How to beat most professional copywriters

Do you want to learn the “vital few” copywriting techniques that have the greatest impact on profits? Below, you’ll find the slides and video from one of our webinars—plus a transcript that has been edited to make it more readable. Our advice comes from years of experience increasing conversion rates for the world’s most successful […]

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Do you want to learn the “vital few” copywriting techniques that have the greatest impact on profits?

Below, you’ll find the slides and video from one of our webinars—plus a transcript that has been edited to make it more readable.

Our advice comes from years of experience increasing conversion rates for the world’s most successful websites.

What you’ll get from the slides and video

  • The “vital few” most effective copywriting techniques—with which you can beat most professional copywriters. (If this sounds impossible, remember that most professional copywriters don’t A/B-test their work.)
  • A winning copywriting template you can use to sell almost any product.

The slides

The slides from the talk, several of which will be baffling without the audio (see the video below).

A video of the talk

If you already know our company’s back-story, skip to the 5:14-minute mark.

The talk in podcast format

To download the audio of this talk, and others, subscribe to our podcast.

Resources mentioned during the talk

Screen-recording software

Feedback software

The mechanics of writing well

A transcript of the webinar (edited to make it more readable)

Today’s webinar is about how to beat most professional copywriters, and the vital few copywriting techniques we use to achieve the greatest impact on profits. I’m Dr. Karl Blanks from Conversion Rate Experts. During the call, if you have any questions, we’ll try to answer them.

First, I’m going to tell you the story of our background in A/B testing.

My cofounder, Ben Jesson, and I used to work in-house for a company that sold cellphones to international travelers. This was the graph they had on the wall for the staff compensation program—the end-of-year bonuses. It was a travel business, so it peaked every summer and dropped again in the winter.

By the end of 2005, we didn’t know what else we could do to grow the business. We were number one in the search engine rankings for all of the industry’s main keywords and we’d had loads of PR; we’d been in almost every travel magazine. It was at the end of 2005 when we discovered that A/B testing—and in particular, multivariate testing—could be carried out on websites.

Because of my scientific background, it seemed like an obviously good thing to do, because when you’re running large-scale industrial processes, A/B testing is the way you improve them. That’s how manufacturing works. And so, we started doing A/B testing on our website.

We tripled the company’s revenues to about $9 million in the following 12 months. And then, by 2007, we had doubled it again. We realized that this works, that it’s amazingly powerful. In doing so, we discovered we’d developed new techniques and a different approach to website improvement. It all involved A/B testing. And it all involved copywriting.

So for the rest of this talk, I’m going to talk about how you can become a copywriter yourself.

The title of this talk, “How You Can Beat Most Professional Copywriters”, may sound far-fetched, but you have to remember that most people who have the word “copywriter” on their business card aren’t copywriters by our definition. By our definition, if someone has never won an A/B test, then we would not call them a copywriter, because an A/B test is the way to measure that your copy has beaten the control—the existing version.

If someone calls themselves a copywriter but can’t show any evidence that they’ve won A/B tests, it’s like someone calling themselves a salesperson but can’t provide you with any evidence they’ve ever generated sales. Or someone calling themselves a golfer, but not only have they never won a game of golf, they have never even played against someone at golf. What I’m going to show you is enough to make you surprisingly sophisticated at copywriting.

We wrote an article about what we had been doing, and it went viral. Ours was one of the fastest-growing websites in the world that week, according to Amazon’s Alexa reports. The next day, Google contacted us out of the blue and asked, “What are your plans?” They invited us to become the first worldwide authorized partner for Google Website Optimizer, which was Google’s A/B testing tool.

We didn’t plan to create a consultancy, but that’s where things led. Nowadays, we carry out A/B tests and design pages for some of the world’s most sophisticated companies—companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

We’ve worked in almost every industry. We have sold almost everything. And it’s reassuring that whatever you sell, the advice in this talk will be applicable, and really, really effective.

(I won’t go into details, but on our “Clients and Results” page, we have 86 video testimonials from our clients telling the stories of how conversion rate optimization—CRO—has radically grown their businesses, often by more than double.)

When most people first find out about copywriting, they want to know: What are the words that sell?

There’s a book called Words That Sell that contains a big list of words that are useful for copywriters—like a copywriting thesaurus. The book has its uses, but that’s not really what copywriting is about. You might also buy the book, More Words That Sell, but that’s not what it’s about either. Nor is it Phrases That Sell, or Tested Sentences That Sell.

There are actually two skills to copywriting, and they aren’t really about the words.

  1. Skill one is about becoming able to sell the product face-to-face.
  2. Skill two is being able to take that knowledge and turn it into writing.

The rest of my talk is going to be mainly about these two steps.

Step One: Selling face-to-face

Step one, which I’m talking about now—becoming able to sell the product face-to-face—that’s the first thing you need to be able to do, and here’s why: It’s because your “robot salesperson”, which is what your website is, will be no better than its creator.

In other words, if you can’t sell the product face-to-face, if you couldn’t sell it to someone in person, then you don’t stand a chance of creating a page that will sell it because you don’t know all the things you need to say in order to sell. There’s no way you can create a page that does it automatically for you.

Have ready answers to common objections

Here’s a great example: With every client we work on, whatever it is, one of the things we always do is find someone—usually within the client’s organization, often someone in customer support—someone who can sell the product themselves.

In this example, we were working on a page for an electrical device, and we went to a store where they sold them. And this girl was amazingly knowledgeable, she sold about five of them per week. We showed her the client’s page and asked, “How would you improve this page?”

She replied, “When we started selling these electronic devices, the first thing I used to do is…people, our prospects, the visitors to the store used to ask us questions, so I would look on [the company’s] website for the answers and the website wouldn’t have them.” She then listed out about… I think it was 22 different things that customers often asked and needed to know before they would buy, none of which were on the client’s actual website.

Can you see how the website lacked the information a real person would need to sell these? She knew what those things were, and she effectively gave us a list of 22 common objections—and the counter objections she had come up with—that answered their questions and allowed her to sell the product.

That was ready-made copywriting gold. It didn’t come from a book of magic words; it was real genuine things a customer needs in order to take action.

Become the customer

The second part of learning to sell face-to-face is to become the customer yourself. Whatever we sell, we insist that our consultants go and buy it themselves. We reimburse them for it. (Just between us, we’ve bought a whole load of unusual things from clients this way.)

What we always do is start off on the web, research it. Don’t just go to the client’s website, but also shop around like you would in real life.

Record yourself with Camtasia—or if you’re on a Mac, ScreenFlow—so you’ll have a record of the shopping experience. We often like to include our own faces on the recording, because you can even see your own emotions at the times when you’re getting frustrated. You can zoom back through this at a later date and watch the movie to remind yourself of what different websites looked like and what the information was. It’s a very quick way of being able to work your way through different funnels.

If you have any questions, and if you normally pick up the phone to call customer support, do that and use Skype so you have a record of that experience as well. It’s really useful for you to become the customer this way, because you need to be able to understand the customer’s views. How crazy is it to think of selling something if you haven’t been the customer yourself?

Then, when you’ve bought it, use the product. Here’s a photo of my cofounder, Ben. One weekend, we were working for a company that sold sheds, and we asked, within our company, which of us most needed a shed. Ben didn’t need a shed, but I guess he was the person who was least reluctant to buy one and set it up, so yeah.

