The Good Advice That Killed My
Conversion Rate

image of man with ideas

How would you like to sell more of your products or services … without increasing your traffic?

If that’s your goal, then you need to improve your conversion rate. Which is a very wise goal — I know I’m always looking for the tweaks or additions that can optimize the performance of my sales pages.

The slightest changes to a headline, one item in a bulleted list, or the overall picture you paint can pay off in massive ways.

Sometimes even seemingly tiny changes — the headline color or the words you use on your buy button — can double your sales.

A little while ago I performed an experiment in the hope of boosting my conversions. And the results were nothing like I had imagined.

I asked some very talented and very successful people for advice on how my pages might convert better.

The results of this experiment were shocking, weird and entirely unexpected. It’s a simple, but extremely valuable lesson that I think you can benefit from.

The wisdom of the crowd?

Some of my subscribers were telling me one of my sales pages looked “spammy.”

Unfortunately they couldn’t define exactly what it was about the page that smelled so strongly of spam. They just knew it did and by golly they needed to tell me to fix it.

So I turned to a group of marketing-savvy friends and acquaintances for advice for how to de-spamify my sales page.

All the suggestions, advice and critiques were given honestly, generously, and kindly.

Can you guess what I learned?

You can’t write compelling copy by committee.

None of the feedback worked. In fact, it was worse than that. My conversion rate steadily dropped to zero.

Individually the advice might have been valuable, but this is one case where the whole was less than the sum of its parts.

Why this approach doesn’t work

How did a group of smart marketing types steer me so wrong?

  • Some good advice is counter-acted by other, contradictory good advice.
  • Tips can be technically correct (the best kind) but not correct for your specific product or prospect.
  • People will tell you not to do something because it makes them feel personally uncomfortable.
  • They will give you advice based on individual preferences or even prejudices.
  • Most of this advice will be given with conviction, but based on no valid experience or expert knowledge in your market.
  • The people you are talking to are unlikely to be your target market.

All that really counts are data and dollars.

(Actually, of course dollars are data … just a particularly important metric.)

My sales page is now (thankfully) getting healthy conversions again. Plus, I had fun and I learned a lot in the process. So it’s all good.

Getting back to basics

So, what is the correct approach to boosting your conversion rates?

  • Use a split testing tool rather than “edit and guess” — Use Google or Visual Website Optimizer.
  • Make one change at a time, recording the changes you make and what resulted.
  • Take suggestions from two kinds of people: those who are achieving what you set out to do, or those who are in your precise target market.
  • Consider advice, but test to verify. Tailor the advice to your particular audience and target market — one size does not fit all.
  • Make it easy on yourself to start with proven copywriting best practices and then test individual tweaks for yourself — the Premise landing page system makes this easy.

The bottom line is, you’ve got to be very careful of making changes to your sales pages based on dangerous feedback from the wrong people — even if those people are smart and have a decent grasp of marketing.

To make sure you’re focusing on the right feedback, follow these three steps:

  1. Know who you’re trying to convince with any landing page (and what, specifically, you want them to do while they’re there).
  2. Obsessively measure that single action you want the reader to take. It could be sales, sign-ups for your list … whatever your single goal is for that page.
  3. Systematically and objectively test tweaks to your pages. Only keep the changes that give you the result you’re looking for.

Your audience will tell you if you hit the mark or not … and the way they do that is with their wallets.

About the Author: Chris Garrett is a professional blogger and the founder of Authority Blogger, a course that teaches you how to become the most trusted advisor in your market by turning your blog into the go-to resource. He blogs at chrisg.com.

P.S.

If you need help improving the conversion of your landing pages, check out Premise. It not only lets you create great-looking landing pages quickly and easily, it also gives you proven copywriting advice right in your WordPress dashboard, and makes tweaking and testing simple.

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Comments

  1. I think I understand exactly what you experienced – it sounds like one of those “too many cooks spoil the pot” kind of scenarios.

    Of course there are some tried and true methods – however, I really believe every situation is unique and what works for one blog’s landing page may not work for another. I’m uncomfortable with blatant sales tactics – I realize that they work wonders for some, but they don’t work for me because I just don’t like working that way. I know for a fact my methods won’t work for everyone.

    I do like the idea of making one change at a time and then testing it – that makes the task so less daunting and overwhelming.

