Over the last 4 years I’ve conducted more than 250 A/B tests focusing on copywriting, and how copy impacts conversions. I’ve experimented with everything from headlines and body copy, over to form/button copy and everything in between.
Here are the 5 main lessons I’ve learned from this extensive research.
Lesson 1. Your copy has direct and measurable impact on conversions
98% of the copy tests I conducted had a direct, measurable impact on conversions. The impact wasn’t always positive (far from it, I’ve often made copy changes that hurt conversions), but the fact remains that almost every test affected the decisions and actions of the prospects – regardless of whether the action revolved around a sign-up, download, purchase or even just a click through to another page.
Let’s start out with a few examples from the real world
I’m going to walk you through 2 different case studies – both consisting of 2 individual tests – where the initial test generated an impressive lift, and the follow-up experiment did the opposite and generated a significant drop in conversions.
Case study 1 – Test 1:
The first case study revolves around the sign-up form on a betting community. At first glance, the original form copy is pretty decent and does an okay job of clarifying the purpose of the form. The header says, “Join BettingExpert”, and the button copy says, “Sign Up+”
However, the form copy doesn’t convey any value whatsoever and does nothing to answer the question, “Why should I fill out this form and give you my email?”
When I created the treatment, I focused on increasing the relevance and value communicated by the header and button copy. In other words – I focused on answering the question, “Why should I fill out this form?”
The main – and most tangible – benefit of becoming a member of BettingExpert.com is that you can get free betting tips from top tipsters on a daily basis.
Based on experience from similar tests, I hypothesized that I could accelerate the decision-making process of the prospects and increase signups by focusing the form copy on the main benefit.
In my treatment the header says, “Get FREE Betting Tips” and the button copy says, “Sign Up & Get the Best Daily Tips” In order to find out whether my hypothesis would hold water and increase conversions, I set up a simple A/B test with the Control Variant (A) and my Treatment (B). The Treatment increased signups by 31.54%. Read the full case study here >>
Case Study 1 – Test 2:
Being the test fanatic that I am, I went ahead and did some more tests on the form copy. For the second experiment I decided to try a different benefit/value prop – the fact that BettingExpert.com helps you make better bets.
The treatment copy, “Join BettingExpert & Make Better Bets – Sign Up & Start Making Better Bets”, reduced sign-ups by 12.45%.
So even though both experiments revolve around the same element and are based on the same hypothesis, the changes impacted conversions in very different ways – at both ends of the scale one might say.
Case study 2 – Test 1:
The second case study revolves around the button copy on the payment page of a popular B2C website for students.
The control CTA copy, “Create My Account” is relevant, as it addresses the conversion scenario at hand and describes what will happen when you click the button. It conveys a certain level of value. As opposed to, “SUBMIT” or “Buy Subscription”, it emphasizes the positive aspect that you’re going to create an account, which has an implied value to the potential customer.
Nevertheless, I saw room for improvement and hypothesized that a few copy tweaks would lead to a lift in sales.
I knew from customer analyses and other tests I’ve conducted on the website that prospects most often sign up to WriteWork.com when they are in a hurry to get started on their writing process. Therefore, my test hypothesis was that adding urgency and a sense of immediate satisfaction to the button copy would give prospects the last “nudge in the right direction” and increase sign-ups.
In order to find out whether my hypothesis would stick, I set up a simple A/B test with the Control Variant (A) and my Treatment (B). The Treatment increased payments by 31.03%. Read the full case study here >>
Case study 2 – Test 2:
As a follow-up experiment, I decided to test the impact of different possessive determiners. So I set up an A/B test with the control “Create My Account” and the treatment “Create Your Account”. Based on previous experiments, I hypothesized that “Your” would convert better than “My”.
I expected to see a minor increase and was taken aback when the test clearly showed that the treatment copy hurt conversions and reduced the number of payments by 24%. Again the point is to illustrate how simple copy changes to the same element can affect conversions in wildly different reactions from the prospects.
These case studies are perfect examples of how much of an impact copy has on conversions, and how little it sometimes takes to affect prospects actions significantly. In this light, it’s sad how little time and money most companies invest in testing and optimizing website copy (for other purposes than SEO).
For some reason it’s more legit to spend big budgets on design, ads, and campaigns than on the most essential part of online marketing – the copy itself.
Lesson 2. Your web copy is a means to an end – not an end in itself
If you want results, you need to start by setting goals. When your goals are set, you need to find out how to best achieve them.
I think we can all subscribe to the logic behind this statement. Well, the same logic applies to writing online copy that converts.
If you want to achieve results with your website copy, you need to start by defining the goal of the individual piece of copy. After that you need to find out how to write the best possible copy to achieve that specific goal.
If you’re writing copy for a sign-up form, you need to focus on the conversion goal of the form and the purpose of the copy: to get as many qualified leads as possible to fill out the form and sign up.
Therefore, it’s important that you can leave the ”artist” on the shelf for a while in favor of a more analytical/scientific approach that will help you focus on giving your potential customers what they need in order or make the right decision.
From an artistic or creative stance, the resulting copy may not be the most elaborate or inspired solution. But essentially that doesn’t matter – as long as the copy has the desired effect on the prospects.
In the example I showed you earlier in this article, the treatment form copy wasn’t more creative or inspired – in fact, I think some would even call it lame. But again the goal wasn’t to write sexy copy, the goal was to get more sign-ups, and a 31.54% lift speaks for itself.
I’m in no way saying that you should never write creative or sexy copy, I’m saying you should do it for a reason and if it is the solution that best supports the conversion goal.
