Category Archives: Website Design

How To Undertake a Heuristic Evaluation of a Website

How does a heuristic evaluation improve conversion?

A heuristic evaluation is an expert based analysis that applies experience-based techniques to identify and discover solutions to problems with a user experience. It is a structured approach to assessing an existing user design and though it offers no guarantees about being right, it is an important initial step in a systematic approach to optimisation.

A heuristic evaluation is best undertaken as a group of 3 or more experts and if possible some customers to allow for an open discussion and detailed analysis. The more experience you have with online experiments the better as they provide real evidence to support your heuristic evaluation. As optimisation is a data-informed process it is important to always look for evidence to support and refute any hypothesis generated by a heuristic evaluation.

Why should you use heuristic evaluation?

As we become more familiar with our websites or apps we become more comfortable with the user experience and often can’t see even obvious problems with aspects of the design. We also tend to become defensive when we receive criticism and less innovative.

A heuristic evaluation allows you to challenge this status quo with a structured framework and experts who have a fresh perspective of the user experience.

Recruiting customers for the evaluation team ensures user feedback is also included in the review process.

A framework for heuristic evaluation:

At Conversion Uplift we base our analysis on the Widerfunnel Lift Model because this provides an excellent framework to review a digital user experience. The model highlights the importance of the value proposition which reminds us that you are going to be handicapped if you have a weak or inferior product/service.

The lift model is a framework we use to help optimise the digital experience


So, if your product/service is deficient in some way make sure you fix that first before trying to optimise your user experience. Sometimes people think that they can use persuasive techniques to convince visitors to purchase a poor product or service. That’s not a sustainable strategy in the long-run as you won’t build up a loyal customer base.

Also define your target audience before you begin the process. It is important you have a good understanding of the goals and possible use cases of your customers or prospects. If you have developed buyer personas these are useful when considering such factors as relevancy, anxiety and segmentation.

1. Value proposition:

Begin by taking a look at what your site tells the visitor about your value proposition. Assume your visitors don’t know anything about your brand, what does your homepage or landing page communicate about your proposition? You should also ask:

  • Why should users come to your site rather than a competitor’s?
  • What’s unique about your brand?
  • What tangible features does your brand communicate?
  • What incentives and offers are there to attract new customers?

Psychological goals:

As an addition to the model we have added psychological goals. These are those implicit motivations, such as belonging, power and self-development that drive our attention and behaviour.

We use the Beyond Reason implicit goal model which is based upon the latest research from the fields of psychology and neuroscience. Try and identify important psychological motivations by listening to how users feel about your product or service or by conducting market research (see implicit association test).

Psychological motivations drive attention and much our behaviour.
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.


Intangible benefits:

Next consider what evidence you have on your site to demonstrate intangible benefits such as credibility (e.g. professional reviews & awards) and social proof (e.g. testimonials and customer ratings). These can be powerful drivers of behaviour, especially if your user’s decision style is characterised by copying experts or their peers (see Decision Styles).

Image of testimonials from and Google Analytics

You should also review how your tangible costs are communicated and consider how you use packages as anchors (e.g. whether you show the most expensive first). Do you use exclusive pricing, are delivery costs clearly visible and could you use the power of ‘free’ to improve how costs are communicated?

2. Relevance:

Understanding who your visitors are and where they come from is key to relevance.  Check source relevance, the relevance to ads they may have seen, keywords that they may have used and search mode patterns are easily recognisable. Relevance can be improved through:

  • Targeting – Direct ads to most relevant landing page.
  • Dynamic customisation – Insert dynamic headlines or text snippets to improve the scent trail.
  • Standardization – Aggregate target segments into larger, similar groups to allow testing the overall value proposition.
  • Target audience relevance – Does the message meet prospects needs and  expectations and does it appeal to them?
  • Segmentation – Are you using customer value or behavioural targeting?
  • Call-to-action relevance – Are visitors ready to buy/register – what allowance is there if they are not – is relevant information available?
  • Tone relevance – Users respond differently to words, images and design according to their demographic characteristics.
  • Navigation relevance – Is it intuitive and can visitors find what they are looking for?
  • Competitor relevance – How does competitor’s value proposition and messages influence your conversion rate?
Image of homepage with different CTAs for separate user goals
Image Source:

3. Clarity:

Clarity helps minimise mental processing by reducing the cognitive load for visitors. Begin with evaluating how clear your value proposition is communicated and the prominence of your call-to-actions. When evaluating clarity consider the following elements:

  • Information hierarchy – How well is content organised on the page and via navigation?
  • Page-level hierarchy – Does eye-flow and content hierarchy aid decision making? Are all key messages above the fold?
  • Design clarity – Does it reinforce the value proposition, facilitate communication, promote content, legibility and readability?
  • Eye-flow clarity – Does it guide visitor’s eye or block its flow?
  • Image and colour clarity – What do they communicate?
  • Visual consistency – Are you following major web conventions?
  • Call-to-action clarity – Do you lose early and often?
  • Copy writing clarity – Have you tested headlines and support claims with evidence? A lack of evidence can lead to friction in the user journey.

4. Anxiety:

Unless you try to deal with anxiety your site will suffer from friction as anxiety can undermine trust and lead to visitors delaying decisions. To minimise anxiety it is necessary to consider the following points:

  • Privacy – Do you keep information requests to a minimum, justify the information you request and reassure visitors of your trustworthiness?
  • Forms – Have you moved optional fields to a thank you page?
  • Policy – Summarised privacy policy using plain English?
  • Usability – Allow for user mistakes & errors?
  • Error handling – Serve error messages adjacent to field & provide prompt feedback?
  • CAPTCHA – Use software to prevent bots rather than CAPTCHA?
  • Browser compatibility – Test on all major browsers & operating systems?
  • Technical problems – Check & solve technical glitches as these lead to a loss of credibility?
  • Page not found – Minimise 404 errors and display user friendly 404?
  • Effort anxiety – Are offers easy to redeem/use?
  • Fulfilment anxiety – Do your messages reassure users?
  • Security – Do you display familiar security seals when appropriate?
  • Fine print – Legal asterisk losses credibility & small print can ring alarm bells.
  • Brand reputation – Do you display third-party credibility indicators to reduce anxiety?
  • Delivery promise – Do you set clear expectations & clear fulfilment promise?
  • Guarantees & returns – Do you offer guarantees (e.g. money back) to reduce fulfilment anxiety?

5. Distraction:

A busy design with little white space and unnecessary content can be very distracting for users. It’s important that you communicate a compelling idea or key message to get your user’s attention. First impressions count and this is why the visual layout above the fold is a primary determinant of new visitor perceptions of your site. When considering distractions look at:

  • Find the most common user screen size – Do you design pages based upon user’s monitor size and not your designer’s screen?
  • Background – Do you use background textures, asymmetrical designs and complex graphics in backgrounds?
  • Where now – Is the starting point of the user’s journey obvious?
  • CTAs  – Does the design create a focused eye flow towards a single, prominent CTA?
  • Messages – Does your design focus on a single, clear message to minimise mental processing?
  • Irrelevant content – Do you have ads or existing customer content that is irrelevant to some users?
  • Navigation bars – Have you removed unnecessary navigation on landing pages or is your navigation sticky?

6. Urgency:

This is about considering if there is anything that will help motivate users to make an immediate decision. There are two types of urgency, internal and external urgency.

Internal urgency is dependent upon how the user feels and their needs or situation. This is more difficult to  influence, but we should make allowance for it if we can. Amazon for example uses the “Buy Now” CTA to allow users who are impatient to shorten the user journey and accept the default settings (e.g. one day delivery and related charges).

