Mal Warwick | Donordigital Team heads to 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference

ntc-logoWe’re excited to be returning to the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), organized by the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN). This year’s event is being held in Washington, DC from March 13-15.

Mal Warwick | Donordigital staff are participating in five different sessions:

photo-thumbnail-mwosiVice President Mwosi Swenson will be speaking at:
DIY: Blueprints for Building Your Best Multichannel Fundraising Campaigns
Thursday, March 13, 10:30 am – 12:00 pm

This session is for nonprofit professionals that are looking to integrate and optimize their fundraising across all channels. It is filled with tips, tricks and tools to help you jumpstart, enhance and refine your multichannel fundraising program. This hands-on session is for nonprofit fundraising professionals that want to use multichannel tactics to find new donors, retain the ones you have and grow your revenue. In this session you’ll learn how a nonprofit collaborated internally to integrate the direct mail and online fundraising program; easy things you can do right now to integrate your program; and proven tactics to increase online giving by integrating social channels and behavioral psychology into your donation flow.

photo-thumbnail-mattSenior Account Executive Matt Burghdoff will be speaking at:
Breakthrough Trends & Strategies for Online Peer-to-Peer Campaigns
Thursday, March 13, 10:30am – 12:00pm

This session is for fundraising teams, event managers, development officers looking to expand and grow the impact of their peer-to-peer programs. Join this session for an intensive look at what’s new and innovative in peer-to-peer fundraising. We will take you beyond the basics to give you the collected best practices you need to plan and manage successful peer-driven (or crowdsourced) campaigns. We’ll explore the latest strategies for web, social and mobile channels, giving you data-driven insights to help you understand donors and participants in your online programs.

photo-thumbnail-mattSenior Account Executive Matt Burghdoff will be speaking at:
Online Testing – Practical Insights & Lessons Learned
Friday, March 14, 10:30am – 12:00pm

Are you a Nonprofit professional looking to enhance your programs and campaign pieces based on experiential data? Then it’s time to dive deep into putting your online presence to the test. In this session, industry experts will walk through setting up rigorous testing procedures, and share their findings on what is and isn’t working in the online space. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own campaign pages and emails to brainstorm potential tests with the experts. What you’ll walk away with: 1) Practical data on what has worked for nonprofits online; 2) Take-home tools to get started testing; 3) Optimization tests to implement right away.

photo-thumbnail-anthonySenior Web Designer Anthony Blair-Borders will be speaking at:
Start at the Start: Using Storyboards, Wireframes, and Mood Boards
Friday, March 14, 1:30pm – 3:00pm

If you’re new to web design, you may find yourself intimidated how complex it can be creating assets for the online paradigm. We will explore how to use storyboards to plan animated functionality, how to use wireframes to create mobile-friendly designs and help guide and inform your final design, and how to use mood boards to help determine color, texture, and the overall look and feel of online communications. We’ll discuss how to properly start an online design project to help give you a launching point and to help save valuable time and resources by nailing down the basic elements of your assets before you even begin initial design comps.

photo-thumbnail-wendySenior Account Executive Wendy Marinaccio Husman will be speaking at:
Digital Marketing That Gets Results: 30 Ideas You Can Use Monday Morning
Saturday, March 15, 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm

Learn more about trends and opportunities around social media tools and digital marketing big ideas. Join our experts and learn about tools that exemplify the latest innovations that get results first thing Monday morning. This session is for audiences of all types who want to gear up their digital marketing plans with Big Ideas. Attendees will walk away with: 1) Up to 30 ideas that you can use out of the box; 2) A look at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and how you can ramp up those channels; 3) and a plan that will help guide your digital marketing strategy.

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.

Be The Match tests improvements to its email messaging template

Test Version of the new email messaging appeal template for Be The Match. (Click to Enlarge)

In an ongoing effort to optimize the engagement with our clients’ email appeals, we recently tested a new messaging format for Be The Match.

In this “story appeal”, the control version used their standard email template design and copy layout, weaving together a donor/ recipient story with a donation ask (linked to a standard donation form).

The test version used a more visual layout, with the copy telling the first half of the story of Henry, a young cord blood transplant recipient. The call-to-action drove recipients to a donation form which provided the uplifting conclusion to Henry’s story, with a donation form directly below it.

As we hoped, the test appeal format saw a significant lift in engagement in comparison to the control. In the test version, the click-through rate was significantly higher — about five times higher than the control — while the unsubscribe rate was lower.

We continue to test and optimize the email and landing page design and layout to provide a more engaging experience which we can roll out during the year-end fundraising season.

The call-to-action drove recipients to this donation form which provided the uplifting conclusion to Henry’s story, with a donation form directly below it. (Click to Enlarge)

Measuring your ROI in multichannel fundraising campaigns

In our newly evolving multichannel nonprofit fundraising environment, the old methods of measuring return on investment have clearly begun to fall apart.  Today’s nonprofit fundraiser can choose from a multitude of channels to invest in – and each channel can have different cost structures and produce different types of donors and returns.

This complexity makes it even more critical to be able to understand – and measure – the return on your fundraising investments (ROI), so that you can make data-driven investment decisions across channels or across a combination of channels.  The following four steps, detailed in Donordigital’s Measuring Your Return on Investment in Multichannel Fundraising Campaigns, will help you measure return on investment across multiple fundraising channels.

STEP 1: ESTABLISH THE GOAL

Fundraising efforts can have benefits far beyond dollars for a nonprofit organization.  In spite of the capabilities for multichannel fundraising efforts to engage individuals to become advocates, activists or volunteers, it is recommended that – for the purpose of calculating return on investment for fundraising efforts – the following standard should be used: The goal of fundraising investment is to produce revenue in the form of donations that have cash value.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should never invest in efforts that can’t be measured, or that you must produce equivalent revenue in all channels.  But it does mean you should make those investment decisions after you have prioritized and optimized investments you know will have a measurable return.

