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Secret Sauce

Author: Rishi Rawat

The original goal wasn’t to develop an optimization framework. But after running 300+ experiments it became clear some ideas were consistently doing better.

So we went through our entire back catalog and started organizing ideas into buckets. Those buckets were sliced and diced dozens of times. The goal was to organize ideas into well-defined tactics. We’d get really excited when we felt close to a break-through. And then an inconsistency would appear and we’d have to start all over again.

There were times when it felt hopeless.

Finally, on August 8th, 2018 the model was complete.

It took 6 months to finalize the model. Without further ado, here is the magic behind what we do at Frictionless Commerce:

THOUGHTFULNESS

Thoughtfulness is the practice of walking in the shoes of your customer.

The goal is to experience your site from the perspective of first-time buyers.

One advantage we have over you is that your site is new to us, so we can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes (Zappos story) . When we work on a site we literally inspect every pixel, word, and emotion that’s expressed on a page. That’s where we get our finest insights.

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a site dedicated to people who want to get better at making and sticking to budgets. But YNAB recognizes people visiting their site are in different circumstances: some have time, other (while interested in learning) have a time crunch.

Watering down the content so it applies to both groups wouldn’t be thoughtful to either. Plus, it’s really hard to create such content.

Instead, this is what YNAB prevents visitors:

Based on the option selected (“Five Minutes” versus “An Evening Without Netflix”) the content is totally personalized.

Why show a user 2 hours of content when they only have 5 minutes to spend on your site?

VISIBILITY

Did you know 83% of what’s on a page isn’t noticed by shoppers? Shoppers are like beagles on steroids.

It’s tempting to think all 12 elements on our most important page are absolutely needed, but knowing the shopper will notice just 17% of those elements (2 out of 12) we’ll ensure they see the two that have the biggest impact. This is where 11,000 hours of experience with Google Analytics data comes in handy.

Over the past 9 years, our tests have shown that shoppers who see multiple product images convert a much higher rate (typically around 20% higher). However, less than 30% of people on product detail pages interact with images. How do we solve this? Target knows how:

In the screenshot above, Target is showing part of the alternate product images beside the default image on the mobile product page. This is unusual and attention-grabbing, which encourages the shopper to interact with the images. What’s genius about the implementation is that because the alternate images are only shown partially they are taking very little screen space (an important detail for mobile pages) but because the image is cut off (asymmetrical) it sticks out. Win, win.

CHOREOGRAPHED EXPERIENCE

Think about your most valuable page. Now think about your visitor. Should your messaging be tweaked (even subtly) if this is the visitor’s 3rd visit to this page versus their 1st? Is there a difference in intent of a visitor who’s seeing this page during office hours versus the weekend? Is there a difference between the intent of someone who directly lands on this page versus someone who navigates here from your homepage?

We believe messaging should be personalized and that those differences exist, and yet, 99.8% of all sites we’ve ever seen don’t tweak their messaging for these clearly distinct scenarios. It makes a big difference on purchase intent.

POWER

Remember our first page asked how much time you had today? That’s Power tactic at work. Shoppers convert when they believe the shopping experience is designed for them, and not the other way around. Power lets them know they’re in charge. And even if the site experience doesn’t alter based on the selection the shopper makes it still produces the desired outcome (higher conversions). The mere fact the shopper believes the experience is about them does the trick.

Convertkit.com does something interesting on their homepage. When you visit their homepage and scroll down, a question will appear at the top of the window:

Convertkit.com is asking the shopper how experienced they are with email marketing. The site’s content will then change based on the shopper’s selection. This creates the sense that the shopper is in control, that they’re driving their own experience.

LIKABILITY

People buy from people they like. If you ever hire us it’s not going to be because of our skills alone, it’ll be because you also like us. In a survey you would likely pick rational reasons for the hire (more context) but Likability (System 1) would have played a big behind-the-scenes role.

The same is true of your end customer. Even if you believe there is no room for Likability in your line of work.