He ordered it, he had it delivered, he assembled it. And in doing so, one thing he discovered was that all of the panels of the shed, which had been delivered on the front lawn, were too large to fit through the house—which he had to do—and they damaged his walls on the way through.

So, he reported back to the client. They redesigned their sheds so that now, all of their shed panels are small enough to fit through a normal house doorway.

If you think about the improvement in customer satisfaction (and in Net Promoter Score) for making what seems like quite an obscure change, it’ll be huge. With all of these little things, as you’re using the products, you’ll learn different aspects you were unaware of until you were actually the customer.

Get honest feedback

The next thing you need to do is, on whichever page you’re improving, have an on-page survey asking questions. In particular, ask why…here’s one from one of our pages. It’s from our Learning Zone page where we ask, “Did you decide to download our PDFs? Please let us know why or why not. You can be brutally honest. We love feedback.”

It almost feels like cheating, doesn’t it? Where you can effectively just ask, “How can we improve this page?” or, “Let us know why you won’t take action.”

With so many of the pages on our website and on our client’s website, we have these surveys. We don’t run them forever—only for the time it takes to gather the information we need. Then you can iteratively improve the page, and when you see an objection coming up several times, fix that objection.

This survey tool is called Qualaroo, and we find it really useful for finding out specifically why visitors and customers aren’t taking action.

Create a mental shopping list

The next thing to consider is the mental shopping list. This is a list of all the things a prospect needs to think about by the time they take action.

Here is a basic list just as an example. (There’ll be lots more-detailed ones for each product or website you’re working on.) So here, for example, they need to think…

  • “This website looks relevant and it’ll satisfy my visitor intention.”
  • “I believe this is the best website of its type, so I won’t be considering the competitors (which include ‘doing nothing’ and ‘ordering offline’).”
  • “I can easily find what I’m looking for.”
  • “I can understand which product is best for me because the website makes clear recommendations.”
  • “I believe this type of product is what I need.”
  • “I believe this particular product is what I need.
  • I believe the claims the website is making about the company and their products because they’re supported with proof.”
  • “All of my miscellaneous product-specific objections have been overcome.”
  • “I found the whole experience pleasurable and I’d happily do it again.”

…and you can write those all out.

What you’ll find is that each website has different bottlenecks—different questions that aren’t being answered at the moment. So you need to create this list because you need to identify…

  1. Which stages, which paths, which aspects of the website are the customers or visitors getting stuck on?
  2. Which of these questions aren’t you answering at the moment?

→ To recap so far

Don’t start writing until…

  1. You know everything about the product.
  2. You’ve bought and used the product with your own money.
  3. You can understand why people buy it.
  4. You could sell it to yourself or your friends—because if you couldn’t sell it to yourself, then you don’t stand a chance of selling it to other people.
  5. Know all the objections and have great counter objections to them.
  6. You’ve gathered proof to support all of your claims. And speaking of that…

Gather a legal dossier

Imagine that you’re gathering proof—you’re essentially gathering a legal dossier to prove that the product and the website are the best. That’s a good way to think of it.

It’s not marketing, you know, this idea that it’ll work to just come up with loads of marketing buzzwords. That’s not what converts. Visitors are only converted with proof.

When I say you need to sell it face-to-face, that doesn’t mean you need to become a sleazy salesperson. That’s exactly what it’s not about. It’s about understanding all the things you’d need to say in order to persuade someone—all the things the visitor needs to know before they can take action. All those facts exist somewhere out in the world, and you need to get out and learn them.

So that’s the first step of the two aspects of copywriting. The second one is writing it down.

Turning it all into writing

Most people prefer only one of the two steps. People who love Skill One, selling, often shy away from writing. People who enjoy Skill Two, writing, are often uncomfortable with the selling part.

Few people are comfortable with both.

One of the secrets of becoming a great copywriter is that whichever one of the two steps you’re not comfortable with, push yourself out of your comfort zone.

If you can have the self-discipline to do whichever step you find least comfortable, and grow in that area, then you can become what’s quite a rare breed. There really aren’t enough good copywriters around.

Writing turns a genius into a moron

Here’s a packet of ham I bought from Tesco a few months ago. Pretty much the only sales copy on the whole package is where it says, “Just a Suggestion.”

Imagine if you went into a supermarket and it had a deli counter, and there was a person there serving up the ham. You order some, and they give you a packet of ham. Could you imagine the situation where you say, “Oh, thank you very much,” and you’re about to walk away and the person says, “Hang on…just a suggestion.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“Well, you could make a sandwich out of that.”

“Yes, I know that. Is that all?”

“Well, maybe you’d also want to not bother unfolding the ham properly. Or possibly add a bit of lettuce.”

“…But yeah, I knew that.”

That wouldn’t happen, would it? A real person would never say that in real life. They’d never stop you and say, “Just a suggestion.” But for some weird reason, the act of writing turns many a genius into a moron.

I think it has something to do with the way people are taught to write at school—there’s a disconnect. So someone who’d never dream of saying, “Just a suggestion…” when they’re selling ham face-to-face will be really happy to write it on a packet, not realizing what a strange thing that is to say.

Write like a human

One of the big things about learning to be a good copywriter is to write like a human. Write in the same way you’d speak to someone in real life.

It’s hard because at school, a lot of how you’re taught to write involves the opposite. It involves writing in a way you would never normally speak. So you have to unlearn a lot of skills and write things down in the same way you’d speak to a real person.

How do you do this? One easy way is to record yourself. Get a recorder and record yourself speaking, saying whatever it is you would say if you were face-to-face with someone.

Imagine someone walked through the door and said, “You know, I’ve just searched Google for these keywords. Over to you—what would you say to me?” And speak out what you would say to a real person who was calling in, then get that transcribed and analyze exactly what it is, maybe tidy it up. Make sure that all of the things you would say in real life are the things you’re saying on your website.

We often say the following to website owners: “I’m going to pretend to be a visitor and you have to sell to me, but you’re only allowed to sell by saying the words on your website.” Most people are embarrassed to say the words on their website to a real person, because that’s the point they realize the disconnect—that they would never use those words in real life.

Use the right number of words

People often say, “How long should a page be? Do people read these days? How many words should we be using on a page?” What we say is, you need to use at least as many words as you’d use when selling face-to-face.

Now, for some products—like this guy here selling watermelons—then the answer is, “Probably not very many words at all.” In fact, he looks in a bit of a bad mood. He looks like he might not speak very much at all.

But if you’re selling a CRM system, you wouldn’t dream of selling it face-to-face without at least three visits to the client’s building and to maybe have three one-hour sessions, then that’s a lot of words. Your page needs to contain at least as many words as that.

In many cases, that means your page will be much longer than you’re comfortable with. But look at examples of websites or pages that really do convert, and companies that do carry out A/B testing. Here’s Amazon’s page for the Kindle. If you printed that page out, it would be 19 feet tall. That’s over three David Hasselhoffs tall!

I know I said just now that you need to use as many words as you would in real life. But actually, you have to use more words, because in real life you can adjust what you say based on the person’s questions.

On a website however, you have to anticipate all the possible common questions and address them ahead of time. So typically, you’ll need at least that many words, and maybe more.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m recommending that you waffle. Quite the opposite. You need to be as concise as possible—like really, really concise. But even when you are concise, you’ll still find that your pages have to be long because most things require a lot of words to sell them.

