Monday 27 May 2013

Landing Page Strategies For Improved Conversions: Create Customer Personas

Converting visitors to customers is not an easy task and optimizing your landing pages for increased conversion rates is certainly not a one-time thing. You have to be testing and optimizing your landing pages all the time. But, just because you're optimizing and changing your pages around doesn't mean that you are doing the right thing. Rather than wasting time on busy work and lots of experiments that end up not getting you any improvements, use this strategy to get the maximum conversion rates with minimal effort with some smart up-front research work.

This article is about Step 1: Create a Persona (or) a bunch of Personas

Customers, Future Customers and Non-Customers

If I ask you, "who is going to use your product?" and your answer is  "Everyone!", I'd like you to stop reading right now and contact Yahoo. I hear they're looking to acquire someone with broad appeal and no customers.

The rest of you can somewhat split the world's population into three segments: customers, future customers and non-customers. As long as you can recognize that some people out there are just not interested in your product and will never ever use it. You sell cell phones and they're Amish. That's just one type. There's a whole host of non-customers on the basis of the features you provide, on your pricing and even your support model. It's important to know your customers but is just as important to know your non-customers so you don't waste your marketing on them.

Your Ideal Customers as Personas

A persona is a virtual customer that has attributes that you're looking for in a customer. They're a stand-in for your real customer. If you're selling pizzas, the persona may be a pizza-crazy college student. If you're selling conversion rate optimization software (ahem), the persona may be a web application developer looking to increase sales of his or her product. It helps if you name the persona. That makes them more real in the process. Then, you can ask yourself "What would Bob think about this landing page?" or "Where does Karen hang out online?" or "Does Joe use Twitter more or Facebook?"

There's nothing that says that you have one ideal customer persona. You can have as multiple customer personas as needed, each with their own characteristics. Each of them think of your product in different ways. Each of them care about different things and search your landing pages for the answer to their deepest desire/concern. Developers look at your product and wonder how easy it is to integrate your solution into theirs. Cost is secondary. Marketing people look at your product and wonder if they need deep technical knowledge to operate your tool and worry that they can't.

Think Like A Persona

Now, admittedly, this is the tricky part. You have to start thinking like your customer persona. Anything you do must appeal to this persona that you have created. Here are some homework questions:

  • Are you saying the right things? 
  • What are your persona's key concerns?
  • Are you addressing the persona's key concern on your product landing page? 
  • Are you picking the words that your persona would search for on Google when they are describing their problems and looking for answers? 
  • Is your message reaching the place where your persona hangs out?
  • Does your product have a good reputation among your persona's peers?
  • How is the persona supposed to hear about you given what they read/where they hang out?

Do yourself a favor. Take some time out now. Think real hard about what kind of people will use your product and start storyboarding their personalities into personas.  It's really going to pay off in the long run.

SubIntent can optimize your landing pages for improved conversion rates.

Using machine learning techniques, SubIntent will optimize your landing pages for maximum conversions and click-throughs. See how.

Friday 17 May 2013

Increase Conversion Rates For Social Sign-Ons Using HTTP Referrer

It's pretty much the norm for any consumer-facing website to offer social sign-on capabilities in addition to the standard email and password option. Most sites offer more than one option leaving the user confused as to which one to pick. That split-second hesitation can cost you a sign-up.

Which one to choose?

The Last-used Network 

Given how probability works, the social network that sent the user to your site is *probably* their most-used social network. If they clicked on a link of twitter, it's a good bet that they (a) have a twitter account (b) use it often. 

Instead of offering all the login options at once, some javascript can help you drastically cut down on the available options to just 2: the standard email/password or entice the user with a single social sign-on button. 

Changing Your Page on The Fly

Imagine your site allows social sign-ups from three providers: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn because that's where your target audience congregates. (*I am in no way affiliated with AngelList, It's the first site I could think of with three sign-on options. It's an example) I have an account on all three and I'm thinking, "which one to pick?". Shortly thereafter, I'm thinking "Let's see what's up on imgur". 

Current AngelList Social Sign-up Page (

What if you hide Facebook and LinkedIn if you detect the referrer to be or Cleaner, right? 

AngelList Social Sign-up (optimized)

You can do more advanced operations such as just highlight the twitter option (a class with bigger text and icons while the other two have small icons and text) subtly indicating to the visitor that you recommend logging in with Twitter but you have other options,too. You could go one step further and style the page just for effect.

