Is your Donation Page letting you down? Try this 7-step formula for building a high converting page

People reach your landing pages by clicking on a link in an email or a paid search ad, via a button on your homepage, or myriad other ways. Regardless of how they get there, the language they saw upstream made some sort of promise about the content a visitor would find if they clicked through to a landing page.

Persuading someone to take action on a landing page requires keeping that promise. In other words, a visitor will take action if the offer is consistent with what she was expecting—i.e. there are no surprises, and the perceived benefits of taking action outweigh the costs.

Brian Massey’s excellent book Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Formulas of The Conversion Scientist™ defines a simple litmus test to ensure that your landing pages keep their promises—and move visitors closer to your conversion goal. The test is to evaluate each element on your donation page with one criterion:

Does it facilitate the donor’s decision-making process?

If the answer is yes, keep it on the page. If the answer is no, remove the element, as it’s probably harming your conversion rate. We know there are stakeholders in your organization that may argue to keep numerous elements on landing pages. This article makes the case to remove as much as you possible can.

I like to think of this test as a fool-proof tool for designing high converting landing pages. To illustrate how it works, let’s apply the test to elements commonly found on web donation pages:

  1. Primary navigation

    Primary navigation typically appears on every page of a web site out of habit. But on a donation page, navigation provides an easy way to detour off the path to giving, and access to content that isn’t relevant to making a donation decision (Programs, About Us, Get Involved, etc.).

    In my survey of 53 different year-end donation pages last month (mostly large, national organizations), navigation appeared at the top of the page on 19% of them. Thankfully this is down from 2013.

  2. Secondary calls to action (e.g. follow us on social media, sign up for our email list)

    These kinds of actions commonly appear in the page shell of a donation page. Again, they distract the visitor, compete with your donation ask, clutter up the page, and tempt visitors to leave your site. (Seriously, there could be kitten photos in my Facebook feed!)

    To my surprise, social media icons were displayed on 23% of the year-end donation pages I surveyed. Do you really want to send your high value donation page traffic to Mark Zuckerberg?

Now, let’s look at the 7-step formula for building a high converting donation page, adapted from Massey’s advice for constructing effective landing pages.

  1. Define Your Call to Action

    A call to action (CTA) is the simplest expression of what you want the visitor to do on your landing page.

    Appropriate CTA language for your donation page depends on how you frame financial support for your organization generally. The way it’s expressed on your donation page should be consistent with what you say elsewhere—not only on your website but also in other marketing channels.

    When defining the call to action, make sure it’s specific and in the active voice. Some examples include:

    • Make a Donation
    • Become a Member
    • Join [your organization name]
    • Give a gift

    Because urgency is a well-established technique for increasing conversion, pairing your CTA with words like “today” or “now” can also lift response. (Please avoid ending CTAs with exclamation points and resist the urge to write in all caps because that’s interpreted on the web as yelling)

  2. Fulfill Your Promise

    Fulfilling your promise to visitors on a donation page means being consistent with the copy the web user saw upstream. Repeat the exact keywords words or phrase the visitor clicked to get here—don’t bait and switch on a donation page. Repetition provides positive reinforcement to the web user that you’re going to keep your promises.

    The page headline (every donation page needs one!) and subhead (if you choose to include one) are the primary vehicles for orienting visitors and grabbing their attention. Make it clear and obvious in your headline what the visitor can do on this page. Be specific—and make certain that you also address visitors’ burning question: What’s in it for me? (Why should I take this action?)

    Below are some donation page headlines that do an excellent job of expressing the CTA and the benefit(s) of giving:

    CTA plus benefit headlines

  3. Give the Visitor Something To Do (but not too much!)

    What a donation page visitor must do to successfully convert is complete a form. Testing consistently shows that each additional field you include in the form area will reduce your conversion rate.

    Long forms often intimidate prospective donors; all but the most highly motivated folks will abandon them. Use a simple, streamlined form that asks only for information needed to complete a transaction. As I noted in a previous blog article, defer nonessential questions and steps that lengthen the process until after the transaction is completed.

    There is no right or wrong way to display form steps—some find that a single page converts best, while others break up a form into multiple, short steps displayed over several pages. You must test to find out what works best with your audience.

    The short form used by democrats.org is a great example of focus and simplicity:

    Democrats_tight form

  4. Sell the Offer

    Never assume that because someone navigates to your donation page they’ve already decided to give. With donation page abandonment rates often 90%+, the vast majority of visitors to your donation page are just kicking the tires—and need a compelling reason to pull the trigger.

    “Selling the offer” means answering a visitor’s top question: What’s in it for me?

    In charitable giving this means figuring out what motivates your donors to give. Even for one organization there are many possible reasons—and they may vary due to external factors, e.g. on December 31, tax-deductions are big motivator for many donors, whereas at other times of year the mission-related benefits of your work will prove to be much more inspiring.

    On a donation page there are three especially important vehicles for selling your offer:

    • Copy (headline & body text)
    • Photos & video
    • CTA Button

    Persuasive copywriting is critical to selling your offer. It must give the visitor a compelling reason to donate to you (instead of another organization doing similar work). You want to entrust this responsibility to talented copywriters with a strong track record in direct response. Do not ask your IT team to write copy—and please never write donation page copy by committee.

    Use specifics in your headline and body copy that emphasize the benefits of giving, how you’re effective, unique, and get things done. Focus donation page copy on what your donors care about—not what you care about.

    Photos and video are also important tools for selling your offer—because they can trigger powerful emotions that copy alone cannot. (More on this below in item #6.)

    Button text is the final key element on a donation page that helps to sell your offer. It should reiterate the action a prospective donor is about to take. Be as specific as possible! Vague or neutral words like “submit” or “process” are poor choices—because they’re not clear about what happens next. And they don’t reinforce why anyone would want to take action.

    Below are some examples of motivational button text:

    CTA_buttons_GoodText

    Audience research and testing are essential to uncovering which “selling points” are most motivational for your donors. Once you’ve identified the most powerful and persuasive arguments, segmentation of donation page traffic can provide additional opportunities to personalize your offer and increase conversion.

  5. Overcome Resistance

    Anyone being asked to enter their credit card number online will have some fear about doing it. This is what’s known in conversion science as “friction.” On a donation page, friction can be remedied with strategically placed trust elements.

    Trust elements that we’ve found can positively impact donation page conversion rates are:

    • Facts that back up claims and establish your credibility, e.g. Specifics on what you’ve accomplished, the size of your membership, the length of time you’ve been around, etc.
    • Independent ratings, e.g. Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity seals.

      Independent ratings

    • Security seals, e.g. Norton Verisign, McAfee & TRUSTe are the best known and most influential seals when placed in close proximity to payment fields.

      security seals

    • Social proof such as testimonials by a prominent supporter or positive media mentions about your organization’s work. Below is an example from Donors Choose:

      Oprah_Steven_DonorsChoose

    Finally, remember that your brand logo is the most basic trust element on a donation page—or any landing page for that matter. Don’t forget to include it in the upper left corner of the page.

  6. Showcase the “Product”

    In charitable giving, “showcasing the product” can be thought of as a subset of “selling the offer.” Photos that illustrate a problem you’re trying to solve, show beneficiaries of your work (especially people or animals), or your team in action, help prospects visualize how their gift can make a difference.

