Five Design Mistakes That Kill Conversion Rates

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Good web design is usually simple and intuitive. That doesn’t mean web design is easy or that design mistakes don’t occur. This is why it’s important to bring together specialists. Such as UX design, conversion optimisation and user research to help create a great user experience that delivers a high conversion rate.

Design mistakes occur because even with the best intentions things are missed or compromises are made that can have a huge impact on the user experience and conversion rates. That is why it’s important to track user behaviour and monitor the customer experience on a continuous basis. A heuristic evaluation of a site will often uncover a multitude of sins and areas of interest that need further investigating.

Here are a five common mistakes that can affect your conversion rate.

1. Dead end:

Providing additional resources or tools is a great way of engaging visitors and encouraging them to return to your website. It is still important though to include relevant call to actions to guide users where to go next after they find the resources they are searching for.

For example, the insurer Vitality Health offers users calculators and tools, including an age calculator. This is a great idea given their target audience. When visitors complete the age calculator they are taken to a page without any call-to-action. This is a dead-end for the user and a lost opportunity to give visitors clear guidance on where to go next.

Image of design mistake 1 - a dead end

2. Unnecessary Friction:

When users are trying to complete a transaction on a secure page it is important to avoid unnecessary friction. Users may get frustrated and abandon the page. Here Tesco asks users to verify their account before completing a purchase using Clubcard vouchers. Customers are asked to enter three digits from their sixteen digit account number. This may be straightforward if customers have a Clubcard. If they have a Tesco credit card it is more of a challenge as the account number is using a small low contrast font at the bottom of the card.

Image of design mistake 2 - unnecessary friction

A simple text message or email with a verification code would be much easier for users to deal with here. However, when I first completed this process I couldn’t understand why I kept being asked to order a new Clubcard. That’s because I naturally clicked on the CTA that is just below the image of the Tesco credit card.

The primary CTA is tucked away on the far left and not immediately below the input boxes. Users will naturally click on the CTA that is closest to their mouse position on a form. We associate items that are close to each other as being related. Furthermore, in the West when faced with multiple CTAs users will naturally click on the CTA on the right. Ensure your primary CTA is where users expect to see it as they don’t anticipate searching for a form submission CTA.

3. Excessive Negative Space:

Excessive negative or white space can push engaging content below the fold and create the impression of a false bottom. The flooring site below uses so much negative space on its “Our Story” page it looks like the page is broken and has no content. This is wasteful and reduces engagement. It also discourages users to explore the page further.

Image of design fault 3 - excessive negative space

4. Breaking web conventions:

Web conventions are the designer’s friend because they allow users to navigate and learn from experience. This means they don’t have to re-learn how to browse around a site provided it conforms to basic web conventions. Yet many sites appear to ignore this benefit of web conventions and don’t locate their primary navigation at the top of their page or down the left hand-side of the screen. See below a few examples of homepages where the primary navigation is not located where users expect it to be.

Image of design mistake 4 - breaking web conventions

Does it really matter? Well, yes it does as lots of studies and tests have shown breaking strong web conventions reduces usability and often adversely affects conversion rates. Below is an A/B test on In the default experience the secondary navigation was on the right hand-side of the page. In the challenger variant the navigation had been moved to the left hand-side of the page to conform to the web convention. The variant was the clear winner with clicks on the secondary navigation up by 17% and clicks on the primary CTA (which varied according the page) up by 12% and 27% respectively.

Image of design mistake 4 - break web conventions

5. The Hamburger Icon:

Sometime we see something so often we assume that it must be working because of its popularity and we may even adopt it for our own site. This is called the bandwagon effect and unfortunately this can lead to design trends that have no evidence to support them. That’s what happened to the hamburger icon on mobile and why it can be classed as a design mistake.

Facebook adopted the hamburger icon for its mobile side menu in 2010 and after that many designers assumed it was an approved design element. However, most A/B tests and usability studies have shown that the hamburger icon reduces discoverability and conversion. A study by Whatusersdo confirmed this is 2016. For this reason companies that have testing culture have tended to either remove their hamburger icons or add a label to clarify its purpose (see Netflix below).

Image 5 - hamburger icon on mobile apps and websites

Another recent trend that lacks any real logic is using the hamburger icon on desktop sites. Apart from being a stupid idea, it is totally unnecessary as on a desktop screen there is no need to reduce the primary navigation down to single icon. I suspect this trend may reflect an obsession for consistency of design between mobile and desktop sites. But as I explained in a post about commitment and consistency, consistency for its own sake is not a good reason to strive for it. Consistency needs to have a benefit as otherwise it can harm the user experience.


Conversion optimisation is not a simple process. It requires a culture of experimentation and evidence based decision making. However, you can prevent unnecessary problems by ensuring you always give users a clear call-to-action at the end of any user journey. Don’t let account verification create unnecessary friction through poor design and difficult tasks. Automated account verification makes this process simple and painless.

Negative or white space can be a powerful directional cue to draw the user towards a desired action. However, excessive white space creates the wrong impression and can hinder browsing activity. Web conventions assist user navigation and browsing and so avoid breaking them unless your idea improves the user experience. Breaking conventions relating to navigation are especially problematic and so should be avoided at all costs.

Finally, avoid following new design trends unless you have evidence that they improve conversions. Many design trends only become popular because designers and web masters jump on the bandwagon without first testing their impact on user behaviour. This approach to web design can seriously damage your conversion rate. If you don’t have the expertise internally consider hiring a conversion rate optimisation consultant to help guide you and transfer skills to your staff.

Skyrocket Conversions By Fixing Your User Experience

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A broken user experience can completely kill conversions, and yet many companies make changes without evidence and launch features no one wants. Why do companies put so little effort into fixing their user experience? Could it be that no one ever gets promoted for fixing a broken user experience, but shiny new features are much more likely to be noticed by senior management?

As conversion rate optimisation expert Craig Sullivan pointed out at the Conversion Elite conference. Fixing broken stuff and improving the usability of an experience is much more likely to improve conversions, and revenues than using persuasive techniques or increasing the motivation of users. So, how should we approach online optimisation?

How Do You Fix Your User Experience?

Before even considering running A/B tests, we should be answering these questions about our digital user experience. If we examine these issues first we are likely to identify a majority of the problems that probably cause customers to give up and go elsewhere.

I checked out these mobile sites/apps, and in less than a couple of minutes I found elements on each site that were broken or were sub-optimal.

  • Iceland’s site had persistent error messages that did not clear after the correct data had been entered.
  • Aldi site’s product images would not load.
  • Call-to-action buttons on Moneypenny’s site were hiding copy.
  • The SimplyBiz “ABOUT US” header has unreadable copy in the background. Which someone has forgotten to remove.
  • The Meetup app displayed an error message when I tried to confirm attendance for a meeting.

Mobile website user experience problems

What Do We Already Know?

At this point there is a strong temptation to ask your conversion rate optimisation team to start browsing your digital experience to look for broken stuff. This is time consuming and wasteful as you probably already have access to data that indicates where problems may lie. Interrogate your web analytics (including error rates), form analytics, user research (e.g. session replays), surveys and feedback (e.g. complaints) to observe real journeys. Identify touch-points that indicate where there may be problems with your user experience.

Hotjar is a very cost effective user experience solution which includes session replays, click heat maps, form analytics and user feedback. Make sure you schedule time to view session replays as this is an often underused feature that allows you to observe real user journeys. There are a number of cost effective user experience tools to choose from.

It is also important to analyse your data by device class (mobile, tablet and desktop), but also operating system and screen resolution. For responsive site you should also look at breakpoints to see how this impacts upon conversion. But also don’t forget to try to track people rather than devices. Google Analytics and other analytics solutions allows for a user view to monitor logged in customers across device. You can measure the entire user journey and calculate a true conversion rate.

What are the use cases?

Context is everything as it will often determine the current user need. For example, if you are using a train ticket app your need will be very different a week before you travel. Compared to when you are at the station barrier or on the train with a ticket inspector asking to see your ticket. The user may also have to rely on 4G rather than WI-FI when on a train. Turn off your WI-FI to observe the real experience when testing an app.

How do you test your own digital experience?

Now you have data on real user journeys it’s time to immerse yourself in your digital experience. Using the data you collect you can focus on the devices, browsers and journeys that customers follow. You won’t have the time or devices to check ever user experience. Use a cross-browser testing solution to get screen shots of all the main devices and browsers you need.

However, you should still get your core user devices so that you can get a better understanding of the real user experience. For touch devices don’t be lazy and use a desktop simulator. That won’t allow you to observe a touch experience or test usability.

