I’m a fan of explana­tory videos for sev­eral reasons:

  • High engage­ment (for at least the first 20 — 60 sec­onds). In a TL;DR world a well placed video will hold a visitor’s full atten­tion for at least 20 seconds.
  • Multi-media. You’ve got mov­ing pic­tures, words, music, and sound effects all work­ing to con­vey infor­ma­tion and cre­ate emotion.
  • Emo­tion & Impact. Noth­ing beats video when it comes to high-impact demos and/or con­vey­ing pas­sion, enthu­si­asm and sincerity.

Unfor­tu­nately, very few explana­tory videos take full advan­tage of these strengths.

  • Many waste their high-engagement win­dow with too much unadorned expo­si­tion and preamble.
  • Most over-use the “say-it, show it” tech­nique and under-use visual sto­ry­telling tech­niques to point where they become noth­ing more than poorly illus­trated radio ads.
  • And more than a few tend to over­play the cartoon-y ani­ma­tion in ways that under­mine effec­tive emo­tional impact

But Sales­force knocked their video on Cloud Com­put­ing out of the park. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it now:

YouTube Preview Image

Granted, the video could jump to the point even faster than it does, but even still, the cen­tral meat of the mes­sage starts after 15 sec­onds — within the 20 sec­ond win­dow of engage­ment. More­over, the fast-moving ani­ma­tion eas­ily keeps view­ers’ atten­tion until then. And after that, the video just keeps get­ting better.

Here are some spe­cific aspects of the video that are worth not­ing, copy­ing, and demand­ing from your explana­torry video, should you decide to get one:

1. The video coun­ter­points less-emotional words with more emo­tional imagery

For exam­ple, at the 40 sec­ond mark, the audio says “you call tech­ni­cal sup­port, and they don’t know, so they blame some­one else.” But the imagery shows the tech sup­port guy loung­ing in a chair with his feet up, laugh­ing at the cus­tomers predica­ment while mind­lessly throw­ing darts. The neu­tral audio com­bines with the cut­ting video to cre­ate a mes­sag­ing impact that’s greater than either one alone. Nice.

Another great exam­ple occurs when one stick fig­ure “sticks up” a cus­tomer stand-in, fir­ing a pis­tol that unfurls into a microsoft flag — all while the announcer says, ”…the way you pay for cloud apps is also dif­fer­ent.”  Well played, Sales­force. Well played : )

2. The ani­ma­tion enhances the emo­tional impact of the mes­sag­ing rather than under­min­ing it

At the 44 sec­ond mark, the video shows a rather unstable-looking stack of soft­ware, which top­ples when one of the soft­ware boxes get’s swapped out forr an upgrade.  The top­pling of the boxes is meant to rep­re­sent and dra­ma­tize a seri­ous real-world problem.

A less-effective video would show the stack crash­ing straight to one side or another, with­out employ­ing any depth cueus. In cin­e­matic terms, they’d use flat stag­ing, more suit­able to com­edy than drama. Worse, they’d prob­a­bly make the crash car­toony in a way that would belit­tle the real-world con­se­quences sup­pos­edly rep­re­sented by the animation.

In the Sales­force video, on the other hand, they show the stack crash­ing towards the camera/viewer, using depth stag­ing and seri­ous sound effects to enhance the dra­matic effect of the crash. And it works, because the pro­duc­ers of the video knew their craft as visual storytellers.

You can see this same depth stag­ing when the “hair­ball” crushes the small busi­ness two. The scene is shot at an angle, look­ing up at the advanc­ing hair­ball, rather than shown flat.

Remem­ber: videos should use seri­ous stag­ing and seri­ous sound effects for seri­ous sub­ject matter.

3. The video builds upon visual sym­bols from one scene to the next

The Sales­force video empha­sizes the mess of a soft­ware crash by cre­at­ing a giant hair­ball of IT difficulty/failure around the top­pled soft­ware stack at the 50 sec­ond mark. Then that same hair­ball crushes a small busi­ness under the weight of IT dif­fi­cul­ties 10 sec­onds later, while the audio track says, “small busi­nesses don’t stand a chance.” Great pair­ing of visual sto­ry­telling and sym­bol­ism (IT fail­ure will kill your small busi­ness) with explana­tory audio.

