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The READY Conversion Optimization Framework

There’s a wealth of good advice about conversion optimization out there. But when you’re working on a particular landing experience, it can be hard to remember all of the factors in play. Many times, I’ve found myself wanting a quick reference for evaluating a page’s “conversionability.” I was picturing a kind of checklist that was comprehensive but not too unwieldy, concrete but not limited to specific tactics.

Since I couldn’t find quite what I wanted, I assembled my own: the READY framework for conversion optimization. While the framework structure is my way of organizing this, the ideas synthesized in it are drawn from numerous experts I respect and admire—see the credits at the end of this post.

Are your landing pages READY?

READY is an acronym that stands for five dimensions of a great conversion-oriented landing experience:

  • Relevant
  • Engaging
  • Authoritative
  • Directional
  • Yield optimal

A relevant landing page gives visitors exactly what they expected when they clicked. It should be engaging, communicating a great value proposition in a compelling, differentiated way. It should be authoritative, assuring people that you’re trustworthy and reliable. And it should be directional, moving visitors forward to their goals (and yours).

In addition to those user-centric objectives, it should also be yield optimal—implementing operational best practices to maximize your conversion rate.

Within each of these five dimensions, I’ve selected five contributing factors that I think are most important. Taken together, these give you a 5×5 matrix that looks like this:

READY Conversion Optimization Framework

While not all 25 factors will apply in all circumstances, I’d weigh each one consciously. In many cases, your pages can address many of these with the same underlying content—you don’t necessarily need a separate element for each factor. You simply want the page as a whole to be attuned to each of these facets of conversion.

Relevant: Give them what they want

Unless you’re Google or The New York Times, almost no one begins an online session on your site. They arrive at your doorstep from some other context—a search query, an ad on another site, a click-through from an email or a shared link in a social network. The top priority of conversion optimization is to make the landing experience they arrive at relevant to who they are, where they came from and what inspired them to click.

The most important rule: fulfill promises you made to win their click. If you offer a white paper, give them that white paper, immediately. If you promote a 40% discount, make sure that 40% promotion is right there waiting for them. If you dangle a specific price in the ad, post that same price on your landing page.

It’s good to experiment with different ads and emails to win more clicks, but you must deliver continuity with the corresponding landing pages. Beyond fulfilling specific promises, message match assures that a traffic source and its destination page are focused on the same topic, use the same language, and reflect the same intent. I’m wary of dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) on landing pages, but that’s the kind of synchrony for which you want to strive.

If you’re driving traffic from display ads or visual HTML emails, maintain design match on the landing page—shared graphical elements and the same look-and-feel—so that respondents feel that they are flowing effortlessly along a cohesive path. Don’t give visitors any conscious or subconscious reason to break the “scent” they’re following.

As much as possible, play to audience identity. Tailor your pages to the characteristics of the people who visit—use images that reflect them, speak in their vernacular, address them by role or position. If you aren’t sure who they are based on the traffic source, use simple one-click choices to let them self-segment. You want to tap into the psychology of similarity liking and have them feel “this is for me.”

The last point of relevance is being timely. At the very least, this means that everything is up-to-date—no expired offers or antiquated content. Keep the look and the language fresh and modern. Where possible, tie into relevant current events, seasons, and holidays that are meaningful to your audience in the context of a page’s message.

Engaging: Win their hearts and minds

When you’re trying to convert people—into a lead, a sale or for some other concrete action—you need to be more than relevant. You also need to be engaging to make people want to take that step.

The foundation of engagement is a compelling value proposition. Forget about presentation for a moment and consider only the substance of your page. Is your unique selling proposition (USP)—or unique campaign proposition (UCP)—genuinely attractive to that audience? Is it a good offer? Is it associated with a great product or service? If you were in your visitor’s shoes, would you honestly be enticed?

With a solid offer at your core, you then want to present it in the most captivating and convincing way possible. I think of this aspect of engagement as “honest seduction.” Conversion optimization expert Bryan Eisenberg recommends reviewing your seductiveness through the lens of different personas, such as competitive, methodical, spontaneous and humanistic personality types. At a minimum though, I’d evaluate at two levels: right brain and left brain persuasion.