Here is an example of a error-ridden form from Iceland Foods ( which displays persistent errors for date of birth and the alternative phone number field. These kinds of errors often occur because of lazy programming. Don’t force users to enter data according to your perception of the “right” way to submit data. Instead get programmers to use rules to convert data to a consistent format. Furthermore, why does any company need two telephone numbers, especially when increasing numbers of people only have a mobile number? See more web form design best practices here.

Image of Iceland Foods sign-up form with With errors on DOB and alternative telephone

Does it load and work quickly?

You can measure actual page speed using Google Analytics or other web analytics solutions. Given that many sites will continue to call on the server for content long after the page has initially loaded use the Average Document Interactive Time in GA. This is the time that it takes for the content to load sufficiently for a user to be able to interact with the page. See more on load speed tools in this blog here.

Can people use it?

If your site or app is prone to bugs and errors this can be very frustrating for users and can destroy your credibility. Here is an error that occurs in the popular app that prevents the user completing a RSVP. This kind of bug is very annoying for users as it prevents them completing an important task. You should monitor error rates in your analytics as they are a clear sign that something is broken.

Image of error causes by bug in app

User research is also an important tool to find where visitors are experiencing problems. Usability research involves recruiting people who roughly fit your target audience and giving them a simple task based upon a relevant use case (e.g. open a new account or find a certain product on a website). Where possible these should be ‘real users’ rather than employees of your organisation. So, what are the options for conducting UX research?

Face-to-face research:

The advantage of getting someone to navigate a user journey whilst you sit next to them is that you can observe their body language and their level of concentration to better understand how they react to the new design. This can improve the richness of the feedback you obtain from each respondent. It may allow you to ask more relevant questions as you observe their behaviour in its entirety.

On the downside people can behave differently when they are aware they are being observed and so you should allow time for the respondent to settle into the process. You can also reduce this effect by including the target experience in a series of tasks that hides which site you are testing. You might for example tell the participant you are testing a competitor site and then ask them to go to the target site for a comparison.

Face-to-face user research doesn’t have to be expensive. If you don’t have a budget why not go to your local coffee shop or bar and offer potential participants a free drink if they agree to take part. This will take you out of the corporate bubble and you should get a variety of users to observe and learn from.

However, always use appropriate software to record your research sessions as you can’t concentrate on everything going on and ask relevant questions. Check out UX recording software, like CamStudio and other solutions from my Digital Marketing Toolbox.

Remote User Research:

Conducting user research remotely can be relatively cheap depending upon whether you are doing it yourself (e.g. using Skype to share screens) or using a UX agency. It also allows you to recruit people from any location in the world if you need to. You can allow for cultural differences in behaviour and ensure you get a diverse set of participants.

Check out this comprehensive guide on remote user research from @anatinge.

The advantage of remote moderated research is that you have more control over the process. If necessary you can guide participants to the next step in the user journey. Bear in mind that any intervention will bias the response. Provided you understand this it can be useful to ensure users test each step in a journey even if you know they need help to get through it. You can also use research to help guide the development of an automated user research study.

Remote Automated User Research:

These tools generally allow you recruit your own users or they will find people for you from large panels of people that regularly participate in user research. If you are using their panel you can specify recruitment criteria to ensure they roughly meet the demographics of your target audience. However, don’t get fixated with recruiting a representative sample of users. This is not appropriate for user research where you are testing the interface, not the product’s appeal.

Once you have the task and if necessary, provide any screenshots (e.g. for a new design that is not yet live) these tools can provide recordings of the task or scenario based test results. Check out my post on automated usability testing here.

Quick Feedback:

There are a number of tools that offer quick feedback on concepts, such as the Five Second Test from and I’ve summarised the top remote usability solutions in the blog How to do usability testing to improve conversions. This will guide you to get the most out of these tools.

Information Hierarchy:

For an evaluation of how easy it is for people to find information or merchandise on your site check out tree testing tools here. For an assessment of your navigation categories see this post on card sorting tools. The information hierarchy is an important element of the user experience that is often ignored. It could be a reason for a sub-optimal conversion rate.

Voice of Customer:

Don’t expect users to be proactive and tell you what is broken on your site – you are not their priority. But voice of customer tools, including surveys and exit polls can encourage users to provide valuable feedback on the user experience. Check out how to use VoC tools to improve conversion and a summary of over 20 popular tools in this blog post.

Can People Read It?

Accessibility, which includes the readability of content, is often over looked issues. However, 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women suffer from colour blindness. One in seven people in the UK have some kind of disability and 6.1m users in the UK have impairments that affect the way they use the internet.

Usability testing should pick up some of the accessibility issues with your design. You can also try to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). To test if you site has accessibility issues you can use the free Chrome plugins:


A lot of time and money is put into marketing to persuade and motivate people to complete conversion actions. However, as we have seen much of this money is often wasted because simple faults are not resolved. There is little point in pumping money into sending more traffic to your site. If it doesn’t work on the user’s device, it takes too long to load, usability issues have not been fixed or if people struggle to read the content.

This often happens because organisations are obsessed with launching the latest new shiny feature rather than getting the basics right. However, as Craig Sullivan pointed out at the Conversion Elite conference, the benefits of fixing just a few of these problems can often be greater than the entire annual IT budget. So, even if it is boring, it is definitely worth the effort.

Copying – Are There Many Original Ideas?

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Have you noticed the obsession with originality and the desire to be first to market? Yet most of the innovations that have shaped our world today are ideas or technology that were nothing new at the time.

For instance, Apple didn’t invent the touch-screen smart phone. IBM created the first smart phone (known as the Simon Personal Communicator). Fifteen years before Apple launched the iPhone and the touch-screen was invented as far back as 1965. Apple took existing technology and made it their own through exceptional design. A determination to provide a great user experience.

Neither was McDonald’s the first fast-food chain. It copied the idea from the White Castle restaurant in Wichita, Kansas. Facebook wasn’t the first social network and Henry Ford didn’t invent the car. So, innovation does not have to be about invention, it’s more likely to be about copying.

Why copy?

In his book Copy,Copy,Copy, Mark Earls suggests that copying (but not replicating) of ideas and experiences is something we naturally do. It is the most efficient method of innovation. Copying is easy and is a great hack for making fast progress and not looking at problems in isolation. You get to benefit from the mistakes and the success of others that you have never even met. This may explain why being first to market with a new innovation is rarely an advantage.

What is poor copying?

Simply replicating an idea or product and the practice of benchmarking reduces value. It creates increasingly homogenised offers and there is no allowance for context or thought about fixing what’s broken. Indeed, benchmarking damages profitability because of increased price-point competition and less differentiation.

‘Looser copying’ or from afar (e.g. from a different sector or culture) can add value. It creates variation through the changes or mistakes we make. This is essentially the concept of fixing what’s broken and keeping what works.

Why don’t we copy more?

In Western cultures we are often led to believe that each problem or challenge is unique and so requires a unique solution. This is almost always misguided because very few problems are new and it gives the impression that it will be extremely difficult to solve. This often results in the rejection of many good ideas simply because of their similarity to solutions used elsewhere.

This is partly because of the individualistic culture we have in the West which values originality and discourages copying. This is not the case in China and other parts of Asia where copying is perceived in a much more positive light. The danger is that this attitude towards copying puts Western companies at a disadvantage. Why reinvent the wheel or if it’s not broken, why fix it?

Mark Earls, Copy,Copy,Copy

“The truth is that most things are like other things – they certainly seem that way: the human mind’s ability to see similarities and connections between things is unbounded.”

Are most innovations the product of a single individual? Nope, it’s a myth that innovations are the creation of a single person. In most cases many people are involved in innovation and they copy from different sources to create something new and exciting. What this suggests is that when done in the right way copying can produce novel and highly effective solutions.

Copying is what we do naturally:

Mark points out that because of our brain’s limited processing power we are forced to rely heavily on default heuristics – what did we do last time or what is everyone else doing? We copy ideas and behaviours all the time but often are not even aware of it. Copying allows us to outsource many aspects of cognitive thinking and provides us with a knowledge bank that further reduces the cognitive effort we may need to solve a problem.

Marketers needs to understand copying:

When we see brand shares following the Pareto 80/20 rule diffusion science tells us that people are not acting independently. Copying makes the most popular brands even more popular than they would be if everyone acted independently.

This produces a long-tail distribution of popularity (see right-hand curve) which is a strong indication of social influence and copying. Otherwise you are likely to be looking at independent choice (as shown by the short-tail distribution).

The data shows that buyer choices in many markets and services is mainly driven by either directed copying (e.g. following experts or authority figures) or undirected copying (following the most popular variant). Just look at the power of social proof and we can see how important what other people are doing is in influencing sales.