Chances are your business has a couple email campaigns. That means you likely get subscribers and, unfortunately, unsubscribers. But how can a business prevent shoppers from unsubscribing? Adding some personality wouldn’t hurt:

In the image above, you can see that Michaels.com does something unique when readers click the unsubscribe button in their email. Instead of immediately unsubscribing the reader, Michaels.com treats the email relationship like… well… a relationship. They add personality and humor, and sometimes that’s all it takes to get a reader to stick around.

SERENDIPITY

Let’s say at some point you say, “you know what, I like the way these Frictionless Commerce people think” and decide to discuss things further. During the call we discover we share a birth date. That fact should have no say on your final decision (it’s a trivial coincidence), but, statistically speaking, it will.

Backcountry.com knows this.

There are two types of holiday shoppers: those who get their shopping out of the way a month before the big day and those who procrastinate until 11:59pm on Christmas Eve.

For that second group of shoppers, Backcountry.com added this to their homepage:

For these last-minute shoppers, Backcountry.com has recommended an email gift certificate. No wrapping and no mailing. Just what a last-minute shopper needs.

A last-minute shopper who visits this page will feel as if the site predicted something about them and they will be more likely to convert.

NARRATIVE CONTROL

Narrative Control is simply the process of making positive something that is or will be perceived as a negative. Why does this matter?

Shoppers hate paying shipping. If you A/B test a $100 item with free shipping versus the same item at $90 with $10 shipping, the free shipping option will win every time even though the effective total price is the same.

A client didn’t want to offer free shipping. His reasoning was “we pay for shipping, so we’ll charge for it”. So, instead of offering free shipping (which we knew the shopper would respond to) we explained the truth about free shipping, and conversions increased 7%. You don’t have to always do what the shopper wants. Well reasoned explanations are incredibly persuasive.

Many shoppers instinctively close popups before reading their content. How can we solve this? Narrative Control is one option.

Take a look at this Overstock.com popup:

We had an idea to make sure shoppers stuck around to see what Overstock.com had to offer. When shoppers click on the ‘close’ button, instead of immediately closing the popup we show this:

We’re using Narrative Control by letting shoppers know that if they close this popup, they won’t be able to receive the discount offer again. Now shoppers have a choice to make: close the popup and never see the offer again or take the offer. What do you think they will choose?

ASSURANCE

When a heart surgeon says “lay off the butter” we don’t debate them, we change our diet. What produces our compliance is the combination of the two building blocks of Assurance: Credibility and Confidence.

Your end customer will only pull out their wallet once they’ve safely crossed the rope bridge of Assurance.

Hyperbitsmusic.com provides a perfect example of Assurance (Confidence, in particular):

In the above image, you can see how confident Hyperbitsmusic.com is in the quality of their online music product school. Additionally, the button below the page heading says “Let me prove it to you”, making it clear that the heading isn’t a baseless claim, it’s a claim that the business is willing to back up.

PRIMING

Sometimes we want to keep the shopper in a System 1 state (more context) , which is their irrational mode. But sometimes, it’s advantageous to activate System 2 (their analytical side). If your product/service is objectively superior to your competitor’s (think Dyson vacuum) we need to activate System 2. Priming does that. Test

To help illustrate Priming, we looked at Lifesourcewater.com and came up with a concept:

In the image above, you can see that we’ve added a survey question that is fixed to the top of the Lifesourcewater.com homepage. The question asks the shopper what they care most about when making a purchase. Chances are that most shoppers will select “A Balance of Price & Quantity”.

Why does this matter?

This will activate the shopper’s System 2 thinking and force them to acknowledge that they value both quality and price. When they view a product, they’ll be a bit less price sensitive since they remember they’ve agreed that they also value quality.

Do we have more examples like this?

CHALLENGE

Let’s say you hire us and we study your best selling product page. In the analysis an interesting fact emerges: just 8% of review readers for the product go beyond review number 5. But those who read beyond review #5 have an 18% higher conversion rate.

