The Pocket-Sized Mad Scientist Of Conversion Optimization
The first time I met Brian was at a Pubcon session on landing pages, where he had donned a white lab coat, was engaging the audience — a hall packed with several hundred attendees — in impromptu experiments in conversion, and was whizzing balls and t-shirts at people. I don’t remember if he was throwing them for right answers, wrong answers, or both. But it was a cross between a raucous Saturday Night Live skit and an erudite TED talk.
It was brilliant.
His columns here on Search Engine Land exude that same energy and insight. Some of my favorite include Landing Page Battles of the Flat-Foreheaded, 7 Things To Teach Your Children About Conversion, and 5 Ways Conversion Takes Market Share Like Candy From a Baby.
This guy never fails to make me laugh and, more importantly, make me think about my work in a fresh light.
So I was delighted to hear that he’s just had a book published, Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Formulas of The Conversion Scientist, that captures his inimitable perspective on modern marketing.
Since modesty and the wise no-self-promotion rules of blogging on Search Engine Land preclude him from writing about the book in his column, I hope you’ll indulge me the chance to share a review of it with you here.
In full disclosure, I have no business ties with Brian, but he did send me a free copy, and I’m admittedly biased as a fan.
The Best Way To Start Thinking About Web Marketing
If you’re relatively new to Web marketing — really committing to making the Web a primary channel for your business — this book is a great place to begin. It starts at a high level and takes a holistic view of websites, landing pages, shopping carts, email, and social media under the umbrella of one driving question: what works best to grow your business online?
What’s unique, however, is that it frames the entire marketing mission in the context of the scientific method. In Brian’s narrative, conversion optimization isn’t a tactic. Rather, it’s an overarching mindset that spans all of these different vehicles, a continual process of testing and learning.
He is quick to illustrate examples that show the scientific method isn’t inapproachable to nonscientists, and in fact, is ideally suited to digital marketing.
To appreciate how central this is to the book, Chapter 2 is titled Your Digital Conversion Laboratory. “Think of it as your Bat Cave,” Brian writes. “Or your presidential situation room. In other words, it’s high-tech and cool. But that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to build.”
“Do not underestimate the power you have to monitor and control a digital world that is, in many ways, as real as the one you are walking around in.”
I believe this is still the single biggest mental and cultural shift that needs to happen in marketing. The digital medium and a plethora of testing and analytics software has enabled companies to systematically grow through experimentation and iteration. These capabilities are a big part of what’s driving the agile marketing movement.
But it’s a very different worldview than traditional marketing, and a lot of marketers and business people still need help wrapping their heads around it.
What Experienced Conversion Pros Get Out Of This
If you’re already experienced with conversion optimization, this is obviously preaching to the choir. There are certainly parts of Brian’s book that you will find elementary — such as a patient (but good!) explanation of conversion rate.
However, I think you’ll still find this a valuable read.
A big part of our jobs as conversion optimization professionals is to explain to others what we do and why they should buy into it. Conversion pro Chris Goward of WiderFunnel recently said on a conference panel — with some surprise in his voice — how undervalued conversion optimization still is for all the measurable benefits it provides.
Brian’s book helps make the case for conversion optimization marvelously, with lots of colorful examples and analogies. He writes in language that is plain and easy to understand, while at the same time evoking vivid and humorous imagery that really drives his points home.
For instance, the metaphor he uses at the beginning of Chapter 8, Landing Pages Put Money in Your Back Pocket, humorously addresses the perennial question of why use landing pages in addition to your standard website.
You will want to reuse his explanations to help others see the light. I know I will.
While the book assumes the reader is a beginner, it doesn’t dumb down the material either. Brian describes many of the nuances in this discipline. For example, early on, he shows that the simplified conversion funnel that is ubiquitous in such discussions is actually quite chaotic in real life.
Building A Landing Page In Reverse
The chapter on landing pages is, naturally, my favorite. What I really love about it, however, is an innovative approach that Brian takes to constructing a landing page from the ground up.
He starts with the call-to-action — a button on a page.
Next, he backs up and works on the headline to “fulfill the promise” of the ad, email link, or social media post that enticed the prospect to click through to this page.
There’s refreshing clarity in looking at a page with just the call-to-action and the headline. He then uses this to backfill the supporting content, product imagery and additional points to sell the offer and overcome resistance with badges of honor, statistical proof, and social proof.
He finishes by tweaking the visual hierarchy to make the balance and flow between all these elements cohesive.
For someone who is used to taking a more top-down approach to landing page creation, I found this bottom-up approach novel. In creative endeavors, anything you can do to get a fresh perspective on your work is a gift. This heuristic acutely focuses your attention on the connection between the original promise and the call-to-action — the backbone of landing pages, which unfortunately, so few get right.
There are many more great nuggets of inspiration and insight in this book, but I hope this gives you enough of a flavor to give it a peek.
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