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031: The Fundamentals of Conversion Rate Optimization with Brian Massey (Co-Founder, Conversion Sciences)

031: The Fundamentals of Conversion Rate Optimization with Brian Massey (Co-Founder, Conversion Sciences)

Brian Massey is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Conversion Sciences, and author of the book Your Customer Creation Equation. His rare combination of interests and experience developed over 30 years as a computer programmer, entrepreneur, corporate marketer, international speaker, and writer. 

Brian Massey believes that being curious is more important than being right. Sometimes the data supports your hypothesis, but sometimes it shows you that you had it all wrong and it’s time to change course. 

Brian has a clear approach to conversion rate optimization: gather data on everything you possibly can. In this episode of The Long Game, he shares his CRO strategies, the secret to finding the right business partner, and how his contrarian personality fuels his crusade against standardized agency-built websites.

Founded in 2007, Conversion Sciences helps businesses transform their sites through a steady diet of visitor profiling, purposeful content, analytics, and AB testing. Brian has worked with hundreds of companies to improve their online business. He is a sought-after speaker, presenting at IBM, Inbound, LeadsCon, Content Marketing World, Affiliate Summit, and others. He has written for online publications including ClickZ, Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. He’s the host of the Intended Consequences podcast.

Conversion Sciences is a data-driven digital design agency focusing on getting the most value from every visitor to your digital properties. They provide design, research, and testing services to businesses of all sizes.

We hope you enjoy this episode on the fundamentals of CRO according to Brian Massey.

Connect with Brian on Linkedin, Conversion Sciences, and check out his podcast.

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Key Takeaways

13:30 – Fuel conversions with behavioral science

Conversion rate has two components: the amount of traffic you’re driving to the site, and how many of those visitors convert. Brian looks to behavioral science to drive those conversions.

“The first piece of it is getting quality traffic. Finding out where those people are that are in your tribe for your product or service, and the right words to get them to come visit the site. So that’s the bottom of the conversion rate equation. The top is how many people convert. And I see everything in the world of behavioral science in that. So what assumptions are our brains making, these three pound, sieving cauldrons of biases and effects and beliefs and stereotypes? What are they making up when they come to a site like that? And the best data we can get is watching people try to solve the problem they’re trying to solve and learning something from it. These days I probably use behavioral science and conversion optimization interchangeably. Any decision you have to make, the first question is, do we have data on that? If we don’t have data, can we go create some data that would help me make a decision on what copy to use, what layout I should be using, etc?”

16:00 – The three levels of conversion optimization

Brian said the first level of conversion is having a quality product that works so that you’re building a brand with each customer. The next are communicating the product well and then deploying conversion strategies.

“So that’s copywriting and images. I throw images in with copy because they’re just so underutilized in terms of aiding copy. But do you have that messaging platform that gets people to try it for the first time and delivers on what they’re gonna experience when they buy it? And then beyond that, it can be big things like we’re going to introduce scarcity. We’re going to introduce strategies like abandoned cart or abandoned site strategies that are a combination of changes to messaging, and they’re more strategies, I guess you would say. And then you take each piece of those, ostensibly end up looking like funnels, and say, can we improve that? Can we make the emails bring more people or bring people that are buying? Can we get people to buy a little something to separate the tire kickers from the people who are actually going to spend money with us?”

17:23 – Copy is the most important thing to optimize

Copy is the hardest thing to optimize because there are so many ways to communicate something, and it’s difficult to attach data to it. 

“I can recognize when copy isn’t achieving that level of communicating your value proposition, and I will have ideas for what we should try in terms of changing that messaging. But someone who could go in and create a headline and a subhead that makes you have to read the first paragraph. And then the first paragraph that at least gets you to scan it. And then a layout on that copy that when you scan it, you get what it’s about, know which section you want to drill in on, and then delivers the rational stuff that makes you think that’s why you made the choice when you’ve already been convinced by the more emotional reasons that are presented in the copy. That’s hard. People ask me for references for copy all the time. And I know some of the direct marketing guys who are very expensive and have their books full for six months out. But most copywriters are writing for the owner of the website, not for the clients. And I think that’s why copy, even though it’s probably the most important thing to optimize, doesn’t get optimized, but just because it’s so hard.”

24:27 – Work with a complementary cofounder 

When starting a business, find a person that complements your skills. Take the Myers-Briggs and all of the other personality tests to see what you bring to the table, and then find someone different.

“Do a StrengthsFinder, do a Colby Index, which is how you behave in action. Very interesting profile there. Have your astrology chart done. But you need to get an idea of what you are about and what you think you are about. The beauty of astrology charts is you’re going to project onto them what you—you’re only going to listen to the parts that match what you believe, but it’s going to heighten the tension on what you believe. Get to know yourself, and then find someone who is different. Like I said, I got lucky in finding somebody who’s very different from me, but also had a very similar entrepreneurial temperament as me. And that person can be an employee. It can be a partner. But it needs to be somebody that has influence on how you’re running your business.”