    A well-produced video can do even more to tell your story and help to foster an emotional connection with donor prospects—but remember that not every visitor to a donation page will automatically want to watch video (they could be at work or in a public place) so it’s best not to configure them to autoplay.

    Be sure that the images and video you use are authentic and of high production quality—or they can backfire. Photos and video are especially important elements to test to validate their impact on the conversion rate.

  7. Use a Visual Hierarchy

    Every high performing landing page uses a visual hierarchy that reinforces the main conversion goal. This simply means that your page design emphasizes those elements that are most critical to making a decision.

    Good visual hierarchy on a donation page means:

    • A headline displays prominently at the top
    • The main purpose of the page is immediately obvious
    • Steps to make a gift are clear and follow a logical eye path
    • Copy is brief and easy to scan – Trust elements are present but not visually dominant
    • A call-to-action button (there should be only one) is big enough to be easily noticed and contrasts with other elements on the page
    • Color is used sparingly—to focus visitors’ attention on mission-critical elements

Conclusion

If you follow these 7 steps to building a high converting donation page, I’m confident that you will reap the rewards. That said, it’s essential that you validate donation page changes through testing to ensure that they’re actually positive for conversion. Every audience is different and you should be prepared to accept whatever results you see with your own users.

photo-dawnDawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

6 things nonprofits can learn from e-commerce checkout pages (and apply to their Donation Pages)

Working to optimize web content with nonprofit organizations, I’m regularly asked to help improve donation page conversion rates. Clients usually want to know … What are the best practices? Do you have case studies on what converts well?

Even though nonprofits do a lot more testing than in years past, published research on what “works” to lift donation page conversion rates is still fairly hard to find. That said, there’s plenty that charities can learn from optimization efforts on e-commerce checkout pages when it comes to improving the user experience for donors.

Image1_C+B_Checkout_1_smallThere are a large number of commercial marketers who test everything—in order to maximize conversion on their websites. These companies (and the experts they hire) have identified common “conversion killers” on checkout pages via live testing and usability research.

As a fundraiser, the key question you’re going to have while reading this is… How do I get more people through my online giving process to complete a donation?

Let’s take a look at 6 tactics commercial marketers have identified from extensive testing on their checkout pages that improve conversion. These techniques are all easy to apply on web donation pages. (Insights described here are adapted from research conducted by the Baymard Institute).

#1: Remove seemingly unnecessary steps

Oftentimes, staff with no training in web usability gets involved in decisions about what to include on a donation page. For example, your development director may want to collect a lot of information about online donors during the giving process to put to use at a later time.

The result is often “form field creep,” i.e. you get greedy and ask for too much information up front. Unnecessary steps and questions lengthen the giving process and irritate a portion of your potential donors, causing them to abandon the page without giving and lowering conversion.

Below are examples of unnecessary steps I see required on many donation pages (along with the reason each can harm conversion):

  • Telephone number. People fear marketing calls, so it’s a deal breaker for some if their phone number is required.
  • Program designation. This assumes the donor is already familiar enough with your programs to easily make a choice, which isn’t true. The question unintentionally introduces difficulty into the giving process—and encourages the visitor to leave the page to figure out which program to select.
  • How did you hear about us? It requires the donor to stop and think (something you absolutely want to avoid on a donation page). Your aim is to make the process ridiculously easy and painless.
  • Comments. The user has no idea what you’re fishing for, but people feel compelled to enter something into a blank field—and may get hung up trying to figure out what to enter.
  • Tribute/honor gift fields displayed by default. At first glance few will notice that these fields are optional (because web users skim pages, they don’t read every word). As a result, lots of fields create the perception of a longer form and a more difficult process.
  • CAPTCHA puzzle. These are pure pain for the web user. Even thinking, breathing humans stumble when attempting to decipher those distorted number and letter combinations. If spam is a major problem on your website, find a skilled developer who can help you implement a solution that does not require your donors to perform difficult tasks. This article describes five front and back-end alternatives to CAPTCHA.
  • Multiple email list opt-ins. They require the donor to expend cognitive energy in studying and choosing between offers (another type of difficulty), and distract from the priority conversion goal of the page—giving.

Is your organization guilty of asking for too much? If any of the items above are included on your donation pages, stop and ask yourself if the information is valuable enough to sacrifice donations in order to get it.

#2: Ask for name and billing address first, payment information last

When arranging fields on a form, always put the easy stuff first. Based on Robert Cialdini’s behavioral psychology research and the six principles of influence, the principle of commitment and consistency means people are more likely to finish something once they’ve gotten started. For example, it’s much harder to abandon a book when you’ve already read 90% of it than when you’ve only read a few pages.

Similarly, people are more likely to complete a form after they’re more than half-way through it—because they get invested in the activity. As such, it’s best to put the easy steps first, i.e. those that encounter little psychological resistance like name and address fields.

Anxiety and fear are at their peak when donors enter sensitive information like their credit card number—so it’s best to put payment fields at the end, where they’re less likely to disrupt a donor’s progress.

#3: Don’t ask for the same information twice

Web users are very good at remembering if they’ve been asked to enter the same information multiple times—and get irritated when they must work harder than they feel they should.

Because this happens most often on multi-step forms, it’s well worth examining your conversion funnel to eliminate any instances where you ask the donor to enter the same information more than once (e.g. gift amount, email address, contact/billing fields). Instead of creating extra work for the donor, auto-populate their initial entry in subsequent steps requiring that same piece of data.

With respect to mobile, this can be especially frustrating given the difficulty most have filling out forms on small screens. On a mobile device the UX can be greatly enhanced by changing the order in which information is collected. Consider asking mobile users for their zip code prior to their street address, so that fields like city, state and country can auto-populate based on the zip code, thereby eliminating the need for users to make those entries.

Image2_Mobile form_zip code first

Keep in mind that if you decide to automate—it’s best to allow the user the option to override the output data, since there’s the chance that their zip code may not yield the correct information in all cases.

#4: Avoid in-line form field labels Web designers (and some marketers) love in line labels because they make forms look so clean and polished.

Image3_in-line FF exampleHowever, when form field labels appear inside the field itself they cause a lot of usability problems. This is because instructions disappear as soon as the user begins typing in the field. If the donor gets distracted for any reason (or merely loses their train of thought) they cannot recover the instructions without deleting their entry entirely and clicking outside of the field.

The Baymard Institute has found that in-line labels contribute to a lot of form validation errors because even after the form is submitted the in-line labels still don’t get restored to help the user understand how to fix a problem. If error guidance is not highly targeted and specific, users get frustrated and typically abandon the transaction process right there.

#5: Make entry errors easy to fix

It’s incredibly frustrating when making a purchase or donation online to submit form and trigger a validation error with little or no guidance on how to fix it.

We’ve all seen opaque (or even hostile) error messages displayed at the top of a form that give us no idea what exactly we did wrong:

Image4_Bad_form error messagesThe unfortunate donor who receives this type of message is now thinking… Uggh, what did I do wrong?

Good error language is both courteous and precise about which field is cause a problem—and requires a correction. Below are three best practices when designing error messages:

  1. Be nice. Avoid negative and critical words like “problem” or “failed.” No one wants to be scolded for making an error.
  2. Be helpful—and clear. Provide specific guidance to the user on how to resolve the problem, e.g. This entry cannot contain dashes or spaces. And always use plain language—not “developer speak.” This language is a form of customer service, so be sure that someone with good communication skills is in charge of writing it!
  3. Place the error message in close proximity to the field that triggered it, not at the top of the page. Encapsulation of the problem field in red can help it stand out better:

Image5_Field label error_encapsulation

And while it’s not mandatory, you should consider offering phone support for especially high value conversions (like monthly giving) to ensure that problems can be remedied by human intervention as a last resort.

