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Home arrow Site Optimization arrow The Power of Small Changes Tested
The Power of Small Changes Tested
Tuesday, 21 March 2006


Topic: The Power of Small Changes — How minor changes to your website can have a major impact on your conversion rate.

We recently released the audio recording of our clinic on this topic. You can listen to a recording of this clinic here:

Small Changes

Here is the question we asked ourselves: In our focus to maximize increases in conversion rates by completely changing key site pages, are we ignoring the potential of small changes?

Often, with the best intentions, we apply all we have learned over the years, and make significant changes to a site page. Frequently the results are very encouraging.

However, once we have optimized a page, are we still leaving money on the table?

Once we have achieved the "big increase," is there a danger that we might sit back and feel the page is now fully optimized?

Our testing suggests that even with a highly-optimized page, it is still worth following up by testing additional, small changes.


Test #1: Offer Copy

In our first test, for a large online publisher, we made only one small change in a single sentence near the order button. It had the following impact on conversion rate:

Offer Copy Optimization Micro-Test
Metric Page A Page B
Unique Visitors 8620 8759
Orders 136 155
Conversion Rate 1.58% 1.77%

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Page B improved overall conversion from 1.58% to 1.77%, an increase of 12%.

What was the simple change that resulted in this 12% gain?

Page A had this copy:

  • 7 Days Free or continue at $24.95 for eight weeks at a savings of 50%.

Page B included these simple changes:

  • 7 Days Risk Free then continue at just $24.95 for 8 weeks (50% savings).

The words "Free" and "Risk Free" in each page were bolded to highlight the key benefit.

By changing just a few words of your offer copy, you can have a positive impact on your conversion rate.

KEY POINT: When testing small changes, pay special attention to key decision points and significant points along the primary eye-paths.

Test #2: Page Layout

In our second experiment, for the same company, we tested two pages in an eight-day micro-test.

  • Page A had text in two columns of copy.
  • Page B combined the text into a single column.

Here are the results of this micro-test:

Page Layout Optimization Micro-Test
Metric Page A Page B
Unique Visitors 2478 2384
Orders 36 65
Conversion Rate 1.45% 2.73%

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Conversion of Page B (one column) was 88% better than that of Page A (two columns).

Simplifying the page by combining two columns into one resulted in a surprising gain.

KEY POINT: Not only text, but simple changes in page design elements can yield a significant increase on conversion. We will suggest a number of areas for improvement in the final section, below.

Test #3: Small Changes in a Multivariate Testing Environment

Our first two tests were simple A/B split tests. Multivariate testing allows you to test a number of small changes at once. For an introduction to these topics, see our recent reports:

  • A/B Split Testing - How to use A/B Split Testing to increase conversion rates, challenge assumptions and solve problems.

  • Multivariate Testing - How testing multiple changes simultaneously can save you time, speed up your optimization schedule, and increase your profits.

In a third experiment (for a different company), we focused on testing a number of small changes simultaneously using multivariate testing. We ran a micro-test focusing on the following page elements:

  • Subscription Form
  • Headline
  • Logo

This is an ongoing test, but results were gathered after the first eight days of testing. Below are the results for each variable in isolation.

We tested three subscription forms:

Multivariate Test – Subscription Form
Variable Page Views Orders Conversion
Form A - Standard 6095 42 0.69%
Form B - Blue Button 6109 24 0.39%
Form C - Blue Form 6137 33 0.54%

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: The "Standard" form out-pulled the more colorful variations. It performed 28% better than the next best form.

We tested six different headlines:

  1. "There are More Than 491,720 Registered Sex Offenders in the U.S..."
  2. "Does a sexual offender live in your neighborhood?"
  3. "Identify Sex Offenders Today - Be Aware, Be Alert & Be Safe"
  4. "Protect Your Children, Identify Sexual Offenders in Your Area"
  5. "Identify Registered Sex Offenders Living Near You"
  6. "Search the National Sex Offender Database"
Multivariate Test – Headline
Variable Page Views Orders Conversion
1. There are More Than… 3084 13 0.42%
2. Does a sexual offender… 3046 17 0.56%
3. Identify Sex Offenders… 3021 14 0.46%
4. Protect Your Children… 3060 17 0.56%
5. Identify Registered… 3084 23 0.75%
6. Search the National… 3046 15 0.49%

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: The fifth headline ("Identify Registered Sex Offenders Living Near You") converted 34% better than the next best headline.

We tested three different logos:

Multivariate Test – Logo
Variable Page Views Orders Conversion
Logo A - House 6096 27 0.44%
Logo B - Eagle (color) 6154 33 0.54%
Logo C - Eagle (silver) 6091 39 0.64%

Check box What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Logo C (silver eagle) out-pulled the next best logo by 19%.

Taken together, these three small changes amounted to a combined 104% increase in conversion over the next best set of variables. This is the compounded gain of the three small (cumulative) changes taken together.

KEY POINT: A good multivariate testing platform will allow you to test multiple small changes at once and optimize your site more quickly than testing each change in isolation.

Small Changes to Test:

Above are examples of some of the small changes you might test on your own site. But don't stop there. Following is list of other small changes that can be systematically tested on your own site; through individual A/B splits, or together in multivariable test groups.

  1. PPC Headlines – Small changes in your pay-per-click ad headlines can have a significant impact on your click-through rate. You might also experiment with geo-targeting and with keyword insertion (dynamically placing searched terms into the ad headline).
  2. Website – There are a number of small changes to your landing pages (or entire website) that could have a significant impact on conversion. They include:
    1. Headline Text
    2. Headline Size or Color
    3. Subheading
    4. Unique Value Proposition
    5. Link Text
    6. Button Text
    7. "Call to Action" Text
    8. Background Color
    9. Logo Colors or Design
    10. Additional or Fewer Images
    11. Number of Text Columns
    12. Column or Page Width
    13. Sequence of Page Copy
    14. Including Brief Testimonials
  3. Email Marketing and Newsletters – Your email messages can also benefit from a variety of small changes:
    1. Subject Lines
    2. Salutation
    3. Postscript (P.S.)
    4. Additional or Fewer Links
    5. Position of Links
    6. A Small Incentive to Click
    7. A Personal Introduction from the Editor
    8. Sequence of Copy
    9. Text vs. HTML Versions
    10. Including Reader Feedback
    11. Including Brief Testimonials

Finally, you can measure the cumulative effects of multiple changes made over time with our spreadsheet tool:

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About This Brief


Editor — Flint McGlaughlin

Writers — Brian Alt
Nick Usborne

Contributors — Aaron Rosenthal
Jimmy Ellis

HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer

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