    • It’s not just a matter of conflicting advice, it’s a matter of too many different strategies trying to interact that just were never meant to. You don’t want to try and sell a hardcopy book with nothing other than videos for instance.

      • Knowing which advice is good, bad or conflicting is tough – especially when a lot of the advice is said with conviction or from people you really like. Trust but verify :)

  2. Chris:

    You can’t write compelling copy by committee. Unfortunately, that’s what many companies hiring freelancers try to do.

    I like the tidbit about asking differently marketing experts. Unfortunately – like you pointed out – you might get contradictory advice.

    The best answer? Like you pointed out – split testing. Some really good and big name marketers I know of test just about everything. It does take some time and money, but it eliminates any guesswork.

    Good food for thought today.

    Randy

    • I am a geek so I love to test but even then i don’t always have the time or think I can just throw something up – tends to come back to bite me ;)

  3. This is why it is so important to routinely check your data! You have to know what is and isn’t working before you start making changes. Don’t accidentally remove a keyword that was driving a lot of traffic because you think it should be changed. You have to make changes based on actual user data.

  4. Great article Chris – the data rules!

    I would say that whilst testing one thing at a time is a great way to learn and evolve, you may want to begin with some bold tests where you change multiple elements and the page as a whole. The idea is that you want to find the best place to start from.

    If your current page is poor – converting at 0.5% say, you could change each element one at a time until youve eventually changed everything. Your conversion rate will keep growing slowly.

    However, you could run a bold first test, where you try a few completely new and different versions of the page. As long as you bear in mind what your customers are trying to achieve, and what you want them to do, you could easily find a few new versions.

    If you test these, you can establish a better baseline conversion rate to begin with and then evolve it one change at a time as you discussed.

    This is an aggressive approach, but has worked well for me combined with your one change at a time method.

  5. Great advice here: “Your audience will tell you if you hit the mark or not … and the way they do that is with their wallets.” The proof is in the pudding.

  6. Should have asked me, Chris. :)

  7. Yes! I’ve definitely seen this in effect. I think it applies for videos too. I have tried to put together videos on my own, which tend to be a big hit for my audience. When I try to incorporate a bunch of different people’s suggestions and opinions, they just fall flat and don’t appeal to anyone.

    Death by committee – there’s a reason that “group think” and a bunch of other observations tend to make everything generic and fall flat.

  8. *blushes deeply* I think I added to that debate and I am stunned that all the well intentioned advice had a negative impact.
    Perhaps we need to hold a meeting to evaluate what spam actually is and what spam looks like ;) but more importantly we need to trust our own instincts for our marketplace.

    • Instincts, but also go ahead and test. You never really know what good ideas will work and what good ideas will take you in the wrong direction. Nothing wrong with input — but then you have to test those assumptions. :)

      You can take the most absolute rock-solid tried-and-true copywriting advice in the world, it might work 99.9% of the time, but it still might not be right for a particular combination of topic, readers, and marketer.

  9. Hi,

    I agree with all your points. However care must be taken when comparing changes such as:
    1) Ensure the testing is based on roughly the same sample of traffic.
    2) Make sure the testing of changes does not occur at the same time an external environment factor affects the conversion. E.g. trying to sell skiing equipment, testing using split-season while the season changes from winter to spring or summer.

    • Oh yes, indeed. The funny thing is during testing the “bad” sales page got 100% conversion rate until I took into account traffic source (a couple of people who were giving their feedback bought from the forum thread) heh :)

  10. Often, we ask people that aren’t our target market, while “professionals,” and they give what they think works. If you know your market, trust your gut and take opinions as what they are.

  11. I agree with what Chris Rowett mentioned above. You don’t necessarily need to only test one thing at a time, but you do need to plan your tests wisely.

    You need to look first at your data and try to figure out WHY you aren’t getting enough conversions. At that point, you can then decide what to test; whether it be many changes at once, on thing at a time, or a total revamp.

    • Yes, in this case I had the luxury of time and I could enjoy the process – initially I did throw up a whole bunch of changes together but that meant I don’t have any data from that initial phase to know what really helped

  12. Rad post, Chris.

    I think you make a good point when you say that in many cases, people will tell you not to do something because it personally makes them feel some feeling of discomfort.

    It’s good to make the distinction there.. they’re feelings, and reality.

    Ultimately, I agree with your main necessary components, specifically considering advice and testing to verify. This post totally solidifies my understanding of the fact that most things are case by case; you can’t apply something that worked here, to something over here, and definitely expect it to work.

