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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