October 24, 2021

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What Most Startup Entrepreneurs Get Wrong About Conversion Optimization

Startup entrepreneurs are fueled by ambition. They often want to grow as quickly as possible,...

Startup entrepreneurs are fueled by ambition. They often want to grow as quickly as possible, and that means relentlessly marketing the business and flexibly adapting to new information. Growth hacking depends on your ability to make changes to your marketing and sales strategies on the fly, gradually inching closer to a “perfect system.” And at the center of that system is a solid conversion optimization strategy

Simple in theory but complicated in practice, conversion optimization is a cornerstone of modern digital marketing. It’s broadly discussed, widely accepted as important, and constantly researched in new light. 

Despite all of this, conversion optimization remains poorly understood and inappropriately executed by startup entrepreneurs everywhere. 

So what are people getting so wrong about this otherwise solid strategy? 

What Is Conversion Optimization? 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with conversion optimization. On the contrary, it’s a practical necessity if you want to generate leads and sales on the web. 

Conversion optimization is a collection of different tactics all intended to maximize your conversion rate. Your conversion rate is the number of people who eventually “convert,” or achieve some meaningful goal on your website. For example, this conversion may be purchasing a product, filling out a form, downloading a whitepaper, or even watching a video. 

By changing the layout of your landing page, improving your offer, and tweaking visual elements of your work, you can gradually increase your conversion rate. That way, if you maintain a steady stream of traffic, you’ll eventually land more paying customers – and if you increase your traffic stream simultaneously, you’ll achieve tremendous overall growth. 

Sounds straightforward, right? So what are startup entrepreneurs getting so wrong about this strategy? 

The Missing Link 

Spend a few moments searching for information about conversion optimization or listen to an entrepreneur’s webinar about how they were able to double their conversion rate. What types of advice and insights do you see? 

Chances are, you’ll see a lot of people claiming that a handful of simple tricks are all it took to boost a conversion rate. For example: “After changing our ‘Submit’ button from green to red, we instantly saw 30 percent more conversions!” or “All we did was change the font size, and our conversion rate tripled.” 

These stories get a lot of attention, as well they should. In many cases, these results are impressive, and we have no reason to doubt their validity. But there’s a problem with what they imply and how they’re interpreted. 

Essentially, what we have is a persistent echo chamber in the world of conversion optimization. There are dozens of influencers and thousands of individuals claiming that they all have the “one weird trick” responsible for making your conversion rate explode, especially now that artificial intelligence is given more credit than it deserves. 

Why is this a problem? 

For starters, there’s no surefire way to increase conversions – at least not with some minor aesthetic tweak like changing the font or the color of a button. Changing a button from green to red might double the conversion rate of one business by half it for another business. Or it might not have any measurable effect whatsoever. 

Additionally, these articles typically underestimate the role that experimentation plays in conversion rate optimization; it’s not necessarily about brainstorming the perfect setup or following inspiration from someone else’s work. Instead, it’s about constantly AB testing and experimenting with new approaches to see what sticks. 

The downstream effects are: 

  • Entrepreneurs overestimating the ease of conversion optimization. First, all these articles make it seem trivially easy to practice conversion optimization. A marketer writes about how in 20 minutes, they were able to tweak their landing page enough to double their conversion rate – but in practice, things are rarely this smooth or straightforward. 
  • Fixation on minimally impactful changes. Many of these types of articles focus heavily on very easy, small-scale changes that can presumably boost your conversion rate. And there’s a reason for that – they want things to look easy so they can get a lot of attention. Content doesn’t get popular if all it does is tell you that you need to work hard. But the downstream impact is that entrepreneurs tend to overestimate the significance of minor aesthetic tweaks. 
  • Prioritization of specific changes, rather than a general approach. It really is true that changing the color of a button or the placement of an image can boost your conversion rate. That’s not a lie. But these changes, individually, don’t make for a good conversion optimization strategy. For that, you need to have a good high-level strategy, focused on ongoing experimentation and improvement. 

Reliable Tactics to Increase Conversions 

You’ll likely see minor changes to your conversion rate when you do things like tweaking the copy and changing your fonts. But you’ll see much more of an impact on your conversion rate by changing the “big-picture” items related to your landing page. 

For example: 

  • The funnel. Where is your traffic coming from, and who are these visitors? If you aren’t attracting the right demographics, any positive influence on your conversion rate will be minimal, and you’ll be missing out on the true potential of your strategy. You need to focus heavily on securing a strong flow of traffic and filtering that traffic so only the most qualified people end up visiting your landing page. With better, more qualified visitors, your conversion rate will be higher – no matter what colors you choose to use. 
  • The offer. Conversion is typically an exchange. People pay money to receive a product, or they volunteer their personal information to download a whitepaper. An easy way to increase your conversion rate is to make that offer more attractive in some way. Can you offer a free gift to complement the purchase? Can you write a more compelling whitepaper? If you gave away a $1,000 Amazon gift card in exchange for a name and an email address (assuming you could make yourself seem trustworthy), you could achieve a conversion rate nearing 100 percent. Your job is to figure out what the right balance is, and what type of offer will be most appealing, given these demographics and circumstances. 
  • The conversion flow. How easy is it to convert? An attractive, well-designed landing page is nice, but if it’s a pain to get through the checkout process or fill out your forms, you’re going to lose your audience. Improving the “conversion flow” is critical to your success. 
  • Follow-ups. Conversion rate isn’t just about who completes this action the first time they visit your page – it should also be about securing more conversions in the future. A good follow-up strategy, like remarketing, can help you capture some of the potential conversions you initially lost. 

Subjective Conversion Optimization Strategies

Of course, none of this is to say that minor aesthetic landing page tweaks can’t be helpful. There are many other, smaller variables to consider, including: 

  • CTA placement. 
  • Fonts. 
  • Colors. 
  • Copy. 
  • Images and videos. 
  • Reviews, ratings, and testimonials. 
  • Trust badges. 

The point is to spend more time focused on bigger, more impactful changes and experiment, rather than assuming what will work. 

What Are the Takeaways? 

So what are the key takeaways? 

For starters, don’t base your entire conversion optimization approach on the findings of an anecdotal article on the internet. The tips these marketing influencers provide may very well be based in reality, but they may not have the same benefits for your company, and they may not have as much of an impact on your conversion rate as other, higher-level changes. 

If you want to achieve more conversions and make your business successful, you need to have the right philosophy related to conversion optimization. You need to be willing to make changes and run experiments regularly to inch toward perfection. And you need to spend much more time on big-picture changes than minor aesthetic tweaks. Do that, and you’ll be in a much better position to get the conversion rate you want. 

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