    A very interesting question to ask is how much time do you wait, after making a specific change, until you decide that the results are good enough to make a determination? I guess that’s case by case too huh? And traffic quantity dependent.

    Rad post.

    Ryan

  13. A camel is a horse designed by committee.

  14. You hit on two hot buttons that are just as true for copy testing as they are for new product development:

    1) Who you listen to is important. Not every voice gets to weigh in. Your advice is great that the voices of either someone who has succeeded specifically in accomplishing what you are after or your best target prospect matter most.

    2) It is not a prospect’s job or expertise to design a solution. Their job is to inform you of what they are struggling to accomplish. The best way to deliver the solution on that need is an expert’s job. A follow up question to “it looks spammy” could be
    – “what are the most important pieces of information you need to make a decision” or
    – “what is missing that you need to be comfortable with making a choice” or
    – “what is an example of a site you recently purchased XYZ types of products from” (which can be used a good benchmark).

    Thanks for a great article.

    • The prospect is the expert on their needs, it is not always easy to identify the prospect or get into a conversation with them of course. This particular product was inspired by my customers though – I asked what they wanted and needed and they told me they were not making the progress they wanted to, so I created Make More Progress as a product :)

  15. My personal opinion on this matter is that intuition (personal or otherwise) should *only* be used to come up with alternatives for split testing, and *never* to ascertain the effectiveness of such alternatives.

    The only to know whether those intuitions are right is by running tests, and the only way for those tests to be conclusive is to change a single element at a time.

    In fact, when you consistently run A/B tests on a landing page, it’s some kind of magic: as though that page is effectively designing itself based on the statistical response of visitors to each little change and adjustment.

  16. I learned this lesson the hard way when I sought advice on how to craft the perfect (no such thing) offering for my membership site. I trusted all the people I asked, of course (and they all sounded confident), but the conflicting strategies only served to confuse me. In the end, it wasn’t the first strategy I used, but the second that has paid off in higher sales. Now I’m going to work on improving the conversion rate using Visual Website Optimizer (which so far is super simple to implement!). I also have my eye on Premise. :)

    The takeaway from my recent relaunch experience was to have multiple product offers designed before you launch, so you’re prepared to make changes quickly should visitors not respond the way you want to the initial offering.

    • Rather than multiple offers you can craft your launch as a conversation – I have found in my own sales the offer page is not the most important part – many people who land on that page just go looking for the buy button. For evergreen products though the sales page gets increasingly important :)

  17. Hey Chris – spot on post! Especially the part about making sure to TEST (We all know this but so many people fail to do it or only do it halfheartedly) and the fact that you didn’t ask your target audience. You’ll get lots of well-intentioned advice that way and you can even test those things if you want – but realize that your site/copy might always sound spammy to some people (who are not your audience).

    Connect with and focus on your right people – they’re all that matter.

    • Even your prospects can steer you wrong, how many times have people said “I would never pay $$” only then to turn round and buy something more expensive that they didn’t need? ;)

  18. This is a great post. I have experienced this in other places too. Sweeva comments for one. All you can do is take these “suggestions” and verify for yourself as described in this post.

  19. Great insight Chris. It seems like there’s a ton of “tips and tricks” out there that are guaranteed to improve your conversion. But like you said it’s not one size fits all. Markets are different and things change within those markets over time.

    I think you really hit it with #1 of your summary. Knowing who you’re talking to makes a world of difference.

  20. Its posts like this that make it hard for me to listen to any copywriting advice straight up.

    For example, some writers will tell you that long, one column sales pages look too scammy and people will never read all of it. Instead, make a short page with lots of fancy stuff on the top and sides.

    The bad news is, usually these fancy pages distract the reader from the product you’re promoting.

  21. Even the most talented marketers (committees or individuals) in the world won’t be able to predict with 100% accuracy what will inspire a customer to take action. Sometimes what we think looks good isn’t what works. Testing is the only way to know.

  22. This is a great post, Chris! I had exactly this experience last year. I’d been pulling in about $500 a month from a sales page for a novel writing instruction package and I wanted it to do better, so I got help from a bunch of sales copy writers and I completely revamped the sales page. Sales dropped to under $100 a month. So I got more advice, and changed again, and sales stayed low. Right now, I’m still under $200 a month. I’ve been working on other projects so I haven’t tweaked it anymore. Honestly, I’d kind of thrown up my hands and said, “F…. it.”

