Running your first A/B test

Acquiring new customers is expensive, so it shouldn’t be left to guess work. A/B testing gets more out of your existing traffic, using data to identify postive and negative changes you make to your website.

Every website has a goal. Online shops want visitors to buy products, software providers want people to sign up to their service, blogs want people to subscribe and so on. People completing these goals are your conversions. By testing a different version of your web page, you can measure how many more (or less) of yours visitors convert based on these changes.

I will show you how to run your first A/B test, and get actionable data that increases your conversions.

 

What do you want to test?

You can test anything on your website, however that doesn’t mean you should. Rather than diving straight in and making ad-hoc changes, you will get better results by applying a methodical approach.

A good framework to follow:

1. Ask yourself a question about something you don’t like about how your website performs e.g. Why don’t I get many sales of my 2nd tier product? Even better, if you have an active customer/visitor base, ask them what they would like to see changed.

2. The next step is to create a hypothesis based on this information e.g. Adding a ‘Most popular’ badge to my 2nd tier product in the product table will draw more sales

3. Once you know what you want to test you now need to decide on how long you want the test to run. There is a handy calculator using your current conversion rate, the level of improvement you want to see, the number of variations you are running and your daily visitor count at convert.com.

4. Now we get to test your hypothesis by running the A/B test for the planned length of time.

5. Once the A/B test is complete analyse your results. You’re A/B testing software (more on those later) will tell you which is the winning version. If it is your new page, make that your new default!

Common A/B testing mistakes to avoid

A/B testing sounds simple; create two versions of a page and see which is better. However, there is  a lot more to it than that, especially if you don’t want to waste time testing changes that have next to no impact. Here are common A/B testing pit falls to avoid…

Testing too many things at once

If you make too many changes to a page you won’t know which are having a positive impact and which are having a negative impact. Multivariate testing will help you test a few ideas at once, but this relies on a lot of traffic to be statistically valid.

For A/B testing, make one change and test the impact on your conversion before moving on to your next test.

Thinking too small

Micro-changes such as amending some copy here, or adding a link there, won’t have a significant impact on the performance of your web page. You need to make big changes to see big results.

For example, compare a short form version of your page with a long form, compare two completely different header images (e.g. one with a person and another of the product) etc.

Once you have exhausted the big ideas, then you can start to drill down to finer details to optimise even further.

Focusing just on clicks

The goal of every test should be to increase conversions, not just clicks on a button or link from one page to another. Clicks on links matter, but only in the context of how that contributed to an uplift in conversions.

Every test should be judged against how many conversions it generated.

Overruling your results

It is common to get results that surprise you or go against everything you thought was true.

When this happens it easy to dismiss them and continue with the old design. If you are unsure of the data, as a minimum run the test again. If it comes back positive a second time, trust the data.

A/B testing case studies to inspire you

Having the framework to run an A/B test is one thing, knowing what to test is another. Here are some classic A/B test case studies to help you get some ideas.

A/B testing software

I have personal hands-on experience of using Visual Website Optimizer and Optimizely. Of the two I found Optimizely to be easier to set up and analyse my results. Google offer a basic A/B testing tool called ‘Experiments‘ through Google Analytics, but I haven’t used it so I can’t honestly comment on its qualities. Seeing as it is free, I would recommend having a look if you are on a tight budget.

Most providers offer a free trial period, so I would recommend shopping around to find the one that suits you and your budget.

SEO quick wins you’ve probably overlooked (Part 1)

90% of SEO is easy for anyone to do, and a fair amount is just attention to detail. You’ll often find the businesses in your industry that look beyond the introductory strokes of meta data (i.e. <title>), keyword usage, internal linking etc. are the websites that rank well.

Here are five really easy to do, but often overlooked, SEO quick wins that will have a positive impact on your rankings and traffic.

Find unlinked mentions of your business

Chances are you are already being discussed or referenced on other websites, but there is no guarantee they have linked to you as well.

Use this search query to find URLs where your website has been mentioned, but hasn’t been linked to:

-site:yourwebsite.co.uk -inanchor:yourwebsite.co.uk -inurl: yourwebsite.co.uk -intitle: yourwebsite.co.uk

Once you have your list of websites, start contacting them and ask them if they will add a link to your website. Some will, and some won’t but for such a simple task it is worth trying.