Later the video will also con­trast the wob­bly soft­ware stack dis­played at the video’s 44 sec­ond mark with a nice, super-stable, cloud-supported stack of cloud-based apps show­cased at the 2:40 mark.

4. The Video Makes Effec­tive Use of Real­ity Hooks and Analogies

When the Sales­force video com­pares gmail with Microsoft Exchange, a light goes on. Any­one with the slight­est gMail expe­ri­ence knows that it truly deliv­ers on Apple’s claimed promise of “It just works.” gMail might not have the best inter­face in the world, but it does work uber-reliably, with no tech­ni­cal fid­dling required on the part of the user.

So what bet­ter way to drive home the advan­tages of cloud-based com­put­ing over reguar, enter­prise level soft­ware than bring­ing it to the level of imme­di­ate, shared expe­ri­ence.  The abil­ity to bring the ben­e­fits of cloud-based apps home to the viewer, serves not only as an explana­tory anal­ogy, but as a per­sua­sive “real­ity hook.”

5. The video’s strongest and bold­est claims are fol­lowed by a gen­uine “Here’s why” sequence

Start­ing at the 1:50 mark and run­ning all the way till 2:10, the Sales­force video makes sev­eral bold claims about cloud-based apps: that you can be up and run­ning in a few days, that their apps cost less, are more scal­able and secure and reli­able than reg­u­lar soft­ware. Then, they give a nice reason-why expla­na­tion for those claims.

Right at the 2:10 mark the video launches into an expla­na­tion of multi-tenancy, com­par­ing it to rent­ing space in an office build­ing (rather than pay­ing for the whole build­ing your­self).  Strong, Rel­e­vant Claims + Cred­i­ble Proof = Per­sua­sion. The sales­force video gets this in a way that a lot of explana­tory videos don’t.

6. The video uses music to its advantage

Go ahead and lis­ten to the video as it switches from the piano music of frus­tra­tion and pain while it explains busi­ness software’s short­com­ings to play­ing a high-beat, up-tempo music when explain­ing the advan­tages of cloud com­put­ing. When you con­trol the music, you con­trol the emo­tional tone of the video, mean­ing that every explana­tory video ought to make per­sua­sive use of music, just like Salesforce’s video does.

The Bot­tom Line

If you’re plan­ning on cre­at­ing an explana­tory video for your busi­ness or start-up, it’s well worth the time to watch a bunch of them from dif­fer­ent providers.  Watch them with the sound off. Watch them with the sound on but the video cov­ered up. Now ask yourself:

  • Which ones make full use of visual storytelling?
  • Which make effec­tive use of music?
  • Which take too darn long to get to the point?
  • And which ones actual achieve both clar­ity and cred­i­bil­ity regard­ing the prod­ucts claimed benefits?

What you’ll prob­a­bly find is that great explana­tory videos require a strongly per­sua­sive script AND strong visual sto­ry­telling. Just make sure you’re get­ting both parts of that equa­tion into your video…

P.S. There are a lot of solid explana­tory videos out there and I’ll be review­ing more in the com­ing weeks, so if you’ve got a favorite you’d like ana­lyzed, link to it in the comments.


You, my friend, are hard­wired to find mean­ing; you can not help but con­nect the dots.

Case in point, the tri­an­gle to the right doesn’t exist. The only shapes in that pic­ture are three black pac-man shapes.

Yeah, the neg­a­tive space left by those pac­man shapes include wedges of white — but the larger tri­an­gle that you see con­nect­ing those wedges of white into a mean­ing­ful pat­tern only exists in your mind.

And yet, if the pac­mans are there, you can’t help but see that tri­an­gle, can you?

In fact, the only way to not see the tri­an­gle is to remove two of the pac­man fig­ures, ’cause as long as the dots are there, you WILL con­nect them.

Design­ers refer to this as “clo­sure,” and it’s more than just a par­lor trick or visual illusion.

