Episode #8: How to optimize your website for new customers

October 08, 2022

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What's this episode about?

In this episode, we talk about why a lot of websites have started to look very similar - especially in the SaaS industry. 

In our work, we encounter tons of websites that don’t communicate what they’re really about in a clear way. This is super repellent for new customers especially when they have no previous contact with your brand and company. 

We dive into the reasons why we think this is happening and what to do about it.

Don't like videos? Read the conversation here:

[00:00:00] Gerda: And even just like doing the exercise of Okay, so if I had never heard of this company never been on this website, never seen their ads, don't know anything about it. I opened the landing page or homepage or whatever. Do I like know what I'm supposed to do 

[00:00:14] Ryan: Just, open up your website and say hey grandma, what does this company do?

[00:00:18] Gerda: Hey, we're still outside wearing sunglasses, being impersonable because it's summer and we wanted to film outside. 

[00:00:28] Ryan: Yeah, exactly. 

[00:00:29] Gerda: But yeah, today's topic is why all websites are starting to look the same, especially in. software as a service industry. And how one of the biggest like problems that we see in customer research is that new customers, specifically when they land on websites, it takes them too much time, if at all, to figure out what is going on, what is this site about and who is it for?[00:01:00] 

[00:01:01] Ryan: Yeah. It's like one of the biggest gaps that we find when we're doing our conversion research is just basic explanation of what the company does. Even so that somebody who doesn't already know about you when they land on the website, they'll be able to quickly figure that out. And it's amazing, like how often that comes up that that's just not done very well.

[00:01:22] It's like the company skips right to all these other considerations. Being clever or communicating their latest offer or all sorts of things, and they forget about this whole like, okay, but just tell people what you do, . . 

[00:01:36] Gerda: And I find it especially like crazy because I did a LinkedIn post about this topic a while back and.

[00:01:43] Jeremy Epperson I hope I'm saying his name right. He like commented on my post, he's one of the prominent people in CRO industry as well, and he said, I'll put the comment screenshot somewhere, but he did like a project where his team looked at [00:02:00] 150 different SaaS landing pages, and literally zero of them said what they actually do in like a clear 

[00:02:07] concise manner and he's saying as well that it's so crazy, like out of 150 webpages, nobody's saying what they do. This is a very small sample in essence, but still it seems so insane and people are saying as well, it's but why am I shocked?

[00:02:23] This is my job and I like see this everywhere all the time, right? 

[00:02:27] Ryan: Yep. Definitely and like also run plenty of tests on that exact principle. And they do well quite consistently. If, like vague value proposition is like one of the best low hanging fruit tests or issues that you can address with a test.

[00:02:44] Why is this so common? Why do websites or people who are managing websites rather can't really personify the website itself?

[00:02:52] Gerda: So I think part of it is because within some funnel steps on the website, it is better. [00:03:00] Or there are specific things that customers are used to. Like for example, checking out in ecom or you don't wanna get like too creative with your checkout experience.

[00:03:09] Yeah. Because if it's unfamiliar to customers, then that's gonna create more frustration, right? Yeah. So there is a pretty Good. Established like checkout flow already. I feel there's always like room for improvement, but I don't think that's the spot to be creative really.

[00:03:26] . But on the flip side, the spot to be creative is your homepage and the landing pages, to capture the attention and whatever. Yeah. But there, people seem to apply that same principle that maybe being similar. is the best way to go or whatever, because people are used to it, but then nobody understands what you're actually doing.

[00:03:46] Ryan: Yeah. And it is it's alarming. Similar, some of those websites are like the thing I'm thinking about now is like that thing with the little dots, with all the lines between them as like the hero background. And then some of them made it [00:04:00] so that it'll follow the cursor and stuff 

[00:04:02] Gerda: like that.

[00:04:03] Yeah. Trying to like make it interactive and interesting 

[00:04:06] Ryan: and Yeah. Which not, which serves no purpose at all to get somebody just going like this on your website . Yeah. And even 

[00:04:12] Gerda: just putting focus and resource into developing something like that, versus just saying in your hero statement of what your company 

[00:04:20] Ryan: does.

[00:04:21] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and I think like a root cause. The messaging side of things, like aside from the design of the hero or whatever, like just, communicating the value proposition like why that is done so poorly or basically just not done is that, The team that's responsible for it is so close to the product.

