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Customer Research and the Perils of Not Listening

Customer research matters more than you think. A story, some stats, and a few insights from working in the trenches learning what drives prospects to become customers and customers to become loyal fans. 

Back in 2011, Ron Johnson took the helm of JC Penney. 

It was an unmitigated disaster.

The retail executive who transformed stores into experiences at the likes of Target and Apple believed he could do the same for JC Penney. He launched a radical rebranding effort to make the tired company hip, cool, and designer-inspired.

From ditching the private-label clothing brands customers knew and loved to the constant coupons shoppers had come to expect, Johnson set into motion massive changes that led to $1 billion dollars in losses during his year as CEO.

JC Penney’s long-standing, core customers weren’t interested in the smaller, boutique stores within a store experience or “fair and square,” “everyday low-prices.” They enjoyed the hunt for bargains, the thrill of the sale, and lack of pretension.

An Apple version of JC Penney made about as much sense as a Victoria’s Secret version of Home Depot.

What happened? How could Johnson’s experiment fail so spectacularly?

Turns out it failed for the same reason many repositioning efforts fail: No one made customer research a priority. 

In fact, it appears Johnson never stopped to listen to his customers until it was too late. He even admitted it.

“I thought people were just tired of coupons and all this stuff. The reality is all of the couponing we did, there was a certain part of the customers that loved that. They gravitated to stores that competed that way. So our core customer, I think, was much more dependent and enjoyed coupons more than I understood.”

To make matters worse, he refused to roll out changes incrementally. When asked to test pricing strategies on a limited basis, he responded by saying, “We didn’t test at Apple.”

And JC Penney suffered the consequences. 

Why the grim cautionary tale? Because… 

Customer research is still the kale nobody really wants to put in their marketing or product development smoothie.

As someone who spends her time obsessing about messaging strategy and customer-driven copywriting for clients, I’d love to say companies dedicated to learning what makes their customers tick is the norm these days. 

Sadly, it’s not. And there are cold, hard, sad numbers to prove it.

The folks at ProfitWell reached out to SaaS and subscription executives along with product leaders to see if companies were doing more than merely extolling the virtues of customer research. 

Here is what they found.

  • 7 out of 10 companies speak to less than 10 prospects or customers a month in a non-sales, research capacity
  • Almost half of these companies conduct ZERO tests a month (including marketing)
  • Out of the last 5k features built, product leaders said the vast majority were differentiable and highly valuable while the 1.2 million customers surveyed indicated most were not

The problems don’t end with building products and features customers consider marginally valuable. According to Salesforce’s 2019 State of the Connected Customer report, 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. 

And, that’s up from 80% the year before. 

With the exponential growth of content online, potential customers have become better educated and savvier. They can do their own research, stake out the competition, and jump ship as soon as their expectations haven’t been met.

This means consistently and continuously learning as much as possible about your customers is more critical than ever. 


So why are some companies continuing to struggle with customer research? 

After working with both B2B and B2C clients over the years, I’ve noticed a few key reasons that businesses are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

No leadership buy-in 

Conducting research takes time, costs money, and can be difficult to tie to an immediate ROI. 

Unless leaders in the organization have bought into the need and long-term payoff of investing in understanding their customers, customer research will always be a tough sell. 

Siloed thinking

Sales, marketing, customer success, every department has its own priorities, ideas, and ways of doing things. Like anything in life, cross-department cooperation isn’t a problem until it’s a problem. For instance, when you’re trying to coordinate your messaging, streamline your onboarding process or get the most out of your customer research, you need to make sure your teams are all on the same page.

Nothing kills the joy of discovering breathtaking new insights about your customers faster than team members who don’t agree with the process, findings, or changes to be made.

Lack of internal resources

Not every company has the ability to keep someone on staff solely responsible for conducting interviews, designing surveys, or running user testing sessions. Without someone accountable, customer research can quickly take a back seat to just about anything else that seems more pressing or remotely more interesting (unless you love geeking out over data and spreadsheets.) 

An expertise gap

Even if you’ve got a marketing or sales team member who digs running A/B tests or discovering where the hiccups are in generating new leads, they need to know what questions to ask, what data to look at, and how to synthesize the information in a way that can be accessible to everyone. Oftentimes, having someone on the team whose enthusiasm matches the necessary skillset can be a rare commodity.


Listening to your customers takes time, commitment, and patience. Not surprisingly, customer research tends to be the first item on the agenda to go and the last to be added back on when fires need to be put out or deadlines loom. Like any other aspect of growing a business that can be labor-intensive and have a long runway to benefits (think content marketing), it’s way easier to pay lip service to customer research than actually doing it. 

Not to mention, there are different kinds of customer research…

And it can be tricky to know where to start. Because you need to have a clear idea of your goals and which types of research will help you get the job done.

Quantitative and qualitative… yes, you should be doing both.

Quantitative research tells us what’s happening and where. It includes things like analytics, behavior tracking and A/B testing. Whether you’re seeking to improve conversions on your website or customer acquisition costs, you need to know what your baseline is and where the stumbling blocks are.

If quantitative research informs the “what,” qualitative research helps us understand the “why.” Open-ended customer surveys, interviews, user testing are all tools in the qualitative toolbox. When implemented well, they can get straight to the heart of your customers’ motivations, desired outcomes, hesitations to purchase… and so much more.

Many times I’ve run into companies who boast about how much customer research they do. When I dig a little deeper, I find they focus almost entirely on quantitative research to the exclusion of the qualitative. You can’t get the kind of insights that drastically improve your overall messaging, copy, and positioning without talking to your customers.

What’s a customer-focused company to do?

The simple answer is: go outside and hire an expert. If you’ve been struggling to jumpstart your customer research to tackle anything from acquisition to retention problems, getting a pro on your team can make all the difference. 

Why bring in an expert? 

So glad you asked. Here’s why…

  • Experts, consult with companies about understanding their customers and their marketing all day, every day. Not only do they ask the right questions but glean actionable insights – so their clients can make measurable improvements. 
  • When you bring on someone who knows how to implement a proven process with a well-honed skill set, you’re not endlessly trying to jury rig your own. 
  • You can keep your key people working on the jobs they’ve been tasked to get done. Stretching internal resources means pushing other priority work to the back burner. Then no one’s happy.

You get the picture. 

If you’re one of the forward-thinking businesses that make customer research an ongoing priority, I applaud you. If not, you’ll want to think about upping your game. The research doesn’t lie.

Interested in working together?

I’m thrilled! 

I’ve had the opportunity to help some pretty amazing subscription businesses discover what makes their customers tick. You can find out more on my website here

No Idea Why You’re Losing Email Subscribers? Email Marketing As Usual Isn’t Cutting It


Every free download you can get your hands on that promises the Holy Grail of increasing email subscribers by 10x lives on your laptop.