Clo­sure and Image-Text Interaction

Clo­sure, as it turns out, not only comes into play between ele­ments within a pic­ture, but also between image and text. And this inter­play was espe­cially on dis­play in a recent post by the always-interesting Derek Halpern (h/t Melissa Breau)

Halpern ref­er­ences recent psy­cho­log­i­cal stud­ies show­ing that state­ments accom­pa­nied by related images are con­sid­ered more believ­able than the same state­ment with­out an image. So, a state­ment like “The liq­uid inside a ther­mome­ter is mag­ne­sium” was more fre­quently rated as true when it was accom­pa­nied by a pic­ture of a thermometer!

Sim­i­larly, state­ments about whether some obscure “celebrity” was alive or dead were also more fre­quently rated as true when the state­ment was accom­pa­nied by a pic­ture of the celebrity. And this effect was the same regard­less of whether the pic­tured celebrity was pro­nounced dead or still living.

Clearly, pic­tures have per­sua­sive power beyond what any­one has ever suspected.

And just know­ing this is incred­i­bly use­ful, but in my opin­ion, the real meat of these stud­ies comes from ask­ing WHY. For­tu­nately, one of the posts that Derek links to nicely sum­ma­rizes the hypoth­e­sis formed by the sci­en­tists who con­ducted these tests [empha­sis mine]:

The rea­son for the dif­fer­ence lies in the sus­pected mech­a­nism at work. The “truthi­ness” researchers (New­man et al., 2012) spec­u­late that a not nec­es­sar­ily pro­ba­tive but rel­e­vant image, like the tire slide above, increases the “cog­ni­tive avail­abil­ity” of the con­cept. That means the mind finds it eas­ier to think about and elab­o­rate on the con­cept. In the process, that makes the claim seem more famil­iar which in turn makes it feel more true: “Truthi­ness” achieved.

There are also other mech­a­nisms that facil­i­tate elab­o­ra­tion. For exam­ple, the researchers refer to the notion of a “seman­ti­cally pre­dic­tive sen­tence,” which means phras­ing that leads a lis­tener to antic­i­pate what the upcom­ing words will be. For exam­ple, “the stormy seas tossed the boat” is more seman­ti­cally pre­dic­tive than “he saved up his money and bought a boat.” That expec­ta­tion causes a lis­tener to feel more famil­iar­ity and trans­late that into greater verac­ity (Whit­tle­sea, 1993). When peo­ple are engaged — by antic­i­pat­ing the final word in this case — they engage in more flu­ent pro­cess­ing and that leads to a feel­ing of truth.

That process extends past the role of imagery. In New­man and asso­ciates’ sec­ond exper­i­ment, they showed that includ­ing non-probative words instead of a photo pro­duced the same effect (e.g. accom­pa­ny­ing a polit­i­cal leader’s name with infor­ma­tion about eth­nic­ity, sex, hair color, etc. — fac­tors that cre­ate a pic­ture in the mind, but with­out telling the reader whether the fig­ure is alive or dead). The addi­tional infor­ma­tion led peo­ple to believe that the asso­ci­ated claim was more likely to be true.”

Ok, so first thing, what the heck does non-probative mean? Basi­cally, it means the photo does not log­i­cally prove the state­ment to be true or false. Non-probative images are merely decorative.

For instance, if you have a state­ment like “The US has the high­est incar­cer­a­tion rate of any coun­try” and you then accom­pany that state­ment with a bar graph like the one on the right, then that image would be con­sid­ered “pro­ba­tive” because it would log­i­cally “prove” the state­ment to be true, assum­ing that you took the image at “face value.”

This is opposed to a more dec­o­ra­tive image of a con­vict behind bars. That photo would be related to the state­ment about incar­cer­a­tion rates, but it would not log­i­cally “prove” anything.

Why “Non-Probative” Doesn’t Mean Non-Persuasive

Although a non-probative pho­to­graph may not “prove” any­thing, it can still sug­gest and imply.

So who says sug­ges­tion is any less per­sua­sive than out­right statement?

