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.

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.

Boost online response by optimizing your donation landing pages

Most organizations devote lots of time and energy into developing clever creative for their online campaigns and e-mails, whether it’s the Tck Tck Tck global warming campaign or AmeriCares “Send your mother-in-law to Darfur” gift catalog.

But if you’re trying to raise more money online, the first thing you may want to try is persuading more of the people who already click “donate” on your Web site or in your e-mails to actually make the gift on the donation landing page.   Surprisingly, 80% or 90% of the people who go to the donation page typically don’t actually complete the transaction.  And if you can improve your “conversion rate” by 10%, that’s 10% more donors – ka-ching! – without spending a nickel on more e-mails or Care2 names.

Over the last three years, Donordigital has been running landing page optimization tests that have increased conversion rates – the percentage of people who land on a donation page who actually make a donation – by 10%, 20%, even more for some organizations and some pages.  Of course, your mileage may vary, but if you optimize your landing pages, you’re pretty likely to increase your conversions and your revenue,  even if you have to pay a consultant to help you.

So what makes a better donation page?  While every organization gets different results on different pages, these are some of the variables that seem to make a difference for many organizations:

  • Show at least some of the form fields on the donation page “above the fold” (what you can see without scrolling).
  • Cut out unnecessary fields, such as title (unless you will really use it) and how-did-you-hear-about us, and ones that donors are reluctant to fill out (phone numbers).
  • Make the button say “Donate” not “Submit,” make it larger and colored; don’t include confusing and unnecessary buttons such as “back” or “cancel” (sometimes the default in to your software).
  • Provide a clear and compelling “ask” headline (Donate to save the whales!).
  • Show the “secure transaction” symbol from VeriSign or another provider above the fold.

A recent test showed a 28% increase in conversions (over the currently used “control” donation page) on a page that featured the VeriSign secure page logo above the fold, apparently making donors feeing more secure about giving to this well-known organization.

You may also want to create different landing pages for visitors from different sources.  For example, visitors clicking on the main donate link on your home page may know more about you than some of the visitors coming from a search on Google or Yahoo!.  E-mail landing page may work better if they make reference to the e-mail message that brought visitors to the donation page, but you can assume the visitors need less information and less assurance about your organization because they are read the e-mail and are probably signed up for your list.  Conversions are naturally higher on most pages in December because year-end giving and tax deductibility motivate many visitors.

So how do you do it?  There are two choices: A/B testing and multivariate testing.  In A/B testing, you test your current (“control”) donation page and an alternative one, then direct half your donation page traffic to your “control” page, and the other half to a page you think will perform better.  The more sophisticated technique, multivariate testing (MVT), enables you to test many variables at once.  However, but it’s more complicated to set up and requires more traffic to the test pages to get statistically valid results.  While there are commercial multivariate testing platforms such as Interwoven Optimost, Google offers the excellent – and free – Website Optimizer product, which integrates nicely with the free Google Analytics (which you’re already using, right?)

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