Mark Earls – I’ll Have What She’s Having

“The paradox of conformity, of course, is that we are all conformists in some way, and yet we do not all do the same thing – far from it. In fact, we find the greatest diversity of behaviours in places where people are most densely packed together, such as New York, London, or Istanbul.”

In some markets we are now faced with so many choices that it is practically impossible to identify an ideal product or service to meet your needs. Just imagine trying to evaluate every TV or smart phone. In such instances we can either make an educated guess or follow the behaviour of others.

By bringing these insights together Mark Earls and his co-authors in I’ll Have What She’s Having created a map of four decision making styles for marketers to use. In his latest book Mark Earls has used this map to create a pattern book of over 50 marketing strategies to encourage marketers to innovate using approaches that have been successful in other sectors. This is a valuable resource as it allows you to focus on execution rather than creating strategies from scratch.

Implications for website optimisation:

  • Stop replicating ideas and designs from your competitors:

Far too many sites are obsessed with what their competitors’ are doing and copy exactly what they see them doing. This results in websites looking almost identical and reduces differentiation. Instead look outside your sector to see what is new and innovative. Copy loosely and then test to see if it adds value before rolling it out on your whole site.

  • Think about design trends:

Have you noticed how many websites blindly follow certain design trends? Whether it’s over-sized hero images, auto-play video backgrounds, auto-sliders, flat design, parallax scrolling or the hamburger button on mobile designs. Online experiments have shown all of these trends can damage conversion and sometimes frustrate and annoy visitors.

Instead of simply replicating new trends, why not consider what prompted the trend and the truths it embodies. You can then copy the elements or ideas that appear to be most beneficial and test them on your site to measure what impact they have on visitor behaviour. This way you can maintain your site’s unique character and still benefit from new developments or trends.

  • Be agile:

I recently participated in a 5 day Google design sprint to develop a new online brand’s proposition and website. We spent a lot of time looking outside the sector of interest to get inspiration. We copied the elements of the market that we thought worked, but wanted to fix what was broken. This was achieved by taking ideas from many different fields and rapid iteration of designs.

Within the 5 days we created and tested a prototype design and helped give the project the momentum it needed. The whole agile process is based upon copying as otherwise it would require too much time and effort to make progress.

  • Identify your market’s decision style:

Assess which quadrant of the decision style map your market is most likely to sit in. You can then focus on the marketing strategies that are most likely to align with this decision style. As part of this process it also useful to identify other markets that have the same decision style to your own. This will allow you investigate how they apply appropriate marketing strategies and you may find novel ideas that you can incorporate in your own strategies.

It is possible that your market could fall between two quadrants and if this is the case it is worth to considering strategies from more than one quadrant. For example a decision about the preferred method of delivery of a service (e.g. offline or online) might be in the North West quadrant (i.e. considered choice), but the brand choice may be in the North East quadrant (i.e. copy experts).


Originality is overrated as most things are similar to something that already exists. This means copying allows us to benefit from other peoples’ mistakes and create novel solutions to difficult problems. However, just replicating what we see elsewhere can reduce value and lead to a lack of differentiation.

For marketers copying is often an important market dynamic that can heavily influence a customer’s decision style. Understanding the most common decision style in your market helps us identify appropriate marketing strategies to apply. Copying relevant marketing strategies from other sectors or cultures allows us to concentrate on the execution and learn from how others to create novel solutions.

For more details about how to copy effectively and how to use the decision styles map to execute relevant marketing strategies please get Copy,Copy,Copy by Mark Earls.

Copy, Copy, Copy

Why Is A Silo Mentality Killing Your Growth Strategy?

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Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is on a roll but is a silo mentality undermining the effectiveness of CRO? Companies are falling over themselves to recruit CRO specialist. Yet few companies are getting the uplifts in conversion that they expected to achieve.

The problem is that CRO is often set up as a stand-alone department which encourages a silo mentality. For example when I was in a full-time CRO role I was asked to create a testing roadmap, without any budget for customer research or usability testing. It was as if I was the oracle for CRO. However, CRO is a business strategy. It is not the sole responsibility of an individual department or business unit.

This approach to CRO does not lead to sustainable business growth. It tends to run out of steam once the obvious things to fix are exhausted. Furthermore, CRO requires collaboration across departments to draw in a diverse range of skills and expertise.

Unfortunately in many organisations CRO suffers from the same silo mentality. It results in slow, bureaucratic business decision making and a culture which encourages waste and strangles innovation. Despite a desire to improve business efficiency the basic building blocks of most organisational structures are still the traditional functional silo.

Why does a silo mentality damage CRO?

For CRO to deliver business growth it needs to be embedded in the culture. It requires a collaborative approach to business change. For example testing needs to integrate with the product roadmap, reflect business goals and inform marketing strategy. Companies which operate within rigid silos find CRO fails to deliver sustainable growth. The silo mentality discourages collaboration and cultural change.

“The great defect of scale, of course, which makes the game interesting. The big people don’t always win, as you get big, you get the bureaucracy. And with the bureaucracy comes the territoriality—which is again grounded in human nature.” – Charlie Munger – Berkshire Hathaway

A silo mentality also prevents organisations fully exploiting the collective knowledge of the customer that is held across the organisation. Silos make it more difficult for customer data and knowledge to be effectively shared to inform decision making that creates the most value for the customer and organisation.

Image of Kodak logo

Kodak was organised into product silos. In the 1970s it controlled around 90% of the film market and 75% of the camera market. They invented the digital camera in 1975 but were in the business of making film. Their largest operational silo reinforced this perception to defend its own self-interests.

Kodak went bankrupt in 2012 after selling its digital camera business to save the film business.

Why do silos form?

Silos are a natural reaction to organisational growth and greater complexity. Companies create specialist functions in response to business expansion and increased work load. Silos facilitate the building of expertise and knowledge for specific business purposes.

Our herd instinct encourages people to become strongly attached to those within our immediate group. We form emotional bonds with people we have experiences with. A silo mentality can result in people putting the needs or goals of their business unit ahead of the objectives of the organisation.

Sheep on the road image


As projects are often resourced and financed from within a function means that outcomes and insights are not always shared outside of the business unit. This can lead to both physical and emotional obstacles to collaboration between business units. In the worse-case scenario this can result in conflict between departments. They aim to protect their own interests rather than those of the organisation as a whole.

Why do silos harm growth and innovation?

A silo mentality creates competing subcultures within a business. This limits ways of working and communication between business units. It also reduces social interaction and trust between people working for the same business. Digital silos disrupt information and knowledge sharing which is essential for CRO.

This is why large organisations can be bureaucratic and slow to adapt to both internal and external demands for change. This often damages the customer experience. It becomes difficult to respond swiftly to changes in customer needs or preferences.

What problems do silos cause for CRO?

Fragmented vision:

Unless CRO is part of the culture of the organisation. Functional business units will continue to create their own goals and strategy for optimising the user experience or conversion rates. Apart from duplicating effort and resources, a silo mentality results in the vision of the organisation becoming fragmented. This creates conflict and dilutes the effectiveness of customer strategies.

Inefficiency – silos create friction and mistrust

The conflict from silo mentality damages trust between functions. It often causes inefficiencies as departments fail to share knowledge and duplicate tasks. I’ve seen this result in brands replicating successful A/B tests conducted by another business unit rather than acknowledging and learning from the test. In addition priorities are set according the business unit’s goals rather than what is important for the business as a whole.

With CRO this often results in experiments being delayed due to a lack of design or development resource. Unfortunately such delays can make tests less relevant or obsolete in some cases as product releases change the default experience.

Image of Sony HQ in Japan

Sony case study:

In 1994 Sony reorganised into eight stand-alone business units. Initially this led to cost savings and an improvement in profitability. But managers also began trying to protect their units, not just from competitors but also from other departments. Due to a silo mentality Sony’s business units became less willing to share experimental ideas or rotate the brightest staff between departments.

Collaboration stopped and nobody wanted to take risks. In the late 1990s when the Internet began to disrupt the distribution of music. Each Sony department tried independently to experiment with new solutions. However, none collaborated with the Sony Music Entertainment Group (previously CBS records) because SME refused to cooperate with any department. Its officials were terrified that digital music would undermine revenues from records and CDs.

Image of Sony Walkman

Apple on the other hand worked as one cohesive company with one profit and loss. Engineers at Apple developed a two-step solution to allow users to download music from the internet and then listen to them on a portable device.

Apple also developed the iStore to provide music groups with some royalties and designed the platform so that it could be accessed by anybody using any platform. Sony’s digital music system on the other hand relied on proprietary technology that had to use their own platform. This limited Sony’s ability to compete with Apple in both the music download market and the portable music player market which Sony had practically created with the Walkman.

In 2001 Apple launched the iPod and has since dominated the portable music player market. Sony failed to take a significant share of a market it once led with the Sony Walkman.

