The basics are not basic because they are easy, but because they are fun­da­men­tal. And when it comes to Web­site opti­miza­tion, the three fun­da­men­tal ques­tions pretty much never change:

  1. Who is com­ing to the site? How did they arrive? And what are their goals?
  2. What’s the next step for­ward for them both in terms of their goals and your con­ver­sion funnel?
  3. What do they need to under­stand, believe, and feel in order to con­fi­dently take those next steps

The beauty of these ques­tions are that they help you under­stand WHY web vis­i­tors do what they do. Ana­lyt­ics can tell you what vis­i­tors are doing, but you’ll never really fig­ure out WHY they’re doing it until you get a grasp on these questions.

I was reminded of this when look­ing at this week’s Which Test Won col­umn. Now, I like Which Test Won, but my usual pet peave with their columns is that they often fail to give read­ers enough con­text around the tests and the user expe­ri­ence and click­stream in order to make a fully informed guess as to which of the two vari­ants won.

At best you have to sort of make edu­cated guesses regard­ing the three basic ques­tions. Here’s an example:

The con­test explanation/headline is: “Does Adding a ‘Refine Your Search’ Tool­bar Help Click­throughs on a Cat­e­gory Page with 99+ Prod­ucts?” And then they just present you with the two pages, one with and one with­out the ‘refine your search’ tool­bar. I’ve screen­shot the images and pasted them below:

So… it sort of mat­ters how peo­ple got to this page and what they’re shop­ping for, or if they are shop­ping vs. just get­ting infor­ma­tion, and WHY they are shop­ping.  But no one tells you this, so you’re sort of left to imag­ine or “make up” the visitor’s intentions/goals and path to this page. Here’s how I pic­tured it, based on the infor­ma­tion pro­vided in the bread­crumbs up at the top of the page:

  • The vis­i­tors came to buy some sort of wood fin­ish for a home improve­ment project, I’m guess­ing some kind of deck finish
  • They came in from the home page, went to “Dec­o­rat­ing,” select­ing “Woodcare,”
  • Finally click­ing on “Cupri­nol,” OR
  • The vis­i­tor searched on “Cupri­nol Wood Fin­ish” (or sim­i­lar) and this page rep­re­sents the search results.
Either way, you sort of have to assume that the vis­i­tor needs some sort of wood refin­isher for an out­door struc­ture, like a deck or a shed, and that she has an already estab­lished bias in favor of the Curpinol brand.
NOW that you know this, it makes it eas­ier to fig­ure out whether the “Refine Your Search Tool” might help or if the vis­i­tor is already close enough to her goal to pre­fer browsing:
  • Is it eas­ier to refine by price or do you really just want to look and see what the price is?  Prob­a­bly the latter.
  • Does it help to refine by brand? No, because you’ve already done that by spec­i­fy­ing Cuprinol.
  • What about refin­ing by prod­uct type? Meh, what if you’re look­ing for a com­bi­na­tion stain and preser­v­a­tive?  Or maybe you want to see all your options?
  • Might it help to refine by appli­ca­tion? Yes, but would you even have seen that or would you already have dis­missed the refin­ing tool as use­less by now?
So which page would you guess works bet­ter?  The page with the pretty much use­less refine­ment fea­ture or the page that moves the most likely needed prod­uct — the deck­ing pro­tec­tor — up above the fold, giv­ing you encour­age­ment to scroll down and see what’s available?
You guessed it, the page with­out the search refine­ment tool won. You can read the results here. But while you can get the results with­out going through my lit­tle men­tal sim­u­la­tion, you wouldn’t have a work­ing hypoth­e­sis as to WHY the results are what they are with­out answer­ing those three fun­da­men­tal questions.

Bryan Eisen­berg Still Kick­ing CRO Butt w/ the 3 Questions

And who did I learn those ques­tions from?
Bryan and Jef­frey Eisen­berg. And sure enough, they’re still at it, teach­ing the CRO com­mu­nity how it’s done with their recent Con­ver­sion Opti­miza­tion 101 series.  And their most recent post is well worth review­ing in light of the three questions.
Here you can see a Face­book ad that Bryan clicked on while cruis­ing through FB on his ipad:
And here you can see the land­ing page the ad brought him to:
 So let’s run through the questions:

Ques­tion #1:

Bryan got to this page from the Face­book Ad while brows­ing the web on his iPad. His “goal” is to take advan­tage of the free trial offer.  This means that the land­ing page should match the expec­ta­tions cre­ated by the ad. Not just objec­tively, but subjectively.
But does it? Not really.  First, the ad is writ­ten in span­ish, and the land­ing page is entirely in Eng­lish.  Sec­ond, the head­line pre­sented within the frame of the image and within the “active win­dow” men­tions the $7.99 per month instead of a free 1-month trial. In fact, the Face­book Ad fea­tures “Free Trial” lan­guage in the ad image (in Eng­lish instead of Span­ish), the ad’s head­line, AND the ad’s body copy.
So shouldn’t the land­ing pages red stripe with the Net­flix header also say “Free Trial”?  Sure it should — it should match the Face­book ad as closely as pos­si­ble in look and feel.
Yes, there is a “1 Month Free” call-out off to the side, but it’s off to the side, away from the hero shot and from the inter­ac­tive ele­ments on the page.
Also, shouldn’t an iPad brows­ing prospect be shown a land­ing page fea­tur­ing a pic­ture of a movie being watched on an iPad instead of on an iPhone?  This one is a bit nit-picky com­pared to the oth­ers, but for a com­pany like Net­flix, it’s well worth the added effort of proper targeting.

Ques­tion #2:

Bryan’s next step for­ward is to sign-up for the free trial.
So far so good, and the sign-up form is nice and sim­ple. But why sep­a­rate the sign-up form from the rest of the page by abruptly chang­ing the color scheme?  And why make the form feel dif­fer­ent than the ad through the choice of a dif­fer­ent color scheme? This might have worked if sign­ing up was log­ging in with your Face­book login, since the grey and blue echo Facebook’s own color scheme.
But these ques­tions are small change com­pared to…

Ques­tion #3:

In order to move for­ward Bryan Eisen­berg needs to under­stand what’s gong to hap­pen next — what’ll hap­pen after (and IF) he clicks the “Start Your Free Month” button?
So does the page explain this for Bryan?  Not at all.  He has no idea what hap­pens after he fills out the form. Will he be taken to the main site to pick out his movies? Will he get an e-mail with a spe­cial link and coupon code?  Is this all he has to fill out, or will he need to add in his credit card info before he can start watch­ing movies.
You can’t get a vis­i­tor con­fi­dent in tak­ing the next step unless he’s sure of what to expect, and this page fails to do that.
And this is what the 3 ques­tions are all about — giv­ing you insight that you sim­ply won’t get from other approaches.  Why do I say this? Because on Bryan’s com­ment sec­tion for this post, lots of peo­ple have com­mented on the design, usabil­ity, and scent flaws of this land­ing page, but no one has both­ered talk­ing about the mes­sag­ing around the last question.
And, frankly, it’s the mes­sag­ing that usu­ally holds the key to the biggest gains.
Bot­tom Line: Know the Fun­da­men­tal Ques­tions, Use the Fun­da­men­tal Ques­tions, and Never let up on the Three Questions.


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