Smart Insights Digital Marketing > The Marketing Strategy Blog Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:49:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Aggregation of Marginal Gains Thu, 17 Apr 2014 06:54:58 +0000 Applying Dave Brailsford’s philosophy of excellence to improve results from digital marketing

Aggregation-marginal-gains 2The recent announcement that Sir Dave Brailsford has stepped down as British Cycling performance director to concentrate on Sky team management reminded me of his famous philosophy for improving performance from his team and how it can be applied to digital marketing.

British Cycling describe his marginal gains philosophy as perhaps his greatest British Cycling legacy. The technique is encapsulated by this quote:

“If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by one percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together,”

Implementing his marginal gains approach initially led to success in Chris Hoy’s gold in the kilometre time-trial and Bradley Wiggins’ gold in the individual pursuit in Athens. More recently, multiple Olympic gold medals and the Tour de France victories by Wiggins and Froome again showed the technique in action.

Google Chrome 4

With results like this, unsurprisingly this philosophy has been discussed around how it can be applied in the business world too, so I thought it would be interesting to step through how this can be applied to digital marketing.

First, it’s worth exploring more how Brailsford explains how the approach is applied to cycling. In this 2010 article on the aggregation of marginal gains. He explains it with this example:

“It means taking the 1% from everything you do; finding a 1% margin for improvement in everything you do. That’s what we try to do from the mechanics upwards.

If a mechanic sticks a tyre on, and someone comes along and says it could be done better, it’s not an insult – it’s because we are always striving for improvement, for those 1% gains, in absolutely every single thing we do.”

He also gives the example of Nicole Cooke winning road gold in Beijing:

“The skinsuit did not win Cooke the gold medal. The tyres did not win her the gold medal. Nor did her cautious negotiation of the final corner. But taken together, alongside her training and racing programme, the support from her team-mates, and her attention to many other small details, it all added up to a significant advantage – a winning advantage”.

Applying the aggregation of marginal gains approach to digital marketing

So, how can we apply this approach to digital marketing? You can see that the mindset of marginal gains is closely linked to the mindset of data-driven marketing and improving online sales through conversion rate optimisation. Many companies are already following this approach at level 4 and 5 of what we called Always-on marketing in our research on Managing Digital channels from earlier in the year:


To create this “Always-on” philosophy of testing and improvements these are the actions that I have seen working with companies who are applying the marginal gains approach to digital marketing.

  • 1. Adopt the optimisation mindset. Optimisation is a way of thinking in the same way that British Cycling and Sky call their approach a philosophy. Optimisation requires a dedicated process and resource. It is difficult to make it part of existing processes or roles.
  • 2. Gain senior support for resourcing and optimisation initiative. In all companies, a senior manager who champions optimisation is needed. They can help ring fence the resource and time needed for continuous optimisation. Without this other campaign activities will tend to always take precedence.This research on supporting digital initiatives from PwC shows that leading organisations have a champion for major digital initiatives.

    CEO support for digital initiatives

  • 3. Use specialist resource. Brailsford brought in many performance specialists such as nutritionists and psychologist Steve Phillips.  In the digital marketing world, although vendors of AB/multivariate testing services will say that it is easy to setup a test and this is true, designing the test and evaluating the results at the right level of statistical confidence is not. Specialist CRO consultants and agencies can help here.
  • 4. Identify and prioritise your performance drivers across customer touchpoints. Optimisation is much broader than testing some key landing pages. Every page template on the site can have an impact as can media through remarketing and email marketing, even more with targeting and personalisation. Persuasion needs to be optimised across the whole customer journey.
  • 5. Benchmark performance using the right KPIs. Improvement needs a baseline with the right KPIs selected to improve performance. In Digital marketing this isn’t just overall conversion rate since that has many limitations as a KPI. You need to look at overall performance measures such as revenue or goal value per visit by segment and micro or step conversion.
    6. Prioritise and schedule the right digital optimisation initiatives. The chart above shows many areas of optimisation, so you need to identify the quick wins which will have the biggest impact and then set targets for improvement, as part of a 90 day planning programme for example.

Here are some common digital marketing optimization initiatives, which would you add?

Conversion rate optimisation. Removing inefficiencies in customer journeys and optimising different page template types using AB and multivariate testing.

  • Optimising visibility in the SERPs with search marketing. This includes optimisation of AdWords creative and targeting and using Google Webmaster Tools to improve the clickthrough rate for key search terms and pages.
  • Email marketing optimisation. Testing subject lines and email creative – particularly for automated emails that are used to boost conversion or retention.
  • Social media optimisation. Defining the best type of content and timing using SMO.
  • Media optimisation. Improving the efficiency of display ad investments across publishers and social networks by refining bidding and creative, for example using Real-time bidding services or AdWords display network optimisation.

So, there are many optimisation techniques that can be applied IF their importance is recognised and they are resourced accordingly.

A final point to bear in mind is that many of these techniques centre on boosting efficiency rather than communications effectiveness. Often, bigger gains are possible through improvements to the good old 4Ps of the online marketing mix, that’s Product, Price and Place (Promotion is well covered by optimisation). Developing a desirable, engaging brand is also part of this mix. I’m reminded of an AB test I was involved with for a credit card provider where it was all about the rate on the card rather than the page layout, creative and copy. The product managers needed to look at that to get the improvements needed.

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A-Z of LinkedIn Marketing Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:20:00 +0000 30+ ways LinkedIn can help you and your business

LinkedIn recently announced that they now have over 277 million users.  It’s a reminder that LinkedIn gives opportunities to connect and communicate for both individuals and businesses. In this post, we use an A-Z checklist to summarise the main features that are available for individuals and businesses on LinkedIn. We also update on which have been retired… since LinkedIn is a moving target.

