Tag Archives: conversion rate optimization

Conversion Optimization: How to reduce friction and anxiety in a checkout process you don’t control


Engaging in conversion optimization requires making a modification of some sort to improve conversion. But, what if there are steps in your customers’ buying journey that you can’t control?

For example, we often hear from marketers that they don’t really have the time or resources to change their shopping cart in significant ways to improve conversion. Or, if you’re in affiliate marketing, channel marketing, or simply have a go-to-market partner, you might control the beginning of the funnel but have no control over the final conversion. Perhaps you sell a product through third-party stores and distributors and have no control over that process.

I was recently in this boat myself. Not only am I a student in the University of Florida/MECLABS Institute Communicating Value and Web Conversion graduate certificate program, but I’ve been working on marketing it before the April 1st application deadline as well.

The Optimization Process

The first thing I did with the team was map out the customer journey — starting with not knowing anything about the program all the way to enrolling as a student in the program.

Now, here was the great irony. Session 2 of the MMC5436 Messaging Methodologies and the Practice of Conversion Optimization course in the program walks through the optimization process and the first, second and third steps you should take. The very first step is reducing friction and anxiety.

Reduce friction and anxiety

However, when we looked at the step in the customer buying journey with the most friction and anxiety, there was nothing we could do to reduce those elements because that step was the University of Florida application.

When friction is a good thing

The UF application necessarily has friction and anxiety, of course. After all, this isn’t a simple online training purchase; this is a real university application. It should have friction and anxiety. When you increase friction you increase quality as well. And when you have a complex process, it can induce anxiety. Unlike an online product purchase, where I assume the acceptance rate is 100% (as long as the credit card goes through), the University of Florida rejects more “customers” than it invites in, with an acceptance rate of only 46%.

When a process created for one purpose is used for another

However, our students wouldn’t be undergrads or MBA students trying to attain a complex and long degree. Since our program is a graduate certificate (essentially, an accelerated credential that only requires four master’s-level courses), we wouldn’t be using UF’s application to weed out students. Applicants only need a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and don’t have to take the GRE or GMAT, so no weeding out of students is necessary.

But, they would still be UF students, so we would still have to use the standard application. And, our audience would be working professionals in advertising, marketing and general business — so they are accustomed to a seamless customer experience.

Customer-First Marketing: Empowering customers to interact with your brand in the way that works best for them

In the previous semesters of this program, both UF and MECLABS offered, essentially, a concierge team to add the human touch to the application process to overcome this friction and anxiety.

This works well, but we wanted to add an ecommerce option for anyone who wanted to become a student without feeling like they were becoming a “lead” — these people were marketers after all.

For applicants who wanted the human touch, great. We still offer it.

But we didn’t want to force a complex “sale” for those who weren’t interested in being contacted; we wanted to empower them to apply on their own if they chose to do so.

We changed a few other things about the landing page as well to put the customer first and allow them to interact with us in the way they chose, not the way we forced them to. Originally there was an information packet behind a gate — a common and sensible practice to build a list for nurturing. We improved the packet and made it readily available for download. If you just want the information and don’t want emails from us, we don’t want your email address.

We also changed the opt-in form at the bottom of the page to be about content instead of as a squeeze page for general program information. Because if people do want to regularly receive emails from us with content inspired by the program, we want to give them that option as well.

Back to creating an ecommerce-type experience for visitors who want to apply on their own. Marketers usually think of removing elements of a process (form fields, steps, etc.) to reduce friction, but we couldn’t remove anything — everything on the application was required by the university. And we couldn’t change any wording to reduce anxiety because the application was hosted by the university. We had only one option left.

Adding copy and design to reduce friction and anxiety

We had to figure out a way to get more control over the final step of the funnel — the application —without actually getting control over it or changing anything about it. We couldn’t create our own version asking for the necessary information and sending it to UF through an API due to the university’s security requirements.

We ended up creating an Apply landing page that pulls the UF application into our landing page using an iframe.

UF app

Since the application is in an iframe, the information applicants enter into it goes directly to UF and is hosted on their server. However, by embedding the iframe on our landing page, we’ve been able to add copy and design that hopefully helps to reduce friction and anxiety in the process without the applicants ever needing to contact us.
At the top of the page, we include general copy to let potential students know what they need to apply.