False assumptions:

Silos are very good at perpetuating myths on inaccurate perceptions that circulate without being challenged in an individual business unit. This is because a silo mentality encourages people to become over-reliant on information from within their own department.

I experienced this one time when I challenged why the term “CAPTCHA” was being used in content for customers. The response that came back was they had checked with their team (all web developers) and they all felt their friends and families would understand the term. There was zero awareness that perhaps their team and even their close friends and family were not representative of a typical customer.

This level of overconfidence in the knowledge held within the silo can reduce willingness to interact with other business units and limit opportunities to share knowledge and expertise. Employees may therefore become isolated and feel dissatisfied. It can have serious consequences for staff morale and retention. This can damage efforts to improve the customer experience and often leads to complacency which can be disastrous for CRO.

Limited customer insight:

Image of online surveys

To understand user expectations and experiences it is critical that data and insights are combined and processed from sources throughout the organisational structure. If data is not freely shared and combined with insights from other units the opportunity cost can be huge. A silo mentality significantly limits the value of customer data to the organisation and individual departments as connections and insights are not fully uncovered.

With CRO this is from one piece of market research or insight being used to push through an update on subjective opinions. This can create conflict between teams. One piece of information should never be used in isolation to support a change in the customer experience. A culture can seriously damage the customer experience and reduce conversion rates.

Blame culture:

A fragmented approach to organisational change programs such as CRO caused by the dominance of individual silos creates a blame culture and can result in complacency. When CRO targets are not met, the temptation for some departments is to blame other areas of the business rather than take the responsibility.

A silo mentality therefore discourages collaboration. Such initiatives can threaten a person’s career or credibility within their own department. In CRO it is important to encourage people to prove themselves wrong by creating online experiments to challenge existing best practice.

This is often how innovation happens as if we don’t take risks we are unlikely to create anything new and transformational. However, to identify improvements in the customer experience it is essential that people from different areas of expertise work together in a collaborative and trusting environment.


When all think alike, then no one is thinking - Walter Lippman - The danger of groupthink

Small teams drawn from a single business unit have been found to be prone to make poor decisions due to their tendency to suffer from what psychologists call groupthink. Companies often believe that by recruiting the smartest people they can prevent poor decision making. The opposite is often true as small homogeneous groups suffer from a lack of diversity, insufficient independent thinking and a desire for conformity.

“Diversity and independence are important. The best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.” – James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

People in such teams are also often over-respectful of senior people and so don’t sufficiently challenge ideas from these team members. Diversity is important because homogeneous groups become more cohesive than diverse teams. As a consequence they become more reliant on the group for ideas and support.

This insulates the group from external sources of information and makes group members more assured that the group consensus is the best solution to the problem.

“Suggesting that the organization with the smartest people may not be the best. Organization is heretical, particularly in a business world caught up in a ceaseless “war for talent”. Governed by the assumption that a few superstars can make the difference between an excellent and a mediocre company. Heretical or not, it’s the truth, the value of expertise is, in many contexts, overrated.” – James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

Of course many large organisations insist on recruiting the brightest minds from the top universities. However, this restricts both racial and cognitive diversity which enables homogeneous groups to form.

How do you break down silos?

CRO needs to be an agile process to allow teams to respond to new customer knowledge and insights from the multitude of sources available to a customer focused organisation.

Collaboration is essential to enable knowledge and data to be delivered. It is vital to any organisation that seeks to improve profitability by improving the customer experience and conversion. No single team can optimise the user experience on their own.

To break down organisational silos to develop a strong CRO culture it is necessary to begin at the top of the business and change old working practices. The key strategies to create a more collaborative approach to CRO are:

CRO needs board level buy-in:

If you look at the companies that have most successfully implemented a CRO strategy such as Amazon, and They have people right at the top of the organisation who are passionate about CRO and take ownership of developing a supportive culture. Skyscanner for instance recently promoted their chief experimenter to become Director of Experimentation.

Having a board level manager in charge of CRO gives the strategy the profile and support to build a culture of customer focus and experimentation. A junior manager would never have the clout to try and optimise the product as well as web content.

Agree a unified vision for CRO:

Image of Amazon signIt is important to have a single vision for the company to retain focus and ensure consistency of objectives within the leadership team. Amazon has a very strong and clear vision as follows:

“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company. To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” – Source: The

The focus on customer centricity gives clear direction to all employees so that everyone can relate the vision to their own job. This helps CRO because people can see the relevance of optimisation to the company’s vision and their own individual and departmental goals.

Set a common goal:

Silos often cause conflict because individual business units set tactical goals and objectives that can discourage collaborative working. To avoid this problem the leadership team need to set out a single goal for the company. For example Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said;

“It is the company’s goal to make it irresponsible to not be a Prime member.” – Jeff Bezos

This should be made clear to all employees so they can understand how they can contribute individually to achieving the goal. This assists CRO because having a clear goal makes it easier to identify a relevant success metric.

Agile product management:

To facilitate collaboration across individual business units it is necessary to form product management teams that draw expertise from a diverse range of areas of expertise. For CRO this means having teams which include developers, UX designers, marketing specialists, experimenters and product managers to develop hypothesis, build tests and implement successful ideas.

Identify why trust has broken down:

It’s important to understand the reasons for a lack of trust and get people to recognize the problems that silos create before implementing solutions. Changing a culture of working within silos has to reduce resistance and obtain co-operation. For CRO this means frequent communication and workshops to engage people throughout the business.

Flexible communication solutions:

The growth of global teams can prevent knowledge sharing and timely decision-making. Furthermore, the use of email, phone and real-time messaging services have a virtual workplace that fragments communications and reduces face-to-face interaction. Business process management and resource planning software can help break down silos walls and allow people to work together on shared goals. It encourages the exchange of information and ideas.

Let go of CRO:

One way of killing collaboration in CRO is not being willing to let go and allow others in the organisation to have some autonomy. Sure, there is a need for oversight and co-ordination. It is necessary to trust people to follow the agreed framework for CRO.

It is important to get people across the business trained up to add their input and expertise to the CRO program. Your UX designers should provide wireframes for your ideas, copywriters content, and your own developers should build experiments. Sometimes it can help by bringing in a CRO agency to co-ordinate this process. In the long-run it is perfectly possible to create all the necessary expertise within most organisations.


Finally, ensure you build in feedback and monitoring systems to evaluate how well your strategy is working. CRO is a change management process and so adoption will take time and is rarely universally successful. However, as gaps or problems are identified you have the opportunity to review your approach and try new ideas.

Beware of vanity metrics, such as number of tests per month, which often don’t closely fit the desired outcome. This can result in the cobra effect which can lead to unexpected and unwanted behaviour. Look out for these behaviours and adjust targets accordingly as some people do try to play the system.

Hick’s Law And User Experience Design

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In 1951 the British psychologist William Hick conducted experiments with a series of lights and Morse code keys to measure choice reaction times. Hick discovered that the relationship between the time it took to make a decision and the number of choices was logarithmic. Together with work by the US psychologist Ray Hyman their studies formed the basis of Hick’s Law. This means that the more choices you offer people the more time they require to make a decision.

As a result, when people are given lots to choose from, they have to spend a considerable amount of time to interpret and process information to make a suitable decision. Hick’s Law also corresponds with the Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. He argues that more choice leads to more stress and reduced levels of customer satisfaction.

What does Hick’s Law tell us?

The research Hick and Hyman conducted resulted in a formula to define Hick’s Law:

RT = a + b log2 (n)

“RT” is the reaction time, “(n)” is the number of stimuli offered, and “a” and “b” are arbitrary measurable constants. These depend on the task to be completed and the conditions under which it will be conducted. “A” could be getting an appropriate gift for your sister’s birthday. “B” could be a phone call with your mum to find out what other members of the family might be buying her as a present.

Image showing Hick's Law relationship between amount of choice and time to make a decision

The implication of Hick’s Law for UX and optimisers appears simple. Minimise the number of options you display to speed up the decision-making process. There are exceptions to the rule though. If a visitor has already made up their mind before arriving on your site, they will take less time to make a decision than someone who has not decided what they want.

From a conversion perspective this means less is more and give more prominence to the option that is most likely to meet customer goals. But what else does Hick’s Law tell us about digital marketing?