Image of product page with Buy Now CTA
Image Source:

External urgency refers to how marketing can influence or persuade users to make a decision now rather than later. This could be the use of a limited offer period for a promotion to create scarcity and use loss aversion to motivate visitors to take action now. Points to consider include:

  • Create internal urgency – Use an emotional appeal using descriptive copy and evocative imagery or create an aspirational story that resonates with visitor’s desires.
  • Scarcity – An explicit offer period creates an urgency to act, limited access offers or special editions also create scarcity. The fear of loss is also important motivator.
  • Respond with urgency – Treat customer enquires as time sensitive. Research indicates that contacting a lead within 5 minutes has 100 times greater success rate compared to if they are contacted after 30 minutes.

Ryanair uses scarcity with a flash sale to create urgency. The email clearly states that the sale ends on a specific date to encourage users to act now.

Image of flash sale from
Image Source:

What next?

Once you have completed your heuristic evaluation you should list out all the areas of interest (AOI) you identified for each page in a spreadsheet. There is a good chance that you will have more AOI’s than you can deal with at once. Whether this is the case or not you should go through each page and priorities the AOI’s so that you can focus on the most important aspects to improve your conversion rate.

You can use the prioritisation process that I outline here to determine how you treat each AOI. The important thing here is that you present your findings and recommendations to key stakeholders to get their buy–in and agreement on your priorities.


Conducting a heuristic evaluation is a valuable step in the optimisation process. It should be used to bring in experts from outside web team and if possible include customers or prospects.

Using the Widerfunnel Lift Model provides a great framework and gives everyone permission to be as critical as they can be of the existing user experience. This can help challenge some of the sacred cows, such as brand guidelines, that can prevent the business moving forward.

A heuristic evaluation can be especially useful when your website does not have sufficient traffic to run A/B and multivariate tests. But don’t use it in isolation. Always follow a systematic approach to optimisation as I outlined in my post on the 8 steps of conversion rate optimisation.

Here is a link to a cheat sheet for your own evaluation.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

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,,, and 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 Use Google 5 Day Design Sprints?

What I learned from a Google 5 day sprint

I was recently asked to use my expertise in user behaviour and conversion optimisation to contribute to a Google 5 day design sprint run by New Haircut. It was a very intensive, but enjoyable five days working on a new digital concept. It’s a great way of making rapid progress with a digital project and so I would like to share my thoughts on making the most of this process.

 What is a Google 5 day design sprint?

It’s basically a framework for rapid development and testing of a design prototype to challenge assumptions and create a user experience that meets agreed business objectives.

It achieves this by bringing together the business owner/decision maker with other key stakeholders and people with relevant expertise (e.g. product and conversion experts) and skills (e.g. UX designer). A suitable member of the CRO team should attend the workshops as they can provide valuable insights for both user motivations and what influences online behaviour. The process at a very high level comprises:

  1. Preparation:  Briefing and recruit 8 participants.
  2. Day 1: Develop a team-wide understanding of the challenge and visualise it using a simple user journey map
  3. Day 2: Team members individually sketch their solutions
  4. Day 3: Each member votes on the most compelling solution(s) and the UX designer visualises the whole user experience through a storyboard.
  5. Day 4: Create a realistic working prototype.
  6. Test the prototype with at least 5 prospects and record detailed reactions and feedback.

The framework for designing a user experience is very effective at making rapid progress with an idea. However, before proceeding you need to have agreed a clear vision and completed research to understand the market, users and the competition as otherwise the sprint is likely to lack direction. It’s important you have a specific problem that requires a solution. 

The Home Depot (THD) for example used a 5 day design sprint to generate and develop ideas for a new personalised homepage. The vision was to design a page that would dynamically deliver relevant content based upon targeted user segments. They defined their business goal as follows:

“Homepage will act as a personalized dashboard that serves relevant content to each customer and can be accessed from anywhere.” – Source: The Home Depot, 2017

OK, so you’ve got a high level appreciation of what happens during a a 5 day sprint. How is this implemented in reality? If you want more details of how a 5 day sprint progresses  read on as I have broken the process into 7 stages:

 1. Preparation:

 The workshop preparation is very crucial for the Sprint’s success. This begins by selecting up to eight participants from different areas of the company including marketing, product, design, conversion and IT/platform to provide an understanding of technical limitations. You should also consider recruiting external expertise if necessary as it’s important to get different perspectives on the challenge and possible solutions.

A briefing document can then be circulated to all the participants to explain the nature of the challenge, the desired outcome of the sprint and the agenda. The logistics, such as location, resources available and food should also be confirmed. Personally, I also find it useful to do some preparatory research on related subjects such as looking at how other sectors deal with the challenge and refresh my knowledge of the conversion related topics that might be needed.

2. Understand:

On day one it’s good to re-iterate the vision and discuss the overall goal of the sprint to ensure nothing significant has changed. During a warm up session each area has the opportunity to brief the team on their area of responsibility so that everyone understands the specific business, marketing, design and technological challenges faced by the sprint. This should include feedback on the customer and the competitive landscape.

Image of sprint questions to be answered on a flip chart
Image Source: New Haircut


As an external expert my briefing focussed on user motivations and how they are goal driven. I used the BJ Fogg model to outline a useful framework to consider when designing a user journey.

Image of BJ Fogg's behavioural change model
Image source: BJ Fogg


During these talks each member of the team wrote down “How might we” question on post-it notes to capture thoughts and ideas generated by the discussion. This kind of question encourages participants to challenge existing ways of thinking and find new solutions to the problems the group is faced with.

After all the briefing sessions have been completed it is time to vote on the “how might we” statements. Each person in the team gets three dots to vote with and the sprint owner is given six dots.

3. Define:

This stage involves defining the nature of the challenge in more detail such as creating buyer personas and identifying the individual steps of the customer journey. The user journey map is especially important as it allows the team to identify which step or steps they want to prototype and test with users.


Often the team will also generate a design principles list. This comprises adjectives that we would like customers to describe the product or service. At this point the decision maker should be ready to select three “how might we” statements as targets for the prototype.

4. Diverge:

This step is based upon the view that group brainstorms aren’t effective and so team members work individually to generate ideas for possible solutions. But as research suggests that our first idea is often not the best solution, this process uses the power of iteration to improve on our initial thoughts.

Each participant is asked to sketch a potential UI to get started. We were then given an additional seven minutes to sketch a further seven potential UI solutions. This activity helps generate lots of different potential solutions to the problem.

Image of outputs from the sketching exercise
Image Source: New Haircut

Participants are then given 30 minutes to sketch out all relevant UI screens for either mobile or desktop. This can be based upon any of their iterations they sketched in the 7 minutes. All user journeys are then displayed on a wall in the workshop room for everyone to review.

5. Decide:

Each member of the team now votes for their preferred solution(s) by placing dot stickers on the sketches on display. The project owner also votes but they have a different colour sticker to show their preferences.

Image of voting on UI sketches
Image Source: New Haircut


Each member of team is then asked to choose another person’s design to walk though and explain to the rest of the team. After each user journey sketch is discussed the person who designed it explains their thinking behind the design.

The project owner then decided which elements of the different customer journey sketches we would take forward. However, some sprint leaders use the “Risk vs Reward” scale to evaluate each popular solution. This shows what’s easy to implement and important to customers so that the team can decide which designs to prototype.

Image of storyboard in Google 5 day sprint
Image Source: New Haircut

We then create a storyboard of the chosen design iterations to be discussed with the team. This allows everyone to visualise the whole user journey that will be prototyped and tested.

6. Prototype:

Here the team was split into two groups. One group worked on the design of the prototype and the second group wrote the copy for the designs. It’s important to produce a prototype that is accurate and professionally designed to ensure it is clear and easy to test. Otherwise the danger is that feedback will be overly influenced by usability and design matters that will be resolved before the product is launched.

