Category Archives: Website Optimization

What Are The Implications of Gall’s Law For Digital Marketing?

What is Gall’s Law?

Gall’s Law is a rule of thumb which indicates that complex systems that work are normally found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.  This means trying to design a complex system from scratch is never successful and it cannot be made to work once it has been created. It is necessary to begin again with a simple system before trying to make it complex.

Gall’s Law originates from John Gall’s book Systemantics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail. The law supports the idea of under-specification and has been used to explain the success of the World Wide Web and Facebook. Both of these systems began life as fairly uncomplicated systems but have since evolved over time to become highly complex ecosystems.

There are of course many examples of complex systems that have failed, especially in IT, but the evidence for Gall’s Law does appear more anecdotal than scientific. The other principles of Gall’s Law are:

  1. Complex systems rely on many variables and interdependencies that have to be organised precisely for them to function correctly. Designing complex systems from scratch doesn’t work because they haven’t been shaped by environmental selection forces that allow systems to naturally become more complex.
  2. Uncertainty means that designers can never predict all of the interdependencies and variables needed to build a complex system from scratch. This means such complex systems are prone to failure in all kinds of unexpected ways.
  3. Environmental constraints which change over time and are again unpredictable suggest designing a simple system that works in the current environment and then adjust the system over time to improve it.
  4. As prototyping and iteration are so effective as value-creation processes it is much easier to use these methodologies to verify that a system meets critical functional needs rather than try to build a complex system from scratch.
  5. Developing that prototype into a minimum viable offer enables project managers to validate critical assumptions and produce a simple system that can work with real users.
  6. The organisation can then use iteration and incremental augmentation to develop an extremely complex system over time that can be adapted to environmental changes.

Implications for conversion rate optimisation:

1. Focus on critical customer needs.

This means aim to begin by building simple apps and websites that are not overly complex and don’t have too many features and functions that most customers are unlikely to ever use. Snap Chat for instance started out as a very simple messaging app and has only gradually become mo re complex over time.Get the basic right first.

Unfortunately this is not ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’ and so often product teams add features based upon their personal preference rather than evidence. Avoid this if you can.

  1. Get the basic right first.

All too often people get obsessed with the latest feature or functionality that competitors offer without first getting the basics working on their own site or app. For example, most users won’t change default settings and so there is little to gain from giving customers more choice in the settings tab if no one ever uses them.

3. Allow for your app or website to evolve over time.

A key principle of Gall’s Law is that software starts simple and then evolves to become more complex over time. Optimisers and project managers should make allowance for this evolutionary change by building in feedback and reporting mechanisms to facilitate this process. Listening to customers and using A/B and multivariate testing should be part of the iterative process for allowing your app or site to evolve over time.

Conclusion:

Gall’s Law should be a reminder for designers, project managers and optimisers to stay focused on key customer needs and avoid the dangers of mission-creep and over-complicating a new user experience. Get the basics right first and allow for evolutionary change via customer feedback and optimisation experiments.

Gall’s Law could have been written for conversion rate optimisation as one of the key principles of CRO is to establish an evolutionary optimisation strategy rather than going for regular site re-designs. This makes for less disruption for users and it provides optimisers with more opportunities to understand the impact of small changes on success metrics.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

What Does Hick’s Law Tell Us About User Experience Design?

Choosing Takes Time:

In 1951 the British psychologist William Hick conducted experiments with a series of lights and Morse code keys to measure choice reaction times. Hick discovered that the relationship between the time it took to make a decision and the number of choices was logarithmic. Together with work by the US psychologist Ray Hyman their studies formed the basis of Hick’s Law which states that the more choices you offer people the more time they require to make a decision.

As a result when people are given lots to choose from have to spend a considerable amount of time to interpret and process information to make a suitable decision. This also corresponds with the Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz who argues more choice leads to more stress and reduced levels of customer satisfaction.

What does Hick’s Law tell us?

The research Hick and Hyman conducted resulted in a formula to define Hick’s Law:

RT = a + b log2 (n)

“RT” is the reaction time, “(n)” is the number of stimuli offered, and “a” and “b” are arbitrary measurable constants that depend on the task to be completed and the conditions under which it will be conducted. “A” could be getting an appropriate gift for your sister’s birthday and “B” could be a phone call with your mum to find out what other members of the family might be buying her as a present.

Image showing Hick's Law relationship between amount of choice and time to make a decision

 

The implication of Hick’s Law for optimisers appears simple  – minimise the number of options you display to speed up the decision-making process. There are exceptions to the rule though as if a visitor has already made up their mind before arriving on your site they will take less time to make a decision than someone who has not decided what they want.

From a conversion perspective this means less is more and give more prominence to the option that is most likely to meet customer goals. But what else does Hick’s Law tell us about digital marketing?

Implications of Hick’s Law:

Hick’s Law can be applied across many aspects of life and business, not just design and conversion rate optimisation. Here are 9 implications from Hick’s Law:

  1. The design principle known as K.I.S.S (Keep it Short and Simple) originated from the application of Hick’s Law and this has been applied across many fields.
  2. In terms of systems design, Gall’s Law appears to apply a similar principle to the field of complex systems. This is a rule of thumb that suggests that complex systems have usually evolved from a simple system that worked. This is consistent with agile working which encourages project managers to keep website and apps simple at first. Avoid adding too many features and complex functionality at the beginning of the design process.
  3. Massive menus and lots of categories need to be avoided.
  4. Minimise call to actions (CTAs) and links on a page to reduce cognitive load.
  5. The vast majority of users who land on your site have some kind of preconception or intent about what they are looking for. Tailoring landing pages according to the source of traffic and what they are looking for can help us to remove choices that lack relevance to that particular customer segment. By eliminating distractions and focusing on the most relevant choices we can make the user experience less cognitively demanding and more enjoyable.
  6. For large data sets such as blog posts, thumbnails or product recommendations,  provide structure using white space and other directional cues.  By applying consistency to design this facilitates the user’s decision-making without over-powering them with choice.
  7. For content heavy sites designers should use patterns and consistency to allow users to easily scan the page and quickly find what they are looking for. A good design uses a combination of visual cues, colour, spacing and consistency to visually emphasize important conversion elements on a page.
  8. People don’t read content, they scan it. Use suitable images, graphics, spacing, headings , short paragraphs and bullet points to assist users in this process.
  9. Following established web conventions such as using blue for text links to indicate that it is clickable speeds up the user’s decision-making process. Users don’t have to think about such choices as these are globally recognised patterns in web design.

In an A/B test on partypoker.com we increased clicks on the vertical navigation by 17% by moving the navigation from the right to the left to conform to the web convention. Using standard web conventions throughout a design helps users make decisions based upon previous experience.

Image of partypoker.com vertical navigation test

 

Conclusion:

Hick’s Law reminds us that optimisation is about focusing on core customer needs and behaviour to minimise cognitive load and make the user experience enjoyable. By delivering a consistent set of design patterns that reflect behaviour and web conventions we can minimise the number of conscious decisions users need to make and improve conversions.