Implications of Hick’s Law for UX:

Hick’s Law can be applied across many aspects of life and business, not just design and conversion rate optimisation. Here are 9 implications from Hick’s Law for UX:

  • The design principle known as K.I.S.S (Keep it Short and Simple) originated from the application of Hick’s Law. This has been applied across many fields.
  • In terms of systems design, Gall’s Law appears to apply a similar principle to the field of complex systems. This is a rule of thumb that suggests that complex systems have usually evolved from a simple system that worked. This is consistent with agile working. It encourages project managers to keep website and apps simple at first. Avoid adding too many features and complex functionality at the beginning of the design process.
  • Avoid massive menus and lots of categories.
  • Minimise call to actions (CTAs) and links on a page to reduce cognitive load.
  • The vast majority of users who land on your site have some kind of preconception or intent about what they are looking for. Tailoring landing pages according to the source of traffic and what they are looking for can help remove choices that lack relevance to that particular customer segment. By eliminating distractions and focusing on the most relevant choices we can make the user experience less cognitively demanding and more enjoyable.

More Implications

  • For large data sets such as blog posts, thumbnails or product recommendations. Provide structure using white space and other directional cues. By applying consistency to design this facilitates the user’s decision-making without over-powering them with choice.
  • For content heavy sites designers should use patterns and consistency to allow users to easily scan the page and quickly find what they are looking for. A good design uses a combination of visual cues, colour, spacing and consistency to visually emphasize important conversion elements on a page.
  • People don’t read content, they scan it. Use suitable images, graphics, spacing, headings, short paragraphs and bullet points to assist users.
  • Follow web conventions. Using blue for text links indicates that it is clickable. It speeds up the user’s decision-making process because they are globally recognisable patterns in web design.
  • In an A/B test on we increased clicks on the vertical navigation by 17% by moving the navigation from the right to the left to conform to the web convention. Using standard web conventions throughout a design helps users make decisions based upon previous experience.

Image of vertical navigation test


Finally, Hick’s Law reminds us that conversion rate optimisation is about focusing on core customer needs and behaviour to minimise cognitive load and make the user experience enjoyable. By delivering a consistent set of design patterns that reflect behaviour and web conventions we can minimise the number of conscious decisions users need to make and improve conversions.

Design is not about making a website look beautiful or to win awards. We should aim to make the user experience effortless. By applying the principles of Hick’s Law throughout the user journey we should improve the chances of prospects and customers converting.

Featured image from

What Is Conversion Rate Optimisation?

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Does CRO Say What It Does On The Tin?

When people ask me what I do for a living and I mention website or conversion rate optimisation (CRO). I often find they think I’m talking about another area of digital marketing. Many people think CRO is related to Search Engine Marketing, PPC or SEO. This should not be a surprise because CRO is a somewhat misleading term for website optimisation. It gives the impression that it is all about a single metric, which it is not.

Image of chart showing conversion rate for registration and first time deposit

For a start any fool can optimise a website’s conversion rate by slashing prices, offering people free trials or giving free money away on a gaming site. But the site would soon go out of business as this wouldn’t do much for overall profitability. No, CRO is not about optimising the conversion rate as it would be dangerous to use a single metric for a measure of success.

Why conversion rate is a poor metric?

The conversion rate is actually a poor metric to focus on because not all visitors are able or willing to convert. Furthermore, by making your site more engaging and increasing the frequency of visitors returning to your site. You may well increase sales, but your conversion rate could well fall as a result. This is because returning visitors may not buy on every visit, but overall they could be buying more merchandise.

The conversion rate also tends to vary significantly according to different channels and visitor types. So if your traffic mix changes your conversion rate could fall due to the source of traffic and not because of anything you have done. Increasing overall traffic to your site could again increase sales but it’s quite common for this to reduce your conversion rate as the traffic mix may change or because visitor intent is lower.

Common misconceptions about CRO:

The lack of understanding of website optimisation is partly caused by the term CRO which has led to some of the following misconceptions about it:

  • CRO only relates to customer acquisition.
  • CRO is A/B and multivariate testing.
  • CRO is a tactical tool for resolving short-term problems with sales or revenues.
  • You need to have a lot of traffic for CRO.
  • CRO is expensive and not for small companies.
  • Landing page optimisation is the same as CRO.
  • CRO is about improving the customer experience.

Well, what is conversion rate optimisation?

CRO is a strategic approach to digital marketing that seeks to optimise the value obtained from visitors to your site in a sustainable and customer centric way. It aims to be a driver of business growth by persuading customers to take action by allowing them to achieve their goals so that you can also meet your business goals. CRO requires a scientific or evidence based approach to decision making regarding changes to the digital customer experience.

Image of skills required for website optimization

So let’s break this definition down into some of its individual components to fully understand what CRO means.

Strategy rather than a tactic:

As a strategy rather than a tactic CRO is much more powerful because it requires a customer centric culture from the C-suite down. Only when CRO is embedded into the culture of a business can we expect it to reach its full potential. CRO should not be a silo in marketing or some other part of the business that is infrequently discussed by the board. It needs to be the responsibility of everyone in the business to consider how changes to the user experience may impact the customer and overall profitability.

Customer goals:

For you to meet your business goals the customer must first achieve their goals. This means communicating a compelling value proposition and using conversion centric design to make the user journey as frictionless as possible.

Acquisition and retention:

CRO principles can and should be applied to both acquisition and existing customer journeys. It is normally a lot cheaper to retain customers than acquire new customers and so it is more efficient to allocate resources to customer retention than to focus just on attracting new users.


To get more visitors to convert it is necessary to use persuasive techniques to nudge customers towards their goal. This means that a good understanding of the application of behavioural sciences such as behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience are essential qualities for optimisers.

Scientific approach:

A culture of evidence-based decision making is important to encourage a scientific approach to digital optimisation. Online experiments using A/B and multivariate testing solutions should support this strategy by validating changes and allowing a evolutionary approach to website improvement. This approach largely removes the need for site-redesigns because it leads to a more evolutionary way of enhancing the customer experience.

Image of multivariate test with over 1 million possible combinations

Source: Sentient Ascend

People of course dislike whole site re-designs as they have to instantly deal with multiple changes on a site that looks very different from what they had become accustomed to. Facebook have learnt this lesson the hard way and now ensure change is gradual and controlled to avoid annoying users. LinkedIn on the other hand don’t seem to have understood the pitfalls of site-redesigns and received huge criticism following a new site launch in early 2017.

Structured process:

To develop a CRO strategy it is important to have a structured process to guide your program. Having a process like the steps outlined below helps give you credibility within your business as it demonstrates your professional integrity. Further, it encourages a consistent approach to CRO throughout your organisation.

Conversion rate optimisation requires a systematic approach and process to be generate sustainable growth

Invest in people:

Website optimisation requires a number of specialist skills to perform well in the role. Consequentially it is important to invest in training and personal development to improve the skill set of your optimisation team.


Because CRO is more complex than simply optimising your conversion rate it is necessary to carefully define your most important metrics to evaluate what success looks like. For example e-commerce retailers need to ensure they don’t increase sales at the expense of more returns as this can lead to them losing money.

Ecommerce sites should seek to combine results from their test with metrics from the data warehouse (DWH) to measure revenues after returns. This is one reason why you shouldn’t rely on a single source of data as this can lead to errors and may undermine the reliability of your test results. Web analytics, DWH and data from your testing tool should be used together to provide a more comprehensive picture of user behaviour.


Averages lie, there is no such thing as an average customer. It is important to segment your conversion rate because it is likely to vary significantly according to visitor type and channel. Some users will have different intent and a different relationship with the retailer according to their traffic source or user needs. New visitors and returning visitors often have very different conversion rates.


Amazon Prime customers for instance convert around 74% of the time compared to 13% for non-Prime visitors. This compares to just 3.1% for the average e-commerce site. You should also analyse your conversion rate by acquisition channels as for example non-brand terms PPC will usually convert at a significantly lower rate than your site average. Trying to improve your conversion rate for an individual channel is much more likely to be a success than if you treat all visitors the same.

At the same time be careful not to create too many different segments. You need to have a sufficiently large sample size for each segment to avoid a high sampling error and unreliable results. Bear in mind that the probability of error rises exponentially the more segments you compare against each other.

Change management:

In many ways CRO is a form of change management because it can be a powerful driver of innovation in an organisation. However, people naturally resist change and this can create blockages for a successful CRO program. Use change management techniquest to engage and inform people about your CRO strategy to prevent objections being raised further down the line.


CRO is about improving the profitability of your site by persuading more of your visitors to convert. This does require a cultural shift in how website design changes are decided. It seeks to replace the use of subjective opinions to make decisions with a scientific evidence-based approach to digital optimisation.

As Brian Massey at Conversion Sciences puts it:

“We optimise revenue, growth, pricing, value proposition, images, navigation and more. Perhaps we’re the Online Business Optimisation industry, OBO. That’s taken, unfortunately.” Brian Massey – Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences – From The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored.