LinkedIn users

30 LinkedIn features


These are the main features we think you need to be aware of on LinkedIn. Review which of these LinkedIn features you use to see how you can make more use of LinkedIn.

Note that some features you may have heard about have been withdrawn by LinkedIn that you may not be aware of that we keep for completeness (*).

  • 1. Activity Broadcast. Activity shared on your LinkedIn page and viewed by others, depending on the settings chosen. This includes group membership, comments, profile changes and application downloads. It will show when you change your profile, make recommendations or follow companies, etc.
  • 2. Ads. LinkedIn has targeted ads which enable you to post pay-per-click ads to target users by their role. They can be text ads or video ads which can be AB tested to find the most effective ad creative and message.
  • 3. Apps (*). Applications were provided as options to share your content from other sites seamlessly on your profile. The Amazon reading list app, Slideshare and WordPress blog sharing tools were the best known. Apps are no longer available, but a similar feature is now available when editing the profile summary since LinkedIn owns Slideshare and you can also add YouTube videos.
  • 4. Advanced Search. You can find influencers to connect with using this approach rather than standard search which works best for known connections.
  • 5. Ask Questions (*). A feature to ask Questions where other members could reply. This feature was removed end of January 2013. Many companies are now turning to Quora as an alternative.
  • 6. Company Page. A page on LinkedIn where a company can list their products and services (via Showcase Pages) and share promotions, news and content through Status updates. More recent than Facebook brand pages and less widely used. We cover the best way to setup a profile in Step 1 of the guide.
  • 7. Company Page – Products and Services (Discontinued): This is no longer available, and has been replaced with Showcase Pages.
  • 8. Connections. Members in your network on LinkedIn who you invited or have invited to connect with and follow. Through connecting you will receive their status updates.
  • 9. Contact info. Links to your websites are available in the Contact Info section of your profile. Unfortunately, these now require a click to be seen by profile viewers, but don’t forget to include your sites or other social networks.
  • 10. Endorsements. These are endorsements for skills on individual profiles. They only require a single click so recommendations are a deeper level of endorsement.
  • 11. Events. Event organisers could post their events and encourage attendees to note their attendance. This was withdrawn in November 2012. Many companies are now turning to Google+ Events as an alternative.
  • 12. Followers. LinkedIn members can follow companies to keep abreast of their activity which will be displayed in your LinkedIn Home page in personal settings. You can choose to unfollow them by selecting ‘Profile Following’ and ‘Unfollow’.
  • 13. Group. A separate community discussion area created to discuss and share information around a topic.
  • 14. InMail. A paid membership service which enables you to send a message to members you are not connected with.
  • 15. Network and connections. Your network is the people you contact through your connections, consisting of 1st degree, 2nd degree and 3rd degree connections including members of our groups. 1st degree: people you have chosen to connect with; 2nd degree: contact of a 1st degree connection i.e. a friend of a friend. To connect, request an introduction through your 1st degree connection. 3rd degree: contact of your 2nd degree connection.
  • 16. Polls. Create a poll to share with your status updates or within a Group.
  • 17. Plugins. Use these widgets available from the LinkedIn developer page to embed content from LinkedIn on your site or blog to encourage interaction on LinkedIn.
  • 18. Profile organiser (Discontinued). A paid LinkedIn premium service used for managing contacts. The features of this are available to non paying members now, since the launch of LinkedIn Contacts, where you can organise your lists with tags and notes.
  • 19. Profile page. The home page for an individual member where they can summarise their career and information shared on LinkedIn. There are ‘public’ and ‘private settings’. We cover the best way to setup a profile in Step 1 of the guide.
  • 20. Recommendations. Recommendations are short written reviews of individuals from colleagues, customers or other partners.
  • 21. Signal (Discontinued).  This was a useful tool for following streams within your sector since you can select by keyword and source of updates. You can now only search articles on the new publishing platform.
  • 22. Skills. LinkedIn Skills shows the popularity of different roles and examples of the most followed networkers within them.
  • 23. Tags. Use to categorise connections, so that you can follow-up with them using a message.
  • 24. Today (now renamed LinkedIn Pulse). LinkedIn Today highlights the most popular updates on specific topics, so is useful for keeping up-to-date and finding content worthwhile sharing. Find out more about LinkedIn Pulse and there is a mobile app available.  It is integrated into the Default News Page.
  • 25. Updates. Status updates are available via the company page and member’s pages, for members to share advice, stories and opinions of interest with their connections. In company accounts, followers can be targeted by Industry, size, job function, seniority and location, employees and / non employees and statistics are available on the engagement with the posts. To post a status, this can be only actioned from your ‘Home Page’.
  • 26. URL. When editing the profile summary you can add a URL for some web services like Slideshare, WordPress and YouTube. This enables you to embed content in a similar way to the retired apps feature.
  • 27. Widgets. Widgets help you integrate LinkedIn with your website or blog. You can encourage people to connect with individuals or share your content through sharing widgets.
  • 28. New Publishing Platform:  To be rolled out from February 2014 onwards. Share and contribute to longer posts with your network and community. To access this early, submit a form to LinkedIn. 
  • 29. Filter Emails: Instead of selecting emails to a group of connections by a specific criteria such as geography or industry, this has been replaced. You need to tag your lists and can email a max of 50 connections.
  • 30. Talent Updates: For paid members, recruiters can search beyond their connections to find candidates and can also add Sponsored Job Listings:  - want this adding?

Since features change through time, we alert members to major new features, before we add them to this guide on our blog via the LinkedIn Marketing hub. We also recently summarised the top 10 changes to LinkedIn in 2014.