And our application developer Christine Risberg created a Javascript slider that walks the user step-by-step through the UF application. This is directly above the application iframe, and the applicant just needs to click forward on the slider each time he or she progresses in the application.

Unlike most of our case studies and experiments, this is something we’re literally working on right now, so I don’t have specific results yet. But feel free to take a look at the application page and the entire landing page, and let me know what you think.

Could an approach like this work for a sales process you don’t have total control over? If you can’t remove or change elements from a conversion process you don’t control (whether your own shopping cart or through an affiliate process, etc.), are there ways you can add copy and design to help reduce the friction and anxiety in the process? Could you also use an iframe? Or perhaps you have a better approach?

Remember, there’s more to reducing friction than removing things. When that option is off the table, see if there’s anything you can add. When using copy and design to reduce friction, sometimes more is less.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

You might also like:

Learn more about friction, anxiety and the MECLABS Conversion Sequence heuristic here

The Difference Between Marketing and Advertising (and Why It Matters)

How to Make Yourself More Valuable in Your Profession

How Sermo increased the opt-in rate for a rented list by 197%

Are rented lists effective? What can I expect for a conversion rate on one? Are my emails even getting read when I rent a list?

These are all good questions, and the answer is…

It depends.

The best we can do is look at what other people have done and try to apply similar principles to our rented email list campaigns.

With that in mind, here’s one campaign run by a company called Sermo. Sermo is a physicians-only social network that charges pharmaceutical companies for access to their audience.

It begins with a rented list from Fierce Pharma.

Sermo wanted to use some survey data that they had gathered from their audience as an opt-in offer for an audience of pharmaceutical companies.

Serma pic 1

Once the audience clicked on the download button, a pop up showed that asked for email and information.

Sermo ran several tests with single article emails, and the results came up inconclusive over and over again.

What they found, however, when they looked closely at the metrics of those tests is that each campaign’s conversion rate varied widely.

Serma pic 2

That told the team that the main thing affecting the conversion rate on these emails was the content itself.

The team hypothesized that if they created a send with different content options in the same email, the opt-in rate might improve significantly. So they created a treatment email and tested it.Serma pic 3


They found a significant increase in opt-in rates for people who clicked twice on the email (their most qualified prospects).

Serma pic 4

By examining the data in their rented list campaigns and creating an informed hypothesis, the team at Sermo was able to increase email capture rate by 197% on their most qualified prospects.

Here’s the full case study for you to use in your own presentations…

You might also like:
Download the free Quick Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization
Are Letter-Style Emails Still Effective?
Email Messaging Test: 104% increase in conversion from rented list
Email Conversion and Lifecycle Messaging: How Marriott Rewards generated 86% more email-driven revenue

The Top 5 Most Shared MarketingExperiments Content from 2016

Yes, yes. 2016 was a bad year. We get it.

But it wasn’t all bad. We published some fairly exciting stuff here on MarketingExperiments. It was so exciting that a good portion of our audience found the time to share it with their followers. Just these five pieces from 2016 were shared 1,435 times.

Read on to view what our audience felt were the top five most shareworthy pieces in 2016.

#1: How Does Page Load Time Affect Conversion Rate? New Research Shows Significant Correlation

Most marketers understand that a slow page produces low conversion rates. But how significant is the correlation? How fast do customers expect sites to load? Are customer expectations for page load time changing?

Continue Reading…

#2: The Best Conversion Rate optimizers do NOT make changes to webpages…

I remember I once I designed and ran four tests in a row — two product page tests and two homepage tests — for a Fortune 500 industrial supply company, and lost every time. The designs were solid — better navigation, easier to find buttons, improved copy and value proposition — but they all lost.

When I look back at it, these four tests lost because I was trying to optimize webpages.

Continue Reading…

#3: Copywriting: 3 tips for optimizing your next direct mail campaign

It might come as a surprise, but according to research conducted by our sister site MarketingSherpa, 54% of U.S. consumers would prefer to receive regular updates and promotions in the mail. That’s the highest percentage of any other method.