Design is not about making a website look beautiful or to win awards, but rather we should aim to make the user experience effortless. By applying the principles of Hick’s Law throughout the user journey we should improve the chances of prospects and customers converting.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Don’t Let This Bias Destroy Your Optimisation Strategy!

Avoiding Logical Errors in Website Optimisation:

During World War II, researchers at the US Center for Naval Analyses were given a difficult problem to solve.  They were asked to recommend where to reinforce US bombers to reduce aircraft losses over enemy territory.  They decided to conduct a review of the damage inflicted on US bombers that returned from combat missions.

What we see is all there is:

Naturally they recommended that armour should be added to those areas that showed the most damage on the planes they assessed. But the statistician Abraham Wald pointed out that the study was suffering from survivorship bias. They had only considered aircraft that survived their missions as the bombers not included in the analysis had been shot down.

Wald argued that the holes in the returning aircraft represented areas where a plane could take damage and still return home safely. Using his insight he recommend they reinforce the areas where returning planes showed no damage. Theses places he thought were likely to be the areas that if damaged  would prevent a plane from returning safely home.

Example of survivorship bias from US airplane in 2nd World War
Image Source:

What is survivorship bias?

Survivorship bias is one of the most common logical errors that optimisers make as it plays on our desire to deconstruct success and cherry pick data that confirms our existing beliefs (see confirmation bias). People are prone to comparing survivors with the overall average despite evidence that survivors have unusual properties, namely that they have been successful.

By only examining successful outcomes we tend to become over-optimistic and may set unrealistic expectations about what optimisation can deliver in the short-term. We have a tendency to ignore the many more tests that have failed to deliver an uplift and only focus on our successes. As a result we tend to overestimate the importance of skill and underestimate the role of luck in the process.

To manage expectations appropriately consider:

  • Huge uplifts from tests don’t happen very often.
  • Testing the low-hanging fruit will not give you a competitive advantage.
  • A majority of tests don’t achieve an uplift. However, negative or neutral tests still provide valuable insights, so don’t ignore them.
  • Conversion rate optimisation is a long-term strategy and not a tactical sprint.
  • Tests that work for one site may not work on a different site. Each site is unique and has its own customer base.

Survivorship bias can also lead to misleading conclusions and false beliefs that successful members of a group (e.g. VIP customers) have common characteristics rather than are the result of a process they have completed. For example, very few, if any, customers are born as VIPs.  Optimisers need to be careful to avoid the following traps resulting from survivorship bias:

Understand visitor types:

Visitors are influenced by the process they complete online. Be careful about including  returning visitors or existing customers  in your A/B tests.

Returning visitors are problematic not only because they may have already been exposed to the default design, but also because most visitors don’t return to a site. Returning visitors are survivors because they didn’t abandon your site and decide never to come back due to negative aspects of the user experience. They weren’t put-off by your value proposition, the auto-slider, long form registration or other aspects of your site that may have caused some new visitors to bounce. They are also likely to have higher levels of intent than most new visitors.

Existing users are potentially even more biased as they have managed to jump through all the hoops and navigate around all the barriers that many other users may have fallen at. They have also worked out how to use your site and are getting sufficient value to want to continue with using it. This means they are likely to respond very differently to changes in content than might a new visitor.

This does not mean you cannot conduct A/B tests with returning visitors or existing customers. You can if the objective is appropriate and you don’t assume the test result will apply to other visitor types. Just be careful about what you read into the results.

Examine user personas:

Similarly each user persona may have different intent levels due to the source of traffic or other factors influencing behaviour. For instance be careful with including Direct traffic in you’re A/B tests as you have to question why they would type your URL directly into a search engine if they are really a new visitor. Perhaps some of these visitors have cleared their cookies and so are in fact returning visitors?

Why do uplifts sometimes decay?

Survivorship bias can also result in management questioning the sustainability of uplifts. When you first launch a tactical change to your website, such as a promotional pop-up, it is something new that none of your visitors will have seen before.

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups
Image Source:

This may result in a significant uplift in your overall conversion rate for both new and returning visitors. However, as a proportion of visitors seeing the prompt for the first time will have signed up, these users will no longer be part of your target audience as they have created an account.

As a consequence this will automatically reduce your overall conversion rate over time as those who are going to be influenced by the pop-up sign-up and those who are not don’t. Further, as more visitors come back to the site after experiencing the new pop-up the proportion of non-customers who have not seen this particular pop-up before will decline to just new visitors. As returning visitors become acclimatised to the promotional pop-up its effectiveness is likely to decline among this type of visitor.

This can make it appear the uplift was not sustainable. However, if you analyse new visitor conversion you are likely to see that the uplift has largely been maintained. But even here there may be a notable decay in the uplift over time as a proportion of returning visitors regularly clear their cookies and so are tracked as new visitors by your web analytics.

This needs to be explained to stakeholders to manage their expectations for the overall conversion rate. If this is not understood this is sometimes used to challenge the sustainability of uplifts from conversion rate optimisation.  To respond to this phenomena it is worth revisiting changes on a regular basis to review conversion rates and to test new variants if necessary.

Frequency of email and push notification campaigns:

A common question that digital marketers have is what is the optimum frequency of email and push notification campaigns. Often people assess this by analysing existing user engagement. However, relying on existing users is a heavily biased approach because these customers have self-selected themselves on the basis that they are happy with your current frequency of engagement. Those who are not happy with the level of contact will have already unsubscribed.

Instead you should test email and push notification contact frequency using an unbiased list of new users who have recently signed up and have not received any campaigns so far. Provided the sample size is large enough and they have never been included in CRM campaigns you should test contact frequency using this clean list of new users.

Pre-screening traffic:

Be cautious about rolling out changes that generate uplifts for pre-qualified visitors. Just because a landing page produces an uplift from a highly engaged email list you cannot assume it will help convert unqualified traffic.

Different types of CTAs:

Why is it that web designers are on the only kind of designers who think that all calls to action (CTA) should look identical? The reason aircraft cockpits have different types, sizes and colours of switches and buttons is to clearly differentiate between their different uses. A newsletter sign-up CTA is very different from an add to basket button or a buy CTA. The nature of the user’s decision needs to be reflected in the design of the CTA and so it is dangerous to prescribe in your brand guidelines that all CTAs look the same.
Types of CTAs

No, you should optimise a page for the specific CTA that is required for the stage in the user journey. As a user proceeds through the conversion journey their intent and needs change. This should be reflected in the design of the CTA. Just because a CTA works on a landing page does not mean it will be optimal for a product page or check-out.

Law of small numbers:

Be careful not to rely on small sample sizes when analysing web analytics or test results. The law of small numbers means that we have a tendency to underestimate the impact of small sample sizes on outcomes. Essentially we often only get certain results because of the unreliability of small numbers. So few survivors are left we get extreme results.

