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Content Strategy

Brian Massey on the Perks of Being Contrarian and the Fundamentals of CRO

Brian Massey on the Perks of Being Contrarian and the Fundamentals of CRO

Brian Massey believes that being curious is more important than being right, just like any lab coat wearing professional should.

Sometimes the data supports your hypothesis, but sometimes it shows you that you had it all wrong.

If you’re adamant about being right, you won’t be open to the new opportunities presented by contradictory data.

As the co-founder and managing director of Conversion Sciences, Brian has a clear approach to conversion rate optimization. It all comes down to gathering data on everything you possibly can.

Fuel conversions with behavioral science

A conversion rate has two parts: the amount of traffic you’re driving to the site, and how many of those visitors convert. 

“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,” Brian said.

From there you have to entice those people to convert. For Brian, this all comes down to behavioral science.

What assumptions are your visitors’ brains making? What stereotypes and biases are at play? How are they making decisions?

“The best data we can get is watching people try to solve the problem they’re trying to solve and learning something from it,” he said.

These days Brian uses behavioral science and conversion optimization interchangeably.

“Any decision you have to make, the first question is, do we have data on that?” he said. “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, et cetera?”

The three levels of conversion rate optimization

Brian’s approach to CRO with his clients consists of three levels.

1. Product quality

The first level of conversion is having a quality product that works so that you’re building a brand with each customer. 

If that’s not in place, you won’t get very far.

2. Communicate the value proposition

The next level is to make sure you’re communicating the product well. That should include compelling copy and plenty of images.

“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?” Brian said.

3. Conversion strategies

Once you’ve done those things, you can start experimenting with different conversion strategies—things like scarcity, abandoned cart, or abandoned site.

“Then you take each piece of those, ostensibly end up looking like funnels, and say, can we improve that?” Brian said. 

“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?”

Copy is essential to optimize

Copy plays such a large role in converting consumers, but it’s the hardest thing to optimize because there are so many ways to communicate something. 

It’s also difficult to attach data to it in a meaningful way. 

Brian can recognize when copy isn’t communicating the value proposition in the best way and can offer suggestions, but truly sticky copywriting is a special talent.

“Someone who could go in and create a headline and a subhead that makes you have to read the first paragraph,” Brian said.

“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.”

Many of the people he recommends for copywriting services are very expensive and booked out for half a year at a time.

“Most copywriters are writing for the owner of the website, not for the clients,” he said. “And I think that’s why copy, even though it’s probably the most important thing to optimize, doesn’t get optimized, just because it’s so hard.”

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 when making design decisions and not just go on opinion.

“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,” Brian said. “They’re not doing A/B testing. They’re not even looking at the analytics on the existing site.”

Marketers shouldn’t have to take the agency’s word on it that these designs will be effective.

“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 say, I don’t know, go get me some data that would tell me which one of these to pick,” he said.

The data is there to be discovered and can be found with an afternoon’s work.

Figure out where beauty fits in

While he will always believe that data should rule over aesthetics, Brian has come around to the idea of good design.

It’s one of the things he’s changed his mind about over the years.

“Since we’ve added design, like good design, high-quality well-done design, our clients are so much more pleased,” Brian said. “Just because the designs are more pleasing.”

Fancy designs often don’t test well, so in that case, they work backward to make sure the designs are also high-performing.

“While I’m raging against creative agencies, I also realize that humans just love beauty and that’s gotta be a part of it,” he said.

Brian used to stick by the idea that “ugly wins,” using it as a reason to avoid worrying about what the design looks like. But a business has to look after client relationships, too.

When it comes to both happy clients and the end customer, beauty has its place in the process. 

Get the most value from every visitor

According to Brian, optimization is often about getting the most value from each visitor. That comes down to making them return visitors.

“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,” Brian said.

In the first months of working with a client, his company looks for ways they can generate the most revenue to make their fees worth it.

“We’re always looking for either those channels where conversion is really low, there’s an opportunity there, but often more where the conversion rate is high to optimize those,” he said. “And of course, usually the highest conversion rates come from return visitors.”

His team looks for ways to improve their experience so that they come back.

“We define conversion optimization as getting the most value from every visitor that you can,” he said.  

“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.”

Use data to get creative

Data and A/B testing shouldn’t be viewed as dry subjects. They’re actually the best way to come up with creative ideas.

“My favorite reason for applying data to your marketing department or your business is this: it’s a safety net for creativity,” Brian said.

Marketers go into communications because they want to be creative, but in their jobs they often play it safe because they have metrics to hit and are scared to take risks.

“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,” he said. 

Data is becoming cheaper and easier to use every year, which should help us to embrace new, consuming ideas that get us excited.

“That’s the most exciting thing about data,” Brian said. “We should be getting more creative and more interesting.”

Data not only makes it easy to make decisions by pointing to what works and what doesn’t, but it sparks innovation outside of what’s considered the standard practice.

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.