7 Marketing Myths About Online Conversion Optimization!

image of ebay.com homepage

Myths About Website Optimization:

As online businesses have matured and competition for customers has intensified, conversion optimisation has become an increasingly important method for improving the customer experience and ultimately conversion. Developing a program of online experiments using split (A/B) testing and Multivariate Testing (MVT) enables organizations to identify which new elements of a customer experience have the desired impact on visitor behaviour. This normally follows at least three stages:

  • Understand current visitor behaviour by using web analytics to identify conversion funnels. This helps you to prioritise pages and journeys to review. Start with the low hanging fruit by focusing on pages with the highest levels of traffic and the highest conversion rates.
  • Align webpage objectives with the business goals. This process can help identify low priority objectives that can either be removed or  their prominence reduced  to allow the focus to be on the high priority objectives.
  • Review priority web-pages and customer journeys to develop test hypothesis to increase conversion (or whatever the desired behaviour is). It is important to segment customers (e.g. new vs existing) as you will need to understand how changes to your website affect different key groups.

Up to this point I find everyone appears to be in agreement about what needs to be done. However, when it comes to developing  hypothesis for online experiments I have found there are a number of myths that some marketeers have about conversion optimisation.

1. You should follow the rules and principles of conversion optimization.

One such rule I’ve heard is that the fewer clicks to conversion the better. Taking this particular myth first, if more clicks allows the visitor to build trust and engagement with the site, then the opposite may be true. Context is so important in improving the customer experience. There are no rules in conversion optimization, just hypothesis that need testing. Always seek to challenge existing thinking and don’t make assumptions about the customer journey unless you have evidence to back it up.

2. Apply best practice User Experience (UX) design.

By definition best practice is already out of date and the online world is rapidly changing. I don’t dispute that elements of best practice generate useful ideas, but if we always considered best practice websites would rarely change. Good UX design is an important driver of hypothesis but this doesn’t always align with current best practice. Be bold, be different, test new ideas as otherwise testing will have very limited benefits.

3. Do what customer and usability research tells us to do.

Usability testing tells us if customers can complete a task or transaction, but it can’t tell us how visitors will behave in a real purchase situation, when they might be searching for a dress to impress at a party and their own money is at risk. Real life is very different from a usability test. During research observe what people do and listen to the language they use as this is often more illuminating than their opinions of a particular webpage. Behavioural economics tells us that people are poor at predicting how they will adapt to change and generally are resistant to and dislike change. One of the easiest mistakes you can make is taking what customers say and applying it in a literal way. Listen, observe, and interpret according to a recognized framework of consumer behaviour.

4. Rely on gurus and online tips.

Anyone who needs to tell you that they are a guru probably isn’t one. Whilst online tips and advice from ‘experts’ can generate ideas, every website is unique. Your visitors and their motivations should reflect your value proposition. You also need to consider your business model and how you generate income. Companies that are serious about online experiments, such as Amazon and Booking.com, don’t allow their conversion team members to write blogs or tweet about their experiments. They  don’t want to give away a competitive advantage. So, ensure your experiments are tailored to your website and your visitors to ensure they have the highest chance of success. I have some recommendations for additional reading at the end of this post.

5. Focus on the design of a single competitor or best in class website.

It’s good practice to browse other websites as you will see design features, interfaces, tools etc that  generate ideas for testing. However, never fall into the trap of focusing or modelling your site on a single website. This is dangerous as their value proposition, and visitor profile is likely to be different from yours. This means they have good reason to present information and interact with visitors differently from you. Their customers probably also have very different expectations to your visitors. Further, there is no guarantee that they have optimized their site unless you have evidence to support this assumption.  Focus your efforts on better meeting the needs of your own customers and seek to create a user experience that reflects their aspirations and motivations.

6. If we didn’t experience a fall in sales last time we made a change to our proposition/offer it is not necessary to test the impact of a further change!

There is still a tendency among some marketeers to want to change elements of the offer without first testing. They tell you that they didn’t see a drop in sales last time they made a significant change so they don’t expect one this time. This misses the point as many factors affect sales and unless there is a control it is impossible to isolate how sales might have moved if the offer had not been changed.

Further, it is critical to understand how different segments respond to  changes to really understand its impact on the business. Inertia caused by factors such as brand loyalty, perceived risks of switching suppliers and habit formation mean that existing customer behaviour may not change immediately. The danger is that existing customer behaviour (i.e. no change) will hide changes in new customer behaviour as most sites are  dominated by repeat visitors.  Potential customers may be put off from signing up to your offer and you will never be aware of it unless you conduct a controlled online experiment.

7. If a small change is made to just one element of a customer journey we don’t need to consider conversion for the journey as a whole, just the element we are changing.