For instance, if that photo of the con­vict behind bars was black, it might remind the test sub­ject that the US jails a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of African Amer­i­cans — a visual sug­ges­tion that would surely color one’s judge­ment of the accom­pa­ny­ing state­ment, right?

Because peo­ple can’t help but con­nect the dots between image and state­ment.

It works the same way with the celebrity state­ments as well. because we believe in inter­nal con­sis­tency. If some­one hands us a state­ment with spelling and gram­mat­i­cal errors, we become less likely to lend cred­i­bil­ity to the state­ment or the per­son who wrote it. Any­one recall Dan Quayle’s Potato gaff?

So when someome men­tions a lit­tle known celebrity and pro­vides a pic­ture of said celebrity, we not only auto­mat­i­cally con­nect the dots between pic­ture and celebrity, but we con­nect the dots between know­ing who the heck one is talk­ing about with know­ing what the heck one is talk­ing about. The thought process goes some­thing like, you obvi­ously know who this guy is and I don’t, so you prob­a­bly also know whether or not he’s still alive… 

Why do I think this is a greater fac­tor than the psy­chol­o­gists’ “increased cog­ni­tive avail­abil­ity” hypothesis?

Because sci­en­tists who con­ducted the same test, but who accom­pa­nied the celebrity state­ments with facts and stats about the celebrity instead of a pic­ture recorded the same effect: the stats boosted the per­ceived cred­i­bil­ity exactly as the pho­tos did in the pre­vi­ous test. And my guess is that the stats “prove” to the test sub­jects that the peo­ple mak­ing the state­ment really know who they’re talk­ing about, in pretty much the same way that a pic­ture would. Makes sense right?

But would stats really help peo­ple hold an idea in their heads? Would stats make the celebrity more “cog­ni­tively avail­able” to the test sub­jects? I rather doubt it.

So it’s really less about help­ing peo­ple hold the idea in their heads, and more about sub­tly con­vinc­ing them you know what you’re talk­ing about.

And images don’t have to do that explic­itly, as impli­ca­tion and clo­sure work just fine, if not even better.

A pic­ture of an old-fashioned ther­mome­ter dis­plays a sil­very strip in the mid­dle of it, imply­ing the idea of liq­uid metal. Con­nect­ing the dots between image and state­ment, and sud­denly the idea of liq­uid mag­ne­sium seems a whole lot more plausible…

It makes me won­der if a pic­ture of a modern-day ther­mome­ter would have had the same results…

Using Clo­sure To Improve Per­sua­sion & Impact

So… we know this clo­sure between image and text cre­ates greater believ­abil­ity. But how would one use it for images alone?

Well, for images, the short answer is to give the viewer 2 + 2 rather than just hand­ing them 4. Cre­ate an image that makes them con­nect the dots between ele­ments of the image.  Here are some great exam­ples of that:

OK, so these are cheat­ing a bit because they’re both text-based images, but nei­ther of them make much sense until you con­nect the dots — allow­ing both ads to make their state­ments all the more strongly.

Here’s another exam­ple, this time with an hon­est, no-kidding image:

Again, the image is mean­ing­less until you men­tally “fill the gap” about what those sets of feet really indi­cate. Clo­sure at work. There’s also a nice gap/connection between the stockinged feet and the text.

And on a more purely visual note, much of the emo­tional impact of this image can be attrib­uted to the “gaps” that it forces your mind to fill in:

Great exam­ple of clo­sure used to increase men­tal engage­ment and impact. But what about using clo­sure to select more pow­er­ful imagery to accom­pany your per­sua­sive copy and messaging?

How to Use This In Web Copy

Here’s what I suggest:

1. Use the “I saw it with my own eyes, so it must be real” approach

If you’ve got a tes­ti­mo­nial, you could, as Derek sug­gests, place a pic­ture of the cus­tomer who gave it to you next to the tes­ti­mo­nial. That’ll work. Or, if you don’t have that, you could take a photo of the hand-written tes­ti­mo­nial and place it next to the testimonial.

It sounds silly, but just imag­ine the dif­fer­ence between some­one say­ing “this per­son wrote in to say X” and some­one hand­ing you the actual hand-written note and say­ing “look what cus­tomer X had to say.” Which would be more per­sua­sive? The lat­ter, right? Because then you could say that you saw the tes­ti­mo­nial “with your own eyes.”