AngelList Social Sign-up (optimized & styled)

HTTP Referer & Javascript

We're going to use the http referer information in javascript to change our pages on the fly. This information comes from document.referrer in javascript. What you need to do is:

  1. Hide all social sign-on buttons
  2. A series of if,else if, statements will check if the referer matches a supported social network
    1. if a match, show the button
    2. else, move to the next
  3. If there is no match, show all available buttons

The Next Level

This is just one of the ways where you can optimize your calls-to-action and pages based on referer information. If you're interested in having your landing pages doing this automatically without writing a line of code, SubIntent's automatic optimization of landing pages based on referer (among other things) may be of interest to you.

Rough Proof-of-concept ( 

# change this to see the effect
ref = "";
# in production, though
# ref = document.referrer;
if /facebook\.com/.test(ref)
else if /twitter\.com/.test(ref)
else if /plus\.google\.com/.test(ref)
endCheck out this Pen!

Do you have a web app?
SubIntent can optimize your landing pages for improved conversion rates.

Using machine learning techniques, SubIntent will optimize your landing pages for maximum conversions and click-throughs. See how.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Getting Into the "Shut up and Take My Money" Zone

Q: If your conversion funnel has n steps to make the sale. What's the purpose of step 1?
A: to get to step 2.
Q: What's the purpose of step 2?
A: to get to step 3.
Q: What's the purpose of step n-1?
A: to get to step n.

Any well-designed conversion funnel takes the visitor on a journey, a journey from idle curiosity to what I will hitherto refer to as the "Shut up and take my money" zone, a magical place where your customers throw money at you and beg to use your product.

Getting customers to this zone is about "alignment". You are orchestrating three levers for maximum conversion effect:

  1. What your visitor thinks about you 
  2. Your copy and how it affects what your customer thinks about you.
  3. Your calls to action

What Does Your Customer Think About You?

Let's start with how your customer feels about you. Here's a handy diagram of how they should feel as they progress through your funnel.

Phase 1 "I can take it or leave it" - The customer starts from a position of mild distrust or curiosity. They're not sure you can help them but they have some time to kill so here they are.

Phase 2 - "You have my attention" -  Now, your customer is mildly interested. "What you say does make a lot of sense to me", he or she says, "It's like you know what I'm going through". Now's the time to get them to dig deeper into how your product can solve their problems. 

Phase 3 - "I can give this a spin" -   Getting a time commitment for a free trial, read about how to integrate your product into theirs or getting customers to play with your product is actually a significant deal. Congratulations, you should be proud of yourself. It's now time to take advantage of the slippery slope that will lead your users to...

Phase 4 - "Shut up and take my money" -    You've moved the customer through the funnel. Their interest in your product is at its peak. Now is the time to ask them to buy. What if you don't ask them now? Well, they end up in...

Phase 5 - "ERMAHGERD, Shiny!" -    You've lost your customer. They've been distracted by something shiny because they didn't have a call-to-action to focus on. It may be a blog post, your twitter feed that leads to someone else's twitter feed which leads to HN.... a rabbit hole from which they will not be coming back.

What's Your Copy Doing?

In order to get your customer to feel the way you want them to feel, you need the right copy and content.

Phase 1 "I can kill your pain" - It's your job to convince your customers that you know what their pain is and that you can help them kill it forever.

Phase 2 - "Look,Ma, Proof" -  Now's the time to get them to dig deeper into how your product can solve their problems. Tell them about how you were able to solve someone else's problem that's a lot like theirs. Tell them about the features that were designed with them in mind.

Phase 3 - "No Harm in trying it out" -   Your copy should focus on getting your customer to nibble. Tell them how easy it is to try out this product. Tell them it's risk-free, a no-brainer.

Phase 4 - "Money, Please" -     Tell them about all the great features they're paying for. Make it sound like they're getting the deal of the century ("unlimited bandwidth,yo!"). Then, ask for as much money as possible.

Phase 5 - "Do Not Come Here" -    Do not have anything that will distract your customer from the sale.

What's Your Call-to-Action?

The right call is what takes the user from one step to the other. Exploit their state of mind. You know what they think, you know where you want them to go. The call-to-action practically writes itself.

Phase 1 "Learn How" -  Get your customers to seek validation of your ability to kill their pain.

Phase 2 - "Free Trial" -  Get your customers to commit to a low-risk way to evaluate you.