Because growing your list and sending out emails is the fastest way to turn prospects into customers. Right?


Conventional marketing wisdom may say so, but there’s a not so tiny problem getting in the way.


Your emails aren’t making it to your subscribers’ inboxes


Take a look at recent studies and benchmark reports about email deliverability rates and consumer’s thoughts on email marketing, and you might be stunned.


According to Return Path, 24% of emails sent by businesses in the second quarter of 2016 did not land in subscriber’s inboxes. The U.S. had the lowest placement rate in the world with only 69% of emails reaching consumers.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend (well… maybe only disturbing if you’re an online marketer.) Emails from some of my favorite businesses stopped landing in my inboxes. And I couldn’t figure it out.


“Why would businesses whose emails I open regularly scrub me from their lists?” which is what I asked myself until I had the bright idea of checking my spam folder.


And there amidst the “Buy Meds Cheap” and phishing expeditions by the likes of a Mrs. Angela lily appeared email after email from those companies I had been missing.


spam emails


A sampling from the pu pu platter that is my spam folder

E-commerce, B2B, no matter the type or legitimacy of the business their emails had been lumped together with Russian hackers, penis enlargement devices, and the grammatically challenged.


Which begs the question, “Why are so many emails turning into spam bait?”


There are the obvious reasons: the uptick in phishing scams and marketers gaming the system to improve open rates.

Anything that looks deceptive, suspicious, or overly hyperbolic runs the risk of never making it to an inbox.

This can be as simple as using one too many spam triggering words in a subject line (“free” and “hidden” are the new “Viagra” and “unsecured debt”) or littering an email with exclamation points.  


To avoid the pitfalls of a subject line like the one above check out this list of spam trigger words from Automational and this one from Hubspot as a guide.


And then there’s a little ol’ thing called a reputation.


Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and AOL use a combination of metrics to decide whether or not your emails are inbox worthy. How your subscribers engage with your emails and respond to them affects your reputation as a sender. These are things like messages read, forwarded, replied to, and marked as spam.

According to a survey by Fluent of nearly 2,000 Americans, 41% claim to ignore emails while another 41% unsubscribe from a list after receiving unwanted marketing emails.

Even worse, 11% move the email to their spam folder with 7% reporting it as spam.

Every time we take action signaling disinterest in the emails we’re receiving, our email providers take note and start filtering on our behalf whether we like it or not.

But there’s a deeper, more fundamental reason why well-meaning emails have disappeared into spam folders never to be seen again.

And it’s one you might not have considered.


Consumers are sick and tired of email marketing as usual. 


Discovering what’s going on in an email subscriber’s head is as easy as reading your Facebook news feed


Just last month while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed I noticed a question in one of the closed small business groups that piqued my interest. With over 300 responses, it had apparently hit a nerve.


FB group survey question

Melyssa Griffin’s Facebook group has over 50,000 members. You’ll find some great advice and a treasure trove of voice of customer insights around what challenges online small business owners face.


Always a sucker for customer research, I felt compelled to find out why all these people chose to respond. 

So I categorized the responses, tallied them up, and gleaned some interesting (if not entirely surprising insights) from them.

Here are the top reasons why your subscribers are ready to abandon your list… and what you can do about it.


#1: They receive too many emails


Across the board, respondents complained about the sheer volume of marketing emails they receive with the frequency being the biggest source of annoyance.

Receiving emails more than once a week seemed to be the tipping point for most people. Anything above that threshold unless there was a very compelling reason (such as a one-off sale or special announcement) sent them to the unsubscribe link.


Pro tip —> Set expectations from the moment someone signs up


Not many brands can get away with showing up in a person’s inbox constantly without quickly turning them off. If you’re going to try it, make sure you:

  • Clearly set expectations when someone signs up with language letting them know how often they will get emails and the type of content in them
  • Make sure you’re sending them content that interests them

For example, I receive a daily email from Dave Pell of NextDraft. He curates what he considers the top 10 news stories of the day and delivers the list with a bit of commentary.


Next Draft landing page

From the NextDraft opt-in landing page


Almost without fail, I open, read, and at least click on a couple of links in his daily email. I’m okay with the frequency because it’s expected and full of content I’m itching to see.


Next Draft email


#2: You asked for the sale too soon or too often


Based on the responses, bombarding your prospects with emails when they’re not ready to buy is counterproductive. The same holds true for hitting them up regularly with your offers.  


“If they constantly sell sell sell. I understand launching a product for a week or so but anything after that is just too much. Can’t possibly buy everything they have to offer.”


Here is an instance when taking the time to segment your email list based on things like what subscribers expressed interest in learning more about or past purchase behavior makes sense.


Ever bought an online course or product during a pre-launch special only to receive all the hard sell launch emails the next week? Yeah… me too. It’s exasperating.


Third party email providers have become highly sophisticated. A solution like Convertkit makes it easy to create tags and segment your users, so this doesn’t happen. It’s well worth the investment.


Pro tip —> Think beyond the coupon in your emails


You probably believe that this is all well and good but what about e-commerce stores. Aren’t people expecting the constant sales and coupons?


Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to be sending them emails several times a week geared towards getting them to buy from you. In fact, you can test not only reducing the frequency but giving your subscribers another reason to connect with your brand.


Minted email


I love this email from the folks at Minted. As you scroll down the email, you find personal stories about their artists with photos and links to their designs online. Part of what differentiates Minted from the sea of online personalized stationery and photo gifts is their support of the independent design community.


Sharing what makes them special reminds me why I always choose their cards to send at the holidays and ignore their competitors.


#3: They don’t find value in reading your emails


Ouch. You’re spending a lot of time putting those emails together or money having someone else do it and they aren’t resonating with your subscribers.


In this case, the respondents discussed value regarding:


  • Relevance – receiving content that interests them
  • Applicability – receiving content that’s actionable or can easily be put to use
  • Originality – receiving changing/non-repetitive content


“If I get content that starts out like it’s going to be useful but only ends up telling me how important it is to do something rather than teaching me HOW to do it, I unsubscribe REALLY FAST.”


With all the competition for space in their inboxes, emails that didn’t speak to fixing a problem or filling a need got the boot.


Pro tip —> Help your subscribers accomplish their goals


One of the best ways you can express value to your prospects and customers is through helping them move from point A to B in their businesses. Achieving their goals starts with doing a bit of research into what their biggest challenges are and then carefully crafting solutions for them.


Psychology for Photographers email

An email from Jenika McDavitt of Psychology for Photographers


As Jenika so artfully does in this email, educate your subscribers about one particular thing they can improve upon to bring them closer to success. Doing so gives them a compelling reason to keep reading your content and (hopefully) buy from you further down the road.