Websites are ecosystems. Every element is linked to other parts of the system through their interaction and influence on visitor behaviour. However, people who have been tasked with changing one element of a journey can be prone to focusing on their change in isolation of the customer journey as a whole.

This can have serious consequences if not challenged as even a minor change early on in a journey can significantly influence visitor expectations and behaviour. This can result in a reduction in overall conversion that is not anticipated by those working in silos. To avoid such situations ensure that marketeers appreciate the importance of measuring all the relevant conversion rates, including the overall journey conversion rate.

Thank you reading my post. If you found this useful please share with the social media icons on the page.

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

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

Recommended reading:



  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • 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@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.


Why do good ideas take time to be adopted?

What is not invented here bias?

Even in the digital age new ideas and innovations can take a long time to be adopted by organisations that could benefit from them. Why is this? One explanation is the “If I (or we) didn’t invent it, then it’s not worth much.”

This is sometimes referred to as Not Invented-Here bias. The behavioural economist Dan Ariely conducted experiments to understand why this occurs. He identified that:

  • People appreciate their own ideas a lot more than solutions invented by others.
  • When they have created something themselves people become much more attached to it and can greatly overvalue the potential importance of the idea (see IKEA effect).
  • We sometimes discover ideas ourselves that may have been invented elsewhere. If we adopt the idea we soon overvalue the usefulness  of the idea as if we had invented it ourselves.
  • Not Invented Here bias does encourage a high level of commitment and determination to see our ideas through to the end.

The danger is when people become obsessively attached to their own ideas and fail to objectively evaluate ideas from other sources. Thomas Edison fell into this trap when he tried to dismiss and discredit alternating current (AC) as an alternative to direct current (DC) that he had invented.

Ironically the inventor of AC was working for Edison when he developed it. This meant Edison could have taken the patent for AC. However, Edison was so protective of his own creation that he failed to see that only AC could provide the scale and scope needed for the extensive development and use of  electricity in the modern age.

Companies can also establish cultures focused towards their own beliefs, terminology, processes and products. The overuse of acronyms in companies can facilitate this process by giving the impression that there is a secret insider knowledge and it enables people to talk in a form of shorthand.

This risks creating a kind of inner circle of people who are too internally focused. They over value the importance of their own ideas as they perceive themselves to be privy to all the key information. This kind of culture discourages ideas from outside the company from being taken seriously as the group becomes too insular.

How can we avoid not invented here bias?

It is difficult to stop people using acronyms in business as they are ingrained in our business culture. However, we can help ensure they do not become a hindrance by ensuring diversity and independent thinking in our committees, working-parties and steering groups etc.

  • Avoid having groups that draws people from a single area or department as this will encourage a silo mentality.
  • Always include some people from outside the areas directly affected by a project as this will bring some diversity and independence to the group.
  • Rather than seeking a consensus use voting to make decisions as this will help to avoid ‘groupthink’.
  • Have a clear agenda and select a leader who takes an active role in ensuing everyone has a chance to contribute

The independence of each member of a group is important for intelligent decision making as it helps prevent the mistakes that some people make from becoming correlated. Independent thinking individuals are also more likely to have new information that may be valuable to the group overall. This is summed up well in this quote:

“One key to successful group decisions is getting people to pay much less attention to what everyone else is saying.”   James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds.


We see evidence of not invented bias all around us and it is difficult to avoid because we naturally like and defend our own ideas. However, being aware of the bias does allow us to identify simple ways to avoid it having a detrimental influence on our decision making. Avoid looking for consensus when making group decisions and encourage diversity to guard against groupthink.

Thank you reading my post. If you found this useful please share with the social media icons on the page.

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

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


Further reading:


  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.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.

Why Should You Stop Using Focus Groups?


Why are focus groups problematic?

When I first set out as a client-side Customer Insight Manager focus groups were frequently suggested to me as a suitable exploratory method of research. Initially this wasn’t a problem. I was new to the industry. However, over the years I gradually become more aware of their frailties. I have come across some excellent moderators. But I have also seen for myself how focus groups can be misleading and misused. The key problems I have experienced include:

