Data Driven Business
  • May 13, 2014
  • Comments Off on Without Conversion Rates You Don’t Know If You’re Mickey Mouse Or Mickey Mantle
  • Original Content

10 years ago
Without Conversion Rates You Don’t Know If You’re Mickey Mouse Or Mickey Mantle

I found the headline above in Paco Underhills’ book, Why We Buy, The Science Of Shopping. I found myself comparing many of the things he has measured in the retail world to the tests we’ve done with online, visitor-based activity. The conversion rate on a website is easy to measure and much of Pacos book covers how to measure the things that annoy people in a retail environment, what he calls “butt brush factors” meaning when people feel too crowded in a retail store they back away more often than not. It’s similar online.

The Butt Brush Factor

In many instances in his book, Paco refers to ‘The Butt Brush Factor’ the way people, women in particular, don’t like enclosed spaces where other people constantly bump into them from behind. It usually led to the prospective shopper feeling frustrated or feeling uncomfortable and leaving the store or going somewhere else. It’s true that no-one usually bumps into you from behind while you’re sitting in front of a computer, but how many times are you made to feel irritated, uncomfortable or just downright frustrated by a website?

In Cyberspace No-One Can Hear You Scream

Ever been to a website that royally pissed you off? Ever had to register for PayPal before being able to buy with your credit card? Ever found that you couldn’t find what you were looking for? Ever had to do something on a website that should take seconds yet it took you 10 minutes or more to do?

This ‘Butt Brush Factor’ is incredibly relevant to websites, more so I think than even in ordinary retail.nHere are just a few random things that might cause your visitors to leave….

1. Latest News.

The home page has the latest news about the company. What exactly is the point of having a bunch of latest news links on your landing page? What good is that to a browser arriving at your landing page who knows very little about your company? A browser wants to know what you can do for him right there and then, not how your company stock is doing. A latest news section is a much more reasonable place to put these links.

2. Awards.
A landing page with awards screams… look at us, look at what we’ve achieved, aren’t we clever? It also completely wastes space on the most important page of your website. It’s unlikely to make much of an impression on your target market who want to understand how you can help them.

3. Poor Headlines.

“Welcome to Company Name” is the most common waste of a headline you ever see. A headline, which communicates the need of the target audience and how you can solve that need improves reading and click through by up to 35% in tests we’ve run.

4.Poor Use of Language IE; Submit Buttons.
Why tell the visitor to “submit?” Submit actually means “To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another” according to, so why ask innocent web browsers to do that in order to read your monthly newsletter? Subscribe to our newsletter is much more friendly, I would say. Of course this is just an example, corporate or techy language can completely alienate a visitor. Write copy for your readers not to sound clever and think about all the details (like submit buttons).

5. Bad Use Of Flash/media.
This is a common problem caused by designers who don’t think about the problem they’re solving well enough. I understand why they do these all singing all dancing interactive flash websites, or carousels which often are works of art and showcase their ability. However “skip intro” is a common link on the majority of these websites. That is because most people find them a waste of time. Why have an intro at all? Why not just have a showcase of what you can do on a normal fast, efficient website which tells me what I need to know quickly?

6. Poor Use Of Imagery.
This kind of thing is on many websites. People with briefcases, bridges, animals and other general graphics, which can be turned with words into anything you want the image to say. But on first glance, they don´t really show any relevance. All communication should be relevant and, ideally, persuade the user to do something.

Attention All Shoppers

Paco describes methods to instil urgency in retail shoppers such as “get a free lemon sorbet in the freezer section for the next 15 minutes” (shopper has to opt-in, and only in the next 15 minutes). The store knows that that section of the store is going to be jammed with people for that 15 minutes and can capitalise on impulse sales.

The best example I can think of in Finland is the Crazy Days that Stockmann have every year. It’s a period of a few days where one of the most prestigious stores in Finland has a sale and everyone in the city walk around with yellow bags (as they wrap everything in distinctive yellow wrappers). Because it’s only one a couple of days its a tremendously successful strategy as everyone knows that things will sell out fast (and because it’s Stockmann they know they’ll get good stuff cheaply). As the Crazy days video shows it really can get pretty crazy.

That’s how it works in the retailing world, but what about online? Instilling urgency online is a major factor overlooked by many business websites.

  1. Time Expiry Offer. You could let your readers know they will miss out if they haven’t subscribed or bought your product by a certain time. You need to genuinely make a time limited offer and pitch that offer online.
  2. The First number of people get “X”. Your website could offer the first 50 subscribers a free e-book or could advertise that the first 50 items sold will be at a 30% discount. This could be combined with a counter showing the number of places/items left, so that the browser thinks “I have to subscribe before those places are taken up”.
  3. The Nth Number Competition. The website states that if you are subscriber number 1000, you get free services or products, again combined with a visible counter of the current number of subscriptions. This could be tied into a referral deal so that if the subscriber is not the lucky number and does not get the deal, at least he could be offered something for making the referral while his friend might still end up being the l lucky number and win the prize.

Measuring all of these changes and promotional techniques online brings science to your online marketing.

The Science Of Online Marketing

There are two incredibly significant lines in Why We Buy:

Science is by and large the study of very small differences


When you change one thing, everything changes

The first very small difference I came across in my online marketing career back in 1999 was a complete mistake.

I was a web developer working for a large press organization and one day I had to change some HTML code on a sales form. By mistake, I removed a voucher entry field from the form. As a result, people could no longer enter their voucher number to get a cheaper deal.

Conversion improved by three times.

I told our editor who was pleasantly surprised but instructed me to put the voucher field back on the form while they figured out what to do. There was a good reason for the voucher; in fact, it was the entire reason the page was there. However, putting the voucher entry field back resulted in a drop in conversion to almost the identical sales that we had been getting before my mistake. The voucher idea was eventually scrapped on that page and sales sky rocketed again. The reason was that visitors figured that they could get a cheaper deal with a voucher. The voucher could only be gotten by physically buying a newspaper and that limited us to around 10% of the audience. Nine out of ten people visiting the website did so from a place where they couldn’t buy the newspaper at the time, so it was obvious that the voucher idea could only be good for the local readers. This experience was a catalyst for me personally and from then on I began to understand the importance of measurement online. In particular the measurement of conversion.

So in order to turn the online changes you make into a science, follow three simple rules.

  1. Measure percentages. Conversion is a percentage, a calculation of the number of people who take the action you desire as a percentage of the total number of visitors to the page. Using percentages makes the actual number of people arriving at a page irrelevant. It becomes possible to compare a busy week with a quiet week. Conversion rates will fluctuate depending on the segments you’re measuring so also use segmentation to identify the best sources of traffic and most effective type of visitor.
  2. Change one thing at a time. An average page has lots of variables: graphics, headlines, paragraphs, sentences, links, testimonials and probably a lot more. By only changing one thing and always measuring based on statistically significant results you’ll have far more success. So for instance, if you change a headline, look at the page click-through and if possible the length of time an average visitor stayed on the page before the change, check whether the improvement (hopefully) is significant and then make the change permanent. Test the change and measure the results for at least 1 week but again you can work out the minimum time using statistical methods. Then if conversion is higher (more people reading or more people clicking through), keep the change. If it’s lower, revert to what you had before.
  3. Experiment. Don’t limit yourself to what you test. Copy, content, graphics, adding competitions, etc. try them all.


If I were in the same room as Paco Underhill, we would have an awful lot to talk about. It’s a good read especially if you’re in retail. However online businesses can be as much of a science as Paco demonstrates in the retailing world. Measuring conversion rates online is the beginning of making it scientific.

By: Steve Jackson, CEO, Quru

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