So we add a headline at the top of the reviews section:

ONLY 8% OF PEOPLE READ MORE THAN 5 REVIEWS.

Guess what’ll happen? Nothing It’ll increase % of people who read beyond review #5

Actually, it will increase % of people who read beyond review #5. It will also increase overall conversions on this page.

Exactly right. And not just that it’ll also increase overall page conversion rates.

VISUALIZATION

People remember …

  • … 11% of what they hear
  • … 20% of what they read
  • … 80% of what they see
Visuals are processed 
 58,000x faster than text.

And this is why Visualization works so well.

Here’s a conventional example of Visualization to help you… uh… visualize the tactic:

The above image shows an image of two journals. The first is one of BooQool’s journals and the second is their competitor’s journal. BooQool is illustrating how ink doesn’t bleed through the paper of their journals while it does with their competitor’s journals. This makes it easier for the shopper to visualize the value BooQool’s journal offers.

Oh, and Visualization isn’t just about showing visuals. Words can activate Visualization too ( example ).

FOCUS

A Microsoft study discovered human attention span today is 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. Goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds.

At every point in your conversion funnel we need to have just one main objective. It’s tempting to try to cram in multiple objectives (more is better, right?) but dividing the customer’s attention also divides conversion rates. The goal of Focus tactic is to keep the user on task.

We’ve structured our site as a step-by-step funnel. That’s not a design choice. We did it to keep you from getting distracted.

SCARCITY

When the Rolling Stones announce their final US tour people will pay astronomical prices for those tickets. Those same people wouldn’t pay 50% of the ticket price if the tour didn’t have the word “final” on it.

P.S. You don’t have to be the Rolling Stones to use Scarcity.

If your business could only sell a certain number of a product per day, how do you think that would affect demand? Take a look at this example from a restaurant menu:

In the image above, you can see that this restaurant can only make and sell 73 margherita pizzas a day. If you were a customer considering the margherita pizza, this fact may be enough to tip the scale and encourage you to order the pizza. After all, if you wait too long the restaurant may run out.

URGENCY

No need to explain Urgency. You already know it and have been influenced by it. We don’t use Urgency too much because marketers have abused it. But we do have a few Urgency tricks up our sleeve. The key is to use them very subtly and sparingly. Tip the scale even a little and it’ll backfire.

Nothingbutnets.com, a non-profit seeking to stop the spread of malaria, uses a Urgency in a unique way:

This use of Urgency creates the sense that if the site’s visitor doesn’t act fast, more and more families will be at risk of carrying malaria as each day passes.

EXCLUSIVITY

If you can convince your potential buyer that what they’re seeing was specifically developed for them and makes them feel like they’re 1 in a million, it’ll swing conversions (the good type of swing).

To show you how this can be used, we mocked up a quick example of a popup message that discusses an exclusive sale:

In the popup, we are letting shoppers know that the 80% off sale is exclusive to only a handful of people. This creates the sense that the shopper is special, they’re part of the club.

LEAD IN

Shoppers hate filling forms. They hate filling forms that require personal info even more. They hate filling forms that require personal info when they’re on mobile sites the absolute most. But sometimes, we have no choice but to ask for this info. An effective strategy in this situation is to use Lead In, which is when we ask the shopper a simple, interesting question to draw them in. But this strategy has to be constructed cleverly.

How can you increase the visibility of a special sale? Asking an interesting question is a great way to grab the attention of your shoppers:

In the screenshot above, there is a floating tab at the bottom of the shopper’s screen. This tab asks the shopper if they can keep a secret? The curiosity of many shoppers will take over. They must see why they are being asked this question. Once they click on the tab, they’ll see this email signup form:

Click on a link below and we’ll tell you more:

Show me how you develop ideas.

Tell me more about you guys.

Most agencies show off conversion stats.
Why don’t you?

Tell me more about buyer psychology.

If this is so obvious why aren’t all my competitors exploiting this?
Find out why.

