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Conversion Optimization: Go Beyond the Checklist

Published: July 23, 2014

Author: Theresa Baiocco

As a conversion optimizer, it’s pretty cool to see more businesses starting to “get it” that it doesn’t matter how much traffic they drive to their sites, if those sites don’t convert.  Even big-name SEOs have jumped on the conversion bandwagon.
While this mainstream acceptance of the field is awesome, it’s also resulted in oversimplification of a process that requires real brainwork.  Checklists, best practices, and frameworks are great starting points for increasing conversions, but don’t rely too much on these shortcuts for two reasons:

1. One solution doesn’t fit all: what works in one situation won’t necessarily work in another.  Use checklists, best practices, and frameworks to help develop your test hypotheses, but don’t mistake them for hard and fast rules.

2. Your landing page will seem spammy like the one below if you use too many sales tactics.

To fully appreciate this landing page, you have to view it online and see the animation on the “Absolutely Free” badge, the “Enter Now” arrow, and the scrolling faces. 
To fully appreciate this landing page, you have to view it online and see the animation on the “Absolutely Free” badge, the “Enter Now” arrow, and the scrolling faces.

Slapping on a big call to action, testimonials, and some trust badges does not automatically mean your conversions will skyrocket.
In most conversion audits I do, these – and other elements found on any good conversion checklist – are often on the site.  But that’s not where the biggest opportunity for increasing conversions is.
Hands down, the #1 most common problem I find in a conversion audit is that the site doesn’t convey WHY someone should buy from there. 
In order to have a truly convincing website or landing page, you have to understand your target market and your unique selling proposition, so you’re conveying the right message to the right people at the right time.
How do you do that?

Know Your Target Market

Because you can’t – and shouldn’t try – to be everything to everyone.  Be convincing to the right people.  Repel everyone else.  (You don’t need them.)
When someone gives me a broad description of their target market, such as “anyone who plays video games”, or a list of demographics, like:

-Age 30 – 45
-College graduates
-With 2 kids
-Income $45,000 – $60,000

It’s a huge red flag that they don’t really know what makes their customers tick.
Or the problem these people are trying to solve.
Or their frustrations with current solutions in the marketplace.
Or the specific tasks users are trying to accomplish on the site.
And ultimately, what will convince people to buy.  So they end up with generic marketing messages and mediocre conversion rates.
The first step toward increasing conversion rates is to get inside the head of your target market by creating customer personas.  Hang them on the wall so you’re thinking of them and writing directly to them every time you knock out an ad, landing page, or email blast.
The most convincing messages come from understanding your potential customers’ problems/desires, what they’re trying to accomplish on your site or landing page, and then explaining why your solution is their best option.  Which brings us to the next point:

Convey Your Unique Selling Proposition

This requires getting to know your competition.  Another huge red flag is when someone tells me they don’t really have any competition.
You ALWAYS have competitors; it’s just a matter of how closely other companies match your products or services and how similar their target market is to yours.
On a broad level, a competitor is any other place where your target market could spend their money.  If you sell ski vacations in Aspen, your competitors are not limited to other ski resorts.  Your customers could choose to vacation in Disneyland instead.  Or they could buy an RV.
You can find your unique selling proposition using the thorough (i.e., time-consuming), business school way, but since speed trumps perfection, you basically need to look at your personas and think about the problem they’re trying to solve.  Draw a line down a piece of paper and in the left column write down all the possible solutions they’d consider.  In the right column write why you’re better than each one.  Or follow this 4-step process.

There’s No Magic Bullet

I know it’s tempting to just take a conversion expert’s checklist or best practices and apply them to your site or landing page.  But that’s lazy.  And don’t even get me started on why I hate site reviews.
Since more businesses are allocating budget toward conversion optimization, your opportunity to rise above the crowd is to put in the little bit of extra brainpower to create convincing marketing messages.
By all means, read the checklists and best practices to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, but the biggest wins come from taking the time to know your customers, know your competition, and explain why someone should buy from you.

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