Optimise for your location

Research is showing that 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information. Additionally, 50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34% who searched on computer/tablet did the same (source).

The information they are looking for on your website is:

  • 54% business hours
  • 53% directions
  • 50% the store address
  • 45% availability of product at your store

Additionally, the research found that local searchers are ready to act. Many visit a nearby location within a day and complete purchases at a higher rate than consumers who conduct non-local searches.

With all this in mind, make sure you have optimised your website to be highly relevant to your locality. E.g.

Instead of:

<title>Your local law firm – Friendly, confidential advice</title>
<h1>A law firm putting you first</h1>
<p>We offer high quality legal service that focuses on innovative thinking and deep client relationships.</p>

Use:

<title>Nottingham law firm – Friendly, confidential advice</title>
<h1>Nottingham law firm putting you first</h1>
<p>Based in Nottingham, we offer high quality legal service that focuses on innovative thinking and deep client relationships.</p>

Also, ensure that key information such as business hours, location etc. are easy to find as quickly as possible – ideally on the home page. Frozen meal company ‘Cook’ are a great example of how to do this well:

COOK Nottingham

People won’t spend long looking for this information. If they can’t find it on your website they will move on to a competitor.

Google Maps is now a business search engine

Get all your information added to Google My Business (previously Google Places). Google My Business puts your business info on Search, Maps and Google+ so that customers can find you, no matter what device they’re using.

Your verified business information can appear in Maps, helping customers find directions to your business. They can also find contact info, as well as ratings and reviews of your business.

Here is an example of an Indian restaurant in Nottingham that has taken advantage of this service:

My Business Google Maps

This gives customers the right info at the right time, whether that be driving directions to your business in Maps, opening hours in Search or a phone number they can click on to call you on mobile phones.

Use rich snippets

Rich snippets are the reason why you see additional data on Google’s search engines such as reviews, videos, authors (although that has now been discontinued) and alike.

rich snippets

These are never guaranteed to appear, and they only use a selection of results on any one page, which means they draw more of the clicks when they are used.

You can read Google’s overview about this here with instructions on how to set up reviews, people, products, and more. There is also their testing tool here to make sure you have set it all up correctly.

Use sponsorship to build easy, relevant links

Link building is difficult, and leaves even seasoned marketing professionals scratching their head. However, there are ways you can do this within Google’s parameters and without having to do laborious link outreach or “content marketing amplification.”

One of these is to find local/industry related events, forums, competitions and groups that are looking for sponsorship. In return they will add your logo and/or link on their website.

sponsorship and partners

They are often very low-cost, and these links will also be deemed as highly relevant industry links by Google. Additionally, you get great PR by being associated with them as well!

WordPress plug-ins that increase sales & engagement

If you use WordPress to power your business’ website or take orders online, you instantly have access to a huge range of really powerful marketing tools ready to install and use in a matter of clicks.

In this post I will showcase the best plug-ins for you to increase conversions, boost subscriber opt-in rates, enhance your visitor/customer engagement levels and much more.

The following are all plug-ins I have experience of using and genuinely recommend. They are not random plug-ins I have stumbled across or googled just to build this list. The plug-ins listed below are a mixture of both paid and free.

 

Email marketing

Mailing list and emails

MyMail is an all-inclusive product that will allow you to capture subscribers as well as sending ad-hoc, timed and event driven email marketing.

MyMail

Cost: $39. Find out more and download

Capture subscribers

Give visitors an incentive to sign up to your subscriber list by giving them exclusive access to great content.

optin locker

Cost: $14. Find out more and download

SEO

All-in-one SEO

Yoast’s SEO plug-in is one of the most downloaded plug-ins in WordPress’ directory and currently rated a huge 4.7 out of 5. I use this for my website and it makes setting up all the essential SEO variables very easy.

Yoast SEO

Cost: Free. Find out more and download

Keyword tracker

Track your keyword rankings in Google from within your WordPress dashboard. Very easy to get set up and running.

Rankie

Cost: $15. Find out more and download

Customer marketing

Community portal

Create a community based around your website with user profiles, badges, commenting, and member exclusive content.

