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Not enough data? Here are 3 hacks for early stage conversion optimisation

3 shiny hacks we found for early-stage start-ups at CXL Live in Texas

As Jeremy Abel, chief strategist at rDialogue, once said: “A website without conversion rate optimisation is like a car with no wheels — it will take you nowhere”. Conversion optimisation is, and always will be, an essential key to growth and to guide you in the right direction. But what if you don’t have enough data to perform classic conversion rate optimisation — like most of us building super early-stage companies?

This spring I went to CXL Live in Texas, to learn from some of the best practitioners. I was super excited to attend my first, big growth and optimisation conference, but the excitement didn’t last long. After listening to the first talks, I realised that I was a complete outsider!

Coming from a startup studio, I was left with a feeling that I didn’t really fit in. The focus was mainly on why and how to use data to validate decisions when optimising. I was surrounded by the big guys (corporates and established tech-companies) who are swimming in tons of data — something our early stage startups don’t do. But I did end up finding gold for early-stage tech start-ups: The importance of understanding your customers to optimise web conversions — and of course why.

So, screw data! At least for now…

#1 Don’t rely on Google Analytics: fill in the blanks on user behaviour yourself

What!? Does Google Analytics give us useless data? Jared Spool, Founder of UIE and co-founder of Center Centre, started out by questioning Google Analytics — the tool many of us use on a daily basis to collect and analyse data. He pointed out what Google Analytics can’t do: tell us “why?”. Pretty interesting as one of the speakers from Google was sitting around and listening. When it was her turn to get on stage, she didn’t agree with Jared, but also didn’t disagree.

Anyhoo, Jared’s point is about making sure you measure the right thing. It sounds pretty obvious, but it wasn’t that obvious to me why using Google Analytics is useless? I use it every day and think it’s a pretty useful for tracking events, sources etc. I hadn’t question it before Jared went on the stage.

“If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything” — Ronald Coase

On the surface, metrics like bounce ratetime spent on page and sessions seem like important numbers, but they aren’t really saying anything about what people found confusing, why someone clicked etc. Basically, it can’t tell us what we need to change or optimise on your website, it just gives us inferences. To improve our user experience we need metrics, but it needs to be metrics that will reveal the why to us.

I bet you also look at metrics like bounce rate and time spent on page. I must admit, I felt kinda stupid when Jared said it because it totally made sense. I look at the number but don’t really know how to use them. But I still look at them — or at least I used to.

Think about it, what does it actually tell you if you have a high avg. time on page? You have no idea what contributed to that number, and there are many things that can affect that number. Did the user spend long time on your page because he found it interesting or because he just forgot to exit the page? You’ll never know, because Google can’t tell you. E.g. on a typical day at work, I have several websites open the whole day, without looking at them, this contributes to a high number but not in a positive way.

Jared encourages us to stop spending time looking at useless metrics and start focusing on how we can get the data that tells what we need to optimise to get more conversions. So, how do we do that? You can always run A/B split test, but it requires that you get enough data to get statistically significant difference between A and B — something that isn’t easy for early stage start-ups. A great free tool to test for statistical significance is here

On thing Jared mentioned that I find very useful, is to walk through the steps your customer needs to take to complete a task, e.g. when signing up for a demo. I recently did it with one of our signup flows at Founders. In less than two minutes I became aware of some annoying steps we needed to change asap. I’m pretty sure we lost a few important leads with the original signup process.

This is a simple and cheap hack to find out where to optimise in your funnel and to get ideas for what you can do differently. It’s something you should do every time you create a new flow — especially if you work within a startup with less data and resources. It’s so simple that it’s stupid not to do it. So do yourself a favour and spend the max two minutes it takes.

So, we don’t need much data to make decisions for where to optimise in e.g. signup flow. But at the end of the day, our decisions should be based on data if you ask Jared and the majority of the speakers at CXL. I don’t fully agree that “gut-instinct marketing” is long past and that all decisions should be based on data, and not on your gut feeling.

I understand where they are coming from, and I would love if we could base every single decision on data — that would we pretty awesome! But coming from a startup studio, it really depends on the context you are in. At Founders some of our startups are in their very early stage and almost don’t have any data or resources to collect data before start running experiments. We need to trust our gut-feeling sometimes when making decisions because we need to start somewhere — and guess what, it often happens to be the right decision! The trick is to use various processes, frameworks and playbooks to help ourselves make better and hypothesis-driven gut-feeling decisions. See here.

#2 Start user research as early as possible — don’t wait until your product’s “ready”

Another less expensive way to understand your customers in order to optimise your web conversions is by conducting user research. User research is brilliant! I love the idea of just sitting down and talk to people about your website and product to learn about how they e.g. perceive your product.

Another one who believes in user research — or guerilla user research as she calls it herself — is Jaime Levy, UX Strategist at JLR Interactive. Whether guerilla user research is just old wine in new bottles can be discussed. No matter what, I’m a fan — both of Jamie’s approach and her “no bullshit” attitude.