#4: They think your emails are too long


I could have rolled this into reason #3 because a large part of the frustration with long emails has to do with relevance and expectations. If you’ve primed your audience to receive meaty emails from you that are engaging and speak to a need, length shouldn’t be an issue.

But, if an economy of words is not only expected but wanted from your subscribers giving them what feels like the equivalent of a Tolstoy novel in your emails is the surest way to alienate them.


Pro tip —> Ask your subscribers for feedback


It’s time to get meta and talk to your email subscribers about how they feel about your emails. You might think this is the last thing you want to do if you’re already worried about sending them emails too often or that are too long. But, it’s the surest way to understand better what they want and expect from you.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Be direct and to the point – This is the time to be brief.
  • Only ask for what you’re most interested in learning – This means to refrain from asking about the information you’re not prepared to act on.
  • Tell people why you want to know what you want to know – When you give people a reason to do something they are much more likely to follow through.

Check out my post on The Dreaded Email Survey: How to Get Customers to Respond for more help.


#5: You’re creeping them out


Yes, this is a thing. You might think you’re clever, fun, or authentic by addressing all your email subscribers with a nifty moniker, diving headfirst into uncomfortable personal details about your life, or getting down and dirty dropping f-bombs right and left.

You would be wrong.

Being genuine and expressing yourself as a real, relatable person your subscribers can trust are two different things. Only giving them what you think they want or whatever the marketing guru du jour says isn’t going to cut it.


“I sign up to watch a lot of webinars and often they all have the same types of sales funnels, style of writing, and email me too often. I don’t like when people try too hard to be relatable using a ‘hip’ tone of voice or when I get constant emails telling the same long winded story about how the writer was struggling and now makes 6 figures. Seems like they’re all just using the same templates and swapping out their blog or business names.”


Consumers are getting savvier. They can tell when you’re relying on gimmicks to make the sale.


Pro tip —> Mirror your prospects with words they use to describe themselves


One of the best ways to connect with your audience is by folding in their words and phrases into your copy. When you mirror back to them how they identify themselves along with their desires and challenges, they feel like you’re speaking their language.

My friend Rob over at Brand Story consistently writes some of the most engaging emails. He opens everyone with “Hey there marketing expert.”


BrandStory email


And then he goes on to talk about something that crosses just about every marketer’s mind at one time or another: what messages do my customers need to hear.


Contrast Rob’s email with this one I recently found in my inbox:


too friendly email


Buddy? I’m not Sujay’s buddy. I don’t offer WordPress services. And I can’t remember signing up for his emails.


On the other hand, Rob’s emails show up in my inbox every week without fail. He speaks to issues people like me have as a marketer. When he does ask for something of his subscribers, it’s only after sharing a boatload of his wisdom.


There’s nothing that feels “templated” about Rob’s emails. It’s like getting a welcomed email from someone you know.

Are you ready to take a long hard look at your emails?


If you haven’t realized it by now, listening to your customers is the surest way to improve your email marketing. When you understand what they want, need, and care about, you’re much more likely to connect with them.


And you’re far less likely to send them screaming for the unsubscribe button.


So don’t give the email providers or your subscribers any more reasons to toss your content into the spam folder. You might just find all that work you put into growing your list finally has paid off.


If you’re interested you can check out this national survey from Fluent and Litmus to see how my findings stack up.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

And take a look at this terrific infographic from the guys at Moosend. Go to their blog for more helpful information about running successful email campaigns.

Single Opt-in versus Double Opt-in infographic

How To Build An Email Opt-In Process That Hooks Your Subscribers

You’re growing your email list…

It’s exciting. Every time a person taps his address into your form and hits the button, you’ve got another conversion.

Which is good. Right?

Sure. More conversions means more prospects moving into your marketing funnel. But, getting the click is just the beginning. Your new potential customer or client has several steps to go through in the email opt-in process before becoming a new subscriber.

And if you’re not putting thought into each one of those steps, you’re missing out on an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with that person.

Worse… you might just lose him before you even get him hooked on hearing from you again.

Follow along as I walk you through not only how you can make this often overlooked process more engaging for your subscribers but a whole lot more insightful for you.


What’s a lead generation funnel?


For the purposes of this blog post, a lead generation funnel is simply a series of steps your visitor takes from landing page or website to subscriber of your email list.

Depending on whether or not you’re requiring people to confirm their email address (more on that later), a typical path from opt-in to subscriber looks something like this…

email opt in process

At each step, you’re asking your prospect to take a desired action… ultimately becoming one of your new email list subscribers eager to start hearing from you.


Two very good reasons why it’s so important to optimize every step in your lead generation funnel 


#1: People remember the bad before the good

Every interaction a potential prospect has with you and your business creates an impression in his or her mind. Whether it’s at a cocktail party or on your website, that person takes inventory of the experience.

Unfortunately, negative impressions stick with us far longer than positive ones. Psychological studies have found that both animals and humans are more likely to remember the negative things that have happened to us in greater detail and more strongly. According to the social psychologist, Roy Baumeister, “Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”

Which means, each point in your opt-in process is an opportunity to create a positive experience so your newly won subscriber isn’t ready to jump ship before becoming a viable lead.

Seems pretty obvious. Except, way too many marketers are dropping the ball and sending people to pages auto generated by their email platform or pages on their websites that does little more than confirm a subscription.


[clickandtweet handle=”@jenhavice” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]Don’t let any part of your email opt in process feel like an afterthought.[/clickandtweet]  Tweet this!


The only thing these pages are telling their prospects is that the business couldn’t be bothered to think beyond getting the click.


#2: You’ve got prime real estate on your hands


Your landing page or website visitor has made the decision to give you his email. He’s not only interested in knowing what you have to say but has agreed to let you make guest appearances in his inbox.

This is a chance to capitalize on being top of mind with your new lead. At each step, you can use it as an opportunity to show off your brand personality, connect that person more deeply to your messaging, and even lead him to another conversion.

In fact, B2C marketers’ welcome emails that include an offer generate 320% more revenue per email than other promotional emails.


So… How do you make the most of your lead generation funnel?


Let’s take a look at some examples and ways to up your marketing A-game on your pages and emails after you’ve gotten the opt-in.


The Confirmation and/or Welcome Page


As soon as your visitor has opted into your email list, he will be directed to either a confirmation page or a welcome page. Third party email providers host those pages by default on their servers with standard language you can modify.

In MailChimp, the confirmation page looks like this.

mail chimp confirmation form

My suggestion is to always ditch the email provider’s form – no matter how much you customize it – for a page on your own site. Besides looking more polished and professional, you’ll be able to gather data on how visitors are moving through your funnel in your Google Analytics.