[00:04:41] , like they're working with it every day and there's just certain things that are so obvious to them that they don't really understand what a completely uninformed person is going to think about this. And they, it's hard to put yourself in the mindset of somebody who understands so much less than you do about a particular topic like your business [00:05:00] or your website.

[00:05:01] And that's one of the reasons that when we come in a CRO project, it's, for us, it's just so obvious that this is not clear enough. We need to fix this and. , that's what's useful about bringing in someone from the outside is they offer that kind of naive like external perspective cause they're not in the weeds every day.

[00:05:17] They're not so close to it, they're not so familiar with your own internal lingo and like all that kind of stuff. 

[00:05:24] Gerda: Yeah, that's a good point. But I think that especially in like in the SaaS business and service side of things, it's. , even we, when we were creating our own website, it is hard to put it in a clear one sentence statement of what your company does.

[00:05:42] Yeah. And I feel like it's especially difficult for SaaS companies because they might have a product that does a million different things, for example your product that you're selling, it might do 10 or a hundred different things. It might have so many features that are solving different types of [00:06:00] problems and whatever. So how do you even put it in one sentence of what you do, right?

[00:06:04] Ryan: Yeah. How do you pick what is the most important thing to communicate? And that's always like a trade off or a paradox or something where it's if you're trying to talk to everyone, you're talking to no one. Yeah. You need to get more specific or as specific you as you can, even just to provide the context and like motivation for the new person who has just landed here.

[00:06:27] To understand enough that they want to investigate more. , and then they can find out about those other a hundred things you do 

[00:06:33] Gerda: yeah. And then again, like on the flip side, like especially in e-com and whatever, then they go for the slider in the hero, right? Where like they can't agree naturally what that one statement about the company or one offer should be.

[00:06:47] So they do a slider where it's just, On a loop. Like different types of offers or different statements or whatever. Yep, 

[00:06:55] Ryan: exactly. Yeah. It's almost like a different symptom of the same cause of [00:07:00] not quite knowing what is the most important thing to say. So you try to say five things and have them swipe off the screen and stuff.

[00:07:09] Gerda: Yeah, and I guess it's always. of Like an odd thing when we do research is like the basic analytics report that is the new versus returning customers. It pretty much always shows that returning customers have a higher conversion rate, right? Yep. And I yeah, you can argue there about like how it's set up and whatever and how it's tracked or, 

[00:07:32] Ryan: Yeah.

[00:07:32] I think it's also useful to look at. Other reports, like the time lag and like touchpoints to conversion to get a fuller story about that. Mm-hmm. ,, because there's usually gonna be a pretty sizable chunk of people, like maybe, 20 or 30% or something who are informed enough on their first visit to actually complete the transaction or the sign up.

[00:07:53] There's gonna be a lot more people that will do it on the second visit, third visit, fourth visit, and even like the next [00:08:00] day or day after. And there's a lot of reasons for that. And it depends on the complexity of your product, the price point, what the alternatives are.

[00:08:08] If it's a really cheap impulse buy people can just click through from an Instagram ad and they'll just, they're ready to just get their credit card out. You're gonna see a lot more like first visit conversions from new users, obviously where it's like a B2B product that's, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[00:08:23] Yeah. And it's gonna be two months before anybody actually makes the decision to pull the trigger than, much different situation. 

[00:08:29] Gerda: I guess my point was that when you're doing like research for a specific company or website or whatever, and you point this out, like even from these analytics reports or whatever, that people are bouncing off or the new customers are not converting or there's time lags and like whatever, then people always.

[00:08:47] it's almost like shocking because , it's one thing that they're so close to their own product that maybe they don't think enough from the new customer's perspective. Yeah. And it's just then shocking to us that [00:09:00] other people are shocked that they're not converting new customers when their , hero statement says something like, Oh, we have specialized services for businesses, or something like that.

[00:09:09] Ryan: ? 

[00:09:09] Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. . , and I mean, the other thing to also consider is, if you're relying on analytics a huge chunk of the people that are tagged as new users are actually returning users. Cuz what new user, returning user just means is there a cookie already or not? Yeah, . Yeah.