Our Views on Ethical Use

Our Idea Diary

Zappos Story

Zappos.com monitors on-site searches and over time noticed a disproportionately large number of queries for 'vegetarian shoes'. Realizing potential they created a special category for shoes with no animal parts, which quickly became a significant revenue stream. This insight came from an outsider—an intern who was poking around their site search data.

We want to be that outsider for you.

System 1 and System 2

System 1 and System 2 is a framework developed by Dr. Daniel Kahneman, a brilliant behavioral economist, to better understand buyer psychology.

System 1 is the intuitive part of the brain. It's what is activated when you first think about anything.

System 2 is where analytical reasoning resides. For 90% of the history of economics it was assumed people were mostly rational (System 2). We now know our underlying assumption was totally wrong. And this is why the 16 conversion tactics we have developed are so effective.

Why Does Narrative Control Matter?

Various studies show that we have anywhere from 12,000 to 90,000 thoughts per day. While that's a large range, the general consensus is that the vast majority of those thoughts (upwards of 80%) are negative.

The purpose of Narrative Control is to change a shopper's negative thought into a positive one. If we let the negative thoughts pile up, chances are the shopper will leave the site without making a purchase.

So the next time you say "Shipping is free in the contiguous U.S.", also provide a call to action that, when clicked, shows a lightbox window with content explaining why your business can't ship for free to Hawaii and Alaska. That little explanation may help a Hawaiian or Alaskan shopper realize that small businesses can't afford to ship for free to places so far away. Instead of leaving the site, they'll stay and make their purchase.

System 1 and System 2

System 1 and System 2 is a framework developed by Dr. Daniel Kahneman, a brilliant behavioral economist, to better understand buyer psychology.

System 1 is the intuitive part of the brain. It's what is activated when you first think about anything.

System 2 is where analytical reasoning resides. For 90% of the history of economics it was assumed people were mostly rational (System 2). We now know our underlying assumption was totally wrong. And this is why the 16 conversion tactics we have developed are so effective.

We Have Tons

In fact, we've been compiling multiple examples of Priming (and our other conversion optimization tactics) each week for the past 9 years. Let's do the math on that:

2 examples per week x 52 weeks per year x 9 years = 936 examples (give or take give a few more).

We share these examples with our blog subscribers (1 example per week) in a digestible way that provides actionable insights. Want to join our blog?


Visualization

Why don't we?

Our work is so proprietary so we're simply not allowed to share details about specific tests. But clients have made testimonial videos where they talk about the impact of the work (they feel more comfortable detailing the work in their own words). You can find this on our clients page.

This might not be enough for you. We get it. We also offer a totally free 1-on-1 consulting session. Here’s how it works: Pick a time that works for you and just throw the biggest marketing questions and challenge our way and see how we respond. We’ll even make quick mockups to show you solutions to your actual problems. All real-time. All on video. Yes, seeing what we did for client X might be interesting but it’s no substitute for an idea that’s custom designed for your situation. Interested?

How a Retired Couple Found Lottery Odds in Their Favor

This is a fascinating story because it shows that things right in front of people are often the least obvious to see.

Here is the story. Jerry Selbee and his wife, Marge, are a retired couple from a tiny town of Evart, Michigan (population 1,900).

Note: Jerry and Marge aren't "quants". In fact, they are the opposite. A simple, humble couple that had run a convenient store.

On a morning in 2003, Jerry walked into a corner store and discovered a new lottery game called Winfall. He read the rules and instantly got excited. If his basic calculations were right they felt he could play this game to his advantage.

But then his rational mind chimed in, "Jerry, think about it, this game was developed by Michigan lottery. There are smart people all over the state. If this was so simple they would have figured it out."

Fortunately for Marge, Jerry dismissed his negative thought.

Want to see the math Jerry ran in his head?

Our Views on Ethical Use

Neuromarketing is powerful, which is why us marketers need to be on the right side of ethics.

It's one thing to create a strategy to slow down distracted users. It's quite another to use tactics to manipulate.

Seen the Netflix documentary Fyre Festival? That's an example of unethical marketing.

Let's use marketing for good.