say, if in doubt, start with questioning the funnel and how that works and try to redesign the funnel in a way that will widen it out at the bottom. Try to keep as many of those visitors as you can and lead them all the way through the process, giving you the most conversions.
5. What resources would you recommend for someone focused on improving conversions on their site?
I get this question a lot from small businesses especially because they’re looking to save money. They can’t afford to hire consultants, or they just have a “do-it-yourself” personality. While it’s true there are a lot of different places you can go to get conversion information, there’s a major problem. We’ve found over the years is that just like any other industry there’s a lot of incorrect or incomplete information out there.
There are people who post before/after split test comparison sites, and they say here’s the result we got and here’s why we got the results. If you make the same changes, you’ll get the same results. Right? Wrong.
There are some major problems here. Every business is different, with different funnels, different follow up, different audiences. A lift in one micro-conversion step can mean disaster farther down the funnel. You have to be able to see the big picture and connect all the dots together to make sure your decisions are the right ones. So, it’s better to learn the “why” behind the before/after scenarios. Why did changing the button color from grey to orange get better conversions? Why did changing the timing of the offer give a boost to signups? And then test those assumptions. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because something worked for Joe, it will work for you.
And so when we train our team, we found that we can’t just hand them a book or send them to a training to learn conversion. As the industry grows, there will be more resources developed and made available. We’re working on our own training resources just because people are asking us for them, and we can’t handle all the requests we get coming in every day.
If you want to do it yourself, you have to get in there and do the work, run the tests, and then go back and do it again. If you learn one thing, learn how to use the split testing and measuring tools like Crazy Egg and Visual Website Optimizer. It’s really a full-time job to do it right for just one business. That’s why so many businesses just hire consultants, even at the higher fees, the ROI is totally worth it for them.
6. Do you have a favorite software/tool (not including Crazy Egg!) that you use to help optimize websites?
My favorite piece of software is Visual Website Optimizer. It’s a split testing tool like the old Google Website Optimizer (I think that’s called Content Experiments now), but it’s more sophisticated. Their point-and-click editor makes it really easy for business owners to create their own page variations for testing without a lot of technical knowledge. So, it’s great for beginners as well as experienced testers.
Top 3 Takeaways:
There are a number of takeaways from this interview (in fact, I’d recommend reading it at least 3 times because I guarantee you’ll pick up more ideas each time.)
Here are my top 3…
1. “The Digital Foot In the Door” technique. This is great on a few levels. First, don’t assume the accepted truths are always, well, true. Most of what’s believed about the web is people don’t have patience so you need to get them to the information they want as quickly as possible. As Benji’s example shows, that’s not always the case.
Second, how do you build the value of what you’re selling? It’s not all about price. As the playwright Arthur Miller once said “Price is nothing but a point of view.” It’s common to build up the value of our products/services through offering bonuses, guarantees and other tactics. In this strategy, Benji describes a way to increase the perception of value by making people wait through a processing bar and “other fancy details.” In this case, that accomplished the goal of building the perceived value of the product.
Lastly, you could do worse than to study offline sales and marketing techniques that have worked for years and figure out ways to adapt them to the online world.
2. Pretty websites don’t always convert better. Pretty websites don’t always convert worse. You have to test and see.
3. Micro-conversions. What are the small conversion steps that go into your overall conversion rate? How do they fit into the overall conversion funnel? Little hinges can often swing big doors.