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How to analyse A/B test results Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:45:16 +0000 Digging beyond Conversion Rate using primary and secondary conversion metrics and avoiding the common testing mistakes

Men with shovels

A/B testing is certainly not new, with the number of people and companies involved in testing is continuing to grow at an impressive rate.

Many companies start tentatively with a few sample tests, without investing in expertise or training in how to embed robust testing processes.

Drawing conclusions based on half-cooked tests is a sure-fire way to kill internal faith in your testing programme. You’re also potentially missing out on some of the most interesting insights.

I’ve written before about the importance of using both qualitative and quantitative research to develop the strongest hypotheses for testing. Also the importance of expertise and experience in developing the strongest concepts and then prioritising your testing schedule. However this post will focus primarily on how you then design experiments that accurately track significant changes in user behaviour, some of the common testing pitfalls, and how to get the most insight when interpreting A/B test results.

Tool agnostic caveat

In this article I will refer to Optimizely for testing and Google Analytics, which are our weapons of choice for most clients. However these recommendations and processes are tool agnostic and similar outcomes can be achieved with a number of different tools.

The importance of primary (macro) conversion metrics

When configuring a test we nearly always track (and we need a very good reason not to track) the primary macro conversion for the site. This may be a sale, a subscription or a lead generated. This is the most important site-wide action that aligns with your business goals. It’s your most important user goal/KPI.
Without tracking this we may well see an increase in click-through or some other goal but we may just be kicking a problem down the funnel. It’s also important to see if changes in micro conversion (such as a save to wish list for example) effects macro conversion.

An example

We ran a test for a subscription site where we promoted clear pricing information on what was essentially the product page as well as a key landing page template. We found that click-throughs to the subscription page reduced fairly significantly, but the total number of conversions actually increased. We were setting users’ expectations sooner, sending more highly qualified traffic through to the subscription page. In this example, if we hadn’t tracked primary conversion we may have concluded that showing pricing information harmed click-through and should be avoided, when actually it drove an increase in subscriptions.

The value of secondary (micro) conversion metrics

Tracking secondary metrics or “micro conversions” can either be the main goal to track for some tests, or offer another layer of insights to tests where macro conversion is the primary goal.
When designing an experiment we allocate time to consider what additional goals we want to track. It might be click goals for key Call-to-Actions (CTAs) tracked within Optimizely or events for key actions within Google Analytics such as video plays or scroll-depth tracking.

All of this tracking will improve the quality of your leanings. In some cases it can start to provide insights into why a test performed the way it did.


  • How did conversion vary when users watched the explainer video?
  • Did a specific section of tabbed content have an important impact?
  • How many people saw the new content that we added in the footer and how did that change their behaviour?

In many cases, the real learning is not simply whether a variation ‘worked’ or not in terms of macro-conversion, but what we can learn about changes in user behaviour which can inspire new hypotheses and influence further tests. You should be constantly trying to build up a picture of our users, their behaviour and which factors are most influential.

Common Test Analysis Pitfalls

I’ve seen a number of articles (as well as grumbling comments) challenging tests presented without a solid statistical basis. While I’ll leave the stats lesson to more qualified statisticians, here are some rules of thumb that have served us really well when testing.

Not enough conversions

When testing, the number of visitors is not nearly as important as the number of conversions of the primary goals of the experiment. Even if you have hundreds of thousands of visitors, if they are not converting then you can’t really learn a lot about the difference between the test variations.

As a rule of thumb we target a minimum of 300* conversions for each variation before we will call a test. I know others who will work with less, and this can be a real challenge for smaller sites or sites without high conversions numbers, but it’s a rule that we stick to rigidly.

Actually this is a bare minimum for us and where possible we try to collect a lot more conversion data. For instance, if we want to drill down into the test results using our analytics tool we will inevitably end up segmenting further as part of our post-test analysis.

For example, if we had 300 conversions for both the control (A) and the variation (B), segmenting by new vs. returning we may now have ~150 in each pot of the four pots. But what if 75% of visitors are new visitors? Each variation might only have 75 conversions for returning visitors. We can very quickly reach a point where our segments are not large enough to lead to significant results.

I can’t underline how valuable large datasets are for detailed post-test analysis.

Testing for short periods (example: weekend peaks)

It may be larger businesses with huge traffic volumes and large numbers of conversions that are particularly guilt of stopping tests too soon. The minimum cycle will vary for each business but for many it will be a week. Running tests for less than a week may mean that you miss out on any daily trends or patterns. For example one of our clients receives 25% of their visits on a Friday and this comes with a change in quality and behaviour. In this case, including or excluding a Friday in a test period could significantly changes the final results.

We recommend running tests for a minimum of two basic business cycles. This allows you to account for weekly trends and makes your conclusions more robust.

Statistical Significance and error bars (example: overlapping error bars)

Experience has taught us to be wary of statistical significance bars within testing tools. We look to achieve a statistical significance of >95% in order to call a test, but only when we have met our criteria for conversions and weekly cycles.


We have pushed experiments live and then received emails within hours declaring that they have reached statistical significance of >95%. Excitedly logging in to view our test results to find that the number of conversions has barely reached double figures.


The combination of getting the right number of conversions, minimum testing cycles and statistical significance when used together should allow you to run sound experiments and carry out robust post-test analysis.

Analysing Results in Detail

Basic Analysis

As a minimum for each experiment you should be tracking at least a primary goal within your testing tool and in some cases a number of secondary goals. This will allow you to understand the basic performance of each variation. Nothing too challenging here.

Advanced Analysis – Getting the most from your test

This is where it gets more interesting. Alongside those basic goals you can start to track or simply analyse a much wider set of metrics and dimensions.


Pushing custom variables from your testing solution into your analytics tool (this is really simple with Optimizely and Google Analytics) will give you a much wider set of data with which to compare your test variations.