#6: Make the page look secure

Many web users are acutely concerned about the risk of credit card theft online. Because most web users have little familiarity with “https”, simply having a secure page is not enough to alleviate their concerns.

While donor anxiety about page security cannot be eliminated entirely, you can lessen its impact with targeted and timely reassurances.

The best remedy is a visible indication that your site is secure, i.e. a recognized security seal located in close proximity to anxiety-producing steps (payment information fields). Security seals have far less benefit if they’re not easily noticed by web users while they’re completing payment fields.

Besides locating the seal near to where donors enter sensitive information, encapsulation of payment fields (i.e. boxing them off with a distinct background color) is another technique that visually reinforces to the donor that their information will be secure:

Image6_encapsulate_payment fields

Finally, there’s some evidence that widely recognized seals like Norton-VeriSign, McFee, and TRUSTe appear to confer a greater benefit than lesser known providers. Brand awareness likely increases web users’ trust in these particular seals.

Image7_Trust_seals_consumer confidence

Conclusion

These six techniques test-driven on e-commerce checkout pages are well worth trying to improve conversions on your web donation pages. How you apply them will depend in part on your current practice—as well as how flexible and customizable your donation forms are.

Regardless of which techniques you use, remember that optimizing donation pages (or any other web page) for conversion is not a “one-off” exercise, it’s an ongoing process of testing, learning and application. Web conventions, user expectations, and visitor needs are constantly evolving, and your important landing pages need to be, too.

photo-thumbnail-dawnDawn Stoner is Mal Warwick | Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

How to convert more mobile donors

person-tapping-smart-phone-2For most nonprofits, there’s been a steady growth in the use of smart phones and tablets by visitors to their websites. This has led to a lot of consternation as organizations wrestle with the challenge of providing a better user experience for site visitors on smaller screens.

Almost universally, mobile conversion rates lag desktop and laptop conversion rates on e-commerce sites—and the same is true for mobile conversion rates on nonprofit sites. By “conversion” we mean any kind of goal completion, such as a site visitor signing up for your email list or making an online donation. But the distinction doesn’t stop there—smart phone users typically convert only about half as well as those on tablets, according to research by Monetate and Forrester.

monetateThe main reason why your mobile visitors convert so much worse? It’s pretty simple. The user experience for mobile visitors—to nonprofit sites in general and donation pages in particular—can be quite awful. Common problems I’ve noticed when visiting giving pages on a mobile device include:

  • Pages that load very slowly or incompletely
  • Pages with multiple columns that require sideways scrolling (mobile users especially hate this!)
  • Form fields that are so tiny they need to be stretched before text can be entered
  • Text too small to be read without enlarging
  • Call-to-action buttons that are out of sight or too small to be tapped easily
  • Overly dominant graphics or images because they adapt clumsily to small screens
  • Elements displaying contrary to the visitor’s thought sequence, i.e. content isn’t addressing basic user questions in the appropriate order

frustrated cell phone user2It can make for a very frustrating user experience—and only those who are extremely motivated will persevere to complete a transaction.

How do you know if this is an issue on your site? The answer is lurking in your web analytics. Key metrics to examine on pages with a mission-critical conversion goal are:

  • Bounce rate by device type
  • Conversion rate by device type (if you’ve configured goals)
  • Average time spent on page by device type

If you notice a wide disparity in these metrics for mobile users relative to desktop/laptop users, e.g. their bounce rate is much higher or their conversion rate is much lower—it’s a clear sign that you need to do more to optimize the mobile experience.

It’s important to note that other issues like sluggish cellular network speeds and higher latency on mobile devices also contribute to poor conversion rates—and these are largely out of your control. It explains why conversion rates for mobile users may not approach desktop/laptop conversion rates for a long time to come—if ever.

But this is no reason to throw up your hands and forget about it. There are still plenty of things you can do to optimize the user experience on a mobile device.

Where do you begin? For many, the logical place to start is to develop a responsive page design (or an entire site that uses RD), so page elements adjust to fit whatever screen size the user is on.

However, it’s still an open question whether a responsive page is better than a dedicated page for mobile users when it comes to conversion. Testing by commercial marketers is decidedly mixed on which approach converts better.

Like conversion optimization in general—no technique is guaranteed to work best for your organization. You must figure out what your mobile visitors prefer and adapt content to meet their needs.

User testing with small groups is one way to identify user experience (UX) issues with mobile, since live A/B testing can be difficult to interpret—due to the fact that mobile users are much more sensitive to speed than desktop/laptop users. They will abandon a page if it hasn’t loaded after just 3 seconds, in many instances. Consequently, if you test two user experiences and one page loads a lot slower than the other, it’s highly likely to convert worse—and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the creative itself.

Consequently, with A/B tests targeting mobile users it’s difficult to determine whether conversion rate disparities are due to differences in load times or differences in how visitors react to the content itself. This is why many organizations forego A/B testing when optimizing the UX for mobile.

If you decide to conduct user testing instead, ideally you’ll want to get feedback from people similar to your actual visitors. In this way you’ll avoid optimizing for the needs of testers—whose behavior may differ markedly from your target audience. Imagine getting feedback from a group of twenty-something male testers when your typical donor is a 55-60 year old female. It’s pretty much guaranteed that those insights will take you down the wrong path.

An alternative to user testing is to simply design mobile pages with best practices in mind. As noted above, using responsive design is the logical place to start. But there’s a case to be made for thinking beyond responsive design and re-imagining the user experience on a small screen—and then designing a dedicated mobile experience from the bottom up.

The reason a dedicated mobile approach can convert better than responsive design alone is based on the fact that people consume content differently on mobile devices (especially smart phones) as compared to desktop or laptop devices.

For instance, mobile users are typically more goal-driven and impatient than laptop/desktop users. They prefer “snack-sized” content, i.e. brief, action-oriented items that can be absorbed quickly—not long pages that require a lot of time and mental energy to consume.

To convert better, your mobile pages aimed at donors must reflect those differences in user behavior. While this may sound complicated or intimidating—it really just involves a little extra work. That said, the extra effort is likely to pay off in the form of better conversion rates with mobile visitors.

Taking these factors into account, below are some specific changes you can make to improve the UX for donors on mobile devices:

  • Render all content in a single column to eliminate the need for sideways scrolling.
  • Pare back copy so your core value proposition is expressed succinctly.
  • Cut supporting graphics and images, which don’t render as well on small screens.
  • Reduce friction by shortening the giving process, i.e. cutting out as many steps and questions as possible.
  • Break up forms into multiple short steps so that each one appears simple and effortless, instead of a long form all on one screen. Remember the Obama campaign’s enormous success with this technique!
  • Design bigger form fields that don’t need to be resized to be tapped
  • Ask donors to enter their zip code first, so that other required fields can autofill (city, state, country) based on that input, thereby reducing the total number of inputs the donor has to make.
  • Display fewer suggested gift amounts (e.g. 3 instead of 5) so that options are easier to see on a narrow screen and a decision can be made more quickly.
  • Offer alternative payment options, e.g. Amazon Payments and/or Paypal. (focus on payment methods that are most popular with your donors; don’t offer everything.)
  • Design bigger buttons that are easier to tap.
  • Left-align all call-to-action buttons so they’re always in the main eye path.