Phase 3 - "Deal! Deal! Deal!" -   Sell, sell, sell.

Phase 4 - "Start Now" -    Get customers to start using your product now (if not sooner).

Phase 5 - "Do Not Come Here" -    You had a call-to-action that was designed to distract. Really?!!

Somewhere between Art and Science

That, in broad strokes, is how we can utilize conversion funnels to sell users. Getting down to specifics is where it gets a little tricky (else, we'd all be rich!). You probably have more questions than answers but it's a step in the right direction. You may want to answer these questions to get really strong copy:
  • What does my customer care about?
  • How can I word my copy and calls to action to maximize conversions?
  • What if what I'm saying is not matching their #1 pain? Am I saying the right thing?
  • Do they care about X feature or is it noise?
  • How is my product different from the competition?
At the end of this exercise, you'd have a list of strong candidates for copy and calls-to-action based on the key concerns of your audience. But, how to find out which ones really pop?

Wouldn't it be great if you could just put all these options into your web app and let the web app figure out which one works best and use that? 

I created SubIntent to solve this exact problem. No analysis, no statistics. Fill in the options and press go.

SubIntent will take all your calls-to-action, all your page copy variations and links and figure out which combination really works with your visitors. SubIntent will automatically optimize your pages to maximize conversion rates 24x7 for every single visitor, learning what works and optimizing conversion rates concurrently. It's conversion optimization on auto-pilot. Interested? Learn more about SubIntent and start your free trial today.

Do you have a web app?
SubIntent can optimize your landing pages for improved conversion rates.

Using machine learning techniques, SubIntent will optimize your landing pages for maximum conversions and click-throughs. See how.

Monday 13 May 2013

Optimizing Conversions on Low Traffic Websites

A common lament among web developers is how to optimize a website with low traffic when techniques like split-testing (or A/B testing) and multivariate testing require large amounts of traffic to reach any meaningful conclusions.

The Traffic and Confidence Conundrum

Why do we need large amounts of traffic in order for A/B testing to work? It all about confidence. You have two versions of copy for your landing page and you want to check which one is better at converting customers to users. The question you're really asking is : How many times should I show each of these two versions to visitors before I can assert with confidence that version A is better than  version B?

Due to the nature of statistics, you can never be 100% sure that version A is better than version B no matter how many users come through. You can be 99% sure, 99.9999% sure but never a full 100%. Web developers usually settle for something like 95%.

Let's take an example.

  • version A shown 100 times and it converts 1 user
  • version B shown 100 times and it converts 2 users (Double!)

Is version B better? Not so fast. You'll need another 1400 visitors or so before you can reach a conclusion (90% confidence)

It gets worse as the percentages of conversions are closer together (version A - 5% and version B - 6%)
  • version A shown 100 times and it converts 5 users
  • version B shown 100 times and it converts 6 users

You'll need 5438 more visitors to figure out which is better.

But, wait, there's more!

Cut Your Sales In Half... You know, for Science.

Why do we split-test in the first place? To sell more and sell better. The very nature of split-testing is that you're showing "bad" copy to half your users and losing potential sales and conversions. For low-traffic sites, you can end up losing a lot of customers in search for the optimal version.

Let's say every user you convert is worth a $100 and you decide to test two versions of your web page copy.

  • version A shown 1500 times and it converts 50 users
  • version B shown 1500 times and it converts 5 users

That's some copy in version A! version A is the clear winner (99.9% confidence levels). Version B is terrible, converting only 5 users. What if you had funneled all 3000 users through the version A page? 100 users would have purchased $100 worth of product each. You just lost $4500 ( 50 users minus the 5 version B managed to convert). You took 1500 hard-earned pageviews and flushed them down the toilet.

That's not even the half of it. You're going to lose money like this every time you set up a test to see if a pretender can unseat your current killer web copy.

The Holy Grail: Optimize and Test Concurrently.

Let me ask again: why do we split-test? To sell more and sell better. In split-testing, it takes you 3000 users to learn which version is better and that leads to wasted opportunities.

What if you could optimize your web-pages on the fly as these 3000 visitors flow through your site so that you can quickly learn which version is better and maximize the conversions without losing too many users to bad copy? With machine learning techniques, you can! It's called a multi-armed bandit problem.

Let's look at your split-testing problem like this:

Each web page version is like a slot machine. One of these machines gives you money once every 10 spins (a 10% conversion rate), the other one gives you money once every 50 spins ( a 5% conversion rate). You have no idea which machine is which. You get 200 spins total (200 visitors). Your mission is to maximize the amount of money you win by choosing the right machine.