UserPro

Cost: $28. Find out more and download

Team showcase

People like dealing with people. Increase credibility and sales by adding a personal flavour to your website.

team showcase

Cost: $16. Find out more and download

Testimonials showcase

One of the best ways to convert a prospect is to show them know how highly your current customers rate you.

testimonial showcase

Cost: $15. Find out more and download

Pop-ups and data capture

Deliver marketing messages to visitors based on their onsite behaviour and exit intent. Includes A/B testing tools to get the message just right.

Ninja-popups

Cost: $20. Find out more and download

On-site live chat

Chat with your visitors on you website. A great tool for closing sales, speeding up support query resolution and adding a personalised touch to your visitors’ experience.

LiveChat

Cost: $17. Find out more and download

Social

Social media sharing buttons

A lot of themes comes with social sharing buttons included, however if yours didn’t or you want a more flexible solution check out ‘Easy Social Share Buttons’.

Easy-social-share

Cost: $14. Find out more and download

Share to get access

Lock content away until they like, tweet or +1 your page.

social content locker

Cost: $24. Find out more and download

Sell online

Sell digital products

Sell downloadable products from within your WordPress website, with full shopping cart and payment integration included.

Easy Digital Downloads

Cost: Free. Find out more and download

Use your order confirmation email to sell more

Research has shown that the probability of selling something to a prospect is only about 5-20%, while the probability of selling something to an existing customer is 60-70% (source).

What if you were to take your traditional order confirmation (simply letting customers know the order has been placed successfully) and use it as an opportunity to encourage an already extremely warm lead to buy more?

In this post I will show you how to use your order confirmation email to sell more products/services.

Reduce purchase anxiety

Purchase anxiety typically happened when someone buys a product that is a little too expensive for them or they spend more than they normally do.

The danger here is they instantly get nervous, want to back track and then try to cancel and get a refund.

To combat this continue marketing to them and reinforce their belief they just made the right decision. Include testimonials, reviews/ratings, awards, trust marks etc. in the design of the email.

Cross-sell added value services

Do you sell any complimentary services that instantly support their purchase? A great example I received was from a hotel that linked to services such as car hire, tourist excursions, theatre tickets etc. for that city in the booking confirmation email.

The important point here is to compliment the product, not replace it. Don’t try to get them to upgrade at this stage, you’ll run the risk of undermining what they just bought.

Encourage a referral

Having literally just bought from you, now is the time to trade on their positive sentiment and try for a referral.

Do they know anyone else who might want your services? Set up an easy ‘Click to recommend us’ link within the order confirmation email.

Give them a discount on their next purchase

I wouldn’t go too crazy with this one, maybe just a small amount like 10% when they spend £X to act as a nudge and to get them coming back. I would also time limit the discount to create a sense of urgency.

Get actionable data

If you want to gather feedback on how people find using your website and order process, this is the perfect time to ask!

The whole experience is fresh in their mind, and with a little incentive (e.g. 10% off next order) a lot will be willing to share their experiences via a short survey.

Applying these ideas

I have created a wireframe lay out to show you how you can apply these ideas to your order confirmation email:

Order confirmation email

 

A guide for reactivating churned customers

Customers come and go, that is the nature of any business. However, that doesn’t mean you have to accept that all those that have left are gone forever.

By implementing a series of key customer strategies, you can reduce the number leaving and reactivate more of those that have already left.

In this post I will show you how to protect churning customers, and reactivate more of those that have churned.

 

The first step is to define what makes a dead customer from your perspective.

Is it someone who hasn’t bought from you in over 1,3,6 or 12 months, someone who hasn’t logged in in a certain number of days, weeks or months etc.?

This will inform you of who sits within the audience segment you want to target.

Additionally, using RFM, what characteristics do churning customers share? For example, is it a group that spends 30% less month on month relative to your customer population.

Once you know this you can pick out the customers who have fallen into that cycle.

Finally, be clear with what you want them to do. Is it to login, start another trial, buy one or more products…?

This will then dictate how you approach them and what you ask them to do. You’ll also be able to benchmark success for future campaigns.

Once you know who they are and what you want them to do, you can start to do something about it!

Stop them before they churn

Apply an onboarding strategy

User onboarding is the idea that successful customers are happy customers, and they stay with you longer and spend more.

In a nutshell, your challenge is to do everything you can to make it as easy as possible for your customers to get set up and use your product, and then become a success.