Implementing these techniques will no doubt make for a much better UX for visitors who intend to convert on a mobile device. That said, there’s new evidence to suggest that a large portion of mobile users have no intention of converting on a mobile device.

Research by SeeWhy has found that the average consumer requires five “touches” via marketing before they’ll -make a purchase. If the same holds true for transactions on nonprofit sites, this means that many donors will use multiple devices over multiple user sessions before making a gift.

Customer journey graphicTheir “journey” to donor conversion often begins as a result of an email they read on their smart phone. It may prompt them to visit your website on their mobile device, even if they don’t intend to make a donation at that moment. A significant portion may wait until they have access to a desktop or laptop before giving online, because they expect the UX to be much easier on those devices.

To put it simply—many consumers (who are also donors) don’t yet consider their smart phone a “converting device.” According to See Why’s research, by a 2:1 margin consumers are more nervous about transacting via mobile device than on a desktop or laptop. This anxiety gap will take time to overcome—and may never close entirely.

This is why your mission-critical pages need to be responsive for those donor prospects who may just be “kicking the tires” via their mobile device. Their experience is likely to have a big influence on whether or not they decide to return and donate later on.

To summarize, while there’s no one technique that’s guaranteed to increase your conversion rate with mobile donors, the techniques we’ve discussed should help get you started in thinking about the process. Regardless of how you approach the problem, one thing is certain—mobile devices will continue to gain importance as a step in the donor conversion process. No one in the nonprofit world can afford to ignore the user experience on mobile any longer.

dawnDawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

Raise more money online with a great headline

If you could change just one thing on your website’s donation page and get a 50% lift in the conversion rate, you’d probably do it in a heartbeat.

To understand what a lift of that magnitude could mean for your online fundraising program, imagine your donation page is converting 12% of visitors, comprised of 10 donations a day averaging $50 ($500 daily revenue). Improving the conversion rate by 50% (to 18%) would net you an additional $250 per day, which translates to $91,250 incremental dollars and 1,800 more donors over an entire year.

That’s starting to sound like real money!

While there aren’t many page elements that can have such a massive impact on visitor behavior, the headline is one of them.

Marketing legend David Ogilvy once remarked that 5 times as many people read headlines as page copy. He was talking about print advertising, but the same applies to web pages. And we know from research by web usability expert Jakob Nielsen that few web users bother to read much on a page beyond the headline.

This is why donation page headlines have such a huge impact on user behavior—and in turn the conversion rate. They are crucial to expressing your organization’s value proposition—and convincing the prospect to keep moving down the page.

Figuring out which headlines motivate best is critical if you want to improve your conversion rate. And getting the answer is easy with A/B testing.

What can we learn from headline testing?

The objective in headline testing is simple. We want to figure out which appeal prompts the greatest number of visitors to a page to complete a specific call to action, such as making a donation, signing up for an email list, or any other measurable conversion goal.

The fact that so many nonprofits still feature donation page headlines with no benefit whatsoever—just an “ask”, e.g. “Donate Now”, “Make a Contribution” or something similar—means there’s an awful lot of low hanging fruit out there.

How to write headlines that convert

Headlines that convert well follow these simple rules. They are:

  1.  Specific & interesting enough to grab the reader’s attention
  2. Express a benefit that’s relevant to the reader’s self interest or social interest
  3. Clear about what you can do on the page
  4. Believable

When writing a headline, try to choose words that can trigger an emotional response in the reader. Avoid headlines that are overly clever or difficult to understand at first glance. At the same time, try not to play it too safe (and boring). Tapping into the interests already present in readers’ minds is key.

In terms of structure, there are two proven techniques for crafting an effective headline appeal. In the first approach, the benefit (to the prospect or your social mission, not to your organization) is presented before the “ask” or call-to-action (CTA). The idea is to get the reader’s attention by appealing to their self interest before you tell them what they must do to satisfy it.

In the second approach (commonly employed by commercial marketers) your aim is to intensify a problem before pitching the solution. It’s based on the methodology of “solution selling”, where the sales professional first seeks to identify the customer’s pain, and only then attempts to address it with their product/service (framed as the “solution”).

For a nonprofit using a solution selling approach, this means expressing why your work is vital (what horrific problem are you working on?) before presenting the call-to-action. This formula can be effective because it helps the prospect quickly connect your offer’s relevance to their needs.

To illustrate these concepts in action, we conducted a headline test recently with our client Americares, the emergency response and global health organization. We developed a specific and tangible benefit-oriented headline & subhead featuring the CTA to compete against their more general benefit + CTA headline, and ran it as an A/B split test.

The two sets of creative are shown below.

IMAGE 1: Control (click to enlarge):

Control headline_snippet

IMAGE 2: Challenger (click to enlarge):

Challenger headline_snippet

The result was nothing short of stunning. The challenger page—with more specific and relevant headline followed by CTA subhead—converted 50% more donors than the control page. Results were significant at a 91% confidence level.

Importantly, similar language to the winning page headline was also featured in an ask on the site’s homepage. Because the homepage drives a substantial amount of traffic to the transaction page we tested, continuity in messaging at each step of the conversion funnel no doubt also played a role in the outcome.

A 50% lift is somewhat rare for a single test. But headline tests in my experience often produce a significant result (either positive or negative) and with it, important insights about audience preferences.

It may take you multiple tests to uncover an appeal that strongly motivates your audience and provides a significant conversion rate lift, but it’s well worth the time and effort given the upside potential.

dawnDawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

Year-End Fundraising in Review: Innovations with website donation pages

Every December I review nonprofit donation pages to see who’s innovating and what techniques marketers feel strongly enough to put into practice at year-end, when so many dollars are on the line.

Below are 5 new tactics observed on donation pages in the 2013 year-end giving season—along with some thoughts on why they can drive better conversion.

1. Social features:

Adding social features to landing pages, e.g. showing who else is taking action in real time, has been popular for a while with groups like Avaaz that do a lot of advocacy campaigns. But in 2013 we noticed it had made the jump to donation pages.

In the example below from PETA, a donor prospect can see the name (first name & last name initial), location, and recency of gifts made by other PETA supporters:

PETA_Dpage with community real time info_top

Why this technique can work: Humans are social creatures hard-wired to follow the herd. As Robert Cialdini explained in his classic book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, people are more likely to do things they see others doing.

However, keep in mind that not all donors are equally enthusiastic about sharing details of their giving behavior, so consider giving donors the option to remain anonymous to avoid alienating this cohort. Given mass acceptance of social media by younger audiences, we suspect this technique will work best for organizations whose donors skew younger (like PETA). Other forms of social proof, e.g. testimonials, strong ratings and awards your organization has received, or positive media mentions, may be more effective forms of social proof with older audiences.

2. Benefit-driven headlines:

For many years, donation page headlines featured nothing but basic calls to action, e.g. Contribute, Donate Now, etc. Most made no attempt to communicate a benefit for taking the desired action. While benefit-free headlines are still commonplace on donation pages —thankfully the tide is beginning to turn.