Resources for writing well

Next we’ll take a look at how to learn grammar and the mechanics of writing and “style” as they call it. Here are three great resources:

  1. The left-hand one is a very short book called The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. A lot of things in there are controversial, but the second half of the book is a great description of what good writing is. It’s very useful.
  2. The middle one is the Professional Writing Style website, which is a great guide to some very mechanical things you can do to create better sentences.
  3. The next one is the Plain English Campaign, which has some great guides on how to write in plain English. To some extent, what the Plain English Campaign PDFs do is give you permission to unpick lots of the things you learned at school in English classes.

Read it aloud

Next, when you’re writing, make sure that whatever you write, you get at least one person to read it out loud to you. You need to have someone who can read the whole thing. As they are speaking, you need to listen for … where do they get confused, where do they pause, where do they hesitate, where do they read something wrongly? That’s really valuable.

We do it for everything we ever write. Every single blog post gets read out loud by at least one person. It takes time, but it’s worth it because it’s so valuable.

You might think, “Do I really have time for this?” But if your page is important enough that maybe 10,000 people are going to see it, maybe a hundred thousand people are going to see it, then the answer is, “Yes.” Ten minutes of your time can save hours of your readers’ time.

Structuring a landing page for conversion

Now, I’m going to go through a template for a highly converting landing page.

Obviously, there are a whole load of different ways you can structure a sales page. What I’m giving here is a very versatile, very robust format which will work with anything. If and when you become great at copywriting, you’ll get to the point where you’ll want to start trying different approaches, but this is the most robust, universally applicable template.

An enticing headline

The first thing you’ll have at the top of the page is a headline. Some people say a headline needs to contain the “three major benefits.” There are certainly over a hundred different formulae for what makes a good headline—different types of headline depending on the situation. But the only rule is that the headline needs to make them want to read more.

Captivating opening sentences

Next, open with a sentence that makes them say, “That’s me.” If you’re selling CRM software, it’s not a bad idea to say at some point within the first sentence, “Are you looking for CRM software?” So people think, “Oh, I’m in the right place here. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

Use the inverted pyramid principle, which newspaper writers use. It’s where the first few sentences cover the whole of what you’re going to talk about, and then the writing becomes increasingly detailed as you go down. But don’t go too detailed too soon; you want to start off broad and then get narrower.

Bullet points and graphics

Next, use bullet points with the main benefits and a clear next step. It’s a good idea to open up your page with bullets of the main benefits.

Ensure the graphical appearance of the page matches the website and connects to the target audience. Some people ask, “What graphics convert best?”, but there’s no one answer. It’s all about signaling. You want to think, “What kind of website would the visitors like this to be? What kind of website would most reassure them?”—and then make it look like that type of website.

“Johnson Box” for easy navigation

It’s also a good idea to have what we call a “Johnson Box”, saying what you’ll get on the page.

The term Johnson Box is a word from direct mail. At the top of a direct mail letter, there’d be a table of contents—but a table of contents that both links to different sections and is also fascinating.

We find Johnson Boxes work really well on websites like the one we’re showing below, where you can see three irresistible fascinating links to each section so people can jump to the part that interests them most.

A Johnson Box effectively is a type of navigation, and some people now do it as a top navigation bar where when you click and it scrolls down the page for you. We find it to be a nice straightforward way of creating a long page that’s also navigable.

Here’s an example. Here’s our careers page, and you can see that we’ve labeled what the sections are. It starts at the top with a self-interest headline that gets the right people interested; the graphical appearance that matches the website; the Johnson Box you can see there, which is all the bullet points for the different sections so people can skip to what they want; and then here, you can see very early on, we’ve included bullet points with the main benefits.

Split the page into sections

You’ve got their attention but you still need to make every single word count. So, use subheads to announce and sell each section. Have sections that check off each item in the prospect’s mental shopping list.

Before, I said you need to create a big list of all the things the visitor needs to think. Now is the time in your body copy to make sure that each section, every single one of those list items, needs to be checked off. And support all your claims with evidence.

Font size is important too. The page should be like climbing into a hot tub of text. Start large and then gradually step down the font size. Don’t go from a large headline straight into a small body copy. It’s much better to step it down in terms of headline size.

And again, back on that page I mentioned before, you can see we’ve got the subheads, each of which addresses a different aspect we want to check off in the prospect’s mental shopping list. And there, you can see an example of us supporting the claims with evidence.

We always wanted to have a section on how you’ll be happy working for us, but it was only once we got the actual data to prove that consultants at CRE are happy that we included this section. Saying you’ll be happy working here is nothing unless you’ve got proof. And so, there’s the proof based on the survey data we capture compared to the industry average.

And finally, add a call to action

The final part of your page is to get them to take action. It’s really, really important that you get the call-to-action right, because that’s the point at which you’re getting them to do something. That’s the point at which they have to make a decision.

Here’s what your offer and call-to-action should do.

First, it needs to summarize the benefits. Because some people will have skimmed around the page or even just scrolled straight to the bottom. By summarizing the benefits, you make sure they’re reminded (or even learning for the first time) what they’re getting.

Then, present the offer, and justify the price to make them realize that what you offer is worth more than what you want in return. What you want in return may be money, but it also might be their email address, or for them to submit a lead, or to tell-a-friend.

Two easy ways to make them act right now:

  1. Risk reduction. We could talk for at least an hour about risk reduction strategies. There are many ways to reduce risk. In summary: (i) Work out ways to make the risk lower, and (ii) below the call-to-action, explain why the risk is low.
  2. Incentive for prompt action. Look within your company for reasons for urgency. Why should the visitor take action urgently? What’s the scarcity? And then be sure to mention it at that point. That’s the point at which people are hovering, wondering whether to go away or do something now.

That’s the end of the template.

The things most likely to increase profits

People often ask us, “What are the most important things? What are the top things I should test on my website? I’ve got my A/B testing software. What should I do first?”

That’s a hard question to answer because it depends on your own situation—it’s like saying “What part of my car should I repair”—but here are five of the most important things, the ones that tend to get wins in almost all cases:

  1. The angle
  2. The things that get looked at first
  3. The offer and calls to action
  4. The weakest aspects of your current website, whatever they are
  5. The proof

I’ll go through them in turn.

The angle

First, here’s a good example of what I mean by angle. Imagine you’re writing a page that sells fertilizer to homeowners. Now, here’s what the legendary copywriter Robert Collier wrote as the opening of a sales letter:

“With your permission, I’m going to make an analysis of the soil of your lawn to determine, at my own risk and expense, what elements are lacking in it, what you need for stronger, healthier, more closely grown turf.”

Can you see that that paragraph is not about special magical words; it’s about what he’s saying.

He’s not saying, “My fertilizer has the following three benefits…” He’s saying, “Free of charge, I’m going to carry out an analysis of your soil and tell you some interesting facts about it and diagnose what you need.” That’s a whole different angle, a whole different approach, a whole different meaning. Great copywriting lives at the level of meaning.

Imagine you were selling grass seed face-to-face, and someone says they aren’t interested. You might retreat and think, “I’m going to try once more, but this time I’m going to enter the conversation with a different angle, a different way of opening the conversation.” That’s what we mean by angle. It’s a different approach into the conversation.

