Conversion Optimisation Is About Much More Than Design – Week 1 Review

Last week I got accepted to CXL institutes’ conversion optimisation mini-degree scholarship. It claims to be one of the most thorough conversion rate optimisation training programs in the world. The program runs online and covers 74 hours and 37h minutes of content over 12 weeks. As part of the scholarship, I have to write an essay about what I learn each week. This is my first report.

A conversion rate is just a measurement of how many people in a group do something. If 1000 people visit your website and 20 of them signed up to your mailing list then your conversion rate is 2% (20/1000 X 100).

Improving conversion means changing your website so that more people sign up next month.

Lots of people think that conversion optimisation comes down to good design. Design is important, but I’ve learned that your message is much more pivotal.

A company called Unbounce analysed 40,000 landing pages to discover that the words on the page (28%) were twice as influential as design (13%) when it comes to conversion.

Interestingly, copywriting isn’t even the biggest factor when it comes to conversion. Another company called Marketing Experiments put together a formula for calculating the probability of conversion:

Conversion = 4 motivation + 3 value prop + 2 (incentive - friction) - 2 anxiety

This is not a mathematical formula. It’s a heuristic formula for the relative importance of different factors that go through people’s minds when they buy something.

The single biggest factor here is motivation. This is whether or not someone is actively trying to deal with the problem your product solves. If someone doesn’t care about your problem then nothing else matters. We have little control over the largest factor in a purchasing decision.

The rest of the equation covers your messaging, and that’s something we can control. What’s even better is that you don’t need to pretend to be a copywriter to develop a solid value proposition. Momoko Price’s course on product messaging focuses on discovering what people who use your product say about it. You use their wording and feed it back to people in your messaging.

This approach involves spending 80% of your time doing research, surveying visitors, conducting 1-on-1 interviews, doing remote user testing, going through public reviews, sifting through customer support transcripts, and analyzing competitor websites and their reviews. There is a clear step-by-step system for tagging different types of information and the copy pretty much writes itself by the end of it. You then spend the remaining 20% of your time editing your messaging for the final polish.

Conversion rate optimisation isn’t about becoming a copywriter, it’s more objective than that. The expertise is in knowing the right questions to ask and how to ask them. It’s also about figuring out who the right people are, where they are and how to approach them. My job is to look after the quality and size of the sample that we are going to base all our understanding on.

The lesson this week is that messaging is the most important thing we can influence when it comes to improving a low converting website. I learned a clear and repeatable process for developing a product’s value proposition based on thorough customer research.

Before starting this program, I put together a list of 20 questions I ask myself when auditing a landing page. Since doing this course the list has expanded to 76 questions, but I stand by the initial 20. I can now cover a lot more edge cases and specific problems, but what I learned only confirmed the relevance of my original 20 questions (there is a link to them in the footer).

The other important thing I that learnt was the relative importance of customer awareness. This was a bit of a game-changer for me because it explains why some landing pages have worked and others not, despite checking the same boxes on both.

We can’t control people’s motivation but we can design our messaging to meet them where they are. If my wife’s bidet is broken and I am urgently looking for a replacement then explaining all the benefits of having a bidet will be lost on me. All you need to do is show me a picture, tell me how to buy it and let me know when it will arrive. On the other hand, if I don’t know what a bidet is and you just give me a ‘buy now’ button, you’ve lost me.


What I hadn’t grasped is that the 20 questions don’t matter until you establish your customer level of awareness about your product. Using the same formulaic approach for both contexts is counterproductive. Where your customers are will determine which hill you need to help them climb.

For newer innovative products, where people are unaware of your solution, you will need to focus on addressing the problem it solves. For more established products, where people are aware of the solution, you need to pay more attention to explaining why your product is better than the rest.

How do you know where to meet your customers? Well, you ask them. Those little pop-ups in the corner of most sites can be repurposed to answers this question.

The responses will be biased toward people who like answering forms online, but it will be accurate enough to give you a sense of where your customers are coming from. If the median doesn’t cluster around one type of response, then you need multiple landing pages because these are effectively different audiences and need to be treated like so for maximum impact.

So the lesson I learned this week is that if you want to improve conversion, you focus on product messaging. You must understand where your customers are coming from in order to be able to position your messaging to meet them where they are.

I am impressed with the depth and quality of instruction on the CXL institutes’ conversion optimisation mini degree so far and I’m looking forward to week two.

The Unbounce research on copy being twice as important as the design comes from this exchange I had with Oli Gardner, the co-founder of Unbounce :

The 20 questions I use to audit a new landing page are here

This is the CXL Conversion rate Optimisation program I am doing

If you’d like to read more posts about conversion optimisation you can follow me on twitter @joshpitzalis.

This is post 1 in a series. The rest of the posts are listed here.