While we know stated preferences and actual behavior can differ, it’s still extremely interesting that physical mail ranked higher than email.

Continue Reading…

#4: Homepage Optimization: 5 Marketing blind spots that inhibit conversion (and how you can correct them)

We all have blind spots. Some of us more than others. But if we’ve learned anything from the last 100 years or so of marketing and advertising, it’s that marketers have some of the worst blind spots imaginable.

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#5: Build a Better Home Page Strategy: How multiple objectives on a homepage increased clickthrough to a single page by 52%

In a test from the MECLABS Research Library, a large healthcare company was dealing with all of these issues and more. Their homepage was originally focused on a single objective — to get customers onto the “find a treatment center” page further down their funnel.

Continue Reading…

You might also like:

Optimizing Software Landing Pages: How to minimize anxiety and maximize conversion in a free download

Do Rotating Sliders Work? Optimizing the first 4 to 6 inches of your landing page

Ecommerce Optimization in 8 Minutes: How to increase the performance of your category pages with a clear value proposition

The Importance of Building Trust: What 2,400 consumers say about trust in the conversion process

Websites are more than digital images and copy. Websites are relationships with people. And if we seek to influence behavior, we need to understand and respect that relationship.

All sales begin with customer understanding

As with any relationship, it begins with an understanding of who the other party in the relationship is, what they want, and what they get out of the relationship. In this case, that is the customer.

So before one pixel is even coded on a website, the goal should be to understand what the customer needs and wants, and then the question becomes — how can this website provide that? Without that understanding, the website has no reason for being.

“Organizations that understand how their customers think and feel have a much better chance at meeting their customers’ needs,” Katie Sherwin, User Experience Specialist, Nielsen Norman Group, said.

Establishing trust online

But building a website that will meet customers’ needs is not enough. They must believe it will meet their needs. They must trust the website.

This is a little easier if customers already have a trusting relationship outside of the websites with the brand: “Next to website trust-enhancing elements, the ‘off-line’ vendor image and reputation have been often found to be critical enablers of virtual interactions and transactions by lowering the transaction risk threshold and reducing customer anxiety,” said Efthymios Constantinides, assistant professor, University of Twente.

If they don’t already have a relationship with the brand, one of the first things customers are doing is sizing up the credibility of the organization behind the website. Even if they do have respect for the offline reputation of the brand behind the website, they’re trying to size up the value of interacting with that brand online.

This is where the proper sequencing of give and take in the relationship is critical. “Don’t make demands at higher levels of commitment until you’ve addressed all the trust needs at the inferior levels,” Katie said.

You only get what you give

In other words, to get, you must first give. That give can be free content, for example. As Raluca Badiu, Director of Research, Nielsen Norman Group, said, “Free content is the digital counterpart of the free samples from the physical world and is an ingrained use of the reciprocity principle on the Web.”

Or it can just be an understanding of the value of the asks you’re making, before you make them. Never assume the customer understands the value; you must show the value. And then deliver on that value after a customer completes the ask.

If you don’t communicate value clearly before the ask and deliver on it after the ask, you risk hurting the relationship and your customer abandoning you like a jilted lover in a romantic relationship, pining for an understanding of what it takes to get a value exchange. Perhaps Lauryn Hill put it best when she sang, “Tell me, who I have to be; To get some reciprocity … No matter how I think we grow; You always seem to let me know; It ain’t workin’; It ain’t workin’.”

Long-term relationships

As with any good relationship, this trust must not only be built before and during a conversion, but after the conversion as well. A marriage is a bond that stays solid because of much more than one “yes” during a proposal. There is a daily evaluation of the value exchange on a very subtle level. In highly trusting relationships, it is almost infinitesimal. But in low-trust relationships, it is constant.

Customers feel the same way when considering the relationship with the brands they purchase from. They must not be tricked into the purchase, and they must feel trust even after the purchase occurs if a website is going to be a long-term, sustainable asset for a company with repeat customers.