To feed the right brain, you must have emotional appeal. You often achieve this with the page’s visuals—its design, imagery, and strategic use of colors and fonts, and how those combine together to set the mood and stir visceral reactions. But your choice of language is important too, as you want to tell a great story that will resonate with your audience. You want to express meaning and inspiration. (This is important in B2B too!)

To feed the left brain, you must deliver rational justification. Persuade visitors with logic and reason and quantify your value to them. In addition to factual writing, the use of bullets, tables, charts, and infographics can help analytical respondents process and internalize the attractiveness of your proposition. Be careful not to overreach though.

The real art, however, is harmonizing right-brain and left-brain components into a cohesive whole, which is the goal of affective design. Blend a page’s functionality with its aesthetics. Use design to communicate value. Aim to be the “iPod” of landing pages—intuitive simplicity and instinctive allure. Pursue the principles of user-centered design.

Engagement is also relative to the other experiences visitors will compare you against, so be differentiated. Don’t reuse the same boring landing page templates that everyone else does. Represent your unique brand in what you present and how you present it—stand out from the competition! Encourage your imagination and creativity, as compelling landing page design is not formulaic. Even if someone doesn’t convert on this pass, you want to leave them with a positive, memorable impression.

Authoritative: Earn their confidence

So you’re relevant and engaging—good! But before people will do business with you, they also must believe that you’re genuine and trustworthy too. Your pages should exude an authoritative aura.

The most immediate evidence of authentic authority are the assurances you explicitly give. These include guarantees, clear statements of customer-centric policies, trustmarks such as TRUSTe and McAfee SECURE. But you also want to assure visitors by being consultative on the relevant issue that brought them to your page in the first place. You want to soothe anxieties, minimize risk and radiate confidence. Note that the quality of your page is an implicit assurance of credibility.

To communicate that you’re for real, include accurate and concrete details in your pages. This means specific language, numbers, and examples—not vague or fluffy claims. For instance, don’t merely say “award winning” when you can cite specific awards. Show real product images, demos and illustrations where possible to be tangible. Fact-check everything and make sure that your claims don’t fall out of date. However, resist going overboard with tedious minutia.

Show that you’re responsible by respecting social norms. These typically include clear identification of who you are, links to your privacy policy and terms of use at the bottom of the page, and an “escape hatch” to your main site—particularly on a navigation-free, conversion-focused landing page. Make a stage-appropriate offer: don’t hard-sell on a page serving the preliminary research part of the buying funnel. If you have a form, keep it to a reasonable length and ask only pertinent questions. Be mindful of cultural norms for your audience.

Harness social proof to demonstrate that your visitors are in good company. Promote how many other people have chosen to do business with you. Display the logos of your best customers (with their permission). Include real testimonials. Share the press and awards you’ve received from highly regarded sources. Use pictures or video of real customers where feasible. Leverage “halo effects” via respected associations you’re a member of or the major charities you support.

Be brand consistent. Overwhelmingly, people rely on brands to make buying decisions. Brand and trust are entwined. If your brand is well-known, you absolutely want to leverage that by keeping your pages consistent with your brand standards: logo, colors, fonts, nomenclature, tone, design, values, language. If you’re brand isn’t well known, this is still essential to build such brand equity. And be sure your brand projects well on all current browsers and devices used by your audience.

Directional: Move them forward

Conversion optimization isn’t about static pages, so much as it is about the dynamic flow a prospect or customer has with you. You want targeted landing experiences to be directional, smoothly moving visitors forward to their objectives. Think downhill skiing.

First, have a clear call to action. For a given conversion scenario, this is the action you want your visitors to take. Make it simple and obvious: this should be the gravitational center of your page. Visitors should be able to recognize it immediately, feel that it’s reasonable, and have unambiguous expectations about what will happen when they take that action. Usually, it’s best to have just one, although several can work if the choice is frictionless.

