August 03, 2011
Case Study

Testing and Optimization: Effort across entire PPC funnel leads to 83,000% boost in membership application performance

SUMMARY: If it's difficult for your prospects to find you -- and if they do, but experience an arduous buying process -- your marketing efforts will be for naught.

One of the best ways to solve both issues is to test and optimize every part of a marketing campaign, from top-of-the-funnel lead acquisition to the signed contract. See how one nonprofit ran a series of tests and impressively improved results at every stage of its buying cycle.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


Visibility and ease of meeting your business goals; unless you are running an illegal speakeasy, both of these results should be a marketing priority.

One way to learn more about each of these attributes is to test every element of a marketing campaign, from top of the funnel all the way to conversion-to-customer. Winning and losing tests will help show you the path toward designing campaigns that accomplish these goals.

GS1 US is the nonprofit organization that issues GS1 prefixes in the U.S., which are used to create U.P.C. barcodes and other types of supply-chain barcodes.

Last year it began a testing and optimization cycle on its entire sales funnel to improve overall performance with two specific goals in mind:

o Become easier for its customers to find the organization
o Make it easier for people to sign up and join as organization members

"The first challenge is finding us," said Greg Marta, Director of Online Marketing, GS1 US. "And our goal as a not-for-profit is to make sure that we have as high a level of customer satisfaction as we possibly can."

Today's case study takes a look at each stage of this testing and optimization cycle, and shows how GS1 US produced amazing final results for its paid search effort to allow companies to find its website and start barcoding.


The comprehensive testing regimen involved the three main parts of GS1 US's buying cycle:

o Pay-per-click (PPC) ad text
o Landing pages
o Online membership application

The testing occurred sequentially over the course of almost one year.

Test #1. PPC ad text

This test pitted two different headlines with two different ad text bodies for a total of four different tested PPC ads.

The testing compared a headline that posed a question with one that made a statement, and the ad body test was focused on the words "authorized" and "authentic." The idea was to reconcile the brand with the transactional requirement of the ads.

Marta stated, "It was really a matter of striking the right balance in the ad text between the barcode language versus the brand language."

The tested ads:

- Ad one (the winning version)

Need to Get UPC Barcodes?
GS1 US, the only authorized source
in the US for your UPC barcodes

This ad had the highest clickthrough rate (CTR) of the four tested.

- Ad two

Need to Get UPC Barcodes?
Buy Authentic UPC Barcodes
only from GS1 US Apply Online

Ad one beat this test by 110%.

- Ad three

UPC Barcodes
GS1 US, the only authorized source
in the US for your UPC barcodes

Ad one beat this by 150.7%.

- Ad four

UPC Barcodes
Buy authentic UPC Barcodes
only from GS1 US Apply Online

This ad was the worst performing; the first ad bested these results by a gaudy 252%. Confidence level for the winning ad text was 99.7%.

Testing these combinations found that putting the "UPC barcode" message in the form of a question was more effective by far with the top two performing ads utilizing that title. The title options with the word "authorized" outperformed the title options with the word "authentic."

Marta said, "It just amazes me that just some of these subtle tweaks here and there add up to a more than twice as effective ad as the second best (version)."

One reason GS1 US tested two sets of ad titles and body text was to find the optimal combination. But the tests were also designed to create learning on which language best resonated with its target audience to use for messaging in other venues, such as landing pages.

Test #2. Landing pages

After increasing the traffic to the landing page, the next stage in the optimization cycle was increasing the conversion rate of the landing page. The landing page test placed the original control version against two completely new page versions.

The new landing pages were based on what GS1 US learned during the PPC ad test, and were similar to each other, but radically different from the original page.

The pages were A/B/C tested using an online testing and optimization tool.

The tested pages:

- Original version

Marta said GS1 US felt good about the original landing page. It outlined the number of steps in the sequence and had what the company felt was the right call-to-action with an "Apply Now" button, however the page was fairly busy.

It featured a somewhat content-heavy presentation with multiple blocks of text along with an image of a "happy person."

- Version "A"

The idea of both new LP versions was to simplify the user experience with dramatically less copy than the original and simplified language based on the results of the PPC tests.

The top of version A was a large title block featuring, "Create authorized barcodes with GS1 US." This main title reused the winning "authorized" language from the PPC ad test and includes the brand name.

Below the title block were two side-by-side text areas. On the left was a short three-point bullet list under a simple, "Getting started is easy:" with a "Get Started" call-to-action button under the list. On the right was, "Why GS1 US?" with a short descriptive block of text below, and below that, a sample UPC barcode graphic.

- Version "B"

This page was very visually similar to version A with the same large
title bar and layout.

Below the title on the left was, "Worry about one less thing.", with a short descriptive text block below and a "Register Now" call-to-action button under the text.