And the only way to get the data is by having every step of the opt-in process happen on your own site. When you use the default pages from your email provider, your Google Analytics can’t track those visits because the pages don’t live on your site.

When you can’t track, you can’t find out where you might be losing people in your funnel. Check out this post that gives you a quick walk through of how to set up a conversion goal for your email list.

Ways to boost engagement and keep from losing subscribers on your pages


#1: Patch the leaks with clear instructions

If you’re requiring people to go through the double opt-in process – which many marketers choose to forgo – your confirmation page will be the first thing subscribers see after opting in.  The primary goal of this page is to make sure your would-be subscriber checks his or her email to click on the provided link.

There’s much debate as to whether or not it’s worth it to force your subscribers to jump through the added hoop just to get on your list. You run the risk of losing between 20-40% of subscribers with a double opt-in. On the upside, you improve your chances of building a higher quality list.

Also be aware that depending on the country you’re in, anti-spam laws differ. Canada enacted new legislation last year that applies to any business sending emails to Canadian citizens making the double opt-in a smart move for marketers everywhere. You can read more about Canada’s anti-spam law in this article.

This is where creating a well crafted page can help patch holes in a leaky funnel. Take a look at Breanne Dyck’s confirmation page she sends people to after they enter their email addresses.


how to build email opt in process

Breanne lets you know exactly what you need to do and what to look for in your inbox in order to finish the subscription process.


#2: Remind people why they subscribed in the first place


The Entrepreneur on Fire confirmation page takes things one step further by not only walking you through your inbox to make sure you successfully click the confirmation link but also by reminding you why you subscribed in the first place.

how to build email opt in process

To up the odds you’ll search for that confirmation email in your inbox, the copy plays on urgency and the very human desire to act on it.

The copy does that well by telling me in no uncertain terms to “DON’T WAIT” and then giving me a reason why, starting with the very powerful word “because.” As I mentioned in a previous post, employing the word because along with a reason behind your request can make all the difference between someone taking action and not.

#3: Say thank you with a little personality


Even though you may have traded a value added piece of content you’ve created for an email address (also known as the lead magnet), showing a bit of appreciation is a sure fire way of endearing someone to you. Adding a dose of your brand’s personality helps create instant rapport.

Here’s the confirmation page that appears on my site after someone signs up for my list.

how to build an email opt in process

#4: Make an offer


It may feel too soon to start selling your subscribers on something that isn’t free. But once you get one yes from someone, you’re far more likely to get a second. Robert Cialdini, in his book Influence, calls this commitment and consistency.

Retailers often do a good job of this, framing an offer as a thank you discount for agreeing to be on their email list.

how to build email opt in process

Then, there are the guys over at Digital Marketer who send you to a sales page for a $7 mini product after signing up for one of their lists.

how to build email opt in process

They call this a tripwire offer. The barrier to entry is low and based on the idea that because the visitors to this page have already exchanged their email addresses for a download they’re primed to take the next step. That step is to part with a small amount of money.


The Confirmation and/or Welcome Email


If you decided to go the way of the double opt-in, you’ll be sending your subscribers an email asking them to click on a link to verify they truly want to be on your list. This email can be relatively short and sweet.

Sometimes less is more except in the case of this email that my colleague, Gabriella received a couple of years ago.

how to build email opt in process

If you’re constantly signing up to email lists (as some of us do), it’s easy to forget why you decided to give up your email. Or worse, who this person sending you the email is.

Don’t give your subscribers enough information to make you memorable, you run the risk of an immediate unsubscribe.


Ways to boost engagement and keep from losing subscribers in your emails


#1: Tell subscribers what they’ll be getting in the subject line


Treat your email subject lines like you would any important headline. Make it clear and value added so there’s no guessing what your subscriber will be missing out on if he doesn’t take action.

David Kadavy does just that in his confirmation email subject line.

how to build email opt in process

When this email hit my inbox, I immediately knew who it was from, what I needed to do, and what I’d be getting once I opened it and took action.


#2: Make a promise you’re prepared to keep


In Ian Brodie’s welcome email from a couple of years ago, he sets expectations for his subscribers. You know how often you’ll be hearing from him – so there’s no surprises.

How to build an email opt in process

Plus, his warm conversational tone encourages engagement. As long as he follows through on his promises and maintains a consistent brand personality (which he does), I’ll remain a subscriber (which I am.)


#3: Let them know about their options


As I mentioned earlier in the post, it’s a good idea to tell your visitors:


  • Why they are receiving this email
  • That by confirming the subscription they are consenting to receive more emails from you
  • What they can do if they no longer want to continue getting them


By doing this, you’re helping to cover your assets so there’s no question anyone who subscribes to your list didn’t mean to. Ramit Sethi does this well in his confirmation email.

How to create email opt in process

Is your email opt-in process as good as it could be?


Take a few minutes to go back through your entire email funnel. If you haven’t signed up for your own list (or done it in a long time), do it now. Ask yourself if you’d want to be getting emails from you.

Is the process seamless? Are there compelling reasons to sign up? Is your lead magnet outdated or really providing much value?

Then, create confirmation and thank you pages on your own site instead of relying on the default pages from your email provider. You’ll be able to develop more engaging experiences for your visitors along with giving you a way to track what your visitors are doing every step of the way.

Using Voice of Customer Research to Lift Conversions – Case Study

Using Voice of Customer Research to Lift Conversions – Case Study

Have you ever had a conversation with an old friend and suddenly found out something totally unexpected about him? Something you probably should have known?

Like he’s been surfing all his life. Or, he likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. And terrible 70’s music.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me that?” you ask.

He comes back with the classic response, “You never asked.”

Now, just imagine that this person represents your ideal customers… and that conversation you’re having is on your website.


The case for asking your customers questions


Before I write any copy, I do at least a minimum of customer research. Whether it’s going through survey responses, testimonials, or even reviews of comparable competitor products/solutions, I look for the key messages that answer these questions:

  • How is the product/solution solving the customer’s problems?
  • What are the benefits of the product/solution in the customer’s eyes?
  • What are the potential sources of friction around purchasing? i.e. no facts to back up claims, lack of social proof, etc.

Why go to all this trouble? Taking the time to learn what your customer cares about and what drives his behavior means you’re less likely to write ineffective copy on your website.

Because your copy is a conversation. Don’t give your website visitors the right information at the right time and they might not take the action you’d like. Talk about things they don’t value or meet their expectations and they’ll wonder if it’s worth it to move down the page.


Increasing conversions on the website


This is exactly what was happening on the Learn Visual Studio website. LVS is a subscription model business where people can sign up for a yearly or lifetime membership to gain access to videos teaching the .NET programming language.

My CRO colleague, Dustin Drees, approached me to help him rework the copy on the home page and come to some conclusions about how we could better optimize the site as a whole.

