Conversations on Conversion is an interview series featuring conversion optimization thought leaders. We started the podcast back in March of this year, and frequently release new interviews. You can download the podcast for free from iTunes.
If you are unable to download and listen to the podcast for whatever reason, we’ve decided to post the transcripts here in our blog for your reading pleasure—enjoy! This conversation is with Scott Brinker and Justin Talerico, co-founders of ion interactive.
Anna: Welcome back to another Conversations on Conversion podcast. I’m Anna Talerico and I have not one, but two very special guests with me today. Scott Brinker and Justin Talerico who are co-founders of ion interactive. I guess I should also say that they are my business partners. We work together here at ion interactive, and a podcast series on conversion optimization would not be the same without them. So without further ado, I’d like to jump right in with some topics for our discussion today. I know this will be a little bit of a different format for us because we have two guests. But you know, I like a ‘free for all’ so just jump right in as you see fit. My burning question to start off with: is 2010 panning out to be the year of conversion rate optimization? You know we started off the year with a lot of buzz about that, a lot of articles, blogs, et cetera. I’m just wondering do you guys agree? What are your thoughts on that?
Justin: Sure. This is Justin. I’ll kind of jump in on that. I prefer to think of it as the first year of the decade of conversion rate optimization. Certainly we’ve had economic forces and marketing forces that have sort of taken us to the point where everyone just demands the efficiency, that they rightly should, out of their marketing, and out of their communications programs. It’s nice to see the market kind of coming around to recognize that it’s important. That what really matters is what we put in, what we get out, how satisfied folks are with the messages we put out there. And wow, yeah, it’s the year of conversion rate optimization, but it’s just the beginning.
Scott: Yeah, I would agree with that. This is Scott, and I guess maybe just to add in on that is if I step back a bit and take a look at the macro forces that are happening here in marketing, I would say 2010 is perhaps even more so the year where marketers take the bull by the horns as far as this new wave of marketing technology goes.
I mean there’s so many innovative software-as-a-service type offerings out there now that marketers don’t need IT for. They can basically try it, subscribe to it, get it in their hands in a matter of hours, and actually apply it in a way that they can measure it with ROI to really deliver great results. Certainly conversion optimization and landing page management is one of the hottest fields for this generation of software-as-a-service offerings. But there’s a lot out there, I mean, marketing automation, social media monitoring…there’s so much out there now that it’s basically impossible for marketers to ignore this opportunity any longer. So this is the year!
Anna: What do you think the biggest opportunities are for conversion optimization? I know there’s probably a lot that marketers aren’t yet taking advantage of. What do you think some of the biggest opportunities are?
Scott: Well I think there’s plenty. The two that come to mind first would be this idea of optimization beyond the website. I wrote a post on Search Engine Land a month or so ago about the five rings of optimization. Marketers certainly do have their core website, but they now have all these other properties out there in the web. Out in social media, they have Facebook fan pages or YouTube channels. In particular what’s most exciting to us is of course this world of landing pages and conversion optimization and microsites where marketers can do these very tailored experiences without having to adhere to really any of the constraints that core websites typically live under. So that’s a great opportunity. I think the other is this idea of multi-step landing pages, specifically using explicit behavioral choices to really tailor the experiences that respondents have.
One of my favorite books in recent times here is by Stephen Woods, called Digital Body Language. He’s mostly focused on B2B marketing, but one of the points he makes that I think is really essential for landing page optimization is that one of the impacts the Internet has had in B2B marketing and sales is that it’s displaced the role of the consultants of sales persons. I mean it used to be that if I was going to buy something as a B2B buyer, I would call up my sales person and they would come and wine and dine me; they would be my source for information. But that’s changing and it’s changing rapidly. Now buyers are empowered to go on the Internet and do their own research. They want to discover for themselves what the right solution is, and what’s the important information for them to have. But in that process of having the sales person fall out of the loop, it’s really important for marketing to step up to the plate and fill that gap. To start to focus more and more on these mini consultative experiences when people respond to a particular ad, or when they respond to a particular email. I think yeah, that’s a tremendous opportunity for multi-step landing pages to fill that void.