The new angle might be that you start talking about the guarantee. It might be that you open with proof. It might be that you open by talking about the offer and how there’s no risk. It might be that you open by educating them. What matters is that you’re saying something completely different.

What they’re looking at

An eye-tracking report would show you exactly what your visitors are looking at. Even when you have no eye-tracking data, it’s important to be aware of the concept, and focus on those parts of the page that will be viewed most. In particular, focus “above the fold”—the top of the page—because that’s what people can’t help but see first. In particular, focus on headlines, images, and anything that’s large and stands out (“pops’)—because those things tend to be looked at first.

The offer and the call to action

You can change what you’re offering in several different ways.

First, you can look at the long-term strategy for pricing. You may want to make as much money as quickly as possible (or whatever the goal of your company is), but think long-term. Think of Amazon, which has the goal to keep customers for life. So think of your long-term strategy—not only to win this first A/B test.

Common winning offers are:

  • Make the initial purchase a “no-brainer”
  • Make the “headline offer” irresistibly appealing.
  • Consider stripping down the features of your service, then charging for extras.
  • If you can’t make it free, make it seem cheaper. There are lots of ways to do this. For example, start with a lower commitment. Or even charge as a monthly payment, which works so often.
  • Upsell and cross-sell. Think of other things your visitors will want to buy or will be buying at the same time.
  • Add premiums and incentives. You could give away a free report, which doesn’t have any unit costs. You pay only for the one-off cost of creating the report.
  • Think of ways of bundling or unbundling other products or other services.

There are many ways to package up your product without having to change what it is—to make it more appealing to the prospect.

Find your website’s weak points

Next, identify the weakest parts of your website. I won’t go into detail here, because there are so many different techniques. (Our best-selling book, Making Websites Win describes them all.) Most websites are weak in the following ways:

  • Proof. The slide shows just three examples of effective proof, but there are many ways to bolster the proof of your claims.
  • Social proof. Anything that shows you’re growing quickly, or that other people in your prospects’ situation are making the same decision you want your prospects to make.
  • Testimonials. Show examples of happy successful customers.

Testimonials can be from customers, but it helps if they have authority, popularity, credibility, and influence. Celebrities, for example, have many of those. One amusing example is that in the UK, Weetabix breakfast cereal is endorsed by the Queen. It has the Queen’s stamp of approval, which affirms that the Queen thinks it’s a good breakfast cereal. Now that’s a great proof element. (The Queen has also given our company her approval, twice.)

Endorsements can also come from the media, online and offline. What credibility does your company have, and what proof do you have in that respect?

A good thing you can do right now is, on your computer, take a second to create a new folder and call it “Proof”. From then on, whenever you see a good press clipping, or when a customer says something nice, file it in your “Proof” folder. Then, when you create a landing page, it’s really useful that all your proof is in one place.

Most companies, when we start asking them for the proof, say, “Oh, wait. Yes, we were in the news, but we can’t find a copy.” They don’t have an organized system for storing and retrieving proof.

Hiring copywriters

You may be wondering whether you want to learn to write copy, or whether you’d rather outsource or delegate it.” Here are a few tips to hire copywriters. Good ones are hard to find, but here’s what to look for.

First, find someone with a track record of getting wins. In particular, if this is the Olympics of writing, don’t trust it to someone who has never won—or even run—a race. Just because someone has “copywriter” written on their business card doesn’t mean they’ve ever had a win.

Next, once you’ve hired them, ensure their work is A/B tested. If someone writes copy and is trying to increase sales, why would they not want to A/B test their version against the control to learn if it worked? Why would they not want to know the truth? We insist on A/B testing all the changes we make to our clients’ websites—even if they don’t ask us to—because we want to know what works. Every great copywriter wants to know the truth. There’s no other way to become great.

Ensure the copywriter follows the two-step process I’ve described: 1) learn how to sell the product, and 2) use craft to put the message into writing. So hire someone who can sell and can write.

How do you know if they can sell? A good question is, would you buy from them? Are they the type of person you’d buy from? You aren’t looking for a sleazy salesperson; you want someone who’s thoughtful and methodical about how they persuade.”

How do you know if they can write? See if you can effortlessly understand what they write. Do you enjoy reading their writing? If you get bored reading their application form, don’t feel guilty deleting it—because if they can’t keep your attention in an application form, they won’t be able to keep your visitors’ attention.

The best copywriters in our company—and many that we didn’t hire—had fascinating application forms. We were looking forward to meeting them. There was one that made me laugh so much I literally had tears running down my face; it was hilariously funny. And that’s a good thing.

Thank you for joining us

That’s all for now. To discover more, visit our Learning Zone or get a copy of our best-selling book, Making Websites Win.

And whether you outsource copywriting or do it yourself, make sure it happens. Because it’s really, really important.

We know of no better way of growing a company.

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1. Hire us to grow your company

We’ve generated hundreds of millions for our clients, using our unique CRE Methodology™. To discover how we can help grow your business:

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Selling remotely: A proven 11-step workflow to grow your business with remote sales calls and webinars

If coronavirus has forced you to start selling remotely, please don’t let this article overwhelm you. It has taken us over ten years to optimize the following workflow. Right now, your audience will sympathize with your situation. They won’t expect polish. They won’t be surprised if your kids walk in. Rather than follow the whole […]

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If coronavirus has forced you to start selling remotely, please don’t let this article overwhelm you. It has taken us over ten years to optimize the following workflow. Right now, your audience will sympathize with your situation. They won’t expect polish. They won’t be surprised if your kids walk in.

Rather than follow the whole workflow, you might want to copy it and then delete all the parts that aren’t a high priority for you right now.

Our entire workflow for setting up and presenting successful remote sales calls and webinars, including…

  • Three reasons why we sell remotely—and why you probably should too.
  • Some great technology that will hugely improve the quality of your video sales calls and webinars.
  • Proven templates for all the documents you’ll need to create a webinar (emails, blog posts, etc.).
  • “Don’t forget to go to the toilet”: The checklist we follow just before a video sales call or webinar.
  • Some easy-to-make embarrassing webinar blunders we’ve made, and how you can avoid them.
  • How to edit the slides and video and post them to your blog.

Why you should consider hosting webinars

Webinars and remote sales calls are highly effective for communicating with your target market. Many people are surprised that we have brought in many top brands as clients without ever having traveled to their offices.

We now turn down almost every conference speaking request, and instead we spend that time giving webinars. We have even presented remotely at “real-life” conferences:

Hello Latvia! We have spoken remotely at several “real-life” conferences, using GoToWebinar to present our beautiful slides and ugly faces onto the screen.

We estimate that switching from conferences to webinars has saved us a month per year that we would otherwise have spent traveling. It’s hard to quantify how much time we save from using web conferencing software for sales calls. One of our team members can now carry out seven international sales calls a day. Face to face, that would take over two weeks.

Webinars have three huge benefits over other marketing channels:

  1. They allow a level of rapport that articles don’t.
  2. They are time-efficient, for you and for the attendees, who don’t need to travel to a conference either.
  3. They are highly scaleable. It’s unusual to have more than 100 people attend a talk at a web conference, but it’s normal for a webinar.