    Your advice here has inspired me to go back to that page and begin making changes one at a time that make sense to me. And if I could throw in a bit of woo woo, one of the things I noticed is that when you are trying to make a sales page better and you’re feeling frustrated, it tends to get worse. When you do it because you’re lit up and passionate about it, the results are better. ;)

  23. Curtis Rasmussen :

    I try to help my AP English teacher wife understand this to no avail, but you nailed it:

    (this is awesome: Contradictory good advice!) * Some good advice is counter-acted by other, contradictory good advice.
    (Relevance) * Tips can be technically correct (the best kind) but not correct for your specific product or prospect.
    (The worst kind of marketing advice that a CEO gives himself) * People will tell you not to do something because it makes them feel personally uncomfortable.
    (How can they be less than they are…!) * They will give you advice based on individual preferences or even prejudices.
    (Shame on you if you took THESE guy’s advice haha) * Most of this advice will be given with conviction, but based on no valid experience or expert knowledge in your market.
    (This is what I tell my wife as she critiques and poo-poo’s my latest ad copy…) * The people you are talking to are unlikely to be your target market.

    • Sometimes you only find out that the person doesn’t actually have any experience later. Sometimes we really have to push to find out what folks base their opinions on.

      I was having a conversation/debate with a guy on a forum who was advising me to give up fossil fuels. He told me that I could live quite happily without any oil in my life. He didn’t try to understand my situation until I asked what his wife and kids thought about having to take public transport or bike everywhere.

      Turns out he is a single guy in his early twenties who lives with his parents 1 mile from his college campus. Of COURSE he doesn’t need a car, but he still didn’t see how he wasn’t a trustworthy expert on my situation and had complete conviction in what he believed so much that other forum users were taking his side.

  24. Great post Chris.

    I think the point about listening to people who are achieving what you want or buying from you is so important. There are a lot of people out there setting up business in the niche of giving advice without having done it themselves.

    Brain Clark does it with Football all the time. ;-)

    Thanks again.

    Tyrant

  25. Makes sense – when you get too many people together, especially if they aren’t in the same room together (so they can discuss the different ideas), they will each come at it from a slightly different viewpoint (and biased ones, at that). Which leaves you with the onerous job of weeding through all of the suggestions, many of which are most likely conflicting!

    Lesson learned…thanks for sharing!

  26. G’Day Chris,

    Enjoyed your post. At times like this I always remember the words of David Ogilvy, “The customer is not a moron. She is your wife.”

    One of my daughters is setting up a business. She asked for my opinion of her proposed business name. I told her all the good stuff about business focus and target market. Then I remembered something I’d read years ago in an AMA book Called “The Name’s The Thing.”

    Never ask your friends or family for their opinion of your business name: unless of course they are prospects or clients.

    In the final analysis, it’s what clients and prospects think of you copy that matters. Now….. if only there was a failsafe way to find out!

    Make sure you have fun

    Best Wishes

    Leon

  27. True. I still prefer to write my own sales pages though. I learned a lot from this. Definitely worth a try. Keep it up.

  28. “you can’t write copy by committee,” I think that quote sums it all up.

    I have a client (the president of a small real estate firm) with an excellent eye for good sales writing, he saves ads and brochures for me all the time (some of my best swipe file material has come from his finds). When I work on projects for him, however, there are times when he feels compelled to share the material with other managers in the company. Most of their “feedback” is really just them putting in their two cents – not necessarily anything constructive, but giving feedback for the sake of giving feedback.

    My client wants to make sure his talented young managers have an voice in the direction of the company, but the result is a diluted message, with a bunch of bullshit shoehorned in to placate a few people. Not good.

    • Reminds me of the “sharks fin” tactic designers use – intentionally put something into the design that everyone will hate and “force” you to remove so they feel they have contributed :)

  29. I owned my own small business for 30 years and quickly learned that the customers want to identify with me, not some mission statement or other diluted message from the company. Sometimes we forget that we can’t get every customer; what we really want are good customers who return time and again.

    Every business needs a “voice” – but just ONE voice, not the clammer of the crowd.

    • I always say “you are your secret sauce” – many times people will buy from you knowing that they could get something similar elsewhere because they connect with your voice rather than your competitors. Always frustrates me when businesses depersonalise as they grow.