Popular ways of doing this include:

  • Welcome email with login link and steps for getting started
  • Set-up checklist in their control panel that shows progress
  • An animated walk through when they log-in for the first time
  • A user guide/manual

I covered this in more detail in a previous post. Read more in-depth coverage of creating a user onboarding strategy.

Target new, inactive signups

Email users who haven’t logged in again or bought anything within 24 hours of signing up.

The longer someone leaves it to buy, the less likely they are to do so.

If they sign up and haven’t logged in within 3 days email them asking if they need any help.

If they have purchased but haven’t started using your service within 3 days, email them with links to support articles or getting started guides/videos.

Customer satisfaction survey

Use NPS surveys to flag customers who are unhappy, and trend your general customer satisfaction performance.

Use this data to contact customers who fall into the detractor pot find out how you can help.

This will push them in to the promoter group almost every time, or at least the passive.

Stop customers falling down the RFM table

I know from personal experience that Ikea apply this strategy (read more about that here).

If you have customers dropping out of your top group (1,1,1) keep their buying habits going with targeted offers based on their previous purchases.

Despite all of this, you will always lose customers. Here are some ideas to help win them back…

Reactivating dead customers

There are a couple of steps you need to take before you get started communicating with your churned segment:

  1. Make sure you are using their history to inform all your marketing. Using historical transactional and behavioural data will result in far more effective marketing than one size fits all messages/offers.
  2. Create a control group to measure how successful your actions are. Take a sample of 10% and don’t send them any marketing. You can then compare this group with your action group to see if there is any difference.

Go back to square one

Stop thinking of these people as your customers. Start treating them in the same way you you do with cold prospects.

In all your marketing, remind them of all the key USPs and UVPs that attracted them in the first place.

Educate them

A percentage of your customers may have churned because they didn’t understand how to successfully use your product or how it can benefit them.

Creating educational content on how to become successful in their field (using your product naturally) will help draw people back.

Bribe them, but not too often

Special offers are always the most effective, the more aggressive the better. You are trying to change their behaviour so it has to be worth their while.

Go beyond a one off discount, and create an offer that requires repeat consumption to start building a habit.

Snack company Graze target me regularly with various offers to reactivate me. These range from a free box, discounted multiple boxes or my 2nd and 4th box free of a 5 box order.

However, the trap they have fallen into is sending me offers too regularly and I now expect them and in fact wait for them.

Remarketing through Google AdWords

You don’t have to use Google AdWords to bid on keywords or attract new visitors.

You can also show adverts on websites to previous visitors and customers as they move around the internet.

I would strongly recommend you set up a Google AdWords account and remarketing tracking on your website.

Using their remarketing service you can show tailored messages to this specific audience. e.g. “Come back and get X% off!” or “New features added”.

Create a marketing strategy in under an hour

Unless you are working in a multi-office, multi-million pound company with dozens of stakeholders and a complex bureaucracy you don’t need to write a 10,000 word essay to form your marketing strategy.

In this post I will show you how to create an effective marketing strategy quickly and easily, removing all the theoretical fluff that is typically not needed for small businesses.

What is a “strategy”?

Before I get started I want to define how I am using the word “strategy”. It has different meanings for different people, some of which are wrong.  A strategy is

“…a high level plan to achieve one or more goals.” – Wikipedia.

Your strategy is what you want to achieve. Your tactics/goals are how you will achieve that. So, the first place to start with is “What”

What is your company’s strategic vision?

A marketing plan should also come directly from the company’s overall strategy. If you create a marketing plan in isolation it loses any meaning. Start by stating your company’s vision so that everything else flows from this.

A vision statement is a declaration of your company’s goals for the midterm or long-term future. Some examples of vision statements include:

  • Amazon: “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.”
  • Disney: “To make people happy.”
  • Oxfam: “A just world without poverty.”
  • Ikea: “To create a better every day life for the many people.”
  • Nike: Currently “To be the number one athletic company in the world.” In the 1960’s: “Crush Adidas”
  • Heinz: To be: “The World’s Premier Food Company, Offering Nutritious, Superior Tasting Foods To People Everywhere.” Being the premier food company does not mean being the biggest but it does mean being the best in terms of consumer value, customer service, employee talent, and consistent and predictable growth.