[00:09:28] True. And cookies get deleted, they expire. People sign in on different devices, different browsers, and it'll say, This is a new user. And wow, they converted right away. But you don't know. You actually have no idea whether they are really familiar with your website from lots of previous visits perhaps.

[00:09:43] Gerda: Yeah. And it's of like this other side of the attribution where like attribution in itself is basically a really flawed concept. Yeah. In a way that is presented at the moment. Yeah. 

[00:09:54] Ryan: That's a whole other topic. Yeah. So other than, The website, [00:10:00] homepage hero value proposition. I wanted also just mention that this idea of optimizing for new users should be carried over in almost everywhere in the website.

[00:10:11] Because if you do a good job of just explaining the high level of what you do, that's great, but then if they start digging deeper, going into some of your product pages or solution pages or whatever they are, where there's more depth of information there you still need that guidance and sign posting and stuff like that so that like they can quickly pick up all these extended concepts as well.

[00:10:33] And if you're weighing the two, a returning user, someone who's familiar with you already, it's really easy for them to ignore information that is too basic for them. That they already know that it's easy to skip past it cuz they've seen it already. But for the new user, if that information isn't there, they can't just invent it.

[00:10:50] They can't just fill in the blanks themselves. And so what does that mean? It means that they don't understand your product.

[00:10:57] And, one thing we've learned time and again with doing [00:11:00] optimization is that there's no point in trying to motivate somebody or persuade somebody to take an action that they don't understand. Mm-hmm. .. So understanding is the prerequisite for everything else that you build on top of that.

[00:11:12] Otherwise maybe you'll trick a lot of people into buying something and then you're gonna have really high return rates because it's not what they expected. 

[00:11:18] Gerda: So one side of it is definitely the, like people focusing too much on motivation before clarity. . But then there's the other category where we've run into this recently where there's a team that's really focused on the ux.

[00:11:32] . Yeah. All of the testing and everything that they do is really UX focused, which in itself is of course not bad or anything. Yeah. But if you ignore the other side of having clear enough copy and like just saying what these things are and like, I don't know, saying what buttons do and what the company on the site is about.

[00:11:53] Then the UX in itself almost. Is not helpful in that sense, 

[00:11:57] Ryan: right? Yeah. Or at [00:12:00] least it's secondary ux experiments can be really good experiments. Like when you're trying to optimize the layout or how things are displayed or But I would not put them in the category of the most potentially impactful experiments that you can run.

[00:12:14] , like messaging, like stuff that's, that has to do with the basic understanding Yeah. And value communication and clarity, that's where the bigger wins are gonna be, especially if if this is an area that you haven't optimized and haven't really gotten your customer user's perspective on through research before.

[00:12:28] Gerda: Yeah. Easy way to think about it would be to like, okay, you can have really nicely designed buttons lined up and but if you don't know what those buttons do, then you're not gonna click them. So 

[00:12:38] Ryan: yeah. . Yeah, exactly. That kind of puts it all in perspective. . Yeah. And then in terms of what to do about this, qualitative research, I think if I had to just pick one phrase of like how to address issues like that, 

[00:12:53] Gerda: or even just making use of the resources that you already have, like maybe you have reviews or something or [00:13:00] customer. Call logs or like whatever. Chat logs, something that you can mine and see what sort of terminology and language they're 

[00:13:09] Ryan: using. Yeah, true. Like even without having to collect any additional data mm-hmm. ,, there's probably already lots of data that you can just analyze and learn from, and understand that voice of customer perspective.

[00:13:20] , understand how they. Frame the problem and the solution. And if you wanna go deeper into that one really powerful way to understand that would be customer interviews with a jobs to be done, kind of framework mostly just because that's the main framework that people use for customer interviews that.

[00:13:37] Maybe there are better ones, but I haven't really heard of them . But that is really good at just understanding, like from the customer's perspective, just that how do they even conceive of the problem? How do they talk about the problem? And then, how does your solution fit into that and address the problem and stuff.

[00:13:52] And, that can give you some pretty good nuggets in terms of like how to frame that messaging. Otherwise, user testing can be pretty useful. Usually you don't want to [00:14:00] use user testing for. Gathering customers opinions about things, it's almost more useful for the UX side of things. But usually when we run around of user testing, the first task is just a basic comprehension task of just, okay, look around the website a little bit and explain what this company does.