7. Validate:

The final day of the workshops is spent watching around 5 to 8 usability tests undertaken using the working prototype. Although the number of participants may be small this kind of study can help validate whether your proposition and user experience are delivering what you set out to achieve. Usability testing is especially good at helping to refine the user journey flow, identify shortcomings and challenge assumptions.

During each session we wrote down thoughts and ideas  on post-it notes.  We then placed  these notes on a whiteboard which was divided up into the individual stages of the prototype user journey and other relevant categories (e.g. the proposition). This provided the backdrop for our final discussion about what we had learned from the user testing and how we might change the prototype and the proposition as a result.


As a conversion rate optimiser I have often been expected to help develop new concepts or product enhancements without the time or budget to validate the assumptions behind them. The 5 day design sprint provides a great opportunity to develop a concept using quick validations without using too much scarce resource.

Technology now allows us to create quick prototypes for minimal cost and by incorporating user testing into the sprint we can obtain timely feedback to assess the potential for the solution we’ve developed.

The process avoids early stage projects getting stuck in the bureaucracy of an organisation and breaks down silos by recruiting participants from across multiple departmental functions. From a conversion optimisation perspective it is also beneficial because it puts the customer needs at the centre of the process which is not always the case with new ideas and enhancements.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

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, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.

The Myth of The Average User

Beyond The Average User!

Averages are everywhere in digital marketing. Mobile designers use average thumb size to determine button height and project teams often base decisions on the average user. Many metrics are also based on averages  such as click-through rates, open rate, conversion rate and average basket value. Whether we like it or not most websites are designed for the average user. But is there really such a thing as an average customer or visitor?

Should we use averages for design purposes?

Well, back in the 1940’s the US air force had a serious problem. For some unknown reason pilots were frequently losing control and crashing their air craft. This was of course a period of tremendous change with the advent of the jet engine. Air craft were getting much faster and more complicated.

Initially pilot error was blamed as planes seldom suffered from mechanical breakdown. But attention soon turned to the cockpit design. This was based upon the average physical dimensions of hundreds of male pilots measured in 1926. Was it possible that the average dimensions of pilots had got bigger over the past twenty odd years?

Data informed decision-making:

In 1950 they decided to find out. Researchers at Wright Air Force Base in Ohio measured over 4,000 pilots on 140 dimensions of size, including average torso length, arm length, crotch height and even thumb length. Almost everyone thought the new measurements would result in a better designed cockpit that would reduce the number of non-combat accidents.

However, a 23 year-old scientist, Lt. Gilbert Daniels, who had recently joined the Aero Medical Laboratory from college had a different theory. He had studied physical anthropology at college. Daniel’s thesis had involved measuring the shapes of 250 male Harvard students’ hands.

Although the students were all from similar ethnic and socio-cultural backgrounds, he noted that their hands were very different in size and shape. Further, when he calculated the average hand size he found that it did not match any individual’s measurements.

“When I left Harvard, it was clear to me that if you wanted to design something for an individual human being, the average was completely useless.” – Lt Gilbert Daniels

To prove whether or not he was right, Daniels selected ten physical dimensions that he thought would be most important for cockpit design.  Using the data from the 4,063 pilots who had been measured, Daniels defined someone as average if their measurements fell within the middle 30% of the range for each dimension.

He then compared each individual pilot to the average he had calculated.  Most of his colleagues expected the vast majority of pilots to be within the average range for over half the dimensions. But in fact Daniels analysis discovered none of the 4,063 pilots measured managed to fit within the average range of all ten dimensions. Even when he selected only three dimensions fewer than 3.5% of pilots were within the average size for all three dimensions.

Implications for digital marketing:

Daniel’s concluded that any system that is designed around the average person is doomed to fail. There is no such thing as an average user and so we need to stop creating users or personas based upon averages.

This creates a problem for website designers and optimiser because websites are normally designed for the average user. Most websites display identical content for all visitors and yet people have different intentions and goals they wish to meet. Treating everyone the same based upon some illusionary average person is highly toxic and dangerous when it comes to design and conversion rate optimisation.

How do we individualise the user experience:

If one hundred users go to the Amazon website they would each see a different version of the Amazon homepage. This is because Amazon understands the benefit of adjusting the customer experience in according with the user’s past behaviour and intent.

Amazon uses real-time content personalisation and behavioural targeting to serve a version of their site that responds to each visitor’s unique needs. This generates huge benefits for the likes of Amazon because visitors are much more responsive to a website that adjusts to their intent and interests than a generic site that does not respond to their individual needs.

Personalisation can take many forms, but the main criteria often used include demographics (e.g. gender or age), purchase history, device, media consumption, source of traffic, service history, browser, engagement and psychographics.

When I mention using these criteria to web developers they often tell me that it’s “difficult” or “complex” to target content using such characteristics. This might be the case if you rely on developers to build content, but if you have an enterprise web analytics platform or an A/B testing solution it can be relatively straightforward to set up and test personalisation criteria.

With the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) based personalisation tools there is scope for even greater sophistication. Companies that invest in AI are likely to benefit from first mover advantage because the technology lends it so well to personalisation. Don’t be left behind, start investing now as Amazon and won’t wait for their competitors to catch on to the potential benefits of using AI for personalisation.


Many organisations like to use buyer personas to help their teams visualise real customers. However, if these are based upon average users they will again be potentially highly misleading. Ensure your buyer personas are based upon real customer segments using research and analytics to guide you. Although personas do have their critics, they can be useful if organisations go through an evidence based process to create relevant  customer personas.

What about analytics?

When it comes to tracking digital performance many organisations still rely on measuring averages. But just as averages are dangerous when designing a website, they are also meaningless and potentially highly misleading when it comes to measuring performance of a website. Let’s take the average conversion rate that many companies monitor on a daily basis.

  1. Not all visitors are able to buy: 

When I was asked to set up conversion reporting for an online gaming brand I noticed their web analytics were tracking all visitors, including from countries that were prevented from signing up.  No one had thought to set up filters to exclude visitors from outside the company’s business area and so the conversion rate included many visitors who were unable to sign up.

BJ Fogg’s behavioural model point’s out that users will only complete a task if they have both the motivation and ability to complete a conversion goal. In addition, there also needs to be a trigger to nudge the user towards the goal. If any of these criteria are lacking a user will not convert.

When considering a web analytics report consider if these criteria are present. If possible remove those users where they clearly lack at least one of the criteria. For example if there is no prominent call to action on the page for an individual customer segment (e.g. logged in users) exclude these visitors from your analysis.

Image of BJ Fogg's behavioural change model
Image source: BJ Fogg

2. Users access your site in different ways:

Your conversion rate is highly likely to vary significantly according to how visitors access your site. The type of device used often reflects different intent and behaviour.  Unless you analyse your conversion rate by device and browser you will probably be missing large variations in your key metrics that may provide valuable insights to help improve sales or lead conversion.

Image of Blackberry smart phone and other devices

3. Source of traffic matters:

Similarly the source of traffic often has a massive impact on conversion rates and it is fairly common for the average conversion rate to plummet if you pump lots of money into a new untested source. Affiliates and paid search (PPC) can promise large amounts of extra traffic to a site, but the intent of these visitors can sometimes be very poor.

A TV campaign can also boost traffic volume significantly, but again the intent of such visitors will be different from existing traffic sources. This makes it is essential to break down conversion rates by source of traffic to understand performance at a more granular level.