Anna: Justin, do you have any other thoughts on what you see as some opportunities we’re missing in marketing?
Justin: I think that segmentation which is what Scott was eluding to a lot, is still pretty neglected. The other side of neglect is probably opportunity. The ability to have very, very specific marketing communication conversations with a variety of niche groups within what has traditionally been called your “target”. The ability to have those conversations exists, but how many marketers are actually having them? How many are putting out long-tail landing experiences, long-tail marketing communications that really do cater to these niche audiences?
Obviously when they do, the benefits are huge, but it’s still a very small minority that actually is getting out to do that. That sort of relates to the second thing for me which is marketers have the ability in 2010 to run a very agile, high-speed practice. They have the ability to run a department. They have the ability to use tools and technologies that keep pace with their markets, but many of them don’t do that.
It’s not as much a criticism as just noting that it’s taking time for them to realize that they do have these things at their disposal. That they can keep pace, that they’re not beholden to other departments like IT to slow them down or bog them down. They really can do these things. They can take control and take ownership, like Scott said. That they can keep pace with the people in their markets, and the technologies at their disposal. They can actually move faster than basically they can keep up. When they realize that, and when they take that internally and they say wow, we can really do this, we can put out this long-tail stuff, and we can have these very niche conversations that are very, very successful for us. They yield a lot of results. I think when they come to terms with that and they realize that it is within their power, that’s really when they tap the potential of what’s going on today.
Anna: Well that’s exciting! We could probably talk about all of this stuff that you guys have brought up all day, but I did want to ask you a couple more questions. Number one, which is the question I know you guys get all the time: what advice do you give to people who are just getting started with the conversion optimization?
Justin: My answer to that is very simple. I think they just need to get started. There’s a lot of organizational inertia against getting these programs going. There’s a lot of, ‘oh it has to be perfect, it has to do this, that, and the other thing’. We were in #CROchat yesterday, and people were talking about review committees within organizations. You know, just to get simple changes made and things of that nature. And my advice to someone who’s just getting started with conversion optimization is actually get started. Get something live. Get some results. Get some feedback from the market, and feel what it’s like to have that in essentially real time— to have your marketing be able to react to that, and respond to that, and test, and analyze, and do all those things that you’ve got the potential to do. Just remember, you can’t do any of it if you don’t get something live. So to me, getting started is about really just getting started.
Scott: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I think I would simply build on that.
My advice would be don’t try to boil the ocean. It’s just insane for getting started. I’d pick something very, very specific. For instance, let’s say it is in search. Narrow it down to that. Say okay, we’re going to focus on something here with our search marketing. And then narrow down to pick a very specific ad group with some very specific key words and ads. Just say okay, this slice of that long-tail, this is what I’m going to do. Then make a couple of really great experiences just for those visitors.
Put yourself in the shoes of people who have typed in those keywords. They’ve seen that ad. They’re clicking on it. What’s the persona that you’re trying to talk to, to really give them the information and the offers that are going to excite them? Take that consultative approach that we were talking about. Make those experiences sing. Make them excel far beyond anything any other competitor is doing on any landing page in that space. Get that win. See the impact it has. Quantify it. Learn from it. You know, use that as your example to champion change in the organization. And then move onto the next ad group, and the next one, and so on.
Anna: Isn’t it amazing how when you do that, it does snowball. Pretty soon you can look back on a huge body of optimization work.
So, why does one program succeed where another might fail? Why does one come in and get a whole program off the ground in a day, and another organization might really struggle with trying to get the ball rolling? Then once the ball is rolling, what are some of the red flags that say this might not be so successful? What are some reasons of failure so people can avoid some of those things. What do you think Scott?