[00:14:19] And then we get an idea of how successful they are at just understanding. And there is variations of this five second test. It's literally limited to five seconds or 10 seconds or something. I don't usually find that necessary because even if you don't specify a time limit, people are still gonna struggle to understand Yeah.

[00:14:37] What the company does. 

[00:14:39] Gerda: Yeah. And it doesn't matter if they don't get it within five or 10 seconds. They're still 

[00:14:43] Ryan: not getting it. Yeah, exactly.

[00:14:44] Now I have to put the sunglasses back on.

[00:14:46] Say once you've gathered some data through whatever, Research methods then, if you have the volume for it, AB testing, this type of thing is so important that you will actually very likely see a pretty good effect [00:15:00] from running an AB test with clear messaging, clear value prop and then, keep refining it.

[00:15:05] This isn't something that you test once, like it's a really rich area so you can. keep testing this over and over again as you learn about, Yeah, as your 

[00:15:12] Gerda: company or services or whatever you're offering, that thing is evolving over time as well. So yeah, you have to customize probably what you're saying on your web 

[00:15:24] Ryan: anyway.

[00:15:24] Yep, exactly.

[00:15:26] Gerda: So yeah. We should wrap it up. 

[00:15:27] Ryan: Should wrap it up. Yeah. What's the point of all this? I think it's basically focus on clarity first, try to get outside of your company's internal mindset of familiarity with the context and the product.

[00:15:42] Yeah. 

[00:15:42] Gerda: And even just like doing the exercise of Okay, so if I had never heard of this company never been on this website, never seen their ads, don't know anything about it. I opened the landing page or homepage or whatever. Do I like know what I'm supposed to do or, Yeah, exactly. So going through [00:16:00] that. 

[00:16:00] Ryan: You can even just show it to a friend or a relative, like to get a quick read on that. Just, open up your website and say hey grandma, what does this company do? , sometimes your product might be a little bit more niche than that. It's not intended for general population.

[00:16:13] , but sometimes it's still helpful anyway. Like you still wanna be able to explain to somebody who doesn't know what's going on. 

[00:16:19] Gerda: Yeah. So also, do you have any Recommendations or ideas for SaaS companies specifically, Like what to do to stand out and how to solve that problem of my product does too much.

[00:16:31] I can't really water it down to one sentence. 

[00:16:34] Ryan: That's always a challenge too, but there is, there has to be something that's unique about your product, even if it does a lot of stuff. Maybe it's the case that the doing a lot of stuff is the differentiating factor, and then be explicit about that.

[00:16:49] But usually you can frame it as, who is this actually for what kind of problem does it solve for this specific person? Or if not person, group of people, segment of [00:17:00] people. One of the biggest challenges with SaaS is that the product itself is usually I don't know if complex is the right word, but there's a lot going on, like it's not just some page with information or whatever. So once you get into the product, hopefully you have some good onboarding flows and some tutorials or something so that people can get up to speed once they're in there.

[00:17:22] But before they sign up, people have no idea what's in there. So I think the best thing that you can do is provide little windows into the product and that can take the form of, a video or a tour demo video. Like a lot of companies like SaaS products are trying to. Push people to get in touch with their sales in order to even do the demo, which kind of puts all the, these obstacles in between.

[00:17:48] , and there's probably a time for that once the customer has, or potential customer has higher intent and they're getting closer to being ready to pull the trigger. But in order to get to that point, the more you can offer a little glimpse into [00:18:00] what the product is like in terms of. Functionality and even just like what the interface looks like, it can be really helpful to fill in those blanks and help them be more ready to actually get in touch with your sales people.

[00:18:12] For e-com, the biggest tip that I have is do not take over your entire homepage, hero

[00:18:20] area with your current offer, cause I see this all the time, I've even seen it with customers where, or clients rather, where we've actually done some testing and come up with a pretty solid value proposition for the homepage and then suddenly it's Black Friday. That disappears and it's all about get 40% off site wide of, and then you're back into this thing of trying to like motivate people to do something that you haven't actually explained in any way yet.

[00:18:46] So as much as possible, keep that value proposition there and use other space for your offers, your promotions, the new products like all that kind of stuff, that's all secondary to just like general basic value [00:19:00] proposition communicating. 

[00:19:01] Gerda: So that's it for today. Thanks for listening. Peace out.

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