29:27 – Chase your calling and then monetize it

Brian started his business as a way to do a lot of writing and speaking on CRO topics. It brings in leads, but there was a time when it didn’t. Finding your other half can help you to find the business within that calling.

“I like doing tasks that are performative. I like doing something that I’m going to be able to show off to somebody. So being in front of people, writing of the blog. Thing is the blog, there was 10 of us on the blog for the first two or three years. Ten readers a month, something like that. And I was still doing it because I just had to get it out of me. So at the core of our businesses, there’s going to be that thing that is your thing that you’re going to do no matter what. And the challenge is to turn it into a business. And usually finding the other is the way for them to go, oh, I love all this stuff you’re stirring up. Now, let me go turn this into product and services and monetize it.”

33:35 – Destroy the way websites are designed

Brian is a contrarian by nature, but his biggest mission now is to change the way websites are designed. People should look at the data and not just go on opinion.

“I honestly think that my calling right now is to destroy the way websites are designed right now. This whole idea of creative agencies getting design deals based on what they’ve done for other people, but they’re not doing user research. They’re not doing A/B testing. They’re not even looking at the analytics on the existing site. We get brought in to do that for some of these big agencies. That just needs to go away. Marketers should never have to take the agency’s word for it. The core message in all of my presentations is when your design team or your agency comes to you and says, which of these designs do you want, you to say I don’t know, go get me some data that would tell me which one of these to pick. Because it’s there. It’s there with an afternoon’s work. So this is my contrarian high horse right now.”

40:25 – Embrace AI

Brian thinks AI is going to be the next thing for CRO in so many ways, from helping with copy to testing to personalization.

“AI is happening in our tools. We’re not really seeing it, but Session Cam has the suffer score, which is an AI measure of how people are acting on screen from recorded sessions. And you can go and look at the ones where people seem to be rageclicking and stuff. If you’re getting a thousand form feedbacks a day, something like Watson can go in and help you understand sentiment, pull out the most important issues that you really need to look at because you’re not going to be able to read a thousand comments a day. So things like that where AI is just making our tools better is what we’re going to see mostly. But eventually we’re going to be able to drop our ideas into a blender and it’s going to not only figure out what combinations work, but which combinations work for each of the different segments, which is already figured out for you. And personalization really is gonna take off.”

45:06 – Figure out where beauty fits in

Brian has changed his mind about good design. Before he always thought that ugly wins too much in testing to worry about beauty, but he now realizes it’s important to find room for aesthetics.

“Since we’ve added design, like good design, high-quality well-done design, our clients are so much more pleased. Just because the designs are more pleasing. A lot of the times the fancy designs don’t test as well, and we work backwards on that, but humans love beauty. And so while I’m raging against creative agencies, I also realize that humans just love beauty and that’s gotta be a part of it. And it’s something that’s over only the last couple of years, it’s relatively new. So I think I used to always defend myself by saying ‘ugly wins’ too much for us to worry about what the design looks like. But you know what, in a client relationship, and I think when your relationship with your end customers who are coming to the website, beauty has its place.”

50:43 – Get the most value from every visitor

The highest conversion rates come from return visitors, so optimization is often about getting the most value from each visitor.

“We’re going to prioritize ideas around what the auto-responder and the follow-up emails look like to get people back to the site. We’re looking for, especially in the first six months of engagement with the client, we’re looking for those things that are going to demonstrate that we can generate the revenue that makes it worth paying our fees. And so we’re always looking for either those channels where conversion’s really low, there’s an opportunity there, but often more where the conversion rate is high to optimize those. And of course, usually the highest conversion rates come from return visitors. So we can improve their experience or we can get more return visitors, which is exactly what a funnel does. And so that’s kind of the way we look at it. We define conversion optimization as getting the most value from every visitor that you can. So it may not just be the sale. We may be able to get them on a list and then bring them back later, and we can value those things to dollars.”

58:15 – Use data to get creative

Data and A/B testing should spur your creativity and help you to come up with more interesting ideas.

“My favorite reason for applying data to your marketing department or your business is this: it’s a safety net for creativity. Most marketers got into communications because they want that experience of changing hearts and minds. And we tend to have to play it safe. We’re halfway through the year, we’re behind in the number of leads we’re supposed to be generating, so we do safe campaigns. But when you have data, you can resurrect those crazy ideas and there’s a way to put them in front of an audience and see if it potentially could fundamentally change the way you go to market, fundamentally change the way you present your value proposition. That’s the most exciting thing to me. So as data becomes cheaper and easier to use as it is every year, we should be getting more creative. We should be getting more interesting. Because we’ve tried these ideas that just consume us over the weekend, and then on Monday we’re like, I could never sell this. I’m not going to bring this up to anybody. That’s the most exciting thing about data. We should be getting more creative and more interesting.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.