An Epic Landing Page Makeover That Debunked 3 Landing Page “Best Practices”

by Jen Gordon

If you’re in the online marketing space, your inbox probably looks like mine. An avalanche of emails with advice on A/B testing, conversion rate optimization, lead generation and tips on how to engage your list with valuable content.

Everyone seems to have best practices figured out, so why reinvent the wheel? Tell me what works — I’ll try it. Show me what failed — I’ll avoid it. Follow those who have gone before… it makes sense right?

It does make sense! Until it doesn’t.

In this post, you’ll see how three common conversion tips got totally debunked during our testing with my client NueMD a medical billing software and EHR company. Does it mean these best practices never work? No. But I guarantee it will change the way you think about best practices — and it’ll help prevent you from making the same conversion mistakes on your own landing pages.

Below, check out the initial redesign:

nuemed 600

The original NueMD landing page (left), and the re-designed and “conversion optimized” version I created (right).

Oh. My. Stars. #FAIL doesn’t begin to describe the best practices bellyflop we experienced. Do we expect to disprove hypotheses in testing? Of course. Do we expect to iterate? Yes again!

Do we expect for best practices to do a TOTAL faceplant? No!

“Best practice” #1: Headlines Must Address Visitors Pain

I *know* it seems impossible to debunk this, but before you freak out in the comments, please read on..

Talk to your customers about the problems *they* wanna solve.

This piece of wisdom is a biggie in the realm of optimizing headlines for conversions — and for good reason. In many testing scenarios, it works. You’ve got to lead with your peeps and their problems (not your product!) if you want to connect with your audience.

The result of making this assumption was probably the most surprising piece of data from our testing.

Our original headline read, “Watch a Free Demo of NueMD Medical Billing Software:”

nuemd 2 600

When I step into the mind of the visitor reading this headline, I hear:

“Why?”
“What do I get?”
“What does this demo show?”
“These people don’t understand my challenges at work.”
“Am I going to get a call from a sales person?”
“How much does this cost?”

This headline scares people off, right? It’s talking about the product before the people!

After a lot of research and collaboration with NueMD’s marketing director, I developed a hypothetical “script” of what visitors are thinking when searching “medical billing software”:

“Getting reimbursed by insurance companies is consuming a huge part of my practice’s administrative time. Dealing with the back and forth, denied claims, delayed accounts receivable puts such a strain on our productivity. All we want to do is take care of our patients. This should not be such a huge deal and we’ve got to find a way to simplify.”

From this dialogue, we decided to test an alternative headline that touched on real pain points found in our research (delayed accounts receivable, laborious tasks and software that is difficult to use).

The headline we tested encompassed each of these three elements, and appeared just above a testimonial that reinforced the headline statement:

nuemd 3 - 600

So how did it perform against our original headline?

nuemd 4 - 600

Well this is embarrassing. Our new headline lagged by almost 2%.

Our A/B test revealed that our new headline lagged by almost 2%.

Conversion Freak-Out Note #1: If you’re freaking out about the test being called after 13 conversions, this means you: 1) have high traffic landing pages that reach the baseline of 250 conversions in less than a year, or 2) you’re a conversion expert who thinks low-traffic pages aren’t worth testing, or 3) work with clients that have a really large budget for PPC landing page testing. If you read through to the end of this post, you’ll see how we navigated the low-traffic situation and worked within my client’s PPC budget.

Conversion Freak-Out Note #2: This headline test ran for a full month. Would we have preferred to run until we got a total of 250 conversions or a full year of testing data? Of course. However, if you’re like a lot of PPC advertisers, you: 1) have a budget and 2) can’t force more people to search for your keywords. My client, NueMD had a PPC budget to work within and felt confident we could test in a way that produced more leads for their sales department. (See “The Results” at the end of this article for final results.)

Back to the headline. What happened?

We had a solid hypothesis, didn’t we? We addressed the visitor’s problems and that’s a good thing, right? We connected with their pains and dreams and that’s what people want, don’t they?

I think the answers are yes, yes and yes, but our testing disproved several assumptions:

  • We thought visitors needed more information about the benefits and value of the software. Our heatmaps showed they were ready to see a demo.
  • We assumed visitors needed to be “seen and heard” at this phase in the buyer journey, when they actually just wanted to see the product in action.