  • Respondents often don’t know what they want and tend to respond more favourably towards what is familiar to them rather than what might be new.
  • Respondents sometimes say what they think you want them to say. I have observed the same respondent say completely contradictory things during a group. Seemingly to please the audience.
  • Reactions to stimulus material is highly influenced by how the material is presented and communicated. This can be made worse if the moderator isn’t equally comfortable with all the variants.
  • Respondents will over-analyse and rationalise topics (e.g. advertisements) when we are looking for their emotional response as this is often the key driver of the desired behaviour.
  • A single respondent may introduce new information into the discussion, and it can completely change the  direction of the discussion. Sometimes this can be useful, other times you wonder if it didn’t overly influence other respondents.
  • One person can completely dominate the discussion and I have observed people changing their opinions to avoid conflict or because they mistake confidence for knowledge.
  • Some respondents will not open their mouth once to contribute to the conversation.
  • They are often conducted in a completely alien environment which does not match the context of the discussion. Viewing facilities can exasperate this problem as they can create a laboratory atmosphere.
  • Discussion guides often have too many items for discussion and include closed questions. I find moderators are generally overly optimistic about getting through a long discussion guide or don’t suggest removing items to allow for additions to the guide.
A majority of our decisions are made by our unconscious brain and yet focus groups rely on the conscious, more rational part of our brain to gather insights.
Source: Freeimages.com


The industry may argue that most of these issues can be dealt with by an expert moderator. But we now have increasing evidence from behavioural economics that people are often irrational in their decision making. Humans rely heavily on mental short-cuts that allow them to make fast, automatic decisions that require little cognitive effort.

This means that our conscious mind may not be aware of what drives a lot of our decisions. Such findings support the view that people post-rationalise what drives their decision making. This leads to people creating erroneous reasons for decisions when asked direct questions. Neuroscience also supports the view that the majority of human decisions are made by this largely unconscious mind.

Indeed, it appears only a small proportion of decisions are made using our slower, more cognitive mind. This uses a lot more energy than our unconscious mind. For this reason we use this second system for complex, difficult tasks that requires a lot of thought. This has major implications for how we conduct and analyse market research. But what else can we learn from behavioural economics? Here are few key observations that have implications for focus groups and market research in general:

  • Everything is relative and people don’t know what they want until they see it in context. Priming, anchoring, and framing are strong influences on how we respond to stimulus. People like to compare things that are easily comparable, and the context of how we present items heavily skews how we respond to them. This is especially problematic for anything totally new.
  • Social norms such as reciprocation, commitment and consistency are powerful influences on our behaviour. We are more strongly motivated by social rewards than by monetary rewards. And yet most participants in focus groups are incentivised solely with cash.
image of US $100 notes
Source: Freeimages.com
  • Our state of mind affects how we respond to questions. Dan Ariely’s experiments demonstrated how men’s responses to questions are heavily influenced by how aroused they are. This begs a question for market research. If we ask a respondent questions away from the natural context of the decision does this invalidate their answers? Context is an important aspect of how we respond to stimuli and we may not gather the key insights if we divorce the research from the natural decision-making environment.
  • If uncertainty exists people look to the actions of others to guide them. People herd and like to do what other people are doing or saying. ‘Group think’ can also set in if the group is too homogeneous and the moderator seeks a consensus of opinion rather than having a show of hands. This is particularly worrying for focus groups.
  • People have an extreme tendency to comply with the commands of someone in authority. If a respondent in a group comes across as something of an authority on the subject under discussion you may have a problem.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of presentation. It sets expectations for how people respond now and in the future behaviour. This confirms my point about how people are very sensitive to how stimuli is presented. This may have implications for using mock up products or artwork rather than the finished design.
  • First impressions count. Once a price has been established in our minds it will largely determine our perception of current and future prices. This indicates how people have a natural tendency to anchor prices from past experience and can be heavily influenced by priming.

Behavioural economics challenges the validity of relying solely on asking consumers direct questions, and highlights bias that can result from group dynamics (eg herding & groupthink).  The most fundamental challenge for market research is that humans are using two different cognitive systems for decision making.

Thus, responses obtained from a person using their slow, rational system will be invalid if in reality people normally use their fast, unconscious brain to process and interact with the stimuli presented.  And what if they switch between the two systems at various points?

The consumer’s reliance on the unconscious mind for decision making and the unreliability of traditional research methods is analysed by Philip Graves in his book Consumerology: The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping (new revised edition, including a new preface from the author).

Phil suggests that the most reliable methods for understanding consumer behaviour are live tests and covert observation. Where practical I think this is excellent advice. For websites online experiments can be run relatively easily using A/B and multivariate testing. Where live tests are not feasible, there is strong evidence to suggest Predictive Markets, such as those developed by BrainJuicer, offer us a reliable alternative.

For a number of reasons we are still going to want to ask consumers direct questions, though not necessarily in a focus group format. What behavioural economics suggests to me is that we need a framework in place to increase the likelihood that our methods and analysis will uncover the key insights. This means we need to consider factors including:

  1. The mind system that is predominately engaged during the process.
  2. The state of mind and context of the process being investigated.
  3. How we present items to avoid priming, anchoring and framing bias.
  4. Existing behaviour – what habits and preferences currently exist.
  5. Emotional responses that might be engaged
  6. Social norms that may be influential

Image of Febreze from P&G

Under the right conditions direct questioning of consumers can still provide useful insights. A good example is how Proctor and Gamble investigated the potential market for Febreze. Initially Febreze under-performed and was very close to being cancelled. To identify what was holding the product back P&G sent researchers into peoples homes to observe and record cleaning behaviour.

