Episode 86: Tim Ash of SiteTuners on Landing Page Optimization and Cultivation of the Complete Person

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Tim Ash, President and CEO of SiteTuners.com just wrote the book on landing page conversion optimization: "Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions."

Tim breaks down the various kinds of landing pages; talks about usability testing; landing page tuning methods (including A/B, Multivariate and Full Factorial Parametric Testing) and Google's new Website Optimizer.

He answers questions from DishyMix listeners including:

Chance Barnett, Founder & President of Catch Him, Inc.

  • Do you use any thing like a CMS (content management system) to help shorten the process of testing and iterating new pages?
  • What are your favorite examples of success stories of using Social Proof elements on landing pages?
  • Are you seeing many online marketers developing landing pages that are both SEO and PPC optimized?

Craig Peters, Founder, CKP Creative

  • What's the best way to balance the need for selling and the need for education on a landing page?

Sean Cheyney , VP Business Dev at AccuQuote

  • Are most brands ready for multivariate testing or do you recommend A/B testing for most brands?
  • What are the most counter intuitive positive changes that your clients have done on their landing pages?

Mark Michael Lewis, Host of "Money, Mission and Meaning"podcast

  • Is it better to have 1 or 3 general landing pages that appeal to broad spectrum of people, or to have dozens of landing pages each customized to appeal to the niche you think they linked from?
  • Are "sales letter" style pages with a bold red headline, extensive copy, and continual calls to a single action most effective, or is that hype and there are other formats that are more effective?

Michael Lovitch, Co Founder, The Hypnosis Network

  • How many, if any 2.0 elements should be included on product landing pages?

Garrison Cohen, VP of Development, Authentic Man Program

  • What is the most effective way of creating customer conversions on the landing page and does he have any particular tips, tools or suggestions to have each of the following approaches be their most effective?

Free gift.
Showing a short video?
Creating a quiz?
Giving them a survey?
Showing yourself personally through audio or video?

Adam Gilad, Gilad Creative Media

  • How has the "Hi, I'm your friend" mentality of social media affected the twist-the-arm direct sales effectiveness of squeeze pages?

Jim Sterne, Founder and Producer of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summits

  • The "local maximum" problem has always bothered me. Figuring out the very best permutation or 5 creative options precludes that off the chart winner that was never considered. What's the Best Practice for throwing in (almost) random ideas to see which ones fly?

Listen to hear some very insightful answers to the issues with which DishyMix listeners are wrestling right now.

Tim, in true DishyMix style, also shares the wisdom of his favorite book, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," along with the axiom by which he lives his life and how Tai Chi Chaun helps him cultivate his "complete person."

Lots of food for thought as well as great answers about the latest thinking in landing page optimization for maximum conversions.


Announcer:  This program is brought to you by PersonalLifeMedia.com.


Susan Bratton:  Welcome to DishyMix.  I’m your host, Susan Bratton.  And on today’s show, you’re going to get to meet Tim Ash.  Tim is the President and CEO of SiteTuners.com, and he’s also the author of a new book that I just finished, called Landing Page Optimization:  The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions.  So much of what we do as marketers and entrepreneurs is create conversions to product.  And now, more than ever, it’s important in today’s economic climate.  So I thought Tim would be a very appropriate person to have on.  He was also introduced to me by Jim Sterne, who was recently on a DishyMix and raves about Tim, so I knew he was the right stuff; the good stuff, if Jim Sterne recommended him.  On today’s show, we’re going to talk about cultivation of the complete person, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.  We’re going to talk about “house rules”, and you’re going to like it.  We’re going to talk about squeeze pages, and full factorial, parametric testing.  Oh yeah, you’re going to want to know about it, trust me.  So, let’s get Tim on the phone.  Welcome, Tim.

Tim Ash:  Hi, Susan.  It’s a pleasure to be on DishyMix, and I’d like to say I’m calling from sunny San Diego, but this is the one rainy day we’ve had, so…

Susan Bratton:  Well, that’s all right; it rains in paradise every once in a while, alright?

Tim Ash:  Exactly.

Susan Bratton:  (laughs) So, Tim, you are President and CEO of SiteTuners.  You’ve worked with a lot of huge brands:  Horizon, Amex, Sony, Honda, Comp USA, Universal Studios, Black and Decker, Coach, lots of good brands.  You talked at a lot of events, search engine strategies, affiliate summit, the e-metrics marketing summits, the PPC summit, and you have written this new book.  So, you really, this is your world, man.  You are Mr. Landing Page Optimization, I’m glad about that.

Tim Ash:  Yeah, you know, the medium size fish in a tiny puddle.

Susan Bratton:  (laughs) Well, that’s okay.  That’s not bad, you’re in the right direction anyway, right?  So, let me ask you the first thing.  Just to do a level set for our listeners.  Can you just tell our listeners about the three basic types of landing page, so we’re all on the same semantic page ourselves?

Tim Ash:  Sure.  A lot of people think of landing pages as purely something you use for your pay-per-click, or online advertising campaigns; very specialized landing pages.  And, my definition in the book is a lot broader.  A landing page is anywhere where traffic lands on your site that’s ultimately going to end up in a conversion action for you.  That could be a sale, or sign-up, or a download, or whatever has measurable economic value to you.  So, the landing page basically comes in three flavors:  stand alone, that would be for, say, a pay-per-click campaign.  Or a micro-site that’s designed around a particular action, but it’s not a single page that requires some more supporting information and a small number of other pages.  Or, a regular website, if you will.  And there, people can enter through the front door on the home page, or through a link via a page they found in some search results, organic search results.  So, basically, they can, anywhere they can land on your page, on your home site, is also a landing page.

Susan Bratton:  So, main site, micro-site, and stand alone.  That’s the, that’s the language we’re going to try to stick to today.  Now, you also, in your book, talk about different types of things that you can do.  Most of your book is devoted to the tuning methods.  But what I liked about it was that you talked about audience, and understanding your audience.  You talked about their decision process.  You went through, this is the part I skipped, Tim, the math of the tuning.  (laughs)

Tim Ash:  You and many others.