For example:

  • Is this test performing differently for new/returning visitors?
  • Does a variation work particularly well for a specific traffic source?
  • Is a variation performing particularly poorly in a certain browser/OS? Could there be a bug?
  • Field level tracking and the tracking of error messages will help you analyse the performance of forms.


Creating custom segments based on your test segments can unlock all of this insights and much, much more. Custom segments for each of your test variations allows you to review the full set of analytics data in order to analyse the impact on user type (new vs returning, traffic sources, average order value, products viewed and bought, etc.)

(Reminder: be careful about sample sizes)

Really clever tricks

Qualitative feedback

Some on-site survey tools will allow you to add test variables to the data collected. This means  you can collect some qualitative feedback on your test variations.

For example, you may find that your visitor’s satisfaction rating or NPS changes based on the variations that you test. This could add a completely new angle to the interpretation of your results for an experiment.

Offline conversions

It will likely require a savvy developer but with many testing tools it’s possible to include offline conversion data into your tests (Optimizely info).

This means that you if a visitor sees one of your variations and then converts over the phone you can feed that data in to your test analysis.

Key Take-aways

  • Ensure you consider what tracking and goals are important to help you get deeper insights
  • Ensure you get the right number of conversions, over a long enough period to be statistically sound and allow for segmented post-test analysis
  • Advanced tips: look at pulling in different data sets to add further detail and context to your test results.

Equipped with the recommendations above and the examples of the types of information that you should be tracking you should be all set to avoid common testing pitfalls, collect the right data and carry out more meaningful post-test analysis than.

If you have any other tips or examples please feel free to share in the comments.

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How to use video in email marketing in 2014 Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:45:00 +0000 Is the linking, embedding or animated GIF technique best given recent email client enhancements?

Insert video or link? Video email exampleYou can embed video in emails. But just because you can, does it mean you should?

For a long time the possibility of playing video directly within an email had such limited support it wasn’t an option worth considering. The classic approach has become to include a still image of the video and a play button, which when clicked takes you to a landing page. The video doesn’t play inside the email.

Smartphones and in particular iOS supports video within the native email client using standard HTML5. This plus the fact that 50% of all emails are read on mobile devices means the question of whether to use embedded video or just link to video from the email is once again relevant to ask.

So the question is, it worth displaying your video using the new techniques today?

Simple animation using GIFs, including showing a few video frames or using a cinemagraph has been successfully used in emails to increase customer engagement. Such as this 109% uplift by Dell using gif animation to show off a product feature.

Since full video is the logical extension of animated GIFs embedding video in email and making it playable is a no-brainer. Right? Customers open up the email and get treated to seeing a video play.

My good friends at Email on Acid have tested use of the HTML5 video autoplay attribute and no email clients support it. Shame. That means that unlike animated GIFs, a video can’t be set to automatically play when an email is opened.

So to get a video to play from within an email needs a click.

The killer question is what happens once the customer has watched the video?
You need another click since you still have to get the customer to your landing page. That means getting two clicks from the customer.

Putting a strong call to action at the end of an embedded video to help get the second click won’t do it. Analysis of the stats published by Ken Magill shows that only 25% of viewers watch to the end of embed video. So 75% of customer won’t see a call to action at the end.

Email is just a stepping stone to take a customer to a landing page where the journey can continue with deeper engagement, whether that’s a download, getting a quote, exploring products and solutions, filling in a form or making a purchase. None of this can happen in an email. You have to get the click through.

Putting extra clicks in the way of a customer decreases conversion. Amazon created 1-Click because they found this out years ago.

  • Embedding a video in email means two clicks are needed to the landing page. One to watch the video and one to clickthrough to the landing page.
  • Using the classic static image with linked video approach and auto-playing the video on the landing page means just one click is needed to the landing page.

Embedded video could make sense if the rest of your email is heavily personalized with dynamic content used to target content precisely. Getting the clickthrough too early to the landing page would mean dumping the customer into generic content rather than keeping them reading in the email where the message has been tailor-made.

For the majority the best solution is to stick to a classic static image and linked video with auto-play on the landing page.

To help get the one clickthrough to play follow these tips:

  • Pick an engaging frame from the video to show as the static image. That may not be the first frame.
  • Overlay a play button on the frame image. YouTube have trained everyone to know exactly what the button means and does.
  • Make sure the video content supports the overall message in the email. A video off topic won’t help your marketing objective.
  • In the email copy explain in a couple of lines the value of watching the video, give people a reason to play.
  • Make sure you auto-play the video on the landing page for traffic arriving from email. After all if they clicked through they wanted to watch it. Services such as Wistia make this easy to do.

Video email example

More advanced still, use a hybrid approach

In the email use an animated GIF rather than static single video frame image, but still showing a play button. The animation can be of a few selected video frames, as in the example show from French Connection, or a few seconds of the video at reduced frame rate. The motion in the email tempts and teases customers to watch the full video with audio on the landing page.

In summary, to eliminate a click from the customer journey and to get customers to your ultimate goal faster, stick to playing video on your landing pages rather than embedding it into an email.


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The psychology of online pricing Tue, 15 Apr 2014 10:40:04 +0000 How price, type size, position on page and the colour of prices can all impact on whether people click the buy now button

The ultimate goal of marketing, of course, is to get people to buy. That means, that in an online context, actions that marketers can take to influence the pressing of a “buy now” button are desirable. 

But how often do we focus on what seem like trivial things, such as the size of the type used to show the price? Psychological research shows some interesting factors about the way prices are displayed. Get the display of prices right on a web page and you can affect the chances of that “buy now” button being pressed.