  30. I’d be curious to know what the question was you asked your colleagues. Was it, “What would you say?” Or was it, “What does my target market want to hear?”

    Also, how much discovery was there? How aware were they of context?

    This is a great post. It just goes to show you that even the greatest of minds can fall victim to a faulty process, methodology, etc.

    • I gave the background in a similar way to this article – it was a forum thread with lots of interaction rather than “here is the problem what is the solution” :)

  31. I read Return to the Little Kingdom: Steve Jobs and the Creation of Apple by Michael Moritz. In it, he quoted once of the top developers in the Mac division, in response to a question about market research. He said “Steve’s left brain is wired to his right brain. That was our market research.”

  32. Don’t judge me by my picture that comes up next to the comment, I actually am smiling and kind of cute…I just can’t figure out how to change the pic.

    Okay, I only read the blog post and not the other comments so bare with me. I was surprised to read the post today as most of what was said, well 100% actually, has been a key fundamental of direct response for years when it comes to maximizing conversion rates. Often people do make the mistake of changing several things at once – which only brings confusion as to what it was that actually increased or decreased conversion. This is true digitally but also in television and radio. Regardless of the starting point the landing point (or leap off) should test and gage conversion on change at a time. Or of course there is the A/B split method.

    I’ve never been a fan of focus groups – which take on many different forms. A focus group can be your family, friends, relatives, local PTA, or recruited from Craig’s list, and random visitors to your site. It can also be a focus group of one…you. Either way, until you test intelligently, one chance by one – and review the data (which is at anyone’s figure tips) style, color, size, place, etc., is all random, most of the time.

    It’s true that what is good for one product and age demo will not work for another – that’s just marketing 101 – but there are proven placements of action points that have been tested and proven to work. We in direct response have been doing this for a very long time, and we had it figured out about 5-6 years ago as far as conversion, abandon rates, and increased AOV. At the end of the day if you follow the tried and true rules – although you may not like them – you just may see a strong conversion rates from the start.

  33. Great article and rang some bells for me as well. A colleague actually talked to me about crowdsourcing today and it gave me a flashback to my old job at a large corporation where absolutely everybody had an opinion and could make it count. The ultimate version of crowdsourcing actually, because you HAVE to take their opinions into consideration.

    By the end of any copywriting project, I’d have gone through approval from five departments and we’d end up with a watered-down piece of dreck. But hey, Chris in Accounting didn’t like the second paragraph on Page 3, couldn’t say what it was, just “didn’t like it” so there you are. And once Mary from Sales got through it, we were told is wasn’t “aspirational” enough (?) so there’s another round of changes. On and on it went…

    Best,

    Brian

  34. A great post Chris with some sound advice. Thanks.

    I have been in the situation of multiple sources of good advice myself and, like you, I have learned some valuable lessons. Too much advice from too many experts leads to confusion and stagnation in both online and offline business. On this note there is one additional point that I would suggest for your list of “Getting Back to Basics” –

    – When taking advice from people who are achievers in your market listen to one
    expert at a time only and give that advice time to be implemented and tested.

    This applies particularly to any one relatively new to their market.

  35. What stood out to me is the fact that “one size does not fit all”. So often it seems like people think forget that.

    What works for one person may not work for others. I really appreciate these tips. Makes me realize that I am still at the basics!

  36. In the end it all comes down to testing. It’s okay to take different pieces of advice from people, especially if an particular point comes up again and again.

    But then it comes down to testing all these things. A/B is pretty slow but very accurate. If you want to test multiple things, multi-variate testing is the way to go.

  37. What you don’t realise Chris is that we were all conspiring behind the scenes to feed you deliberately wrong and contradictory advice ;-)

  38. Thank you, love your article. There is a whole lot of truth to that. I have the most success on my blogs when I stay true to myself and take a topic on that my audience can relate to. It’s not just about optimization – more important is integrity.

  39. Premise looks interesting – but do you have a similar tool for non-wordpress sites? Or can you point me to someone that does?

  40. Two weeks ago I visited a ‘conversion’ specialist company along with a client who invited me along to ‘listen in’.

    In tow he had a business colleague ( completely different business ) and his web designer. In total 6 of us sat around a table….well all I can say is Never Again!

    Who said “A camel is a horse, designed by a commitee!” They were spot on!

    Mark

  41. The only people who get a say in the copy I write, and the ones who give feedback with credit cards and not their mouths :-)