Of course, the “so it must be true” part would likely go unsaid, but it would be all the more pow­er­ful for it. And that’s why an image of the hand-written tes­ti­mo­nial would be more per­sua­sive than the state­ment alone.

So within your sales copy, deter­mine which ele­ments peo­ple would most want to see with their own eyes, then find images that would give them a sim­i­lar sense of verification.

Another exam­ple, I once worked with a metal roof­ing com­pany that claimed a no-kidding 50-year life span on their roofs. Now the claim and guar­an­tee is great. But what I advised them to do was  find the old­est roof they had ever installed (which turned out to be 30+ years old) and to get both an estab­lish­ing pic of the building/roof and a close-up pic­ture of the metal “tiles.”  It’s one thing to claim a 50-year life span, and another entirely to show a 30-year roof that looks brand new.

Just don’t do the cheese-ball thing of using blacked out bank state­ments to “prove” how much money you make!

2. Use images to sug­gest and emo­tion­ally prime belief

No one does this bet­ter than apple. Take a look at this screen shot from Apple’s page on the new iPad 4:

It’s not an acci­dent that the iPad sports an image of two Porsche’s about to race, or that the image is from a graph­ics inten­sive game. The mes­sag­ing is about speed after all. Speed achieved through high-performance engi­neer­ing. Don’t you think the image of “Porsche Race Cars” brings all that to mind rather powerfully?

Here’s another example:

So… what the heck is that black ring in the mid­dle of the picture?

It’s not a mag­ni­fy­ing glass. Nor is it a cam­era lens, is it? Maybe it’s some kind of weird bas­tard love child between the two…

But it doesn’t mat­ter, does it. We instinc­tively know that this is show­ing us that even when you mag­nify the pic­ture 2.5X, it’s still high-res enough to look crisp and un-pixelated. Of course, the copy never makes that claim. But the pic­ture cer­tainly sug­gests it, doesn’t it?

If Images Com­bined with State­ments Are Pow­er­ful, What About Video?

But were this really starts to come into it’s own is in explana­tory videos. But that’s a sub­ject for another post…


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.



by Jeff

I have guest posted over at Web Mar­ket­ing Today for a while now, but the Web­site itself has recently under­gone a redesign as well as a slight edi­to­r­ial change with regards to my posts.  While the focus on Web Mar­ket­ing for small to medium-sized busi­nesses remains the same, my  posts are now focused on:

  1. Web­site Improve­ment for Service-Based Businesses
  2. Con­tent Mar­ket­ing for Service-Based Businesses

I’m excited about this because SMB Ser­vice Providers are a largely under­served mar­ket when it comes to Web Mar­ket­ing.  Most exam­ples focus on either etail­ers or enterprise-sized B2B ser­vice providers.

Yet, a major­ity of what my Wiz­ard Part­ners call “Main Street Busi­nesses” are either ser­vice providers (think HVAC, car­pet­ing, con­trac­tors, print­ers, adver­tis­ers, Web design­ers, accoun­tants, con­sul­tants etc.) or are retail­ers who man­age to stay prof­itable and, frankly, rel­e­vant to the cus­tomer based on their abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vices around the sale (most niche or spe­cialty stores & bou­tiques). So this is an extremely impor­tant mar­ket to serve and speak to, and I feel uniquely priv­i­leged to be able to do so.

If you’re inter­ested in this kind of con­tent, you can find all my Web Mar­ket­ing Today posts here.  A recent one that I think many of you would like is this post on 5 Sales-Generating Pho­tos for Ser­vice Web­sites.

At any rate, I hope you  like what you find, and please let me know if there is any­thing that you’d like me to cover in future articles.

OK, the head­line exag­ger­ated it — most of these resources won’t help you improve your entire Lead Gen Web­site, just your Lead Gen­er­a­tion Forms.

But, if your forms suck, then all that hard per­sua­sive work you’ve done on the rest of the Web­site goes to waste, right? So why not get hot on improv­ing your forms now, so you can enjoy a full pipeline of well-qualified prospects later?

