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.

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)


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.

What seven organizations learned about converting more donors on their web donation forms

Want to persuade more people to actually make a donation when they visit your donation landing pages?

There’s no single set of changes — horizontal or vertical gift strings, Charity Navigator logo above or below — that’s guaranteed to work for your organization. But we did find out which elements on donation forms most influence “conversions” — and this knowledge can make your testing faster and cheaper, just in time for the year-end giving season.

Based on extensive tests with seven “power users” of Convio’s fundraising platform, Donordigital and Convio have published a new whitepaper, “Beyond Best Practices: What seven organizations learned about converting more donors on their web donation forms”, that can help you improve your donation pages and raise more money. Participant organizations included CARE, PETA, The Nature Conservancy, WWF, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, and American Diabetes Association.

Our tests revealed marked differences from one group to the next with the same variables, and undermined the assumption that there are form best practices at the variable level — in fact they’re largely elusive. But there’s a silver lining. Since many creative changes on donation forms have little to no impact on user behavior, the ability of marketers to identify the changes that matter most can save lots of time and money.

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: nick@donordigital.com or phone (510) 473-0366.