STEP 2: START WITH THE “I” IN ROI – DEFINE YOUR INVESTMENT

To be completely accurate in measuring fundraising investment, you would need to count and distribute the costs of a thousand different items – the cost to turn the lights on every morning, the salaries of everyone on your staff, the money you paid for the sandwiches at your last brainstorming retreat.

However, calculating expenses to that level of detail is not feasible given the limited time and resources available to most fundraising programs. Therefore, consider the following two standards in determining levels of fundraising investment across channels:

1. Count the direct costs of initial and subsequent efforts.

Direct costs should include all expenses incurred specifically to make the effort possible.  Examples of direct costs include:

  • The cost per contact for a phone campaign
  • The cost of paper, printing, list rental and postage for mail efforts
  • Online advertising and list rental costs

2. Count only those indirect expenses that are outside your usual cost of business.

A robust fundraising program incurs many costs that are not directly attributable to any one effort. But most of these expenses can be considered a cost of doing business, independent of any single fundraising effort. You will not take down your organization’s website, throw away your database or stop thanking individuals for gifts if you decide not to perform a new donor acquisition effort this fall.  Therefore, taking the extra effort to assign these expenses across different fundraising efforts is most likely not worth the effort – and will not help you make strategic decisions about which channel to invest in.

STEP 3: UNDERSTAND THE “R” IN ROI – CALCULATE YOUR RETURNS

Based on step one above, the calculation of returns becomes a whole lot easier. Because your goal is to raise dollars, the return on your investment is simply the dollars you raise.  As with tracking costs above, this can be done most easily at the donor or prospect level through the following steps:

1. Assign an origin effort to every donor or prospect you acquire.

This should be the effort that first identified the individual as a likely donor to your organization.  It could be an online action based on a click through from a banner ad or a piece of return mail from a direct mail acquisition effort.

2. Measure all initial and subsequent revenue from that donor or prospect.

This would include all direct gifts made by the individual, including the initial gift to your organization.

STEP 4: MEASURE THE MULTICHANNEL RETURN ON FUNDRAISING INVESTMENT

Once you have measured your investment and determined your return, measuring ROI is easy.  Simply divide total revenue returned by the total of the initial and subsequent costs.  You can measure this ROI as a percentage – with 100 percent ROI meaning you have gained a dollar for every dollar you spent. Or it can be phrased in terms of dollars – for every $100 you spent, your return in donations is $100.  Here is an example:

  • You spend $10,000 on an online campaign that acquires 5,000 new prospects.  Over the next 12 months, you send these prospects 25 emails at $0 expense, two phone campaigns that cost $4.50 per contact for 500 contacts, and three direct mail campaigns at $0.50 each. That means your total expense is $10,000 + $0 + ($4.50 x 500) + (3 x 5,000 x $0.50) = $19,750.
  • Over the same 12 months, 250 of the 5,000 prospects convert to donors, giving a total of $21,250.
  • The ROI for the online campaign = $21,250/$19,750, or 108%.  In other words, for every dollar you spent, you raised $1.08.

Measuring ROI in this way means rigorously tracking all of your campaigns and donors, and being able to assign costs and revenue to the proper effort.  However, to determine how much money to invest across competing channels, it is impossible to make the right decision without doing this legwork.  And, in today’s environment, it is imperative to measure return on investment in an equal way across all fundraising channels in order to ensure the long-term health of your organization.

This article was originally printed in Philanthropy Journal.

Peter Schoewe is Director of Analytics at Mal Warwick|Donordigital.  Schoewe brings over 15 years of direct mail and multi-channel fundraising expertise to explore how best to optimize integrated fundraising programs.

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.

Roll out some testing to liven up those Summer months

We run a lot of multivariate tests on donation landing pages throughout the year. Frankly, I’m always urging our clients to run even more—since the more things they test, the more they learn (and the more money they raise!).

But when Summer rolls around, virtually every organization we work with sees a big seasonal drop-off in their visitor traffic and conversions on their top donation pages. And while a breaking news story or natural disaster can produce a traffic surge, those events are impossible to predict and testing is too difficult to pull off when time is tight.

What can you do in the dead of summer to keep your testing program on track? For most, the answer is simple. Forget about multivariate testing and run an A/B test instead.

An A/B test, also called a split test, is where a single alternative version of a landing page (which features one or more changes) is tested against the baseline page. This is the best choice when your traffic volume is low and/or you want results in a short time-period.

In contrast, a multivariate test allows you to run more than one variable at a time, and  evaluate how each variable performs individually as well as in combination with other variables—but requires a large amount of visitor traffic and conversions to execute and can take many months to reach statistical significance.

When traffic is sluggish, it makes sense to focus on your busiest page, which almost certainly still receives enough visitors and conversions to run a basic split test. (Reality check: if your donation page gets at least 250 conversions a month or about 8 per day, go ahead and split test).

The trick to designing an effective A/B test is creating a new treatment that incorporates enough change to make a meaningful impact on the end user. Split tests are not the place to experiment with subtle design changes, e.g. the elimination of a few words of copy or removing 1-2 fields on a long form, since minor tweaks are likely to have little to no observable impact on visitor behavior.

This is the time to shake things up a little. Test an idea (or several) that add up to something genuinely new, such as adding a photo to the page or adding new content that amplifies your value proposition.

While combining several meaningful changes into one test treatment doesn’t permit analysis of how each change individually affects user behavior, A/B tests can lead to bigger optimization gains over a shorter time period than multivariate testing—even during those months when your donors may be off hiking the Inca Trail!

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.