Susan Bratton:  (laughs) I figure there’s somebody out there who’s expert at that, and they’ll take care of it.  Tuning methods, and then “operationalizing” that across your organization, you know, building, getting buy-in, building a team.  And then developing your action plan.  And, intelligently at the end, you talk about the pitfalls to some of this.  So, I liked that you really took everyone through the whole, the whole arc of what you need to know; it wasn’t just about, you know, tuning methods, specifically.  But, you talked about the importance of usability testing, tuning methods and optimizing the page, or your website, for Google as well.  Can you just give us a little purview into those three areas, and how they inter, interoperate, if you will?

Tim Ash:  Sure, I’ll be glad to.  Basically, landing page testing is a pretty complicated activity, so my book is necessarily broad based; it’s a guide, or lay of the land, if you will, as opposed to specific tactical advice, like, you know, use only blue buttons.  And, when you think about landing page testing, the probably most important thing to consider is, do you have stable traffic and large enough volume to test?  Because all of this landing page testing stuff is based on statistics.  And without boring you with that math stuff that you skipped, there are a variety of approaches that all basically rely on you getting large numbers of people from steady traffic sources to your site.  So, landing page testing is ideal for a pay-per-click, for organic search results for type-in traffic, and people just finding your brand and going to your home page.  It’s not so good for highly seasonal types of websites, or for folks that are shooting spiky traffic, for instance, doing an email drop.  And then it goes away, and that audience is no longer there.  So, really, it’s perfect for large volume, steady-state kind of traffic.  And in that environment, if you kind of listen to your audience, and predict, and look at what they actually respond to, then you can assume, that in the future those same kinds of people showing up are going to respond favorably to the changes that you found work.

Susan Bratton:  Talk about the different types of tuning methods:  AB, multivariate, full factorial parametric testing.  Describe what the differences are, between those three.

Tim Ash:  There are three basic methods.  The simplest one that most people are familiar with is AB split testing, and that’s very straightforward.  Let’s say you have a single page, that’s your A version, and you want to try an alternative to it, that’s your B version.  Well, you randomly split new visitors and show them either one or the other.  So, half see one page, half see the other page.  And after you’ve collected enough data, you’ll be able to see which one’s better, and you call that one the winner.  If it’s your new page, then that’s kind of your new “champion”, and you might want to knock it off its pedestal and try repeatedly to outdo it by running additional tests in the future.  It’s a kind of continual process.  Multivariate testing is where you try to kind of compress the amount of information you need, and still have a lot of different versions of the page.  So, in a Multivariate test, you’re simultaneously collecting information about different versions.  Let’s say you have two different headlines.  And two different call-to-actions.  And two different button colors.  Well, that’s two times two times two, for eight different versions and the tests.  And you try to collect data, and you say, “Okay, what setting of the headline and the call-to action and the button color produce the best possible results?”.  Most of these methods are parametric, or model building.  Again, I won’t bore you with the details, but they hit kind of a certain upper limit just because of the size of the tests you can run.  And then, we’ve come up with our own non-parametric tuning engine technology that basically, if you have a high data rate, allows you to run much larger tests; a thousand times larger than with conventional methods.  And that’s a real advantage for marketers that have high volume websites, and really want to throw a lot of good marketing ideas into the mix.

Susan Bratton:  So, first thing you have to do is make sure that, from a usability perspective you’re following some of the basic, basic constructs, and you outline those in your book.  And you can do usability testing.  The next thing you can do is a tuning method, of one or more of these options, depending on your traffic, and your budget, and all of those things.  And then you talk in the book about this Website Optimizer by Google.  Talk to us about that component of it as well.

Tim Ash:  Well, Website Optimizer is a terrific tool from Google that came out about a year and a half ago now, and we were one of the charter authorized consultants for it.  And since then, there have been a few more that have been added to that program.  But we’re very closely involved in the development of it, suggesting new ideas for the product roadmap, and so on.  And it really kind of kick started all of this landing page testing.  For a few years there, I and a few other evangelists were kind of crying in the wilderness, but Google really legitimized landing page testing.  So what it is it’s a free tool that allows you to do AB split, or multivariate testing.  And it takes a little bit of knowledge to set up the test, but if you know basic Javascript, and you can tag your pages, similarly to what you do, say, for web analytics to track your pages, then you can set up a test very quickly.  And once you’ve done one or two tests, then the premium, kind of, is your ideas, and what to test.  And you can get terrific results with Website Optimizer.   We’ve made companies, you know, literally millions of dollars by running a single test.

Susan Bratton:  It’s a free product, right?

Tim Ash:  It’s, it’s free.

Susan Bratton:  (laughter)

Tim Ash:   Anyone can use it.  Before, it was part of your Adwords account, but now, it’s stand alone, and it doesn’t even require you to have an Adwords account.  So, anybody can use it, run as many tests as you want, simultaneously, on as many pages as you like.  It’s a fantastic product.

Susan Bratton:  Now that you’ve used it for awhile, because you were one of the earliest users, what advice could you give to someone who’s just starting to use it?

Tim Ash:  Well, I think a lot of people get trapped into this idea that multivariate testing is, by definition, better than simple AB split testing.  And we found it’s just the opposite; that you can get a lot of, you know, squeeze out a lot of juice, if you will, by just doing simple AB split testing.  And then, when you’re ready, you can, if you have higher data rates, and large numbers of people coming to your site, then graduate to multivariate testing.  But, start with AB split testing.  And, all you need for that, I mean, our rough guideline is ten conversion actions a day on whatever page you’re going to be testing.  So, ten sales, ten downloads, ten click-throughs, even to another page that’s important to you , whatever your conversion action is.  You just need ten of them a day, and then you can start doing AB split testing.

Susan Bratton:  What are the most common elements you’d recommend us to select for tuning or split testing?

Tim Ash:  Well, it’s kind of a trick question here, but it, say the ones…

Susan Bratton:  …I didn’t mean it to be, that was completely ignorantly trick.  (laughter)

Tim Ash:  …in my mind, it’s a trick question.

Susan Bratton:  (laughter) Sorry about that.