  1. New and returning visitors:

In one company I worked for the managers noticed that a majority of visitors were returning visitors and assumed that many of these would be existing customers. They were concerned that including returning visitors in reporting was reducing their conversion rate as customers couldn’t sign-up more than once. So they decided to exclude returning visitors from their calculation of the conversion rate.

But as I pointed out to them when I became responsible for the brand, returning visitors normally convert at a higher rate than new visitors.  This means that you should look at new and returning visitor conversion rates separately, but use new visitor conversion as a guide for paid campaigns. When I looked at the number of returning visitors to the site it was also clear that relatively few were existing customers and so they were not having a significant impact on the conversion rate.

  1. Visitors are at different stages of buying process:

Most websites have a mixture of informational content and transactional or lead generation content. This reflects visitor intent and that visitors are at different stages of the buying process.

Not everyone is ready to buy when they arrive on your site and so it is necessary to create custom segments in your analytics to allocate people to an appropriate group. As a result you should set appropriate success metrics for customers at different stages of the buying process and not expect your overall conversion rate to be identical for all visitor segments.


Averages are a tidy way of dealing with statistics, but as Daniel’s identified over half a century ago, they are meaningless and potentially fatal when designing systems or interfaces for people to use. It’s time we stopped designing websites for average users and employed personalisation and behavioural targeting to better meet customer needs.

We shouldn’t be a surprised that according to Millward Brown Digital, Amazon Prime converts around 74% of the time compared to an e-commerce average of 3.1%. Even non-Prime Amazon converts around 13% of the time. This is mainly because Amazon is so good at testing and personalising their site to be responsive to individual customer needs.

Amazon runs literally thousands of A/B and multivariate tests a day to achieve this level of sophistication. This is because to find high impact experiments you have to try a lot of things. Most average retailers run a few hundred tests a year.

As a result companies such as Amazon, Netflix and also use highly segmented web analytics reports to explore user behaviour. They don’t rely on average conversion rates because they hide real insights.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

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, and 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  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Why Should Marketers Target the Subconscious Mind?

Should we trust our gut instinct?

If you believe everything written about the human mind on social media you would think that people are incapable of making a good decision. We are certainly prone to various cognitive biases that influence our judgement. Our herd instinct also leads us to copy the behaviour of others when faced with uncertainty or when we want to associate with a specific group of people. But surely these human traits have protected us from danger over thousands of years?

Evolutionary psychologists suggest that many of our subconscious and automatic responses relate to  our instincts for survival. We do not act randomly or irrationally as some writers suggest. Indeed, research by Alex Pouget, Associate Professor of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester, discovered that people can make optimal decisions, but only if the choice is made by their sub-conscious mind.

Our subconscious mind has a rational purpose, to protect us from danger and respond quickly without depleting mental energy. People don’t consciously decide to ignore advertising banners or stop to read the copy. These are decisions we automatically make to ease the process of navigating a site. They allow us to focus on what our brain decides are the more important tasks at that moment in time. This is not irrational, it’s what has made our species so successful.

Unlike Kahneman, Pouget decided to avoid asking direct questions of people to determine how accurately they responded to problems. Instead, he studied the decisions that are made by our non-conscious brain and showed that in the vast majority of cases we make the best decision we can dependent upon the limited information available to us.

Many decisions though are not solely reliant on our unconscious brain because our conscious and subconscious brains co-exist together. Further,  our conscious mind (see System 2) is often triggered by visual and audio clutter,  contextual issues and problems that require mental attention. This means that people have short attention spans and are very impatient. This has a significant impact on the digital user experience.

Implication for CRO:

  • Avoid clutter and competing calls to action to enable our sub-conscious brain to focus on achieving active goals. There are too many calls to actions and a poor visual hierarchy.
  • Use visual cues to assist users find content or calls to action. Avoid flat design as this lacks the cues that users have become accustomed to seeing on a website.
  • Follow established web conventions as these allow users to navigate from expectations set by their experience of other websites.

This product page from is probably one of the most cluttered pages I’ve come across. It has so much content that not all of it fits fully on the page.  This will ring alarms with a visitor’s brain and cause System 2 to take control.

Image of homepage as example of poorly designed page


What directs our attention to brands?

A mass of psychological and cognitive research since the 1970s has shown the goals that direct much of our behaviour can be activated without a person’s conscious intention or choice. Indeed, experiments have shown that much of our cognitive processing is triggered without the conscious deliberation and control once thought to be necessary. Further, these studies also demonstrate that behaviour driven by goal achievement can also operate without conscious thought.

This suggests our sub-conscious brain is hard-wired to automatically search for opportunities to satisfy psychological needs and make decisions that are in our best interest. It is at the very heart of our decision making. When our brain identifies a good opportunity it generates a positive emotion and the brain automatically seeks a decision to enable need fulfilment.

Implication for CRO:

  • Avoid over reliance on rational benefits as these may not get the attention of user’s subconscious mind.
  • Always include implicit or psychological needs in your online communications as these grab attention more than purely rational benefits. Individual psychological goals are outlined later on in this post.

This example of a product page from is much cleaner and includes strong social proof messages using customer ratings and reviews.

Image of product page with prominent ratings and reviews
Image Source:

How important are emotions?

So how important are emotions when people are making decisions? The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio observed patients with damage to the ventromedial frontal cortices of the brain which controls our ability to feel emotions.

The brain damage did not influence patients’ basic intelligence, memory or their capacity for logical thought. However, through a series of experiments Damasio found that the loss of their capability to feel destroyed a person’s ability to make decisions that were in their best interests.

Damasio suggests that our thoughts mainly comprise images which include ideas, words, smells and real or imagined visual perceptions. Through our experiences these images become “marked” with positive and negative feelings.

These feelings are associated (directly or indirectly) with bodily states. If a negative marker is associated with an image of an expected outcome it sounds an alarm and our brain will steer decisions to avoid that potential outcome. Damasio suggests that these emotional markers improve the accuracy and efficiency of our decision making process.

‘‘In short, somatic markers are … feelings generated from secondary emotions. These emotions and feelings have been connected, by learning, to predicted future outcomes of certain scenarios’’ (Damasio, 1994, p. 174).

Implication for CRO:

  • Use copy and images that convey strong emotions to encourage engagement and create momentum in decision making. People are less likely to make a decision about a purchase if they don’t feel strongly about your proposition.
  • To encourage a positive feeling towards your brand consider using humorous images or copy to put users in a good frame of mind. Kahneman found that even getting people to smile improved their mood and how they responded to stimulus.
  • Use images of positive outcomes on your website to reduce the risk of your content generating negative associations.

How important is the sub-conscious mind?

The evidence suggests that up to 95% of our purchase decisions are directed by  sub-conscious mental processes. So, if the non-conscious and emotional part of our brain is so important to decision making why do we rely so much on engaging the conscious mind questions about our products and services?

Does it matter if our customers say they like our website or our product if the non-conscious brain is driving behaviour? How do we target the sub-conscious mental processes that direct our attention and ultimately decide what we buy?

Do we buy what we like or like what we buy?

There is substantial evidence that the activation of the brain’s reward centre predicts purchases provided the pain induced by price is below a certain level. As an example, neuroscience research by Gregory Berns and Sara Moore from Emory University compared activation of the reward centre of teenagers who were listening to songs from relatively unknown artists with subjective likeability.

By analysing sales of these songs over a three year period they were able to show that activation of the reward centre was much more predictive of future sales than subjective likeability. What this confirms is that it is the unconscious brain that directs much of our attention and not our conscious liking of a site or brand. Unless our communication engages with the non-conscious brain it probably won’t be noticed by the conscious mind.

Implication for CRO:

A purely rational argument may be completely ignored by the sub-conscious brain as it may fail to activate the brain’s reward centre.  Emotionally engaging messages help us process information more quickly and improve the efficiency of our decision making.

