Three Usability Tests That Tripled Lead Generation Conversion Rates

Posted on October 22, 2014
6 min read


In today's guest post, online marketing expert Steven Macdonald shares how he used user testing to form the basis of a wildly successful CRO strategy. Enjoy!

You’re already busy optimizing your website and running A/B tests, right?

Good. And how is that working out for you?

Just OK? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

You see, over the past few years, A/B testing has been cited as the most popular CRO tactic

CRO methods

A/B testing is the most widely-used conversion rate optimization method.

And when the majority of optimizers are testing first and researching second, I don’t expect your CRO results to be better than “just OK.”

To be honest, it’s not that surprising, as according to Marketing Sherpa more than 63% of marketers test and optimize websites based on best practices.

Marketers read how one website increased conversion rates and then implement the same tactic on their website, hoping it will lead to similar results.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

What you need to do is understand who your visitor is and how they use your website BEFORE you can run any kind of test. This means performing qualitative research, such as launching surveys, customer feedback, and user testing.

Collecting feedback can be hit or miss. You will need a lot of traffic to collect onsite pop up feedback, and you need to offer an incentive if you’re asking customer to complete a survey. (If your website conversion rate is less than 2%, expect your response rate to feedback to be even less.)

But for instant, low cost and actionable feedback, usability testing reigns supreme, and it never fails to deliver.

Earlier this year, I wrote about four conversion rate tips that doubled conversion rates from 0.17% to 0.43%.

In this post, we will look at how user testing has helped form the basis of a successful conversion rate optimization strategy which increased conversion rates from 0.39% to 1.61%.

Conversion rate chart

Our conversion rate results. The orange line is before optimization; the blue line is after optimization.

1. Accordion menu on product page

User test scenario: Find our product pages and tell me what you think we do.

Product pages are very important and when you sell software that is not available for a free trial, the product pages need to do the selling for you.

The product page includes an accordion design to shorten the length of the page. The accordions work by allowing the user to click on them to reveal further information (example below).

accordion menu example

The accordion menu expands when clicked.

When the page was designed, the purpose behind it was to allow the reader to scroll and choose the information they wanted to view and then click on the accordion to read more.

The web has changed since then. Prior to this design being implemented, web trends told you to limit content below the fold, whereas now, we know that long form pages can actually convert better.

In more than one session of user testing, we found that visitors did not understand this and were therefore not clicking on the accordions. We then pulled the heat map and click-tracking reports from Crazy Egg and found that the tests matched the report data: no one was clicking on them.

This meant that our most important content was not being read!

So what we did we do?

We created a hypothesis:

If the visitor does not need to click in order to read important information, there is less work required for the visitor, and they are more likely to take action on a call to action button later on the page.

Using A/B testing software VWO, we tested the control against the variation where instead of hiding the content behind accordions, we expanded each box.

Here’s how the control looked compared to the variation:

Short-form control page vs. long-form variation page

In the variation, all of the content could be read without clicking.

Which one do you think performed better? (Don’t cheat and scroll down!)

The original page had a conversion rate of 1.82%. The new version had a conversion rate of 2.66%, which is an increase of 45%!

Take away:

Don’t hide important content. (Facepalm.)

[Tweet this.]

2. Rotating banner on home page

User test scenario: Look at our home page for five seconds and then look away. What do we do?

You’ve seen them. And if you’re like me, you hate them too. Although through Tim Ash's “conversion killer” campaign, they’re on their way out. Of course, I’m talking about rotating banners.

Just like on thousands of other websites, the prime real estate on the home page is dedicated to a huge banner that fights for product promotion. Usually, each product gets a few seconds before the banner rotates and moves on to the next one.

The test participant’s response to the rotating banners was overwhelmingly negative:

  • “This is distracting.”
  • “I can’t focus with this thing moving all the time.”
  • “This is annoying.”

I’m not in the business of annoying my web visitors. Are you?

I didn’t think so.

We were already in the process of trying to make the website load faster, but it’s difficult to prioritize development time on site speed issues.

Using WebPageTest, we ran the website through the video comparison tool along with their biggest competitors.

The speed test found that the home page was loading at a speed of 12.8 seconds. That’s 10 seconds slower than the competition!

Chart: load time vs. three competitors

Our load time was tragically slower than the top three competitors.

You can watch the video here.

The best part about the video is that we can immediately identify the reason for the slow loading time.

Yeah, you guessed it. It’s the rotating banner!

We immediately removed the banner, and the change meant the home page was now loading in less than two seconds. That’s a 10 second improvement!

And not only did the site speed improve, but the conversion rate did too---and by a whopping 88%.

Take away:

Remove your rotating banner. Now. I’ll wait.

[Tweet this.]

3. PPC landing pages

User test scenario: Search for a competitor using Google, and then tell us what they do better.

We asked the user test participants to search for a competitor and tell us what they like about them and what they think the competition does better.

Most participants used a well-known competitor, and what we quickly found was that they had a fantastic landing page for their PPC campaigns. The page was highly targeted and optimized for conversion.

So how did our landing pages compare?

Well, do you remember the accordion page listed above (the first point) that hid the most important content?

Yes. That was the page that paid search traffic was sent to. Doh!

So this was a no-brainer. We immediately set up an Unbounce account, and within two weeks of running the user test, we were up and running with our newly optimized landing page. The new landing page included a video, social proofing, trust signals and a clear call to action.

In Oli Gardner’s amazing Landing Page guide posted on Moz, he references attention ratio, and that a landing page should aim to get as close to an attention ratio of 1:1 as possible.

The original landing page had an attention ratio of more than 30:1. The newly design attention ratio had an attention ratio of 4:1.

Below is a comparison between the original landing page on the website and the new landing page:

Old and new landing pages side-by-side

The new page, while much longer, also had a much better attention ratio.

Can you guess what happened next?

The new landing page converted much better.  MUCH BETTER!

The original landing page conversion rate was 2.86% and the new landing page converted at 7.81%. That’s a conversion rate improvement of 173%!

Take away:

When you’re paying for traffic, send them to a targeted landing page!


Two thirds of marketers test and optimize websites based on best practices, which means more than half of website optimizations and tests are either incredibly lucky or completely wasted.

Perhaps an even more important number is this: 89% of companies believe they are not doing a very good job at integrating user testing and analytics.

Chart comparing CRO tactics that companies believe they do well

In fact, integrating user testing and analytics came in dead last among CRO practices that companies think they do well.

Analytics data alone was not enough to help me test and implement the changes above. We need to see and hear the feedback. So when very few marketers are integrating user testing and analytics successfully, it’s no wonder that many businesses are not happy with their conversion rates.

The above shows you how powerful the combination can be. By implementing the findings from the user tests, conversion rate continues to climb each year.

Start by using the right conversion rate optimization tools. Collect the data, conduct user testing, and then launch your A/B tests.

And with the recently launched Peek, conducting a user test has never been easier.

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