CRO does of course create a lot of challenges, but the benefits are well worth it as you can use CRO as a driver of sustainable business growth. As companies such as Amazon, Skyscanner and Netflix continue to develop their CRO strategy it will become increasingly difficult to compete against such organisations unless you also adopt a CRO strategy based upon evidence rather than gut instinct.

Related Posts:

CRO Strategy – 10 strategies for successful conversion rate optimisation.

CRO process – 8 steps guaranteed to boost your conversion rate.

Prioritisation – How should you prioritise your A/B test ideas?

CRO & The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored

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Why is CRO failing to get traction in the boardroom? and why is it that Amazon Prime converts 74% of the time on Yet the average Ecommerce retailer only converts 3.1% of the time?

According to research by Millward Brown Digital, even non-Prime customers convert 13% of the time. Bryan Eisenberg, CRO expert and thought leader suggests that Amazon’s secret is to do with developing a culture of customer centricity and experimentation. It is deeply embedded in the culture of the organisation from the C-suite level down.

Given the success of Amazon with applying the principles of CRO to drive business growth, why is it that in many organisations there is little, if any, engagement with CRO at the top level of management? This is the conundrum that the book ‘The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored’ seeks to answer.

Why should you read it?

Although this is a short read, Paul Rouke, from CRO agency PRWD has managed to gather contributions from 17 global CRO thought leaders. Even including Chris Goward, Roger Dooley, Brian Massey, Peep Laja, Bart Schutz, Oli Gardner, Talia Wolf and also Tim Ash. These are people with a huge amount of experience of successfully applying CRO strategies in large ecommerce organisations.

The book focuses on the key reasons for the frequent failure of organisations to fully benefit from CRO. Also why optimisers often find themselves stuck in the “trough of disillusionment”. I’ve previously written about the Dunning-Kruger effect. The initial success with CRO often creates overconfidence in the optimiser’s skills and abilities to create successful tests.

What is the cause of the despair that many CRO teams experience?

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that is the result of people over-rating their level of competence in an area of expertise. This means we have a tendency to become over-confident about our knowledge and ability to comprehend and interpret data related to a topic. In CRO this is not helped by the creation of silos within the organisation to optimise the digital experience. This can act as a barrier to collaboration and the sharing of knowledge. It can also create an environment which allows the Dunning-Kruger effect to flourish.

A number of reasons are given for the lack of adoption of a CRO philosophy at the executive level. Including the name and a lack of change management skills in the team. The most frequent cause is the perception of CRO as a short-term tactic rather than a strategy for long-term growth. As a result CRO thinking is often not embedded into the culture of the organisation from the C-suite downwards. This automatically relegates CRO to a tactical solution to short-term problems by a silo in marketing or some other department in the organisation.

Talia Wolf, Founder & CEO of Conversioner

“The majority of marketers run meaningless tests without any strategy or hypothesis. The results are hard to analyse and scale”.

What you won’t get from this book is any insight into the detailed process of CRO or tips for experiments to increase your conversion rate. This book is solely about why CRO has failed to be successfully embedded into the culture and processes of many digital organisations.

Andre Morys, Co-founder & CEO at Web Arts

“The ego of the optimisers makes 90% of tests results a lie”.

I have to agree that this is a problem. Being an optimiser in an organisation where there isn’t a culture of experimentation and senior management support can be soul destroying. It feels like there is a constant battle to get resources and co-operation from product, MarComs and marketing. You need to employ change management skills and engage internal stakeholders first before trying to communicate your strategy.

Who should read this book?

The problem in the book is clearly with communicating the benefits and implementation of CRO to executive level management. This is an ideal read for C-suite management and CRO managers seeking to establish a culture of CRO within their organisation. This is likely to help counteract the Dunning-Kruger effect.

What next?

The book should be a wake-up call for many CRO specialists and executives who are allowing their sites to fall further behind the leaders in customer centricity and experimentation. According to RedEye, companies spend on average $92 on driving traffic to their website and only $1 to convert those visitors. This is not a sustainable approach. Sites will increasingly be squeezed out of the market by the likes of Amazon, and other companies that recognise the benefits of a strategic approach to CRO.

Technology is speeding up the optimisation process by allowing massively complex multivariate testing. Companies that embed CRO into their culture as a strategy for growth will exploit these tools much more effectively than organisations it as a tactical tool.

Value for money:

With such a star-studied list of contributors you might have expected more detail on how to implement a strategic approach to CRO. However, the contributors do make some very valid points. There are plenty of other books to read if you want advice on the optimisation process. Given the potential audience of CEOs and CMOs brevity is also a bonus. They won’t want to read anything too detailed or long about what they perceive to be a specialist subject. My advice is buy the kindle version for your smartphone or e-book reader as it’s only £2.99.

Related posts:

CRO Strategy – 9 mistakes companies make with website optimisation

CRO Implementation – How smart is your approach to conversion rate optimisation

Artificial Intelligence & Conversion Optimisation

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Artificial Intelligence & Rapid Optimisation:

Digital marketing is a zero-sum game – it’s survival of the fittest. Brands have to respond to changing customer needs and new technology like artificial intelligence as otherwise they are likely to go out of business.

What if you could use artificial intelligence to replicate evolutionary pressures to automatically adapt and adjust your site according to what has the highest conversion rate? And if your audience changed, perhaps due to a TV campaign, wouldn’t it be great if your site responded by optimising your user experience for the new audience profile? But rather than only improving a single page, what if it could simultaneously optimise multiple pages in the user journey?

Well, with the advent of artificial intelligence based evolutionary algorithms this time has arrived! Sentient, a company born out of the minds that developed the technology behind Apple’s Siri. They have come to market with Ascend. Sentient have combined evolutionary computation (mechanisms inspired by biological evolution), and deep learning to create a market leading optimisation solution. Ascend is capable of autonomous decision-making to assist businesses improve their bottom line and enhance the customer experience at the same time.

What are the benefits of Ascend?

It is the first testing and optimisation solution developed by integrating artificial intelligence (AI), evolutionary algorithms and deep learning technology. As a result it has the capability to revolutionise how testing and optimisation is carried out. The main benefits of Ascend are:

  • Massively complex multivariate tests that have over 1 million possible combinations! It would be impossible with traditional MVT solutions. Below is an example of the kind of test that is now feasible with Ascend.
  • Ascend requires lower traffic levels than traditional optimisation solutions. It uses what it discovers about the performance of a particular combination of elements. It predicts how that combination will influence the conversion rate in the future.
  • Testing is completed with greater speed and double digit uplifts in conversion rates. These are normally achieved within the first 2 months of employing Ascend. Recently completed tests have achieved between a 12% and 48% uplift in conversions.

More Benefits

  • It can optimise multiple pages simultaneously to improve conversion rates throughout a user journey.
  • For underwear brand Cosabella, Ascend tested 15 different changes to the homepage header, category page, product page and shopping cart design. Using standard multivariate testing would have required 160 tests. This improved conversions by 35% compared to the control experience.
  • Automates the testing program. Once all your ideas have been input into Ascend it adapts and responds to user interactions. This identifies the best performing combination of changes to your site or web app.
  • It allows for tests to be paused and new ideas to be input into the testing program as and when required.
  • Automatically adapts to a change in the visitor audience profile without the need for any manual intervention.

How does evolutionary computation work?

To give the evolutionary algorithm a purpose it is first necessary to define a fitness measure. With conversion rate optimisation (CRO) the fitness measure should be the conversion metric that you wish to optimise. Like sales, revenues, average basket value, first time deposit or sales leads. It is important to take care in selecting your fitness metric. It needs to be a characteristic that makes one experience (or algorithm) better than another.

With an evolutionary algorithm each page (i.e. a selected combination of elements) is classed as a genome. It uses genetic operators (i.e. selection, mutation and crossover) to create and maintain genetic diversity. In the example below two high performing pages (see column on the left) have been identified through selection (i.e. survival of the fittest).


However, a further generation of solutions can then be created through crossover (i.e. recombining elements from the two high-performing genome) to create children; the middle solutions above. Mutation (i.e. randomly altering one element in the child’s chromosome) encourages diversity amongst solutions. It seeks to prevent the algorithm converging to a local minimum by avoiding solutions becoming too similar to each other. This is shown in the right column above.

Although each operator individually seeks to improve the solutions, the operators work together to create an optimal solution that would not be possible if they were used in isolation of each other. In the first instance the algorithm simply evaluates each page (i.e. genome) to identify if it performs well enough to be a parent for the next generation.

Single Multivariate Test

This allows literally thousands (out of millions) of experiences to be tested in a short space of time. But as Ascend learns which combination of elements create the best performing designs it automatically adjusts experiences according to how visitors respond. Below is an example of changes that Ascend can evaluate as part of single multivariate test.