Tim Ash:  ...A lot of times what you want to do is not actually select elements to change or to try alternatives to.  A lot of times, what we do in tests is removing elements.  So, a major theme is removing clutter, and making sure that your call to action is front and center, and not distracting people with strong, visual images, or a lot of text on the page.  So, a lot of what we test is getting rid of stuff.  But, having said that, of course the obvious things always work; headlines can give you tremendous lift.  The sales copy.  The format of your call to action, both in terms of, you know, the color of it, say buttons, what the buttons say, and so on.  Another important thing to test is the length of your forms.  If you don’t actually need information, don’t ask for it on a form.  Because the shorter the form is, the less imposing it seems, and the more likely people are to fill it out. 

Susan Bratton:  That’s so good.  Any more?  I like this list.

Tim Ash:  Yeah, they’re adding trust and credibility symbols, another powerful way to leverage other people’s brand.  So…

Susan Bratton:  What are the best trust marks out there?  Are they Better Business Bureau Online, VeriSign, Trust-E, which ones do you think really work?

Tim Ash:  Well…

Susan Bratton:  Because they’re expensive.

Tim Ash:  …we internet geeks probably know what all of those mean, but for the consumer, you have to, kind of, step back and say, this is what I call the Mother-In-Law test; would my Mother-in-Law know about it?  And so, the ones that probably matter the most are Better Business Bureau, and the McAfee Secure Shopping Seal, which used to be called Hacker Safe.  Those are the most prominent ones.  Trust-E basically says that you follow certain practices…

Susan Bratton:  Privacy guidelines.

Tim Ash:  …and yeah, you follow privacy guidelines, won’t sell the e-mail addresses.  So, that’s not as strong.  VeriSign, or other secure, you know, you’re assumed to have a secure browser connection when you’re checking out, so that stuff’s not as powerful anymore.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah, that’s what it seemed like to me, too.  We have a lot of listener questions.  I’m going to start with the first one, and then, we’re going to go to break and come back, and do a few more.  And I’m going to go a little long with you, Tim, on this show.  Normally, we’re a half hour.  If we have to, we’re going to take two breaks on this show, and go through these questions, because they are so good, that I think, you know, it’s always better to get real questions from people in the market, who are struggling with these things, and I can’t wait to ask them to you.  So, I’m going to start out with the very first one, and it is from our friend, Jim Sterne.  He was nice enough to send an e-mail, and he’s the founder and producer of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization summits; he knows of what he speaks.  Here’s his question:  The local maxim problem has always bothered me.  Figuring out the very best permutation, or five creative options, precludes that off the chart winner that was never considered.  What’s the best practice for throwing in almost random ideas to see which ones fly?

Tim Ash:  Well…

Susan Bratton:  Isn’t that a good question?

Tim Ash:  It’s a very thorny one…

Susan Bratton:  (laughter) Well there, he knew; he’s going to put you through your paces.

Tim Ash:  He is.  So, I think what Jim is referring to, is that all of the things on a landing page, all of the things you might want to test in a multivariate test, depend on each other.  You can’t just look at the headline in isolation; you have to see it with the image next to which it’s going to appear and so on.  So, as marketers, we try to create these synergies among all the elements of the page and make the whole page better than the sum of its parts.  But, unfortunately, in a multivariate test, the mix and matching can have the opposite effect, which is that things that you juxtapose next to each other may not combine very well, and actually lower your conversion rate.  And, in general, there’s no way to guarantee that you’re going to find the absolute best version of the page, especially if you’re searching through a very large number of different versions.  So, that’s just kind of a mathematical problem and I’m going to leave that to folks that are a lot smarter than me.  But the second thing, I think, if you could read back the second part of his question.

Susan Bratton:  Sure.  He, well, here’s the thing.  I’ll even add to it, he wrote a little more.  The second part was, what’s the best practice for throwing in almost random ideas to see which ones fly?  He says “For example, I choose a green button, a blue button, and a yellow button to test on my landing page, along with a picture of a puppy, a bicycle, and a sandwich, and three headlines.  The best possible combination of these things is the last headline with the bicycle, and a yellow button.  But I’ve only tried a red button.  I could have quintupled my sales.  Call me Grasshopper”.

Tim Ash:  Mm hmm.  Well, there’s basically, the short answer is, it depends on your data rate, and the tuning method that you use.  So, if you have a relatively low data rate, in other words, a number of conversions a day, not number of visitors, and you’re using kind of conventional testing technology, then you’re going to be limited in terms of the number of total versions, or what we call recipes of the page, in your test.  And so, what you have to do, in effect, is self-censor; you have to decide ahead of time which ideas are good, are likely to be part of the winning solution, and which are not.  And that’s very hard to do.  The whole premise behind testing is that, we’re not our audience; we don’t always know what’s best.  It doesn’t matter if we’re marketing geniuses; we just can’t empathize with this anonymous mass of people showing up on our site.  And so, you want to use as many outside the box ideas as possible, and some of them will flame out spectacularly, but others can get you these home run wins that you’re looking for.  And if your test is small, you’re probably going to have the tendency to take those wacky ideas and not include them in the test at all, and go with more conventional, safe alternatives to the content you already have.  So, the real answer is, if you can say what the technologies are, like our Tuning Engine, run a much larger test, then you can throw all those ideas in, and you don’t have to censor yourself ahead of time.  And that, by itself, increases the likelihood that you’ll find something spectacular.

Susan Bratton:  Got it.  Thank you.  And, we’re going to go to a break.  And Tim, I wanted to thank you so much for making two copies of Landing Page Optimization available to DishyMix listeners, I really appreciate that.

Tim Ash:  Oh, it’s my pleasure.  Be glad to autograph them, and send them on their way.

Susan Bratton:  That’s what I’d love.  So, if you’re listening and you’d like to have an opportunity to get a copy of Tim’s book, all you have to do is go to the DishyMix Facebook Fan Club, and you can either just search for DishyMix, all one word, in Facebook, or you can go to Dishymixfan.com and just post why you’d like to have the book.  I always pick the best posts; the fun ones, the ones that tickle our fancy.  Or, you know, plaintive, sad, sob stories; those sometimes work, too.  And we’ll make sure you get an autographed copy from Tim.  We’re going to go to a break.   We’re with Tim Ash, President and CEO of SiteTuners, and author of the new book Landing Page Optimization.  And when we come back, we’ve got a lot more, really good listener questions.