Last December we noticed far more headlines that emphasized the value of giving—as it related to an organization’s cause. Below are three examples of headlines that succeed in intensifying a particular problem and offering the remedy/solution—or presenting a clear benefit in exchange for taking the desired action (giving).

In the example below from Conservation International, there is a clear and compelling series of benefits (help communities—and nature—thrive) expressed in the headline.

CI_headline top

The DNC used a feisty and highly specific benefit (always preferable to a vague one) to animate their call to action. “Take back the House” speaks directly to their supporters’ self interest and is likely a strong motivation for the target audience.

Dems_headline

World Wildlife Fund used a more straightforward headline/subhead combination to connect an inspirational benefit to its call to action. The benefit integrates nicely with the tiger on snow image:

WWF_headline

Why this technique can work: Because so few web users read page copy, expressing a benefit in your headline is critical to conversion. Never assume that because someone has made it to your donation page, they’re already “sold” on making a gift. Many donation page visitors are just “kicking the tires” and need to be convinced that the benefits of giving outweigh the perceived costs. You must sell them at every step of the process to keep them moving forward. This is why donation page headlines that begin by saying “Thanks for supporting [organization or cause]” are such a bad idea—they put the cart before the horse—and are out of sync with the user’s thought process. Hold off on thanking donors until they actually complete the task!

3. Exit pop-up message:

The exit pop up, a technique frequently used by commercial marketers, seeks to prevent abandonment by sweetening the offer. I came across only one example of this last December—from Charity Water, an organization known for its savvy marketing.

In the example below, when a prospect attempted to leave the CW donation page without making a gift, an exit pop-up displayed with a 2:1 matching gift offer by an anonymous donor (no match was presented in the initial donation screen) and—here’s the best part—only if you donate within the next 10 minutes!

CW_exit message_value + scarcity

Why it can work: Robert Cialdini’s research is useful once again in understanding why this technique works. He found that humans are far more inclined to act when the offer contains an element of scarcity or exclusivity (time or quantity). And while most organizations play up the count-down to midnight on December 31st as a form of scarcity (time is running out to give in 2013!), it’s a false notion of scarcity. Has any organization ever returned a donation made on January 1st?

What’s interesting about the CW offer is the exclusive and limited nature of it—you only see the 2:1 offer if you attempt to abandon the page, and are told the offer’s only good for the next 10 minutes which undoubtedly hooks a few folks that had intended to quit. Incidentally, the 10 minute limit wasn’t actually true—when we clicked “match my donation” more than 1 hour later it was still accepted.

4. Pitching monthly giving instead of single gifts:

We’d never seen monthly giving pitched as the main offer in a year-end fundraising campaign before. It certainly wasn’t common enough to call a trend, but noteworthy nonetheless.

Could a monthly giving ask really net you more money in the long run than a simple one-off donation ask? We highly doubt it—as no one was pitching monthly giving on December 31st. However, testing a monthly giving ask early in the campaign, when conversion rates tend to be lower and fewer one-time gifts will be sacrificed, may in fact yield more revenue over the long term—only time and careful tracking will tell. Below is an example of this technique by the Humane Society of the U.S.

HSUS_monthly giving ask in YE campaign

Why this technique might work: Pitching a more difficult conversion goal isn’t a recipe for maximizing short-term dollars –but it may result in more revenues over the long term. And for the segment of your audience that’s emotionally affected by a powerful year-end campaign (e.g. via a video showing the great things you’ve accomplished all year long or a poignant human-interest story) they may be more inclined to accept a bigger commitment (with a smaller initial outlay) at year-end than at other times of year.

On the other hand, if the page doesn’t do a good job of making clear the commitment is monthly, or fails to address prospect’s main concerns about becoming a monthly supporter (How does it work? How easy is it to cancel? What payment options do you accept?) it will yield a much worse conversion rate (or high level of cancellations post-conversion) compared to a standard appeal for a single gift.

Like any new tactic, making this offer work at year-end will require months of testing to optimize the message. Testing different approaches will help you identify a value proposition that’s most motivational for your target audience, adapt the offer to audience segments best suited to the ask, and determine which supporting content is most effective at reducing donor anxiety, so that you put your best foot forward at year-end.

5. Multi-step giving processes:

This technique came to prominence during the 2012 Obama Campaign. The campaign had great success with an “accordion-style” donation page (a series of brief steps, shown one at a time, which unfold as the user progresses through the form). Last year it was used by a handful of organizations at year-end, and appears to be gaining momentum.

One new approach we noticed in 2013 came from Human Society International. Instead of an accordion-style form, the form progresses within the exact same footprint. As you can see in the two screenshots below, once the donor completes Step 1, it’s replaced by Step 2, which displays in the same place as Step 1, while the rest of the page was unchanged. Note that Step 2 reinforces the chosen gift amount on the donate button, and allows the visitor to return to the previous step with the green button in the upper left of the mini-form.

Step 1:

HSI_YE multistep with video_p1_small

Step 2:

HSI_YE multistep with video_Step2 overlay_small

Why it can work: Giving the prospect one task at a time keeps them super focused and reduces the potential for irritation or intimidation (which can be triggered by seeing a long form). As we noted in an earlier blog post, for this tactic to succeed, it’s essential that your software platform is able to consistently load each step without delay, to avoid user frustration and higher abandonment of the form. The approach used by HSI is likely effective because it loads instantaneously and the user experience is seamless.

While these techniques are not necessarily appropriate for every audience, they are all breaking the mold in an effort to improve the user experience for donors, communicate more value, and maximize conversions. Many are worth adding to your own testing program in 2014.

dawnDawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

Kick-start Your Donation Page Optimization Efforts: Test These 7 Emerging Techniques

To improve your odds of raising more money online in 2013, most organizations would be well served to dedicate more time and resources to donation page testing.

But a greater commitment to testing is no guarantee of better results. The fact is, not all things on your donation page matter for conversion. To get statistically significant improvement, you need to focus making changes your visitors actually care about.

Below is a list of 7 emerging techniques on donation pages that we think do matter for conversion. All were in evidence during the recent year-end giving season—and focus on changes that improve usability or increase the perceived value of giving relative to its perceived cost.

Consider incorporating some of these ideas into your testing program for 2013:

  1. Shorter pages:More 2-column forms are replacing long, 1-column forms in order to make the giving process appear shorter and simpler, and bring the donate button above the fold.Example: Earthjustice (click screenshot to enlarge)



  2. Multi-step donation processes in which each step is short and super-focused:This technique can involve breaking up the giving process into bite sized pieces across multiple pages, or merely coding the steps to unfold as the user progresses through a sequence of micro-decisions, as in the case of the Obama Campaign.For this tactic to succeed (in testing or otherwise), it’s essential that your software platform is able to consistently load each step without delay.

    If page load times are at all sluggish in a multi-step process, this technique could backfire in a big way, since any delay increases user frustration and contributes to higher page abandonment.

    Example: Charity Water (click screenshot to enlarge)



  3. Donation page supplants the homepage on Dec 31st:This pushy tactic goes one step further than a splash page call to action for year-end giving; it puts a donation form in front of the visitor before they’ve expressed any desire to donate.But if there’s one day of the year it might make sense to remove one click from the online giving process, that’s December 31st –a day in which a huge portion of your site traffic seeks to accomplish this one task.

    The caveat with this technique is that there’s no set of comparable conditions for testing outside of December 31st. Surely, this technique would backfire at any other time, when site visitor intentions are not so homogenous.