Take care with multivariate tests:

Avoid having too many recipes (i.e. variables being changed) in your MVTs as otherwise you will end up with small sample sizes. It may be better to concentrate on testing one area at a time with a well-designed A/B test. Often a slower optimisation process staying within your traffic capabilities is more reliable than trying to overdo multivariate testing.

Don’t’ take users literally:

Qualitative research and usability testing can provide useful insights for understanding user needs and for developing hypothesis. However, most users don’t reply to surveys on or off-line. Further, neuroscience research indicates that a majority of our decisions are made by our non-conscious brain. This means that we are not fully aware of why we make many of the small decisions when navigating a website. Always make decisions based upon user’s actions and not what they say.

Conclusion:

People are prone to survivorship bias because they lack a good understanding of statistics and so training in this area of optimisation will make your team stronger and less likely to fall into the trap of neglecting users who don’t survive a process.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

How Do You Measure Customers’ Sub-Conscious Motivations?

Most Decisions Are Made By Our Sub-Conscious Brain:

Neuroscience suggests that up to 95% of our decisions are made by our emotional sub-conscious brain and yet most research targets the conscious mind. To understand implicit (psychological) motivations it is therefore necessary to access the unconscious brain as this is known to direct attention towards brands and is more predictive of purchasing behaviour than subjective likeability.

What are implicit research techniques?

Implicit research seeks to access the automatic and sub-conscious mind (see System 1) using techniques that do not rely on direct, deliberate, controlled or intentional self-reporting. As a result relatively few research techniques qualify as implicit because many methods of research rely on conscious (intentional) thought.

Image of table showing different types of research and whether they are implicit techniques

One implicit research technique that is becoming increasingly popular with marketers because it is scalable and can measure sub-conscious feelings towards a brand or product is the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

 What is the Implicit Association Test?

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) allows you to measure the strength of a person’s automatic association between mental concepts (e.g. Muslims and Christians) and evaluations (e.g. positive or negative) or stereotypes (e.g. extremists, don’t integrate). It does this by measuring how quickly people can sort words or images into categories each time they are exposed or “primed” to a stimulus (e.g. a brand logo or product).

Why does it work?

It works on the basis that when you are primed with an image, sound or a word, the associations your brain has with that concept are much more accessible to you as it improves your cognitive processing. This means it can uncover the strength of your feelings as it monitors how each prime affects your mental processing speed and accuracy.

IAT achieves this by asking respondents to quickly sort words into one of two categories shown on the left and right hand-side of the computer screen. Participants use the “e” key to indicate if the word is most strongly associated with the category on the left and the “i” key if it belongs more to the category on the right.

How is the data used?

By understanding users’ implicit motivations marketers can design content and messages that are much more emotionally engaging and psychologically persuasive. By combining the findings with data from traditional methods of research we can create a decision-making model that includes both emotion and reason. Such models can generate very accurate predictions of user behaviour which can be used to inform campaign planning and value proposition development.

This allows us to measure the impact of the non-conscious on new product concept adoption, advertising response, brand image, packaging evaluations and more. IAT’s also allow you to understand the needs, interests and expectations of different customer segments, enabling you to better target marketing communications for different target audiences to generate a truly emotional response.

Agencies offering IAT’s:

Due to the increasing awareness of the limitations of traditional research more companies are now offering IAT’s to probe the non-conscious mind of the consumer. This includes companies such as Sentient Decision Science, who have a very informative blog,  The Implicit Testing Company, marketing consultancy Beyond Reason and market research company  COG Research.

Conclusion:

The IAT offers a scalable and affordable way for organisations to measure non-conscious motivations and expectations. Implicit methods of research provide a more reliable and accurate measure of the real influences on a user’s behaviour than more traditional explicit research techniques, such as surveys and focus groups.

Indeed, studies have indicated that IAT results show good correlation with preference and purchase intent. So, if you want to understand true user motivations it is time to ditch traditional questionnaires and focus groups as they are probably doing more harm than good.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Should You Optimise Your Site For Your Best Customers?

What if most revenues are generated by a few customers?

Some websites get most of their revenues from a relatively small proportion of high value (VIP) customers. This begs the question  should you optimise your site design around your most profitable segment of customers?

How do we optimise the conversion rate?

One of the most scientific methods we use to improve site design and increase the conversion rate is through online experiments (i.e. A/B and multivariate tests). However, when we run the analysis for such tests the standard practice is to remove outliers to avoid the results from being overly skewed by abnormal observations, such as from high value players. Is this practice consistent with a website where a small minority of customers generate the vast majority of revenues?

I was recently asked this question on behalf of an online gambling site as  5% of their users generate over 50% of revenues. Here is what they asked:

“How can you reliably test revenue uplifts in an industry which is driven by outliers? We are removing the top 5% of outliers from tests but that 5% of users is generating ~50% of the revenue. So variants could be winning which aren’t suitable for VIPs, and if they don’t like the changes we could lose a lot of revenue!”

Pareto Principle:

As the Pareto Principle tells us most sectors have a similar issue – around 80% of the profit often comes from 20% of customers in many sectors. Online gambling may or may not be more concentrated than this, but it is not an uncommon problem. However, trying to predict who are the high value customers when they first land on your site is more problematic.

Image of the Pareto Principle

Moving Target:

Indeed, a key characteristic of high value customers is that most begin their journey looking and behaving the same as the majority of new visitors.  However, survivorship bias means that we have a tendency to ignore this fact and so we concentrate on the characteristics of those who remain rather considering the nature of those who have been eliminated by the process.

For example, a majority of first time deposits from customers who become VIPs are relatively low. The most frequent amount is often on or near the minimum deposit level. Sure, you get a tiny minority who come in with large first deposits, but they are probably already VIPs on other sites or have a windfall. They do not represent the majority of VIPs.

Think about it, if a large supermarket noticed that high value customers  shop more regularly and have more items in their basket, would they re-design the store and remove lines only purchased by lower value customers? Nope, that would be stupid as lower value customers might one day become a high value customer. It would also potentially annoy low value customers and and they might shop elsewhere.  Higher value customers have the same basic needs, they just happen to have a higher disposable income or a windfall.

High value (VIPs) visitors do not represent a fixed pool of customers. It is in a constant state of flux as user circumstances and behaviour change over time. Very few people, if any, will remain true VIP users throughout their customer life cycle. Their income, luck, assets, lifestyle, attitudes and other factors change as people progress through different life stages.

User Intent:

 

Image of Starburst slot game

Do drug addicts worry about the user experience? Nope, their intent is so strong they will do almost anything to get a fix. Most VIP customers on gambling sites (or other kinds of  sites for that matter) are demonstrating similar addictive behaviour.

Like any addict they will jump through hoops to achieve their goal. I doubt very much that many VIPs will be put off by a long form or poorly designed check-out. If they are then god help your other customers.