I started the process by going through recent customer surveys. Based on responses to a number of open-ended questions, I put together lists of needs, wants, and friction points and then ranked them by how often they appeared.

Here’s what the open-ended questions told us in order of importance:



What we realized after teasing apart the voice of customer data was twofold: visitors were having a difficult time understanding how much value the courses could provide and encountering friction by not having their primary concerns addressed.


Making simple copy changes can bring big wins


Given the data, we hypothesized that doing a better job giving visitors enough information to make an informed decision before they landed on the offer would improve sign up numbers. So, here’s what we did with the copy:


Improved the value proposition

By tweaking the headline to include C# and .NET, we highlighted the specificity and unique quality of the courses. The sub-headline makes use of words used over and over again by customers in the survey responses – “practical exercises” and “step by step roadmap.”







LVS Control                                                                    LVS Treatment


Targeted the benefits customers were getting from the course while addressing their biggest anxieties

With the copy below the fold, we did this in two different ways. First, we framed their anxieties in the form of solutions the courses could provide for them.



Then, we recapped the top 3 benefits uncovered in the survey responses and rounded them out with additional copy making sure to include some of the most heavily used words straight from the customers’ mouths.


Changed the call to action sending visitors to the next most logical place in the sales funnel

Instead of continuing to send visitors straight to the Plans and Pricing page, we directed them to the Curriculum page where they could get a better idea of what was included in the courses. One of the biggest sources of friction for visitors was being unsure if joining LVS would fit their needs.


Added a video of the instructor talking about all the benefits of taking the courses

One of the biggest selling points of the program is the teacher of all the video courses, Bob Tabor. The most recent customer survey showed overwhelmingly that people were drawn to Bob’s style and personality in his videos. So, our aim was to get him seen as soon as people landed on the home page.


Conversions and learnings increased


Our variation outperformed the original on the main call to action button above the fold by 66.3%. Significantly more people were choosing to check out the Curriculum page over the Plans and Pricing page.


In fact, we saw a rise in visits to the Curriculum page overall without the call to action traffic factored in – meaning even if visitors chose not to click on the main button they were still more likely to visit that page.


And, here’s the cool thing. Fewer people ended up visiting the Plans and Pricing page but we saw more sign-ups to the yearly membership plan.


The upside in knowing what’s going on in your customer’s head


Our changes based on the voice of customer research proved visitors want more information before making the leap to becoming a paying customer. By increasing engagement with more motivated visitors and getting them on the right path, we realized positive movement where it counted most.


Interested in finding out more about voice of customer research? Check out my blog post on ConversionXL where I first wrote about this case study and go into more detail about my process.

The Long Form Sales Page Cheat Sheet – Online Course Edition


You’ve spent a lot of time putting your online course together. And, you’ve no doubt thought through the whole launch process – building your list, writing blog posts, setting up email campaigns.

The list goes on and on.

The one thing that you’ve shoved under the rug and left to the last minute is the sales page. If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t, I’m sending you a virtual round of applause.

Why? Because it can feel like one giant pain in the ass – for lack of a better phrase.

When you’re not sure how much copy you need, what should go on it, and how to make it convincing, putting one together isn’t the most enticing of propositions.

Lucky for you, I wrote a post over on the Unbounce blog that talks all about when you need a long form sales page and the biggest pitfalls to avoid.

Definitely check it out to see examples of what to do and what to avoid. But before you do, here’s a graphic I created to keep in your back pocket next time you have to sit down to write your next sales page.


Feel free to share the graphic and let me know what you think.

Copywriting Inspiration: 3 Companies Writing Sticky, Compelling Copy

I don’t know about you but there are times when I need a little copywriting inspiration.

In fact, I’m constantly looking for inspiration. Whether it’s magazine cover headlines, comedy writer Twitter feeds, or other company websites.

Because it’s too easy to get in a writing or design rut – especially when you’ve got yourself psyched up to deliver on conversions. It can start to feel a bit like painting by numbers if you’re not careful.

And, the problem with writing that becomes formulaic is that it… well... it can sound formulaic. With all the competition on the web, growing a business that connects with its customers requires showing some personality and a little oomph.

That’s why I’ve decided to raid my swipe files to show you how three companies are turning heads and building their brands with their copy.


Manpacks is a subscription based company that ships basic health and toiletry items to men on a regular basis. Pretty much anything that a man doesn’t want or can’t be bothered to think about buying for himself that he uses on a daily basis they supply.

Underwear, shaving cream, condoms: it doesn’t make for the sexiest or interesting of mail order packages. Except, the guys at Manpacks have been able to do just that with their copy.

How? They understand their target audience and speak their language

Copywriting inspiration - Manpacks


“Men hate to shop.” Yeah, that pretty much sums up my experience with men too. They keep the copy short, to the point and don’t mince words. “Call us busy, call us lazy, but facts are facts…”

The copy is a little brusque, in your face, and unapologetic. Basically, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a man who has no interest in keeping the necessities in stock.

The home page echoes this sentiment…

Copywriting inspiration - Manpacks


Why is this copy sticky?

With lines like “Powered by Gin & Tonics and IPAs” Manpacks taps into how their target audience identifies with itself, i.e. if you’re the kind of guy who drinks gin and tonics and IPAs, you’ll be a good fit for Manpacks. Mixed drinks and craft beers creates a visual association.

We know from years of psychological research that people identify themselves with brands.

… recent research indicates that consumers construct their self-identity and present themselves to others through their brand choices based on the congruency between brand-user associations and self-image associations (Escalas and Bettman 2003)

In a nutshell, we buy products not just for what they do but also for what they symbolize to ourselves and the outside world.


One of the places where a lot of companies fall down with their copy (and design for that matter) is leaving out the human element. Creating a connection with your customers doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be edgy or humorous.

You simply need to inject a personal touch, a conversational tone… something that gives your visitors an idea of who the people are that run your business and what you believe in. That’s exactly what the folks over at Zirtual do.

How? They tell a story

Zirtual matches virtual assistants to busy entrepreneurs, parents, or anyone who has too many tasks on their plates. Their Our Story pages taps into the why behind what makes the company special.

Copywriting inspiration - Zirtual


Take a look at what is essentially Zirtual’s About Page. When was the last time you read a headline, “Like a lot of great stories… it started in Vegas,” and didn’t keep reading? The headline of the page draws you in and paints a visual in your head along the lines of the now famous (or infamous) ad for Las Vegas.

“Zirtual was birthed during a late night brainstorming sesh in 24-hour cafe on the Las Vegas strip.” I’m still intrigued after this first line, wanting to know why the founder is up all night and how it relates to virtual assistants.

Why is this copy sticky?

