We recently spoke with Martin Stone, Head of Research at Conversion Rate Experts and discussed their method for research-driven improvements, why Hotjar is so useful in their toolstack, and how you can get started with a similar approach to generate wins for your business.
This interview contains practical advice from one of the world's leading conversion agencies, it reveals:
- How to profit from research—whatever your size.
- Two questions we recommend you ask to hugely grow your (or your clients’) sales.
- What you need to do now to get started with research—and how to use it to generate winning ideas.
Tell us about Conversion Rate Experts… who are your typical clients and what do you do for them?
Sure, we are an international agency specializing in conversion rate optimization (CRO)—a term that we actually coined in 2007.
We build amazingly effective web pages, and then we stick our necks on the line by insisting that we carry out scientific A/B tests to verify that we’ve significantly grown our clients’ businesses.
With our unique methodology, we have helped to grow some of the web’s most sophisticated companies, including Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Dropbox—plus many traditional enterprises and smaller businesses.
What are the biggest challenges your clients typically face?They’re many and varied, but a couple that crop up time and time again are:
- Visitors are not converting into sales.
- Visitors are choosing competitors instead.
- Marketing ideas and strategies are chosen based on guesswork and best practice—they’re not visitor-centric—so they’re much more likely to fail.
The winning strategy for many web businesses requires them to grow incredibly quickly—they operate in a “winner takes all” environment. In this scenario, a robust, lean optimization strategy becomes absolutely critical and this is where many companies fall down.
At Hotjar we’re big fans of the articles and case studies Conversion Rate Experts publishes. Many times you mention that you use Hotjar with your clients. Can you tell us more about your process and how you use Hotjar to get results?
Research is a huge part of our success—it’s the bedrock of everything we do with our clients. We don’t guess what’s wrong with a web business. We find out. This is the job of our research department. The key question to address is “Why aren’t visitors converting?” and we leave no stone unturned in finding the answer.
Typically, we seek to understand different visitor types and intentions, identify user-experience problems, and gather and understand visitors’ objections—we use a variety of tools and techniques to do so, and Hotjar is one of our favourites.
Hotjar is a great tool with loads of use cases, but for us the two most valuable are:
- Exit surveys—these allow us to ask questions as close to the “moment of truth” (the decision point on whether to continue or abandon) as possible. You can ask questions at the exact moment that the visitors are thinking the thoughts you want to capture.
- Session recordings—these can be a great complement to other tools, revealing what visitors did on each page, by capturing each visitor’s keystrokes and mouse movement. You may choose to watch videos of visitors who appear to be struggling—for example, those who visit the same page several times.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg—it’s the first time these disparate sources of data have been brought together properly, and the benefits in doing so are huge. Hotjar has been a real game-changer for us—it’s a glimpse into the future of marketing.
What would you say is the most challenging part of the process you follow with your clients and why?
I think the main challenge is to get clients working on the right things—the vital few activities that will give the quickest, easiest growth. If you can crack that, you’re almost there.
Most clients have preconceived ideas about what needs fixing on their site—and usually these ideas are based on their own gut feelings or experience, rather than what their visitors are actually telling them.
But you don’t need to be working on every page of your website, and you don’t need to be working on all stages of your marketing funnel. That’s where the research comes into its own—it’s difficult to argue when your visitors are screaming what’s wrong with your site!
At Conversion Rate Experts you use many other tools and tactics when you conduct research for clients. What would you say is the most effective tool or tactic to uncover actionable insights?
That’s a tough question, but if I had to pick one—other than Hotjar—it would be running user-tests. This involves observing someone using your website and noting any issues that arise.
Other techniques can produce amazing insights, but the beauty of user-testing is that you’re not relying on the client to get insights. Clients are often maxed-out on other parts of their business, and user-testing allows you work autonomously and keep the project moving.
Ideally, your user-testers would be people who represent your target market. However, at first, you’ll find that you get great results by testing on whoever’s at hand. Those people sitting next to you, they’ll do. Or a family member. Once you sense that you’re getting diminishing returns, start to look for user-testers who are from the product’s target market.
Although, perhaps counter-intuitively, you tend to learn more from users who aren’t web-savvy, rather than people who are technical. Techies tend to be better at coping with pages that contain errors, whereas other users are more easily derailed.
Are there any favourite questions you love to ask your client’s users and customers?
Sure, there are loads! We’ve refined them over years of carrying out surveys—on over 10 million people—and it’s amazing how tweaking the way you ask a question can have a dramatic impact of the quality of responses.