Conclusion:

VIP or high-value customers certainly need your attention. But that should be through CRM and personalisation to improve their customer experience and retention. However, as such customers are not a fixed group of people you should definitely remove outliers from A/B and multivariate tests.

It would also be counter-productive to optimise a site just for your highe value customers. You would potentially turn-off non VIP customers and you would not have the opportunity to nurture customers as they progress through different value segments. In gambling the pool of VIP customers is  usually too small to conduct robust experiments and so you would also be in danger of drawing false conclusions due to the law of small numbers.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

What is the most powerful weapon of persuasion?

The Power of Commitment & Consistency!

We have all heard stories of how people are often unwilling to intervene when they see a crime committed in broad daylight. Why would people put themselves at risk to assist a complete stranger? Well, in 1972 the psychologist Thomas Moriarty conducted a study to  see if he could use a simple psychological weapon to persuade people  to put themselves at risk of personal harm for a person they had never met before. The research involved the staging of a number of thefts on a New York City beach.

For the experiment a researcher would place a beach blanket within 5 feet of a randomly selected individual. After about two minutes on the blanket relaxing and listening to a portable radio the person would stand up and leave the blanket to walk down the beach.  Within a few minutes a second researcher would walk by and grab the portable radio before trying to make a get-away.

In the control (i.e. no intervention was made) only four people out of twenty tried to prevent the theft. However, the number of people who were prepared to challenge the thief increased dramatically when the researcher asked the individual next to them to please “watch my things” before walking away. In this scenario nineteen out of twenty people challenged the thief.

The experiment confirms that people have a strong desire to appear consistent with commitments they have previously made. Indeed, in his book Influence, the psychologist Robert Cialdini argues that commitment and consistency is one of the most powerful weapons of social influence available to people wanting to change our behaviour.

Why is consistency so important to people?

Consistency is generally regarded as a highly desirable personality trait in our culture. When people don’t appear consistent they are often seen as indecisive and two-faced. The negative perception of inconsistency reinforces the belief that consistency is a valuable characteristic to portray.

However, Cialdini also noted that such is our desire to be consistent that people sometimes act without thinking and abandon strongly held beliefs in order to stubbornly follow a consistent path. He argues that a commitment can change our self-image and force us to act contrary to our own best interests.

“When it occurs unthinkingly, consistency can be disastrous. Nonetheless, even blind consistency has its attractions” – Robert Cialdini, Influence.

Why does consistency become a habit?

Due to our motivation to be consistent we will often automatically make decisions based purely upon achieving this consistency. This of course saves mental energy as it avoids complex decisions. But it can also shield us from the negative and unpleasant consequences of our actions.

“Sealed within the fortress walls of rigid consistency, we can be impervious to the sieges of reason.” – Robert Cialdini, Influence.

Why is commitment so important?

Psychologists believe that stubborn and ill-considered consistency is often the result of people making a public stand or commitment to something.   Once such a commitment has been made people have a tendency to try to ensure consistency at almost all cost even though  it may go against their inner beliefs.

Just look at how UK MPs have supported Brexit since the EU referendum. According to a poll by the Press Association over two thirds of MPs voted to remain in the EU in the referendum. But as the Prime Minister and many MPs made a public declaration to abide by the result the vast majority of MPs voted to support the Bill to trigger Article 50 to take Britain out of the EU.  This is despite the fact that only 52% of voters supported Brexit and many MPs still believe Brexit will seriously harm the economy and the UK’s standing in the world. That is quite extraordinary behaviour.

What kind of commitment?

The psychologist Steven J Sherman arranged for a sample of residents in Bloomington, Indiana, to be telephoned for a survey. Participants were asked to predict what they would say if they were asked to give up 3 hours of their time to collect money for the American Cancer Society.

Not wishing to appear selfish many of the people called indicated they would volunteer. This resulted in a 700% increase in the proportion of people volunteering when they were contacted a few days later by an operator from the American Cancer Society.

Another strategy used by charity call centres involves asking people about their current well-being. The operator asks something like “How are you feeling this evening?” Once a person confirms publicly they are in good health it is much harder for the individual to refuse to help people where all is not well. The theory here is that people who have just indicated that they are doing well find it awkward to appear uncaring by not donating money to the needy in this context.

Start small to aim big!

There is also the foot-in-the-door technique which means that by starting with a small request we can often get compliance later on for a much larger request. This can work in two ways.

Firstly it establishes a commitment to a cause which means we are more willing comply with much larger additional requests. Secondly it can change our self-image from a prospect to a customer or a citizen to a supporter of a cause. This latter effect can result in people agreeing to requests that are only remotely connected to the original small favour they complied with.

Deeds are more influential than words!

To understand a person’s attitudes and beliefs we tend to observe their behaviour. Psychologists have discovered that we also look at our own behaviour to guide our feelings and attitudes. Our deeds are much more influential than words when it comes to our inner beliefs.  And writing our thoughts on paper is one way of showing our commitment to a cause.

Writing our ideas on paper is more effective than a verbal commitment because research indicates that the greater the effort we put into a commitment, the more effective it is at influencing our attitudes and behaviour.

Further, a written commitment also acts as physical evidence of our support for a cause and it reduces the likelihood that we might forget or deny the act. In may also be used to persuade other people because we have a natural tendency to believe that written statements accurately reflect the beliefs of the person who made them.

Strategies for conversion:

This is one reason why salespeople will often ask prospects to complete sales agreements as it is one way of getting them to make a small commitment to the purchase. Many organisations also get staff to set their own sales targets and commit to them by writing them down on paper.

Image of testimonials from winkbingo.com and Google Analytics

Testimonial competitions are another commonly used approach to benefit from the commitment phenomena as to have a chance of winning people know they have to be complementary about the product or service in some way. What they don’t realise is that such glowing statements help change their own attitudes towards the product as they begin to believe what they have written.

“We are truest to our decisions if we have bound ourselves to them publically” – Robert Cialdini, Influence

People can be extremely stubborn with their commitment even in situations where accuracy rather than consistency should be the priority. Indeed, research involving the criminal justice system found that hung juries were significantly more common if jurors had to initially indicate their position with a physical show of hands rather than a secret ballot. The act of publicly sharing their initial opinion appeared to make them more reluctant to change their decision later on.

This can be used to good use where we are trying to encourage people to give up a harmful habit such as smoking, over-eating or gambling.  Many weight reduction programs understand that a person’s private commitment is not strong enough to withstand the many temptations that we come across every day. For this reason such programs ask clients to write down their weight targets and share them publicly with other members and family/friends.

Can a commitment change self-mage?

Studies suggest that commitments have most impact upon a person’s self-image and behaviour when they are active, public and effortful acts. In addition the change is most likely to be long lasting if the person own what they have done.

Psychologists found that people are most likely to take ownership of behaviour if they feel they decided to undertake the action without any strong outside pressure. This means that using a large incentive, such as a cash prize, can be counter-productive as the individual may not accept inner responsibility for the act. Thus for people to take ownership of an act it is best to keep any incentives as small as possible.