(commercial break)


Susan Bratton:  We’re back.  I’m your host, Susan Bratton.  Thanks for staying with us, I hope you’ll get a lot of benefit out of this next section.  We’re talking to Tim Ash, President and CEO of SiteTuners, about Landing Page Optimization, and here’s a question from Adam Gilad.  He is with, the founder, of course, of Gilad Creative Media.  And he has had a very successful campaign with David Data, and doing events with him.  The man who teaches men how to live their purpose, great stuff.  And so, he’s built these landing pages to drive people to join these programs that he’s put together, and here’s his question:  How has the “Hi, I’m your friend” mentality of social media affected the twist-the-arm direct sales effectiveness of these, what you would call stand-alone, or what Adam and the industry, internal industry call squeeze pages?

Tim Ash:  Well, it’s a great question.  By the way, Adam’s a terrific guy, and I enjoyed being on the panel with him at Affiliates Summit back in the summer.

Susan Bratton:  Oh great.

Tim Ash:  He brings up a point which is very important:  you always have to pitch your story to your audience.  And one of the keys to landing page testing, when we’re doing a test, if you have a large amount of traffic, you don’t just treat them as one kind of amorphous lump, or a mass of people that are all homogenous and identical; you need to consider where they’re coming from.  And what the upstream expectation was that was set.  In other words, where did you come from?  If it was from a pay-per-click ad, you need to know the text of that ad, so that there’s continuity.  And you deliver on the promise that you made in your ad on your landing page, in the same way.  If you know these folks are coming from social media, and you have to continue that more conversational tone so you don’t scare them away, as well as, kind of partly, a more casual approach; the hard sell will really turn these folks off.  So, that’s just kind of a basic idea of all good marketing, which is know your audience, and know your audience segments.

Susan Bratton:  Got it.  And this feeds really well into the next question.  This question’s from Garrison Cohen.  He’s the Vice President of Development at the Authentic Man Program, that’s AMP, Authentic Man Program out of San Francisco.  They have a lot of CD’s and workshops that are the primary things that they do.  So, they do a lot of come to the landing page, sign up, get something for free.  And then, they’ll use repeated e-mails to get them more knowledgeable, and more educated their prospects, more educated about what the Authentic Man Program is, how it’s different than other things, and why you might want to buy some of their content and/or come into their workshops, which are really good.  We actually had a lot of their trainers on many of the shows on our network, they’re excellent, they do great work.  And here’s Garrison’s question, he says:  What is the most effective way of creating customer conversions on the landing page?  And do you have any particular tips, tools, or suggestions to have each of the following approaches be their most effective?  A free gift, showing a short video, audio, testimonials, creating a quiz, giving them a survey, showing yourself personally through audio or video.  So it’s a big list, I know.  Maybe some of those will bubble to the top for you.

Tim Ash:  Okay, well, I kind of feel like one of those tax preparers that’s on a call-in radio show, and everybody asks for a specific situation.  I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice about his situation without looking at their site and their product mix.  But I can comment on some of those tactics in general.

Susan Bratton:  That’s fair.

Tim Ash:  If you’re going to do something in a workshop, or if you’re delivering some kind of written materials, it’s very easy online to give samples of that.  And so, the biggest thing you could do is give somebody a taste of it…

Susan Bratton:  So the free gift is very effective.

Tim Ash:  …and Seth Godin talks about that a lot in his book, Permission Marketing.  You have to have, essentially, once you’ve interrupted somebody and gotten them to your landing page, now you need to give them something of value, and they will allow you to establish an ongoing communication and dialog with them.  So, basically come up with the best bribe possible, okay?  If you have online content, a video clip of one of their presenters, or a key part of their seminars, it’s been very well received, it’s two or three minute, or even a five, ten, fifteen minute clip, might be just the ticket.  A guidebook, a free e-book, or at least white paper download, which we use extensively on our site.  All of that can be excellent bait.  And then of course, what you want really, is to get their opt-in e-mail, and then provide them with ongoing tips in your area of expertise that are going to be relevant to them.  Be very, very soft on any upsells or cross-sells in those emails.  Just give them the good information and have a consistent, low-key way for them to follow up or contact you.  Don’t try to actually sell them into what you’re doing, but be a value and a service to them.  And that’s the best way, long term, to get the conversion.

Susan Bratton:  So you can always have the link to the product you’re really trying to get them to buy at the bottom of the e-mail; a single click-through to that purchase page.  And maybe a customized purchase page for someone who’s already gotten your free gift, and welcome back, or something like that, is that it?

Tim Ash:  Exactly.  And in the previous question, we talked about segmentation, and kind of customizing your content for your visitors.  A lot of times you can determine by which bribe they take what they’re interested in.  So if you give them a choice of three things, and they take one of them, well, that already tells you something about their inclinations, or their values.  So, you can follow up with a more personalized e-mail thread later that hits on that specific item that they focused on, even if you know nothing else about them.

Susan Bratton:  That’s a good one.  Well, that leads me to a different question.   This one is from Mark Michael Lewis.  Mark is the host of a show on my network, and he heard that you were coming on.  He hosts a show called Money, Mission, and Meaning.  And he has a number of coaching products in the marketplace.  Here’s his question:  Is it better to have one or three general landing pages that appeal to a broad spectrum of people?  Or, to have dozens of landing pages, each customized to appeal to the niche you think they linked from?

Tim Ash:  I would say that the marketers are most successful are the ones that make it seem like they’re talking only to their audience; that they live and exist and spring up in the world just to address the needs of a particular person.  And so, if you can make it that personal, that’s going to be the most effective.  So, that kind of implies that you should target your messages finely as you can, to whatever audience segments are coming in.  So, you want as many landing pages as possible.  Now they can all be based on a templated theme, the call to action area can be identical.  But maybe just a headline and a few bullet points that lead into the call to action will change and be specific for each situation.  If you’re talking about pay-per-click advertising, for instance, you should always echo the keyword on your landing page, to again, keep that promise that you made earlier, and to increase the continuity between the ad that they saw and the landing page that they landed on.  That’s a form of personalization, but you can get a lot more sophisticated than that.

Susan Bratton:  Got it.  Mark has one more question for you.  He asks:  Are sales letter style pages with bold red headlines, extensive copy, and continual calls to a single action most effective?  Or is that hype?  And are there other formats that are more effective?