How do we target subconscious motives?


Psychological motivations drive attention and much our behaviour.
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.

Marketing consultancy, Beyond Reason, have combined the latest psychological and neuroscience research to develop a comprehensive model of implicit (psychological) motivations. As the evolution of the brain occurs over thousands rather than hundreds of years these psychological goals relate to basic human needs and social interaction.

The Beyond Reason model has eight overriding implicit motivations which cover the areas of certainty, belonging, recognition, Individuality, power, self-development, sexuality and physiology. The model is summarised in this graphic and as you can see each motivation divides up into four individual categories.

Beyond Reason use a form of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure the relative strength of different psychological goals. As people are not fully aware of their psychological motives we cannot use traditional forms of market research that rely on self-reporting. Focus groups in particular can be highly misleading as people try to rationalise what brands or communications mean to them when in reality much of our mental processing is done by our subconscious.

Implication for CRO:

Identify what your visitors’ most important implicit motivations are to align your value proposition and communications with customer’s underlying needs.

Image of lifestyle experiences
Image Source:

Airbnb for example, have created lifestyle experiences to emphasise how their proposition appeals to the desire to be a non-conformist. This may partly explain why the average Airbnb customer’s stay is significantly longer than your average hotel stay.

Indeed, Airbnb’s own research suggests that many of their clients wouldn’t have gone on their trip if they hadn’t been able to use Airbnb. So Airbnb have actually grown the hospitality and travel market as well as disrupting some elements of the sector.

Image of homepage showing sponsorship of BGT
Image Source: uses its sponsorship of the Britain’s Got Talent TV show to provide evidence of stability and certainty. People understand that sponsorship of a major TV show like BGT costs a lot of money and that it will take a long time for the company to get a return on their investment.  This is known as costly signalling and demonstrates to people that are investing for the long term and plan to be a major player in their sector in the future.


Attention, preferences and loyalty are most strongly driven by our unconscious mind. Visual and audio clutter on a screen can disrupt this process and lead to mental depletion.

Emotions help people process information and make decisions faster and are involved in all our decisions. Communications that target subconscious goals are more likely to be effective than purely rational benefits as they tap into  human emotions.

Given the sub-conscious mind is responsible for most of our purchase decisions it is pointless asking people to rationalise brand preferences.  Because of this focus groups are a misleading and inappropriate method of research.

It is still necessary to have strong logical reasons to purchase your brand, but they need to be aligned to implicit goals. Because people are social animals the behaviour of others, including traditions and norms, can also heavily influence the perceived value and rewards from a brand.

Finally, optimisers should aim to simplify the user experience to retain attention and build satisfaction and loyalty. Too many choices and complex decisions disrupt our subconscious decision making (System 1 thinking)  and can result in mental depletion.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

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, and 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  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 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.


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, and 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  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored!

Why is CRO failing to get traction in the boardroom?

Why is it that Amazon Prime converts 74% of the time on and yet the average Ecommerce retailer only converts 3.1% of the time according to research by Millward Brown Digital? Even non-Prime customers convert 13% of the time. Bryan Eisenberg, CRO expert and thought leader suggests that Amazon’s secret is to do with developing a culture of customer centricity and experimentation that is deeply embedded in the culture of the organisation from the C-suite level down.

Given the success of Amazon with applying the principles of CRO to drive business growth, why is it that in many organisations there is little, if any, engagement with CRO at the top level of management?  This is the conundrum that the book ‘The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored’ seeks to answer.

Why should you read it?

Although this is a short read, Paul Rouke, from CRO agency PRWD has managed to gather contributions from 17 global CRO thought leaders, including Chris Goward , Roger Dooley, Brian Massey, Peep Laja, Bart Schutz, Oli Gardner, Talia Wolf and Tim Ash. These are people with a huge amount of experience of successfully applying CRO strategies in large ecommerce organisations.

The book focuses on the key reasons for the frequent failure of organisations to fully benefit from CRO and why optimiser often find themselves stuck in the “trough of disillusionment”. I’ve previously written about the Dunning-Kruger effect and how initial success with CRO often creates overconfidence in the optimiser’s skills and abilities to create successful tests. But, what is the cause of the despair that many CRO teams experience?

Image of Dunning-Kruger Effect for conversion rate optimisation
Image source:

A number of reasons are given for the lack of  adoption of a CRO philosophy at the executive level, including the name and a lack of change management skills in the team. But the most frequent cause mentioned is the perception of CRO as a short-term tactic rather than a strategy for long-term growth. As a result CRO thinking is often not embedded into the culture of the organisation from the C-suite downwards. This automatically relegates CRO to a tactical solution to short-term problems that can be handled by a silo in marketing or some other department in the organisation.

“The majority of marketers run meaningless tests without any strategy or hypothesis and the results are hard to analyse and scale.” – Talia Wolf, Founder & CEO of Conversioner

What you won’t get from this book is any insight into the detailed process of CRO or tips for experiments to increase your conversion rate. This book is solely about why CRO has failed to be successfully embedded into the culture and processes of many digital organisations.

“The ego of the optimisers makes 90% of tests results a lie.” – Andre Morys, Co-founder & CEO at Web Arts

I have to agree that this is a problem. Being an optimiser in an organisation where there isn’t a culture of experimentation and senior management support is limited can be soul destroying. It feels like there is a constant battle to get resources and co-operation from product, MarComs and marketing. As a number of contributors mentioned you need to employ change management skills and engage internal stakeholders first before trying to communicate your strategy.

Who should read this book?

The problem outlined in the book is clearly with communicating the benefits and implementation of CRO to executive level management. As such this is an ideal read for C-suite management and CRO managers seeking to establish a culture of CRO within their organisation.

What next?

The book should be a wake-up call for many CRO specialists and executives who are allowing their sites to fall further behind the leaders in customer centricity and experimentation. According to RedEye companies spend on average $92 on driving traffic to their website and only $1 to convert those visitors. This is not a sustainable approach because sites will increasingly be squeezed out of the market by the likes of Amazon, and other companies that recognise the benefits of a strategic approach to CRO.

I firmly believe that with the development of artificial intelligence based optimisation tools, such as Sentient Ascend, this time is rapidly approaching. Such technology is speeding up the optimisation process by allowing massively complex multivariate testing. Companies that embed CRO into their culture as a strategy for growth will exploit these tools much more effectively than organisations using CRO as a tactical tool. So maybe the book should be re-named “The Growth Strategy That You Can’t Afford To Ignore”?

Value for money:

As I have already mentioned the book is on the short side and with such a star-studied list of contributors you might have expected more detail on how to implement a strategic approach to CRO. However, the contributors do make some very valid points and there are plenty of other books to read if you want advice on the optimisation process. Given the potential audience of CEOs and CMOs brevity is also a bonus. They won’t want to read anything too detailed or long about  what they perceive to be a specialist subject.  So my advice is buy the kindle version for your smartphone or e-book reader as it’s only £2.99.

Thank you for reading my post and if you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored

For more details you can go to a dedicated landing page about the book.


Related posts:

CRO Strategy – 9 mistakes companies make with website optimisation

CRO Implementation – How smart is your approach to conversion rate optimisation

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, and 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  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

9 Mistakes Companies Make With Website Optimisation


There is plenty of advice on Twitter and other social media about how to improve website conversion. ConversionXL, Widerfunnel, and Hubspot to name but a few. Despite this many organisations continue to make some basic errors that seriously limit their ability to improve sales and revenues from website optimisation. Below are some of the most fundamental mistakes that organisations tend to make:


1. Don’t fully integrate web analytics tracking and reporting.


Image of Google Analytics behaviour flow report

The saying that if you don’t measure something you can’t identify if you are improving or not rings true with website optimisation. Unless you have reliable web analytics monitoring and reporting of your KPIs from the beginning to the end of the user journey you will never really know how your site is performing and what impact tactical changes have on your revenues. You will also struggle to prioritise effectively as you need web analytics to identify the value of each step in the user journey.