It's a well-known problem with solutions that are reasonably optimal. What they all share is the methodology of testing and optimizing concurrently to maximize revenue.

The simplest one goes like this:

If you have two versions, for any visitor entering your website,

  1. show them the best-performing version (so far) 90% of the time
  2. show them the other version 10% of the time
  3. re-evaluate their conversion rates to decide which is the current leader

What if you picked version A early on as the best and showed it 90% of the time while version B is the actual best? That's the beauty of this method. At some point, if version B is indeed the better one, its conversion rate will beat that of version A (it'll convert its 10% better) and the algorithm will switch over and start using version B as the 90% version.

There are more advantages. You can use this method to add more variations of web copy on the fly without affecting your conversion rates the way split-testing does.

If you have 10 versions, for any visitor entering your website,

  1. show them the best-performing version (so far) 90% of the time
  2. show them a completely random choice from the other 9 10% of the time
  3. re-evaluate their conversion rates to decide which is the current leader

Even Better, Do This Automatically.

What I just described just is one of the basic algorithms I've built into SubIntent to optimize your conversion rates. The best part about this is that you don't need to do anything. You set this up and it's optimizing your pages 24x7.

You set up the variations on SubIntent, add some javascript to your web-pages and, voila, conversion rate optimization. SubIntent is also capable of showing users the best calls-to-action based on the geographical location or their referrer site that brought them to you. If you're interested in using SubIntent for your web application, you can learn more about it and sign up here.

Do you have a web app?
SubIntent can optimize your landing pages for improved conversion rates.

Using machine learning techniques, SubIntent will optimize your landing pages for maximum conversions and click-throughs. See how.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

The First Rule of Lean Startups is...

The First Rule of Lean Startups is ... You do not start coding.

  1. There are some fantastic ideas that are technically feasible.
  2. There are some ideas for products and services that people are willing to use. 
  3. There are some products and services that people are willing to pay for to use.
(2) is a small subset of (1) - think of all those startups that never got users. (3) is a small subset of (2) - think of all the free internet apps that cannot charge anyone. Thus, if all you have is an idea, sheer probability means that your idea is awesome but no one will buy it or use it. Before you do anything, verify your idea is a 2 or a 3.

The Second Rule of Lean Startups is ... You do not start coding.

Seriously, put up a landing page to gauge interest (like Buffer did). Buy some Google Adwords and see if anyone is clicking on your pitch. Talk to someone. Get out of the building. Do a mechanical turk. There's no reason to start coding anything. 

The Third Rule of Lean Startups is ... Your MVP is not 'M' enough.

What's the smallest version of your product you can sell, learn from and improve upon? That's what is called a minimum viable product (MVP). Chances are that you're overthinking your MVP. There are features that you can eliminate and still be able to get users to buy or use your product. As Eric Ries said, if you are not embarrassed by your product, you've waited too long.

The Fourth Rule of Lean Startups is ... Build What You Can Sell.

With every feature, ask the question: will someone pay me for this? Will someone pay me more for this than if I didn't build it? Ask the question and get the answer with the least effort (see The First Rule).

The Fifth Rule of Lean Startups is ... Charge from Day 1.

Charge from day 1?? Audacious. Wouldn't it be easier to have users and then start charging them later? No. The best reason for charging from day 1 is that, by definition, you will start building something worth paying for.  Just ask Kickoff Labs.

The Sixth Rule of Lean Startups is ... Release Early, Release Often.

A corollary to the MVP rule; you release early and often to accelerate your learning. Release an early version of your feature or product and let your users help you refine it.

The Seventh Rule of Lean Startups is ... Pivot if you have to.

If you've applied the rules correctly, you will end up in a situation where your current startup/idea just doesn't work for your chosen target market. A silver lining is that you've either (a) found  that your idea is perfect for another target market or (b) found that your chosen target market has a problem worth your while to solve or (c) a feature of your original vision becomes the idea for a product all by itself. That's a pivot.

The Eighth and Final Rule  ...

 If this is the first time you're reading these rules, you have to apply one of them right now.

Do you have a web app?
SubIntent can optimize your landing pages for improved conversion rates.