    Even a brief stint of testing on December 31st is a level of risk that many organizations are probably unwilling to endure, given the stakes. But for those brave enough to try even for a few hours, it’s likely to yield valuable insights.

    Example: Feeding America (click screenshot to enlarge)



  4. Embedded video to express mission impact & successes from the year:This technique can be very effective if the video has a high production value with content that’s on point for your audience. Generally speaking, videos that work for fundraising feature poignant imagery, emotionally resonant music, tight editing, and a clear call to action.But while a well-produced video can be a powerful motivator, it’s essential that the video doesn’t serve as the sole vehicle for your message. Your call to action and value proposition for giving still need to be summarized on the donation page apart from the video. This ensures that all visitors have a positive user experience, regardless of whether they watch your video.

    Example: Share Our Strength (click screenshot to enlarge)



  5. Large, hard-hitting images with very brief copy:A powerful image can deliver greater emotional impact than a copy-intensive page. This is especially true if your cause has charismatic beneficiaries (e.g. jaguars, puppies, children). Image-driven pages can also produce a more streamlined giving process since they’re devoid of clutter.Of course, this isn’t an equal opportunity tactic. Some nonprofit causes look much better in photos than others. If your work doesn’t lend itself to this technique, consider #6 below.

    Example: Save the Children (click screenshot to enlarge)



  6. No photos:This tactic isn’t new or surprising for causes that have a difficult time expressing the value of their work in images (e.g. civil liberties groups), but we’ve also noticed this trend on the donation pages of groups whose work does provide great opportunity for visual reinforcement (international relief orgs).While the wrong photo (e.g. one expressing no value or that looks staged) can surely backfire, I question the wisdom of removing photos when a cause has strong visual assets to employ. The only way to know for sure is to test it!

    Example: AmeriCares (click screenshot to enlarge)



  7. No detours:To keep visitors tightly focused on the main call to action, donation page wrappers are stripped of global navigation and visible links to other parts of the website are removed. Typically only the brand ID is linked to the homepage.While this technique has been in use for several years, we’ve noticed that it’s becoming much more widespread on donation pages for larger organizations.

    Example: PETA (click screenshot to enlarge)

 

10 Steps to Data-driven Decision-making

Part 2

In last week’s post, we discussed 8 practices that sabotage commercial marketers’ and nonprofit landing pages alike, based on insights from Marketing Sherpa’s 2011 LPO Benchmark Report.

Today, we offer 10 steps to help your organization embrace data-driven design, as a means to improve your landing page performance:

  1. Select landing pages on your site that matter most (these pages have lots of traffic, make significant contributions to online revenues, or feature other top business priorities)
  2. Identify the main conversion goal (only one) on the page(s) you want to improve. This is the specific thing you most want visitors to do on the page.
  3. Collect key performance metrics for that page. (Most important metrics to examine are visitors, conversions, and conversion rate. Include page revenues and average gift size if it’s a donation page.)
  4. Take a fresh look at the page and identify things that don’t work. If you’re so familiar with the page that identifying its problems is difficult, try collecting informal feedback on page usability from an audience that resembles your target prospects, or hire a consultant with LPO experience who can provide you with unbiased feedback.
  5. Figure out what makes your audience tick – who are they, where did they come from, what do they care about? This will help you adapt page content so that’s its more relevant and interesting to your existing traffic.
  6. Collect objective evidence on what works best for your audience, i.e. live landing page testing (tests you ran several years ago no longer hold much value since online audiences and their preferences are constantly in flux).
  7. Assemble a team that agrees to work together and devotes a little time each week to developing and testing. Your competitors can be a great source of new ideas and tactics when you reach this step.
  8. Run experiments with a scientifically valid testing tool. Free or low-cost testing tools are much more plentiful than a few years ago (GCE, Optimizely, and Visual Website Optimizer are good options for nonprofits with tight testing budgets).
  9. Gather enough data to make a decision with high confidence. You should run tests for at least 2 weeks (maybe several months if traffic is light), and measure results with statistical validity to ensure that you’re making good decisions.
  10. Repeat! Testing is an iterative process, not a “once and done” type exercise. Learning is gradual and cumulative, so you need to keep at it to reap the rewards.

Now that you have a better understanding of how to work smarter, it’s time to get started.

Using data-driven insights to improve your landing pages that matter most, you’ll soon be converting more site visitors into supporters that help your cause!

See Part 1 of this post, 8 ways your organization is sabotaging its landing pages.

Dawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

8 ways your organization is sabotaging its landing pages

Part 1

In its 2011 Landing Page Optimization Benchmark Report, marketing research firm Marketing Sherpa  identified 8 common practices that sabotage commercial marketers’ landing page performance.

Reading the report, I was struck by how many of these behaviors also plague performance on nonprofit websites. I’ve encountered every single one of them in my 7 years as a nonprofit consultant. Fortunately, their existence doesn’t spell doom—it spells opportunity.

Here is a summary of the operational behaviors that can sabotage landing page performance and some strategies for dealing with them:

  • HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) decide: Do you let the arbitrary opinion of the highest paid person in your organization (or marketing team) determine what goes live on your web pages instead of data-driven insight?  The preferences of senior management may have little or nothing to do with the preferences of your site visitors. The smaller the organization, the more difficult this is to overcome. Your best bet is to develop their confidence and begin sharing information about the benefits LPO can have on the bottom line. As they gain familiarity with data-driven testing and decision-making, they may be more open to trying new ideas and measuring their impact. This is the first step in developing an internal culture more friendly to user-driven design.
  • Tyranny of “best practices”:Do you let industry norms (i.e. what everyone else is doing) drive decision-making about what goes onto your landing pages instead of your audience?  Others’ best practices are not necessarily the best practices for you. Moreover, you have no idea whether those practices you’re adopting were validated through objective inquiry.
  •  Copycat syndrome: Related to the previous example, do you adopt a competitor’s page design because you heard it works so well for them, it’s surely got to work great for you too?  It’s important to recognize that your audience may have different wants, needs and experiences than the one you’re copying–and respond differently to the same techniques. Even if you think your audience is similar, you have no idea if these techniques were validated through objective findings, as previously noted.
  • Control freak: Have you put someone in charge of landing page content that’s data-phobic or fundamentally distrustful of letting users decide what they like best?  These folks invariably decide with their gut, or unquestioningly use whatever has been done in the past, with unknown consequences to your bottom line.
  • Artistry not usability: Do you let design considerations (site color palette, background pattern, a beautiful image, etc.) drive landing page design instead of usability principles? Do you design without consideration for web usability principles?  Beauty and usability are not the same thing. On landing pages featuring an important conversion goal, clarity, simplicity and value are what drive results—not aesthetics. Letting web designers create landing pages with no input from staff with direct response experience is a recipe for trouble.  Make sure that someone with knowledge of web usability principles is involved in development of landing pages used for fundraising and other top online goals. If it’s difficult to win support for a cleaner, simpler design, running an A/B test is one way to build your case—hard data on what your site users prefer is pretty hard to ignore.
  • We’re lazy: Does your organization use the same page wrapper (with full navigation, competing calls to action) as the rest of the website because it’s the only one you have?  Pages used for important conversion goals require a different approach from content pages on your site. All of the elements on a landing page featuring a top conversion goal should reinforce, not compete with, your main call-to-action (home pages are an exception).  It’s also important to recognize that different segments of your site traffic may have conflicting needs and behaviors. A design approach that works for one segment is likely sub-optimal for another, so customization of the landing page experience for key segments is the way to go. In my experience, it is well worth the time, money and effort required.
  • Sausage-making: No one’s said it better than Seth Godin: does your landing page copy resemble a “polished turd of prose that pleases everyone on the board and your marketing team” but excites no one who actually reads it?  Effective landing page copy must start a conversation. It should also use a consistent tone, be sincere and coherent, and state a clear point of view. This can’t often be achieved with lots of cooks in the kitchen.Restrict participation in the creative process to those who are familiar with the audience the content is being developed for, and those with a basic understanding of web usability and LPO. These folks are in a better position to write copy that’s relevant and engaging than those with little connection to the conversion process or those with no knowledge of your site visitors’ wants and needs.
  • It’s my baby: Have you been using the same page design for years for personal reasons, e.g. a page that someone in IT built long ago and feels personally attached to?  Page designs that live on your site for political or personal reasons will never be optimal user experiences for your supporters.This can be one of the trickiest problems to solve, but common ground can be found in what a successful fundraising page allows your organization to do—namely, devote more funds to your cause. If that point fails to resonate, you have the wrong person in charge of site content and that needs to change before real progress is possible.