Tim Ash:  The answer is maybe.  No, no, the answer is different things work for different audiences.  And I have to tell you that we struggled with this personally, because there seem to be a whole class of, well, let’s just call them unsophisticated or naïve users in a retail price point of, say twenty dollars and under that will buy just about anything.  And they’re often swayed by long sales letters.  In fact, we’ve done testing on, you know, a muscle-building program, and we’ve done things on, you know, buying land in Utah with government dollars.  These kind of, say personal improvements/get rich quick kind of things.  And often, taking the long sales letter apart, and making it into a much more coherent microsite actually makes things worse.  We’ve cut conversions in half by doing that.  So, a lot of times the sales letter is the best vehicle; it really depends on your audience.  Having said that, there’s no reason if you have a lot of traffic that you can’t test a sales letter.  We’ve done this before, in fact, there’s a case study on our site, if you go to the results section that talks about a PC Bug Doctor software for removing various problems on your computer.  And they had a long sales letter.  And we tested variations on that theme, and found that a different, slightly shorter long sales letter worked a lot better.  By double digits better, in terms of conversion rate.  So, there’s a lot of bloat in long sales letters, and it’s great to pile it all on, but it’s good also to whack back the weeds once in a while and see what your audience is actually responding to.

Susan Bratton:  It seems like there’s this standard template out there, and, you know, small variations on theme, but they go on, and on, and on, and on, and on.  And, it seems like that’s what everyone’s doing, and I often wonder, is everyone doing it because they think there’s one person, you know, is it Alex Mendozian, or these big Dan Kennedy, or whatever; these big information product marketing gurus?  Is it that they just copy their page, and they just are so literal, that these pages have been copied and copied and copied and copied for all these different products?  Or, are all these people that sophisticated that they’re actually doing all this testing and they know this works?  What do you think?

Tim Ash:  Well, I think they’ve probably done some basic split testing, if they’re sophisticated.  But I doubt they’ve taken it to the levels that we typically do, which is to actually have hundreds of thousands, or even millions of versions of that page in play during the test.  And that, if you get real granular with our Tuning Engine, you can really find out what the best combination of those features is.

Susan Bratton:  When you talk about using your Tuning Engine, is it something like the Google website optimizer where you just pay to use it?  Or do you have to become a client of SiteTuners?  How do you pay for it?

Tim Ash:  Well yeah, let me just give you a broad idea of our service line.  We don’t know where people are, in terms of their sophistication with landing page testing.  So, we’re prepared to help them anywhere along that spectrum.  The most immediate is probably consulting; we can do a quick half hour critique of a landing page live, online, and then send them the audio/video file.  We can do more extensive reports that create mockups of what the pages should actually look like, once they’re fixed.  Or we can do full service testing.  Or we can make our software available as a stand-alone tool; software as a service, if you will, for the ones that are sophisticated enough to do testing in house.  So, whatever their needs are, we can match it.  But, to answer your question, in regard to, say, Google website optimizer or other tools, we use a completely different math and approach in our tool.  And so, the strengths of it are is that we can run much larger tests than any other tool with the same number of conversions.  We also take context, which I talked about briefly, into account.  And don’t assume that everything on the page is independent of everything else.  And it’s fully automated, so there are no reports, no complex error bar statistic; you push a button, you get your answer.  You get a provably better performing landing page out of the ones that you tested. 

Susan Bratton:  Got it.  Thanks for going over that.  And, it didn’t really sound like a sales pitch to me.  So, I hope it didn’t sound like a sales pitch to listeners, because I wanted to know.  One more question before we go to our next break, and then we’ll come back and finish the show.  Michael Lovitch, Co-founder of the Hypnosis Network, he has a whole series of hypnosis CD’s that help you do things like lose weight, or become more productive.  And he uses all therapists to put these CD’s together.  Here’s his question.  He says:  A big decision for internet marketers in the 2.0 world is how many, if any, 2.0 elements should be included on a product landing page?  I’m not talking about a blog, but actual product landing pages.  At HypnosisNetwork.com, we’ve tested certain landing pages with 2.0 blog-like elements, and it is increasing opt-ins, but decreasing the immediate conversion.  Overall though, it has slightly increased conversions.  Would be interested to know if there is a right way, or best way, to do this?

Tim Ash:  Well, there are really, kind of, two questions embedded in that one, if I can parse it out a little.

Susan Bratton:  Please do.

Tim Ash:  First is, you know, testing various Web 2.0 elements in your tests.  And the second is things being a trade off.  So, let me address that one first.  A lot of times you can turn one knob, and that improves that particular metric.  But it’ll have an overall negative effect.  For instance, I can lower the price on my product, that’s a knob I have control over.  But if that cuts my profit margin too much, doubling my sales didn’t really help me, because my profit actually went down.  And so, you have to really look at the end result you want to achieve, and measure things there.  So, if it’s total revenue, or profit per visitor, that’s an effective metric that gets you around all of these other issues.  You don’t really care about conversion rate from one page to the next, or the next, you’re looking at the bottom line, and whether you have more money in your bank account.  So a lot of times, especially when you have competing goals in a landing page test, you have to assign a clear economic value to each one.  For instance, a sale is worth a thousand bucks to me, but if I get someone on a mailing list, I know I can eventually upsell a certain percentage of them; they’re worth five dollars each to me.  And to get someone to call my 800 number, that might be worth fifty dollars, to have them talk to my sales person.  So as long as you can assign it an economic value to everything you’re doing, then the test gives you the best revenue per visitor increase.  And it’s really just a question of trading off one against the other.  And there’s no right answer as to how much emphasis you could give, you should give to each of those goals.  But the bottom line is, it should make you more money at the end of the day.

Susan Bratton:  That is the goal.  Good, thank you.

Tim Ash:  …and, I’m sorry.  On the Web 2.0 side, the answer is really a lot of stuff is pretty gimmicky.  So, look at it strictly from your visitor’s perspective; if it enhances the user experience, or it lets you communicate information in a unique way that wasn’t possible before, then you should consider testing it.  But if it’s just flash for flash’s sake, don’t bother.  In fact, you should probably reign in your animators and videographers and graphic designers and make them, kind of, toe the line and support the task that the visitor’s there to accomplish, instead of indulging their creative need to have fancier media on your page.