They are also important to validate test results and check the robustness of uplifts. A/B testing solutions only support certain browsers and devices and need to be configured to ensure they cover all important use cases. What if your test doesn’t include an alternative user journey? Your web analytics can help identify these kinds of problems so that you can fix them.


2. Use Before & After Measures.

Image of water flow


This kind of measurement is meaningless as conversion rates continuously fluctuate due to many factors. Competitor activity, website bugs, traffic source, advertising spend and the weather are just a few of the factors that can cause your conversion rate to change.  Because of this you can only be confident that a change to your website is the reason for a significant uplift or decline in conversion by running an A/B or multivariate test.

These kinds of experiments allow you to isolate the impact of the difference in the customer experience by having a control. This is achieved by randomly splitting traffic to both experiences and so all other drivers of your conversion rate should influence both variants equally.

3. Don’t A/B Test.


There are many reasons why organisations don’t conduct A/B testing, but the lack of such online experiments will hinder your ability to reduce acquisition and retention costs because you will struggle to learn from your mistakes or clearly identify what improves conversion.

A/B testing allows you to remove subjective opinions from decisions about which design or journey is better at meeting the organisation’s objectives. They also help to develop an evidence based decision making culture which is key for the success of digital optimization. 

4. Focus on a single measure of conversion.


Image of tape measure

Website optimization should never be about a single metric. There is no point optimising to improve sales if as a result of a change revenues decline due to a reduction in average basket value. For conversion rate optimization to benefit the bottom line it is necessary to look at the whole user journey, for both new and existing customers.

For ecommerce this means monitoring metrics such as average order value, number of items per basket, sales from returning customers and returns. You will then get a better understanding of how the new customer experience influences user behaviour and your bottom line.

With content marketing a high bounce rate is often seen as an indication of low engagement. But because of the way most web analytics calculate bounce rates and time on page this may not be the case. Google Analytics defines a bounce as a single engagement hit and counts the session time for such a visitor  as zero. What if some of those visitors are spending a number of minutes engrossed in a post and then exit your site?  Are they not engaged?

To understand true levels of engagement you need to also track how long bounced visitors spend on a page.  This can be done by adding some extra script to your GA tag and setting up events in your web analytics. The point here is that no single metric will ever give you the whole story and it is essential to delve deeper into customer behaviour to truly understand the impact of changes you make to your site.


5. Don’t have a dedicated team for CRO.


Image of skills required for website optimization

Without a dedicated conversion rate optimization ( CRO) specialist (or a team in larger enterprises), you will not achieve the full potential from optimization because generalists will struggle to develop the necessary skills or allocate sufficient time to the task. CRO requires specialist skills (e.g. web analytics and heuristic analysis) that take time to acquire and benefit from regular updating.

Developing strong hypothesis for testing is also a time consuming process. As your A/B testing programme matures you may notice that between 50 to 80% of tests will fail to generate a significant uplift in conversion. As a consequence you will need to run more tests to generate a reasonable return on investment (ROI).

Marketing generalists should be able to deliver landing page and other tactical tests, but they are unlikely to have the time or expertise to develop a more strategic optimization roadmap that is required to achieve the full benefits of CRO.  Generalists also often fail to develop strong hypothesis or have the time to build more complex tests as their time horizons may be too short.

It is essential to have a continuous supply of strong test ideas in your pipeline to achieve the necessary scale of testing required for a good ROI. A centralised CRO team can easily allocate the necessary resource for the development of test ideas and ensure priority is given to websites or pages with the most potential for generating a high ROI.  This minimises duplication of effort and facilitates the sharing of test results with all CRO specialists in the organisation.

A fragmented approach to CRO is prone to failure because of its  inefficient use of resources, often resulting in duplication of effort, and a focus on tactical rather than strategic optimization. A lack of co-ordination and control of CRO also tends to prevent the implementation of a structured approach to optimization as each area of the business develops its own ad-hoc processes and KPIs. This is generally a recipe for disaster and a reason why CRO will fail to deliver a good ROI.

6. Put junior people in charge of optimization.


Image of boy dressed in business clothes

A/B testing is a form of experimental research and as such should be seen as part of your innovation strategy. It needs to be headed up by a senior person to deal with all the obstacles that prevent change in an organisation. A junior person is unlikely to have the clout to deal with office politics, and almost certainly won’t have the authority to optimise product, sales channels, Customer Services or prioritise development projects.

This is something that few companies get, for website optimization to achieve its true potential you need to look at the whole customer journey, and optimise all the inputs, not just the new customer sign up to buy process. Look at the companies that excel at optimization, the likes of AmazonSpotifySkyscanner and Netflix, they all have senior managers in charge of their testing strategy and don’t limit themselves to new customer journeys.

7. Don’t formulate hypothesis.

Image of a question mark

When generating ideas for A/B tests it is important to base the experiment on a hypothesis about how and why the change will influence user behaviour. A hypothesis explains the rationale and also predicts the outcome of the test so that you know which success metrics to set for the test.  The hypothesis needs to be based upon evidence gathered from an agreed optimization process rather than pure gut feeling as otherwise you may struggle to learn from successful tests. Without strong hypothesis A/B testing becomes a random and undirected process that will fail to generate the full benefits of CRO.

8. Don’t have a clear strategy for testing.

6 types of tests to optimise a website page


There is no point relying on low hanging fruit and best practice to direct your A/B testing as these sources will soon run dry and you will lack direction in your testing programme. It’s important that you follow a recognised and structured optimization process that draws insights from a range of sources, especially from customers.

And yet companies are often more concerned about competitors and copying their ideas than listening to customers. This is a serious mistake and will lead to a sub-optimal testing programme. Customer insight and usability research is vital because to develop strong testing ideas you need to have a good understanding of customer personas, goals, tasks that lead towards goals and how users interact with your website or app.

Otherwise how can you expect to develop hypothesis to predict user behaviour? You could be making assumptions about customers which might not have any basis in reality. The more insights you can get from your customers the greater the chance you have of identifying a significant problem or improvement you can make to improve conversions.

9. Think it’s all about design.


Image of homepage

I’ve heard this so many times, but do your visitors really come to your site to look at its design? I don’t think so. People come to your site to complete a task and are rarely interested in your “cool” design. In fact most conversion rate experts agree that all too often ugly wins over beautiful designs.

Just look at Amazon.comCraigslist and, none of them are what anyone would call aesthetically great designs. They are functional, they offer a great deal maybe and most importantly of all they let users do what they want to do without having to think too much.

Designers may be good at composing a new webpage or app screen, but that doesn’t mean they understand your main customer segments or know what improves conversion and revenues. Optimization needs to be a collaborative process and so designers must work closely with CRO experts to deliver new experiences based upon evidence rather than subjective opinions. Otherwise you will end up with new experiences that are based upon design principles rather than CRO insights and there will be limited, if any, learning from the process.

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 optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  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  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Do Single Page Websites Suck?

 What are the pros and cons of single page websites?


Are single page websites a passing fad that participants
will in time see as a ghastly mistake or do they have a place as a practical alternative to the traditional large website? Now I’m not questioning the role of single page websites as landing pages for promotions or product announcements, special project, showcasing a portfolio or a website with minimal content.