However, no other marketing medium presents more opportunities for messing up. They are like a stressful cross between organizing an international conference, giving a presentation, and making a VoIP call. Over the years, we’ve accumulated many tips for getting the best results from webinars, usually by making mistakes then asking ourselves, “How can we safeguard against that ever happening again?”

We recommend you get a “Do not disturb” sign.

If you want to do only remote sales calls, and not webinars, then read Steps 1 and 3, and then skip to Steps 7–11.

Step 1: Get the right technology

  • If you’re wondering how our voices sound so professional (why are you laughing?), it’s because we use a great microphone (the Blue Yeti) with an anti-pop screen (like this one). We’ve recorded a comparison of the different microphone options, so you can hear what a huge difference it makes.
A good microphone makes a big difference to the sound quality. And makes you feel like an old-time radio presenter.
We had acoustic tiles fitted to the walls and ceiling of this office, to make it ideal for conference calls and webinars. They are almost unnoticeably discreet; they are on every wall except the one by the stairs.

Step 2: Have a kick-off meeting to agree the details of the webinar

We recommend you co-present webinars with other companies. That way, you provide valuable content to their subscribers, and in return you get exposure to a new audience. The following points will be useful when you have the first phone meeting with the people with whom you’ll be presenting:

  • Before or during this kick-off meeting, send out a Google Doc that contains the planning templates for the webinar. To save you loads of time, here’s our template.
  • Agree on the title of the webinar. (Ideally, it would be a subject about which you have already created content.) As with all good headlines, a good title will compel the visitor into wanting to know more, probably by speaking in terms of benefits. Our talk about usability, for example, was called “Conversion mistakes we’ve made. And how conversion affects SEO. With Rand Fishkin.
  • Agree who will be presenting, who will be moderating and who will be organizing (that is, setting up the webinar software).
  • Create an outline for the webinar, so each presenter knows how many minutes they can speak for. It’s a good idea to have 15 minutes for questions at the end. Agree now who will answer the questions.
  • Assign one of your colleagues to join the webinar as an attendee, so they can see and hear what the attendees see and hear. If, at the start of the webinar, you accidentally start showing your screen without realizing it, this person can notify you.
  • Agree upon the time and date for the webinar:
    • Should you have multiple sessions for different time zones? Remember that time zones vary by date, so don’t just look at the time differences as they are today. Instead, use TimeAndDate’s Meeting Planner or EveryTimeZone (which is more accessible).
    • Don’t have a webinar on a national holiday. Use Google Calendar’s “interesting calendars” feature to automatically add different countries’ national holidays to your calendar.
    • Ensure that the presenters, moderators and organizer will join the webinar half an hour before it starts (so they can check that the technology is working).
  • Agree a time and date several hours before the webinar to have a “dress rehearsal,” to agree on the final details and to test the slides and the technology. A 30-minute call should suffice. Twice during such calls we’ve encountered major problems. On one occasion, the other presenter took half an hour to get the technology working. On another, only a quarter of our screen was visible. You don’t want to leave that kind of problem till the day of the webinar.
  • Agree a time and date for a post-webinar de-brief call, to review any remaining tasks that need to be completed.
  • Agree if and how each party will we be promoting the webinar to its followers.
  • Give the presenters, moderators, and organizers the URL of this article (the one you’re currently reading), so they can follow this checklist themselves.
  • Ask for photos of the presenters, and the email addresses of the presenters, moderators, and organizers. Also, share cell phone numbers in case any one of you needs to be contacted in an emergency.
  • Confirm in writing everything you’ve just agreed. You can do this by emailing the URL of the “planning” Google Doc to the presenters, moderators and organizers.

Step 3: Set dates in your calendar

  • Send calendar invitations to the presenters, moderators, and organizers.
  • Reserve the room from which you’ll present the webinar. You don’t want to start the webinar out of breath because you’ve just had to wrestle several people out of the room. (Incidentally, this task is in the “calendar” section because we book resources using our online calendar. The room from which we present has its own calendar.)
  • Invite someone to be in the same room as you during the webinar—so they can be a “runner” if you need anything. It could be the same person who will be attending the webinar as a guest.

Step 4: In Google Docs, draft the blog post to announce the webinar

  • The blog post is surprisingly fiddly to set up, partly because the time zones are difficult to explain (and GoToWebinar doesn’t make things easy). This example of an announcement blog post has all the necessary parts. By drafting it in Google Docs, you can show it to the other parties before it goes live. This also saves you from the chicken-and-egg situation whereby you can’t publish the blog post till you have the GoToWebinar sign-up URL to include in it, but you can’t set up GoToWebinar until you have written the description of the session.

Step 5: Set up GoToWebinar

  • Be careful who sets up GoToWebinar, because this person will receive all of the email inquiries (and there may be tens or hundreds of them).
  • Copy and paste from the Google Doc the description of the session and the follow-up emails.

Step 6: Publish the blog post announcing the webinar

  • Once all the parties have agreed upon it, transfer the blog post from Google Docs to your site and to your co-presenter’s site.
  • Follow your publicity plan for the post. (Email your subscribers, etc.) We usually send just one notification, because that’s what we’d do to a friend—and we treat our subscribers like our friends. (In fact, many of them are our friends.) Most companies find that they get higher sign-up rates by sending out a series of emails in the days leading up to the webinar.

Step 7: Write the talk and create the slides

  • For remote collaboration, we much prefer Google Slides to PowerPoint.
  • If you’re using PowerPoint, send a slide template file to each person who’ll be creating slides. If you’re using Google Slides, simply send the link to the slide deck.
  • In this article we’ll not address how to write the webinar talk itself. Instead we’ll focus on the activities that are specific to webinars. If you want advice on how to structure a persuasive, valuable talk, then see “How to beat most professional copywriters,” which contains a highly effective template for creating persuasive messages. Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate, is great too. If you want inspiration for creating slides, SlidesCarnival and SlidesGo can be useful.
  • Script into the webinar talk a second introduction for latecomers.
  • GoToWebinar’s interface shows how many people are actually watching the slides (as opposed to having the GoToWebinar window open in the background). You can increase the number of active viewers by regularly saying “Look at this slide” during the talk. Include in your script reminders to do this.
  • When the presenters have submitted their slides, combine them into one slide deck and check that all of the fonts and transitions have worked. Tip if you’re using PowerPoint: When you paste in a new slide, you’ll see a small clipboard icon that asks you whether to “Keep Source Formatting” (choose this one!) or “Use Destination Theme” (don’t use this one, unless you secretly hate your co-presenter and want to hear them cry in front of a thousand people. The button might as well say “Ruin Slides.”)

Step 8: The day before the webinar

  • In case of emergency, print the following:
    • Your slides (and annotate them if needed).
    • The dial-in details.
    • The “planning” Google Doc (which includes emergency contact details).
We use two laptops. The one on the left is for slides and GoToWebinar, and the one on the right is for instant messaging, accessing the web, and maybe joining the webinar as an attendee so you can see what attendees see.