Susan Bratton:  Got it.  Makes sense, thank you.  Right, going back to the basics is always important.  We’re going to go back to the basics, which is thanking my sponsors of DishyMix, who are the people that allow me to bring Tim to you.  And don’t forget, that if you’d like to get an autographed copy of Tim’s book, Landing Page Optimization:  The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions, you can go to DishyMixFan.com, that’s my Facebook fan club for DishyMix, and just post your request, and we’ll pick our favorites, and then we’ll make sure he autographs one and gets it out to you.  Alright, and I have two to give away.  So, make yours a good request, because I’m sure we’ll get a lot of people who want one.  And we’re going to go to a break.  We’ll be right back, after we thank my sponsors; thank you sponsors.

(commercial break)


Susan Bratton:  We’re back.  And we’re with Tim Ash of SiteTuners, and the author of Landing Page Optimization.  So, another question for you.  This one from Sean Cheyney, VP of Business Development at AccuQuote.  He actually was on the show, and he talked about his multivariate testing that he’s doing.  But here’s the question he has for you, Tim.  He says:  What are the most counterintuitive positive changes that your clients have done on their landing pages?

Tim Ash:  Well, a lot of our clients have what we call information-rich products.  In other words, maybe business to business, something that requires very sophisticated audience or a lot of nuanced knowledge to evaluate.  And they insist on putting all of this on their landing pages.  All of the supporting information, right up front.  And we’ve gone completely the opposite way, and radically stripped down the landing pages.  I guess this is intuitive in retrospect, but counterintuitive at first, is that even for a sophisticated audience, stripping things down and getting out of their way is still the best way to get them to act.

Susan Bratton:  Makes sense.  Thank you for that.  We always want to tell everything, don’t we? 

Tim Ash:  Yes.

Susan Bratton:  It must be human nature…

Tim Ash:  …we want to tell them why we’re the world’s greatest…

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

Tim Ash:  …fill in the blank, and it’s rarely true, and it just creates a lot of pipes that they have to wade through, like a swamp to get to the gold.

Susan Bratton:  Well, I have another question from Craig Peters, he’s the founder of CKP Creative, and he asks:  What’s the best way to address the education issue on a landing page?  In other words, assume a new telecom start up that places a keyword ad.  A potential customer sees the ad, clicks on it, and if the landing page has too much offer, the sale isn’t there since the brand is unknown.  If the landing page has too much brand info education, the sale isn’t there because the offer is lost in the “Who we are” material.  How to best strike the right balance?

Tim Ash:  Well, I think part of that goes back to my answer to the preceding question, which is that you really don’t want to hit them with the kitchen sink in one shot.  It’s fine to have more details, or compare, or here’s our FAQ, and links off of the main landing page to the supporting information.  Give as much detail there as you want; that’s appropriate because they asked for it.  But don’t put it all in their face.  And a lot of times you can use, speaking of Web 2.0 cut of it, pop over on the page that grays out  the rest of the background of the page behind it, lets them read that supporting information and close it, and then they’re still in the same place in the flow.  You didn’t take them to another page, and you didn’t open another tab, or browser window; they’re still on the page.  And as soon as they get that supporting information and addresses their concern, they’re back to where they need to be. 

Susan Bratton:  I like those pop overs that you can X out of.  I actually think they’re helpful.

Tim Ash:  They are.

Susan Bratton:  I like not having to click back and forth, from page to page.

Tim Ash:  Exactly.  And it says you’re going to stay on track, you’re not going to get lost.  And as long as they’re voluntary, you should never do…

Susan Bratton:  Right.

Tim Ash:  …a pop over that’s unasked for…

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

Tim Ash:  …it’s a great way to keep people inside of a linear process.

Susan Bratton:  We’re going to finish up with three questions from Chance Barnett.  I would have liked to have edited these down, because you’re all about cutting out the bloat, but they were all so good!  So here we go.  And this is good stuff, I think; really helpful.  Chance Barnett is the Founder and President of Catch Him, Incorporated.  His first question is:  Are you seeing many online marketers developing landing pages that are both SEO and PPC optimized?  Meaning this:  In the past, most direct and online marketers created targeted landing pages for keywords in a vacuum.  With the sole goal of optimizing subscriber-sale conversion.  Now, with the growing and continued importance of quality score, page rank, domain authority, and the like from Google, things like your minimum CPC can be lowered dramatically, not just from boosting your click-through rate on ads, but from on-page and site wide factors.  Have you been addressing the need for SEO friendly PPC landing pages, and what are your favorite tips and techniques for this?

Tim Ash:  Okay.  Well, let me answer that question slightly differently than it was asked.  It’s very rare that you should use the same page for your organic or SEO traffic and your pay-per-click traffic.  So if you have the option of separating them, especially on the pay-per-click side, you should create separate landing pages.  That’s the whole power of pay-per-click; you get to decide where it lands.  So make those pages optimized just for the conversion.  Now, the SEO pages, they have to serve two masters.  On the one hand, the search engine spiders need to find them attractive, and to rank you highly.  On the other hand, a human being has to have a good experience once they get there.  And those are often at odds with each other.  Now there are ways to address that.  For instance, if you go to our home page, SiteTuners.com, you’ll see that we basically give you four choices, what do you want to do; you want consulting, full service tests, tools or free resources?  And it’s a very uncluttered page that has some icons representing each of the choices.  But we have a pretty good page rank, last time I checked, I think it was about five.  And if you scroll on down past our client list, you’ll see at the bottom your, kind of, standard 300 or 400 words of SEO-friendly text.  And it’s got all the right keywords in the links, and so on.  And that’s part of what makes our page rank highly for SEO.  But what we’ve done is we’ve used a couple of thin, tall graphics to push it down the page, so it doesn’t mess up the human experience that’s at the top.  And because it’s mostly a graphical experience up top, the search engine spider does consider that text to be the first text that it runs into on the page.  So it effectively works for both; don’t mess up the human experience, and still please the SEO spiders.