Testing showed this audience didn’t want to hear about problems within their medical practice. They are most likely in a hands-on role and already know the problems. They’re busy and don’t need to have their in-office problems re-articulated to them.

When they arrive on the landing page, they have a different problem than the actual problem they’re dealing with in their practice. They need the information a demo contains!

And they want a headline that says they’re going to get what they want, which is a demo!

We proved this hypothesis to be true, changing the headline on the new design to read, “Watch a Free Online Demo,” with sub-headline, “And see why 24,000 medical professionals choose NueMD.”

nuemd 5 - 600

This design contains similar information as the original, but consistently outperformed the original.

Takeaways for Your Landing Pages

In this headline test, we learned the importance of defining the buyer journey and identifying where your prospect is in their buyer journey. Before you write your next headline, try the following:

  • Test your PPC traffic to see what message resonates. In our case, we could have tested “Get a Free Demo” against “Automate and Get Paid Faster” or “Get Paid Faster.”
  • Develop a hypothetical “script” of what visitors are thinking when they are searching for your product/service. What phase of the buying process are they in? Are they searching for a solution to a burning problem or are they aware of the solution and looking at their options?

Understanding your prospect’s place in the buyer journey is your first step in writing a headline that resonates.

“Best practice” #2: Only High Value Content Gets Leads

You can’t get quality leads without providing high-value content. This is best practice #2. When people provide their email, they often know they’re being put on a list — so you better make it worth their while.

Based on this best practices advice, we made the assumption that the “Register below to view a FREE demo of our software!” wasn’t a high value offer compared to the quantity of information required to get it.

Landing Page Call to Action

The demo is barricaded behind a form that requires my first/last name, email AND phone number. Notice the emphasis on FREE in the form’s headline…  This implies that some people pay for a demo, which some may find odd or at least confusing.

When I step into the visitor’s mind, I hear a lot of “exit page” dialogue:

“I don’t think so.” /exit page
“I don’t have time.” /exit page
“Just give me the demo.” /exit page
“I don’t want to talk to a salesperson.” /exit page

You get the idea. Logic tells us people don’t provide an email address for something that should be freely available.

Problem is… the data showed I was wrong, and an average of 4–6% of visitors consistently fill out this form.

But why?

One (of many potential) hypotheses: All of their competitors have the same call to action. If you want a demo of medical billing software from *anyone* without providing a name and email, you’re up the creek:

nuemd 6 - 600

All of NueMD’s Google AdWords competitors also used a gated demo.

Of the competitors bidding on “medical billing software,” all of them kept their demos behind a form. In the medical billing software field, requiring contact details for sales staff to follow up is pretty much “table stakes” across the industry.

So how does the competitive landscape change the conversation in our visitors mind?

For starters, it can color their expectations. Maybe their inner dialogue sounds more like this:

“Good grief, I can’t get a demo anywhere without entering my email. Whatever.” /fill form
“Oh they require the same as XYZ company. Okay.” /fill form
“I’ve got to see how these guys compare to XYZ company I’m talking to.” /fill form
“Whatever. I have to see this demo to get on with my research.” /fill form
“I’ve heard good things so I guess it’s fine.” /fill form

Takeaways for Your Landing Pages

In this test we learned:

  • You have to test various offers and CTAs on each audience to find out what really constitutes “high friction.”
  • Logic does not prevail. Even if something seems like a common-sense assumption, you have to test your logic/hypotheses.
  • It’s important to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Click on your competitors’ ads to find out how their messaging may be affecting the action visitors take on your landing page.

“Best practice” #3: Low-Traffic Pages Aren’t Worth Testing

I can’t NOT talk about this. Low-traffic pages, or pages that take a loooong time to reach 250 conversions or “statistical significance” are common. I’ve noted this already, but it’s a point worth exploring in more detail.

To say I’m going to “debunk” this best practice may be overstating, but the results of this test (summarized in “The Results” section) prove that you can still increase leads into your sales funnel using a low-traffic landing page.

So let’s look at the details. Our testing for these pages ran for a total of 5 months and allowed for full-week, Friday-to-Friday testing. Each week we review results and either let the test keep running, or discuss new things to test.

Via AdWords, this page gets around 300-400 unique visitors a month. There could be some AdWords click-through optimization to increase traffic to the pages, but we can’t force more people to search for “medical billing software.” There is a ceiling on the number of people looking for this product, which you may experience in your business as well.

