The Secret To Conversion Rate Optimization Is Probably Not What You Think

It all started with a innocent debate about conversions…

“But testimonials are ALWAYS better!” I exclaimed to my boss.

“Have you tested it?” he cooly replied.

“Why would I have to? Testimonials are best practices. They always work.”

“Test it.” He replied as he calmly walked away.

I also walked away..    but not so calmly.



So I ran the test… and I had some interesting results.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 10.29.19 AM





I reacted as anyone in my position would..


Not to be over dramatic but my world was altered. Everything I once knew had been completely turned upside down.

I was back to square one… Or was I?

MythBusting 101

The same week I had my mini meltdown, I was taking a course on Edx called Think101x.The topic of the week was around hypothesis testing and the psychology behind changing opinions.

Two very well known testers, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from the popular show MythBusters, talked about some of the emotions they encounter when a test goes less than expected.

6 Ways to Face an Opinion Change Head on

For Savage and Hyneman a test that ended contrary to their hypothesis was exciting and a learning experience:

The thing is, we love it when we're wrong. It's like the best possible thing that can happen to us... The simple reason is that that's an opportunity for us to learn something. If we weren't wrong, then we're just wasting our time. We didn't learn anything. When there's a failure or if we've taken a particular course that has led us down a path that's been unproductive, we have to stop and ask, "Well, why? What was it that I was doing wrong?" That's when the light bulb goes off, and that's when you're on your road to do some new adventure or discovery. Without being wrong, you're just going through the motions.

But for some it’s not so easy. Sometimes you’re in the hot seat being expected to provide results, or be a guru in a field that is in its infancy.

So how do you get through it?

Senior lecturer Jason Tangen, and cognitive scientist Matthew Thompson of Queensland University provide 6 ways to help you change your opinion with minimal stress:

1) Ask Yourself - What do you really believe?

Back to my testimonial example, I honestly believed that having a testimonial works every time.

2) Think About it – How well based is the opinion you already hold?

When you say it, it’s marketing. When your customer says it, it’s social proof.

The term “Social Proof” is the new hype. Countless articles talk about how testimonials, reviews, social media likes & tweets all add to higher conversion rates because they build trust.


See? I didn’t make this up.

Conversion Experts like Unbounce (image & quote taken from above) consistently highlight the importance of social proof on landing pages.

It’s not just websites either, books like 1984′s Influence by Robert Cialdini or Jonah Berger’s more recent book Contagious: Why Things Catch On have examined the importance of providing social proof to persuade others to buy your product or idea.

According to experts, it’s the same reason why famous musician Joshua Bell was barely noticed while playing a $3.5 million dollar Stradivarius violin on a D.C. subway platform during morning rush hour. We need help (in the form of social proof) from others to know that we’re on to something.

3) Analyze – How good is the evidence?

Evidence!? There’s tons of evidence! Countless tests have been done on this very subject. Hmm.. I guess every website IS different, so maybe it’s not the best example..

oh wait…

Maybe my evidence isn’t really evidence at all.

4)  Be Critical – Does the evidence really contradict what you already believe?

Well I know it works in MANY places, maybe just not every place.

I mean nothing works ALL of the time.. right?

5.) Figure out – If current evidence is insufficient – what would make it sufficient?

I’ll run another test just to make sure.

I’ll even bring in my data team to analyze the results so I know this is legit.

6.) Be Real – Is it worth it?

Yes, because at the end of the day if it can really increase my signup conversion rate by 35%, then I have to do it.

So what Did I learn?

I learned a lot from this test actually. Not only did I learn that every best practice deserves to be tested but also that it is important to take a breather after a test to let the results sink in. In some cases, that time will really help you adjust to the opinion change.

While I wasn’t completely convinced about this test, I did make sure I understood what sufficient evidence I needed before i could conclude that no testimonials were the way to go.*

*In case you were wondering: After a longer more structured test we found out that moving press outlets higher up in the page above testimonials actually increased conversions more than having no testimonial did, and had a better overall conversion from lead to prospect to customer.

Featured in Press - Conversion Rate

So what’s the secret?

The secret to conversion rate optimization may not be found in the right testing platform or finding 300%+ improvements. In many cases it’s just about the willingness to test best practices or things you assume are true.

You may be surprised with the result, and may even change an opinion or two.


2 thoughts on “The Secret To Conversion Rate Optimization Is Probably Not What You Think

  1. Thanks for sharing your epiphany with me – for me personally I especially got much food for thought from:
    1) the very tactical ideas regarding the value of testimonials/social proof
    2) the macro struggle to keep oneself “grounded” as a marketer who for the first time has the testing tools to actually measure the “real” best approach versus the “accepted” best practice; psychologically it is both a blessing and a curse to be able to put almost ANYTHING to the test…

    • Thanks for the insight! I agree and I find myself trying to dig through data more so when a test doesn’t go my way. I have to stop myself sometimes and make sure I’m giving every test that same executive treatment.

Questions? Comments?