Susan Bratton:  Ah.  I’ve got to go check that page out.  I’m stuck in the sound studio, and I can’t look at it.  (laughs) I’m looking forward to checking that out, thank you.  Here’s a second question:  The more I test elements of social proof, the more I find these as critical to include in any good marketing, including landing pages.  Consumers online have grown savvier, thus it seems you just can’t throw plain text copy and hope for high conversion based on people believing or trusting you.  People want proof, and they want it from other people than you, the site owner.  What are your favorite examples of success stories of using social proof elements on landing pages?

Tim Ash:  Social proof works across the board, period, end of story.  But I want to make, you know, kind of a more, wider category than that.  It’s not just social proof; it’s basically trust and credibility indicators.  Or to put it even more broadly, there are two things you can do:  You can enhance someone’s affinity for your product, or you can, kind of, lower their anxiety about your product.  Their kind of similar; they’re related, but they have opposite effects.  So, for instance, saying lots of people have done this before, in the form of testimonials, can be very powerful.  Giving a guarantee is also very powerful.  Those are both things that reduce my anxiety; I know I can get my money back, and I know that other people have done this with a good outcome.  On the other hand, you can also increase affinity by using, for instance, client logos, or media mentions, or awards.  What that does is say, “We’re great”, and other people have said we’re great.  And you’re using the logos of all of those entities, media outlets and clients, and so on, which we use extensively throughout our site, incidentally, for that very purpose, to essentially transfer trust.  Those brands have spent a lot of money publicizing their brands, and they stand for something.  And you’re kind of getting the halo effect by putting them on your site. 

Susan Bratton:  Got it.  These are very helpful questions.  A lot of badging, that’s we always called it, like in the PowerPoint world, you had your badge slide.  Last question:  How do you deal with the challenge of trying to drive your focus down to the keyword level and customize landing pages for each given keyword?  What are your favorite tools and time savers?  Do you use anything, like a CMS, a content management system, to help shorten the process of testing and iterating new pages?

Tim Ash:  I think it’s very important, especially if you’re going after a really big keyword list to have some automated way of personalizing your pages.  So, based on the categories, or ad groups that you put them in, and also based on the exact keywords you should be able to personalize the content.  And having a content management system that’s able to swap that different text or content in and out, based on that, is a great time saver.  You really don’t want to be hand-coding 10,000 landing pages because that’s how many keywords you have. 

Susan Bratton:  Who makes products like this?

Tim Ash:  Well, just about any good content management system will do that, I mean, there’s all the way from free ones, like Joomla, and so on, to more high-end ones, say like Interwoven, or something like that for very large-scale websites.  But pretty much all of them have the capability to dynamically insert content based on the parameters on the inbound URL, or something like that.

Susan Bratton:  Well, Joomla, you’d actually have to have a programmer develop it for you, and Interwoven would be a very expensive product.  What about for people who are, you know, running non-profits, or marketing for museums, or whatever it might be?  How could they get something that if they don’t have developers, and they don’t have big budgets, what might work for them?

Tim Ash:  Well, actually, I’m glad that you brought that up.  There is a company that, in the name of full disclosure, we’re partnering with them; I’ll describe that in a second, here, that has a terrific product just for that purpose.  It’s called On Dialog, and what they have are personalized landing pages.  So you can, using a what you see is what you get, or WYSIWYG editor, create your landing pages on the fly.  And you can personalize them for the affiliate they’re coming from, for the keyword that they’re coming from, whatever you want to do, and dynamically insert text or graphical content into the page.  It makes it very easy to manage all that, and to do that on a large scale.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah, sometimes the best tips of the show come right at the end, don’t they?  (laughs)

Tim Ash:   Yeah, and well, we’re going to be announcing shortly with On Dialog, so you’re getting a sneak peek for your listeners, here, is a partnership where our fully automated large scale testing back end  is going to be plugged into their systems.  So, we don’t think you should ever put out a landing page that hasn’t been fully tested and optimized for conversion.  And here you can easily create it without any IT support.  You know, the marketer just comes up with the headlines and the variations, press a button, and get the best performing version once you’ve turned on your traffic.

Susan Bratton:  I can’t wait to check that out. 

Tim Ash:  Very powerful system. 

Susan Bratton:  Pretty cool.  Well, we have just a few minutes left, and I want to switch gears completely with you, Tim.  You have been so good to indulge me in all these listener questions.  I could tell that people really wanted to ask these questions of you.  I thought the questions were excellent; I really appreciated your responses.  But I also, when, you know, you and I were talking about you coming on the show, we had some conversations about Tim Ash, and who you are; it wouldn’t be a DishyMix without me asking a couple of things about the man behind, the big brain on landing pages.  And one of the things I always ask people is, what book do you recommend to friends?  What’s the thing that really changed your life?  And you said The Lexus and the Olive Tree, by Thomas Friedman.  Would you net that book out for us?

Tim Ash:  Sure.  He wrote it several years ago, and he’s come out with a couple of excellent books since then, including Hot, Flat and Crowded, which is his latest.  But The Lexus and the Olive Tree, you know, Thomas comes from a reporting, journalistic background.  He’s been all over the world.  And the book was written in the style where, he’s just basically taking his anecdotes, which seem completely unrelated, about things he’s seen in the world, and then puts this larger framework, and that I found very useful, on top of it.  Which is that there’s always this competing tug of war between our sense of place, and tribe, and history, if you will.  And the efficiency of large scale economies and this post-industrial future we all live in.  With money flow sloshing around the world, and manufacturing being set up wherever it’s most cost efficient, and outsourcing and all of that; globalization, in a word.  And a lot of things that don’t seem to make sense can really come in to sharp focus when you see it as competition between these two world views.  So I found that to be one of the most eye-opening books I’ve read in a long time.

Susan Bratton:  Why did that land so deeply with you?

Tim Ash:  I think that one of the things he talks about in the book is that we all want somebody to blame, or to take responsibility for what’s happening in the world.  And one of the seminal ideas in his book was that no one is driving the bus.  That there’s no conspiracy, that there’s no Star Chamber, or powerful people that are controlling our future, or the titans of industry, or the CIA, or what have you.  It’s these impersonal decisions made by millions and billions of people around the globe, with what they buy, how they vote, what stocks they invest in, and that’s what moves the world’s economy, and that’s what creates all of these unexpected effects that impact us very, very profoundly.

Susan Bratton:  Did you read The Black Swan yet?