Using machine learning techniques, SubIntent will optimize your landing pages for maximum conversions and click-throughs. See how.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Getting Early Users: The Hacker News vs. Reddit vs. BetaList Launch-off


  • Getting users - BetaList
  • Getting feedback - HN
  • Average on Both - Reddit

Recently, I stagger-launched SubIntent on three sites where I thought my potential users will be lurking around. SubIntent automatically optimized landing pages and web applications to improve conversion rates using machine learning. So, the target market was pretty clear. Do you develop web apps? If the answer is yes, SubIntent is for you. This is helpful in deciding locations to launch at.

This is what happened. Hope this helps someone. Goes without saying, your mileage may vary. This is not a scientific analysis with elegant deductions from data. Imagine a needle trembling between conjecture and analysis and you're pretty much seeing this correctly.

Launch 1 - Reddit

The great thing about Reddit is that users identify their interests by hanging around certain sub-reddits. I decided to launch SubIntent on specific niches where I thought developers who would find SubIntent useful would congregate:

As you can see, Reddit naturally lends itself to the link submission equivalent of long-tail keywords; something that I used to the hilt.

Launch 2 - BetaList

BetaList, if you don't already know, is a site dedicated to curating the latest beta web app launches. Unlike Reddit, one does not just simply list on BetaList. The only advice I can offer you after multiple submission attempts of my previous web applications is to be interesting, different and relevant. If you're just a cookie cutter social network for people who like music, you're going to get nowhere. On BetaList, you get exposure on their website, get tweeted out to their ~12K followers and also get sent out on the email newsletter. The only downside is that your time on the frontpage is 1 day. You're in the archives after that. People can find you. But, you're just not in their face.

Launch 3 - Hacker News:

Hacker News is the news/link/discussion watering hole for hackers of all stripes hosted by YCombinator. There is a strong appreciation of technical expertise and finesse here. Link submissions that are deemed technically interesting, controversial or just plain geek cool get upvoted. This is not the place for a web application that has no technical content inside it. My in (or so I thought) was using machine learning for improving conversion funnels; something I thought HN would find cool.

The Results are In

From my experience, here's the ranking of the three:


#1 Hacker News (10x  over #2)
#2 BetaList (2x over #3)
#3 Reddit

SubIntent had reasonable quality time on the HN front page so I got some serious traffic from HN. BetaList was second in terms of traffic but very high-quality as you shall see in the next section. Due to my strategy of listing on sub-reddits, Reddit came in last.

#1 BetaList (2x over #2)
#2 Reddit (2x over #3)
#3 Hacker News

Traffic is good but conversions are better. In my case, the conversions were quite literally the opposite of traffic. The clear and ahead winner here is BetaList. I attribute this to the audience collected by BetaList over its lifetime and the quality standards they maintain. I also have a sneaking suspicion that web developers like to keep tabs on new web app launches on BetaList and this could have contributed to my conversion rates. My strategy of targeting specific niches was working well with Reddit with good conversion rates. The really surprising item here was the lower rate for Hacker News. My conjecture is that my submission title indicating a technical article rather than a web-app so it led to a lot of drop-offs. Of the others who stayed on, HNers were more interested in the technical details than just signing up (I told you - technical, technical, technical). I attribute my upvotes to this phenomenon.


#1 Hacker
#2 Reddit
#3 BetaList

Here HN is the clear winner. One of the strengths of the HN community is that they're not so much about signing up as much as critiquing your web application, offering feedback and generally discussing its technical merits. I chalk this up to the YC heritage. You can see the discussion here. There was some good feedback and questions from Reddit as well. To be fair, BetaList is about discovering new web applications so any feedback will come to you directly.

Do you have a web app?
SubIntent can optimize your landing pages for improved conversion rates.

Using machine learning techniques, SubIntent will optimize your landing pages for maximum conversions and click-throughs. See how.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Automated Conversion Rate Optimization with Machine Learning

Imagine your web application could learn how to identify your best prospects amongst the pool of trial users and get them onto a paid plan with just the right nudge?

Imagine your landing pages adapt their content based on the previous knowledge of what works best for users from a region,the referral source website or advertising campaign?

Imagine if your application could show the right call-to-action to the right user at the right time.  Every time..

What would that mean for your conversion rate?

With SubIntent, your web application's conversion funnels optimize themselves. Interested? You can sign up for early access here.

Do you have a web app?
SubIntent can optimize your landing pages for improved conversion rates.

Using machine learning techniques, SubIntent will optimize your landing pages for maximum conversions and click-throughs. See how.

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