Here are a couple of our favourites:
- “What nearly stopped you buying from us?” (Ask this one on a post-sale thank-you page, or with a link in an email.) Even though your customers have overcame every barrier to buying from you, they weren't oblivious to the barriers. And for every customer who successfully overcame the barriers, you'll almost certainly find there were several people who gave up. When you remove the barrier, sales increase.
- “In the past six months, have you criticized or spoken highly of [YourCompanyName] to a friend, colleague, or family member? If so, please give details.” This is a great way to jog the customer’s memory and elicit specific criticism or specific praise. In the latter case, you might get a response that could be used as a testimonial. (If you want to use it that way, be sure to get permission first.)
Tip: You can get great insights from non-buyers, but bear in mind that—unlike your customers—they haven’t been through the entire sales funnel. Your customers know what they are talking about. They've paid enough attention to make a decision, so they know enough to be able to make good suggestions. A non-buyer, on the other hand, may have bailed out after only a few seconds. His or her opinion—however strong—is much less likely to be accurate. When your buyers criticize you, they’re more likely to be right.
Research is a new area to many marketing and product teams. Do you have any advice or tips for anyone just starting off?
Absolutely. I think the most important thing you can do is to take that first step and start making decisions based on data, not on opinions.
This might sound like a lot of work. In fact, it’s really liberating. Imagine being able to end long debates with “let’s test it and see what the customers decide.” Imagine being able to make business decisions based on insight that your competitors don’t have. And imagine never taking a step wrong, because every decision you make is tested, so you almost immediately know whether it was the right thing to do or not.
You need to create a culture of making things happen. Be prepared to fail, but fail fast and learn from those failures. If a company can change quickly, it can win. If it can’t, it dies.
CRE’s Advice for Teams looking to break into a Research-Driven Strategy:
Step 1: Focus on making just a single decision based on insights from your visitors, and build from there. If you haven’t already, get Google Analytics set up well, so you really know which pages, products and acquisition sources are working for you. Knowledge really is power (and profit).
Step 2: Be sure to focus on a decision that your team needs to make—it could be a brand new signup form, or a new PPC ad—and gather some data to inform that decision. Ideally, you should gather data directly from your visitors, but often traffic is an issue for teams starting out—so don’t be afraid to start with simple user-tests with friends and family.
Step 3: Finally, measure the impact of your decision. Use A/B-testing tools if you can, but again if you’re starting out, use user-tests to measure the performance of your decisions. We recommend you use user-tests alongside A/B-testing—an A/B-test will only reveal which version is better—but a user-test will reveal why it’s better.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see clients make in the way they build and improve their sites?
I think that question is best answered by turning it around and looking at what the world’s most sophisticated online companies have in common when it comes to improving their websites.
- The top companies design for function, not aesthetics. Most web agencies design for beauty, paying little more than lip service toward the goals of the business and its customers. In our opinion, good web design means understanding your visitors—and your business—deeply, then designing to meet both of their needs. Which approach is most effective? Take a look at the homepages of Google, eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, LinkedIn, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and other sites in Alexa’s Top 500 list and decide for yourself. Are they designed for beauty, or does their form follow their function? (We call this “Scientific Web Design.”)
- The top companies carry out experiments on their websites. When top companies change their websites, they measure the effects of the changes, using split-testing software or some other type of experimental technique. They want to know if their changes worked.
- The top companies make frequent, small changes, and rarely (if ever) have huge site redesigns. The top companies update their sites frequently—often weekly and sometimes daily. The changes are usually improvements to parts of pages rather than complete page redesigns or website redesigns. If you update your site in small iterations like this, you'll see what’s working (and what’s not working) on a granular level, your site-improvement process stays nimble because it’s always in use, and is not mothballed until the next mega-redesign, and your work-in-progress decreases.
Can you share with us any stories or results of how research has impacted your clients?
Sure, we published an interesting case study recently about how we helped grow goHenry—a FinTech company—by 470%.
Like lots of businesses these days, mobile is critical for goHenry, and research should reflect this. When optimizing for mobile, listen to what the mobile visitors are telling you. Sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked—even by companies with sophisticated mobile websites.
Don’t assume that your mobile visitors are just desktop visitors on a different device. If you do, you’ll focus on the user interface as the only difference between the two.
In fact, mobile users can have very different intentions, likes and objections to their desktop counterparts. You’ll need to address these specifically on your mobile journey.
And when you do, the results should follow—when we tested a new mobile landing page, sign-ups increased by 78%.
How can our readers follow Conversion Rate Experts and get notified about new case studies?
That’s an easy one!
If you are serious about becoming great at conversion, you should download our valuable free reports.