Image of illustration of how an evolutionary algorithm works

The advantage of this technology is that it can create page designs that convert better than those designed by people. It automatically searches for unexpected interactions between elements. It also doesn’t suffer from human misconceptions or biases. This means that it can generate surprising ideas that we might never have thought of ourselves.

What’s the catch?

Like any optimisation software Sentient Ascend relies on the quality of ideas and designs to generate uplifts in conversion. It is therefore essential to invest in the people who will be using Ascend to ensure they have the required skills and support to get the most out of this amazing solution.

To generate a sufficient quantity of ideas and designs for testing will take some time and resources. You are essentially compressing twelve months or more of testing into a single month or two. This is an analytical and creative process and so it will require the input and approval from various stakeholders if it is to be a success.

Keep it Fed

To keep Ascend fed with additional ideas after the initial test will also require further planning and support to ensure you get value for money from the solution. There is certainly a danger that rather than focusing on quality hypothesis users might be tempted to throw every idea into the mix without proper evaluation and prioritisation. This would be a recipe for a sub-optimal result as with any model if you put garbage in you will get garbage out.

As with any multivariate test it is advisable to run an A/B test to validate the winning experience. However, Ascend can manage this for you or you can use your existing A/B testing solution to conduct the experiment.


Sentient Ascend makes most existing testing software obsolete because it offers an automated platform for massively multivariate conversion optimisation. The use of artificial intelligence in conversion rate optimisation allows you to test an enormous number of ideas in a shorter time period. It is also more efficient at discovering new combinations of elements that result in uplifts in conversion due to the evolutionary nature of the algorithms.

Furthermore, you can add new ideas as you test, you don’t need to wait for the test to end to respond to changes in campaign execution or strategy. You can just keep testing continuously if you have the ideas.

Note: Conversion Uplift is now an accredited partner for Sentient Ascend.

Image by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay

How To Use Buyer Personas To Improve Conversions

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Buyer Personas and website optimisation:

Why is it that there is so much talk about creating buyer personas and yet I often see little evidence that they are utilised effectively? Creating buyer personas make a lot of sense but rarely do they appear to be discussed when companies create website optimisation programs. Rightly or wrongly personas appear to be primarily the domain of UX people rather than optimisation teams.

This represents a missed opportunity for conversion optimisation as when used wisely buyer personas can help identify the gap between your brand narrative and the actual user experience. Such analysis can be invaluable for creating targeted content and for developing ideas for A/B test hypothesis and general improvements to the user experience.

In this post I cover:

  • Creating buyer personas,
  • How an innovative approach to customer journey analysis by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg. Utilises personas to their full potential to improve conversions.

What is a Persona?

A persona is a detailed portrait of the characteristics, needs, motivations and environment of intended or important user segments. It should include their name, age, career, income and other relevant characteristics. Like goals and values.

Personas should not be made up of the average customer as there is no such thing as an average user. Averages are dangerous when employed for design or creating a user experience. They are overly influenced by extremes and don’t reflect the diversity of customer behaviour and needs.

A buyer persona created by

How do you create a persona?

Personas can be as simple or complex as you want them to be. The important thing is that you use data you hold on customers and interviews with customers or prospects to build your personas. The biggest mistake people often make is that they assume they already know who their customers are, what goals they have etc.

You don’t need a large budget to create a buyer persona. You can gather data on customers yourself and group your findings in a spreadsheet. There are many sources of data that you can use apart from customer account information. If you have the data analytics tools you can identify customer segments using cohort analysis. Or other data reduction techniques such as cluster analysis.

Google Analytics Affinity Category report

Look at your web analytics as the Audience section in Google Analytics has information on demographics, interests and geographical location and language. Contact your Customer Service agents as they talk with your clients on a daily basis and check out social media to see what they say and look at their profiles. Find out where your customer hangout (e.g. online forums or societies they are members of) as again there may be a wealth of free information available here.

Descriptive Headings

Use descriptive headings that relate to your area of interest, such as device, time of day, behaviour and career goals. As you build up data on different characteristics or behaviours you will start to see patterns emerge that could suggest relationships between the profile make-up of customers and their needs and motivations.

Don’t just look at demographics as often behaviour is the most important characteristic of individual customer segments. However, these patterns will help you begin to identify customer clusters that you can investigate to understand what they have in common and how they differ from each other.

Voice of Customer:

Now that you have an idea of potentially different customer segments you should get out and interview a small sample of customers or prospects who roughly fit the profiles you have so far. Ideally you should go and meet customers in their natural environment (i.e. where they normally browse your or your competitor’s website) as much of our behaviour is contextual and observation is often more insightful than asking direct questions.

Image of homepage

If for whatever reason you can’t visit your customers there are many low-cost Voice of Customer tools, such as Hotjar that allow you to recruit customers when they are on your website. You can then arrange for a Skype call or web meeting to conduct your interview. Draft a short discussion guide to ensure consistency of your interviews, but ensure you keep most of your questions open-ended to allow users to express their opinions.


If you give them a task to complete you can ask them to give a running commentary as they browse. This can help you better understand how they behave and identify potential pain points in your user journey. You may also pick up on the language they use for your sector.

Add this information to your spreadsheet to give more depth to the personalities of your customer segments and their buying style. Building personas is an iterative process and so your customer interviews are bound to result in some changes to your segments. However, try not to create too many different segments unless you have evidence that each is reasonably large and important to the sustainability of your organisation.

Persona Creators:

There are a number of free persona creators and templates available to use. I have summarised 11 persona templates in a separate post. It’s essential that you share your personas to get any benefit from the effort of creating personas. Use a suitable template to to present your persona in a professional format.

How can I use personas to improve conversion?


Personas need to be shared throughout an organisation if they are to have a significant impact upon how people think about your customers. However, they also have an important role to play in your optimization program.

Conversion experts Bryan and Jeffery Eisenberg have created an agile business process for using personas that improves communications, execution, testing and makes more money for your organisation. Rather than following the normal approach of customer journey analysis of going down the happy path (i.e. the preferred user journey), they suggest assuming your prospect failed to convert with your brand. This allows your team to focus on what can go wrong rather than how great your preferred user experience is.

Image of Buyer Legends process

This is a team exercise so get stakeholders from all key areas that influence or control the user experience together in one place. Make sure you get the support of key stakeholders first as this often helps to obtain cooperation from different departments.

Step 1 – Buying style:

Firstly consider the buying style of your chosen buyer persona. It is important to define this as it will influence how your customer responds to the user experience. Normally it is a good idea to begin with a enquiring, deliberative, detail type personality as they are most likely to uncover issues with your user journey (which is what you want). It is also necessary to choose a conversion objective so that you have clarity on the end-goal. Below you will see the four buyer styles based upon the work of the American psychologist, David Keirsey.

Step 2 – Pre-mortem:

The pre-mortem involves evaluating the customer journey on the basis that the customer did not convert with your brand. This gives everyone permission to raise doubts and concerns about the current user journey so that you can generate a list of what went wrong with the existing customer experience.

Relate any frustration, wrong turn or dead end back to your chosen persona by imagining what would happen, how would the customer feel about it and at what point would the issue result in the customer dropping out of the conversion journey.

Once you have gone through the full customer journey focus on generating a list of possible changes, fixes or solutions for each failure point. They may not always be ideal, but they can be evaluated later on in the process.

Step 3 – Outline a user story:

Now describe the user story using reverse chronological order to work backwards from a successful conversion. This has the advantage that you have to be more thorough in specifying customer actions and their rationale for each step in the user journey. It also helps you view possible alternative user paths generated from the pre-mortem analysis. These may require additional interventions or new branch paths.

Step 4 – Write the Buyer Legends:

Now that you have outlined the user story it is time to write a draft of the Buyer Legends in chronological order. This allows you to create a narrative of a successful user experience which explains what happens to the customer and how it makes them feel at each step of the user journey. Use the check list below to ensure you cover all the key elements of the legend. As you go through this process also consider:

  • What actions need to be undertaken for the customer to complete your goal?
  • What opportunities may have been missed?
  • What shortcomings of the user journey might prevent them from purchasing?
  • Where are their opportunities for upsell or upgrade?
  • How could we reduce friction in the user journey to make it easier for the customer?

Buyer legend

1. Person

  • Use the persona to describe who the customer is.

2. Their purpose

  • What are their larger goals?
  • How do they define them self?
  • What are they trying to accomplish on a larger career-wise, personally or socially?
  • This defines the context of the purpose and motivation

3. Objective of interaction

  • What are they trying to achieve by dealing with company?
  • What is your conversion goal at this stage

4. Sequence of steps

  • Describe the story of what the customer is doing at every step of their progress through the process

5. Rationale behind identifying the problem & solution

  • Describe how the person is thinking at each step in the process

6. Key decisions

  • Outline the key decisions the customer has to make to complete and what she needs (features, benefits, testimonials, reviews)

7. Emotional struggles

  • What are the emotional dynamics – strongly felt need, pressure from others, trust, time vs money?