Tim Ash:  No, I haven’t.

Susan Bratton:  You’ll like that; if you liked this, you’ll like that.  I forget the dude’s name who wrote it, but he talks about how there are these kind of cataclysmic disruptions in the state of our culture, our worlds, the globalization, and how those have a ripple effect.  So, it kind of dovetails what you’re talking about with The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

Tim Ash:  Mm hmm.

Susan Bratton:  Your favorite conference to attend is Affiliate Summit.  If we have listeners who haven’t been there, can’t get there this year due to budgetary issues, or what have you, what’s a way that someone who’s starting to do landing pages or has landing pages and now feels like they’re ready to reach out and do some, get beyond PPC and do some Affiliate deals, how can they connect into that community?

Tim Ash:  Well, the Affiliate world is all about networking, and people seek each other out, so the advertisers are always looking for Affiliates that will try to promote their offers, and so, there are a lot of websites that you can go to, they have a pretty strong Facebook community.  You can also join some of the larger networks, like say, Commission Junction, or something like that.  And you’ll get into the flow of conversation about what’s going on in the industry.  But, attending the Summits is really kind of unique; in addition to very solid educational content, just the networking is crazy.  People are there to do business; they’re not there to be standoffish or posture.  They want the deal, they want the opportunity, they want to see if it, how they can work with you, if at all possible.  It’s a very friendly and approachable industry, and the professionalism level has really just skyrocketed over the last few years. 

Susan Bratton:  That’s great.  So, the offline thing maybe would be to at least start joining some of the Affiliate programs, but also if you join, you might not be ready, and you might not be ready to do a {can’t understand acronym} kind of deal; so, going to the Facebook community is a good alternative to that, I think, don’t you?

Tim Ash:  Definitely.  And the Affiliate Summit, I mean, the organizers of that have a new magazine called Feedburner, that comes out on a, I believe a quarterly basis, or maybe around the conferences; that’s a great resource.  And I know that Shawn Collins and Missy Ward do a great job with a lot of educational content.  They often make videos of the speakers from the Summits available, for instance.  And listening to that kind of content can really be transforming, too.

Susan Bratton:  That’s good.  Alright.  This was a fun one that I wanted to ask you about:  The axiom by which you live your life, the beginning part of it is:  House rules.  Tell us the end.

Tim Ash:  Well, I think, as far as I know, I didn’t copy this.

Susan Bratton:  It’s your own saying.

Tim Ash:  I came up with it on my own, and, you know, I always, in some life situation kind of hits you in the face, it really helps to put it in perspective, so, I always say:  House rules, no one gets out alive.  And, for me, that means, you don’t have any time to waste here.  Moping doesn’t help.  Gloating doesn’t help.  Posturing doesn’t help.  We’re all really in the same boat.  You get this one time around, unless you’re a Buddhist, in which case you get many, at least in this lifetime, it’s going to come to an end, very quickly, you’re going to get older and die.  And so, that really helps you, whatever your belief system is, think about living a meaningful life, and focusing on what’s important, and having that long view, that in the long run, we’re all dead.  And somehow, that’s very, to me, liberating and at the same time helps me focus.

Susan Bratton:  I love it.  And it’s a perfect segue to my final question for you, Tim.  You talked about the cultivation of the complete person.  You know, the complete person of Tim, this barely scratches the surface, but you described yourself to me in so many ways as a Russian Immigrant, a Salsa dancer, a photographer of black-and-white nudes.  You love your Tai-chi Chuan, did I say it right?  Tai-chi Chuan.  You’re a martial arts instructor.  And you’re so many things, yet you use your martial arts to cultivate your complete self.  I’d like you to share your experience of how that works in your life.

Tim Ash:  Well, when I was at college at UC San Diego, I was a saber fencer, was the captain of the saber team, and All-Conference, collegiate saber fencer.  And after I stopped doing that, there was kind of a gap in my life, and even though I did other activities, I didn’t really have a structured daily practice around which to build my character, if you will.  And martial arts training, especially of the modern manifestations of it, really provide that.  In other words, knowing karate or something isn’t going to save your life when someone’s facing you with an M16.  So, the purpose isn’t really self-defense, necessarily.  It’s what did it teach you about discipline, what did it teach you about relating to the present moment and your circumstances, what did it teach you about patience and humility, and all the setbacks that you have with any kind of fundamental daily practice or art.  Whether it’s yoga, or dance, or anything else.  And basically, you’ve kind of like, you are what you eat; you are what you practice.  And the training for a warrior was pretty comprehensive, because it touched on all the deep, philosophical issues as well as the emotional and physical, the obvious aspects of it.

Susan Bratton:  I don’t know if you’ve ever read a book yet, it’s fairly new, by Ken Wilbur, called Integral Life Practice, but it’s a new strategy for encompassing the spiritual, the physical, the mental, and the emotional.  That might appeal to you; it might appeal to anyone who is listening to you and thinking, “Well, I like the idea of that level of practice being a daily or a frequent part of my life”.  So, you might want to check that out, too.

Tim Ash:  Definitely will. 

Susan Bratton:  Little tip, little tip of a book.  (laughs)  That’s great.  Well, Tim, you’ve been very indulgent with me, and as anyone listening, all of our DishyMix listeners, who’ve gone almost an hour with us, thank you so much.  You know, I try not to take up an hour.  I try to keep it as close to a half an hour every week as I can, but I just felt like we had so much pent up energy around answers to the questions that our listeners this time, that I really appreciate you going so methodically through all of those questions for me.

Tim Ash:  Oh, it’s definitely been my pleasure, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Susan Bratton:  Absolutely.  Alright, well, you got to meet Tim Ash today, with SiteTuners.  I know you’ll be checking out his website to see how he’s built that whole thing; I’m on my way there right now!  Lunch and check out SiteTuners.com a little more deeply, now that I know his strategy.  If you want a copy of Landing Page Optimization by Tim, he’ll autograph it for you; just be one of the two people that post the most fun and interesting reason why it should be yours at DishyMixFan.com.  I am your host, Susan Bratton.  It’s been great to connect with you today.  Thank you so much.  I hope I did a good job for you, and I hope you’ll tune in next week, and have a great day.  Bye Bye.

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