What I’m talking about here is the site with more than a few
pages, where there is more than one layer of navigation and where there is a need for an archive of content and a desire for social sharing.  The idea of a single page website is to reduce clutter by only serving essential content, but does this desire for simplification actually lead to greater user frustration because too much content has been removed and it makes sharing of content difficult?

What is a single page website?

Initially one-page websites used a single web page to dynamically load all pages at once and this allowed the user to scroll endlessly
to view different sections of the site. However, increasingly such sites use CSS3 and AJAX to display navigation menus that take users directly to the section they are interested in.

What are the benefits?


Less is more is undoubtedly true sometimes, there is a danger that we present too much information to a user at any one time which can create cognitive overload. One-page sites reduce the amount of decisions users have to make and remove the need for complex navigation to direct visitors to specific pages.

Easier browsing & no dead-ends:

As all content is on a single page there is no need for multi-layer navigation and there is no risk of the user getting lost or finding a page with little or no content. This should speed up the browsing process and reduce the number of decisions users have to make.

Easier to keep content up-to-date:

Having substantially less content to maintain and all of it on a single page significantly reduces the resources required to maintain a website. This should make the site less costly to run and allow what content is shown to be kept more up-to-date.

Mobile friendly:

It is much easier to ensure your website is mobile friendly when you only have a single page to optimise. Since Google decided to give preference to mobile friendly websites this has probably given a big boost to the appeal of one-page web sites. However, if all your content is not accessible by mobile devices (e.g. you use flash for some elements), then this is only a sticking plaster to hide a much bigger problem that needs addressing.

Image Cameo one page website
Image Source:

Focus on key content and messages:

The limitation of only having a single page to communicate your proposition and get a user to take action means that you have to keep to only essential messages and content.  This may be a good discipline and is why single page sites are often used for landing pages to improve conversion rates. The risk for a multi-product website though is that some visitors require more detailed information about a product or service before they are willing to make a decision. For these types of visitors they are likely to become frustrated as they won’t be able to find the content they are looking for.

Take visitors on a journey:

Single page websites are often designed to be more dynamic and aesthetically pleasing by encouraging visitors to scroll through the website. They encourage visitors to go on a journey rather than the traditional static experience of just looking at content on separate pages. Designers may create movement by triggering images or copy to appear as the visitor scrolls down the page.


Source: Cameron’s World:

 Google SEO page rank applies to the whole site:

If your whole website is designed for a single product in mind then you might get a small improvement in SEO ranking as Google will apply your page rank to the whole website. If you have more than one product or service this will not be the case and it could be detrimental to your search rankings.


The disadvantages:

So there are a number of potential benefits of creating a one-page website, but what about the potential drawbacks?


Longer load speed:

Trying to serve all your content on a single page means that your site could take longer to load and this may result in a higher bounce rate and lower conversion as a direct consequence of this change in the performance of your site. It could also affect your Google rankings as the search engine penalises slow loading sites. This should be a major concern for any marketer as people are impatient and don’t like to wait more than two or three seconds for a website to load.

Image of
Image Source:


Growing content:

A one-page website gives you little flexibility to add new content and so if you want to add new products or services you are going to be severely limited. It also doesn’t allow you to build up an archive of content, such as a blog. You will have to send visitors to another site to give them access to such an archive, which is not a great user experience and your main site doesn’t benefit from the SEO value of such content.

Reduced engagement:

When a visitor first comes to your site it is important that you have sufficient content to draw them into your proposition before you can expect them to take action. Indeed, many first time visitors are not ready to sign up and this is why returning visitor conversion is often higher than new visitor conversion.

People need to be engaged and persuaded by relevant and interesting content. However, if you only have a one-page site, you can only have a limited amount of content in each section and there are no other pages to navigate to. This could mean you will experienced a fall in engagement and time spent on your site as there is substantially less content to encourage visitors to browse the site. This may or may not be good for conversion, it will very much depend


SEO Keywords and Content Relevancy:

Google and other search engines look for relevancy of content to match with the search query.  With a single page website you
may be ok with your primary keywords, but it is likely that you will struggle to achieve relevancy on sub-topics and terms that would rank better on their own pages.

Indeed, Google’s Hummingbird update aims to match the meaning of a query to relevant content, not just simply keywords on a page. By restricting yourself to a single page to cover all your products, features, benefits, technical details, testimonials, partners, market segments and more –  you are  severely limiting your opportunities to optimize content for SEO relevancy.

Image of homepage
Image Source:


Sharing Specific Content Is Difficult:

We live in the age of social media sharing, whether it is photos, video, quotes, Tweets, stories and more. However, one-page websites make it difficult to share specific content or snippets of a post because they are not designed with this in mind. You always land on the same page and if you have a blog you will have to take them away from your main site to where your blog is hosted.

Understanding Engagement Points:

As the whole site has a single URL it makes it difficult to use web analytics to identify what content your users are interested in and how they browse your site.  You will also see an increase in your bounce rate as there is nowhere else for your visitors to navigate to on your site.  However, this does not really help you understand how well visitors are engaging with your content.



Source: Braking Badly:


There is undoubtedly a role for single page websites as landing pages and for promotions, special projects, web toys, stand-alone games etc. However, given the number of potential disadvantages they exhibit they may not to be a sustainable alternative for many multi-page websites.  We should though look to validate these risks with data as many innovations are at first dismissed because they don’t conform to existing best practice, rather than because we have data to support the status quo.

May be in time the major limitations can be resolved or mitigated, but at present they create significant challenges for multi-page websites. Users are not going to thank you if they can’t find the content they are looking for and are most likely to disappear off to a competitor website. 

At the same time designers of multi-page websites could look to incorporate some of the innovate ideas and discipline of single page websites. Learning to keep content to an absolute minimum for example might reduce some of the distractions and information overload that multi-page websites often suffer from.  Single page websites definitely have their place and are pushing the boundaries for website design.

Thank you for reading my post. If you found it useful please share using the social media logos 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 optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  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.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

6 Myths About Website Optimization That Must Die

 Misconceptions About Website Optimization:


Website optimization is a test and learn process. If we restrict our ability to learn by listening to commonly held misconceptions about website design and performance we risk undermining the whole optimization process. These myths must die!

1. It’s about improving the customer experience.

Why are people so obsessed with improving the customer experience?

It is certainly desirable for the user experience to meet certain standards (e.g. relevance, clarity, loadspeed, accessibility etc), as otherwise this could harm conversion. But it should not be an isolated goal though, there has to be a return on investment as there is always an opportunity cost for any expenditure.

We could all create a fantastic user experience by giving free access to everything on our site or reducing prices below the market rate. But unless this provides a net-gain to the organisation we could quickly go out of business.


Disney understand this and invest in creating a compelling customer experience because they know it allows them to charge more than your average theme park and people will return for more of the same. On a website we have the advantage that we can precisely measure the ROI though A/B and multivariate testing. Use these tools to ensure that money spent on improving your website has a positive and sustainable impact on important business goals.  Otherwise use the money for something else that generates a positive return.


2. Conversion is about good design.

What defines a ‘good’ webpage design is all too often based upon the subjective opinions of people within an organisation rather than the behaviour of visitors. People visit a website because they perceive that it can assist them in achieving a current goal, whether it is your content or the products/services sold. If your design doesn’t assist with this process then it won’t matter whether it is a flat or simple/minimal style because customers won’t return.

Design is definitely important as it helps to create a good first impression, and it ensures content and navigation are presented in a way that is clear and engaging to visitors. But design is an enabler to facilitate the user journey, and ultimately if a beautifully designed page does not help and encourage visitors to complete a key task of some kind it has failed.