So let’s start with…

Wis­dom from the Eisenberg’s

Resource #1: 5 Steps to Increase “Qual­i­fied Leads” from Your Website

Great infor­ma­tion for ensur­ing your Web­site is pulling in prof­itable and qual­i­fied leads rather than tire kick­ers.  This is one of the few resources that does actu­ally talk about more than just lead forms. And just for good mea­sure, here’s a ClickZ arti­cle from Bryan that also gives rec­om­men­da­tions applic­a­ble to both your entire Lead Gen Web­site and your forms.

Resource #2: Online Form Opti­miza­tion: 3 Sim­ple Form Prob­lems to Fix

This is a great strate­gic, top-down look at the three big flaws afflict­ing most lead-gen forms. I’m sure you’re doing to know what those three flaws are, but you’ll have to click-through to find out :)

Resource #3: 7 Form Fac­tors to Increase Conversions

This one looks at the major ele­ments that are part of every lead gen­er­a­tion form, and then tells you how to max­i­mize the effec­tive­ness of each element.

Now Let’s Look at…

Split Test Results Worth Studying

Resource #4: Wider Fun­nel Tests a Newslet­ter Sign-up Form

This is a great test for a few rea­sons, but mostly because the test explic­itly forms hypoth­e­sis to test, prior to cre­at­ing the test, rather than just throw­ing vari­a­tions against a wall to see which one “sticks.”  Plus the hypoth­e­sis and lessons learned are really insight­ful and broadly applicable.

Resource #5: Wider Fun­nel Tests for Form Length and Form Flow

Another solid test­ing write-up from Wider Fun­nel.  Worth the read.

Case Stud­ies & Usabil­ity Guidelines

Resource #6: Les­son From Madlibs Signup Fad: Do Your Own Tests

If you’ve never heard about them before, the Madlib style sign-up form proved a hit with sev­eral busi­nesses and blog­gers on the Web a few years back. But when this guy tested it out for him­self, he found a dif­fer­ent story.  Bot­tom Line: best prac­tices are in no way guar­an­teed to work in your spe­cific sit­u­a­tion, and sur­pris­ing, head-slapping tests are fairly com­mon for any­one that runs them. Think for your­self & do your own testing.

Resource #7: An Exten­sive Guide to Web Form Usability

Smash­ing Mag­a­zine has no short­age of great arti­cles on Web Design and Usabil­ity.  This one is no exception.

Resource #8: Test­ing Form Length Reduces Cost Per Lead

Mar­ket­ing Exper­i­ments has a nice blog post on this, and one of the more inter­est­ing points about this isn’t the find­ings — since shorter forms almost always DO increase con­ver­sion, thereby dri­ving down cost per lead — but the point made at the end: that the “extra” infor­ma­tion you’re hold­ing out for is prob­a­bly not that accu­rate or valid to begin with.  This is a great one to show to naysay­ers who fight the “shorter is bet­ter” mantra.  That and the ol’ “Let’s just test it and see” strategy : )

So that’s all eight of them.  Now go out and do some opti­miza­tion testing!




by Jeff

There’s a sim­ple axiom amongst direct response copy­writ­ers: “make it easy for the cus­tomer to say yes.”

Sounds like a “duh” piece of advice, but it’s amaz­ing how often this advice gets botched.  And it usu­ally get’s botched in one of two ways:

1) The copy doesn’t make it easy for the cus­tomer to real­ize WHAT she would be say­ing yes to.  

In other words, the site doesn’t clarify:

  • WHAT is being offered for sale,
  • WHEN or in what FORM the cus­tomer should expect the actual deliv­er­ables to arrive
  • WHY this is a good deal and bet­ter than the other options
  • HOW MUCH the offered prod­uct or ser­vice will cost

2) The copy doesn’t make it clear HOW to say yes and take that next step.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of hav­ing dif­fer­ent con­ver­sion points for early, mid­dle, and late stage shop­pers (where appro­pri­ate), but  you shouldn’t let that get in the way of hav­ing a nice, clean, sim­ple Call to Action.  If prospec­tive cus­tomers have to decide between 14 options just to buy, you’re mak­ing them work too hard, and your sales will suf­fer accordingly.