Price under magnifyng glass on barcode

There are several factors which I shall cover in this article:

  • Should prices end in an odd numbered digit?
  • It is not the last digit that matters, but the first one
  • The sound of prices influences clicks
  • Choosing the right type size can increase sales
  • The colour of price displays affects men more than women
  • Should your prices be on the left or right of the page?
  • Do you even need to tell them it is a price?

Of course, it’s assumed you will have determined the price points you want to charge using market research or considering Kotler’s Pricing Model. I wont be looking at price setting in this article, rather ideas on how to communicate prices through creative and copy.

Should prices end in an odd numbered digit?

It seems that almost everywhere you look online you can buy things for $97, £147 or €27. It seems as though we have forgotten that prices can end with a digit other than 7. Some people argue for ending in a 9, suggesting that £9.99 “feels” cheaper than £10.

Logically, of course, we know that £9.99 is as near £10 as you can get. But our brain doesn’t always work on logic. It appears that we “round up” even numbers, but “round down” odd ones.

So when we see £9.99 our brain, subconsciously, perceives this as getting further away from £10 – we think there is a growing gap, influencing us to buy because it looks like the price is getting cheaper. When you end a price in a 7 instead of a 9, the gap seems even bigger to our subconscious. That means you tend to get higher conversion rates when prices end in a 7 rather than a 9, explaining the preponderance of the figure 7 in online pricing. So why wouldn’t you end in a 5 or a 3 or even a 1? That’s because these digits bring in to play other psychological factors, such as the sound of the number or the influence of the first digit, rather than the last one.

It is not the last digit that matters, but the first one

Digits ranked one to five with five emphasised

The impact of odd numbers helping “round down” a price in our subconscious only tends to work when the last digit is high – such as 9 or 7. When the last digit is low the impact of the first digit becomes important.An example will help explain this.

Let’s imagine you gave a product you want to sell for around the £30 mark. If you sell it at £29.97 you benefit from the “rounding down” of the last digit, the 7. But what if you made the last digit a 1? You would get slightly higher profits from each sale by selling at £30.01 and you could argue that people would “round down” because of the final odd digit, thereby seeing a price lowering effect. That is true. But the problem now is the first digit, 3. That’s obviously bigger than 2 and hence you end up with a conversion issue.

The first digit in a price “frames” the buyer’s mind.

When the first digit is a 2, as in £29.97, we start with a low price in mind. To our subconscious mind, £29.97 is considerably cheaper than £30.01, even though there is only a few pence in it. The psychological gap between the two is much more substantial than the real gap because the price starts low and ends up rounding down. In reality what this means is

  • you need to price with a relatively high last odd digit in order to keep the first digit as low as possible.

But that still doesn’t answer why 7 is more popular than 9. After all, more profit is produced by ending in 9. The issue is to do with how our mind hears prices.

The sound of prices influences clicks

Research shows that the vowel sounds in prices influence whether or not we think they are high or low figures. So the digit 9 has a long vowel sound in the “nine”. Whereas 7 has short vowel sounds.

Researchers at the University of Chicago identified this phenomenon when testing what people thought of discounts.

They found, for instance, that when a $10 item was discounted to $7.66 it was perceived as cheaper than the same item discounted to $7.22. It was found that this was due to the impact of the sound of the prices.

Two is a longer sound than six and it appears that the length of the sound of the price influences how big we think it is.

  • When setting prices you need to say it out loud to work out the length of the price sound.

When people read your website a part of their brain comes into play known as the “phonological loop” which basically means they hear the price in their head when they look at the display on the web page. You need to ensure that what they hear is short, not long.

Choosing the right type size can increase sales

It’s not just the length of the sound of the price that make a difference, though. It is the size of the type you use. This is more straightforward – big type is equated with big prices and small type is perceived as a low price. So if you proudly display your prices in big type because you want to make people aware of your deep discounts, what their subconscious brain sees is something large.

Prices displayed in different type sizes

Consider what many websites do by showing the old price, struck through, and the new lower price. Frequently they size the new price as bigger than the old price to emphasise the discount. But this has the reverse effect on our brains. If the old price is bigger than the new lower price, then this is the logical way around – the type size reflects the decreasing price.

If you have lower prices you need smaller type than items which are higher priced. Using type proportionally for the varying prices you have can help increase conversion rates.

The colour of price displays affects men more than women

Of course, web designers will probably not agree, saying you need consistency and that each design element, such as a price display, must look the same. And if you think you’ll have arguments with designers over type size, there are other factors they are bound to disagree over, including the colour of the type and what position on the page the prices should appear on.

When you consider colour you can find all sorts of advice on so-called “colour psychology” on the web – much of which is, frankly, made up assumption.

Think about what is said about the colour red. You will find plenty of references to it being a “stop” colour and advice saying it shouldn’t be used if you want people to proceed, such as putting things into a shopping basket. That’s why you can find endless examples of green buttons for shopping online, based on the theory that green means go.

Sadly, the theory is wrong. Green means your brain can be relaxed – subconsciously it is taken as a signal of not having to react. Whereas red is a subconscious signal that you need to act quickly. At traffic signals you need to be quicker to deal with a red light than a green one.

Green No and Red Yes

In nature, red is a sexual signal in many species, demanding fairly instant activity to ensure reproduction. In other words, deep inside our brains the colour red is coded as “act now” – not stop…!

If you put your price displays in red, you can get greater take up of what you are selling because it makes your website visitors act more quickly.

The problem is, because of the significant influence of the use of red in nature as a sexual signal, you tend to find that men react to prices in red more than do women.

Should your prices be on the left or right of the page?

Having had your arguments with your web designer over type size and colour, you now need to prepare yourself to discuss which side of the page the price will be displayed on. Our brains tend to see things on the left of the page as in the past and the right of the page as in the present, or the future. That’s the influence of reading left to right – in countries where they read right to left, the psychological impact of time passing is the other way around.