Step 9: About 30 minutes before the webinar

  • Put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door.
  • If you’re using one, make sure your Bluetooth headset is fully charged.
  • Restart your computer (or, at the very least, free up your computer’s memory. For Mac, iCleanMemory works well).
  • Turn off any software that might slow down your computer, hog your bandwidth or hijack your screen:
    • Close any applications you won’t be using—including ones that only appear in the menu bar.
    • Close any software that is likely to seize control of your screen. For example, instant messaging software, calendar software or notification software.
    • Turn off backup software (like Time Machine).
    • Turn off file-sync services (like Dropbox and Google Drive Filestream).
    • If you use Apple macOS, open Notification Centre, scroll to the top, and activate “Do Not Disturb” mode, to prevent any embarrassing SMS messages you receive during the webinar from appearing on your screen.
    • If you have it (and if you don’t, you’re missing a trick) activate Owly (for Mac), which stops your computer from going to sleep or starting your screen saver.
    • Set yourself a reminder to restart your computer afterwards, so all of the above software starts again.
  • Ensure your backup internet connections are ready (your wireless card, phone tethering, etc.).
  • Minimize any possible sources of noise: Turn off doorbells, unplug unneeded cell phones and landline phones (note that a phone in vibrate mode can still make a lot of noise). Close windows. If your door is locked, take the keys out of the door, in case someone needs to let themselves in.
  • If you’ll be browsing the web during the webinar, open a single, blank browser window in “Incognito” mode in a browser you don’t normally use. Delete the history from your web browser, so people can’t see your history and bookmarks.
  • Tidy up your computer’s desktop.
  • Unplug any external displays before you begin, and present the slides from your main screen. (An external display is one more thing that can go wrong.)
  • Most webinar software allows you to record the webinar. However, also start ScreenFlow (for Mac) or Camtasia (for Windows), ideally on another computer, to create a backup recording. For a second backup, start a digital recorder recording.
  • Join GoToWebinar. If you’re using a phone, not VoIP, check that “Mic and Speakers” is deselected in GoToWebinar’s control panel—otherwise you may hear loud feedback noise. Also, remember that when “Mic and Speakers” is selected, your voice can be heard by the other presenters as soon as you open GoToWebinar.
  • If you’ll be using GoToWebinar’s “Mic and Speakers” VoIP service, then, regardless, activate the  “Telephone” option, and write down the dial-in details. Then, if VoIP fails at any point, you can dial-in with a normal phone.
  • The presenter should click “Record” when the webinar starts.
  • Throughout the session, presenters should ensure that they view the “Chat” section of the GoToWebinar control panel, in case other presenters need to contact them. If one of the presenters isn’t paying attention to your chats (perhaps their “Chat” panel is collapsed), here’s a clever way of getting their attention: On the webinar, tell the presenter that you have just chatted a URL to them, and ask them to forward it to all of the attendees. Then chat to them the URL of the resource along with a message saying “Please pay attention to my chats!”
  • Set up a spare laptop on your desk (if you have one). Join the meeting as an attendee on it. This allows you to see what time lag there is between you showing a slide and the audience being able to see it. Also, start up instant messaging so you can use it to communicate with other presenters if anything goes wrong.
  • If anyone else is using the same Wi-Fi connection as you, ask them to switch to an alternative until the webinar is over.
  • Have a last-minute wee. You’ve earned it.
  • Put a glass of water on your desk, in case your voice dries up during the recording.
  • Let the other presenters know that the moderator will be controlling the slides during the presentation, so to advance the slides the presenters will need to keep saying “On the next slide, you’ll see…” or “If you move to the next slide, …” or “[Presenter’sName], if you could move to the next slide.” This turns out to sound less awkward than you might expect. Alternatively, you can “Give Keyboard & Mouse” to them, but be aware that their mouse movements can wreak havoc if you forget to disable them when it’s your turn to speak.
  • Listen to some exciting music as loud as you can bear, to energize yourself. Here’s our Spotify playlist of exciting songs—though you’ll probably want to create your own.

Step 10: Present the webinar

  • Throughout the webinar, the moderator should watch the “Questions” and “Chat” panes in GoToWebinar’s control panel.
  • When the talk starts, mute any presenters who aren’t speaking, to minimize any background noise, and to reduce the likelihood of bandwidth problems.

Step 11: After the webinar has finished

  • Make sure you end the session, by closing GoToWebinar altogether. It’s surprisingly easy to leave it running. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the “Stop showing screen” button will stop the audio too.
  • Convert the movie file of the recording (using GoToWebinar’s conversion software).
  • If agreed beforehand, export the GoToWebinar reports and send them to the other presenters. Read all of the attendees’ questions, even if you haven’t promised to reply to all of them. Sometimes they contain personal messages that require action.
  • Restart your computer, to restart the software that you paused (Dropbox, Time Machine, etc.). Also, unmute phones, and undo any other changes you made during Step 9.
  • Upload your slides to whichever platform you use to share slides. If you have used any non-standard fonts, then save the file as a PDF before uploading them, otherwise they’ll look terrible.
  • Edit the video (using ScreenFlow or Camtasia): Crop any excess content from the start and end of the video. Optimize the sound by maximizing its volume, being careful that none of the peaks get too loud (in ScreenFlow they appear red when this happens). ScreenFlow has a feature called “Smooth volume levels,” which can be useful. However, if the other presenters are consistently quieter than you (because they don’t have an awesome microphone, perhaps), then it helps to turn their sections of the audio into separate clips, and then to edit the volumes of those clips independently. Export the video on “Web – High” setting. Then upload the video to your video-hosting service. We love Wistia, but you may prefer Vimeo or YouTube.
  • Embed the slides and video into a blog post (here’s an example). Don’t skip this stage; for every person who attends one of our live webinars, there are more than five people who see the video recording and/or the slides. Rather than create a new post, we edit the one that we used to announce the webinar, because it’s not needed any more, and there might still be links pointing at it.
  • Publicize that it’s published (email your subscribers, share it on social media, etc.).

Good luck, and let us know how you get on!

This article is one of a series, the index for which is here. To hear when the next article becomes available, get on our email list.

We’re assembling a guide to remote working. Let us know your questions.

We hope you are well. You may be working from home. Or perhaps you are still going to the office, but might be sent home at any moment. Maybe you’re a leader who hasn’t led a remote team before. Since our company began in 2006, it has been 100% remote. Our team members are spread […]

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We hope you are well.

You may be working from home.

Or perhaps you are still going to the office, but might be sent home at any moment.

Maybe you’re a leader who hasn’t led a remote team before.

Since our company began in 2006, it has been 100% remote. Our team members are spread across eight countries worldwide, and we have worked with clients in 37 countries. We have experienced almost every remote-working pain point there is. Fortunately, through a lot of trial and error, we have found solutions to nearly all of them.

We are working hard to assemble some of our most useful in-house documents into a guide to working remotely. We’ll make each section freely available on our blog as soon as it’s ready.

If you—or your team—aren’t already working from home, and you think you might need to soon, we recommend you do a trial-run now. That way, you can use Genchi Genbutsu to discover what the challenges are. And the sooner you start, the more time you’ll have to overcome them.

If you let us know what your challenges are (just submit the following form), then over the next few days, we’ll share how we tackle them.

To hear when the guide becomes available, get on our email list.

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The Infinite Manager: How flows can eliminate work, so you only have to think once

One reason to create flows is so you can do all the hard thinking once. When you write down a flow for the first time, the written version augments your memory, so you can view it more logically. Also, whenever you spot a way to do the activity better, you have a “control” flow you […]

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The following excerpt is from our in-house onboarding flow for new team members. We are publishing it as a series of articles, which we’re calling The Infinite Manager. The series describes the unconventional operating system that has enabled our small team to have such an impact on the web’s leading companies.