The goal is conversions not creative awards
If your web copy becomes the goal in itself, you’re very likely to end up writing something that sounds sexy and works well linguistically, but doesn’t have any effect on your potential customers. Writing such copy might get you nominated for a creative award – but it won’t get you more conversions.
As a copywriter it can be very tempting to show off your superior linguistic skills and creative super powers. However, I have come to accept the fact that I get the best results when I think of copy as a means of achieving my conversion goals.
When I write online copy for conversion optimization purposes, I really try to remove myself – and more importantly my ego – from the equation and aim for a scenario where the prospects don’t even realize that they are reading a piece of sales copy but rather just take it in as a natural part of their decision-making process. I don’t get my satisfaction from people telling me that my copy sounds awesome - I get my satisfaction from seeing conversion rates go up…
Lesson 3: It’s all about optimizing decision-making processes – not web pages
Essentially, the purpose of online marketing is to make it as easy and attractive as possible for your potential customers to accept what you are offering them. And no matter what you want them to accept, the scenario is going to be more or less the same:
You offer your prospects something that represents a value to them. In order to get it, they have to give you something in return that represents a value to you.
This scenario will invariably start a process in the minds of your prospects where they have to assess and decide whether your offer is worth accepting. And there are really only two possible outcomes:
1. They can say, “Yes”
2. They can say, “No”
There will always be a number of factors that tip the decision towards “No”, and it is the value of your offer that has to tip the decision back towards “Yes”.
In order to get a conversion, the process has to end with your potential customers agreeing that what they will get in return is worth more than they have to part with. The decision-making process takes place in the minds of your potential customers, and optimizing this process should be your primary focus.
Essentially, the most effective way of optimizing this process is to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Here’s an example from the real world
I recently ran an A/B test on the newsletter sign-up form here on ContentVerve.com. The control featured a generic sign-up form that more or less just stated the obvious: that you can get fresh updates.
The treatment on the other hand promises a specific value in return by exemplifying what updates from ContentVerve.com consist of – thus answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”
I’m sure that on more popular and well-known blogs simply putting a sign-up form on the page is enough to get tons of sign-ups. But ContentVerve.com is still new and not particularly well-known. Therefore clarifying what you get in return for giving me your e-mail is an essential step in the conversion funnel.
Lesson 4: Clarity and relevance are king
Your potential customers will often go through the entire decision-making process in a few seconds, and lack of clarity and relevance is a major conversion killer.
The more time your potential customers have to spend in order to figure out what your offer is all about, the more likely they are to leave your website and move on to one of your competitors. The more clearly you express the value of your offer and why it’s relevant to your prospects, the more likely they’ll be to choose it.
So don’t waste their time with hype, fluff, and over-creative marketese. Tell them clearly how they will benefit from accepting your offer, and give them a good reason to say “Yes!”
Here’s an example from the real world
In this example, adding clarity and relevance generated a 99.4% lift in conversions on a PPC landing page for Denmark-based Saxo Bank. The landing page pitched a trial account for a Forex trading platform, and the conversion goal was to increase the number of trial account sign-ups.
If you compare the two versions, you’ll see the treatment is super focused on conveying the value of the offer, while the control is much more vague. Where the control asks the question “Why trade Forex with Forextrading.com?”, the treatment actually answers that question by giving prospects relevant information and solid, credible arguments why they should sign up for the trial.
What is more, the control copy didn’t follow up on the value promised in the PPC ads that actually did a great job of emphasizing the selling points and value of the Forex Trading demo: free, no risk, no obligations, $100,000 demo account.
In the treatment, I made sure to follow up on all the selling points, benefits and features mentioned in the PPC ads. For a full run-down of the copy changes in this case study, read this post >>
One more example from the real world
A great way of adding clarity and relevance to your copy from the get-go is by working on your headlines.
Here’s what happened on BettingExpert.com when I optimized both the form copy and the home page headline (as opposed to just the form copy) – we got an extra 3.65% increase in sign-ups.
Over the course of two treatments we went from something quite vague, “Passionate about Betting? We are too – Join BettingExpert.com – Sign Up+” to something much more clear and relevant, “Get Free Daily Betting Tips from Top Tipster – Get FREE Betting Tips – Sign Up & Get the Best Daily Tips”
Again, the control headline may sound better and more sexy than the treatment, but the treatment still got more potential members to sign up.
Lesson 5. There is no “secret formula” or “one-size-fits-all” – you need to test!
Let’s start with another case study. Oli from Unbounce.com and I recently ran a split test on a PPC landing page that pitches a free 30-day trial of the Unbounce.com landing page platform.
The only thing we did was to tweak 1 word in the copy – we changed the possessive determiner “You” to “My”. After running the test for 3 weeks, the treatment button copy, “Start my free 30 day trial” had increased the click through rate to the payment page by 90%.
There’s no way we could have predicted that such a small tweak would have such a significant impact on the decisions of the prospects. We only became aware of this major low-hanging fruit because we performed an A/B test. I’ve conducted similar experiments on other sites and gained significant lifts – but I’ve also seen it backfire.
Life would be easier if the one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach worked – so much easier! However, in my experience there is no such thing as a global solution that works every time. All products, offers, websites, and companies are different, just like the motivations of your potential customers will be different. You need to find out what works on your specific target audience – and the only way to do this is through rigorous research and testing.
Join the conversation – ask questions or share your experience
If you have any copy/conversion-related questions, you’d like to ask me, or experience you’d like to share, please feel free to join the conversation on Google+ or simply leave a comment right here on ContentVerve.com.