Here is a summary of the main approaches to obtaining commitment and consistency:

Commitment and consistency is one of the most powerful methods of social influence

 

Implications for conversion rate optimisation:

As Cialdini points out commitment is key. Get visitors to commit to something small, such as giving their email address for access to a white paper or your website and this increases the likelihood that they will perceive themselves as customers. Once they see themselves as customers this increases the chance they may purchase products or services from you.

Ask a simple question:

Lifehack.org is a leading wellbeing and lifestyle blog that publishes tips on how to improve many aspects of your life. When I was researching one of my posts I landed on the site and came across a great example of how to use a small commitment to improve sign-ups.

After about 10 seconds on the site a pop-up is displayed which asks a seemingly innocuous question about self-improvement; “try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.” If you click on the  “I agree” CTA you are then immediately served an email capture form with the heading “We think so, too!”

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups

Because you have just agreed that you would like to try something different you feel almost compelled to sign-up to act consistently with how you replied to the first pop-up.  This is a really clever way of using the psychology of commitment to improve sign-up rates.

Become a customer for free!

Whilst working for an insurance company we offered prospects the opportunity to sign-up for a year’s free accidental death cover in return for providing their email address and name and address. Due to the low level of cover and the fact that the probability of an accident causing death are quite small this cost the company relatively little money.

However, we managed to sign up many thousands of new customers from the campaign. We could then  target them with other products that they were now more likely to buy as they were no longer prospects, but customers.

Ask for a review!

For apps get a high rating and a positive review of the user experience by targeting loyal customers. Make sure you then email these users to thank them for their efforts and confirm that their review will be publicly available for all users to see.

Run competitions for slogans, strap lines and testimonials with a promise to display the best ones on your website. Once people have written a positive statement about your brand they are more likely to become a brand advocate and will be a positive influence on other potential customers.

Offer a dream!

JohnChow.com offers advice on how to monetise your blog site. On the homepage there is a great heading in the form of a question – “Do You Dare to Dream?” The very prominent single call to action offers you the chance to download John Chow’s free eBook and “achieve your freedom”. This is a form of commitment as the heading is asking visitors a question and the eBook is a possible solution.

Once you click on the CTA you are served a very simple form asking you to enter your name and email address. As visitors have clicked on the CTA which promises “achieve your freedom” they are likely to feel compelled to complete the form to be consistent with their previous commitment.

In addition, as they will now perceive themselves as customers this should increase the likelihood that they will be prepared to buy one of JohnChow’s  services at some point in the future.

Image of JohnChow.com's email capture form
Image Source:

Consistency for consistency’s sake!

Digital marketers can also fall into the trap of commitment and consistency. Brand guidelines create a strong commitment that most people feel obliged to adhere to. However, applying consistency without thought can harm the user experience and reduce conversion.

I often come across copy that is low contrast and unreadable or the CTA is not prominent because designers have blindly followed brand guidelines. Brand guidelines should not be used as a reason not to think about the design and how it appears to the user. Because brand guidelines cover the whole site there are often instances where they just don’t make sense because guidelines are just that. They should guide, but not be applied automatically without thought.

Below is an example from partycasino.com which uses a  grey font on a black background. The contrast is really poor and the use of pink for hyperlinks is especially distracting.

Image of partycasino.com homepage where the colour pink is used for links

Displaying identical navigation elements in the header across the whole site can result in redundant and distracting navigation tabs on certain pages (e.g. Join Now link shown on a sign-up form). This can also lead to situations where certain navigation elements (e.g. an Options tab) only have one menu item on some pages because of the site structure.

Consistency in design is seen as beneficial because the user becomes accustomed to what to expect from a site. However, this begs the question should we never surprise visitors? The answer to this depends on the context, purpose and quality of the surprise. What is the cost of not surprising visitors compared to the benefits of delivering something unexpected?

Consistency is only one of a number of design principles and sometimes they conflict with one another. If we want to optimise conversion this may sometimes mean making compromises with consistency to give priority to more important elements of the user experience.

Conclusion:

Consistency is a powerful force in social influence that can be employed to nudge users towards desired actions. Remember commitment is the main driver of consistency and it is one of the few persuasive weapons that can also change a person’s self-image. Consistency is such a strong motivator that it can even create habits that will sustain long-term behavioural change. Use it with care and also avoid falling into the trap of consistency for consistency’s sake when making design decisions.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

How important are processes in conversion rate optimisation?

Do processes matter?

Processes matter as they help structure our behaviour and reduce the risk that we might forget to do something important. They provide for a consistent framework and can ensure rigour in our problem solving and strategy. As a conversion rate optimisation (CRO) consultant I have a number of processes including one for persona development, an optimisation framework, a test and learn process and one for how to prioritise test ideas.

Processes have an important role in optimisation, but what happens when we don’t listen to experts and become obsessed with our own processes?

When people don’t listen!

A few years ago I got a new boss following a restructure. He knew nothing about CRO and had managed a website for the past 6 years. The site had gone through a disastrous re-design and was in decline. He was very into processes. But he was known for getting things done and always followed the correct procedures.

The first thing he did was tell us we needed a new process. The process would involve developing customer personas and getting agreement for all work with the various stakeholders before we could proceed with any work on experiments.

I produced a process for how we could use personas for optimisation. That was the last time personas were mentioned. I also recommended we include usability testing into the new process.   No, that was too expensive, our UX guy would build some into his schedule.

Image of process for using personas to improve the user experience

In the new process all ideas for optimisation had to go through our manager for approval. He would then discuss the ideas with MarComs and the main stakeholder. Ideas disappeared into a black hole and when they came back they looked nothing like my brief.

After a few weeks this was abandoned as our manager realised he was becoming the main bottleneck in the process.

The new process involved having a meeting with MarComs before any tests went live to get their approval to proceed. MarComs had complained that our previous process had not involved them closely enough in the development of optimisation ideas. No one turned up at the first meeting, they were too busy.

The number of meetings increased exponentially.

Our new boss decided that although I was the only CRO specialist in the team that everyone should develop and run experiments. We agreed a process for this and I briefed the team on how they could proceed with test ideas.

The number of tests we were running started to fall sharply as the new process meant it took a lot longer and needed much more effort to proceed with ideas.

A few months later the first test that another member of the team had managed went live. I was asked to analyse the results, but I discovered there was no control (i.e. the old page had been taken down). They had decided to evaluate the performance of the new page by comparing metrics before and after the new design went live.  I had to explain that it wouldn’t provide reliable data because the conversion rate is continuously fluctuating due to many reasons and so it is necessary to have a control for the analysis to be valid.

Whilst I was on holiday our boss went live with his own A/B test. He decided to test a promotional page for a specific event against the homepage. He agreed that for those visitors who were served the promotional page they wouldn’t be able to access the homepage, even if they clicked on the site logo. When he looked at Google Analytics he noticed there was a big rise in visitors clicking on the navigation tab for the homepage. He thought that was odd.