  • If you are showing discounted prices they need to be on the right of the page, with the old price being on the left, to demonstrate that passage of time effect.
  • If it is a new product, prices on the right reflect the newness, helping to influence conversion rates.
  • But old, established, evergreen products could benefit from prices on the left reflecting their historical value.

Do you even need to tell them it is a price?

Interestingly, there is also some evidence that if you leave off the currency display from prices, that also influences sales. Telling people this item is 97 compared with telling them it is £97 is back to the issue of framing again – the first price does not put notions of spending cash into people’s minds. Whereas the currency sign focuses the mind on spending – something that people do not wish to do. You may well find that sales go up when you don’t actually tell people how much it is.

Of course, all of this discussion applies only in situations where you need to display prices in a competitive environment. If you are working in the luxury brand sector you don’t even need to display any prices, let alone worry about how you put them on a web page. In fact, there is even research that suggests you might be better off not displaying prices at all..!

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Clothing retail websites: customer experience compared Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:25:00 +0000 New research: The SimpleUsability Online Experience Index for UK Fashion E-commerce sites

This article summarises our review of the clothing retail websites for Marks & Spencer, Hobbs, Karen Millen, French Connection, Boden, Oasis and Fat Face. Reviews were performed in the week of 10 March 2014. The aim is to highlight best practices and areas for improvement that can be applied by retailers. You will see from the Radar charts for the retailers that there are substantial differences in experience of each of the customer journey and overall.

Understanding, measuring and improving the customer experience is a pretty fundamental part of everything we do at SimpleUsability.

Whether we’re working on competitor or comparator testing at the start of a project, multi-platform testing across a number of devices, or an expert review, our research and the resulting recommendations help our clients to improve their customer experience and benefit from the associated commercial gains around improved conversion or internal cost savings.

Whilst usability or accessibility scales are common place, our intention with the Online Experience Index is to apply 30+ years of combined user experience knowledge to benchmark the overall user experience,  within specific ecommerce verticals and identify who is leading the way in delivering a powerful customer experience.

Key Findings from our review of the clothing retail websites:

  • Most sites communicated their brand and purpose of their website well.
  • The main navigation was clear and descriptive on most sites.
  • Few provided support for search or clearly indicated the order of search results.
  • Product pages were comprehensive and pricing clearly indicated.
  • Most sites supported customers through the checkout process well, however, few allowed users to make a purchase without setting up an account.

Methodology of our E-commerce research

To score each site’s overall experience rating, a panel of expert UX professionals assessed the site in the context of a core user journey of browsing and purchasing an item.

The examiners rated the site on over 120 key touchpoints, which were tailored to provide a thorough, representative picture of the user experience.

These were systematically weighted to denote the relative importance of each individual aspect of the site, and were designed to span multiple facets of the user journey, including homepage, navigation, search and product pages, as well as the flow and usability of the checkout process. From this, an individual rating was able to be drawn up for each facet, based on the overall usability.

In order to emulate a naturalistic user experience, examiners conducted the review whilst undertaking the task of browsing for and selecting items for an outfit, and proceeded to purchase these items as a new customer to that online brand.

The Index, by facet – Individual Website Ratings

Considering each facet of the user journey in turn, we found a variation of design usability across the websites that is highlighted through their individual ratings. The following diagrams illustrate the best and worst individual ratings by facet of the user journey.

  • Website Homepage


The homepage announces the brand identity and the purpose of the website. Most of the sites in this review did this well, with the identity in the header and purpose of the website clearly shown above the fold.

One site, French Connection, did something different. Their identity is dropped to the footer where it might be missed by users familiar with finding the logo and identity in the header

  • Website Navigation

home page navigationIn general navigation was done well in these sites, using a top level menu in the header with drop downs for the sub categories. The labelling was clear and descriptive with few examples of jargon. All sites honoured the back-button and most made good use of breadcrumbs to help locate users and provide additional navigational routes.

Sites should, however, take care that navigation is clear and distinctive from other elements of the site.

  • Website – Search

For example, the header on Hobbs crowds the main navigation menu with the search, basket and sign in elements that may overwhelm and confuse users. One site, Fat Face, used an innovative form of navigation that may confuse users new to the site.


In general, search results were displayed in a similar layout to product listings, enabling users to interact with them in a familiar way. However, it was not always clear what order results were displayed in or how many results were available.

  • Website – Filter

French Connection, for example, displays a count of results much higher than the number of items displayed and obscures the function to sort the results under the Filter link so the casual user may be very confused

website filters

Most sites provided well organised filters that enabled users to narrow their results within several categories. For some sites, for example Karen Millen and French Connection, features within the filters were displayed with very low contrast that may cause problems for users with visual impairments.

  • Website – checkout flow and layout


In general the sites broke down the process into several stages and clearly indicated the stages up front. Most also allowed users to move backwards and forwards in the stages to enable them to make changes.

Few sites allowed users to make a purchase as a guest, so unlike buying from a high street store, the user was forced to set up an account with the site to make a purchase.

The Index visualisations

The following diagrams draw together the individual ratings to visualise, by retailer, the user experience across all facets of the user journey.

Oasis - Total index score: 80%

Oasis website

 Karen Millen - Total index score: 78%

karen millen website test

FCUK - Total index score: 74%


Hobbs - Total index score: 81%


Fat Face - Total index score: 72%

Fat Face

Boden - Total index score: 83%


Marks & Spencer  - Total index score: 86%


M&S website review

Watch out for our next online experience index which will have some new features including; persuasion centred design and scores based on the mobile experience.

We’ll be adapting our index to add sector specific questions and omit areas of the index that are not as relevant depending on the subject that we are reviewing.