So how do you A/B test pages that won’t reach “statistical significance” (or get 3,000–4,000 conversions, or heck even 100 conversions) until the year 2054?

Test High-Impact Changes

We can’t dramatically increase the number of visits to the page, so the way we handled this question with NueMD is by testing high-impact changes. High impact changes are those that test variants with very different elements. Examples from NueMD include:

  • Different messaging/headline: “Watch a Demo” vs. “Automate and Get Paid Faster”
  • Design: Big shift in the typography, layout and visual design

When you don’t have a ton of traffic to send to your A/B tests, big changes have more noticeable and measurable effects. Making dramatic changes per variant helps you get the data you need, even if you can’t send more traffic (or wait until 2054!).

If you make a dramatic change that seems like it’s promising, it may be worth the wait to keep the test running as long as you can. But if you have a challenger that’s consistently underperforming, don’t be afraid to pull the plug altogether and go back to your control. It’s really a balancing and juggling act — working with your PPC budget, PPC messaging and conversions, landing page messaging and conversion, and doing your best to make wise decisions with the money you have to spend.

The Test Results

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Whether you’re working on a page that gets gobs of traffic or not, at the end of the day, did you drive more leads into the sales funnel or not? Here’s our pre-redesign stats:

Landing Page Stats Before

and our stats after:

Landing Page Stats After

On average, NueMD is consistently seeing 1.5% more leads to their inside sales team over a 5-month period as a result of our testing and optimization. That’s an additional 31 leads to their inside sales team in 5 months. Low traffic or not, calling the test too early or not, that’s a concrete result we can directly attribute to our optimization efforts.

Takeaways for Your Landing Page

To recap, you can test and get meaningful data from low-traffic landing pages. Statistical significance won’t play the same kind of role it does on consistently high traffic pages, but you can still gather insights and optimize for more leads.

When you’re testing low-traffic pages, try the following to keep your A/B testing moving along:

  • Make dramatic, high-impact changes for more noticeable and measurable effects.
  • If a challenger looks like it’s completely bombing, you don’t necessarily need to wait until statistical significance eliminates it. Pull the plug, go back to the original, and move on to your next test.

What to Do Next

The beautiful thing about A/B testing is that even failed tests can bring you invaluable, actionable insight.

The important thing is to start testing today.

There were so many awesome nuggets learned from this exercise that I didn’t even get to share in this post, but here’s a recap of the biggies:

  • Conversion “best practices” can be dead wrong. Test assumptions even if they go against common advice.
  • Do some testing around your buyer’s journey, and find out if you’re making correct assumptions about what they want at their stage in that journey. Effective headlines and CTAs are heavily dependent on location in the buyer journey.
  • Check out your competition — they may be doing things that influence your buyer’s clicking habits.
  • If you don’t have a lot of traffic, you can still optimize your pages by testing for high impact changes. And don’t be afraid to pull the plug on an underperforming challenger, even before statistical significance.

One final word: These insights are a great launching pad for your next test, but you should always test them yourself to be sure the same rings true for your particular niche or audience!

Over to you — have your A/B tests debunked any “best practices”?

17 Comments

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Jen Gordon

Jen Gordon is a landing page designer with a geeky passion for conversion rate optimization and bacon. She spends her days designing and optimizing landing pages for conversions – and loves every second of it. Sign up for a free 3 Day Conversion Course for Web Designers or follow her on Twitter @itsjengordon.

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  1. Anonymous says:
    December 19, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Remarkable! Its really remarkable post, I have got much clear idea on the topic of
    from this article.

  2. Nurture says:
    September 21, 2015 at 6:47 am

    Great tips Jen, it’s hard to believe but many still seem to enjoy the visual mess on their websites. Maybe statistics showing how the loading time translates to conversion will make them “convert” to more user-friendly design

  3. Mike Dane says:
    August 5, 2015 at 5:45 am

    Jen, you totally shook up my concepts regarding the landing page. Moreover, Justin rightly pointed out above, that the sample size is small to come to a conclusion but i get your point and now totally agree with that. Thank you Jen, for providing such useful insights. You surely deserve some appreciation

    • Jen says:
      August 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks Mike it shook up mine as well – thanks for the kind words! 🙂

  4. Nidhi says:
    June 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    So how much time should we allot to the website to be beta tested? A month or more?