In this part, we give an example of a simple flow we created, and the four types of benefits that flows give.

One reason to create flows is so you can do all the hard thinking once. When you write down a flow for the first time, the written version augments your memory, so you can view it more logically. Also, whenever you spot a way to do the activity better, you have a “control” flow you can update.

Here’s a simple example: When we started our company, we used to receive an email from our accountant each month saying,

“Please send me any missing receipts.”

The missing receipts tended to be from services that wouldn’t email receipts, so we had to fetch them ourselves. In documenting the flow, we realized that the time-consuming part was logging in to each service and rummaging around for the page from which receipts could be downloaded. So we documented the process. Now, our accounting software outputs which receipts are missing, and Google Sheets creates the following report…

A screenshot of a line from the table.

…which has a section personalized for each user—who can then fetch their missing receipts simply by clicking the links. The flow gave us four benefits:

  • Benefit 1: The obvious benefit: it saved us hours of work.
  • Benefit 2: Because the work had been defined, we were able to delegate it. In this case, we were able to share logins with colleagues who could download them for us.
  • Benefit 3: The flow became our winning control—and controls can be improved. The mere process of creating the flow helped us to understand how it could be improved. By externalizing the work from our memories onto a document, we could better understand it. In this case, we unsubscribed from some of the time-consuming apps that weren’t essential, and we changed some of them from pay-monthly to pay-annually. We even considered automating the clicking around (one of the services desperately needs a “download all invoices” function; it currently requires the user to click nine times to download each monthly invoice).
  • Benefit 4: The flow is now visible and legible—it’s no longer stuck in one person’s head—so other people can understand it well enough to come up with ideas for improving it further.

For your inspiration, here are some flows we’ve created

  • Sales and marketing
    • Prioritizing, creating, and publishing articles.
    • Creating a podcast episode.
    • Sales funnel.
    • Email marketing.
  • Clients
    • Flow for the consulting process.
    • Researching a client’s websites.
    • Understanding a client’s business.
    • Managing a client project.
    • Creating winning test designs.
  • Team members
    • Hiring the best people.
    • Onboarding new consultants and training them in CRE’s methodology.
    • Mentoring consultants.
    • Planning our annual company conference.
    • Onboarding new researchers.
  • Operations
    • Flows for HR.
    • Evaluating new software.
    • Managing our finances.
    • Managing our trademarks.
    • Completing our annual tax return.
    • Creating and updating financial reports.
    • How we create flows (very meta).
    • Health and safety management.
    • Managing the lifecycle of data.

We have been surprised to find that the number of flows has increased. We now have an “admin” one for every software app we use. Doing so may sound arduous, but we’ve found that the time taken to document a flow tends to be a small fraction of the total spent doing the work. And our current selves are delighted whenever we discover that our past selves have had the discipline to create a good flow.

Which flows should you create first?

Where should you start?

Which flows should you create first?

Begin with the repetitive activity that takes up most of your time, particularly if it’s complex and important. The best time to start is the next time you carry it out. You can then test it the time after that.

This article is one of a series, the index for which is here. To hear when the next article becomes available, get on our email list.

What you should do now

1. We have already grown companies just like yours. (We have helped to grow clients in 37 countries in 11 languages.) So wherever you are in the world, if you’d like us to work on your website—to dramatically increase its profits—then claim your FREE website strategy session. On this free phone consultation, one of our experts will discuss your conversion goals and suggest strategies to double your sales.

2. If you’d like to learn conversion for free, go to our “Learning Zone”, where you can download templates of million-dollar winning pages. Or, if you’d like us to build your company’s in-house capabilities (not for free), then contact us and we’ll discuss your requirements.

3. If you’d like to work for us—or see why our team members love working for us—then see our “Careers” pages.

4. If you enjoyed this article, then so will your friends, so why not share it on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook.

All of our articles are subject to our Testimonial Protocol.

Are your CRO activities too narrow?

Many people wrongly believe that conversion rate optimization (CRO) is about arbitrarily tweaking page elements. Some think it is limited to landing pages—which seems perplexingly arbitrary to us. CRO applies to every customer interaction in the business, through the whole customer lifetime experience. Beyond landing pages The following list contains some of the unconventional things we’ve […]

Morph Costumes Slender Man costume
While studying the analytics for client Morph Costumes, we noticed that visitors were searching for “Slender Man costumes.” Morph Costumes responded quickly, launching a Slender Man suit that became a top seller. (See our testimonial from Morph Costumes.)

Many people wrongly believe that conversion rate optimization (CRO) is about arbitrarily tweaking page elements. Some think it is limited to landing pages—which seems perplexingly arbitrary to us. CRO applies to every customer interaction in the business, through the whole customer lifetime experience.

Beyond landing pages

The following list contains some of the unconventional things we’ve done to grow businesses measurably by increasing conversions. If you submit your own, we’ll add the best to the list.

  • Hiring a celebrity doctor to be a figurehead for a health supplements company. Also, hiring TV presenter Sarah Beeny to be the figurehead for e-commerce store LED Hut.
  • Investigating how a consumer electronics product could be packaged for sale on home shopping TV.
  • Initiating the redesign of self-build sheds, to improve the client’s Net Promoter Score.
  • Redesigning the packaging of a third-party travel adapter, to increase its usability, and thus reduce calls to customer service.
  • Years before Groupon existed, persuading a voucher-codes website to email its subscribers every day.
  • Converting an education lead-gen site into becoming a highly successful education provider.
  • Persuading a client to partner with one of its biggest competitors.
  • Designing a viral refer-a-friend program that became the third-highest source of customer acquisition for a telecoms company.
  • Proposing the design of what turned out to be a best-selling Halloween costume, based on insights gleaned from visitors’ search terms.
  • Changing the revenue model of several clients.
  • Designing and optimizing a mobile app for a real estate company.
  • Getting one of our clients’ products recommended in the New York Times’ bestselling book, The Four-Hour Body—to provide a proof element that could be incorporated into the product’s landing page.

In the examples above, the goal wasn’t always to increase sales, and very few of the examples involved landing pages. But they were all about increasing conversion rates, and in ways that were measurable.

Ben with his shed.

Common CRO opportunities

Each company has its opportunities for increasing conversions. The following activities, though, work well in many companies:

  • Building the relationship with visitors via regular follow-up—with an email autoresponder sequence or lead-generation welcome pack.
  • Becoming more than a transactional store; becoming a community and a trusted adviser.
  • Creating and optimizing a tell-a-friend program.
  • Cross-selling on your thank-you page, which can increase the net profit considerably, because you have already acquired the customers, so the additional gross profit goes straight to the bottom line.

Look beyond landing pages

Are there parts of your business that have been untouched by CRO? Perhaps they appear to be off limits. Such “blind spots” are often the biggest opportunities.

What are the quirkiest things you’ve done for CRO?

We’d love to hear things you’ve done that don’t fall within the traditional boundaries of CRO. If you let us know, we’ll add the best ones to this page (and credit you, of course).