If you hadn’t already guessed it, stories help people relate to and remember ideas better. They also take what’s on the page and make them feel real.

The cognitive psychologist, Keith Oatley from the University of Toronto, proposes that reading creates a reality that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Basically, the regions of the brain stimulated by actual experiences and those read about are the same.

Giving people a story to read makes for an experience they can internalize and keep with them.

Foot Cardigan

Socks. They’re not an item of clothing that screams excitement, fun… or hipness. I’d venture to say that a lot of people don’t think too much about what their foot apparel looks like.

Getting people to pay for new socks by mail on a monthly basis – no matter how cool they are – seems like a stretch.

But the folks over at Foot Cardigan, a subscription business based only on socks (yeah, you heard me), has made it their business proposition. How do you make the need for socks – and only socks – feel like a want?

How? They do something unexpected


Copywriting inspiration - Foot Cardigan

In the case of Foot Cardigan, they write irresistibly engaging and borderline absurd copy. Think landing in the middle of a Saturday Night Live sketch only to find that sock subscriptions from these guys are a real thing.



Copywriting inspiration - Foot Cardigan

The copy speaks to the adult kid in all of us that would consider playing “the sock lottery” a completely worthwhile investment.

‘Cause having a random pair of socks show up in your mailbox each month may not entirely make sense to your left brain but your right side is digging it.

Why is this copy sticky?

In the book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors discuss the notion that breaking a pattern is a surefire way to get someone’s attention. Change the sound of the ringtone on your phone and you may jump the next time it goes off. The same goes for an expected narrative.

Foot Cardigan disrupts our expectation of selling something utilitarian. The copy forces you to do a double take then uses wit and humor to frame the benefits.

Sticky copy can take you a long way but…

Tapping into your customers’ voice, telling a story, and being unexpected in your copy are terrific ways to get your message across and have it stick. But, translating that into clicks and conversions is an entirely other matter.

Remember that what works for one site or landing page may not work for another. Always do your customer research and test.

And, keep your swipe files filled. You never know when you need a good ol’ dose of inspiration.

How to Review Your Own Website Copy

How to review your own website copy

Just about every website has them. No matter how well thought out a website is, there are things get missed. Overlooked. Forgotten.

Especially when it comes to copy, it’s so easy to slap some words on the page and be done. You know what you’re talking about. Seems pretty obvious to you and your team what you want people to do on your site.

Isn’t it painfully obvious to everyone else?


If only your website visitors were mind readers…


The reality is that your website visitors are more than likely:

  • Distracted by the 5 – 10 other windows open on their browser, the phone ringing, kids crying, boss asking them questions, and so on
  • Impatient to find exactly the information that they want compounded by all of the above distractions
  • Ready to move on to greener pastures at a moment’s notice if they don’t get what they need without having to work too hard

That’s why it’s so important to set aside some time to review your own website copy and make sure it’s doing what it needs to do. All you need is a pen and some paper or grab the simple spreadsheet I put together to take notes on what and where copy should be changed.


How to pick low hanging fruit and make no brainer copy changes


You can call it a review, an audit of sorts, or – if you want to be technical – a heuristic analysis, of your site. Basically, you want to look at the copy (and ideally the usability aspects too) of your site in a structured and methodical way in order to establish how easy you’re making it for your visitors to achieve their goals on your site.

Yes, your customers’ goals are what matter here. Because if they can’t get from Point A to Point B or Z with the least amount of trouble, you run the risk of them not buying your product, opting into your email list, or starting that free trial.

Believe it or not, you can make big gains simply by taking into account 4 key pieces of the conversion copy puzzle.

Let’s break it down so you have an idea of what you should be asking yourself when you look at the main pages of your website.


#1: Clarity


Being clear is important. In fact, it’s really important. Research has shown that when information is presented in ways that are conceptually, visually, and linguistically less complex, people judge it to be more true.

This means telling your visitors what they need to know in a way that is easy to understand not only improves your odds that they will feel confident that they have landed in the right spot but will believe what you’re saying as well.

Get rid of the technical jargon in your copy whenever possible. Cramming the page full of multi-syllabic words that only a handful of people know the meaning of won’t help you get your message across.

[clickandtweet handle=”jenhavice” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]Making your copy simpler to understand isn’t about dumbing it down or never being clever.[/clickandtweet] Tweet this!

It’s about getting your point across and helping your visitors make decisions quickly and easily.


Low Hanging Fruit: Do you have a clear headline that expresses your value proposition?


One of the biggest culprits in the lack of clarity department is poorly executed headlines. It’s also one of the easiest things to fix that can make a big impact on conversions or simply getting people to stay on the page.

Anytime your visitors land on a page of your website, they should know where they are and what’s in it for them. Let’s take Unbounce’s home page headline as an example.



When you read their headline and sub-headline, you know immediately where you’ve landed, who the site is for, and what you’re likely to find there.

Take a look at the copy on your site and ask yourself:

  • Is your value proposition clearly expressed as soon as someone lands on the page?
  • Is your copy full of industry speak or jargon?

#2: Motivations


Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our websites should be built for our customers – not ourselves. Sure, your website needs to bring in sales and/or leads for you but if it isn’t speaking to what your customers want deep down, that’s not going to happen.

So, your copy must key into what your customers are truly looking for when they pop on your site.

Spoiler alert: If you’re merely writing things like “Saves time” or “Get more cash in your pocket,” you’re not digging deep enough.


Low Hanging Fruit: Do your benefits strike a chord with your customers?


Why are your customers coming to your site and looking to buy your product or solution? Yeah, they probably do want to save time… but so does everyone. The way I figure out how to get to the heart of what customers want is to keep asking why until there’s no more why’s left.

For instance, let’s say you’re selling a weight loss and exercise program designed specifically for young, college aged women. Why would these women be interested in your program?

They want to lose weight.

Why do they want to lose weight? Because they want to get rid of the Freshman 15 they put on.

Why do they want to get rid of those 15 pounds? Because they can’t fit into their skinny jeans anymore.

Why do they want to get back into their skinny jeans? Because they feel more attractive and look healthier when they can wear what they want to wear.

Why do they want to feel more attractive and look healthier? Because they will be more confident.

Ahh… now we’re getting somewhere. The real benefit from your program isn’t weight loss, it’s confidence boosting.

Take a look at the top of the LinkedInfluence sales page. It’s an online program to help people learn how to use LinkedIn.


Linkedinfluence landing page


These bullet points immediately tell you as the potential buyer what you’re truly getting from the course. It’s not just about learning how to navigate LinkedIn but how to use it to derive these pretty compelling benefits.

Take a look at your copy and ask yourself:

  • Am I addressing my customers’ why?
  • Does the page have bullet points or sections that highlight what my customers want to get out of my product or solution?