Researchers were able to ask questions during or straight after cleaning episodes. Respondents were therefore in the right frame of mind and in a natural environment to discuss cleaning related products. What they discovered was that people were not aware of their own house odours. P&G’s strategy had been built around removing such unwelcome odours so this is explained why this wasn’t working. Further in-home observation and questioning identified how Febreze customers incorporated the product into existing cleaning habits.

This was the break through they needed as they had been trying to create a new cleaning habit for Febreze. Instead P&G was able to piggy back onto an existing cleaning habit. This resulted in a completely new advertising strategy, and P&G has never looked back. Febreze now has annual sales of over $1 billion.

For focus groups, the dynamics of groups and the environment appears to make their findings more prone to bias. As Philip Graves points out:

“The artificial nature of the research environment can also be responsible for not flagging up something that, in the real purchase environment, is unconsciously reinforced and hugely significant in determining a product’s fortune.” Philip Graves, Consumer.ology

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, once said that Apple had found good reason not to use focus groups because:

“They just ensure that you don’t offend anyone and produce bland inoffensive products.”

Does this mean that the focus group is dead? I suspect not and experiments with using gamification in focus groups have shown how we can use this technique to disrupt and counter dominant group members. What this suggests is that we should look to incorporate some of the insights from behavioural economics into the design of focus groups.

Why not try running a focus group in a kitchen environment if the topic is about cooking appliances? Use role play and gamification techniques to bring out the appropriate state of mind.  Observe body language and facial expressions, not just what people say. But most important of all don’t use focus groups as your default method of research, only use them when they are appropriate and can provide some true insights for your organisation.

Thanks for reading. I hope this blog has challenged a few myths and generated some useful ideas.

This post has been published on the GreenBook Blog market research website.

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

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

Further reading:


  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.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.



Unlocking Insights With Behavioural Economics

Can Behavioural Economics Save Market Research?

When I first started working in market research I realised that people frequently don’t say what they mean and don’t do what they say. Consumer psychology suggests that this is because our decisions are often heavily influenced by emotions, we post-rationalize the reasons for decisions and behaviour is strongly influenced by habits and preferences that become ingrained in our daily lives. Thus current behaviour is usually the best indicator of future behaviour.

So it still surprises me that some organisations spend thousands of pounds a year on surveys that ask people direct questions about purchasing decisions and intention to purchase in the future.  Businesses then wonder why such surveys fail to give genuine insights or accurately predict customer behaviour.

This is often used to question the validity of market research and the usefulness of   collecting customer feedback. Management complain that consumers are not rational and they don’t understand what they want. Perhaps ironically behavioural economics supports these views, but this is not a reason to avoid using market research for supporting decision making.

“most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context” Dan Airely

“what consumers are willing to pay can easily be manipulated, and this means that consumers don’t in fact have a good handle on their own preferences.” Dan Airely

These findings challenge conventional economic thinking, but as Dan Ariely points out in his first book, whilst humans are often irrational in their decision making, they are “predictably irrational”. This is why behavioural economics may provide a key to unlocking insights in market research. It provides researchers with a diagnostic label for each behavioural rule of thumb that people use in their decision making.

As Daniel Kahneman explains in his book Thinking, fast and slow, the existence of such diagnostic labels “makes it easier to anticipate, recognise, and understand” human behaviour.  This should facilitate researchers with identifying genuine insights about human decision making.

That is not to say that behavioural economics doesn’t challenges many of the assumptions that traditional research is based upon. This reminds me of the old research saying –  “garbage in garbage out”.  As market researchers we should continually be challenging our methods and behavioural economics may provide us with insights to improve how we conduct and analyse research. This should not be a surprise as we  have similar goals.

“..behavioral economics is about figuring out the hidden forces that shape our decisions, across many different domains, and finding solutions to common problems that affect our personal, business and public lives.” Dan Ariely, the Upside of irrationality

Behavioural economics has major implications for market research, especially for the design of research. We have already seen this with the development of new methodologies by companies such as Brainjuicer. So although behavioural economics challenges conventional thinking, market research is more likely to prosper if we embrace its insights. It provides an opportunity for market researchers to improve the value that we and our insights add to the decisions and organisations we support.

Thank you reading my post. If you found this useful please share with the social media icons on the page.

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.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk,  partypoker.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.