Does your organization fall into any of these common traps? If the answer is yes, don’t despair.

Just like any 12-step program for recovery, the first step is admitting that you have a problem!

In next week’s post, I’ll describe a 10-step process (not the usual 12 – we know you’re busy!) for those who are ready to embrace data-driven decision making and chart a course toward improved usability on your landing pages.

Dawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.


Google’s new “Content Experiments” testing tool

Last Friday, Google announced it plans to shut down Website Optimizer, its 5-year old standalone testing tool, on August 1st. Simultaneously, Google unveiled “Content Experiments”, a new test tool that’s fully integrated into Google Analytics.

As the only free, web-based landing page testing tool, non-profit organizations relied heavily upon Google Website Optimizer. Its closure is a significant development. If you’re a current or past user of GWO, be sure to read the final section of this post, which provides specific instructions on how its closure will impact legacy users.

Based on what we know so far, Content Experiments contains some important differences from Optimizer. Below, we’ve outlined the key differences –as well as the similarities.

What’s new:

  • Basic A/B testing (or A/B/n testing) is supported but multivariate testing is NOT. Test page variations must be defined with a separate page URL. For this reason you cannot test combinations of elements on a single page as in multivariate testing.
    The only way to test combinations would be to code separate pages that manually combine creative changes—much more time consuming than the old approach, which allowed developers to use a single page with JavaScript to change only the element(s) being tested.
    Google says it will add back multivariate testing functionality to the tool at some point in the future—but those of us who used Optimizer for MVT are out of luck.
  • Tests will be easier to implement. Only the original page script will be necessary to run tests. The standard Google Analytics tracking code will be used to measure goals and variations.
  • Test page variations are extremely limited. A maximum of 5 variations can be run per test. Compared to GWO, this is a big step backwards. GWO allowed 8 variables per test and a maximum of 10,000 page variations.
  • Using Google Analytics is mandatory. Unlike with GWO, testers cannot use outside analytics programs because the tool is now accessible only through Google Analytics.
  • Users have a bit more flexibility in test goal selection. Besides a goal page URL, you can select an event goal already created in GA as your testing goal, e.g. email signups. (this was not possible in GWO) Yet, it’s not possible to choose important conversion goals such as ecommerce transactions as your test goal.
  • Users can see segmentation data in their tests. If you’ve ever wondered which page variations worked best for specific sources of traffic on your website—the new tool will tell you. This should provide meaningful insights into which audience segment responds best to a particular page design—and flatten the learning curve as far as customizing the user experience on landing pages to achieve better results.
  • No test winners will be declared until an experiment has run at least 2 weeks. This is intended to avoid misleading test conclusions from short-term data samples.
  • Tests cannot run longer than 3 months. They’ll automaticallyexpire at that time.This change is intended to combat the SEO practice of Cloaking—i.e. showing a version of a web page to search engines that differs from the version shown to ordinary visitors, with the intention of deceiving search engines and affecting the page’s search index ranking.It could hamper the ability of non-profits to test strategically important landing pages that receive lighter traffic and conversions (e.g. monthly giving pages). It will require designing simpler tests for such pages to improve the odds that they reach statistical significance in 3 months time or less.
  • Users are limited to 12 live tests at one time. This limitation will impact power-users, but it’s unlikely to impact non-profits, which typically have the resources to run only a small number of tests at one time.
  • Test traffic will be dynamically allocated, meaning that more visitors will get directed to winning page variations and less to losing variations as a test progresses. This feature is intended to limit the damage that losing combinations can inflict and cannot be disabled.

What’s the same:

  • Content Experiments is also free
  • Testers cannot track multiple conversion goals in a single test
  • Testers cannot track revenues by page variation—though custom GA code can be added to accomplish this
  • Testers cannot set different confidence thresholds (we believe it’s still fixed at 95%) to determine a winning variation
  • The reporting interface is nearly identical to Optimizer (though metrics can now be viewed in daily, weekly or monthly intervals)

How the change will affect current users

  • Nothing will be migrated from GWO to Content Experiments in GA.  Tests currently running in GWO will expire on August 1st, so users need to retire them by that date or recreate them in the new tool.  Current or past GWO users must download reports on all tests or lose that data forever. You have until August 1, 2012 to retrieve historical testing data.

Final Thoughts

The new Content Experiments tool appears targeted at beginning and/or infrequent testers.

While it will be easier to implement than GWO, it takes away important functionality that more experienced users (like Donordigital and its clients) relied upon such as multivariate testing and the flexibility to use the tool with analytics programs other than GA.

Google says it plans to build more functionality into Content Experiments over time–unlike GWO, which had no improvements over its 5 year run. But for now, its functionality is limited and somewhat disappointing.

If these shortcomings aren’t remedied fairly quickly, we suspect more organizations will begin experimenting with other testing solutions that are more robust and flexible, as well as cost-effective, e.g. Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer.

Dawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

Get ready for year-end giving by improving your website donation pages

As the 2011 holiday giving season approaches, non-profit organizations need to be mindful to position their websites for successful year-end giving, especially in this sluggish economy when donors are likely to be more selective than ever with their contributions.

While most attention at year-end is typically centered on maximizing reach and visibility through email marketing, direct mail, paid search marketing, and social media, it’s imperative to also focus on your website donation landing pages.

All of your hard work driving supporters to your website can be squandered in an instant if they’re faced with wordy, dense, complicated, and time-consuming donation pages once they get there—which inevitably leads to donor abandonment and lost revenues.

To help you get the most out of your donation pages at year-end, we’ve prepared a list of ‘best practices’ based on our experience testing and optimizing such pages for a wide variety of clients over the past 5 years.

While we’ve found these areas most often have the biggest impact on giving—this list is NOT meant to be exhaustive or to serve as a substitute for testing.

Identifying what specifically works best with your audience requires direct testing on your own donation pages—and the fall season is an ideal time to experiment, as findings can be deployed immediately for the peak giving weeks between Thanksgiving and December 31st.

Best Practice #1: Feature a clear call to action headline

The first two questions any visitor to a web landing page has are:
Where am I? What can I do here?