    • Jen says:
      June 13, 2015 at 6:17 pm

      Hey Nidhi – It’s difficult to find someone who won’t say “it depends” as an answer to your question, because it does depend – on how much traffic, seasonality and a variety of other factors. Ultimately what you need to devise is an A/B testing plan. Hope this helps! jen 🙂

  5. Dani says:
    May 20, 2015 at 10:58 am

    I’m glad you’ve highlighted and are having the same issues we are. Ive even subscribed to the magical landing page creator tools there are out there, following each rule 100% and still my B test pages underperform the (what I thought) original no thoguht gone into them A pages I have to deal with…FRUSTRATING! Its literally a full time job to test and optimise, with the results delivered as slow as what seems like teh pace of an athmatic ant carrying heavy shopping. ARGHH the joys!

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      May 20, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      It can be overwhelming at time, can’t it? lol Hang in there, Dani. We can learn even from failed tests.

  6. Jonas says:
    March 2, 2015 at 2:42 am

    Regarding #1: You didn’t just test the new headline, you also changed several other components of the page. How do you know it was the headline that wasn’t working? Maybe it was the testimonial, or the picture? Maybe it was the new structure of the page that wasn’t convenient?

    After changing so many different things in one variation I don’t see how you can come to any conclusions – not to mention the low amount of conversions.

    • Jen Gordon says:
      March 2, 2015 at 9:20 am

      Hey Jonas thanks for asking and my apologies if this wasn’t clear, but we ran several tests of “Automate and get Paid Faster” against “Get a Free Demo” – nothing outperformed “Get a Free Demo”. We finally tried changing the headline on the new design to “Get a Free Demo” and the new design outperformed the original. That is how we learned what our audience was really looking for.

      • Bill says:
        January 21, 2017 at 3:49 pm

        I agree with Jonas. I don’t think this is conclusive. Perhaps you tested various headlines, but you completely changed the entire landing page. Even if the “get a demo” headline worked, you may have lost conversions due to other changes. In particular, that first image of the woman in the new landing page looks negative.

  7. Usman says:
    February 27, 2015 at 1:21 am

    The first tip is mind blowing. I always thought that showing visitors that we understand their pain would be an effective way to get their attention, but this case study proves me wrong by a large margin. Great job Jen….this article provided some highly useful insight into the consumer’s mind.

    • Jen Gordon says:
      February 27, 2015 at 9:27 am

      Hey Usman yea that one was *really* surprising!!

  8. Justin Rondeau says:
    February 25, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    I know you addressed this in the ‘Conversion Freak Out Notes’ but the sample size in your initial example is just too small to come to any valid conclusions. This isn’t something we can simply make note of and move on from, this has dangerous reprecussions for companies embracing a data driven decision methodology.

    Simply put, some pages are just not test worthy. You won’t be able to run an accurate split test. Guess what? That’s OK. Testing is only one tool in the optimizer’s tool belt, there are other ways to gether insights and verify results. Testing on low traffic pages, especially with the number you shared is not the best way to spend your time optimizing and gives a false sense of validity where the numbers don’t necessarily back up the claim.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      February 25, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      Justin, I’m glad you responded to that. A lot of websites feel they should be testing, but worry about low traffic numbers. I enjoyed Jen’s approach to this. It’s also good to hear that some pages aren’t test-worthy.

    • Jen Gordon says:
      February 25, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      Hey Justin do appreciate your feedback 🙂 The crux of this post is that the process of conversion optimization cannot fully rely on strict numbers or right/wrong rules.

      We can debate the validity of claims for sure. However, my hope and rationale for writing this post is to open people’s minds to the idea of approaching conversion optimization on an individualized basis – not putting all clients into the same bucket, applying the same assumptions, numbers and rules.

      NueMD has consistently doubled the number of leads each month due to our landing page optimization efforts. That is a fact, and it’s no small gain. Myself and NueMD think it is time very well spent. 🙂 jen

      • Justin Rondeau says:
        February 27, 2015 at 11:49 am

        Jen and Kathryn –

        I hope I didn’t come off as too much of a Debbie Downer! I can be a stickler for numbers, but am truly a marketing pragmatist at heart!

        Optimization is not one-sized-fits-all, and I totally get your point Jen! We do need models to verify our optimization efforts, and sometimes the numbers need to be used as a heuristic. There is more risk here for certain, but if people are willing to take the risk there will be rewards!

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