Our plan is to target particular categories and topics moving forward. We’ll be looking at how well department stores are bringing multiple department shopping experience to end customers, and looking at specific categories such as shoes and younger fashion.

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3 Google Analytics customisations that every site must have Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:45:45 +0000 A guide to the benefits and setup 3 of essential Google Analytics features

Adding Google Analytics tracking code to a site is quick in most cases, but I find that many businesses leave it there and don’t add more customisation to use some of the more advanced Google Analytics features. These features can give great advantages in understanding how users interact with your site, to support ideas for conversion optimisation. You may not consider these features advanced, but they are missing in many cases, so are advanced in this sense!

The three customisations I will cover, which work best when considered together, are:

  • Event tracking codes
  • Goal setup
  • A/B testing and content experiments

1. Event Tracking Codes

The power of event tracking codes is shown by the many user actions that you can monitor within your website. Event tracking codes can make your life easier since you can monitor all these micro-conversions that matter to your business. You can monitor almost all online actions in your site that occur from users. These actions, are triggered once users click on a button, or a link or even when they scroll by 50% or 100% your site. Examples of events that can be tracked include:

  • PDF downloads
  • Videos interactions
  • Social follows/share/like/tweets
  • Blog comments
  • Gadget downloads
  • RSS subscriptions
  • Newsletter signups
  • Product rating (especially useful for e-commerce sites)
  • Live chat activation
  • Outbound links
  • Scroll reach/Content Bottom/Page Bottom/Start Reading/Article load
  • Clicking on a link
  • 404 pages
  • Internal banners
  • Rank tracking
  • Form completion progress/drop out
  • Light box conversions
  • Affiliate ad clicks
  • Tracking form errors
  • Tracking engagement with embedded maps
  • Tracking video engagement and activity
  • Organic rank tracking with custom events
  • Tracking conversion rate optimisation variations
  • Tracking interactions with custom widgets
  • Baskets adds and checkout steps

To use event tracking you have 2 options:

  1. You can either manually implement the event tracking codes with your developer’s assistance since these require Javascript implementation within the code to trigger the events.
  2. Or, you can use Google Tag Manager (auto-event tracking).

Initially, if we want to find where the Events are located, we can find them under the Behaviour section. Under the Events subsection:


You can the details on how to setup event tracking in my previous post.

Once we start populating the source code of our site with event tracking codes, we will be able to see actual results, for more decisions based on actual data.

Below you can see an example list of Event Categories such downloads:


2. Setting up Goals

Once events are setup you can these monitor them on your dashboard as goals. You can set up goals based on any of your Events, these are known as Event-goals – Dave Chaffey introduced them in this post covering 17 options for Event goals.

In this way, you can setup funnels and monitor in details the checkout experience of your site. In this way you will be able to see if your site is user-friendly,  monitor where your users bales out of a process (essential if the checkout is implemented as a single page where the URL doesn’t change).

Once you know in which part of the checkout process your users drop off the most, then it will be easier for you to run A/B tests in order to decrease the drop off rates.

Initially you need to set up the goal (e.g. based on the Destination URL) and arrange the funnel steps.


Having setup the goals and the funnel steps, will allow you through Funnel Visualisation to have detailed information for your customer’s journey within your website.

In this way you can take better-informed decisions (e.g. Content Experiments in order to reduce the number of drop-offs).


3. Content Experiments

The implementation of event tracking codes should be developed in a way that will serve a long-term purpose. Implementing event goals for all these user actions/events can be extremely valuable for understanding and improving our micro-conversions using Google’s Content Experiments.

Let’s take the example of increasing subscribers to a newsletter.


To encourage more people to sign up as subscribers for your newsletter you can use Google Content Experiments to create up to five variation pages and then you can see which page is more effective. For example, you can change:

  • The colour or size of the button.
  • The verbal part of your CTA (call-to-action).
  • Text to persuade a subscriber to sign up.

Content Experiments will then show you the version which works best:


Bonus SEO Tip: Once you start working with Content Experiments (and according to Google) the optimal practice when we create variation pages is not to forget to add the rel=”canonical” attribute to the variation pages (as you don’t want these variation pages to be indexed). This attribute should be implemented in all variation pages telling to search engine bots that the only page that should be indexed is the original page.


To summarise these techniques, we can see that the 3 actions are interrelated and that, by combining all 3, you have a powerful tool in your conversion optimisation arsenal, that will make your supervisor and clients happier.


Of course you there are many more customisations which are also important, such as these, but I find that the biggest ones missed most often are the ones covered in this posts:

  • Site search
  • Filters
  • Advanced segmentation
  • Cross domain tracking
  • Custom variables
  • Social sharing measurement etc.

If you work as a consultant or for an agency, what would you say are the Google Analytics features that you consider essential for your clients?

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Facebook’s New Ad Format [Smart Insights alert] Mon, 14 Apr 2014 09:00:00 +0000 A larger ad format aimed at increasing ad response


Recommended link: New Facebook Ad Format in the right-hand column

Facebook have launched a new sponsored ad design in the coming, with more visual designs, to increase engagement for Advertisers. The ads will appear in the right hand column for more prominence of ads and videos making them consistent with newsfeed ads:

Facebook ads

 What’s the buzz about the new Facebook changes?

According to Facebook, these are the reasons behind the improvements:

  • Improved clickthrough rates?  Facebook is looking to increase its CPC revenue and increase competition between advertisers with this new format. So Advertisers will have a greater opportunity to get their message across. Some tests have seen 3x the engagement and this early test is favourable.
  • A simplified process for advertising? Current Facebook Paid Advertising process can be complicated with 27 different ad products and this will be streamlined into 3 categories.
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Google AdWords (pay-per click) data now not available in analytics Fri, 11 Apr 2014 06:33:47 +0000 AdWords data to be shown as “Not Provided” in Google Analytics and other analytics systems from 9th April 2014 – 5 things you need to know

Importance (to search marketers):

Recommended link: Google AdWords advisory

This is big news for companies that invest Google AdWords, particularly if it’s a big contributor to their business and they mainly use their analytics system for reviewing effectiveness and ROI. It has less impact if you rely on Google AdWords own reports or a third-party system using their API.