The most effective way to answer both is with a clear and compelling page headline. The best headlines are succinct and to the point, but also tap into the reason your donors are motivated to make a gift in the first place.

In our experience, donation page headlines that connect giving to a positive impact, e.g. “Donate to save children’s lives” typically deliver stronger conversion rates than pages where the headline simply states the call to action, e.g. “Donate Now.”

From a strict usability standpoint, the page headline should use a font size and color that make it prominent, eye-catching, and easy to read. We prefer headlines in bold, black font on a white background.

Best Practice #2: Present a Strong Value Proposition

Once a visitor has figured out what they can do on your donation page, the next question they ask themselves is, why should I do it? After all, they most likely receive at least one email per day from a non-profit organization asking them for a donation (and at year-end this number explodes!)

Presenting a strong value proposition is essential to converting more donation page visitors into donors. Making an effective case for giving can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but some of the most effective tactics we’ve found include:

  • Explaining in clear, simple language how donors’ money is spent (main body copy)
  • Explaining how your approach is effective, and what you’ve been able to accomplish already (main body copy)
  • Displaying trust seals, a testimonial from a prominent supporter, or mission statement to reduce anxiety on the part of first-time donors.We’ve found that trust seals such as Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity, or American Institute of Philanthropy have the most impact on donor conversion when displayed on donation pages above the fold. This is because most web users don’t scroll, so vastly more visitors will see them if they’re displayed on the top half of the page.The most important audience for trust seals is folks who don’t know your organization very well and have never given to you before. This group has the most anxiety about taking the plunge; consequently, they’re more likely to be favorably influenced by a recognized third-party rating, so it needs to be visible very early in the process, i.e. before a user starts to complete the form—not after.
  • Illustrating your organizational efficiency with pie charts that break down expense and program allocations.  Your page should reinforce the message that donors’ money is spent wisely—and mainly on the mission.  This information helps to answer two important questions donors typically have—namely, where does my money go? How much of my gift gets spent on overhead?

Consider using a sidebar to display “supporting” content such as trust seals, a mission statement, and budget allocation charts. They’re not essential to completing the transaction, but can combine to tell a compelling story of who and what your organization is about—and how you get results.

Best Practice #3: One-Click to Donate

You risk losing donations on your site if you ask visitors to click through multiple pages to reach a donation form, or ask them to confirm their donation with another click after submitting the form.

If your organization uses a multi-page donation process, we recommend re-evaluating each step and deciding whether it could be incorporated into a single page. This may involve eliminating some non-essential questions or form fields that aren’t essential to completing a transaction, such as title, middle name, spouse name, phone number, program preferences, etc. and eliminating a “donation confirmation” page, which often resemble a receipt and confuse some donors.

The cumulative effect of extraneous form fields and questions on donation pages, and a confirmation page prior to transaction completion is to test visitors’ patience and deplete the reservoir of goodwill you have with prospective donors when they first land on your site. The net effect is that some visitors will jump ship before completing the transaction—needlessly depressing the conversion rate on your donation page.

Best Practice #4:  Keep the page focused on a single call to action

In many instances, we find the main web donation page on a site uses the same wrapper as the site’s homepage—featuring utility links, main navigation, secondary navigation and other calls to action on the periphery of the page (e.g. Sign up for email, Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, etc.)

This approach is most often used for the sake of consistency, but can sabotage the main call to action on a donation page, since it provides so many opportunities for visitors to detour to other parts of your site (or leave the site altogether) before making a gift.

One way to solve this problem is to create and test a streamlined page wrapper displaying nothing more than your brand logo and a link back to the homepage—while all other wrapper content reinforces the main call to action instead of competing with it.

Best Practice #5:  Images

Your organization’s work may be such that images are more powerful than words when it comes to communicating how a donor’s gift can help others. Groups that are especially blessed in this regard include those working in international development, emergency first responders, child welfare, animal welfare, and wildlife or habitat conservation.

Featuring an image that reinforces the core message in your marketing pitch and is well-integrated with the rest of your value proposition can significantly improve the page conversion rate.

When selecting photos, it’s critical that they be authentic and relevant—stock photography that looks fake, contrived or unrelated to your mission can actually work against you—serving to distract or alienate visitors rather than reinforce your message.

Of course, some photos have a greater impact than others, so it’s essential to test a variety of images to figure out which one resonates best with your audience.

Best Practice #6: Security Seals

It’s essential to display a recognized security seal on your donation page so prospective donors are confident that their personal information won’t be compromised.

We’ve found that the VeriSign security logo (the most widely recognized brand in online security) is most effective when it appears in the section of the page where donors enter the most sensitive information (such as their credit card or bank account numbers) and complete the transaction (click the donate button).

This is where donors are the most worried about page security—and fear can lead some folks to abandon the giving process altogether if it’s not adequately addressed on the page itself.

Best Practice #7: Offer options—don’t make donors go searching for them

There’s a wider range of donors on your website than ever before—young, middle-aged and older donors, first timers, and long-time members.

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to satisfying these folks. Your donors demand options; and they don’t want to waste time trying to find them.

Make sure your donation pages provide both flexibility and clarity to meet a broad range of donor preferences. With some clever coding, you can present a clean-looking donation page that provides donors with:

  • Single gift or monthly gift-giving options (experiment with tabs, drop-downs or radio buttons)
  • Different methods of payment (credit card, bank account debit, Paypal)
  • A mailing address to print and mail the form in for those that are still reluctant to give online (more important if your donor base skews older)
  • A telephone number to make a gift by phone (especially for pages that make a monthly giving ask the primary action, where a donor is more likely to have questions before making a high-level commitment)

Best Practice #8: A colorful, eye-catching donate button

Large and colorful donate buttons that look clickable and feature goal-oriented language often outperform donate buttons that are small, grey and feature generic language (e.g. a standard grey “submit” button).

Our testing work has found no single color works best on donate buttons—every audience is different. However, most audiences respond better to bright colors (e.g. blue, red, orange, green) than pale colors (e.g. grey, yellow) and button language that makes the action clear, e.g. Donate, Donate Now, versus language that is vague or unclear on what happens next, e.g. “Process” or “Submit.”

Like images, we’ve found that changes to button color often have a significant impact on the donation page conversion rate—but it can be positive or negative, so you’ll want to test a variety of options to see which one works best for you.

Best Practice #9: Font size and color that donors can easily read

While many of us rely on web developers and designers much younger than ourselves to create web content, it’s important to remember that most online donors are over 40—and a significant portion are over 50.

Small font sizes and pale text (grey is surprisingly common) can make reading your donation page a real challenge. Make sure that your page copy (both headline and body text) uses a dark font (preferably black) on white background and is of sufficient size to maximize readability.

Don’t make donors strain to read what’s on the page—and that includes form field descriptions. If they can’t read it, they most likely aren’t going to make a gift!

Best Practice #10: TEST EVERYTHING

Don’t take shortcuts, assuming that what worked on organization x, y or z’s website will automatically work on yours, too.

Too often, we’re hired for a testing project and find that our clients have adopted changes to their donation pages without testing them first, only to find out later through testing that the change was negative for donor conversion—not positive!

Don’t make these costly, avoidable mistakes. Always test new ideas before adopting them wholesale.

These ideas should get you started down the path to unlocking greater value on your web donation pages!

Dawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.