8. Anti-goals

  • What concerns and anxieties around what they don’t want to happen (reliability/break down)

9. Constraints

  • Any additional constraints or limitations that the customer has to consider?

10. Alternative options

  • What alternative options does the customer have?
  • What would an experience with a competitor look like?

Ensure the legend is easy to read as this will help everyone follow the story line.

Step 5 – Measuring the Buyer Legends:

To ensure the Buyer Legends is measurable and actionable here are some important definitions to use during the process.

  1. Catalyst: This refers to the place where the customer first identifies your brand or organisation.
  2. First measurable step: Usually a landing page, but this is the point where you customer enters the measurable part of the journey.
  3. Road signs: These are important stages in the user journey where customer expect and require certain information to continue with the process.
  4. Detours: Many customers will not blindly follow your preferred user path and so it is necessary to construct paths to deal with these forks in the road as otherwise customers may abandon your website and never return.
  5. Measurable step: Whenever a customer leaves behind evidence of an interaction (e.g. via web analytics) with your brand.
  6. Forks in the road: Decision points create forks in the road where customers have a specific question, need or concern that can lead them away from the desired path. People don’t like being forced down a path if they are not comfortable with it and so it is essential to create detours that can nudge the visitor back down the preferred path.
  7. Destination: The end game and final measurable touch point where the user converts.

Use these definitions to help dissect your Buyer Legends and generate discussion around potential improvements in the user journey.

Step 6 – Review and prioritise:

Going through this process will undoubtedly generate lots of ideas and discussion along the way. Ensure you capture these ideas and insights so that they can be fed into your optimisation program.

Interestingly Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg have found that the Buyer Legends is often the tipping point for a significant improvement in sales and for effectively communicating the marketing vision to the business as a whole.

Buyer Legends is Beneficial Because It:

  • Helps everyone see the user experience from the customer’s perspective.
  • Enables marketers, designers and other teams to visualise and better understand how the user experience differs for individual customer segments.
  • Allows marketers to consider the language your customers use to ensure content resonates with your target audience.
  • Segment content by different personas using the Buyer Legends to identify their specific concerns and hooks that motivate them most.
  • Improve the quality of content marketing as the Buyer Legends process brings out the personalities and interests of customers.
  • Identify missing content, steps or dead ends in the user journey that need your attention.

It is likely that you will have many more ideas than you can cope with and so it is worth using a prioritisation approach such as P.I.E to manage the flow of ideas and allocate resource accordingly. Once you have completed this process with one persona you can repeat it for other buyer personas to further enhance your understanding of key customer groups.

For more details about Buyer Legends get the book; Buyer Legends by Bryan & Jeffery Eisenberg with Anthony Garcia.

Although it requires a good deal of thought, and it will take some time to complete, it is definitely worth the effort as you should see substantial benefits for your organisation. If you need help in going through the journey yourself contact Bryan or Jeffrey via Twitter.

How to improve site load speed to increase conversions

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Does Load Speed Matter?

A slow loading webpage creates a poor user experience, but does it really make a significant difference if you have an awesome proposition, product or website? Well, Google discovered that load speed does matter big time and it shelved a potential improvement to its search engine results page as a direct result.

After listening to customers in research express a clear preference for 30 rather 10 results on Google search, Marissa Mayer, Director of Search Products and User Experience, decided to A/B test displaying these two options. The experiment showed that displaying the extra 20 search results increased the time for the page to load by 0.5 seconds.

Shockingly this led to a 20% fall in full page renders when 30 results were displayed. In other words one in five users searching on Google were not willing to wait an extra 0.5 seconds for a page to load.

Research by Google indicates that mobile users are even more sensitive to page loading speed. A page load time of between 1 to 5 seconds means the probability of a bounce increases by 90%

Image of impact of page load speed on bounce rate for mobile devices
Source: Search Engine

How Quickly Should a Webpage Load?

Research for Akamai and found that almost a half of users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less and that many will leave a site if it hasn’t loaded within 3 seconds. This demonstrates that users have relatively high expectations and could help explain the impact on conversion of slow loading websites.

As a rule of thumb if your site loads within 3 seconds that is pretty good performance. More normal is between 4 to 7 seconds, but don’t be satisfied with that, look to reduce it. Anything more than 7 seconds and you definitely should be looking to take action to reduce the time your visitors have to wait to interact with your website.

You should seek to reduce load speed provided the ROI makes sense. This can be assisted by A/B testing identical pages that have different load speeds. Provided you see an uplift that outweighs the cost of improving the load speed then it is worth continuing the process.

How to Measure Load Speed?

All web analytics tools should allow you to see your individual page load speeds. If you are using Google Analytics go to “Behaviour” and select “Site Speed” and “Page timings”. In the drop down menu select “Average Document Interactive Time” as this is a measure of how long before a user can begin to interact with the page. This is a more meaningful indicator of load speed as many sites have content loading in the background well after the page appears to have loaded to a visitor.

Google Analytics site speed overview
Google Analytics – Site speed overview

Other Tools to Measure Load Speed:

  1. Google Developers: Free resource that rates your page load speed for desktop and mobile devices. Generally your site should get a score of over 80 to be performing well, but see how you compare to your major competitors to benchmark your site speed. It also provides recommendations for the main areas to investigate to improve your load speed.
Google Developers Page Speed Tools
Source: Google PageSpeed
  1. WebPagetest: Free tool for the more technically minded user that allows you to define the geographical location and to test different in different browsers. This gives you a detailed breakdown of the load speed of individual elements on the page.
  2. OctaGate Site Timer: Provides a Free evaluation of the impact on load speed of images, frames, iframes, script files and it also follows redirects. It also helps you identify the key offenders for you to optimise.
  3. YSlow: This gives you a Free analysis of load speed and indicates why page speed is slow based upon Yahoo!’s rules. It also enables you to select the browser you wish to test the page in.

How to Speed Up Your Site:

1. Minimise page size:

1.1 Use GZIP compression – Check if your web host is using GZIP compression and deflation as this can reduce file size by up to 70% without adversely affecting the quality of images of videos. Enter your site URL into the GZIP test tool to find out if your site is already GZIPPED.

1.2 Use JPEG rather than PNG images – PNG images don’t compress photographs anywhere near as much as JPEG files can and so make sure you use JPEG’s when you can. Smaller file sizes can help improve load speed markedly.

1.3 Adjust JPEG image quality – By setting the image quality of JPEG’s to 50-75% you can often significantly decrease the size of your images without any obvious reduction in image sharpness.

1.4 Avoid single page websites – Trying to get all your content on a single page is problematic at the best of times, but it also tends to result in very slow loading times because the page is often long and there are no other page to move content to.

Image of

1.5 Remove extraneous metadata from image files – Designers often leave a lot of metadata in image files, including comments, thumbnails and other information that they may find useful, but just adds to the file size. Get your designer to create a backup a copy for themselves and then put the website image version through image optimization software to minimise the file size and remove ancillary chunks.

2. Reduce the Number of Browser Requests:

2.1 Enable browser caching – Provided your page dependencies don’t change too often you should look to enable browser caching so that the browser doesn’t have to dynamically generate the page every single time it loads. Contact your server admin or if you use WordPress you can use plugins like WP Super Cache to significantly improve page load times.

2.2 Use CSS sprites to combine small images into one file. Most websites have lots of small images (e.g. logos, icons, buttons etc.) which normally have to be fetched individually from the server. CSS sprites significantly improve performance by combining all the small images on a page into a single file called a “sprite”. This reduces the overhead of having to fetch multiple image files.

2.3 Merge related CSS and JavaScript files – Combining individual CSS and JavaScript files can reduce the number of files and thus help your browser load much faster.

2.4 Minimise the number of redirects – Multiple 301 redirects can confuse your browser and slow page load dramatically. Be careful not to create too many redirects as this can kill load speed.

3. Minimise the Distance to Your Site:

3.1 Reduce the distance to your site – If you have users spread out around the globe consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to allow access to a server near the geographical location of your visitors. CDN providers such as Amazon Cloudfront and Softlayer provide competitive CDN services that can significantly improve site load speed.


The evidence is clear – load speed is an important driver of bounce rates and conversion. Don’t let a slow site speed harm your conversion rate as there are plenty of ways to improve load speeds. Make sure you regularly check our site speed and use the above strategies to improve your site’s performance. It could make a large difference to your conversion rate.

Here is a great infographic from on how load speed affects your website.