#3: Hesitations and Concerns


I’ve talked about friction and ways to reduce it several times on the blog. You can read about it here and here. One of the main ways of reducing friction so that your customers feel more comfortable engaging with your site is by addressing their major concerns.

How do you alleviate someone’s hesitations? One of the best ways is by giving them the right information at the right time during their customer journey process. Think of it this way, it’s tough to make a decision you can feel good about if you don’t have answers to your most important questions.


Low Hanging Fruit: Are you telling people where they’re going when you ask them to take action?


One of the easiest things you can do to improve conversion rates on a page is by simply letting people know what’s going to happen when they click a button.

Here’s a call to action box at the end of Copyblogger’s posts.

Copyblogger call to action


It tells you exactly what you will get and where you will be taken when you click on one of the course options.

Take a look at your copy and ask yourself:

  • Am I giving my customers enough information to make a decision or take action on my site?
  • Does my copy reduce their anxiety or add to it?

#4: Distractions


This last item touches upon more than copy. This is where I want you to think about all the things that may be distracting people from understanding what you’re telling them or being able to easily take action.

For instance, highlight the most important messaging and place it in its relative order of importance. Your value proposition generally will be incorporated into your headline and sub-headline. Tucking it into the middle of the page will make it more difficult for your customers to find it.


Low Hanging Fruit: Do you have elements on the page that you can’t give a good reason for them being there?


This is where I’m going to tell you to ditch the rotating sliders, animation, tiny fonts, and huge blocks of dense text. All of these items make it much harder for people visiting your site to focus on why they came in the first place.

[clickandtweet handle=”jenhavice” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]Everything on your site should have a purpose. If it doesn’t, it’s just a distraction.[/clickandtweet]  Tweet This!

Take a look at your copy and ask yourself:

  • Are there elements on the page that are distracting my visitors from either understanding my message or taking action?
  • Does everything on the page serve a purpose?
  • Am I using a font size that you need a magnifying glass to read?

Go forth and get your analysis on

Do you have some low hanging fruit on your site that you can easily pick off? Use this blog post to get you started and this simple spreadsheet I put together for you.

You can add whatever pages from your site you want to evaluate. Take notes and let us know what you find.


You Can Write Persuasive Copy Without Being a Sleazeball… Really


I’ve noticed something interesting in blog posts and online discussions recently. Persuasion has become a dirty word.

We’re talking shady used car salesman kind of dirty – the sort of thing that brings up images of cheap suits, too much Brill Cream, and getting taken for a bad ride… literally and figuratively.

Pushy. Hype-y. Sales-y. I might as well add in slimy too. And, it’s all been in the context of copywriting. Or, to be more exact – copy that aims to sell.

Ouch! Persuasive copy just got lumped in with that stinky crud stuck at the bottom of your trash bin.

I’m finding all the chatter a bit frustrating. Reading comments like this one in a thread on GrowthHackers has started to make me a little twitchy.

“Persuasive copy can repel some groups of humans who are particularly guarded against overly sales-y websites.”

In case you’re wondering, my head still hurts from banging it against the wall. Contrary to this statement, I believe that in order to be persuasive you have to be appealing.

Appealing, repellant. Tomayto, tomahto. Maybe we need to talk semantics.

I hate to sound like an Urban Dictionary cliche but it’s about time we got bogged down in the meaning of words. Because I am planning on winning an argument… and it has everything to do with defining what persuasive copywriting actually is.

The act of persuasion means getting others to do or believe something. When you write copy designed to be persuasive, your goal is to give people enough compelling reasons to take a specific action while alleviating any hesitations that might hinder them from doing so.

If those people aren’t taking action or are getting completely turned off by what’s on the page, you’re not being persuasive. You’re just writing ineffective copy.

So, what’s the secret sauce? Or, the 3 key ingredients in persuasive copy that won’t make you sound like you’re trying to hawk the next latest and greatest snake oil…

Before we jump in, let’s get one thing straight. You still need to sell. There’s no way around it.

If you’re planning on making money, you’ve got to create an offer with the amount of copy necessary so your customers can make a decision to buy from you.

Get comfortable with it.

This idea that in order to not be “sales-y” or not “repel” your customers you must use the least amount of words or be clear at the expense of making an impact with your message is crap.

No… instead, you need to do the following:

Be honest

While this should go without saying, it’s worth repeating. Always ask yourself…

Does my copy honestly reflect how I want my business seen?

This is where that highly overused and borderline meaningless word “authenticity” comes in. When you’re trying too hard or trying to be something you’re not in your copy, your customers and prospects will figure it out pretty quickly. Neither your business nor your offerings ring true.

Can my customers trust what I’m telling them?

As Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers once told me, you should be comfortable having your grandmother buy based on your sales copy. If you wouldn’t want her to make a decision to buy because your copy isn’t honest and transparent, no one should be reading it.

Tell them what they need to know when they need to know it

When you don’t give your customers enough information, the right information, or put it where it needs to be on the page, you run the risk of giving them the impression that you care more about the sale than them.

This means showing them your calls to action before they’re ready to contemplate buying your product or signing up for your trial. It can mean not letting them know why you need their telephone number if they want your free download.

Lack of information can be as much of a turnoff as too much… so can a big fat “Buy” button at the top of the page when your customers don’t have any good reason to click on it yet.

Make an argument, stand for something, tell ’em why in no uncertain terms

The most effective way to be persuasive is to build a solid argument. Spend the time to find out how aware your customers are of their problem and the solutions available. Once you do, you’ll be able to figure out not only how much of an argument  you need to make but the words and phrases that most resonate with them.

Making an argument with the intent of giving your customers exactly what they need to achieve what they want on your site isn’t the same thing as taking a vomit inducing, hard sell, 2×4 to their heads.

Why? It all goes back to intention and your business goals. Shout at your customers only considering what you’ll get out of the relationship and you’ll have a hard time persuading anyone to buy from you.

Persuasive copywriting inspires without the hype…

If what you’re writing makes people feel like they want to take a shower to get the ick off after reading it, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re not listening to what’s important to your customers and honoring their needs, you’re doing it wrong.

[clickandtweet handle=”jenhavice” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]Because being persuasive in your copy isn’t about trickery or manipulation.[/clickandtweet]

If it is, you may be making a sale but you won’t be gaining a customer.The end game shouldn’t be the quick buck but happy and satisfied customers.

What’s your take on persuasive copy’s rap and if it’s just a matter of how we define it? Let me know in the comments.

The 5 Best Copy and Conversion Posts You Should Be Reading


New year, new you.

Resolutions, challenges, realizations… are you tired of reading about them yet?

Because it’s what we all do. And, by “we,” I mean those of us writing blog posts and creating content online.