You Might Be Mess­ing This Up If…

What’s really insid­i­ous about this par­tic­u­lar con­ver­sion flaw is that your mar­ket­ing and Web teams are unlikely to know about sim­ply because they’re suf­fer­ing under The Curse of Knowl­edge.  To them the offer seems per­fectly clear, and the dif­fer­ent options for buy­ing are  a bonus rather than a bur­den.  So even if you don’t think you suf­fer from this, you might want to check to see if:

  1. You have unusu­ally high bounce rates on your home page.
  2. Peo­ple are click­ing on your Calls to Action and then back­track­ing to “How it Works,” “FAQ,” and “About Us” pages — almost as if they’re look­ing one last time to see if they can’t find some answers.
  3. You have unusu­ally high exit rates from “How it Works,” Ser­vices, and Prod­uct pages
  4. Your cart or check­out aban­don­ment rates stay high despite a high-quality check-out process and repeated opti­miza­tion efforts aimed at this por­tion of your Website.

I’m not say­ing these issues are proof pos­i­tive that your mes­sag­ing and basic offers need work, just that the rep­re­sent a good rea­son to look into it.

How to Fix It

The best advice is to hire an out­side expert. I real­ize that sounds a bit self-serving, com­ing from a messaging-driven Web­site Opti­miza­tion pro­fes­sional, but, well, what can I say? It’s the sim­ple truth.

But if you’re try­ing a DIY approach, here’s what I recommend:

A) Try the “Here’s the Deal” Exercise.

Imag­ine that you’re at the bar with an acquain­tance who knows almost noth­ing about your prod­uct or ser­vice, but who would ben­e­fit from it, if only she under­stood a few things. If you were to turn to her and say, “so here’s the deal,” what sort of short and sweet pitch would you give to her that would get her ready to say yes or com­mit to learn­ing more in 120 sec­onds or less?

Also, make sure you don’t use jar­gon — remem­ber, this prospect isn’t an indus­try insider — dur­ing your “so here’s the deal” speech, and make sure the ben­e­fits are dra­ma­tized and compelling.

B) Try Using Schemas

I had Baba Ghanoush for the first time a few months ago, and when I asked what it was, a whole bunch of peo­ple started to explain it to me, with vary­ing degrees of suc­cess.  But then Bryan Eisen­berg — a con­su­mate mar­keter and my per­sonal Web­site Opti­miza­tion men­tor — nailed it when he said it was “egg­plant gua­camole.”  Boom. Sud­denly every­body got it.


Because Bryan invoked a schema we already rec­og­nized, gua­camole, and then mod­i­fied it with egg­plant. Isn’t that a much more ele­gant expla­na­tion than Wikipedia’s, “a Lev­an­tine dish of egg­plant (aubergine) mashed and mixed with vir­gin olive oil and var­i­ous seasonings”?

The same thing hap­pens with movies, too.  Accord­ing to Chip and Dan Heath, Speed was ini­tially pitched as “Die Hard on a Bus.”  Boom. You get it.  Aliens is a sci­ence fic­tion movie, but it’s noth­ing like Star Trek. Totally dif­fer­ent feel, right?  But if you say “Jaws in Space,” you instantly grasp both the con­cept and the feel of the movie.

So what schema could you use to describe your prod­uct or service?

Cau­tion — the schema you use can greatly impact the customer’s expec­ta­tion of value and price, so choose wisely.

C) Stream­line Your Call to Action and Con­ver­sion Process

Now, don’t get rid of your lead nur­tur­ing pro­gram or any­thing, but do con­sider whether you might nar­row down your offer­ings and options. Or at least con­sider mak­ing one option the “default” and most pro­moted option. And as with any piece of Web Opti­miza­tion advice, test it out. See what actu­ally con­verts the best. You might just be sur­prised at the results.

And that’s today’s Prac­ti­cal Tac­ti­cal Tues­day Tip :)