Data should determine if a design is up to standard and not the subjective opinions of managers and designers. As Brian Massey points out often “ugly wins” when it comes to A/B tests:

“The specifics of design change from audience to audience. Probably the only general rule, and it’s a bit of a heartbreaker, is that too often we find ugly wins when we do our split tests.” Source: Brian Massey Shares insights on landing pages designed to convert


3. Consistency of design is crucial. 

How many times a day do you hear “consistency” given as the reason for why an element on your website looks like it does or why it even exists on a webpage? This is not an answer, it’s an automatic response that hides a lack of thought and is often due to lazy thinking or design.

Sure, if it is to align with a web convention this helps to meet
customer expectations and assists navigation or understanding it may be relevant. But, do you really think your visitors are bothered if your call to action button on one page is a different size or colour to what it is on another page? Do you think they even notice if your website is engaging and has compelling content? I think not.

Your visitor is trying to complete a task and that should be
your priority, not that everything is consistent.  If consistency is relevant and helps the customer meet their goal then great, but not if it is solely for your gratification and doesn’t assist the customer achieve their goal. Consistency for its own sake should not be a goal and should be challenged unless you have evidence that it is beneficial to both your customer and your organisation.

4. Brand guidelines must be adhered to.

This is like saying that you won’t use oxygen to breathe underwater if you think the colour of your tank clashes with your swimming gear. If we follow this rule we are basically saying that brand guidelines are more important than the organisation’s goals (e.g. revenue generation). This is not a healthy place to be in and it could contribute to the failure of the business.

Brand guidelines should be ‘guidelines’ and not set in stone. They are often based upon subjective opinions and may have little evidence to support them. Like any aspect of a business they need to have a return on investment (ROI) and if that ROI is not proven it needs to be challenged and if necessary changed. Otherwise the business and the brand will not evolve in response to changing customer needs.

5. Use tips and best practice. 

If it was this simple we would all just follow Amazon. Websites are unique ecosystems that attract their own set visitors who do not behave in a generic and predictable way.

Where you don’t have the traffic to test on a website you may have to implement changes that you have tested on another site. However, don’t assume it will necessarily work. Make sure you have appropriate KPI monitoring in place just in case it doesn’t go according to plan.

Similarly, tips about conversion rate optimization may give you ideas for making improvements, but again test them before you implement to ensure they work on your website.  The key to any successful website optimisation strategy is that you follow a systematic and proven process to identity and develop tests that have a high chance of making a significant impact on your business KPIs.

Following tips and best practice alone will just lead to a random testing programme that lacks focus and will probably fail to deliver consistent and sustainable results.


6. It’s all about the conversion rate:

Your key conversion metric is just one indicator of many that shows how your site is performing. It should not be viewed in isolation
from other KPIs, such as average order value, returning customer orders, or overall revenues. Any improvement in your conversion rate needs to be sustainable and provide an overall net gain to your business as otherwise it is meaningless. You should never rely on a single metric to measure success as websites are complex systems with many dependencies.

If Website optimization was all about the conversion rate we would all use dark user design patterns to trick visitors into making decisions that may not be in their best interest. Having worked in Gibraltar for a year I frequently had to book flights though Ryanair’s website. Their website employs such practices but it didn’t make me want to use them again if I had any choice.  Such practices are
counter productive in the long-run and can damage your brand’s reputation.

The Ryanair website’s travel insurance section is probably the worst culprit of this approach. This states that “If you wish to purchase travel insurance please select your country of residence”. Ok, so why is travel insurance in the country of residence drop-down menu? Below the list of passengers there is a further instruction; “If
you do not wish to purchase travel insurance, please select ‘Don’t insure me’ in the drop-down box.”



Ok, but the “Don’t insure me” is not at the top of the list of options because that would be too easy.  Nope, it’s between “Denmark”
and “Finland”. You also have to select this separately for each passenger because it is under country of residence. This is not an enjoyable experience and ironically it probably makes you more alert for any other money-making tactics that Ryanair might

So don’t get obsessed with your conversion rate. See it as one of many important indicators of your site’s health. Ensure you don’t trade off short-term gains for damaging the long-term sustainability of your site.


Thank you for reading my post. If you found it of interest please share this post by clicking on 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.

Recommended reading: You Should Test That! by Chris Goward.


  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  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  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Why Is Your Mobile Only User Journey Leaking Cash?

image of NASA Globe in Florida


The Rise of The Mobile Only User & My Experience with the NASA Tour Mobile Ticketing Journey


Since 2014 mobile devices have been the most used device to
browse the internet. But this is only a transient stage in the shift towards the dominance of mobile devices. The real change is mobile only, where users rely solely on their mobile devices and never return to a laptop or PC. According to research by Google more searches now take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan. Facebook reported that over half a billion users only visited their site or App via a mobile device.

Image of a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and headphones


What does this mean for website optimisation and conversion?
From a user’s perspective there will certainly be even more potential for distractions and interruptions as people begin, re-start and end conversations whilst online.  However, the most important change is that they may never see your desktop site again, particularly if they use your App. So, if it’s not on your App or mobile optimised site it won’t exist from their perspective.

This was highlighted to me recently when I visited Florida. Between theme parks I browsed on my mobile phone and decided it would be great to go on a tour of the NASA facilities at Cape Kennedy.  I had noticed that a SpaceX rocket launch was due during my stay and went to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) site to ensure I wouldn’t disappoint my family (i.e. me).

After initially being confronted with a mobile responsive desktop site, I was taken to the KSC Complex “Mobile Ticketing!” page. What caught my eye here was the “Scan phone at entrance” message. Brilliant, just what I needed as I did not have easy access to a printer at the hotel.


image of Kennedy Space Center mobile ticketing site


I clicked on “Start Shopping” and selected the Daily Admission and Up-Close Explore Tour. Before I continued to the basket I browsed the information on the Up-Close Explore Tour. It promised to take us behind the scenes of the complex with commentary from a space expert.  Happy with this I then completed checkout and received a confirmation email with links to my mobile tickets.


image of Kennedy Space Center admission ticket


I took screen shots of each of my tickets and carried on with my holiday. When the day arrived I scanned my tickets at the turnstile and noticed lots of other people doing the same.

However, when I went to the information desk to register for the tour I was surprised to see people handing over their passports.  Sure enough, when it was my turn to be served I discovered that NASA requires all non-US residents to present their passports
to qualify for the Up-Close Explore Tour.

Unfortunately for me this was only displayed on printed tickets, not the mobile friendly tickets that I had used. Neither was it mentioned in the tour details or anywhere else on the mobile only user journey.

Although we still had a very enjoyable day it did spoil our experience and confirmed the importance of mapping out and testing the whole mobile only user journey from beginning to end. It also resulted in a refund of just over $100.

I had four people in my party, but we could make a conservative estimate that around 10 people a day are caught out by the lack of
messaging on the mobile only user journey.  That’s $250 a day or $1,750 a week in refunds. Over a year this would be a loss in
revenues of around $91,000
. This is certain to rise as mobile only journeys become the norm.

It is only a matter of time before mobile only experience becomes the most common user journey for many online businesses.  For this reason now is the time to ensure integration of mobile-friendly versions of all mission-critical assets, including promotional material, customer service and other key elements of the user journey.

Mobile only users expect to be able to access the same content as other visitors, but not on a site that was clearly designed for desktop users.  Asking them to pinch and zoom as they navigate around a site designed for a much larger screen is going to irritate and frustrate them. If you want to retain mobile only users you need to start
delivering a great customer experience for whatever device they decide to use. All relevant content needs to be easily and quickly accessible from a mobile device or else your competitors will probably take these customers away from you.

User habits and preferences are rapidly changing. Unless you act now to comprehensively integrate and test to meet the demands of the mobile only user there is a high risk that your customer journey will leak cash.

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 optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  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  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 You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.