Frictionless choices help people get what they want quickly. Giving people good choices puts them in control and facilitates successful information foraging. But to be frictionless, a choice must be easy to make. There can’t be too many, and they can’t be too hard. Visitors must have enough information to make the choice. If they’re undecided, they stop moving forward.

To keep forward momentum, have minimal distractions on your page. On targeted landing pages, consider having no site navigation or a “lite” version of your navigation. Stay focused on the message. Avoid superfluous banners and cross-sells. In cases where visitors will want to dig deeper before converting, encourage in-page exploration using tabs or different visual levels of detail—or use frictionless choices to guide them along a relevant multi-page path. But don’t cross the line into being domineering.

Employ explicit motivation and incentives where appropriate. Expirations and limited supplies can serve as an extra nudge to get visitors to take action immediately, while they’re in the flow. You want to answer the questions of “why you, why now” and tap into psychological forces around scarcity and reciprocity. Triggering feelings of competition, ambition or desire can be powerful too—just don’t overdo it.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and conversion doesn’t always happen from a single visit to a single page. Progressive conversion recognizes that sometimes people need multiple interactions with you, either in a single session or across multiple visits, before they’re ready to convert. Interactive dialogs, wizards, micro-conversions and romance pages can all contribute in a logical, step-by-step fashion to establishing trust, building commitment and earning the end-goal conversion action. Strive to give all visitors a good experience, as today’s non-converter may be tomorrow’s conversion win.

Yield optimal: More than meets the eye

There is a deeper level to conversion optimization that visitors don’t experience directly, but it significantly impacts the performance of your programs. These last five factors are the yield optimal best practices that maximize your return on investment.

Start every landing experience with a clear hypothesis. This should be a meaningful question about your audience and the tactics by which you market to them. For instance, if you ask for only name and email address—instead of a more lengthy qualification form—could you actually get better leads in the right context? Having a hypothesis focuses your ideas. Whether the experiment succeeds or fails, aim to learn something from it.

If you aren’t conducting an A/B or multivariate test on every landing experience in your portfolio, you’re not capturing the full value of your traffic. Embrace Bryan Eisenberg’s motto: “Always be testing.” Test your hypothesis by using A/B testing to explore major alternatives. After you have a champion, follow up with multivariate testing (MVT) to further boost your conversion rate and perform sensitivity analysis on the winning model of your hypothesis.

Confirm that tracking and segmentation analytics are properly configured. Conversion-oriented experiences can provide a wealth of insight into your audience—but only if you’re listening. Segmentation data is particularly valuable: use visitors’ behaviors to classify them into different audience segments. In addition to bounce rate and conversation rate, adopt metrics tailored to your objectives, such as lead quality or average order value. Ideally, close the loop and calculate ROI.

Consciously decide your SEO strategy. Don’t leave the way search engines—and new social media engines such as Facebook—process your landing experiences to chance. Determine if you want your pages indexed (e.g., short-term campaign offers may be better if not indexed). If you do, what keywords do you want emphasized? Is this a campaign-oriented variation of a primary content item that should be pointed to via a canonical URL? Incorporate structured data such as microformats and RDFa to support Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol, Google Rich Snippets, and Yahoo SearchMonkey.

Finally, make sure that you adhere to downstream READY principles as well. When you hand off visitors to a subsequent process—be it a salesperson, a marketing automation system, or an e-commerce shopping cart—maintain continuity, keep your promises and fulfill the expectations you set. In conversion optimization, as in life, follow-through counts.

Credit where credit is due

The ideas embodied within this framework were inspired by the writings of Bryan Eisenberg and John Quarto-vonTivadar (Always Be Testing), Tim Ash (Landing Page Optimization), Robert Cialdini (Influence), Chris Goward (The LIFT Model), Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational), Gord Hotchkiss (The Buyersphere Project), Lance Loveday and Sandra Niehaus (Web Design for ROI), Avinash Kaushik (Web Analytics 2.0), Chip and Dan Heath (Made to Stick), Rob Jackson (What can conversion analysts learn from supermarket psychology (and Cicero)?), and Anna and Justin Talerico and myself (Honest Seduction).

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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