Her approach is to make it as simple as possible to conduct user researches. No more fancy test labs and nerds watching over your shoulders. No more bullshit! User research should take place in relaxing environments with real humans to make people feel comfortable.

Another thing I like about Jamie’s approach is that it isn’t about usability, it’s about the product. You should think of your product as an experiment, you test and optimise continually before you go all in. Traditional user research typically takes place at the end of the product lifecycle, and then it might be too late to fix the damages. We do something similar at Founders for our early stage startups, to see if there is a product-solution fit. We find trial users, let them use and test our product. In that way we know what to optimise and improve before we start going for product market fit.

Basically, there are three phases you need to consider when conducting guerilla user research. It’s pretty straightforward:

1. Planning phase (2 weeks)

  • What’s the most important thing I need to learn?
  • Prepare the questions (tied to solution demo)
  • Scout the venue and map out logistics
  • Find participants
  • Screen the participants and schedule time slots

2. Interview phase (1 day)

  • Greet participants them with a big smile to make them feel comfortable
  • Pay them up front to make them feel comfortable and not wonder what they have to say to get the money
  • Extract succinct notes in real time instead of recording. We don’t want people to worry about recording. It saves time later when you don’t have to transcribe. Have a separate note taker
  • Ideal solution — have the stakeholder there as “note-taker”

3. Analysis phase (one-four hours)

  • Look at the answers across the grid to easily notice patterns.

The planning phase is essential. Before you start the process, you need to figure out what the most important thing is that you need to learn, to make sure you ask the right questions. Are you targeting the right segment? Will they actually use your product or not? It’s a great way to learn if your product is on track instead of just sitting and looking at analytics.

From an early-stage start-up’s point of view, this is not only a great way to learn where to optimise your website, it’s also a great hack to find out if your product is on the right track. At Founders we create value propositions and landing pages for our early stage startups, and user research is an awesome way to find out about people’s pain points, if they see value in using our products, need other features etc. The way we do it is by finding trial users, letting them use the product and interviewing them afterwards.

#3 Stop being an askhole: ask customers the right questions

So, the importance of trying to understand your customers to improve website conversions never seem to change. Yet, we tend to underestimate the importance of talking and listen to our customers — maybe because it seems so obvious?

If you ask Momoko Price, CRO Copywriter at Kantan Design, there are three main problems when it comes to understanding customers:

  • We suck at listening
  • We ask the wrong questions to the wrong people at the wrong time
  • We ask our customers a ton of questions and do nothing with the answers. Then we test based on hunches and opinions about what they want

We are basically askholes, all of us! And we need to stop it immediately.

By taking the time to actually focus on being good listeners and stop asking questions on autopilot, we can stop being aksholes. Asking the right questions will help you find out what your customers’ motivations, intent and pain points are. It will also help you define that one important sentence that will resonate with your customers: your value propositions. It’s really a no brainer that listening is important, but we clearly suck at it. It’s important, instead of just guessing what their pains are and create value propositions based on our hunches and opinions.

Momoko came up with a radical idea: Why don’t we just let our customer define our value propositions? We are so bad at coming up with value propositions, they are just based on our logical opinion about what we think our customers might want. We should take advantage of our customers, they are living value proposition machines, as Momoko puts it.

The core elements of an effective value proposition:

  • Relevance
  • Desired outcome
  • Exclusive benefit

Value proposition in the eyes of your customers should just be a simple answer to: why do I need your product? So, let your customers create higher converting value proposition by asking the following three questions:

  • Why us over others? (it needs to be relevant to your customers)
  • What matters most to you? (desired outcome)
  • What’s the #1 benefit to you? (exclusive benefit — what is it that they get from you that they can’t get anywhere else?

By asking your customers those three simple questions, you are on the right track to create high-converting value propositions. So let’s just try not be askholes from now on and get higher conversions!

My main takeaways from CXL Live 2017 was without a doubt: Step the f*** up and talk to your customers if you want more conversion. And you do!

Finally, I want to share 9 short takeaways from CXL

“Copy is your online salesperson. If the copy won’t sell, what will? Copy either sells or it doesn’t. It’s not about 10 second copy or 15 second copy” — Joanna Wiebe

Don’t treat conversion optimization like Tinder or even worse: Grindr. The goal is to build a relationship” — Bill Leake

When a redesign is just a redesign, don’t do it. It’s not the look that’s the problem, it’s the content” — Karl Gilis

Design is like sex; there’s someone else involved and their happiness is as important as your own” — Oli Gardner

As a customer, I want my life to suck less. You have to make your customers’ lives suck less and make more money” — Lincoln Murphy

If you’re really good at what you do, but you’re doing the wrong thing, it doesn’t matter” — Wil Reynolds

In reality, you need to combine the brand marketing manager and the data analyst. They are the Yin and Yang. There is an intuitive, qualitative, inspired and fuzzy side as well as a proven, quantitative and logical side” — Chris Goward

If you understand who is coming to your site in the first place, you don’t actually need to do that much work to personalize your site” — Krista Seiden

Your brain and your experience is your best research tool” — Karl Gilis

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