The biggest opportunities look like toys

“When something is described as a toy, that means it has everything an idea needs except being important. It’s cool; users love it; it just doesn’t matter. But if you’re living in the future and you build something cool that users love, it may matter more than outsiders think.”—Paul Graham You can find opportunities by […]

“When something is described as a toy, that means it has everything an idea needs except being important. It’s cool; users love it; it just doesn’t matter. But if you’re living in the future and you build something cool that users love, it may matter more than outsiders think.”—Paul Graham

You can find opportunities by searching for things that are growing fast but aren’t taken seriously yet. Growth numbers are a leading indicator of success; public opinion is a lagging indicator of success. Success often feels like finding money on the pavement—and then looking around suspiciously, wondering why other people haven’t taken it.


In the UK, the TV program Gavin & Stacey was the most-watched show on Christmas Day, having what the newspapers described as “an incredible 11.6 million viewers.” It had the highest TV viewing figures of the decade.

On the same day, we watched Whatever The Ball Hits, I’ll Buy, in which ChrisMD—a minor YouTube celebrity—played a game of football in his local field with his sister and cousin. It had over 8 million views.

We think it’s interesting that the newspapers didn’t gush enthusiastically about the ChrisMD video. (It’s not even his most-viewed video—there are 19 above it.) That discrepancy between the numbers and the public perception is a source of opportunity.

Honey, a coupons app, is growing rapidly. Its Chrome browser extension currently has over 148,000 reviews—more than almost every other Chrome extension. And it was recently acquired by PayPal for $4 billion. For comparison, Foot Locker currently has a market cap of $4.1 billion. Honey is piggybacking off YouTube in two ways:

  • First, its ads are almost unavoidable on YouTube. Here’s one of them. If you set YouTube to “Autoplay,” when the ad finishes you’ll see a stream of similar ads, each of which has had millions of views.
  • The ads are presented by famous YouTubers, not traditional celebrities. The presenter from the link above, MrBeast, currently has 29 million subscribers. Each of his last 20 videos had between 10 million and 40 million views. MrBeast has influence far beyond that of most traditional celebrities.

Two more observations:

  1. The Honey ads are in the direct-response style. They are designed to convert. They don’t look like “real” TV ads.
  2. Ads like the Honey ones are organized via influencer agencies, which manage the relationship between the advertisers and the influencers. Influencer agencies are new. You could imagine them being mocked.

Coupon extensions … YouTube … direct response ads … influencers … and influencer agencies. None of them sounds legitimate compared to their traditional equivalents: resellers … TV … brand ads … celebrities … and ad agencies. The opportunity comes from playing with the toys.

We suspect that YouTube ads presented by famous YouTubers is a winning formula that will take over from TV advertising.

How we benefited from this principle

When we started Conversion Rate Experts in 2006, conversion rate optimization (CRO) looked like a toy. It didn’t have a name, for a start. (We coined and trademarked the term “CRO” when someone asked us what we called that thing we did, and they weren’t happy with our reply: “conversion.”) Marketing conferences were almost entirely populated with SEOs and paid search experts back then, so we had to start every conference talk with a slide that explained what “conversion rate” meant. After one talk, someone said to us: “I like that little thing you do.” For years, we were the quirky outliers—until Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Dropbox hired us to work on their websites.

If we were to start another company today, we’d aim for it to be similarly toy-ish.

What toys should you play with?

What are the “toys” in your industry, things that have high growth figures but aren’t being taken seriously?

How can you get involved with them before everyone catches on?

The Infinite Manager (Part 4): Duplication is evil

The following excerpt is from our in-house onboarding flow for new team members. We are publishing it as a series of articles, which we’re calling The Infinite Manager. The series describes the unconventional operating system that has enabled…

The following excerpt is from our in-house onboarding flow for new team members. We are publishing it as a series of articles, which we’re calling The Infinite Manager. The series describes the unconventional operating system that has enabled our small team to have such an impact on the web’s leading companies. Duplication is evil—because duplicated information leads to chaos. […]

Tools and tips: the world’s fastest projects; 3X your speed with kaizen; and how to use heat maps

Happy New Year! We hope your 2020 turns out to be as good as its name sounds. (Not since 1999 and 2000 have we had such good year names, and we won’t have another till 2222.) Take inspiration from projects that were completed “impossibly” quickly Strip…

Happy New Year! We hope your 2020 turns out to be as good as its name sounds. (Not since 1999 and 2000 have we had such good year names, and we won’t have another till 2222.) Take inspiration from projects that were completed “impossibly” quickly Stripe’s CEO, Patrick Collison, has compiled a list of projects […]

Let us help you do something awesome in 2020

As of today, we are accepting clients for the start of 2020. If you’re keen to start the year with a big success, then now’s the time to act. This year was our busiest yet, and we always become fully booked within several days of sending an email like …

As of today, we are accepting clients for the start of 2020. If you’re keen to start the year with a big success, then now’s the time to act. This year was our busiest yet, and we always become fully booked within several days of sending an email like this. To explore how we can […]

Data & Business Impact with Feras Alhlou

A few months ago I had the opportunity to chat with my friend and work partner Feras Alhlou, Co-Founder and Principal Consultant at E-Nor & Co-Author of Google Analytics Breakthrough. Feras and I have known each other for almost 10 years, and it is…

Google Analytics Stuido

A few months ago I had the opportunity to chat with my friend and work partner Feras Alhlou, Co-Founder and Principal Consultant at E-Nor & Co-Author of Google Analytics Breakthrough. Feras and I have known each other for almost 10 years, and it is always great to hear more about the work that he and his first-class team are doing.

Here are the questions we discussed, checkout the answers in the video below. I have also added some of my favorite highlights from the interview after the video.

  1. [01:05] What's the process that you use to make sense out of data?
  2. [02:41]During this process, what do you actually do when you start working with data?
  3. [04:07]When analyzing data, how can we make sure that we are looking at the context to understand what is happening around us?
  4. [07:24]How can Data Studio and better data visualizations help companies make more data-driven decisions?

We believe analytics is a business process. We start with an audit, both from the business side and the technical side - we want to engage the stakeholders to understand how to measure what matters most to the business. Once we have the data in place, we go to the reporting layer - how do we report on this data? Then, we start to be able to analyze the data and find some actionable insights. Last, we can move to testing and personalization - that's when you really can have an impact on the business. Read more about E-Nor's Optimization Framework

There's a whole lot of data these days, right? Life used to be simple for marketers: one device, a few channels - now there's data everywhere, mobile, social, web, and of course backend data. I think one of the first things we need to do is to understand the context around that data, focusing on the following:

  • The integrity of the data: is it clean, was it collected properly, is it raw or aggregated? Understand the data collection, how the data was put together.
  • Having a set of meta data, information about the data: if you're looking at Google Analytics metrics, knowing more about the user. For example, if you have a subscription based model: Is it a premium user? Is it a standard user? Having that additional data gives a whole lot of context, to the person who's consuming that data.

I would definitely advice to have a data road map. Start with what you own, web and mobile analytics data. Then, start augmenting reports with basic social data, maybe you can get a little bit into the qualitative aspect with that. And last but not least, a great product that was recently introduced by Google as the Surveys product. There are surveys we can do on our own properties to understand the voice of the customer. But also use it to do market research - it used to be expensive and cumbersome to do it, but now you can easily run a Google survey and do a lot targeting.

And here is Feras and me having fun in the Google Analytics studio!

Daniel Waisberg and Feras Alhlou

Daniel Waisberg and Feras Alhlou