The number of tests we were running continued to decline.

I submitted design ideas to MarComs for new tests. The mock-ups that came back looked very similar existing designs . Our boss said let MarComs do their job as they are the experts in website design. No thought was given to maybe conversion isn’t about design. No, this was the process that we had to follow.

The number of tests we were running dropped to zero.

The company was taken over.

Our boss decided we should specialise in those areas where we have expertise and that I should concentrate on the online experiments.

I was asked to explain why the number of tests we were running had fallen so much.

The number of tests we were running started to rise again.

Our boss got a new role in the organisation.

I left the business as they didn’t want a central conversion team, but instead replicated my role across the company. Each website, even those with low traffic got a conversion analyst.

Conclusion:

Processes are there to assist you in achieving your business objectives and should help you avoid random and tactical optimisation approach. Base your optimisation processes on solid evidence and good practice, not your management philosophy or company silos.

When people become obsessed with processes this can lead to lazy thinking and an over-reliance on existing ways of working. Even a good process when followed without thought can be a recipe for disaster.

Processes can then become an excuse not to challenge the status quo and will ultimately damage productivity and innovation. Don’t let processes take over as they should help rather than hinder innovation and meeting business objectives. Having a certain amount of flexibility in your processes is a good idea as each problem is unique and variation can sometimes lead to new ideas being developed.

Conversion rate optimisation is not just about process. The most important factor for successful CRO is developing a culture from the top of the business downwards that puts customer goals first. It should encourage people to experiment, but A/B tests are just a way of validating ideas and good research and evidence based decision making are probably more important.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

Related Posts:

CRO Strategy – 10 strategies for successful conversion rate optimisation.

CRO process – 8 steps guaranteed to boost your conversion rate.

Prioritisation – How should you prioritise your A/B test ideas?

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

What Is Conversion Rate Optimisation?

Does CRO Say What It Does On The Tin?

When people ask me what I do for a living and I mention website or conversion rate optimisation (CRO) I often find they think I’m talking about another area of digital marketing. Many people think CRO  is related to Search Engine Marketing, PPC or SEO.  This should not be a surprise though because CRO  is a somewhat misleading term for website optimisation. It gives the impression that it is all about a single metric, which it is not.

Image of chart showing conversion rate for registration and first time deposit

For a start any fool can optimise a website’s conversion rate by slashing prices, offering people free trials or giving free money away on a gaming site. But the site would soon go out of business as this wouldn’t do much for overall profitability. No, CRO is not about optimising the conversion rate as it would be dangerous to use a single metric for a measure of success.

Why conversion rate is a poor metric?

The conversion rate is actually a poor metric to focus on because not all visitors are able or willing to convert. Further, by making your site more engaging and increasing the frequency of visitors returning to your site you may well increase sales, but your conversion rate could well fall as a result. This is because returning visitors may not buy on every visit, but overall they could be buying more merchandise.

The conversion rate also tends to vary significantly according to different channels and visitor types. So if your traffic mix changes your conversion rate could fall due to the source of traffic and not because of anything you have done. Increasing overall traffic to your site could again increase sales but it’s quite common for this to reduce your conversion rate as the traffic mix may change or because visitor intent is lower.

Common misconceptions about CRO:

The lack of understanding of website optimisation is partly caused by the term CRO which has led to some of the following misconceptions about it:

  • CRO only relates to customer acquisition.
  • CRO is A/B and multivariate testing.
  • CRO is a tactical tool for resolving short-term problems with sales or revenues.
  • You need to have a lot of traffic for CRO.
  • CRO is expensive and not for small companies.
  • Landing page optimisation is the same as CRO.
  • CRO is about improving the customer experience.

Well, what is conversion rate optimisation?

CRO is a strategic approach to digital marketing that seeks to optimise the value obtained from visitors to your site in a sustainable and customer centric way. It aims to be a driver of business growth by persuading customers to take action by allowing them to achieve their goals so that you can also meet your business goals. CRO requires a scientific or evidence based approach to decision making regarding changes to the digital customer experience.

Image of skills required for website optimization

So let’s break this definition down into some of its individual components to fully understand what CRO means.

Strategy rather than a tactic:

As a strategy rather than a tactic CRO is much more powerful because it requires a customer centric culture from the C-suite down. Only when CRO is embedded into the culture of a business can we expect it to reach its full potential. CRO should not be a silo in marketing or some other part of the business that is infrequently discussed by the board. It needs to be the responsibility of everyone in the business to consider how changes to the user experience may impact the customer and overall profitability.

Customer goals:

For you to meet your business goals the customer must first achieve their goals. This means communicating a compelling value proposition and using conversion centric design to make the user journey as frictionless as possible.

Acquisition and retention:

CRO principles can and should be applied to both acquisition and existing customer journeys. It is normally a lot cheaper to retain customers than acquire new customers and so it is more efficient to allocate resources to customer retention than to focus just on attracting new users.

Persuasion:

To get more visitors to convert it is necessary to use persuasive techniques to nudge customers towards their goal. This means that a good understanding of the application of behavioural sciences such as behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience are essential qualities for optimisers.

Scientific approach:

A culture of evidence-based decision making is important to encourage a scientific approach to digital optimisation. Online experiments using A/B and multivariate testing solutions should support this strategy by validating changes and allowing a evolutionary approach to website improvement. This approach largely removes the need for site-redesigns because it leads to a more evolutionary way of enhancing the customer experience.

Image of multivariate test with over 1 million possible combinations
Source: Sentient Ascend

People of course dislike whole site re-designs as they have to instantly deal with multiple changes on a site that looks very different from what they had become accustomed to. Facebook have learnt this lesson the hard way and now ensure change is gradual and controlled to avoid annoying users. LinkedIn on the other hand don’t seem to have understood the pitfalls of site-redesigns and received huge criticism following a new site launch in early 2017.

Structured process:

To develop a CRO strategy it is important to have a structured process to guide your program. Having a process like the steps outlined below helps give you credibility within your business as it demonstrates your professional integrity. Further, it encourages a consistent approach to CRO throughout your organisation.

Image of 8 step process for conversion rate optimization
Source: Neal Cole, Conversion Rate Consultant

Invest in people:

Website optimisation requires a number of specialist skills to perform well in the role. Consequentially it is important to invest in training and personal development to improve the skill set of your optimisation team.

Measurement:

Because CRO is more complex than simply optimising your conversion rate it is necessary to carefully define your most important metrics to evaluate what success looks like. For example e-commerce retailers need to ensure they don’t increase sales at the expense of more returns as this can lead to them losing money.

Ecommerce sites should seek to combine results from their test with metrics from the data warehouse (DWH) to measure revenues after returns. This is one reason why you shouldn’t rely on a single source of data as this can lead to errors and may undermine the reliability of your test results. Web analytics, DWH and data from your testing tool should be used together to provide a more comprehensive picture of user behaviour.