There’s a crap load of it out there – some of it good, some of it great, and some of it that’s about as appealing as that can of 3 year old pinto beans you just found hidden in the back of the cupboard.

Here’s something with the shelf life of a Twinkie but without the “resolutions” aftertaste… well, maybe

So, I’ve decided to give you something that kills two birds with one stone (so to speak.)  I’m putting together a roundup of the 5 best copy and conversion posts I’ve read from around the interwebs. It’s got a whole lot of value if you’re interested in improving your copy and conversion rates.

And, if you’re a business with any kind of presence online, you should be.

Plus, it’s another way for me to connect with all of you without writing another deep dive, chunky post that makes my head feel like it’s going to explode.  This is where my veiled attempt at ignoring any kind of resolutions just left the building. Keep reading and you’ll see.

Writing guest posts on larger sites has been one of my keys to success with my business so far. It’s given me exposure and authority I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten.

The only problem with these posts is that:

  1. They tend to be long, exhaustive and uber time consuming.
  2. I can’t always have as much fun with them as I’d like.

That’s why going forward, I intend to experiment more with my own blog. Write a “best of” post from time to time (by the way, I promise you’re almost to the juicy, value added part which is why you probably clicked in the first place.)

You may see some shorter posts, opinion pieces, and the standard how-to variety thrown in for good measure.

And, I’ll be looking for suggestions from you. Message me. Email me. Carrier pigeon… whatever works.

Without further ado… some “Best of” reading to get those wheels in your head turning

There’s so many terrific articles online. These are just a few of my favorites I’ve read recently and think you’ll appreciate.

1) How to Master the Clickworthy Subject Line from Customer IO

This post is all about email subject lines. There’s a ton of posts out there about this but this is the first one I’ve read recently that stuck with me. It does a good job of breaking down what makes one email clicked over another.

2) Five Google Analytics Shortcuts to Speed Your Analysis from Social Media Examiner

To be honest, I rarely read this blog but this post caught my eye. Glad it did. If you’ve got a website, you should have at least a basic understanding of how to use your analytics. This post does a super job of helping you do that.

3) How to Boost Website Sales – The Complete Checklist from Conversion XL

This is a mega long post from a couple of years ago. But, like all good Twinkie content, it never goes bad. It spells out how to think through the optimization process. Keep it bookmarked for a rainy day.

4) 3 Professional Copywriters on What it Takes to Write Landing Page Copy that Converts from Unbounce

There’s six solid pieces of advice in here. Write down the three points at the end of the post and tape them up next to your computer.

5) How to Storyboard Your Content Marketing Success from GhostBlogger

My friend Lacy Boggs is a professional blogger and has some terrific ideas on how to come up with new content. This post does a fantastic job of walking you through how to think of content ideas by looking at your customer’s buying journey. Brilliant!

So, there you have it. These posts should give you some new ideas and help with your online marketing.

If you have any problems that have been cropping up with developing your copy, let me know in the comments. You might just get a blog post out of it.


Because You Thought Rotating Image Sliders Were a Good Thing…


I have a little secret for you. Putting those automatic rotating image sliders on websites is a tragic mistake.

Awful. Wrong. And, just… so… terribly tragic.

Really, they’re that bad.

You might be surprised at how strongly I feel about a bunch of code that sits on a website making graphics shift on the screen. But, if you had read as many A/B test results showing what conversion killers sliders can be or done as many website audits as I have with those things taking up space – you might sing a different tune.


I know, I know. Loads of people like them


If you’ve got rotating sliders on your site and more than kind of like them, you’re not alone. Bloggers to big name retailers use them on their websites because…

  • They’re cool. Rotating sliders are dynamic. They seem shiny and sexy, especially when you read they’re part of a “responsive design.”
  • You get more bang for your buck. In the same amount of space, you can cram in lots of pictures and messages.
  • Everyone else thinks it’s a good idea. It’s easy to become a lemming when you see the same types of designs and layouts over and over. Conventional wisdom tells you that so many people couldn’t be so wrong.

I’m here to tell you that they can be. And, I’m not some sort of rotating slider hating lone wolf out there. Google rotating sliders and you’ll get a nice little smorgasbord of blog posts on this topic.


Would you put a velvet painting of Elvis on the top of your home page?


I hope you answered “no.” Unless, of course you actually sell velvet paintings of Elvis. In that case, I apologize for the comparison. 

A rotating slider at the top of your website home page is a comparably bad choice – even if it’s aesthetically pleasing.

Here’s just a few of the reasons why.


#1: Cognitive overload


Our brains can only process so much information at one time. If you’ve ever tried to read text on an image that quickly disappeared only to be replaced by another, you’ve probably experienced cognitive overload.

The psychologist George Miller found that people can only hold between 5 and 9 chunks of information in their short term memories at any one time. This was back in 1956 before the Internet. Recent studies have found this to be closer to 2 to 3.

Images, graphics, and fonts that blink or move make it more difficult for people to grasp what you’re trying to convey – which has a tendency to create frustration.


#2: A waste of valuable real estate


The area near the top of your home page (where most sliders live) is the equivalent of Park Place on the Monopoly board. This is the first thing people see which means your value proposition needs to be front and center.

I’ve written about the importance of headlines born out of your value proposition more than once. Even if your slider images contain benefit driven headlines, they’ll get lost in the shuffle. It’s called banner blindness… and it’s just one more way people can shut out what you’re trying to say.

The Nielsen Norman Group conducted a study using eye tracking to show how people completely ignored anything that looked like an ad or promotional banner. This includes sliders.


#3: Cringe worthy click rates


Users don’t click on slider images. One test done on Notre Dame’s website found that only 1% of visitors clicked on a call to action in a slider. Of these clicks, around 84% were done on the first image. The others only got around 4%.

So, even if you do get people to click, the vast majority will be on one slide.


The list goes on… but you get the idea


Rotating sliders do other nasty things on websites like slowing load time and giving marketers the illusion that they are effectively getting their messages across to different audience segments.

They’re bad news from a usability and conversion standpoint – no matter how you slice it. This means if you have one on your website it’s time to consider ditching it.

Think about doing these things instead:

  • Place a rock solid headline and sub-headline along with a relevant image to immediately key your visitors into where they’ve landed and what’s in it for them
  • Focus on directing people to a primary call to action
  • Keep the clickable options limited to avoid choice paralysis


And if you just can’t let your sliders go…


Turn off the automatic rotation. Even with something so minor – like browsing through a website – people want to have control. It’s Psych 101. Allow your visitors to move the carousel forward instead of dictating when they can look at the slides.

It may not help your conversions but at least it will not annoy your visitors quite as much.

If you’re interested, you can read more about the why from other conversion and usability experts like Peep Laja and the folks at Marketing Land, and VWO