For example, if I were presented with Disney’s vision, my goal would be to find out what makes our target audience happy, and then how Disney can contribute to that emotion. With out knowing this vision my marketing plan would be done in ignorance of this, and my ideas may unknowingly conflict .

What challenges are you facing to achieve that vision?

This is often drawn up using a SWOT and/or PEST analysis, and although that is a good way to help structure your thoughts, it doesn’t have to be presented like that.

A quick overview using bullet points or a short summary is enough. You should ideally use external sources of information for this rather than your own anecdotal thoughts.

You can do this with information you probably already have e.g. categorising customer complaints/feedback, data from customer surveys, competitor research and benchmarking etc.

For example:

  • We have expensive products compared to our competitors (Competitor benchmark)
  • Our customer support has a poor reputation (High volumes of support calls, poor scores on review websites etc.)
  • Our products are perceived as a commodity (Customer survey)
  • Our NPS score is dropping each month (ongoing NPS survey) – read more about NPS here.
  • We have large competitors entering the market (Competitor benchmark)

What do you want to achieve with your strategy?

Based on your vision and current challenges, list the key two or three outcomes you want to achieve by creating/updating your strategy.

This may be to cement a position you already have, or take your brand in a completely new direction. For example, you may want to:

  • Create a position that a competitor cannot take from you (e.g. price cuts, they develop new technology…)
  • Justify how much you cost
  • Find a position that appeals to a new target audience

Who are your customers?

Once you know what you what to achieve with your strategy, you should start building up a picture of your target audience and where you fit in.

  • What is the make-up of your target audience? (Geo-demographics, behavioural, benefits, lifestyle…)
  • How do they consume your product/services?
  • Where do they consume your product/services?
  • What are they looking for from a provider? (Price, support, tools…)
  • What are the barriers to choosing you?
  • Where do they go to consume content about your type of product/service?

Again, I would recommend on using data rather than your own thoughts. It is very difficult to know how customers think of you from the inside. Existing account data (e.g. postcode) and customer surveys are the ideal sources of information here.

Positioning your brand

All that information should have helped you to create a picture of where you are, where you want to be, who your customers are, and where you can communicate with them. The next step is to define how you will communicate with them. and how can you start to go about adding value? 

Let’s start by defining your key messages. These should flow through everything you do. For example based on the previous steps I have identified the importance of support, security and speed as important to my customers.

With this in mind I might want to position my brand as having:

  • Great UK customer support
  • Security based upon my great reputation
  • Easy to use

You can now start breaking each of them down further, and listing how you will achieve them. For example:

Great UK customer support

  • Showcase support response times on website
  • Support using social proof using customer tweets
  • Customer case studies and quotes
  • Showcase our awards
  • Ask happy customers to review us on 3rd party websites

So we have now defined our strategy. The next step is to start working on the tactical side.

Where will you communicate this?

Where you advertise should now be an easy choice now you know who your target audience are and what they want. Now it is a case of matching your audience and messages with the correct media.

In terms of 3rd party advertising, if you are unsure whether a media outlet is right for your audience as for their media pack. This will contain information about who their audience is along with the rate card.

Putting it in to practice

Having a plan is one thing, using it is another. To make sure this doesn’t become a paper exercise create a list of actions, along with who is responsible and when they need to deliver it.

Channel Task Team member Deliverable date
Brand Create positioning statements for brand & each product and create visual guidelines for all collateral to follow. Initials xx/xx/xx
Print Audit current print schedule & develop new ads. Initials xx/xx/xx
Events Identify awards and events we can sponsor/ attend. Initials xx/xx/xx
On-site content Create resources for [audience] to download and share. Initials xx/xx/xx
Content marketing & blog Developing useful content for [audience]. Initials xx/xx/xx
Copy Create copy guidelines based on a [audience] audience. Initials xx/xx/xx
Display/banners Websites (forums, blogs, news…) and new banners. Initials xx/xx/xx
Campaigns Create campaign schedule to support positioning. Initials xx/xx/xx
Customer marketing Create content & email format tailored to audience for newsletters. Initials xx/xx/xx

In conclusion

I hope this helps to give you a practical and quick way of creating a marketing strategy. The most important thing is to never let this become a paper exercise. Your strategy should inform your actions. If it doesn’t, it isn’t worth having.