The right side of the page opened with, "Why am I licensing?" followed by a very brief answer with the UPC barcode graphic below.

Version "A" of the landing page produced an astounding 13,000% increase in visitors who started the application process (see raw conversion numbers in the results section). Version "B" also converted at a much higher rate than the original version.

Confidence level for the winning page over the original was 99.9%
Marta explained, "I think it really validates that web users don't have the same attention span or interaction that they might if they are reading copy or reading magazine articles."

In this case the winning page design featured the brand, and emphasized that "getting started is easy" along with laying out the main three steps in the process at a very high level.

Marta believes there is value in explaining to the visitor what is going to happen next and in managing their expectations.

He added, "The more transparency you have in the process, the better it makes people feel."

"You need to think of it as being more of a tour guide than a sales person." Marta continued, "People are sort of making their own decisions along the way, and they feel empowered. Ultimately you were getting them to do what you want them to do, they just feel empowered and like they are in control."

Test #3. Online application

This final step was really more of a process that culminated in a test to put a quantifiable number on what was seen as a dramatic improvement in the online membership application process.

The original application was 13 pages long. The redesign dropped that figure down to three basic pages.

The original application featured:

o 13 steps
o 74 form fields

Marta stated, "In addition, every time you completed a page a new tab would pop up with the next page. It clearly need improvements."

While there was instant consensus on the need for change, there were higher priorities at the time and the change could not be made right away. The stakeholders involved were:

o Marketing
o Product managers
o Customer service
o Technology department
o Legal department

During an internal meeting of the stakeholders, there was a lack of consensus on the exact fields to eliminate.

An outside agency was brought in as a neutral third party to help gain some traction in cutting unnecessary elements in the application.

At this point the process gained some traction in cutting unnecessary elements in the application.

GS1 US required contact information, company information (including revenue numbers to determine membership fee) and payment information. The original application also included questions to generate marketing data and details that were exceptions to the norm and only affected around one percent of applicants.

Trimming the application of the extraneous pieces created a new process with:

o 3 steps
o 33 fields

The only not-entirely-necessary item left in the application was an upgrade option because the organization found new members tended to underestimate the number of barcodes they required.

Questions around exceptions were cut, and it was determined it was better to allow customer service to handle those special needs applications.

In A/B testing, the new application drove a 200% increase in conversion over the longer old version with a 99.98% confidence level.

The success of the testing has improved the marketing team’s reputation for being data driven and accountable for its results.

For this testing and optimization cycle, the total testing and optimization cycle produced an amazing 83,000% increase in membership application completion from the paid search program.
Here are some additional results for each test:

- PPC ads

The winning ad outperformed the next best ad version by 110%. The team concluded that the word "authorized" was more effective than the word "authentic."

After this test was complete, GS1 US ran a new PPC ad test pitting two new ads against the winning version from the first test and realized another 22% gain in its PPC clickthrough rate, proving the value of continued optimization.

- Landing pages

Because the landing page results are impressive as to be almost unbelievable -- the winning page producing an amazing 13,000% increase in visitors who started the application process -- we are presenting comparative numbers from the test.

The original landing page outperformed version "B" on conversions by 83%, and the original landing page by 13,000%

Version "A" also lowered cost-per-acquisition by 46%.

GS1 US's key takeaways from this test was that testing can lead to radical improvement in site performance, and that "simple is good."

- Membership application

New Application Process:
o Complete % - 2.04%
o ROI – 547%

Old Application Process:
o Complete % - .77%
o ROI – 193%

This test essentially helped prove a result everyone at the organization expected, but it did help instill a corporate culture of testing and optimization and that it's important to not take any result for granted, even if it seems obvious. Putting numbers on top of the expected results will teach you something about your new effort compared to what you had been doing.

The marketing team recognized that its recommendations were greatly strengthened with hard numbers. The organization’s management was impressed with the numbers and with the rigor of testing.

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Useful links related to this article

1. Winning PPC ad
2. Original landing page
3. Landing page version "A"
4. Landing page version "B"
5. Comparison of application versions


Arc90 -- vendor for landing page design and application redesign process

Members Library -- Landing Page Testing and Optimization: How Intuit grew revenue per visitor 23%

Members Library -- Landing Page Optimization: How to serve 2 markets with 1 page

Members Library -- Optimization: How a 5-person firm developed a testing strategy to gain business intelligence

Members Library -- Marketing Research Chart: Top website objectives to determine optimization priorities and tactics

Lead Generation: Testing form field length reduces cost-per-lead by $10.66

Online Testing and Optimization Solutions: Quick guide to Google Website Optimizer

Optimizing Copy: The 7 most common copywriting mistakes we see marketers make

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