1. It brings paid search data in line with natural search data. Google has been removing SEO keyword data for over 2 years. As we show in this post on not provided for SEO. The proportion of keywords marked “not provided” has risen over the past two years, so it’s now typically over 80% of searches.

2. It’s not unexpected – Google needed to make the privacy of search terms consistent. Search marketers have been suggesting since this time that AdWords should be treated similarly for parity and within the last month it’s been widely rumoured that this change would be made.

3. You can still get information on keywords searchers use within AdWords. Advertisers can still use the search term reports within their AdWords accounts to see the results of campaigns. As this post from Larry Kim of Wordstream shows, you can use existing search query reports. However, the advanced analysis features of Google Analytics using advanced segments and cohort analysis won’t be available.

AdWords reports

4. Third-party SEM management platforms will still work. Tools such as Kenshoo and Marin will still work since they use the AdWords API to access this data.

5. Additional guidance on automatic customisation of landing pages given. The Google guidance explains how companies using the API can customise not using the search term, but keyword that triggered the ad click.

“For customizing landing pages, we suggest using the keyword that generated the ad click, rather than the query. The keyword and match type can be passed to your web server by using a ValueTrack parameter in your destination URLs”.

We hope you find our alert useful. We only cover the major developments on digital platforms that marketers need to discuss with specialists managing their digital marketing activities in-house or with agencies.

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5 key marketing challenges to be managed in 2014 Thu, 10 Apr 2014 20:59:40 +0000 New research shows key concerns of CMOs in modern marketing

It’s fair to say that marketing jobs vary quite drastically. I get to see that from an agency perspective every day. Where one marketer may get applauded in one organisation, the same actions in a different organisation might get them fired. It’s not as though there’s a ‘right’ answer to the marketing challenge, either. There are so many variables – market, brand age, business size, product, budget, belief systems and biases, let alone the senior management.

That said, with marketing evolving at breakneck speed, in the wake of changes in consumer behaviour and technology adoption, it’s always useful to look at what’s got the attention of other marketers to help inform our priorities.

Research source and methodology

In this new research by Deloitte and ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, they’ve distilled the responses down to the key drivers. Quick caveat: Let’s take this for what it is, broad insight since it’s one of those limited studies (only around 200 people), in organisations with huge budgets. The marketers who will test and waste more budget than we’ve had in the last 3 years combined – it’s an invaluable perspective.

The five key drivers for marketer’s attention

Here’s our summary of the main issues marketers are seeking to manage today given the increasing impact of digital:

marketing growth

  • 1. Top-line revenue growth: 53% of CMOs feel an increased pressure to create revenue growth. There’s no question I see more of this, more pressure for marketing to be accountable directly to top-line revenue growth. To demonstrate the value of the marketing budget.

digital divide

  • 2. Owning the customer experience: This is my “favourite” finding – nearly a quarter of the surveyed CMOs feel underprepared to manage major customer service touch points. I find this strange considering the very definition of marketing (to attract, nurture and grow a customer’s value to commercial and mutual gain). Direct marketing was putting ‘customer retention’ before ‘customer acquisition’ decades ago, so what happened?The research reports that the ownership of digital channels, where the majority of the customer experience is, is what’s creating that challenge. Perfect. Relief even – would you want to leave that all to sales and customer services?
  • 3. Get real-time: For our customers, it’s now a real-time world. They get the content they want, whenever they want, on whatever devices are convenient to them at that time. And yet many marketing teams remain locked around old-school campaign calendars, led by internal processes and procedures that made sense in 1980. Web personalisation and marketing automation were the top two areas where surveyed, suggesting that it’s high time to shrink the lag between customer action and brand reaction.

real time marketing

  • 4. Know the metrics that matter: Keeping your job in marketing (in most organisations anyway) requires ROI, it requires proof. Proof requires metrics, and 53% of surveyed CMOs said ROI was the key metric. So what’s the R in ROI? What does ROI truly mean, and how is it calculated? What matters to each business will be different, and different again based upon the perspective of the person asking the question. What you measure, you manage, so be sure to be measuring the right thing.
  • 5. Data-based Insights requires more specialist business intelligence resource: 52% of CMOs responding indicated a greater need for team members with data and analytics expertise, finding this talent is the number-one area where CMOs felt underprepared. Yet hiring them is just the first step. In order to do something with data it needs turning into insights to drive strategic decision making, enabling marketing teams to truly optimise, improve targeting and personalisation.This finding was mirrored in this other recent CMO survey.

The key take-away here? Strategic marketing matters

As I re-read the research, here’s what I see – business leaders want their marketing function to show leadership, commercial accountability over spending budget on ‘promotion’. And, as marketers, we’re all feeling at least some of that pressure. That leadership function has no excuses anymore either, there’s more data and market intelligence than ever before, more ways to connect with the consumer than we know what to do with.

Here’s the crux of the challenge, as marketers we have to make decisions out of a more complex choices and situations – this is precisely where marketing has changed and why you get paid, marketing strategy has become paramount to make decisions and filter the vast technical, tactical and targeting options available to us. Even the big boys have to deal with it. As Uncle Ben told a youthful Peter Parker:

“With more power comes more responsibility”*

And that seems fair enough, too.

*That’s Spiderman’s uncle not the rice guy if you weren’t sure :-)

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