January 23, 2008
Case Study

How to Increase SEM Conversions 280% - Landing Page Test Results

SUMMARY: Converting paid search clicks into prospects and, eventually, more revenue is a goal of most marketers. It makes the bottom line look better, too.

A software marketer increased conversion rates as much as 280% after putting their landing pages through a multivariate redesign test. Includes three steps and four important lessons learned.
Maria Colacurcio, VP Marketing, Smartsheet.com, wasn’t satisfied with a 5%-7% conversion rate for SEM landing pages. She and her team knew they were missing out on real prospects because they thought too few were trying out the company’s software.

“Getting people to sign up for the free trial has always been a big step before [prospects] become paying customers,” she says. “Basically, we saw three options to converting more people to the free trial. We could lift our per-click cost and pick up spend, or we could keep spending steady and try to raise our conversions.”

Colacurcio and her team didn’t think spending more money on CPC was the answer. Instead, they decided to hone in on lifting conversions by redesigning their landing pages with the help of multivariate tests.

Before doing the multivariate tests, Colacurcio and her team reworked the design template for Smartsheet’s 40 landing pages, which were essentially the same as their signup pages. She wanted to first upgrade the relevancy of the pages, which she decided had to do with improving clarity of process and ease of use.

Here are the three steps they followed:

-> Step #1. Remove unnecessary features

To begin with, they removed the newsletter signup form. Since newsletter signups were not their key goal, they decided that the signup option was more distracting from their core objective – subscriptions -- than it was helpful.

-> Step #2. Add new features

Next, they added four features to the landing page template:

- Large signup button (169-by-31 pixels) to headline an already existing smaller series of text links offering the same opportunity.

- Smaller size screenshot image of their service’s own user template to make room for a caption. Earlier tests had shown that browsers read captions more frequently while skimming the text on a site.

- Mouse-over feature so viewers could choose to look at the image in bigger detail in a popup window.

- Quote to help validate the product.

-> Step #3. Test specific creative elements

Colacurcio felt good about the new design, but they were far from done. Over the course of a month, they ran multivariate tests on their top five landing pages for these four creative elements:

#1. Quote/testimonial
They pitted a quote from an industry peer against a customer testimonial to see which swayed their target buyers more.

#2. Product definition
They tested the product-positioning statements “project management” vs. “task management” for their software service.

#3. Three-step vs. four-step registration process
They thought their four-step registration process looked clunky and wondered if it could be more aesthetically pleasing and effective if the text were reduced by one line.

#4. Button text
They tested these four phrases for their new button:
o “Sign Up Now”
o “Start Sharing”
o “Organize Me”
o “Start Now”
Making the final template adjustments based on the multivariate findings paid off for Colacurcio and her team. Smartsheet.com’s conversions and sales have increased dramatically.

“The conversion rates [for the free trial] on those five landing pages increased from an average of 5%-7% up to 12%-14% and have held steady there,” she says. “The more people you get into the door with the free trial, the more people you get into paid accounts.”

Colacurcio wasn’t able to divulge specific results for each element tested, but there were some clear winners that were applied to their new template. Here’s the breakdown of the elements tested:

- Industry quote beat the customer testimonial. “The industry quote proved to have more influence and relevance.”

- The term “task management” defeated “project management.” “Since many people seem to have a visceral reaction to ‘project management,’ as it can sound complicated and hard, the simpler idea of ‘task management’ was more effective,” Colacurcio says.

o The four-step registration process won over three steps. Cutting a step didn’t make the process more attractive. “It may have looked prettier, but it wasn’t as easy for people to follow along with. The four-step text description just worked better.”

o “Start Sharing” was the winning button text. “It blew the other three out of the water. I was surprised because I thought it was kind of hokey.”

Colacurcio went on to apply the test results to all 40 of Smartsheet’s landing pages. Conversions for free-trial subscribers on the other 35 pages haven’t quite doubled on average, she says, “but they have been pretty darn close. Additionally, from the tests, there were interesting revelations, where your gut tells you one thing and the data tells you another.”

Four major lessons learned from the multivariate tests:

#1. Don’t sit pat on your conversion rates. Colacurcio didn’t know that her original 5%-7% was above the industry average going in and is glad she didn’t. “If I would have said, ‘My conversion rate is pretty good’ and done nothing, I would have totally missed the opportunity to double it.”

#2. Conducting just a few multivariate test and applying them to a greater number of landing pages works. Simply put, you don’t have to test each landing page individually. “Sometimes it seems overwhelming when you think of multivariate testing, but you can cut corners. There are a lot of things that are low-hanging fruit -- things that can be applied across landing pages.”

#3. Redesigning shouldn’t stop with your team’s new ideas. “You really have to get your organization into the mindset: ‘We are testing. We are not just going to spit out the next five Web pages.’ ”

#4. Even if your higher-ups are impressed with the initial results, Colacurcio says, marketers should expect to face organizational barriers when they start their second round of testing.

“They have the sense that, ‘Oh, these pages are tested and taken care of.’ For instance, they don’t understand right away that testing has a seasonal feel to it. Something that worked in the fall might not work as well in the winter and spring. You have to test and re-test.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Smartsheet.com's landing page tests:

Past Sherpa article on DYMO’s multivariate tests:

Widemile Inc. - provided technology and assistance for the multivariate tests:


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