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Lessons Learned from 21 Case Studies in Conversion Rate Optimization

Posted by Paras Chopra

This post was originally in YOUmoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the newest darling of Internet Marketers, after all what good is traffic if it doesn’t convert. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), unlike Pay Per click (PPC) marketing, CRO isn’t a game of how much money you can throw. In fact, this field requires as much creativity, as it requires monetary investment. That’s what makes conversion rate optimization a fair arena. Your well-funded, bigger competitors can of course beat you at generating more traffic but they can’t beat you at the conversion rate game (unless you allow them to).

Every website has unique conversion goals, so the approach to conversion rate optimization is unique for every website. You should not expect to follow tips from a “best-practices” article and boost your conversion rates instantly. Chances are high that what worked for others may not work for you. So, the biggest step in increasing conversion rates is coming up with creative ideas and designs that can work.

Even though conversion rate optimization is a very custom process for every website, over the course of last couple of years (and course of more than 1000 split tests) I have observed a few general patterns which yielded great results. Different ideas for increasing conversion rate are worth discussing because they become a great source of input for coming up with your own ideas. In this article I will discuss all such generic ideas for conversion rate optimization detailed through different case studies. Let’s start by discussing what role does design play in increasing conversion rate.

Role of Design

From conversion perspective, design of a website is the most important aspect amongst all variables involved. The difference between better converting design and worse converting design usually boils down to not confusing the visitor in what he is expected to do on a page. Take a look at the examples below:

Base camp homepage design: 14% increase in conversions

Basecamp old v/s new design

What made newer design convert 14% more visitors? A clean design. The new design clearly guides a visitor towards Plans and Pricing link while the old design presented a whole lot of choices. Need more proof that having less choices on page can increase conversion rates? Have a look at the case study below:

Gyminee homepage redesign: 20% increase in conversion rate 

Gymniee old v/s new design

In addition to reducing the number of choices for the visitor, having a design that shows you as a professional and trustworthy company can also increase conversions. Take a look at the following case study, where the redesigned sales page has various trust elements (seal, money back guarantee, testimonials) and the design has various little tweaks (color scheme, buttons instead of links for download, layout, etc.) which made it look professional. Note that the sales (not just conversions) increased by 20% just by changing the design. No additional products, no additional traffic, pure conversion rate optimization:

AquaSoft sales page redesign: 20% increase in sales

Aquasoft old v/s new

There are more such case studies where design played a key role in optimizing conversion rates. Have a look at them below:

Role of Headline and Copy

When you receive an email it’s the name of the sender and the subject line of email that influences your decision to open it right way or to post pone it to future. Similarly, when a visitor arrives on your website, it’s the design/brand name AND the headline of the page that influences his decision to engage with your page. Visitors’ attention is the costliest commodity on the Internet and your page’s headline is where it goes right after arriving on it.

Take a look at the case study below where 37Signals tested different kinds of headlines (and the winning one boosted conversion rate by 30%).

Highrise Headline test – 30% increase in conversions

Winning variation for Highrise

The winning variation said “30-day Free Trial on All Accounts” and worst performing variation said “Start a HighRise Account”. Note that clear, no-nonsense headline won. If you think about it, if a visitor is on Signup page he obviously knows that he is signing up for HighRise account. The winning headline clearly convinces the already interested visitor that there is nothing to loose as they offer a 30-day free trial.

Another example of how much headlines matter: CityCliq, a startup in local marketing industry, split tested the positioning of their product.

CityCliq headline test: 90% increase in conversions

 Citycliq homepage

Here are different headlines they tested:

  • Businesses grow faster online! (too fuzzy and so what if they do)
  • Get found faster! (found where?)
  • Online advertising that works! (too generic)
  • Create a webpage for your business (clear, concise and to-the-point)

The winning headline “create a webpage for your business” tells the visitor what exactly does CityCliq does and no wonder it increased conversions by 90%. As they say, don’t make your visitors think.

Right after looking at headline, if his interest is piqued, a visitor looks at the (text/video) copy on the page. That’s why a combined optimization of headline and copy proves to be effective, as it did for SEOMoz:

Conversion Rate Experts’ How we made $1 million for SEOmoz

SEOMoz

They tested a variety of headlines and copy elements on the landing page for Pro subscription. In the end, they found out that a headline that piqued interest and a copy that laid out what exactly constitutes a Pro subscription won (no matter how long it turned out to be).

Other case studies where headline and copy mattered:

Role of Call-to-Action

So, you optimized your design, optimized headlines and page copy. You got visitor interested and motivated to try whatever you are offering. There is still one last hurdle before you can throw a success party for your CRO project. Yes, call-to-action is the last hurdle for you to cross. Even though call-to-action may be considered as minutiae for CRO, the following case studies demonstrate that even simple A/B testing of call-to-action can result in great improvements.

A highly motivated visitor will sniff out even the poorest of all call-to-action buttons. So, while optimizing this aspect of your page, make note that you are optimizing for the busy, semi-interested visitor. If he can’t locate how to try out whatever you are offering, he will hit the back button. (And in CRO, back button is the greatest enemy of all).

37Signal’s call to action – signups increased by 200%

Highrise

The now-omnipresent “See Plans and Pricing” increased signups for HighRise by 200%. I have included this case study not to convince you to replace all your buttons with this text (it may not actually work for you). Rather, the point is to convince you that even small changes in call-to-action can have dramatic impact on conversion rates. And the best thing about call-to-action is that they are so easy to test. It literally takes 5 minutes to get such test up and running.

Another oft-repeated test is to see which color works best for a call-to-action (unsurprisingly, a bright color such as red mostly works better, this may be because they are eye catchy and drives visitors attention towards them). As an example, along with testing test “Signup for free” v/s “Get Started Now”, Dmix also tested Green v/s red buttons and found out that red colored works button.

Dmix case study – 72% increase in conversions

 DMix

To repeat my earlier point, with call-to-action sometimes surprisingly trivial changes can produce significant results. Take a look at the following case study:

Soocial’s homepage – 28% increase in conversions

Soocial

Notice that all they did was to add “It’s free” alongside Sign up now to boost conversion rate. This is definitely a trivial change, but why won’t you test such trivial changes if they don’t take much effort and have potential to fatten your bottomline?

Some other case studies where call-to-action helped increase conversion rate:

Role of You

The framework of optimizing design, headline, copy and call-to-action should provide you with a good plan to design your CRO program. What matters in increasing conversions is not making your visitor think about what you are offering and how to actually try that offering. Try to make everything obvious and simple, guiding your visitor from headline to copy to call-to-action like a smooth flowing river.

However, no matter how many case studies you read and what theory I propose here, in the end your conversion rate optimization program will turn out to be unique because your website is unique, your audience is unique and your goals are unique.  The real key to increasing conversion rate is to keep experimenting and keep doing tests.

 

Author Bio: Paras Chopra is the founder of Visual Website Optimizer, world's easiest A/B split testing software. Thousands of companies and agencies have been able to increase sales and conversions upto 90% within first few days of using the tool (read published case studies). You can follow the company on Twitter @wingify.

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