When we asked 2,400 customers about the companies they are highly satisfied and unsatisfied with through MarketingExperiments’ sister publication, MarketingSherpa, this erosion of trust was evident. In the October 2016 survey, we asked half of respondents, “Thinking about the marketing of [company they were highly satisfied with] which of the following is true about your experience? Select all that apply.” and the other half, “Thinking about the marketing of [company they were highly unsatisfied with], which of the following have you ever experienced that makes you unsatisfied? Select all that apply.”

For highly satisfied customers, the top response was, “I consistently have good experienced with it” (56% of respondents), and the bottom response was, “It puts my needs and wants above its own business goals” (18%).

However, for highly unsatisfied customers, the top response was “[Company name] does not put my needs and wants above its own business goals” (35%).

Chart 1

Chart 1 (click to enlarge)

Chart 2

Chart 2 (click to enlarge)

Just like with the happily married versus unhappy couple — when things are going well minor slights get swept under the rug, but when things are going poorly, we begin to question the motives of the other party in the relationship.

So it is not enough to secure a conversion; you must get the conversion in a way that the customer feels served, not tricked.

For example, when researching bricks-and-mortar interactions, professors Geoffrey N. Soutar and Jillian C. Sweeney learned that, “While sales staff can act to reduce dissonance through providing information and reassurance, they should not be too pushy at the point of sale or be artificially enthusiastic when following up after the sale. Managers need to be aware of the pivotal role that sales staff play and ensure that they are supported in dissonance reducing tactics, as a failure to assess and address dissonance can have negative outcomes.”

Sweeney and Soutar are referring to the cognitive dissonance customers may feel if they have doubts after the purchase.

So how can you build trusting relationships with customers?

Put yourself in the shoes of the customer

I was reading “A Horn for Louis” by Eric A. Kimmel with my daughter. The accompanying reading guide from PJ Library asks, “Mr. Karnofsky considers Louis’s feelings when giving Louis the horn. Can you think of a time when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? Did it change the way you acted?”

A simple lesson in a children’s book, sure. But it points to a way to overcome the central problem consumers told us in the aforementioned survey — they’re highly unsatisfied when they don’t think companies are putting their needs first, when these companies aren’t practicing customer-first marketing.

So I’ll end with a rhetorical question — how do you build trust with customers?

This blog post will be worthless to you if you don’t actually put its advice into action. So (amidst the busyness of your day) really ask yourself — When have you had concerns after making a purchase? Why did you have them? What was the ultimate result?

And now think of your own marketing efforts. Can you think of a time when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? Did it change the way you acted?

This post was inspired by a reading discussion in the University of Florida Communicating Value and Web Conversion Graduate Certificate program, created in partnership with MECLABS Institute, in which I am a student.

You might also like

Transparent Marketing: How to earn the trust of a skeptical consumer
Consumers’ Trust: Looking at healthcare and politicians
Customer-centric Marketing: How transparency translates into trust

[Infographic] How to Create an Effective Testing and Optimization Plan

Editor’s Note: This is the third step in last week’s post by Adam Lapp. Here’s Adam…

Paul Cheney
Managing Editor

If you’re entrenched in Conversion Rate Optimization, A/B testing, or have read articles before from MarketingExperiments or MECLABS, you’re probably been inundated with the concepts of friction, anxiety, and value proposition.

But how do you take those concepts and build an effective test plan so you can start increasing your bottom line?

To help you with that, our team of amazing designers (shout out to Lauren, Charlie, Leah, James, and Chelsea) designed this infographic for you. Hope you find it useful. 🙂

MECLABS Institute - Conversion Heuristic Infographic

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If you have any questions, please email me at Adam.Lapp@Meclabs.com. I would love to hear from you.

You might also like:
The Web as a Living Laboratory
Test Plan: Build better marketing tests with the Metrics Pyramid
The Best Conversion Rate optimizers do NOT make changes to webpages…

UK Firm’s ‘Customer Struggle Score’ Tracks Website Behaviors

Norwich, UK-based SessionCam, provider of an analytics tool that allows you to watch recordings of your website visitors, just released a new product to help marketers enhance conversion rate optimization (CRO). Its Customer Struggle Score  (CS Score) applies advanced machine-learning to identify obstacles to customer engagement during online shopping sessions.

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