Segmentation:

Averages lie, and so It is important to segment your conversion rate because it is likely to vary significantly according to visitor type and channel. Some users will have different intent and  a different relationship with the retailer according to their traffic source or user needs. New visitors and returning visitors often have very different conversion rates.

amazon-conversion-journey

Amazon Prime customers for instance convert around 74% of the time compared to 13% for non-Prime visitors. This compares to just 3.1% for the average e-commerce site. You should also analyse your conversion rate by acquisition channels as for example non-brand terms PPC will usually convert at a significantly lower rate than yousr site average. Trying to improve your conversion rate for an individual channel is much more likely to be a success than if you treat all visitors the same.

At the same time be careful not to create too many different segments. You need to have a sufficiently large sample size for each segment to avoid a high sampling error and unreliable results. Bear in mind that the probability of error rises exponentially the more segments you compare against each other.

Change management:

In many ways CRO is a form of change management because it can be a powerful driver of innovation in an organisation. However, people naturally resist change and this can create blockages for a successful CRO program. Use change management techniquest to engage and inform people about your CRO strategy to prevent objections being raised further down the line.

Conclusion:

CRO is about improving the profitability of your site by persuading more of your visitors to convert. This does require a cultural shift in how website design changes are decided. It seeks to replace the use of subjective opinions to make decisions with a scientific evidence-based approach to digital optimisation.

As Brian Massey at Conversion Sciences puts it:

“We optimise revenue, growth, pricing, value proposition, images, navigation and more. Perhaps we’re the Online Business Optimisation industry, OBO. That’s taken, unfortunately.” Brian Massey – Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences – From The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored.

CRO does of course create a lot of challenges, but the benefits are well worth it as you can use CRO as a driver of sustainable business growth. As companies such as Amazon, Skyscanner and Netflix continue to develop their CRO strategy it will become increasingly difficult to compete against such organisations unless you also adopt a CRO strategy based upon evidence rather than gut instinct.

 

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

Related Posts:

CRO Strategy – 10 strategies for successful conversion rate optimisation.

CRO process – 8 steps guaranteed to boost your conversion rate.

Prioritisation – How should you prioritise your A/B test ideas?

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Why are the habits of successful people a myth?

What is a narrative fallacy?

Have you noticed social media’s obsession with the habits of successful people, how politicians suggest simple solutions to complex problems and the appeal of magical ‘silver bullet’ fixes? People like to simplify things as we have a natural desire to understand what causes events and we hate uncertainty. In the book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes how people can’t help but create narratives that do not exist, particularly when those stories confirm our existing beliefs.

Nassim Taleb coined the term narrative fallacy to describe; “our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them.” We can see this all the time as people create stories to explain random and unpredictable events as this makes us feel smarter and more in control of our destiny.

“Once your mind is inhabited with a certain view of the world, you will tend to only consider instances proving you to be right. Paradoxically, the more information you have, the more justified you will feel in your views,” – Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan.

Posts describing the habits of highly successful people are a classic example of the narrative fallacy because writers mistake random attributes as causal relationships. There is no one-size fits all answer for how to become successful,  it’s a myth created by bad science.

Image of traits of successful and unsuccessful people
Image Source:

Take this post I saw on LinkedIn which shows the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful people. For each of the attributes shown for successful people I can think of many examples of people at the top of their profession who do not demonstrate these characteristics.

Zappos vs Amazon!

Image of Tony Hsieh and Jeff Bezos

If we look at major e-commerce retailers in the US, Tony Hsieh of Zappos published a best-selling book on the “happy place” culture he created at Zappos. He managed to build a billion dollar company, but so did Jeff Bezos at Amazon and yet he has a completely different approach to corporate culture. Bezos runs a very tight ship in terms of costs and has a “take it or leave it” attitude towards employees. It is not uncommon to hear complaints about the working environment at Amazon from ex-employees.  So, for every Hsieh you are likely to get a Bezos with a successful company doing the very opposite.

Another great example is Donald Trump. He managed to sell a convincing narrative to become the US President, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for his failures. He argues that anything negative is likely to be fake news made up by the media. Further, within the first month after becoming president Trump tried to take credit for immigration and job-creation initiatives that started before he took office. He’s not alone in his approach either as there are lots of successful business people who have succeeded partly because of their arrogant, overconfident attitude as people often mistake confidence with competence.

Trump’s use of fake news is also clearly a strategy to create a narrative fallacy in the minds of his supporters. He wants them to believe that the media are spreading lies about him to convince them that he is the one telling the truth. When it all goes wrong, which I think is inevitable, he will blame everyone but himself for his failure.

Businesses change and so do people!

A further reason why habits of successful people are a narrative fallacy relates to the fact they are usually based upon the characteristics of the individual after they have become successful. For these habits to be indicative of why they became successful they would have had to remained constant throughout their rise from office junior or  start-up founder to being CEO of a billion dollar corporation.

We all know this is complete rubbish as one can’t manage a small start-up in the same way you do a billion dollar business. For a start the complexity of a large corporation requires a very different approach than you would take with a tiny start-up, both in terms of management style and cultural values.

Hard work and luck matter!

Successful people can teach us lessons, but rather than looking at their behaviours, often it is how they approach challenges and define a problem that is more enlightening. Their experience often gives them great insights into how to deal with challenges, but don’t link an ability to be a good business person with how they live their life. What people often forget is that luck and hard work play a significant role in how successful we become in our professional lives.

Implications for Digital Marketing:

Storytelling can be especially dangerous for optimisers as it encourages us to rely on our existing mental models to generate new solutions. This is because we automatically restrict our testing and learning to those ideas consistent with those same mental models and may fail to consider alternatives that don’t fit with our narrative fallacy. As a result you can damage the efficiency of your program by limiting its scope.

When A/B testing it’s also easy to fall into the trap of trying to explain the psychological reasons why the challenger variant beat the default. We can never really be certain why users behave differently when faced with one design compared to another as we don’t have access to the non-conscious brain which makes most decisions. Further, confirmation bias means that our minds automatically focus on reasons that fit in with our existing beliefs and so we are prone to jumping to conclusions that align with our belief system.

Similar to this is the Causation Bias which is our tendency to see a cause and effect relationship in a situation where none exists. This is especially the case where we find a correlation and assume a causation even though there is no known reason or there to be causation.

How to counter the narrative fallacy?

Establishing a strong hypothesis for an experiment based upon scientific evidence before you proceed is an important strategy as this helps us avoid hypothesizing after the results are known (HARKing). Further, be disciplined with data collection and the length of your experiment to avoid cherry picking data points. When deciding how long to run your test ensure you factor in the length of the business cycle and avoid stopping the experiment before you have both a  high level of statistical confidence and a low error rate (usually below 5%).