Scott: Well, there’s certainly plenty of hurdles that people can find in their way. I guess if I was going to pick three to really try and address at the very beginning, the first and foremost would be getting management on board. You need to have the management that you’re working with really see the opportunity and provide the support. Not just in resources, but also in the mandate of the rest of the organization to make it a priority.
I think what’s sort of related to that is the next place these things seem to get into trouble is because it is a multi-party process to go all the way from the ads, and the emails, through the landing experience, through the final conversion. All it takes is one person in that ecosystem - maybe it’s your agency, maybe it’s your IT department - to basically drag their feet. It’s like the weakest link in the chain. The fastest you’re going to go is the speed of the slowest participant. So to really get everyone in that ecosystem on board and really committed to doing this. I think it’s incredibly important.
Then the third thing both Justin and I were talking about earlier is this whole idea of this broader set of landing pages and conversion paths being more than just your website. I think the way some people fall down is they say okay, we’re going to do optimization. We’re going to pick a page, let’s say the home page of our website, and we’re going to convert that. We’re going to optimize that in a way that improves its conversion rate. But right away the mission itself is sort of flawed because it’s making the assumption that you can optimize this one page in a way that’s going to please everyone. There isn’t a one page to rule them all opportunity out there so much as it’s about having specific pages for really specific audiences.
As soon as you shift your world view from saying okay, I’m going to optimize one page to be the ultimate page, to say hey, I’m going to have dozens, maybe even hundreds of pages, each of them incredibly tightly matched to particular audiences and particular messages that I’m putting out in the market, your chances of success increase exponentially.
Justin: Yeah, and to run with what Scott said, boy I couldn’t agree more with the lack of executive buy-in. When the senior management — depending on the size of the organization, you can take that as you want, but when senior management doesn’t understand the value proposition of conversion optimization, and they don’t understand the ROI that goes along with that, there is little appreciation for what it can do really for the top line of an organization.
Then number two for me is what I call death by weeds. It’s focusing on the wrong things. It’s looking at the little things, and somehow turning them into the big things. When those little things become the big things, they generally turn into gigantic road blocks.
Those road blocks can come from IT, or I’ve seen them come from internal marketing folks who think it’s more important to worry about the minutia, that really has no impact on the success or failure of the program. You just get so caught up in that stuff that you lose the forest for the trees. You forget that what you’re working to do is make more people happy with what you’re putting out there. When you make more people happy, more people convert. When more people convert, you sell more stuff. You raise the revenue, and you reduce the expense. And it all goes toward the ROI.
Then the third thing for me are some basic testing fallacies. I’ve seen this with clients and customers over the years. Serial testing instead of parallel testing kind of goes to what Scott was talking about testing on one page, then thinking that the results of that somehow have an impact on your entire organization, that it just applies over time in the future. That’s generally that’s not the case. Then there are trends versus conclusions. You see folks all the time that look at a trend and a test, not a result; and they make a decision on that trend. So something is moving in a particular direction, and they cut the test short, and they make a decision based on interim data. I can tell you that I’ve seen it time and time again that that data changes over time, and that you have to wait until you have true statistical significance before you use that stuff, otherwise you’re just guessing. You’re spending a lot of money to guess. Big problem.
Anna: Yeah. I’ll second that for sure. Well our time has come to an end. You know, I wasn’t sure how having a two-guest format would work, but I loved it. I thought it worked really well. I hope you guys agree, because I’d love to do this again. You know, I could talk to you all day, and I do, but it’s fun to do it on the record once in a while.
Justin: Yeah. It’s good to get together.
Scott: Yeah. I’m all inspired again.
Don’t forget you can download can download all of the podcast episodes for free from iTunes.
So far we’ve spoken to amazing conversion thought leaders like Anne Holland, Chris Goward, Bryan Eisenberg, Jonathan Mendez, Lance Loveday, and more! Stay tuned.