Avoid communicating changes in conversion rates for tests that don’t reach full statistical confidence. This just encourages people to create narratives that are not based upon reliable data. Unfortunately some marketers who do not understand statistics will put optimisers under pressure to this, but it should be refused on the basis that it will result in narrative fallacies.

Finally, focus on what action you are going to take as a result of the experiment, rather than thinking about why the result happened.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

How To use Google’s Search Console To Boost Conversions

Google’s Search Console is Free!

Budgets are often very tight with start-ups and yet it is important to have visibility of how your business is performing in the digital space.  When I advise start-ups on how to optimise their website or app the first thing I do is set them up with Google’s free Search Console tool. Unlike many free solutions the Search Console provides webmasters with a  comprehensive set of tools to inform and improve a site’s performance from an SEO, user experience and conversion perspective.

What is the Search Console?

Previously called Webmaster Tools, the Search Console is a fantastic free site performance tool that seeks to give webmasters the information they need to effectively manage and improve their digital experience. Without this tool set up you will be largely in the dark about many aspects of your site’s performance. Indeed, many companies end up needlessly  paying out a lot of money to SEO agencies for simple tasks that they could manage themselves if they had known about Google’s Search Console.

Once you have Search Console set up you will be in a much stronger position to set SEO targets and understand many of the issues that may be holding your site back in Google search. It can also help you improve the user experience by resolving errors and usability issues.

How do I set up Search Console?

All you need to do is login into an appropriate Google account and go to webmasterstools/home   and “Add a property” within the Search Console. Then follow the simple instructions to confirm your ownership of the site.

The easiest way of doing this is often inserting some code into the header of your site before the closing </head> tag. Alternatively, if you have Google Analytics on your site you can also use that to validate your ownership of the site. If you get into difficulties just contact your website builder or designer for assistance.

Initially you won’t have any search data to look at but you can check the console for any signs of errors or usability issues identified by Googlebots. These are the programs or spiders as they often called that Google uses to crawl your site to understand the type of content you have and index pages for Google search.

The Dashboard:

 

The dashboard of the Search Console provides a useful overview of the health of your site. This includes site errors, DNS errors, server connectivity issues, URL errors, page not found (404s), and a graph of the total clicks over the latest 28 days. This is great, but you can get much more detail about your site by digging into the left-hand navigation menu.

Image of Google Search Console Dashboard

Search Appearance:

This includes structured data which helps Google understand the mark-up of your pages so that it can add rich snippets (or Schema.org) and other information to your search result. Rich snippets describes the structured data mark-up that webmasters add to HTML to enable search engines to better understand what type of information is present on a web page. So, rich snippets are the visible result of structured data that appears in SERPs.

Image of Data Highlights page from Search Console

You can add structured data to your site using a plugin for WordPress.org such as JSON-LD. You can also add structured data to your page using the Data Highlighter tool  (see above) which you can access in the Search appearance section of the navigation.

Rich cards provide data to Google about events, products, or opportunities on your site. Google has five types of rich cards; recipes, events, products, reviews and courses. The Search Console provides sample mark-up for each type of card and a Structured Data Testing Tool to validate your mark-up.

The HTML Improvements tab informs you about any issues related to your page tags. Whether it is missing title tags, duplicate title tags and whether title tags are too long or too short.

Accelerated Mobile Pages provides you with data on errors relating to your AMPs and informs you how many AMPs have been indexed by Google. It also allows you to test AMPs and then submit them to Google for indexing.

Image of Accelerated Mobile Page test in Search Console

 

Search Traffic:

Under this section you can view Search Analytics which provides data on search results, including key words, clicks, impressions, CTR and average position. This information is essential for understanding how successful you are with SEO and identifying key words where you have good authority. Use the data on your average ranking for keyword phrases to inform new content development to build on areas where you have good authority and to understand which words have the most potential from a volume perspective.

Image of Search Analytics in Search Console

This section also shows how many external links there are to your site and who is linking to what content. This information is crucial in understanding how effective your link building strategy is and also what content other sites are most interested in. External links are important to your SEO strategy because they are one of the few ways that Google can tell how well regarded your content is to other web users. It also helps direct more traffic to your site and explains why so much effort is put into link building.

However, be careful about placing links to your site on random blogs as Google is looking for links from sites with a good authority and may potentially penalise you if it becomes aware of such activity. However, where you are getting lots of external links to your content from good authority sites this suggests you should explore creating more content on this topic to capitalise on the interest shown.

Search Analytics also provides additional information on internal links, security issues, international targeting (useful for segmenting content by language) and mobile usability issues identified by Google. Mobile usability is especially important to monitor as Google continues to give more and more priority to mobile users.

Google Index:

Index status confirms the number of pages on your site that Google has indexed and so can be found via the search engine. Blocked resources tells you about pages where the Googlebot can’t access important elements on your page and so Google may not be able to accurately index the page. Remove URL allows you to hide URLs from search engines as the page may contain out-of-date information or may just be obsolete for whatever reason.

Crawl:

The Crawl section provides you with data on errors detected by Googlebots when crawling your site. Although page not founds (404 errors) may not harm your SEO ranking it can damage the customer experience and so it is important to monitor crawl errors on a regular basis.

Generally I would advise initially deleting all the page not founds for both desktop and mobile. You can then check back in a few days to see which ones have been replicated since you removed them from the console. Many 404 errors don’t recur as they are not even correct URLs and so this way you can concentrate on those that matter.

This section also shows how many pages on average are crawled by the Googlebot. But don’t wait for the Googlebot to crawl your site if you have new or revised content to index. Use the Fetch as Google function below to test how Google crawls and renders a page on your site. This identifies whether Googlebot can access a page on your site and you can then submit the URL for indexing. This is especially useful for a rapidly changing site as you don’t want Google displaying old or out-of-date content.

Image of Fetch as Google from Search Console

The Robot.txt tester allows you to edit your robot.txt file and check for errors. Robot.txt files are used to tell Google which parts of your site you don’t want to be crawled and indexed by a search engine. The Sitemap tab allows you to submit a new sitemap to Google which helps it to understand how your site is structured and assists in the indexing of individual pages by Google. It also tracks how many pages you have submitted for indexing and how many pages Google actually indexes.

The Security Issue tab shows if Google has detected any potential security problems with your site. If your site is hacked then Google provides a number of resources to help resolve the problem.

Finally, the Additional Resources tab includes 9 links to free resources such as Email Markup Tester, PageSpeed Insights, Google My Business and Custom Search. Check these out as a number of them can help improve your search engine marketing and grow your organic search traffic.

Conclusion:

When seeking to improve your SEO performance the Search Console should be your first port of call. There is little point in spending money on an SEO agency until you have fully digested what the Search Console is telling you. Even if you decide you don’t have the time or expertise to resolve all the issues identified by this tool, use the Search Console to inform and prioritise objectives for your agency to follow. Further, use the Search Console to monitor your SEO performance over time as a successful strategy should be capable of improving key metrics over time.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.